The Caseworker

by Tom Ray

After Warner got his Sam Adams and I got my martini, he said, “Wow, Izetta, this is like when we used to go out after work with Rob and Jeanine and all those guys.” I’d invited him out for a drink after work.

“Yeah. Good times. Hey, Warner, I need to tell you something. If the Congressman or Art knew I told you I’d be in real trouble. OK?” The Congressman was our boss, Representative Anthony J. “Tony” Healy, Democrat from New Jersey. Art Murtaugh was the Congressman’s chief of staff. “The office” was a suite in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. I was the Congressman’s receptionist/appointment secretary. Warner was a caseworker.

He said, “You know I can keep a secret.”

“You know Walter Albertson?”

“The guy with the big O-ring factory? Yeah. I know of him.”

“He’s got a grandson who needs a job.”

“I thought the staff budget was already maxed out.”

“It is.”

“They’ll have to let somebody go?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Madison said something the other day about somebody new coming in. Boy, she gets the intel on everything in the office.” Madison was a legislative assistant in the office. She’d been having an affair with the Congressman for several months, which Warner hadn’t figured out yet. “So, who will they fire?”

“They haven’t decided for sure, but it doesn’t look good for you.”

“They said that?” He looked like he was about to cry. I had an urge to cradle him in my arms. That would have looked absurd in the Capitol Hill Bullfeathers, a bony old guy with shaggy gray hair and beetle brows being cuddled by a plumpish, middle-aged woman, so I managed to fight the urge.

“It’s not final,” I said, “and it won’t happen right away. You have time to find a new job.”

“You’re right,” he said. “No need to panic. I’ve had to go knocking on doors before.” He briefly put on his in-charge guy face, but quickly sagged back into discouragement.

“Exactly,” I said. “Just buckle down, you’ll find something.”

I knew Warner too well to believe what I was saying, but I’d done all I could for him. I didn’t owe him anything, but when I first went to work for Congressman Dunwoody on Capitol Hill, fresh out of the Washington School for Secretaries, Warner treated me decently. He’d been in Dunwoody’s office for a few years before me as a legislative assistant, fresh out of Virginia Tech with a degree in political science. Some of the guys in the office thought they had a right to hit on young clerks like me. I could fend those guys off, but I was uncomfortable around them. Warner always talked to me like we were equals, and never came on to me. He would flirt in a non-threatening way, but I could tell he wasn’t really trying to intimidate me into bed. We never dated or anything, but I always felt like we were friends.

I went from being a clerk for Dunwoody, to being a secretary in another office, and finally worked my way into being a receptionist/appointment secretary for several different Congressmen, concluding with Healy. I answered the Congressman’s phone, and made his appointments. I had to know which callers were big campaign contributors and got put straight through to the Congressman immediately, and which ones I should palm off on a staffer.

While I was moving up in my career, Warner stayed a legislative assistant for various Congressmen, keeping track of bills, advising the Congressman on which ones to support, advising on bills the Congressman might introduce, drafting “Dear Colleague” letters for the Congressman to send to other Congressmen to ask for their support on the Congressman’s bills, and responding to constituents who wrote in expressing support or opposition to a bill. As an LA he also got into “constituent service” on complex issues that required knowledge and expertise beyond the routine constituent request for help.

Unfortunately, Warner didn’t remain stationary in his career path. All of a sudden one day he was out of a job. He couldn’t find a legislative assistant job, but I did manage to get him on in my office as a caseworker.

Caseworkers handle the requests that are monumental to the constituent, but routine to a Member of Congress. The cases require form letters to be sent to an Executive Branch agency (to the Social Security Administration for Social Security benefits, Medicare, and Medicaid; Department of Veteran Affairs for veteran benefits; IRS for tax problems; and so on). The agency sends back a form letter, and the caseworker slaps a form letter on it, sending it to the constituent with the Congressman’s machine-generated autograph. It’s important work, the bread and butter of constituent service that helps the Congressman get re-elected. But it doesn’t require a lot of expertise. It was a step down for Warner, but he just needed a few more years to be able to retire comfortably.

