Plumb Pudding

A work of speculative, political fiction about a member of the U.S. House of Representatives who is destined to clean up the three branches of government, he just doesn’t know it yet…

by: Laura Mahal

The Little Old Ladies (LOL) Club invited Representative Felix Finn to join in on their Squat and Lunge Challenge the day he was called upon to fix the pipes in their locker room. Long before Felix had risen to a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he had been a plumber.

It all began when Felix came upon Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s water-logged size-five sneakers, and one thing led to another. She’d reported flooding under the sinks and then noticed water approaching the locker bay on the fourth floor of the Supreme Court. The United States government was under a shutdown, and no work orders could be fulfilled, so reaching out to Felix became the only viable alternative.

“Happy to help,” Felix told the Little Old Ladies. It felt good to have a wrench and lengths of PVC pipe in his hands again. These items were much easier to work with than anything else in D.C.

Felix towered over the tallest of the women, Sandra Hover, a relative youngster at sixty-eight, who stood 5’7”. Sandra had been the Supreme Court Reporter for thirty years. She reminded Felix that she was twice his age, ten times as experienced, and likely to outlive him, given the perils inherent to the legislative branch.

Felix nodded his assent. “All true. So, I suppose my only chance to prove my worth is to see if I can keep up when you do a gazillion squats and countless lunges?”

Sandra patted the young man’s shoulder. “You’ve already proven your worth. You drained the swamp, which is more than our Commander-in-Chief can say.”

The Little Old Ladies surrounded Felix and offered some advice before waving him back to Congress. Looking him sternly in the eye Sandra advised, “Keep your friends close — yes. But forget that bit about keeping your enemies closer. It’s better to keep a notebook in your pocket and a pen at the ready. Write down everything you hear, and if in doubt, pull out your phone and press ‘record’. And don’t be a stranger, Mr. Finn. We work in old buildings. Pipes leak all the time. It’ll be incredibly useful to have a plumber on hand.”

Senator Cameron Zwillig handed his invitation to the uniformed Marine manning the door.

The soldier turned it over, then scanned the barcode at the back. “You’re all set, Senator. Enjoy the party.”

Cameron mumbled something about gladly trading places with the Marine rather than having to make nice with buffoons, then stepped inside, making space for Felix to present his ticket.

The Marine repeated the procedure, except this time, he scanned the invitation a second time with a special reader that emitted a bright bluish-light.

“Representative Finn, the president would like you to join him for a cocktail in the Alcove at 1800 hours.” The Marine cleared his throat and apologized. “Sorry, Sir. That’s military time. Please report to the stairs at the end of Sketcher Hall at 5:55 p.m. You’ll be escorted upstairs for a special celebration, which will begin promptly at six.”

Felix looked blankly at Cameron, who pursed his lips and shook his head. “Can’t help you here. You’re the fool who tried to offer regrets for his damn birthday shindig. You should have watched him blow spittle onto his icing, then headed home early. When you make an enemy in this town, you get special coding on your ivory handcrafted stationery it seems. One minute, Marines tell you to report for duty and the next, Fox News is running top-of-the-hour news stories about how you’re the next Benedict Arnold.”

The two men joined a queue of people waiting for wine and hors d’oeuvres, and for the president to make his entrance.

When Felix walked down the empty hallway at 5:52 p.m., he paused to examine each painting he passed as if he would find clues to his current situation in the historic artwork. A deer stared sightlessly at a pack of hunting dogs. A dozen fair-skinned children played ball in a field bordered by cotton stalks, tufted by tightly wrapped bolls, with pumpkins and bone-white gourds as their goalposts.

A naked man and woman entwined on a four-post bed, while a uniformed servant stood silently alongside velvet wall hangings, holding a silver tray of strawberries and cream.

These images are out of touch with our world, just like this president, Felix thought.

When he reached the winding staircase, Felix expected to be met by a secret service agent or perhaps another polite Marine. He leaned against the wall, careful not to dislodge any of the crude wall art. The last thing he needed was to set off a security alarm and raise a ruckus. Representative Finn simply wanted to keep his nose clean and work hard on behalf of his constituents.

A lovely woman glided down the stairs, while her low-cut vermilion top flapped open to reveal her renowned cleavage.

