by Weston Groom

Autumn 1972

HOW SHEILA GOT INVOLVED WITH DAN WHITTLE IS A CURIOUS bit of irony, but had she not, she probably never would have become involved with Beau, or for that matter, made as much of herself as she eventually did.

After graduation, Sheilah decided against college. She had had enough of school for a while. During her last semester she traveled to Washington half a dozen times and stayed with an older girlfriend from Philadelphia. She found herself going out on dates with several exciting, bright young men who worked on Capitol Hill or in the Nixon administration. These were not boys, and after that, college did not seem interesting enough. Sheilah's goal in life at eighteen was to marry someone charming, handsome and rich. Washington seemed just the place to find him.

So the summer after her graduation, Sheilah got a job as a secretary in the office of a Pennsylvania congressman and began to enjoy a world free of the restrictions and regimen of boarding school. She shared an apartment with three other girls and looked forward to attending a glittering array of festive events: embassy parties, formal dinners in gracious Georgetown homes and so on.

Unfortunately, she did not get along very well with her roommates. They were gossipy girls, a little older than she, and Sheilah despised the way they pried into her affairs. She had developed an intense desire for privacy that stemmed in large part from that awful incident at boarding school. In fact, Sheilah developed an almost paranoiac concern for her privacy, and whenever one of her Washington roommates would giggle or make any remark or observation about anything to do with Sheilah's whereabouts or dates, her nerves would become frazzled and she'd get testy.

Also, the frantic social life and political scene she had envisioned herself in never really materialized.

There was, to be sure, a little of that, but most of the men Sheilah found herself with were lower-level aides or young lawyers, who would take her not to the Sans Souci or the Sulgrave Club ball but to the pubs on Capitol Hill, where they would attempt to get her to agree to go to bed with them.

This continued for several years, and Sheilah was Becoming disenchanted with Washington, with her job and with men.

She had learned early on that men were easy to manipulate, and she refined the technique with each new beau. Her basic approach was to keep the man completely off balance. If he wanted to do A, she would opt for B. If he said he liked X, she would like Y instead. Sex was an omnipresent force to be used either separately or in conjunction with other procedures to get a man on the verge of an all-consuming frothing insanity; then she would suddenly become irresistibly nice and agreeable and loving and usually get whatever it was she wanted. Sometimes, of course, she went too far and the man would vanish from her life, but she had become pretty good at judging when this would happen and these mistakes became few and far between.

Sheilah observed the reactions of the men in her life the way a scientist might study laboratory rats. She had come to

the conclusion that men were fools. Not dumb or ignorant, for the ones she dated were college graduates, witty, sharp and advancing in their professions. But Sheilah thought men were supposed to be that way, and it really didn't count for much when she could control them like marionettes. She could do it! Little Sheilah, who'd been fat and weird as a child and so skinny and ugly as a teenager, who'd gotten bad marks in boarding school, who was always getting bawled out for something at home. She could do this'

And then she met Dan Whittle.

Dan Whittle presented a new challenge for Sheilah. He was to be taken seriously.

Sheilah had been invited to a big garden party in Georgetown at a house shared by six young men who worked on the Hill. She and her date arrived late and the party was in full swing. She decided it was going to be a boring evening because she recognized so many of the faces around her. Beer was being served from kegs and a loud, raucous din surrounded the place and could be heard a block away. After a couple of years, Sheilah had tired of such affairs.

She had been there less than twenty minutes and was about to suggest to her escort that they leave when she spotted Dan Whittle. He was standing in a comer of the garden beside a torchlight, talking with a pretty girl.

Sheilah didn't know who he was, but she felt immediately attracted to him. He wasn't a particularly handsome man, but he had an understanding sort of look on his face while he talked with the girl. She could tell from his dress and manner that he was out of place here; as out of place as she herself felt. He wore well-fitting brown slacks and a shirt that looked tailor-made, open at the collar with the tie undone. A good-looking madras sports jacket was slung over his shoulder and he was leaning slightly against a garden wall.

Sheilah excused herself, leaving her date to get lost in the crowd. She climbed the stairs to the porch and concealed herself in a group of people, so that she could observe Dan Vsrhittle undetected. She watched him nod vigorously, then the girl bussed him lightly on the cheek and walked away.

Sheilah decided to make her move. She was in luck; he was still standing there when she walked up to him. She had maneuvered up from behind, so that he wouldn't see her, and she began to fan herself with her hand to suggest that she had come from the crowd because of the heat.

"A little warm in there, Huh?" he said charmingly.

"Yeah, really," she replied. But it sounded to her like he'd spotted her ruse. This excited her, but made her more wary.