#

A week after I had a drink with Warner at Bullfeathers I was going over the calendar, making sure everything was lined up for the day. Ryan Bancroft, a young legislative assistant, was missing. Paul Floreno, a constituent from back in the district was having a problem with the National Park Service over a maintenance contract. Ryan had arranged for a meeting in our office with a representative from the Park Service regional office. Floreno probably hoped the Congressman would convince the Park Service to extend his contract. The way it would actually work was that the Congressman would make a token appearance. Ryan would be the one to sit through the entire meeting, and wrap things up at the end in a way that would leave the constituent feeling that the Congressman had done something for him.

Ryan had to brief the Congressman, in preparation for a get-acquainted meeting with Floreno at one-thirty. After the get-acquainted meeting Ryan would sit down with Floreno to go over the case in detail before the Park Service guy showed up. I just wanted to make sure Ryan remembered to be there to brief the Congressman and take care of the rest of it. I hadn’t seen him yet, and he wasn’t at his desk.

When Madison came up to see me about something else I said, “Where’s your boyfriend Ryan today?” She knew I was joking; she’d let me know before she didn’t care for him.

“He’s supposed to meet with somebody today from the Park Service, right? I think the case has him buffaloed, and he doesn’t want to deal with the constituent or the Park Service. You can expect him to come in tomorrow with a note from his mother saying little Ryan had the sniffles today.” She wrinkled her nose in a cute little expression that matched the sarcasm in her voice. I could see how those big brown eyes, athletic little body, and stylish dressing matched with her sharp wit could attract a guy like the Congressman, or most other guys for all that goes. I looked like her once, thirty years and forty pounds ago. She probably knew I didn’t approve of her shacking up with the boss, but she must have also known that I respected her. We had a good rapport, and I could trust her to be straight with me about colleagues like Ryan.

“If you see him, tell him I’m looking for him.” It was pointless for me to say that. I’d already emailed him, left him voice mail, and put a note on his desk.

At nine o’clock I told Art the problem. We both expected Ryan to show up, but there had to be a backup plan. “Who else can cover it? I have that meeting with the caucus staff at two,” Art said. We went over the calendar of each legislative assistant, and none of them could be spared.

“Can you think of anything else we can do to run Ryan down?” Art was a redhead, whose normally pale skin flushed under the freckles when he was stressed, and he was starting to turn pink.

“Somebody could drive to Falls Church and bang on his door. Of course, if he’s not home, that’s time wasted.”

“No way to postpone the meeting?”

“Floreno must be on Amtrak or I-95 right now.”

“Any suggestions?”

“The only other thing I can think of is have Warner take the meeting.”

“Who?”

“Warner Nelson.”

“Jeez. A caseworker.”

“He was a legislative assistant for Otto Hausner for years. He knows something about contracting.” I didn’t know whether he knew anything about contracting, but figured he could bluff his way through it. I didn’t suggest this as a favor to Warner. I really thought he was our best hope of covering the meeting if Ryan didn’t show up.

“How’d he wind up a caseworker?”

“When Hausner lost in the primary to the Tea Partyer Warner didn’t start looking for a new job right away, thinking the Tea Partyer would just hire Otto’s old staff. Didn’t happen. By the time Warner finally started looking for a job our caseworker slot was the best he could get.”

“Let Warner see the file, then send him in to talk to me. Just in case Ryan doesn’t turn up.”

A few minutes later Warner walked into Art’s office clutching the file under his arm like a fourth-grader clutching his notebook. He was wearing his adult face, though, and he came out a few minutes later saying, “Don’t worry, Art. I’ve got this.” He winked at me as he passed my desk on his way back to the staff area.

At lunchtime he came back from the snack bar with a bag of Doritos, a Coke, and one of those sandwiches packaged in a white plastic triangle. He gave me a quick smile. “It’s good to be working something besides Social Security cases again. I worked procurement reform for Otto, you know.”

Still, he looked worried. “I can’t follow what’s going on with this contract. Floreno performed well on the contract for several years, and was low bid on the renewal. Yet they’re giving the new contract to some outfit from California. And Ryan’s been dealing with the program manager, and the program manager is the one coming to the meeting. The contracting officer should be the one explaining why they didn’t give the award to Floreno. What’s with this program manager?” I had no idea what he was talking about, and just shrugged.