Her feet hardly seemed to linger on a single step before she emerged alongside Felix and grasped his hand. Her fingers were clammy and slick, as if she had stuck them inside cold pudding to test the firmness of its set.

Despite the expense of her designer blouse, she reminded Felix of a fortune teller he’d once seen at the Indiana State Fair, except the scent emanating from this woman wasn’t incense. It was acrid, even repulsive.

“Mr. Finn. I have been looking forward to the pleasure of your company. Please, join me for a drink.”

Rather than leading him up the stairs or back the way he had come, the woman pressed a hidden button inside one of the white cotton bolls in the oil painting of playful children. A door opened into the wall.

The first thing that crossed Felix’s mind was gratitude. At least she hadn’t reached for the couple writhing on the canopied bed.

The woman pulled him into what looked to be an old-fashioned bathroom, complete with gold-plated faucets, fringed fainting couches, chandeliers, and a long marble countertop with a brass-framed mirror. 

“Why am I here?” he asked.

“We have things to discuss.” She patted the armrest of the closest couch. “Sit,” she demanded, withdrawing her moist hand and wiping it on her black slacks. Oily stains remained, like the floor of a dirty garage under a badly maintained vehicle. “Come on, Mr. Finn. I won’t bite. Maybe the occasional nibble, but—”

Felix’s face flushed and heat crept into his extremities. “I’m leaving.”

He turned to go, but could not locate a handle, a button, or anything that would afford him an exit.

The woman laughed, not unpleasantly, but with a hint of control that was unnerving.

“You’ll go, Mr. Finn, when I’m done with you. Until then, like everyone who has preceded you, you’ll hear me out. I’d like to think you’ll be as agreeable as the rest of them.”

He started to say, “Agreeable in what way,” then thought better of encouraging such a conversation. Surely it was best to stick with facts. “How many is that?” 

“Six,” she said. “You’re number seven. The president has commanded me to bring the eight most powerful people in Washington into his inner sanctum. Or,” she laughed again, “into the fold, if you prefer.” She abruptly sat and parted her willowy legs, beckoning with one slick finger.

Felix gagged, then vomited brie-filled mushroom caps and a glass of Perrier with lime onto the navy-blue tiled floor. 

He might have fainted, except he remembered what the Little Old Ladies had told him. He reached into his pocket for his phone, then realized the Marine had him surrender it at the front door.

She teased him, sliding her fingers along the inside of her thighs. “Oh, I see how this is going to be. You don’t care for women.”

“I don’t care to be set up. And I don’t sleep with total strangers. Especially ones who threaten and—” Don’t bathe properly, he wanted to add. There was something about her that was squishy, like the inside of a pumpkin. Just looking at her made him want to wash his hands.

“We don’t have to have sex. We can just talk. Surely you can manage fifteen minutes with me.”

Felix tried another tack as he dabbed his face with an embroidered cloth. “I’m a junior representative. I’m hardly on the list of the top thousand, let alone one of the eight most powerful in Washington. Why did the president send for me? I’m a nobody. A former plumber, originally from Indiana, resettled in Oregon. We don’t have oil fields. We have pot shops and lots of great breweries. Beyond that, Oregon offers incredible people and natural beauty.” He was truly puzzled, babbling, momentarily forgetting that he was her prisoner. 

“You have powerful friends. You’re the only man who’s ever been invited to join the LOL Club.”

Felix grinned, finally understanding. “You’re saying the president sent you to fetch me because I’m doing a daily squat challenge with two dozen women old enough to be his babysitter. What, is he jealous?”

The woman’s smile shifted into something quite unfriendly. She looked like a painting of a mob boss. Someone who would stuff kittens into bags and then toss the bag into the Potomac. She looked like the sort of person who was very close to the president.

“Powerful women despite their age. Women who refuse to meet with us. Women who are unwilling to listen to reason. Women who aren’t deterred by a bit of flooding in their fitness center.”

Felix’s grin faded as the import of her words sifted onto his shoulders.

“You mean women who aren’t deterred by childish tantrums and toadish behavior.” He bit off the bitterness of “Not to mention, a Cheeto-tinged suntan” as beneath his dignity.

“We’re done here,” Felix said as he rose to his feet. “If you don’t let me out of here right now, I’ll be forced to hurt you.”

