They heard a car door slam as Mary, wearing her red and blue quilted coat, approached Blow's office door to leave. She saw him first. She was reaching for the brass door handle when she froze, then pivoted.
“Oh my god, Blow, it's Bart Bullshit!” She stepped back to let Blow look out its mullioned window pane. A bulky, broad-shouldered man in a dark overcoat stood beside the shiny sedan parked next to Mary's light brown Saturn. He was looking up at the office door. His unnaturally ruddy, full-moon face contrasted with the bush of silver hair that covered the top of his head. Occasional bursts of icy breeze ruffled the hair, whisked away the puffs of steam from his breath and flapped the tails of a white silk muffler draped around the back of his neck.
“Big galoot, isn't he,” Blow muttered, turning to Mary, who was easing toward the door leading to the hallway outside the office.
“Hey, stay here, Mary. You'll get your scoop, and I may need a witness.” She smiled.
The big man was lumbering up the brick walkway when Blow turned back to the window. He pulled the inner door open and pushed the steel-framed, heavy, two-ply glass door ajar.
Blow felt a growing mix of wary anticipation and resentment as he watched his uninvited guest ascend the three brick steps to the office entrance. It was when a massive hand gripped the edge of the door that Blow first became aware he'd been staring without expression into glacial eyes that were apprising his with equal dispassion.
Once inside, the man's huffing outsized presence immediately dominated Blow's modestly appointed office, as the odor of too much cologne riding on stale cigar smoke assaulted its occupants' nostrils.
“Bart! Call me Bart!” Gladstone's voice, pitched higher than the basso profundo one might expect from his physical appearance, resembled that of a seal barking as he insisted on his preferred nickname during the introductions.
And then, “Nope, no more reporters! Already talked to the media. This is between us boys. Sorry, girly.”
“I beg your pardon?” Blow had never heard Mary sound so coldly formal.
“What?” Gladstone blurted his question as if jolted out of a trance.
“Her name is Mary,” said Blow, “and she stays”. As Gladstone stared, seemingly dumfounded, Blow added, “Or you go.”
Eyes narrowed, lips pursed, the big man nodded once and shrugged out of his heavy coat, exposing a rumpled navy pinstriped suit from which erupted an even richer cloud of the expensive stench he'd brought in with him. He draped his inky outer garment over the back of one of the two courtroom chairs in front of Blow's desk and squeezed his elephantine frame between the wooden arm rests until its bulging bottom met the leather pad on the chair's seat. By then Blow had settled into the chair behind his desk, with Mary ensconced at Barbara Bassett's next to it.
Before any more words were spoken, Gladstone reached inside his suit jacket and produced a mahogany leather case, the top of which he removed to expose a row of cigars. He held the case out to Blow.
Blow rotated his head a couple of times, his lips saying No thanks.
Gladstone persisted: “They're Cuban. Best you can get.”
This time Blow shook his head adamantly. “No, thanks. I don't smoke.”
The former U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman swung his sartorially splendid arm toward Mary and made as if to launch himself from his chair. “Girlie?” Huge grin and quick glance to Blow and back. “See, I'm an equal opportunity kinda guy.”
Mary fixed Gladstone with a look that should have frozen his snarky grin into permanence. Before that could happen she replaced the look with one of innocent gratitude. “Why thank you, Senator Gladstone,” she said and reached out for the case, forcing Gladstone to follow through with his feigned gesture and squeeze himself up and out of the constricting chair. He did this with a grunt but with a surprising agility despite the shocked expression on his florid face. Mary plucked a cigar from the case, passed it under her nose, nodded and lifted her eyebrows appreciatively.
“Thank you again, Senator,” she said in a sweeter voice than Blow could recall ever hearing from her.
“Bart,” he barked, although it came out softer than before. He again settled into his seat, and withdrew a cigar for himself.
Blow interrupted the mood with a head waggle. “Sorry, you two. Not in here,” he said, catching a wink from Mary. “I'm allergic to tobacco smoke. Anyway, let's get down to business. How can I help you, Mr. Gladstone?”
“Bart, dammit...oops, sorry, girlie. Mary. That it? See, I remembered. Just hard for this old dog to break his habits. Good thing my blessed mother isn't around or she--”
“Sorry. Got me going again. What I'm here for might well be considered—hell it is, it is!—a matter of vital national importance.”