"Have you been here long?" he asked, shifting position to talk to her.

"Just a few minutes, but it's really too hot. I hate these parties."

"Then why do you come to them?" he asked casually.

Sheilah kept her feet planted and leaned forward. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you," she said. She'd heard him all right; she needed time for an answer.

"I asked why you're here if you hate these parties," he repeated. Her heels began sinking into the grass. She knew when she was licked, and walked nearer to him.

"Oh, I don't know. My date was invited. Sometimes they can be fun, but I don't ~ike things this big."

"How come? You don't get to really meet enough people?"

"Oh. I don't come for that," she said. Now he had really put her off balance. Her interest increased.

"Well, I do," Dan Whittle said. "I mean, nobody wants to admit it, but what do most of these people come for? The conversation or the beer? Certainly not for the fresh air."

"Yeah." She smiled. "I guess you're right." She stuck out her hand. "I'm Sheilah Price."

"Nice to meet you, Sheilah Price. I'm Dan Whittle," he said, shaking her hand firmly but gently. She thought he held it a fraction of a second longer than necessary and her knees became faintly weak.. He had great eyes-big brown penetrating eyes-and a nice, honest smile.

'Nice to meet you too," she said.

'You work on the Hill?" he asked, taking a sip of his beer.

:'Uh-huh—for Congressman Roberts."

'Sam Roberts?"

"He's the one." She repositioned herself slightly so that one of her hips was cocked out. She put a hand on the hip and managed to tug down her dress just enough to make the neckline a little more revealing. She watched Dan's eyes and was pleased when he took passing notice.

"How about you?" she asked.

"I'm on the Hill too."

"Really? Whose office?"

'Congressman Whittle's," he replied casually.

"What state's he from ... oh! . Whit ... " she stammered. "Oh, I'm sorry. I ... ."

"Don't worry about it," he chuckled. "There are over five hundred and fifty of us-and besides, I've only been here since the first of the year."

"Well, what state are you from?" she said casually.

"The South," he said. "The Deep South. It's probably why you didn't recognize me. It's a long way from here."

She smiled broadly. Over Dan's shoulder she could see her date at the edge of the crowd. He was talking with a couple of people but several times he had cast a glance in her direction. He wasn't the kind of fellow she wanted Dan Whittle to think she dated, so she decided to end the conversation quickly before he decided to join them.

"Well, I've got to go now," she said. "It was nice meeting you. I hope I'll see you again." It was a ploy that sometimes worked: walk away abruptly, before they'd had the chance to lay out their best line. Sheilah knew that if he was interested in her, he'd figure out a way to find her.

"Bye," he said, lifting the beer glass, but not moving.

By late Monday morning, Sheilah had obtained most of the vital information she needed about Congressman Dan Whittle. He was thirty-four years old, single, a Republican from Blenville. His father had been a judge and his grandfather a justice of the state Supreme Court. He had attended a military school in Blenville and the state university, where he had also taken his law degree.

Other information gleaned from library clippings told her he was considered one of the most eligible men about town. He kept a fairly low social profile, but had been reported in

the company of fashionable women by the local press. He skied, played golf and had once been hosted by the President aboard the executive yacht, Sequoia. Why hadn't she heard of him before? Well, she didn't read the newspapers often, and his offices were on the other side of the Capitol from hers. Sheilah mulled over all this during lunch and well into the afternoon, trying to figure some way of bumping into him. Then, just before five, amid the normal pandemonium of a congressional office, someone shouted across the room, "Sheilah, line four." She picked up the phone. It was Dan Whittle.

She could not go to bed with him the first night-sh-, couldn't appear to be an easy lay; this much she knew. But she would have, if she could have gotten away with it.

He took her not to the Sans Souci but to an intimate French bistro called Dominique's. She felt they got on well and she tried to be alluring without being gushy. At the end of the evening he drove her home and kissed her lightly at the door. By that time, she would have balled him on the spot, but he didn't ask.

He called again two days later and invited her to a party at the home of Mrs. Marjorv Merriweather Post. It was an elegant affair, with the guest list as impressive as the food. Sheilah was seated across the table from Dan, sandwiched between an Assistant Secretary of State and a senator. They were discussing the complexities of the Vietnam peace negotiations and Sheilah was as lost in that conversation as a giraffe might be walking down Pennsylvania Avenue. Occasionally, one of the men would turn to her for an opinion. She was excellent at responses that meant nothing and shielded her ignorance. She felt Dan Whittle's eyes upon her from across the table. She knew he knew she was bullshitting.

