Joshua Goldhart was interning for Senator Thomas Cordley, hoping to work his way up from the bottom, with dreams of becoming a senator himself one day. He’d been on the job for only a few months when the senator’s chief of staff called him into his office for a private meeting.
“Mr. Goldhart, I’ve been watching you closely, and I must tell you: I think you’ve got a bright future in politics, if that’s what you want.”
“I definitely do.”
“Good, because I have an important task for you, and what I’m about to tell you is highly confidential.”
“I understand, sir.”
“I got word today that a former aide is about to go public with a story of a lengthy affair with the senator. Our family values senator. This would cripple his upcoming re-election bid because—as I’m sure you know—even false allegations such as these would be extremely damaging to Senator Cordley’s image.”
“Yes, of course.”
“So, I want you to shut this woman down—now. Make her back off.”
“Uh…how can I make her back off?”
“You’re a smart, creative young man. You’ll figure it out.”
“Now, I want you to go home and give this some serious thought and come up with a plan of action.”
“Don’t go to a bar or to a friend’s place. Go straight home, by yourself, and think. I have confidence in you, Mr. Goldhart.”
“Thank you, sir. Shall I report back to you this evening?”
“That will be all.”
“Or first thing in the morning?”
Joshua went home, and when he walked into his apartment, he nearly tripped over a briefcase that was just inside the door. There was a note taped to the handle: Make an appointment with the Snuffer Agency and deliver this briefcase.
He took the briefcase into the kitchen, set it on top of the island, and opened it. It was filled with cash! Bundles of hundred dollar bills! His heart was racing.
Then he laughed. Good one, Matt. His buddy, Matthew, had a key to his apartment. Snuffer Agency? HaHa. You really got me this time, dude.
Joshua picked up a bundle to get a closer look at the fake bills. Where did Matt get these? They look so…?
He gulped. They looked real because they were real!
Was this from the chief of staff? Is this why he sent Joshua home? Was this Snuffer Agency going to use the cash for hush money?
He had three options:
(1) take the briefcase to the chief of staff and tell him he couldn’t be a part of the deal—which would probably get him fired and destroy his future in politics,
(2) take the cash to the police and kiss his political future goodbye, or
(3) follow the instructions and hope this Snuffer Agency could solve the senator’s problem, which would hopefully fast-track his own political career.
Joshua was trying to build a reputation as a man who could get things done, no matter the obstacles. He wanted to be the guy who could do the impossible—for the senator now, and for his constituents when he held public office in a few years.
He called the Snuffer Agency to make an appointment, and to his surprise, got an eight o’clock time slot for that evening.
At seven-thirty, Joshua left his apartment with the briefcase, trying to relax and act normally, as though he were not walking around with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
When he arrived, the secretary said, “Mr. Snuffer will see you now.”
Mr. Snuffer? “Wait. Is he the head of the company?”
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding. I—”
She smiled. “Mr. Snuffer works personally with each and every client.”
She led him into a huge office. All four walls were lined with fine cherry cabinetry, filled with hardcover books and valuable-looking sports memorabilia: a signed baseball and bat, a football, and a Knicks jersey, to name a few.
Mr. Snuffer stood up and walked around to the front of his massive desk. He was tall, tan, and fit. Probably around sixty. “Hello, Mr. Goldhart. I’m Frank Snuffer.” He shook Joshua’s hand and smiled warmly. “Please have a seat.”
The secretary walked out and closed the door.
They sat across from one another in plush leather chairs.
Joshua set the briefcase beside his chair.
Mr. Snuffer said, “So, how can I be of service to you?” He talked like a mortician, eager to sell his fake condolences and caskets.
Joshua explained the senator’s problem.
Mr. Snuffer said, “Mr. Goldhart, I guess you’re just getting started here in Washington, and there’s a lot you have to learn, but there’s one particular attribute that you already have—in spades.”
Mr. Snuffer laughed. “Impressive. Perfect deadpan delivery—that’s what I’m talking about, son. That will take you far in this town. When you can lie with complete sincerity like that—there are no limits to what you can accomplish.”
Joshua laughed nervously.
“We’ll take care of the senator’s problem.”
Joshua hesitated. “If you don’t mind me asking, how will go about doing that, sir?”
“Never ask for the details.”