“Any sign of Ryan?”

I shook my head no. “You’ll be fine. You’ve handled lots of meeting like this for Otto, haven’t you?”

“Yeah.” He said it vaguely, uncertainly, and drifted on back to the office.

A little after one Art and Warner went into the Congressman’s office for the prep session. At one-fifteen a man in his late thirties, with thick, dark hair in a brush cut came in the front door. He had the stocky build of an ex-football player, just starting to develop a paunch. He wore a sport coat in a subdued green plaid, a yellow pinstriped shirt, and cordovan loafers. He said, “I’m Paul Floreno. I have an appointment with Tony.” His voice was husky, with a strong New Jersey accent.

I offered him a seat, tapped softly on the Congressman’s door, and walked in, closing the door behind me so Floreno wouldn’t hear us.

“Mr. Floreno is here for your one-thirty.”

“Damn, he’s early. OK, Izetta, I’ll be out in a couple of minutes.” Tony, as we called the Congressman behind his back, didn’t like spending a lot of time with the constituents in these meetings.

I went back to my desk, and said, “The Congressman will be with you shortly.”

Tony came out ten minutes later. He was tall and handsome in his tailored, conservative blue suit with a white shirt and light blue tie. His dark hair with a few flecks of gray made him look mature, but not old. His straight, white teeth contrasted nicely with his lightly tanned, almost unwrinkled, skin.

He led Floreno into his office, where Art and Warner were still waiting. Ten minutes later they all came out, Tony saying, “Warner will get you ready to take on these Park Service guys,” and went back into his office.

Warner said, “This way, sir,” and led Floreno into the corridor. His little caseworker cubicle wasn’t big enough for both him and Floreno.

“How’d it go?” I asked Art after they’d gone.

“I don’t know. Warner was more confident when I talked to him this morning. He asked Paul some good questions just now, but was tentative. Paul didn’t like that, I could tell. We’ll have to play it as it lays. I wonder where he’s taking him.”

“Maybe the cafeteria.”

“Jesus. Ryan better have a good excuse for not being here.” He retired to his office, then left in a few minutes for his two o’clock meeting.

At two-fifteen Warner brought Floreno back, and I ushered them into Tony’s office. Shortly after that a man came in and introduced himself as Dalton Goforth, program manager in the Park Service’s regional office. He had a football player’s build similar to Paul Floreno’s, but he was at least twenty years older. His gut was bigger, his face was fatter, and his hair was thinner, although he still had enough to make a flat top. He wore a dark blue sport coat and tan slacks. After he was seated I went into Tony’s office and announced him. Tony said, “Show him in,” which I did.

I left the door opened slightly and stood just outside. After the introductions Floreno and Goforth started sniping at each other. At an opportune moment Tony interrupted with his standard speech about his support for small business. As he wound up the speech I tapped on the door, entered, and said, “The chairman is calling. They’re starting ahead of schedule and need you right away.”

Tony gave an Oscar-winning frown and said, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I have to make this meeting. I’ll return as soon as I can.” He could have been late for the meeting if he’d chosen to, even if it really were starting early; he knew the chairman hadn’t called, of course.

After forty-five minutes Art came back from his meeting with the caucus staff.

“How’s it going in there?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I hear raised voices every now and then, but I can’t make out the words. Tony left a while ago.”

Art went in to the meeting. A few minutes later Greg Dorgan, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Department of Interior, called, asking for Ryan.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Bancroft isn’t available, could someone else help you?”

“Who’s the chief of staff there?”

“That’s Mr. Murtaugh. He’s also unavailable.”

“The reason I’m calling is I understand one of our people from the Park Service office in New Jersey is coming down for a meeting with Mr. Bancroft.”

“Yes. He’s here now.”

“Is that where Bancroft is?”

“No. Mr. Murtaugh and Mr. Nelson are taking the meeting.”

“Shoot. Our folks aren’t supposed to meet with any Hill staff without clearing it through here first. Could you do me a big favor and interrupt the meeting so I can talk to Murtaugh?”

“I’ll pass him a note, and he’ll call you back if he can.”

