When Murray doesn't answer my first call, I know I'm right. I also know he's not going to answer until he's finished, but I try again anyway, three more times. It buys me a few minutes to gather my thoughts, and it's an excuse for circling my desk and lowering my suddenly very tired ass into the ergonomic comfort of my Aeron. After the third ring of the fourth call, I let voicemail pick up.
"This is Michael Murray. Please leave a message after the tone." Murray's voicemail has had this exact same message as long as I've known him, whether it was on a crappy old tape-driven answering machine, his home phone, or the modern marvel of his cell phone. The only time it ever changed was during the "pager period" of the early-mid 90s, where it asked you to "leave your phone number." Murray does not go in for cutesy bullshit. Often, if he calls you and feels your greeting is too long, he'll spend the first fifteen seconds of his message cursing you for wasting his time.
"Murray," I begin, then pause. What the fuck do I say in a message? "I ... need to go over some numbers with you. Give me a holler when you get a chance." I push the "end" button and toss my cellphone back onto my desk. I spin my chair around backward and rest my elbows on my knees. Whatever Murray has decided to do about Gary, it's too late for me to stop him. I can't imagine he'd resort to violence, but he's not above threats. I get nauseous thinking about it.
The worst thing is that he's not here, where I need him to be, to help me figure this out. Okay, maybe that's not the worst thing -- the worst thing will be when Gary shows up this evening on KCal9 with his lawyer and a busted lip, and Richardson holding his hand. I lean forward and bury my head in my hands. Christ, when did this become so complicated?
No. That's the wrong question. I lean back in my chair and close my eyes. The question, the real question, should be, why do I continue to imagine this will be simple? It never has been. My race for city council was the most brutal and bloody five months of my young life. The incumbent I was running against was entrenched, well-funded and ruthless. Without my union support, I'd have been screwed. Even with it, the margin was uncomfortably narrow. I spent my first year fighting un-winnable battles on behalf of half a dozen groups whose support came with long strings. I didn't do anything, or, at least, very little, I wouldn't have backed anyway, but it was the most stress-filled year of my life. Most of the deals had been brokered by Murray, and I'd fought him every inch of the way, but without him I'd never have won. And in the end I was able to do, or, at least try to do, most all of what I'd planned. But everything was a dance, and often with less-than-desirable partners.
Still, even after these past four years, I step through every door with a kind of idiot optimism. Jessica likens my worldview to that of our yellow lab, Hank. Each day he wakes up, he cocks his head, huge tongue lolling out of the side of his ridiculous grin, and trots out his doghouse door, regardless of what happened the day before, firmly knowing that today is going to be the best day ever. I guess there are worse ways to live your life. And maybe it's good that I look at the world this way, provided there are folks like Jess and Murray to watch my back. And maybe I am an idiot. History will tell.
I page Paul and ask him to send Murray to me as soon as he gets back, and then spend the next hour and a half returning some mundane calls, with one eye on my email, waiting for the message that the other shoe has dropped. Jessica doesn't call or email or pop-in -- I don't expect her to. The sad reality is that I'm so busy thinking about how to quash the Gary story, or trying to keep it from interfering too much with the low-level crap I've simply gotta get done, I don't have time to worry about how to fix my marriage. The campaign will be over in a few days, and that leaves a very limited window to fix this problem. My marriage, I hope, will last a lot longer -- with much luck, I can fix it after the polls close. It's a shitty way to treat the person I care about most in my life, but it is the reality of our situation, one we've lived with these past 5 years, and one, if the election goes well, we'll have to live with for a while longer.
I'm in the middle of a call with my fourth-largest contributor, discussing his assertion that runaway production is hurting the tech unions more than SAG or AFTRA, when there's a knock at my door. After a few seconds it opens, and Murray steps through. He flips through some recent numbers stacked on my file cabinet as I wrap things up on the phone. I promise to call later, receive some possibly heartfelt encouragement, and place the phone back in the cradle.
Murray and I look at each other for a moment. Then he asks, "What happened while I was gone?"
"I told Jess. She's pissed."
"But not publicly," I add.
He nods again.
"Are we cool?" I ask.
Murray tilts his head back and looks at the ceiling. His hair is weirdly matted, like he's been sweating, and there are three dark water spots on his silk tie. He takes a deep breath. "I don't know. Maybe."
My phone rings. I look at Murray for a second longer, and he avoids my eyes. I pick up the receiver.
"It's Jean," says the nervous voice on the other end. "It just dropped."