“But you’re not planning to…”
“We’re a family business, Mr. Goldhart. Our expertise is solving difficult problems for our clients. But sometimes people get the impression that we solve problems by…killing people—because of our name.”
“Oh, no, no, no, sir, I didn’t mean—”
“But how ridiculous would that be—how foolish—for a family named Snuffer to run a business that snuffs out people’s lives? A little too on the nose, too obvious, don’t you think?”
“Well, sure. Of course. That would be…crazy.” Joshua forced a laugh.
Mr. Snuffer checked his watch. “Well, I hate to rush things, but I do have another appointment. Do you have any other questions?”
“I don’t think so. I hope this will cover your fee.” He reached for the briefcase.
“Just leave it right there. Thanks.”
They stood up and Joshua left.
The next week, Joshua showed up at the Snuffer Agency without an appointment. He marched into Frank Snuffer’s outer office and the secretary asked, “Do you have an appointment, sir?”
He ignored her, barged into Frank’s office, and slammed the door behind him. Frank was sitting behind his desk reading some paperwork. “Mr. Snuffer, you lied to me! You took the senator’s money and you killed that woman!”
Frank looked up at him. His eyes were dark and menacing, like Al Pacino’s in The Godfather, Part II. “I’d be careful about your tone of voice, Mr. Goldhart.”
“You and the senator are guilty of murder.”
“You came into my office last week with a half million dollars in cash, asking me to take care of the senator’s problem.”
“But I didn’t know you were going to—”
“Yes, you did. Let’s be honest.”
“Well, I can’t in good conscience let you get away with this. I’m gonna put you and the senator out of business.” He turned to leave.
“Hold it right there.”
“Joshua froze.” Was he about to get a bullet in the back of the head?
“Do you really want to become a problem, Mr. Goldhart? Shall I send out one of my men to solve you?”
Joshua turned around slowly.
Frank continued. “Or, suppose I don’t do anything. What do you think will happen when you go to the cops and tell them you paid me to have that woman killed?”
“I didn’t pay to have her killed.”
“You walked into my office and gave me a briefcase full of cash.”
“It wasn’t my money.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Somebody left it in my apartment.”
“So, how do you know that the money came from the senator’s office?”
“It must have.”
“You’ve got no proof. And you don’t have any proof that I had anything to do with the woman’s death either.”
Joshua’s head was spinning.
“What’s the matter, son? Don’t know what to do? I’ll tell you’re gonna what to do. You’re gonna walk out my door and you’re gonna keep your big fat mouth shut.”
Joshua shook his head.
Frank went on. “I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying: Discretion is the better part of valor?”
“Yes, of course, but it doesn’t apply to—”
“The dirty stuff? Yes, it does. At least here in Washington it does. It’s all for the common good, you see. There’s information that the regular folks just can’t handle. So, we do them a favor: we keep it from them. We let them go along their merry way, working and enjoying their families and watching football games and laughing and drinking beer—while we take care of the nasty little inconvenient matters.”
“This is not what I expected when I came to Washington.”
“Well, it’s time to grow up, son. This is life inside the Beltway. We play hardball here. So, you either play along or get cracked over the head with a baseball bat.”
Joshua said, “Goodbye, Mr. Snuffer. I hope I never see you again. But don’t worry, I won’t do anything stupid.”
He grinned. “I never worry, Mr. Goldhart. And I wish you all the best. One of these days you’re gonna make a fine politician.”
Joshua left the building and wandered the streets aimlessly for more than an hour before heading home.
Fifteen years later…
“We’ve got a big problem, sir. One of our interns is all worked up because he figured out who paid for your family vacation in Paris last year, and of course, if he goes public with it, our re-election chances are down the toilet.”
“Do you know if he’s shared this with anyone else?”
“He says no, and I believe him. I told him that I’ve got proof that he’s wrong. So, he promised to stay quiet about it until I get back with him. But when he realizes I’m just stalling, he’s gonna spill the beans. It’s about his integrity and the public’s right to know and all that garbage.”
“People trust Senator Joshua Goldhart. They believe he’s fair and honest and above reproach, and we need to keep them thinking that.”
“Absolutely, sir. It’s imperative that we maintain your noble public image.”
“So, you know what to do.”
“Of course. I will procure the necessary untraceable cash and contact the Snuffer Agency.”
Copyright © 2017 Robert Burton Robinson