As I entered the room Goforth was shouting, “I was a maintenance manager in private industry for twenty-three years, and I know giving contracts to inexperienced companies like yours is fraud, waste, and abuse.”

Floreno came back, “I held that contract for three years, with no complaints, and our performance exceeded the standard. The old program manager gave us awards for being a gold star contractor. You’re a crook, giving business to your buddies.”

Neither one of them seemed to notice me as I walked in and handed the note to Art. He studied it as Floreno and Goforth kept going at it. He handed the note to Warner, subtly motioning to the door with his head. Warner followed me out as the shouting continued.

In the reception area he said, “What’s this?”

“Dorgan says Goforth hasn’t been cleared to come down here and meet with us. He sounded pretty upset. Call him back and see what he wants to do.”

He disappeared into the backroom. The raised voices of Floreno and Goforth continued coming from the Congressman’s office. In a few minutes Warner walked back through the reception area and back into the meeting. It got quiet behind the closed door, then they all came out.

“I’ll escort you all to the exit,” Warner said. “This darn Rayburn Building’s a maze if you’re not used to it.”

Warner’s tone was light and chatty, but Goforth kept his jaw clamped shut, frowning ferociously. Floreno said, with a satisfied smirk, “I want to talk to Tony before I go.” Art invited him into his office.

Warner and Goforth had just left when the Congressman walked in. I said, “Floreno’s in Art’s office.” He looked concern until I added, “I think it went OK.” His face immediately shifted into his photo-op smile as he opened Art’s door.

“How’d it go gentlemen?”

You could have heard Floreno in the hall. “Hey, Tony. You wouldn’t believe it. It went great.”

“Come on into my office and tell me about it.”

They were in the Congressman’s office when Warner came back from his escort duty. “I can’t believe it,” he said, smiling. “It worked out so well.” Then his smile faded. “I think that guy Goforth is pissed, though.”

At that moment the Congressman’s office disgorged Tony, Art, and Floreno.

“There he is.” Floreno gave a wheezy, smoker’s laugh as he grasped Warner’s shoulder with one fat hand and shook Warner’s hand with the other. “I can’t believe this guy, Tony. He had me down in the cafeteria asking all kinds of questions, all kinds of technical stuff, I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Then back up here, after you left the meeting, Goforth was blowing him off right and left, just saying to hell with all of you. Then in the middle of the meeting Warner just gets up and walks out. I’m goin’ toe-to-toe with Goforth, and I’m thinking, ‘This guy’s bailing on me,’ then five minutes later he comes back and says, ‘I just got off the phone with Interior. Stop work on the new contract and extend Floreno’s contract one month. Now get the hell downtown to your headquarters and talk to Mr. So-and-so.’ I thought Goforth was going to,” at this point he eyed me, and I appreciated his delicacy in not saying “shit,” finally settling on, “well, I don’t know, but I thought Goforth was going to do something.”

Tony said, “I don’t pay Warner to be flashy, but to bring home the bacon. I knew he’d get it done.”

They were all laughing like schoolboys who’d just tipped over an outhouse, although Warner seemed a little embarrassed. “Well, keep in mind, Interior didn’t say they’re going to definitely renew your contract for the entire year. They want to review the award of the new contract, because they think there may have been some missteps. But I’m hopeful they’ll overturn the new award and give it to you. Your bid was lower, and you’ve had a good performance record.”

“I understand. But you’ve already gotten us more than we’ve been able to get after arguing with those jerks for months. You guys are great.”

They talked some more, then Warner escorted Floreno to the Independence Avenue exit. Art went in with the Congressman for a few minutes. When he came out he headed into his office, saying, “Tell Warner to come see me when he gets back.”

When Warner returned he spent a couple of minutes in with Art. When he came out he winked at me and said, “Can I buy you a drink after work?” I said sure.

Back at Bullfeathers he took a long drink of his beer before he looked at me and said, “I bet you had something to do with me getting that assignment.”

“I might have.”

“Thanks Izetta. You’ve saved me. I guess I’m off the hook now, aren’t I?”

“I hoped this might get you off the hook, but I’m afraid it hasn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Did you notice who called you in to talk after you came back from escorting Floreno?”

