It started with a tweet.
Rachel was doing her first email/Twitter check of the morning while consuming a vente vanilla soy latte and a cruller when she spotted this intriguing tidbit from @chrislhayes: Further proof of the conservative meltdown. Soros not scary enough boogeyman. Now they’re after the Doctor.
The tweet contained a link to a posting on the always hilarious lucianne.com, where the usual suspects appeared to be frothing at the mouth over a piece in the so-called “Tea Party Gazette,” which insisted that although Obama was without a doubt a Marxist/Leninist/Kenyan/Manchurian Candidate who had only been elected due to a conspiracy involving McCain, Huckabee, Hillary Clinton, SEIU, ACORN and the “New York Slimes,” the real “puppet master” was not George Soros, Warren Buffet, the ChiComs, the Tri-Lateral Commission or even Oprah Winfrey, but rather a shadowy “alien” figure called “the Doctor” who apparently wanted to subjugate god-fearing Americans into joining a Universal Government overseen by Time Lords.
The L-dotters didn’t seem to question the whole “alien Time Lord” thing in the slightest. They were only divided as to whether the Doctor was funding Soros or vice versa, and whether Sarah Palin (in her position as the next president) would charm the aliens or blow them out of the sky using nuclear weapons.
It wasn’t all that different from the typical blather emerging from the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh wrecking crew on any given day. OK, on second thought, the “alien” bit was worth an extra smirk and maybe even a call to Chris. Maybe he could come on the show that night to discuss the fact that the Right Wing was going totally bonkers, despite their so-called “successes.”
She pushed the speed-dial and waited.
Chris was awfully perky for this hour. He sounded like he was at least two lattes ahead of her.
“Morning, Lambchop! So what’s the deal with this Doctor guy?”
“You know, I’m not really sure. I’ve heard rumors about him going back to when I was a kid, and I’ve been asking around. Some folks say he’s been around since the 60’s. All I know is that the right wing blogosphere has been exploding, so someone’s decided that this is the new talking point. I guess the current crap isn’t working, so they’re dishing up some new crap. You should google it. The stuff you get is a hoot.”
“You want to come on the show tonight? We can talk about how the right can’t handle its own success and seems to be going into the cray cray bin. Pull together the whole conspiracy stewpot?”
Rachel had her morning meeting with the production staff at 11:00AM. She mentioned the Doctor and Chris’s tweet, but it didn’t seem to be catching fire and the meeting was interrupted when five different Blackberries started beeping at the same time with an alert about one of the DADT cases they’d been monitoring. The decision was coming down that afternoon.
By noon, it was clear that the judge’s ruling was going to be the story and Lambchop was bumped in favor of what Rachel liked to call her “military industrial complex,” including Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, Congressman Patrick Murphy and Paul Reickhoff from IAVA.
She called Chris to apologize, but he said it was fine. He and Kate were going to one of those “Georgetown Cocktail Parties” that the wingnuts were constantly slandering as the venues where solid conservatives were somehow seduced into Rino-hood.
“If you find out which drink is responsible let me know. We’ll do a cocktail moment about it. And if you see the Doctor, tell him I said Hi, and can I get him on the show?”
“Sure thing. Maybe you can interview him about Health Care Reform.”
Lambchop always made her smile, and she had just a few hours to prepare for what promised to be a really intense show, but she wasn’t willing to let go of this Doctor thing either. Anything that could get the Conservative mouths frothing was always worth looking into. She asked one of the interns to do some research and put together a file for her.
Then she focused on the task ahead, only momentarily envying Chris his cocktail party.
“This is crazy,” she announced, looking up from the printouts the intern had left on her desk. “The only people who have more of a hate-on for the Doctor than the right-wing is the left-wing. At least that’s how some of them felt in 1974.”
Kent had magically arrived in her office with a post-show snack. Or maybe he’d been sitting there all along and she hadn’t noticed. Or maybe Kent was the Doctor, since he seemed to have a knack of showing up unannounced, as the Doctor had apparently been doing for several decades now.
“I mean the guy who wrote this is seriously….whooo-hoooo!” She made the crazy sign, in case Kent didn’t get the whole picture. “Big time conspiracy theorist of a liberal persuasion and he’s got it in his head that the Time Lords are a fascist group in cahoots with the Illuminati and the John Birch society and were probably involved in the Kennedy assassination."
“I guess it really was possible to do too much acid.”
“But here’s the thing: he’s got what he claims are actually pictures of the Doctor. Take a look. Here he is allegedly masterminding the Versailles conference to screw the Germans, thereby laying the ground work for World War One.”
She turned the laptop around so that Kent could see.
“Doesn’t he look a little young to be the man behind of the curtain of hundreds of years of history?”
“I like the bow tie.”
“Yeah. I figured you would. But here’s the weird thing. There’s a written account of a meeting during the Suez crisis, and the Doctor was doing his Ye Old Puppet Master thing to Great Britain, but his description is totally different. He’s some of kind of clownish figure with mismatched colors and curly hair.”
Rachel showed Ken another picture.
“OK,” Kent agreed, “that’s kind of alarming. I mean the hair’s not bad, but what’s up with the question marks?”
“And here’s where it gets even weirder. He’s also supposed to be in his forties.”
“In 1956?” Kent asked, obviously stretching his memory to pick the right year for the Suez Crisis.
“You’re right,” he agreed. “That’s weird.”
“You got any ideas as to where I go from here?”
“Out for a drink?” Kent suggested, quite sensibly.
“Oh trust me, that is most definitely in my future. How about ideas for finding my Mystery Doctor?”
“Open the door to your Mystery Doctor,” he sang, to the tune of the old Mystery Date commercial, which led Rachel to a bout of giggles.
“Seriously, dude. Give me a hint.”
Kent sighed and pursed his lips and Rachel started to shake her head. It was a little scary how well they knew each other.
“I’m just saying. If you want to talk to someone who knows everyone, it’s just down the hall.”
