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Quid Pro Quo

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Alex’s work computer takes about ten minutes to boot up in the morning. It’s not even a desktop, but a crappy HP laptop he has to bring with him from home every day, because he barely even has a desk. He’s shoved into about half a cubicle’s worth of desk room, sharing space with the water cooler. Which means that every five minutes he’s got one or two people holding conversation over his shoulder, which means that very little gets done unless he locks himself in with noise-canceling headphones and just has at it.

Literally the only thing worth coming to work for most days is the coffee. Which is pretty good. It’s a Keurig. Those things ain’t cheap.

But. Well. Otherwise?

He’s not dramatic. But there are days when Alexander Hamilton would literally rather fling himself into the sun than show up to work at PolitiFinder, this tenth-rate news blog and literally the only place that hired him when he moved to D.C., fresh out of grad school with a stack of resumes and a thirst for…

Well, it doesn’t matter, he thinks, filling up his mug with a dark roast from the Keurig. His second of the day. He likes a single first cup at home before he gets ready, a warm-up coffee to get his mind working properly. He’s not really a person before coffee.

So the point is this: it's Thursday morning, and he's slouching in his desk chair, which is not great, as far as desk chairs go. It's better than the one back in the shitty dorm he lived in when he was a 24-year-old RA at Columbia, but it's still doing a number on his back, and that's when Myles Cooper shows up, six-cup coffee mug clenched in his left fist and his iPad in the other and a look on his face as if he's got something to say that Alex won't like.

"I'm gonna stop you right there," he says preemptively. "No, I don't want to move desks, this one is fine. I hear all the gossip." Because the only other option is a storage closet, and this location might suck but he's certainly not going to go sit in a closet to do his work. Like he's Harry goddamn Potter or something.

But Cooper just frowns over his little round wire-rims, like it's not something he'd ever even consider. "Why would you move desks?" he asks, and then doesn't wait for the answer. "I've got an assignment for you."

Great, he thinks, downing what's left of his coffee and sliding the mug to the back edge of his desk. Cooper's assignments are predictably shit. "What is it?"

"The National Zoo is having trouble getting their pandas to mate," Cooper says magnanimously. "We're going to cover it."

"Wait. Seriously?" Alex blinks. "You're gonna send me — a graduate of Columbia University, mind you — to go interview some pandas who won't fuck?"

It's unprofessional, but he can say practically anything. Cooper is a brick wall, consumed with his iPad. "Finger on the pulse, Alex," he says blandly.

"Actually, I was thinking." Alex grabs for the legal pad he keeps beside his desk, each page filled to the last line with scribbles, notes, phone numbers, sources. His bible. He runs his eyes down the page until he hits the one he's after. "I got a friend who knows this guy, Lafayette. He's George Washington's chief of staff. Nice guy, from what I hear, but he's saying there's trouble in the office. Like half the staff just got fired without warning or notice and nobody knows what's up. You don't think we should look into that?"

Cooper cocks a brow. "You don't think that's a little above your pay grade?"

"All due respect, no, I don't," Alex replies testily. "I mean, I've got an in, I have the source. Don't tell me you're gonna give this to —“

"Sam'll look into it," says Cooper, eyes already back on the screen in front of him. "Go talk to the zookeeper. Good chat, Alex."

There's a very real moment in which Alex weighs the consequences of picking up his empty mug and hurling it across the room, making it shatter on the doorframe right over Cooper's shitty, noxious head. But the moment passes, and Cooper leaves, and Alex stares at his laptop, which has only been on for half an hour and is already burning hot to the touch, and all he can do is seethe inwardly.

He takes a minute. He composes himself. He looks up the number for the Asian mammals department at the National Zoo.

He puts Gilbert du Motier-Lafayette's phone number in his contacts anyway.

 


So he's distinctly underdressed for the Four Seasons Georgetown, in his sneakers and khakis and blue button-down, messenger bag from Target slung over his shoulder. Everything he owns is either going on a decade old, from Target, or both. In a roomful of sleek suits, he senses that he sticks out like a sore thumb: Journalist. Or, well, not even journalist. Blogger. Slob with a blog and half a byline at PolitiFinder.