She let his words wash over her like they were air.

“You don’t have it in you. Besides, hurting me won’t get you out. Only I know how to find the exit.” She drifted her fingers lazily toward his knee. “What I will give you is ten minutes to think about my offer. Agree to plant a few of our ideas at your daily Crunch and Lunch or whatever you call it, and you’ll serve out your term, making the citizens of Oregon justifiably proud of your good work. Refuse to help, and I confidently predict the tabloids will be splashed with seedy stories about your misdeeds. You’ll be caught with your hands in all kinds of cookie jars.”

The proof is in the pudding, he thought as she stormed toward the toilet stalls, then disappeared into a wall with no visible door. 

They couldn’t come up with anything, Felix thought, because I haven’t done a single thing wrong. Could they?

After Felix conducted a complete pat down of the walls in an effort to find a way out, he sat on a toilet seat to clear his head.

Clean slate.

Clean.

Sinks. Soap. Bathroom.

Pipes.

He could use the pipes.

Felix disconnected the U-bends under the sinks and turned the water on full blast. He then jammed every toilet with paper towels and started flushing. Those were micro-surges of water, only, but it was oddly gratifying — like something a toddler would do.

As water drifted up his shoes, Felix recalled when RBG had reported the flooding in their locker room. She’d done so with good cheer, as if it was a minor inconvenience.

“All of us have to step in it sometimes, before we figure out how to circumvent the horse patookey. For as long as you choose to serve in politics, young man, you’ll be in for your share.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was revered for her wisdom and fortitude. She was a much more reliable fortune teller than the hit woman the president had sent to trap Representative Finn into misdeeds.

Felix Finn would find his way out of this mess, and when he did, he would clean up the White House, once and for all. Plus, he would get rid of those ridiculous oil paintings and replace them with modern art and rainbow flags.

Reporters flocked around him, shoving padded microphones into his face and vying for his attention with raised voices.

“Representative Finn! You were discovered in a private bathroom with an unidentified woman who was reportedly half-naked, wading through two feet of scummy water. Who is she and what were you doing there?”

“She didn’t share her name. But she claims to be a close friend of the president. I was investigating shoddy plumbing.”

“Some say you were having an affair,” a famed cable news reporter shouted. 

“Some may say that, but my constituents know the truth. They were confident enough in my character to elect me as their representative.” Smiling and calm, Felix added, the only women I spend a significant amount of time with are the ladies of the LOL Club. All of whom can do twice as many squats and lunges as I can, and to whom I doff my hat with the utmost respect.”

Felix wasn’t wearing a hat, and his pants were soaked to the knees, but none of that mattered. What mattered was that Senator Cameron Zwillig had “pulled rank” as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, forming a search party after he had gone to grill the Marine on-duty at the front door. The Coast Guard had been called to the scene. 

Twitter was going wild with speculation as to the woman who had evidently gotten away, floating up the same stairs she had descended when Felix had first laid eyes on her. But she and the president were not quite scot-free. The senior representatives from Virginia and Florida were besieged by media, providing scintillating tales of interrogation in a gilded bathroom.

The entire squadron of the Little Old Ladies Club was there to testify on Felix’s behalf, and that intimidation would no longer be the lubricant behind the slimy wheels of the executive branch.

Felix’s legs quivered as he completed his fifth lap of lunges. Just a few more, he told himself. Gotta keep up with the ladies.

They were singing songs and trading jokes. Women were predicting his fortune.

“You’ll have six children.” 

“You’ll balance the budget.” 

“You’ll modernize the plumbing.”

Yes. Yes, all that and more.

 

Laura Mahal is a two-time winner of the Hecla Award for Speculative Fiction. Her poetry is featured in Sunrise Summits and Veterans’ Voices, where she was awarded the 2019 Gladys Feld Helzberg Memorial Award. Short fiction publications include the Fish anthology, The Daily Abuse, Still Coming Home, Flash! and DoveTales. Laura is a part-time copyeditor, whose most recent editing project was the RISE anthology, released in October 2019. She’s a contributing essayist to the 2020 The Road She’s Traveled anthology, and she believes that penning words to the page is one of the best forms of activism. And that humor is quite necessary for survival of the species.

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