When the evening was over, he suggested they go to his apartment for a nightcap. Dan lived in a nice, comfortable apartment in Foggy Bottom, not far from the State Department. He was on the tenth floor and his windows looked out over the Potomac River. It was one of the most beautiful views she had ever seen; the river bridges arching across the water to Virginia, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the Washington Monument illuminated against the star-splattered sky.

Sheilah settled into a leather armchair while Dan excused himself. On a rosewood table were current copies of The New Yorker, Foreign Service magazine, The Times of London, and The Saturday Review. There were two large built-in bookshelves, each filled with hardcover volumes. Dan returned, his tie loosened and collar undone. He put on a record, a concerto by Haydn.

"What can I get you?" he asked.

"Oh, wine, I suppose."



He disappeared into another room and Sheilah sat captivated by the sight of the city and by the evening. She felt wonderful. She was falling in love.

"Here," he said, handing her a glass. "Cheers."

"Oh, the evening was so nice," she said. "Did you have fun?"

"That's supposed to be my question," he said, laughing.

"I really did."

"What did you and the senator talk about?"

"The war," she replied, suddenly nervous. "The peace talks. He and that other guy really know what's going on."

"What'd they say?" Dan asked.

"Oh, I'm not sure, really." She was beginning to squirm a little. "I think it was whether or not we ought to stop bombing North Vietnam. The senator was saying we shouldn't and the other man-what's his name ...


"Mr. Curry was giving a different opinion."

"Which side did you favor?"

"Well, neither one, really." She suddenly realized she was being tested. She was out of her league and she got defensive. "I didn't follow most of it. It was just a bunch of talk anyway."

Dan got up and fetched the wine bottle and poured a little more into their glasses. Before he could sit back down she stood too, and excused herself to go to the bathroom, bumping into him lightly as she rounded the comer of the sofa.

"l'm sorry,"' she said, reconsidering. "I must have had too much wine to drink at dinner." She touched his arm. Dan turned, took her into his arms and pulled her tightly against him. They were about the same height, and his eyes looked directly into hers. She gazed at him as intently as she could, trying to communicate: you're beautiful, I love you, I want you. He kissed her, first gently, then passionately, until she could feel her own desire rise in her body with tingling, anxious sensations. When they finally came up for air she rested her chin on his shouladr and looked again at the beautiful view. Her maneuver had worked like a charm.

They necked on the couch for the next half hour. Dan Whittle was a pretty clever lover, and he explored her body every way she could imagine. [Sorry, I had to censor a few lines here, because they are a bit too explicit....your English teacher]

....whispering his name over and over.

"I've got to tell you something about me and dinner parties," she said afterward. They were lying in the dark and she was smoking a cigarette. "I don't feel comfortable at them."

"Oh, why not?" he asked.

"I'm not really sure. It might go back to when I was a little girl-eight or nine-and my parents let me stay up for a dinner party at our house."

"Got into it too young, eh?" Dan asked, laughing and rubbing her thigh.

"No—now, I'm serious. I'm telling you something." She sounded cross. He was smart enough to know that she was trouble and probably always would be, but there was enough that he liked about her to keep him interested. She was an immensely attractive and sensual young woman, despite her paradoxical and ever-changing moods. He liked the fact that she'd stand up to him—even though most of the time she did it under the wrong circumstances.

"My parents were having this big party for about twenty people and they let me eat at the table. I was feeling very grown-up and everybody at my end kept asking me questions. I was just talking on and on and the meal was over, except for dessert, and then, all of a sudden, I noticed that everyone at the table was watching me."

She stopped for a moment. "Go on," Dan said.

"And then my stepfather said, 'All right, Sheilah, you've talked enough for tonight. It's time for bed.' He got up and took me away from the table before dessert was served. I was so humilated, so hurt and mad. I was wearing this new dress Mother had bought me and when I got to my room I began cutting it up with a pair of scissors while I cried and cried. "

"Poor kkiddo," Dan said, rubbing her head affectionately. "I can see the kind of effect that might have on an impressionable child." He made a mental note that she actually cut up her new dress.

The affair between Sheilah and Dan Whittle lasted not quite four months, but it had a very profound effect on Sheilah's life. For the flrst few weeks it was heaven. Sheilah had never been so happy in her life, but after the bliss wore off she found herself trying to become more assertive, and this involved manipulation. Sex, of course, was the key. She was careful in her employment of her technique, because she recognized that Dan was nobody's fool, and she didn't want to risk losing him.