Kent was right. There was no reason to be avoiding one of her colleagues nearly two weeks after the election. Rachel didn’t consider herself a grudge-holder, but she didn’t think she could walk over to the Hardball set and be her usual gracious self. She wasn’t mad on her own behalf. Well, maybe she was a little, but mostly she resented the way Chris had been so willing to read the election results as some a wholesale rejection of the progressive agenda, instead of looking at state by state races, and the amount of bullshit pouring out of Fox News on a daily basis. Why did he have to go on that tear about how the Democratic party had lost Steelers fans instead of focusing on the money spent by the Chamber of Commerce to defeat certain candidates?
She looked at Kent again. He had that look on his face. Right. This was a story, and she shouldn’t let personal feelings stop her from going where the story was. She’d gone toe to toe with Christine O’Donnell’s shock troops in Delaware. Chris Matthews shouldn’t be a problem.
Although she almost turned around and left when she got to the studio and saw Chris sharing a laugh with Pat Buchanan.
Great, she thought, with a sigh. Pat had never really been a friend, but she’d enjoyed sparring with him on her radio show and on TV. She’d honestly thought they had enough mutual respect to overcome their political differences and make good television together and got a kick out of the idea of her “Fake Uncle Pat.” That illusion had evaporated when she had him on to talk about Sonia Sotomayor and Pat had unleashed a diatribe of bigotry and hatred that genuinely shocked Rachel. She’d gone on the next night to fact-check his tirade, practically word-for-word and hadn’t seen him since, either on- or off-screen.
Chris didn’t seem to have any trouble “palling around” as Sarah Palin would say. There were no cigars in sight, but she could easily imagine the two of them with Scotch and stogies. They were the guys who missed the smoke-filled rooms and the deal-making and the days when politics was strictly an old boys club. A straight, white old boys club. Maybe Chris didn’t have a set of prejudices as blatant as Pat’s, but they were of the same generation. They spoke the same language. Maybe they had information about the same Doctor.
“Hey guys,” she said brightly, walking into the studio.
“Rachel! Hi!” Chris called out in his ALL CAPS voice, which was pretty much the only voice he had.
“Hi Chris. Hi Pat.”
Pat even stood up to greet her, ever the gentleman, and even though she didn’t feel very ladylike, she smiled back.
“I’m working on a story. Something that goes way back and I thought maybe you two could help me.”
She could practically see Chris preening. “Always happy to help a colleague,” he smirked, offering her a seat.
No idea. He had no idea that she was still pissed off about election night. And Pat was probably just as clueless about why she hadn’t had him back on the show in over a year. Or thought it was just some female silliness.
“Did you ever hear of a guy calling himself The Doctor? He tended to show up around major historical events. Maybe spoke with a British accent?”
“Yeah, the Doctor. I know all about that guy,” Chris started in his usual bellow. Like all of Chris’ stories, this one began with ‘When I was working for Senator Moynihan’ and included multiple references to Jack Kennedy. Not to be outdone or out-decibeled, Pat chimed in, only his recollections tended to involve Dick Nixon and the good old days at CREEP.
Rachel walked away with the beginnings of a major headache and two completely contradictory descriptions of the Doctor, exacerbated by the fact that for all their stentorian name dropping, neither Chris nor Pat had ever actually met him and were both rehashing second- and third-hand stories, no doubt modified by years and alcohol.
According to Chris, he was sort of a Libertarian free spirit in a shabby brown suit whom Dean Acheson occasionally referred to as “Moe” for some reason, while Pat insisted the Doctor had a head of curly hair and a rather garish scarf. Pat’s Doctor, somehow not surprisingly, was a stalwart cold warrior and a drinking crony of Churchill’s.
Curiouser and curiouser, Rachel thought, wondering exactly where this particular rabbit hole was taking her and why she didn’t feel completely annoyed with either of those two jerks anymore.
“So what am I, chopped liver?”
Keith was waiting for her at the elevators. Or maybe he just happened to be waiting there. Either way, it was good to see him with a smile or at least a smirk on his face. It had been a while.
They’d all had a rough year, with the political roller coaster that had followed the euphoria of Obama’s election, but Keith had gone through his father’s illness and death not to mention the incredible onslaught of abuse that he took as the face of MSNBC. Rachel knew about the nastiness aimed her way in the blogosphere and it was nothing compared to the shit that got flung at Keith. Sometimes it was hard to remember how much fun they used to have doing the throws. Lately it had all felt very pro forma and despite her deep fondness for Keith, she was not sure how to bridge the gap.
Maybe Keith had decided to do it for her.
“Don’t knock a good chopped liver,” she retorted. “If it’s got plenty of schmaltz and you get a nice rye bread with caraway seeds…”
“Point taken. But that still doesn’t explain why you’d come down here for information, especially without a pair of earplugs.”
“An aspirin would have helped too. You wouldn’t happen to have one on you?”
He pulled a bottle of Bayer out of his jacket pocket and shook it enticingly.
“First tell me what you’re working on. Maybe I can help, and it won’t even require a rehashing of the 1960 West Virginia primary.”
“Much as I’d enjoy that,” Rachel retorted. “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m starting to wonder if there’s a story, or just a ‘story.’ Maybe this guy is just a myth.”
“The Doctor. So far I’ve got at least four different descriptions, covering five different decades and three possible ideologies. It’s crazy.”
Rachel waited for Keith to agree with the craziness or find a way to blame it on Fox News, but instead he had his brows knitted and the serious look on his face. She watched as he pushed the button for the elevator, which failed to immediately appear, provoking more pushing.
“He’s not a myth.”
“Okay.” She waited, but Keith seemed strangely preoccupied with the elevator. “Come on, Keith. What’s going on? And can I please have that aspirin?”
Rachel didn’t think she’d actually been praying, but she was tempted to thank god when the elevator finally arrived.