He's also distinctly afraid, now that he thinks about it, that he might smell like the panda enclosure. Not one of his top five smells, personally.

But he gets a drink — gin and tonic, house liquor, because he's not here to impress anyone, and he scans the room. There's a reason he avoids places like this on purpose: everyone is just here to be seen. He's not sure what this Lafayette guy looks like. All John had said was "You'll know him when you see him." Because that explains so much.

Alex pulls his drink toward him, stabs the lime with his little red cocktail straw and pushes it all the way to the bottom before taking a sip. The drink is much more tonic than gin, and it half strikes him to complain. He's got his hand out to flag down the bartender when —

Oh. He sees what John meant, "You'll know him when you see him." Because this Lafayette guy is walking toward him with singular confidence, hair tied back in a ponytail much like Alex's own, slickly suited in navy blue. He's got on thick-rimmed glasses and he's half consumed by whatever's happening on his phone, but then he looks up, eyes meeting Alex's with searching purpose, and Alex nods. And that's that.

Lafayette slides into the seat beside him at the bar. "John's friend, I presume," he says, his voice low and thickly accented. Alex nods and holds out a hand to shake.

"Alexander Hamilton," he says, gripping the other man's hand a little too tightly, glancing at the gold cuff links that gleam in his pressed lavender shirt. "I'm with PolitiFinder."

"Right, yes," says Lafayette. "And you wanted to know why we fired John Andre."

"I - well, yeah, actually, that's why I'm here," Alex says, stumbling over his words a little. "I was curious -"

"Go fuck yourself." Lafayette signals the bartender and orders a glass of merlot, barely looking at the wine list. Alexander stirs the lime in his drink, waiting for a follow-up to that, but Lafayette seems disinclined to provide one, simply taking a sip of his wine and making a little face of acceptance in response.

Alex inhales, squaring his shoulders for a fight. "Look, John said you were willing to talk to me."

"He said you worked for Politico, not PolitiFinder," Lafayette says disdainfully. "There's a difference."

"I'm aware," Alexander says through gritted teeth.

"I've never heard of you. How many Twitter followers do you have?"

"Couple hundred," Alex says. "I'm not - journalism isn't my trade, I honestly just kind of fell into this." He says it like it's an explanation. He knows it isn't.

"Right," Lafayette says slowly. "Well. It was nice to meet you." He picks up his glass of wine, drops a twenty on the bar. "Perhaps we'll meet again."

"Perhaps," echoes Alexander, and then Lafayette is gone, winding his way across the room. Alexander has two choices, he realizes — accept the snub and stay seated, or chase him down. Those aren't choices. He has one option. He's not going to lose. Not with this kind of lead.

He pulls a ten from his own wallet and leaves it at the bar.




Lafayette has been sitting at a round table with three other men for the past hour. Two of them Alex couldn't place. Lobbyists, by the look of their clothes and the way they keep laughing a little too hard, their gestures a little too ingratiating. They're not interesting. Alexander has no love lost for lobbyists. Lafayette seems to be swinging hot and cold on them; his look of disinterest occasionally breaking open in a wide laugh.

The fourth member of their party is Senator George Washington.

He's more handsome in person than when he gave the keynote speech at the DNC two years ago, Alex will give him that; tall and broad-shouldered in a charcoal suit. He's even less open to the lobbyists than his chief of staff, face frozen in an expression that strikes Alex as polite but immovable. He gestures openly, with broad hands, on the rare occasion that he speaks.

Alex watches them for the better part of an hour, shrouded in this corner, faces half in shadows. It gets boring; he nurses his drink down to the dregs and then crunches the ice cubes one by one between his molars. All that's left in his glass are the desiccated remains of the lime slice by the time Lafayette stands up and shakes a round of hands, signaling his leave.

There's an empty seat. There's a shot.

Alex takes it.

Washington looks up at him with a carefully disguised look of bewilderment as he slides into the seat Lafayette has just vacated, cueing up a voice memo and hitting 'record' as he sits. "Alexander Hamilton," he says, offering a handshake that the senator accepts graciously. "Senator, it's a pleasure."