“Sure. Art, my boss.”

“Did you notice who didn’t call you in?”

“No. What do you mean?”

“Tony. The Congressman.”

“Well, he’s busy. I’m sure he would’ve called me in if he’d had the time.”

“Look, Warner, I keep his calendar. He could’ve spared a couple of minutes to pat you on the back. If he’d changed his mind about letting you go he’d have congratulated you himself. At least he has the decency to be ashamed to do it, knowing he’s going to fire you in a few weeks.”

He slumped in his seat, his brow furrowed. “Gee, I thought I did a pretty good job today. I’ll admit, there was a lot of luck. Interior had already decided to hold up the new award and extend Floreno’s contract temporarily before they called us, but Floreno didn’t know that. I didn’t talk to Goforth like he said. I was very diplomatic, but obviously Floreno liked the message I carried.”

“That’s not the way things work. I finally got hold of Ryan. He claimed to have the flu, but sounded healthy. He was just stumped by the case, and didn’t want to face Floreno and Goforth. But he’s young and cocky, and impresses them more than you. They’ll forget about him dropping the ball today, since Floreno’s happy. I don’t think they’ve changed their minds about letting you go. Have you been putting out feelers?”

“Not really. I wanted to be sure the Congressman was going to do it before I put myself out there.”

“You really ought to be talking to your contacts now.”

His eyes glazed over. I don’t know if it was denial, or a lack of cognitive ability, but he wasn’t following me.

“Yeah. I guess you’re right.” He said it without conviction.

A few weeks later they dropped the hammer on him. The Albertson kid had finished a tour of Europe and was ready to start drawing a government check. At quitting time Art called Warner in, and afterward Warner came out in a daze.

I helped him pack. He was riding the Metro, so he could only take one box with him that day. I said, “When you come in tomorrow to pick up the rest of your boxes, drop off your resume at the House personnel office.”

I called him a couple of times in the following weeks. He’d dropped off his resume, but wasn’t getting any queries through the personnel office. As for networking, his old friends other than me were retired or dead, and he hadn’t made of lot of new friends. Roy Albertson, the O-ring king’s grandson, couldn’t carry the workload as well as Warner, but the other caseworkers just had to work harder. Aside from that, nobody in the office seemed to miss Warner.

#

One day the Congressman was back in New Jersey, and Art, Madison, and I, were the last ones in the office. I shut down my PC, said good-bye to Art, and left. I was halfway to the Capitol South Metro station on First Street when the Congressman called.

“Hi, Izetta. I got done early. The train’s just leaving Baltimore. Could you have somebody pick me up? Nobody answered the office phone.”

“Sure thing, boss.” It would have been nice if he’d let me know in advance he’d be needing a pickup a day early. It‘s the kind of thing you put up with on a Congressional staff.

I called Art, and then Madison, and their office phones and cell phones all went straight to voice mail. Really aggravated, I walked back to the office, retrieved Tony’s car keys from his desk drawer, and then went down to his car in the Rayburn Building’s basement garage.

When Tony came out of Union Station he said, “I knew most everybody would be gone by now, Izetta, but I thought Art might still be at the office.”

“You caught me on my way to the Metro. When I left the office Art was still there. He must have just left.”

“Let’s go on back to the garage. Art was picking up a suit for me at the cleaners, and I want to wear it tomorrow.”

I drove back and went upstairs with Tony to pick up the bag of crap I carry to the office every day. I’d left it in the office when I picked up Tony’s car keys. I was just walking out the door when he said, “Art didn’t hang the suit in my office. Could it be in his office?”

“I think I saw him with some dry cleaning today. It’s probably in there.”

Tony only had the keys to the front door and to his private office, so I had to let him into Art’s office. As I pushed Art’s door open, with Tony right behind me, I heard gasps. I averted my eyes in time to avoid more than a momentary glance at human flesh enmeshed on the couch. I started to pull the door shut, but Tony pushed it open again and went in. A woman exclaimed, “Oh!” then Tony said, “You fuckin’ bitch! You son of a bitch!” I recognized Madison’s voice saying, “Oh, stop it, Tony!” but she shut up after that.