“Come on, Rachel. I’ll give you the aspirin and something to wash it down with. Let’s go out for a drink.”
Keith had never asked her out for a drink. Not alone, anyway.
“Let me get my coat. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
In the time it took her to get up to the office and grab her coat, she managed to send a text to everyone on her contact list who might have any possible information on the Doctor, including Richard Engle. If there really was a Doctor he seemed as likely to turn up in Iraq or Afghanistan as anywhere else.
When Rachel got to the 51st Street entrance, Keith was waiting outside, standing next to a cab. There was no shortage of bars within walking distance, but apparently Keith had something else in mind. They got out at 74th Street and Amsterdam. The Candle Bar. Rachel had never been there, but knew it well by reputation.
The bar was everything an upscale gay bar on the Upper West Side should be, she thought. Smooth jazz, rich fabrics. Rachel instantly felt safe and comfortable.
She didn’t think Keith had brought her here by accident, and she was touched that he was doing so, but that was nothing compared to the shock of who was waiting for them in a curtained booth at the back of the bar.
Well, there it was. Keith. Anderson. Keith and Anderson. At Candle Bar. What the Enquirer wouldn’t give for that scoop. What those lowlifes at Fox News would do with it. Hell, what Stephen Colbert and even Jon Stewart would make of it. Or the online girls who wrote stories. Ana Marie had told her that there were even stories about her and Rachel, which Rachel found amusing yet horribly embarrassing to contemplate.
Drinks were ordered and Rachel finally got to have her aspirin along with a very dry martini. She also had the chance to observe Keith and Anderson sharing drinks and personal space. The more she watched, the more she decided that there might not really be a there there. Or not as much of a there as there could have been. She shook her head to try and clear out some of the “theres.” Clearly there was affection and even attraction, but she got the feeling that most of the emotion was coming from Anderson. He looked at Keith with admiration and respect and most definitely longing, but Keith was much harder to read.
Not that it was any of her business, and she knew that being invited into this setting did not give her permission to share it with anyone, not even Susan. So what exactly were they all doing there?
Oh yeah, the Doctor. She’d nearly forgotten sometime after the second martini and the first time she’d seen Keith and Anderson’s hands “accidentally” brush each other over the peanut bowl.
“Um, wow. This is a really great martini.”
Anderson smiled what Kent called the “Cooper Megawatt” and Rachel found herself drawn in and leaning forward.
“Keith says you were asking about the Doctor.”
“Yeah,” she started, almost embarrassed to still be talking about it. “But I’m really starting to think he doesn’t even exist. He’s like a cross between the Abominable Snowman and the Easter Bunny.”
“I met him.”
Anderson was known to have a wicked sense of humor, and it was just possible that this was a giant put-on, Candle Bar and all.
Or maybe it was true.
“Can you tell me about it?”
She caught a look between Keith and Anderson.
“Not on the record,” he said. “I’m not really comfortable saying anything about him, but I’ve told Keith, and here you are.”
There was a weird world of interpersonal dynamic in that statement.
“Well, I appreciate it. He seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Everybody knows someone who knows somebody who met him, but the descriptions are all different.”
“He was…very handsome.” Rachel resisted the urge to check Keith’s reaction to that statement. “He was a friend of my mother's.”
That made sense. Famous socialite. Probably knew all kinds of people. Unless “friend” meant more than friend. How had she gone from tracking down a political story to feeling like she was in a Dominick Dunne novel?
“Off the record,” she promised, assuming that was the key to getting Anderson to continue.
He sighed and smiled. Clearly this was something he didn’t share easily.
“I was in boarding school. Or at least I was supposed to be. I’d actually left a few days early and hitched a ride with one of my friends.”
“Back to New York?”
“To London. Mother had a townhouse there. This was a few years after my father died. She was going to fly home for Christmas and I was supposed to meet her at the airport, but I got to London and I figured I’d just show up and surprise her.”
Rachel found herself getting slightly worried about where this story was going.
“The butler let me in and I walked right into the middle of a party. A Christmas party,” Anderson clarified, as if he’d been reading her mind. “I got the feeling she didn’t really want me there. It was a party for adults and I was just a kid. I remember walking into the main room, with the tree and the lights and everyone drinking champagne and eggnog and there was this man, sitting on the ottoman in the middle of the room, and Mother looked at him and he looked at me and said, ‘Let him stay. He’s just what this party needs.’ And I just sat there all night at his feet, listening as he told stories. I don’t really remember what he said, just that he seemed to understand the world in a way that nobody else I’d ever met did. He knew how bad humanity could be, but also how good.”
Anderson stopped, possibly embarrassed by the impressionable adolescent he’d been. Then he seemed to switch gears.
“He was very handsome. Tall and elegant. He had a velvet jacket, an embroidered waistcoat and a silk cravat and he had wavy brown hair.”
This time Rachel indulged in a glance at Keith, who was dapper in his own way, but certainly not prone to velvet jackets or cravats of any kind. He didn’t seem too disturbed to hear about young Anderson’s crush on the Doctor, but of course he’d heard the story before.
Anderson’s tone got even more wistful.
“It was like he just existed for this one night. I never saw him again, but I never forgot him.”
Keith’s big paw landed on Anderson’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort. The first unambiguous physical touch she’d seen between them.
“Did you ask your mom about him?"
He shook his head.
Rachel really wanted to try and bring it back to politics, but clearly this was too personal to Anderson to make it about anything as crass as Liberal and Conservative.
“I appreciate you telling me. I won’t share any of this, but I am going to keep looking.”
“If you find him, tell him I said ‘hello’ and ‘thanks’. He made me feel really special.”
She nodded. Her second martini was gone and she really had to go. She looked at Keith, who looked at Anderson.
“I’ll get a cab,” she said, realizing she might never know exactly what was going on with those two and thinking she was probably better off that way.