The trouble was that she could pull all the strings, but the marionette wouldn't dance. He always seemed a jump ahead of her. If he'd suggest X and she'd suggest Y, then he would simply compromise with Z—or worse still, accept her Y with pleasure and equanimity. She began to wonder if he hadn't figured out her game. It was maddening.

Part of the trouble was that she couldn't find any vulnerability in the man. No soft spot where she could get her hooks in. Once, she tried cutting off sex for a while, but when he didn't phone after four days she caved in and called him, hating herself for doing it.

The relationship coasted into rocky waters. Sheilah began to get the impression that something was dramatically wrong. At the parties and dinners they attended, Dan sometimes spent the whole evening talking with other people and when they got home at night there would be little conversation between them. The sex was wonderful: energetic and creative and and totally satisfying. But after a while, Seheilah beganto detect a slight waning of interest on his part. She conjured up ways to please him, becoming a virtuoso of oral sex, buying the barest, laciest lingerie sho could find, but still it seemed to degenerate.

Finally, one morning just before Christmas, the whole tenuous relationship broke apart in a shocking, humiliating episode that would change Sheilah's life forever.

It was a rainy Sunday morning. Sheilah had stayed over with Dan after a dinner party honoring the governor of his state and two constituents. Much of the talk the night before had involved a dam project the constituents were trying to push through and they were trying to persuade Dan and the governor to assist them in procuring federal aid. The conversation had been thoroughly boring to Sheilah and she was anxious to leave-. Dan had promised to take her to the Cellar Door in Georgetown, where one of her favorite musical groups was playing. But the talk grew more intense and Dan pressed with questions that seemed to require longer and longer answers. The later it got, the more uncomfortable Sheilah became. She began to show her displeasure by playing with her hair and shooting Dan darting, jerky glances. Finally, he ended thediscussion smoothly and they left, but it was obvious things were strained.

He had said very little to her on the way home, and when they got to his place, they went straight to sleep. He was up early the next morning and fixed them breakfast. He sat in his robe after breakfast reading the Washington Post and having another cup of coffee. Sheilah felt restless. She wanted to turn on the television, but she knew, Dan wouldn't approve, so she went to the window and stared out at the cloudy, rainy day. She began to fiddle with the radio dial changing, the easy-Iistening station to something a little harder. She liked the Simon and Garfunkel song they were playing. so she turned up the volume and went into the kitchen to get a Coke. On her way to the livincg-room, the song ended and suddenly the Rolling Stones came blasting into the room. She was halfway across the room, anxious to turn down the sound, when Dan yelled, "For Chrissake, turn that stuff down right now!"

Sheilah had one trait that she was completely unable to control. She could not abide criticism. Her stepfather had left her that legacy. Whenever someone would criticize her, she would slam a ring of defenses around herself and go on the offensive as quickly and lethally as possible. At those moments, Sheilah existed only to hurt.

She had been on her way to turn down the music, but even if she hadn't been, what was wrong with it? Why wasn't she allowed to express herself in his apartment?

"Just because you don't like that kind of music," she snapped, "doesn't mean I don't." .

"Listen," Dan said. "It's Sunday morning, and that might be Sunday-moming music for you, but it isn't for me. It's just noise for me. and I thlnk I've mentioned it enough times for you to have the consideration not to put it on."

"Oh, for Pete's sake. Is the big man upset?" she said sarcastically. She was going to turn it down. He was wrong, and she was being blamed for somthing she didn't do.

Dan dropped the section of the paper he was readinc, and looked directly at her with an expression she couldn't remember seeing before. His words came out even and measured.

"You know the problem with you, Sheilah'? You're dumb. 'Y'ou're just plain ignorant. And that's sad."

"And what are you?" she snapped, stinging from his attack. "Smart? Hah! I saw you sitting there with those guys last night, letting them talk you into that project—whatever it was."

"You don't even know what it was," he said. "Did you ever stop to consider how much you don't know? You never read anything. You don't even read the damned newspaper! You flip through Vogue and read the labels on clothing. You don't really care about anything either, other than yourself."

"That's not true!" she screeched. "I read all the time! I read magazines and I care about a lot of things!"

"Oh, you'll look at Time and Newsweek when I press you to and then you go straight for the fashion or entertainment section. I've watched you 'read' them. You put them down after three or four minutes." Dan stood up and confronted her. "What do you care about, Sheilah? What do you want out of life? What do you want from me?"

Sheilah was dumbfounded. She could think of no reply. She wanted to say something like "You can't even get it up half the time!" but something stopped her. The danger signal canceled out the impulse to rage. Her only recourse was to cry, which she did, breaking, into sobs, facing the chill sheets of rain slanting across the gray Potomac River below. She expected him to come up and put his arms around her. When he didn't, she turned to find him staring at her in a cool, detached way.