I stood at my desk, not wanting to see what was going on in Art’s office in case I was called to testify. Within a minute Madison came out, with her slacks on but not zipped or buttoned, managing to pull her cashmere cardigan on over her silk tank top while holding her panties in one hand.

She looked a little embarrassed, but not scared, and rolled her eyes at me as if to say, “Men!” as she headed into the staff area, slamming the door behind her.

Tony kept on, “You disloyal, little chicken shit son of a bitch!” etc., interrupted with stuff like, “But Tony,” and “Don’t do anything rash, Tony.”

Madison emerged from the staff area in a couple of minutes fully clothed, carrying her oversized shoulder bag and her briefcase. She walked out the front door without looking at me or saying anything. Art came out of his office with all of his clothes on, except his shirttail was showing under his sport coat, his wingtips weren’t tied, some of the buttons on his shirt weren’t buttoned, his shirt collar was turned up, and his tie wasn’t tied. He was blushing under his freckles. As Art went out the front door Tony yelled at me, “Call security and ban them from the building!”

Tony went into his own office, leaving the door open. I gave him a minute and then went in. “I’m sorry Congressman. This is terrible. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s OK, Izetta. It’s not your fault.”

“You need to regroup. To start with, you have to call Madison.”

“Why should I call that bitch?”

“You have to tell her she can’t work here any more, but you’ll give her a good reference, and even help her find a job, if she needs any help.”

“No way.”

“She has too much on you.”

“She hasn’t got anything on me. What’s she going to do? Report me to the Ethics Committee for interrupting her screwing my chief of staff?”

“She can go to Angela.” Angela being Tony’s wife.

His eyes narrowed. “What’s Angela got to do with this?”

“She’ll tell Angela you’ve been having an affair. Or she could tell the Ethics Committee, or the press.”

“Did she tell you she’s been having an affair with me?”

“Cut the shit, Tony. It didn’t take a mind reader to figure it out. Hopefully nobody outside of this office knows, but if she thinks you’re leaving her out at sea she’ll let the world know.”

I’d never talked to him like that before. He sat quietly for a minute, then said, “OK, thanks, Izetta. Let me stew about this a little.”

I went back to Madison’s desk. She’d managed to clean it out of any personal effects. Art hadn’t been able to take anything out of his office, of course. Nothing was broken.

When I came out of Art’s office I could hear Tony on the phone. “We must terminate our relationship. However, I trust your discretion, and don’t want to cause you any unnecessary trouble….” He softened as he went on. “…Well, you hurt me. I don’t understand how you could betray me like that…. Well, yeah, I’m sure I must mean something to you…. You meant a lot to me. Mean a lot to me….” He wound up promising to help her get a job.

After he hung up I waited a few minutes, then went in to say goodnight.

“Have you called security yet?” He said it calmly, like somebody going over a routine to-do list.

“No. I thought I’d let you think about that. I’ll do the paperwork tomorrow to terminate them. Banning them from the building will raise the profile of this mess. Art won’t jeopardize his marriage, so he’ll keep quiet. Just fire him, and let the thing die out.”

“You’re right. Let’s do that. And tomorrow I have to decide who to promote to be chief of staff. Or acting chief of staff, until I get a permanent solution.”

The next morning I gave Tony a roster of the legislative assistants. After a few minutes he called me in. “These names on paper don’t mean much to me. Walk through the staff area with me, to take notes, or just advise me as need be.”

As we entered the staff area, Tony leading the way and me following with my steno pad, two bad things happened. First, Eli Wunderlich, the young legislative assistant in the first cubicle, was turning his head to tell his joke to the entire room. He didn’t see us, and the people in the other cubicles couldn’t see us over their partitions. His joke being, “I heard Madison say that Tony was OK, but screwing is really more Art than science.” Second, the room exploded into a burst of laughter. It was a silly joke, and they were laughing more out of disrespect for Tony than at Eli’s wit.

Tony turned around, glaring like he had the night before. I stepped aside to let him pass, then followed him out. The last thing I saw in the staff area was the panic on Eli’s face as he saw the Congressman an instant too late.