On the way back to her apartment, she checked text messages and discovered that both Richard and her mother were concerned about her health, having mistaken her message about the Doctor for an actual medical situation requiring a doctor. Oops. She called her mom to reassure her and shot a message back off to Richard. That was pretty sweet of him to be worried about her well-being, considering he was probably standing near some rubble with bullets and bombs going off. Unless he was just hanging out at the hotel bar…with bullets and bombs going off.
It had been an exhausting day. Rachel really wanted to get online and type up some notes. Maybe just the thing about the cravat and the wavy hair, but honestly...her eyes could barely stay open. The martinis hadn’t helped at all. Maybe she’d just lie down for a few minutes. Susan usually kept her from falling asleep in her clothes, but Susan had stayed at the house in Pittsfield this week, dealing with some winterizing issues.
She’d started dozing off and was having a particularly freaky dream about Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann when she was startled and slightly grateful to be woken up by her cell phone playing Poker Face, her ring-tone for Ana Marie.
Without her glasses, Rachel couldn’t make out the time on any of the nearby digital displays. It didn’t really matter. Ana Marie was the ultimate 24-hour party person and Rachel was always happy to hear from her.
“Hey. Do me a favor…buzz me in. I’m outside and it’s freezing!”
Typical Ana Marie. Showing up in New York when Rachel would have assumed she was in Washington. Asking to be let into the apartment when Rachel was in her sweatpants and a Red Sox t-shirt and appearing at Rachel’s door with a paper bag that had the makings of a Mai Tai inside including plastic glasses and paper umbrellas.
“No wonder you’re freezing. Are you actually wearing anything under there?”
“Would you like it if I wasn’t?”
Great. Ana Marie had been inside the door for less than two minutes and Rachel was already blushing. No one could do that to her like Ana Marie, with her wicked smile and insinuating giggle. She was wearing something under her coat, but not much for a New York night. Little black dress was over-stating it. Miniscule black dress was closer, with a pair of high heels and dangly earrings. The holiday party season was underway and Ana Marie had been rubbing shoulders, and who knew what else, with the gang at US News and World Reports.
“Did you steal this stuff from Zuckerman’s stash?”
“I had to have the cab driver stop while I ran into CVS for the umbrellas.”
Rachel lined the bottles up on her kitchen table.
“Peach schnapps?” she called out to Ana Marie who was warming up near the radiator.
“Mort didn’t have any orange curacao. Just do your best.”
“Pushy, pushy.” Rachel shook her head, but went about the business of making the drinks and even contributed some garnish from her own sparsely stocked refrigerator.
“Yummy,” Ana Marie twinkled as Rachel brought the glasses in.
“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Rachel asked.
“Aside from the fact that the party was like a wake without the body?”
“Yeah. I always like to hang out, but you know I’m not the big night owl. What was so important you had to swipe booze to tell me about it?”
Ana Marie took another sip. Actually this one looked much closer to a swig. Rachel tried her own drink and winced at the sweetness.
“I got your text about the Doctor, and I just happen to know someone who knows him.”
“I’ve already talked to Anderson,” Rachel blurted, trying to suppress a yawn. Maybe she should have used the Captain Morgan’s to make herself a rum and Coke. If she was going to keep up with Ana Marie, caffeine would come in very handy. Then she realized that she’d just boarded the SS Failboat when it came to protecting her source.
“Anderson?” Ana Marie seemed perplexed, which was as adorable as everything else about her. “Anderson….Cooper? So cute. If I weren’t….and he weren’t. Wait a minute, he knows the Doctor?”
“Did I say that?”
“Well, forget I did. And tell me who you know. Is this another one of these ‘I met a guy on line at Gristede's and he told me he once met a soldier who’d seen the Doctor at the Battle of Trafalgar’ stories?”
Ana Marie was looking at her very strangely.
“Sorry. I’m tired. And now half drunk on the worst Mai Tai ever.”
“I’ve got one degree of separation. His name is Jack.”
Rachel tried not to get jealous of the way that Ana Marie said the name Jack.
“Tell me more, tell me more,” she said, barely singing, but Ana Marie got the joke anyway.
“Well, it wasn’t love at first sight, but it was definitely something. I was already seeing Chris, but when Jack smiles at you and says you haven’t seen London until you’ve drunk champagne in the London Eye at night, there’s not much you can do but tell him to pick you up at your hotel and don’t forget the glasses.”
Rachel found herself gripping her glass a little too tightly. Which was a bad thing, since the glass was made out of plastic.
“So this charmer knows the Doctor? And he just happened to mention it to you?” Rachel really hoped her tone didn’t sound as bitchy as she thought it might.
“It was quite a week. He asked me to go to Cardiff with him and I did.”
“Cardiff, as in Wales?”
“Yeah. Crazy, right? Anyway, it was on the train and we were in a sleeper and got into a ‘most fascinating person I ever met’ contest. I figured I had him beat with my Bill Clinton story, at which point he starts talking about the Doctor and I thought he was talking about a doctor, which is cool, but then I realized he didn’t mean a Doctor. He just went on and on about traveling and how the Doctor was the most important person I’d never heard of.”
“Wow!” Rachel exclaimed. “This guy sure makes an impression on people.”
“Tell me about it!!”
“So why aren’t you in Cardiff with this Jack guy?”
Ana Marie shook her head and took another sip.
“You don’t stay with Jack. You get what you can and then you get out.” She sighed wistfully. “But you don’t forget him either. Especially not the bit about the Doctor. “
“Can you get in touch with him?” Rachel asked, not 100% sure she actually wanted to meet this one, even if she was determined to find the Doctor.
“I think so.”
“Would he talk to me?”
“Oh, he’ll talk to you. Whether you’ll be able to use any of it…”Ana Marie was smiling again. “Can I get another drink?”
She held out her glass and bit her lower lip. Adorably.
“Sure. And then you can let me get some sleep.”
“Oh my god, Maddow. You are such a wimp. The night is young.”