"Look," he said. "it's not working out between us. There's too much age difference or something. I've been thinking about this for a while now—you've got your own life to live."

"What do you mean?" she gasped.

"Just what I said. I don't think it's a good idea for us to see each other anymore. I mean, I'd like to see you occasionally as a friend, but I . . ."

"As a friend! We're not friends!"

"Well, you're probably correct there. We're not friends. Sheilah, I'm going to tell you something. Your priorities are all screwed up. When I say you're dumb, I don't mean it literally. I mean you're young, you're uncultivated. You're ignorant and you aren't doing anything about it. I've tried to get you interested in things. I've given you books-you haven't read one of them. I've . . ."

"I have! That's not fair!" she protested. "I've started two of them!"

"Let me finish," he said. "You really aren't interested in anything. In a relationship, I need an exchange of ideas. I don't want to be the teacher all the time, or just hand out advice." He sighed. "Look, if you're going to operate in this town you're going to need to know something about politics, more than you pick up around the coffee maker at the office. You have to understand politics. How many times have you actually sat through a session of the House or the Senate?"

She began to say something, but he cut her off.

"You have to know something about history, about literature and sociology and political science. I can't understand ... with your background.. . . Food, wine, theater, art and architecture; these are things that make you an interesting person."

"So now I'm not interesting," she said viciously. Her temper was boiling,

"No, dammit, you aren't!" he said loudly, shocking her back into silence. "You've got nothing to say, and you can't get by in this town with just a big pair of tits and long legs. Jesus Christ, go to college. And stop being such a slob. Learn to pick up after yourself. Do something! You could go to school at night at George Washington or American University. Right now you're just treading water. Learn to swim, Sheilah. learn to swim."

"What are you doing!" she suddenly cried. "Why are you saving this to me? You're only trying to hurt me!"

She was losing. She was losing him. It could have been so right, so perfect!

"Look," he said, "I've got some things to do today. Id better take you home."

Sheilah was beside herself for weeks. She couldn't believe a radio tune had caused her this pain. So trivial. So unfair. She did not eat much and she didn't accept dates. She sat

home at night and read books. She read the four or five that Dan had given her, then she bought more. She liked fiction best, preferring eighteenth-century novels with their episodic plots of love and death and relationships. It kept her mind off Dan Whittle, for whenever she thought of him, and it was often, she pined away in her heart. It also proved him wrong: she was reading. There were times when she convinced herself that he would call her, but he never did. She wished she had left something important in his apartment so she'd have an excuse to see him, but she hadn't. She arranged to go to his office building often, in hopes of bumping into him .. but she never did. The closest she came was to sneak into the viewing gallery when Congress was it. session. She'd stand high above the assembly and watch the back of his head far below. It hurt more to se,- him and not be with him, so she stopped going.

Fortunately, Sheilah was a pragmatic person. Otherwise, there's no telling what might have become of her. Eventually she saw the logic in Dan's parting speech. If she was going to have a meaningful relationship with anybody she'd want to be with, she was going to have to change. So she investigated the possibilities of college.

Her stepfather had once offered to finance her education after she graduated from boarding school, but when she declined, he cautioned that the offer would not be repeated. He was true to his word. Her real father had fallen on hard times financially and was not able to help.

She opted for American University. It was a small school but it offered a degree in media journalism. She had always thought it might be fun to be a television reporter. The first year was difficult, not only because of her studies but because she had to get a job in a clothing store to finance the tuition. Her schedule put a dramatic crimp in her social agenda, but she plunged into her studies with a vengeance.

To her consummate surprise, Sheilah found that she was a good student. Her first grades were all A's and B's. Her second year she made the Dean's List. Apparently the years she had spent working since boarding school had been good for her. She graduated with honors and a degree in media science.

Just two weeks later, she got a job with an around-the-clock radio station as a part-time local reporter and part-time office girl. Her social life remained basically uneventful, but it didn't matter so much during this period. She worked ferociously and kept a sharp lookout for any opportunity to advance. The men she dated were unremarkable, for Sheilah had, after her experience with Dan Whittle, made a conscious decision not to become involved with men who were either interesting enough to fall in love with or smarter than she. The women's liberation movement was starting to take hold then, and she embraced those elements that served her purpose. A smart man was dangerous to Sheilah, hard to control, and while there was a side of her that was fascinated by the challenge of smart, aggressive men, she resolutely avoided them. And then she met Beau Gunn.

(From: Winston Groom, Gone the Sun , New York: Pocket Star Books 1996)