Tony sat with his elbows on his desk, his hands clasped in front of his face. “I should fire every one of those little shits.”

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did, Congressman, but that’s for later. Right now you have to hold the staff together.”

“Well, I’m not going to promote any of those sons of bitches. Where can I get a new chief of staff? I need one like right now.”

“How about somebody from one of your district offices?”

“They were all offered jobs here when I first got elected. They don’t want to leave Jersey.”

“I’ll get a list from the personnel office right now. You can finish the interviews and make the hire in a few days.”

“What else can we do to find somebody quicker? Like today.”

In desperation I said, “The only other possibility I can think of is bring back Warner.”

“Who?”

“Warner Nelson, the guy you terminated to bring the Albertson kid on.”

“Bring in a caseworker to replace a chief of staff?”

“He’s been a legislative assistant for several Congressmen. It’s kind of an historical accident that he never made chief of staff. Remember, he handled the Floreno case with the Park Service very well.”

“Floreno?”

“Paul Floreno. It was a few weeks ago. Warner’s an expert on Federal contracting.”

“I don’t remember. Anyway, he must hate me for laying him off.”

“Believe me, if you hire him back he’ll appreciate the hell out of it. You will not believe his loyalty.”

“How soon can you set up an interview?”

“Since you weren’t expected back today, your calendar’s free. I can have him in here by one.”

“OK. Let’s do it.”

I went into Art’s office and called Warner.

“Hello?” He sounded like an invalid, weak and trembly.

“Warner, it’s Izetta. You’ve got a job interview with Congressman Healy. One o’clock this afternoon.”

“I can get my old job back? Did the Albertson kid screw up?”

“No, he’s doing fine. You’ll be interviewing for the chief of staff job. Art’s gone.”

“Really? I knew that Floreno thing would pay off eventually.”

“Forget about Floreno. Tony has. Here’s what you have to know, but never mention to a soul, including the Congressman or me.” Then I told him what had happened, and I closed with, “It may be only temporary, but you’ve lucked out. Be here at one o’clock.”

“Got it. Anything else? I gotta get ready.” He sounded like he did in the old days, sure of himself even when he was wrong, ready to render an opinion no matter how ill advised.

“That’s it. You’re gonna nail this one.”

And he was there at two minutes to one. A lobbyist had dropped by without an appointment, and I interrupted him and Tony at exactly one. Normally this particular lobbyist would have taken precedence over a job interview, but now Tony said, “Hey, Jack, I’ve got to take this. I’ll get back to you on that.”

Half an hour later Tony came out of his office with Warner and said, “Put Warner on the payroll immediately, call a staff meeting in my office for five o’clock, and clean Art’s shit out of his office and send it to the dumpster.”

At the staff meeting Tony introduced Warner as the new chief of staff, then excused himself. Warner gave an amazing speech, about trust, loyalty, discretion, and protecting the boss. The staff was respectful, probably scared after Eli’s “Art” joke.

Everything has gone well since. Madison is working for one of the defense industry associations and dating a lawyer from a K Street firm. Art went back to New Jersey and opened a restaurant, which is doing well. The Albertson kid moved on to a better job on the staff of a Congressional committee. Eli, Ryan, and the rest of the hipsters on the staff are a little more respectful of Tony. I think they’re paranoid about Warner, suspecting his time in the backroom as a caseworker was a ruse, and he was spying on them the whole time.

Warner’s doing a great job as chief of staff. I have to watch him, to keep him from screwing up, but he does pretty much what I tell him to do.

END

Tom Ray is a retired civil servant, currently living in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee.  He worked in government in the Washington, DC, area for 40 years, following his service in Vietnam in the U. S. Army.

 

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4 thoughts on “The Caseworker

  1. A very entertaining and informative story. I loved the line that “Screwing was more Art than science.” But the last line, “But he pretty much does what I tell him to” shows you who the real power broker in the story was. Well-done.

  2. Engaging right from the beginning. An easy and enjoyable read. Likable characters , the narrative from a women’s perspective by a male author and glimpse into the human drama and absurdity of the beurocratic world. Well done, Sir!

  3. Very good job. I know it feels good to finally be a published author. I will see you in the next class. Best. Allen

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