Rachel smiled, even as she was yawning. Pretty much the only time that Rachel ever thought seriously about the possibility of being with anyone besides Susan was when Ana Marie was around. Especially when she was sticking her tongue out like that. Or two drinks later, when she was practically pushing Ana Marie out the door, which turned into a hug and it was one of those hugs. It was always one of those hugs. Rachel wondered what would happen if she let their lips touch or she held on to the hug just a little longer.
Maybe someday she would, but not tonight. Tonight she’d send Ana Marie out with an air kiss and wonder if she’d actually get this Jack guy to call her.
She’d also wake up with a pounding headache and show up for work late.
Bill gave her a look when she showed up at the morning meeting in sunglasses and clutching a Frappuccino, despite the wind chill outside, but he also gave her a wide berth. The team had put together a good opening segment about the new jobs report and the flagrant hypocrisy in the response from the Republicans, as well as Sarah Palin’s latest inanity.
Rachel nodded gingerly and asked if one of their go-to fiery liberals was booked yet. It was a toss-up between Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown. She tried not to wince at the thought of either one. It was the first time since the election she was the slightest bit relieved that Alan Grayson had lost his election.
No more Mai Tais for you, young lady.
She was contemplating her next move, possibly in the direction of the ladies' room, when she got a text message.
Come to the Rainbow Room for info on the Doctor. CJH
Nice. Rachel had always loved the Rainbow Room. Whoever CJH was, presumably Ana Marie’s friend Jack, they had least had a sense of style.
It was only after she was on her way to the 65th floor that Rachel remembered that the Rainbow Room had been closed for over a year. The elevator shouldn’t even have responded to her pushing that button. But it had, and unless she was either still asleep or suffering from the weirdest alcoholic hallucination ever, the door was opening and music was coming out of what had once been one of the swankiest places in Manhattan.
For a second, she half expected to see couples dancing in period clothes and genuine musicians on the bandstand. That would have been fun, but depressing, only because then she’d really have to give up cocktails in the name of her sanity.
Luckily there was only recorded music, something from the Big Band era, Glenn Miller maybe, and one man sitting alone at a table with a lit candle and a single red rose. Upon closer observation, he did appear to be dressed for a different era. The coat looked like something worn by a general on the Russian front in World War II, and the shirt, pants and suspenders were both timeless and very much of a different era.
The man stood up and held out the rose to her.
“Hello, Rachel Maddow.”
“Hello?” she said, accepting the rose. She phrased her greeting as a question because she didn’t have a full name to reply to or a full understanding of why her informant had gone for such an elaborate set-up. “Captain Jack Harkness,” he said by way of introduction and with the single brightest smile she’d ever seen.
“Captain of what exactly?”
Instead of looking the slightest bit put off by the question, he just gave an insouciant shrug and indicated that she should sit down.
“Well, I could be the captain of your heart.”
“I don’t think so,” she replied, but with considerably less force than she would generally respond to any man (or woman for that matter) who approached her with such a cheesy come-on. “How about you just tell me about the Doctor?”
“Ana Marie said you were persistent. I like that in a woman. Will you at least have a drink with me first? We’re at the Rainbow Room, after all.”
“Which was officially closed last August,” she pointed out.
“Yeah. That’s a crying shame. So many of the great watering holes are gone. The Stork Club, Toots Shor’s, Max’s Kansas City, Studio 54.”
Strangely enough she could imagine him at any of those places, even though they spanned nearly 60 years of history and at the most she guessed him to be in his early forties. Although she was starting to wonder if Jack Harkness got around as much as the Doctor did, even if he didn’t push anyone’s political conspiracy buttons.
“I hate to say this, but I think I’m going to pass on the drink. Unless it’s an Alka Seltzer. I love a good cocktail, but I may have overdone it last night. Little on the queasy side today. In fact, even those teeth of yours are a bit much right now.”
He managed to mute the smile a little, but his eyes still had a nearly irresistible sparkle and looked unbelievably blue in the candlelight.
“I’ve got a better idea. Waiter!”
Rachel didn’t even bother reminding Captain Harkness that they were in a closed establishment and that the likelihood of an actual waiter appearing was nil. He seemed to live by his own rules, proven by the fact that within moments they were joined by a young man wearing a white jacket and dark pants.
“Alonso, could you get us two Ramos gin fizzes?”
Alonso, if that was his name, nodded and shared a meaningful glance with Captain Harkness that appeared to be about something other than drinks.
Another parallel with Ana Marie. She got the impression that the Captain Harkness would flirt with anyone he found attractive, regardless of gender or orientation.
“Frank swore by these,” he remarked when Alonso returned with the drinks. “I once saw him take a whole tray into the steam room at the Sands.”
Rachel couldn’t help smiling, which was still kind of painful. The last time she’d been offered Ramos gin fizz as a hangover cure was by Melissa Harris-Lacewell on a certain morning after the night before in New Orleans. As with so many other things, Melissa knew her stuff.
She lifted her glass.
“To the Doctor,” she toasted, reminding Captain Harkness why she was here and that she wasn’t going to be dissuaded.
“To the Doctor,” he replied, in a voice that carried more emotion than she’d expected. The expression on his face reminded her of Anderson’s, but not when he was talking about the Doctor.
The first sip produced an instant sigh of relief. Rachel could feel the cream lining her stomach and the tingle of juniper berries soothing her pounding head. She could have asked who the “Frank” in question was, but she had a suspicion, and didn’t like where it was taking her. A Doctor who’d been seen since at important junctures in history going back hundreds of years, even though his description varied and didn’t seem to be old enough to match those events, and now a Captain who was claiming to have downed drinks with Sinatra.
“Captain Harkness,” she began, using her interview voice.
“Call me Jack.” He was tempering the smile in deference to her headache and doing something with his voice that made her want to hear more of it. This guy was good. If she was ever going to be interested in someone of the male persuasion, he’d have to be at least as charming as Jack Harkness.
“Jack. I need to know about the Doctor.”