"Likewise," says Washington. "You're not also with ABMK, I assume -"

"Me? No." Alex settles into the chair, asserting as much space as he can and dropping his phone on the table. The lobbyists are both looking at him like he's dangerous, and it occurs to him that this is power, that he can use it. "Senator, we haven't met before. Lafayette is a friend of a friend, I thought he might introduce us. I was curious about the recent vacancies on your staff—“

Washington laughs. "I'm the last person you want to talk to about that. Give your resumé to my chief of staff if you’re interested.”

"Oh, no, I'm not interested in a job," he amends quickly. "This is strictly... another form of professional curiosity, I guess you could say."

"Ah." Washington looks to the lobbyists and then takes a sip of his drink. "What did you say your last name was?"

"Hamilton, sir." Alex crosses his legs, settles back a little deeper into his chair. "Full disclosure, I'm actually with the press."

"Well, then I think we're done here," says Washington quickly. "I'm afraid I can't tell you anything about Mr. Andre's departure other than that he has chosen to pursue other opportunities. Have a good night, Mr. Hamilton."

With this, he gestures for Alex to give them their leave. Alex doesn't move. "Fine," he says. "I probably shouldn't have led with 'I'm with the press,' but this isn't some kind of exposé. A single quote would be enough."

"I think I already gave you one." Senator Washington says with finality.

Fuck it. It was worth a try. He heaves himself up from the chair and heads for the door. Alex chances a look back over his shoulder as he leaves, and sees Washington watching him go, his heavy brows knit together as he tries to feign nonchalance.

It's unseasonably cold outside, near freezing even as the end of March cedes to the start of April. Alex buttons his threadworn peacoat (more gravitas than a parka) as he steps out into the chill, mentally recalibrating the distance to the nearest metro station. He can see his breath in the air as he hurries along the street, hands jammed into his coat pockets. He starts to reach into his back pocket for his phone, when -- oh, fuck.

He remembers specifically where he left it, on the table, recording a voice memo - shit. He just walked away, leaving it to record everything Washington and the lobbyists were saying. Jesus Christ, Alexander, you're a fucking genius, he thinks, stopping mid-stride to high-five himself there on the sidewalk. Well played. Never mind that it was a complete accident. So he pivots and starts back toward the Four Seasons.

 

"Nobody turned in a phone," the bartender says.

"Are you sure?" Alex asks, his stomach sinking like a stone. "Could you just double check? Please?"

The man gives the bar a sarcastic once-over, sweeping his eyes up and down. "Double checked. Nothing."

"Look, I really need it back," Alex says, his voice taking on a noticeably pleading, unattractive tone. "Please. Nobody would have stolen it, it's like, an iPhone 4S. It's not even worth the money it'd cost to get it stripped for parts."

"Did you check the last place you saw it?" asks the bartender.

Alex nods feverishly. "Yeah. It wasn't over there." Washington and his party were gone by the time he made it all the way back to the hotel, too, leaving nothing but a pile of cocktail napkins in their wake.

"Can't help you, then," says the bartender, turning back to the martini he's pouring. "Leave your name and email. If anyone turns it in, we'll call you."

"Great. Fucking great. Super helpful and efficient system," Alex mutters as he turns on his heel and heads for the door. He seethes all the way to the metro, on the train, and all the way back to his apartment. Possibly his one chance at an exclusive, and he fucking lost it.

 

Both roommates' doors are shut when he gets home, so he doesn't bother trying to complain to John or Hercules. Instead, he slams things around in the kitchen for a few minutes while fixing a grilled cheese sandwich, then eats it resentfully while waiting for his ancient laptop to boot up. He's rinsing crumbs off the plastic flatware when an email alert dings on his freshly-restarted computer, and heads back to the kitchen table, dreading yet another after-hours work email from Cooper.

From: G. Washington
Subject: Your phone

Provided that you are the Alexander Hamilton with whom I spoke briefly at the Four Seasons Georgetown tonight, I believe I am in current possession of your cell phone.

If so, please contact me immediately so as to arrange its return. We will, of course, discuss the removal of some sensitive information.

Of course, if you are a different Alexander Hamilton, please disregard this message altogether.

G.W.



He blinks as he reads it again, and then a third time.

Jackpot.