He nodded, still working the eye contact. “Why?”
“Because it’s interesting. Because there’s this person who seems to have been around forever and known everyone and he drives both the right and the left crazy. That’s someone I want to talk to.”
Jack looked down for a second and then away. Maybe he was casing the room or looking for bugs or the Secret Service or god knew what.
“Rachel. What you need to understand is that the Doctor has very powerful friends and very powerful enemies.”
“Which one are you?”
It was supposed to be a joke, but Rachel got the fleeting impression that she’d hurt him in some way.
“I like to consider myself a friend. I hope he thinks me of that way, but the Doctor is…unpredictable.”
Rachel was struck by the emotion and again reminded of Anderson, specifically the way Anderson looked at Keith.
“Has he been in all those places? Met all those people?”
“Probably. He does get around. I don’t even know all the stories. I wish I did.”
“Why do I have at least five different descriptions?” Rachel knew she was closing in on something. The facts were sorting themselves in the speaking. “How could he have been present at so many events over such a long period and still be described as a young man in the last few years?”
“It’s…hard to explain.”
Hard because it was insane.
“He’s a time traveler, isn’t he?”
That got a full-scale smile, full of admiration.
“We both know that’s completely impossible,” he said, grinning.
“Right. And alien doesn’t mean someone coming in from Mexico in the back of a truck.”
“That’s not his usual means of travel.”
“Time-traveling alien,” she said out loud just to see if the men with white coats would immediately appear, but there was only Alonso with a second round, which she decided to decline. She was due back down for a meeting and while she might get away with a hung-over morning, a tipsy afternoon would raise eyebrows.
Jack didn’t seem to have any such constraints.
“So is he a progressive, radical, conservative reactionary or libertarian?”
“All of the above, or none of the above. He’s not really interested in politics. Only in people.”
“No!” Rachel insisted. “Suez. Watergate. Waco. Kashmir. He keeps turning up. And he seems to affect things around him.”
“The Doctor does affect people. If you’re lucky enough to meet him, it can change everything. He does whatever it takes to make things better. Stop an invasion. Depose a PM. Do nothing. But none of it is political. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Jack’s speech was heartfelt and punctuated by practically gulping the rest of his drink. Rachel ended up giggling inappropriately because Jack now had the fizz part of his Ramos gin fizz affixed to his upper lip. It was like a “Got Milk” ad for inebriates.
He looked at her questioningly and she tapped her own lip to make the point. He turned to one of the mirrored walls behind the bar and smiled at the reflection. Then they were both laughing, and Rachel realized her hangover was completely gone.
And her time was running out for that noon meeting.
“Well, thank you for this, Jack. My head feels much better and I’ve got several scraps of information that I can’t possibly use.”
“Always glad to oblige a lady.” She got up to leave and he stood as well. “Could I ask for a dance before you go?”
Rachel felt herself starting to blush.
“You know, Jack, if you’d brought something from Studio 54 you might have a better chance. Besides, I really have to get to a meeting.”
She put out a hand to shake and found it being kissed.
“If you run into the Doctor, tell him I said Hi. And thanks.”
Rachel was still in a bit of a daze and on her way back to the elevator before she turned around to ask one last question.
“The Doctor isn’t the only time traveler around, is he…?”
Jack was gone, the lights were out and there was no music. There were still four glasses and a rose sitting on the table.
She silently thanked Jack for that above everything. He’d left the proof that she hadn’t totally lost it.
“Hey, guys,” Rachel announced when she arrived only a few seconds late for the meeting. "Rev up the choo-choo. We’re doing Debunktion Junction. Give me two stories we can debunk quickly and then leave me about three and a half at the end of the segment. You good with that, Bill?”
Bill smiled and gave her a thumbs up, obviously relieved to have Rachel back on her game rather than driving the porcelain bus.
“Who do we have for the response to the jobs report?”
“Think you can handle the Weinerman tonight?” Bill asked, possibly still a mite concerned about the condition of her head.
“…OK, for our last story on Debunktion Junction tonight, this is one that goes way, way back. The story is that there’s a very powerful, very ancient entity, possibly of alien origin, called the Doctor who’s been interfering in events, specifically political events, for at least the last five centuries. He represents views that can be considered right wing, left wing, centrist, libertarian and he’s got hair that’s ranged from short to long, straight to curly, dresses as a fop, a clown, a hobo, or a U-boat Captain. He’s known Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Christian Barnard, Nasser, De Gaulle, both Queens Elizabeth and possibly Napoleon. About the only thing anyone can agree on is that he’s got a British accent and he’s the most incredible person anyone’s ever met.
"Is all of that true, any of that, or none of it?
"Honestly, there’s no way to say one way or the other. All I know is that every side of the political spectrum have heard of him and is convinced he’s working for one of the others.
"It’s a hell of a story, and I’d love it if it were true, so Doctor, if you’re out there, if for some reason you happen to be watching this broadcast, please come on so we can talk. There are a lot of things I’m dying to ask you. I promise it’ll be fun.”
Rachel looked into the camera as they went to commercial, imagining the rather shocked expressions of the gang in the control room.
She’d done all she could. The rest was up to the Doctor.
Rachel wasn’t sure what she was expecting. The call from Lambchop and the email from Ana Marie were predictable, as was the deluge of conspiracy theory posts at the website, but if she’d thought that there’d be a message from the Doctor’s agent to negotiate the terms of his appearance, she was mistaken.
Nothing. Nada. Zip.
Well, it was only a few hours since her plea had gone out on the air. Maybe the Doctor was busy on another planet or some other time period. Or maybe she was just a victim of the biggest practical joke of all time, involving Lambchop, Anderson, Ana Marie and some good-looking guy they’d hired to play “Captain” Jack. Couldn’t they think of a better name than the one being used by Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies?
She went outside to watch the skaters in Rockefeller Plaza. It was a crisp, clear night and considering how the morning had started, Rachel was determined to go home and get a good, sober night’s sleep. Enough of Doctors and Captains. There were serious issues to be dealt with in the Lame Duck session and even though the Doctor story was fun, it was kind of a distraction. Even Congressman Weiner had asked if she knew that the Doctor had given Robert Moses the plans for the Verrazano Narrows, which she had to deflect before getting on to the matter of the jobs report and the anti-Obama spin coming from the Republicans.
Rachel glanced over at the statue of Prometheus. With the various holiday decorations, he seemed even shinier than usual. Downright sparkly in fact. Must be an effect of the cold air and the Christmas lights or the very long day she’d just had. Rachel took off her glasses and looked again. The space over the shadow was absolutely shimmering. She watched, transfixed, knowing she really had to go home, but not wanting to move. She half-expected the statue to disappear or come to life, which would be pretty funny if the skaters all tried to escape.
I really need to get home.
She closed her eyes. When she opened them, Prometheus was still in his spot and there were no skaters making a terrified run for safety. But there was a strikingly attractive young African American woman coming toward her with a look of delighted recognition on her face. Living in New York allowed a certain amount of anonymity and no one would think of bothering her in Chicopee, but as long as they were polite and not political crazies from either side of the spectrum, Rachel was always happy to meet the public.
“Oh my god! It’s really you!”
Rachel corrected her initial assessment. The woman spoke with a pronounced British accent. That was interesting, especially since the Doctor was always described as having one as well. Then she remembered that she wasn’t going to think about the Doctor anymore. At least for a few hours.
“I told the Doctor that you wanted to meet him and he said he could bring me right to you, but you know sometimes he doesn’t get it exactly right the first time. But there you are. Blimey!”
“The Doctor brought you here?” Rachel asked, numbly. “And who are you?”
“Oh! So rude of me. I’m Martha Jones and I think you are just smashing.”
“Thank you. Uh…the Doctor is here?”
“Yeah, he’s parked the TARDIS over by that big shiny guy.”
Rachel felt an odd mixture of excitement and disbelief as she followed Martha.
“Are you English?” she asked.
“Yeah. Usually have to wait for the podcast, but I’m here in the States doing some work so I get to watch in real time. When I heard you talk about the Doctor, I figured I’d just ring him up.”
The Doctor didn’t seem to be the sort of person you could put on speed-dial. Unless you were Martha Jones, apparently. Rachel followed her, still wondering if this could be part of the biggest hoax ever. As they approached Prometheus, she kept looking for something that could be a time machine or space ship. All she saw was a blue box about the size of a phone booth. Eventually she recognized it as one of those police call boxes she’d seen in London. The words “Police Call Box” were kind of a give-away.
Martha opened the doors and poked her head in and a second later a man walked out, took a look around and broke into a broad smile.
Rachel knew instantly it was the Doctor. He matched one of the first descriptions she gotten, right down to the bow tie. Kent was going to freak out. Never mind Kent, Rachel was freaking out, but determined to stay cool and calm, or at least fake it as best she could.
“Hello, Rachel Maddow,” he replied, pronouncing each syllable as if it were newly formed in his mouth.
“You’re real. And you’re really here.”
“Yes, I am. I had to meet a woman who could impress Martha Jones. Takes quite a bit to do that. She’s met Shakespeare, saved the world, but she called me up and told me I absolutely had to come to New York in 2010 just so she’d have an excuse to say hello to you.”
Martha smiled sheepishly.
“I told him you were brilliant. Most of the telly here is such rubbish, especially the news. I can’t believe people actually watch that nonsense on Fox.”
Rachel supposed she should point out that Fox wasn’t news, but this really wasn’t the time. And what was that about saving the world and meeting Shakespeare? Well this was the Doctor, after all.
“Anderson says hello.” The Doctor looked momentarily perplexed. He must meet a lot of Andersons. “Anderson Cooper,” she prodded, and then the light dawned.
“Oh! Gloria’s boy. How’s he doing? Did he get into writing?”
She looked at Martha who gave her a shrug. Apparently the Doctor didn’t spent a lot of time following American news personalities. Maybe the blue box didn’t have cable.
“And Jack. He says hi too. And thanks.”
The Doctor clearly didn’t need any reminder of who Jack was.
“Good old Jack,” the Doctor said with a sigh that seemed to carry both concern and affection. “Is he still…of course he is.”
Rachel couldn’t help notice a hint of disapproval in the Doctor’s voice. Those two definitely had some history.
“So,” she said, trying to bring the conversation around to what she really wanted: an interview. “Time travel, really?”
“Really,” he replied, looking almost unbearable smug. He actually patted his blue box. “TARDIS. Time and relative dimensions in space.”
“You know the future?”
“I know many futures.”
“Can I ask questions about what could happen?”
Even as she formed the words, she could see the Doctor shaking his head. Somehow she wasn’t surprised. Maybe she was even relieved.
“No one is allowed to know what could happen.”
“Oh, for pity’s sake. Don’t go all Aslan on the poor girl.”
That last exclamation came in a Scottish brogue from a slender young red-headed woman who stepped out of the TARDIS dressed for ice-skating with a green knit hat with pom-poms and her skates held in one hand. She was followed by a pleasant-looking young man who took in the New York night with genuine wonder and amazement.
Rachel tried to figure out how big that box was anyway.
“Sorry. Uh, Rachel Maddow, this is Amy Pond.”
“And I’m Rory,” the man said, almost as if he couldn’t count on the Doctor to notice his presence and make introductions.
“Nice to meet you. Come on, Rory, let’s go. I can’t believe we’re going to be ice-skating here. Beats that sad little duck-pond in Leadworth, doesn’t it?”
“I like the duck-pond,” Rory insisted, but followed in Amy’s wake with a shy wave to Rachel as he left.
“Don’t feel bad,” Martha said, reassuringly. “Even the past changes a lot. Got to be really careful with that stuff. Maybe she could ask one little question,” she coaxed, looking at the Doctor.
“Does Sarah Palin ever become president?” she blurted, expressing her greatest fear.
The Doctor looked genuinely clueless at the sound of the half-governor’s name. It was as though he was searching his long memory and not finding anything. Finally he shook his head.
“Sorry, can’t say as I’ve ever heard of her.”
Rachel tried not to gasp with relief. If there was anything that would make her take Susan and the dog and head for Canada, it was the thought of President Palin.
“Thank you. Is there any chance I could get you to come on the show for an interview? I understand that you can’t really talk about the future, but how about the past? Or anything you want to talk about.”
“I’m not really photogenic,” he said coyly.
“My good friend Kent Jones would say otherwise. He loves the bow tie.”
“Bow ties are cool,” the Doctor agreed, emphatically.
“Yes, yes they are. You could come on the show as a fashion authority and we can talk about the upcoming resurgence in bow ties.”
She got the impression he was tempted, but then saw him think better of it.
“Here’s the thing, Rachel. I think you’re very good at your job. You might just get me to say something I shouldn’t, and as a friend of mine likes to say…spoilers. Can’t really take the risk. Sorry.”
Rachel tried to keep the disappointment from showing, but it was hard. She’d come so close. She’d gone from thinking the Doctor was some right-wing delusion to standing in front of him and finding out he was…a time-traveling alien who actually had no interest in American politics, but just wanted to keep humanity safe from itself. Talk about Debunktion Junction.
She noticed Martha looking nearly as disappointed as she was, and giving Rachel a sympathetic smile. Then she seemed to get an idea.
“Doctor,” she started, getting more excited as she spoke. “If you can’t give Rachel an interview, how about making it up to her with a trip?”
The Doctor shot a stern look, but Martha kept going, as though coaxing an indulgent father.
“Just one trip. Come on. She deserves that much. Please?”
“All right,” he conceded, "but just one, and not to the future. Not on this planet anyway. Nothing newsworthy, you hear me?”
Rachel nodded and saw Martha doing the same.
“All right, Rachel Maddow. Doctor Martha Jones has just used her considerable charms to buy you a ticket for one trip on the TARDIS. Space and time at your fingertips. Where would you like to go?”
She knew if she thought about it too long, she’d never make a decision, so she named a time and place in history she’d always wanted to visit and was happy to see the Doctor nodding approvingly.
“Good for you. The Renaissance is highly overrated. Leonardo was a crashing bore. Martha, we’ll be back in a bit. Would you mind keeping an eye on Amy and Rory?”
“Do I look like a bloody babysitter?” Martha retorted.
“No, but you look like the person I want here if they get into trouble.”
“But I want to meet…”
“Not this time.”
Wow. Martha Jones might have saved the world, but when the Doctor told her to stay behind and watch the kids, she didn’t put up much of a fight. Instead she turned back to Rachel and gave her a hug. “Have a great time. I’m so glad I got to meet you. Keep up the good work. You lot need someone to keep fighting the good fights. You never know what can happen when certain people get too much power.”
Rachel didn’t have to hear the Doctor say “Martha” in a disapproving tone. The look the Doctor was shooting at Martha was strong enough.
“Come along then, Rachel. I think we’ll need to get you a change of clothing. Protective coloration as it were.”
Rachel nodded, hoping she’d at least be able to get away with flats instead of full-out high heels, but agreeing with the rest. Just because the Doctor could flit through time looking like an eccentric university professor, or any of the various guises he seemed to have assumed over the years, didn’t mean it would work for her. Not where they were going.
All concerns about what she was going to wear went out of her head as she stepped through the doors of the TARDIS and into the ultimate Moment of Geek.
Until that moment, she’d been holding on the possibility that every bit of this was still a load of bull-pucky. Now there was no doubt. It was all true. Aliens. Time Travelers. The blue box was vastly bigger on the inside and covered from top to bottom in designs and gizmos and thingummies that couldn’t have come from this planet or even this century. Derrick Pitts would swoon at the sight of this.
After absorbing the beautiful but utterly alien main console room, Rachel was led to a dressing room where someone had laid out a perfect – and perfectly fitting – Chanel suit with a gray pencil skirt and matching accessories, right down to a pearl necklace and a clutch purse. The shoes were higher than anything she’d worn in years, but somehow perfectly comfortable. At least no-one wanted to do anything with her hair.
She smiled at herself in a full length mirror and breathed a silent thanks that the David Vitters of the world would never have a picture of this to guffaw over.
“How are we doing in there?” the Doctor called out.
“I think I’m ready to go,” she answered, walking out to take the Doctor’s arm.
“Smashing,” he replied, presumably approving of her attire.
He led her back to the door and checked whatever instrument it was that told him where and when he was.
“We’re there?” she asked, having a last minute case of nerves, which dissipated when the doors opened and she could see that they’d arrived at their destination, twenty blocks uptown and fifty-two years in the past.
They crossed the street and there it was: Toots Shor’s. The Doctor nodded at the doorman, who quickly waved them inside and toward the back room. Rachel stopped, taking in the scene. She could see Sinatra drinking a martini, Peter Lawford with a blonde and a whiskey, and a certain young senator from Massachusetts whom she could tell was chatting up a cocktail waitress, pretty effectively from the looks of it. She was also sure she spotted Leo Durocher, Jackie Gleason and maybe even Mayor Wagner.
Aside from the waitresses, the only woman in the room was a young redhead with short hair. For a second, Rachel was sure that Ana Marie had somehow beaten her to the punch, then she wondered why she had never noticed Ana Marie’s resemblance to the young Shirley MacLaine.
“This is perfect,” she whispered to the Doctor.
The others would be so jealous if they ever found out. Keith, Chris, Pat, Lambchop, Ana Marie, Richard, Anderson, and even Kent. She might not be able to tell them, but it didn’t matter.
It was 1958 and Rachel Maddow was about to have the best cocktail moment ever.