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Laura and Karl were waiting outside the office of Senator Clark. As they watched the aides and interns circulate among the desks, they took turns guessing which keywords would show up during the interview. Laura had compiled a quick set of questions that might yield some real answers, possibly, but she really wasn’t expecting anything more than a few formulated soundbites from the legislator.
“Decadent,” she said.
“Twisted,” he said.
Soon they were shown into a warm wood-lined office. Senator Clark, fiftyish, handsome, in a sort of plasticky way, stepped around his desk to shake hands and flash a smile. A serious-looking man hovered by his side. Everyone settled into chairs.
“The brother and sister team is here!” Clark said. “I love it. Shows character. How’s it going so far? Working well together? I hope not too well, right? Ha!”
Laura exchanged a quick puzzled look with her brother. What did they walk into? “Everything’s great,” she said. “We’re getting along fine. Perfectly professional.”
“But I’m still managing to annoy her every chance I get,” Karl said.
“Ha ha! Of course you are,” Clark said, laughing.
Oh boy. Laura flipped through her notes, hoping to make this short—the jovial politician kind of gave her the creeps. “Thank you for your time, Senator, I’m sure you’re busy,” Laura said. “I have just a few questions.”
“Go ahead. No need to rush, I have plenty of time.”
Great, Laura thought. “How would you describe the bill you’re sponsoring?”
“This bill addresses the disturbing modern trend of treating incest as a lark, a joke, a plot point designed to shock and titillate. Or a valid lifestyle choice, something to experiment with, something to brag about. I’ve been hearing some very disturbing stories from my constituents and I believe Dr. Sebastian’s unfortunate book represents a tipping point of this dangerous idea. My bill would place the subject of incest squarely under federal obscenity laws.”
“Obscenity,” Laura said. “I don’t know much about the law but I know it’s a hard thing to define.”
“I intend to make it much easier to define,” Clark said. “And this is just a start—I would like to rework and refine the entirety of obscenity laws, draw some cold hard lines, give them some bite.”
“That’s… a major undertaking, isn’t it?” Karl said. “I mean, the debate on obscenity has been going on for, what, centuries?”
“It will be a fight, you bet. I have some excellent lawyers working with me. This incest business will be just the opening salvo.”
“If I understand you correctly,” Laura said, “this isn’t necessarily about those who commit incest, right? You’re targeting books about incest.”
Senator Clark gestured to the man on his right. He looked like someone who has spent time practicing a well-placed sniff of derision.
“Hello, I’m Henry Adams,” he said. “You’re correct, obscenity laws regulate the publishing, promotion, distribution and sale of obscene material, like books, movies, or videos. State laws deal with the punishment of acts ataşehir escort bayan of incest.”
Laura said, “And are we talking about incest involving underage victims, or all incest, even between consenting adults?”
“Incest is incest,” Adams said.
“First cousins?” Karl said.
“The 12.5% coefficient of relationship is a point of contention. It could be allowable.”
“That’s generous of you,” Karl said.
Senator Clark said, “Dr. Miller, let me ask you—as a psychologist, what do you think of incest?”
Karl was silent for a moment. “I consider it an abnormal sexual practice. If it involves children, it’s abuse. If it doesn’t involve mutual consent, it’s abuse. If it involves mutual consent, I believe it indicates a damaged relationship.”
“Yes, damaged, exactly,” Clark said. “It hurts families. Don’t you agree?”
“It can disrupt families, yes. It can cause harm.”
“So shouldn’t families be protected from this dangerous idea?”
“But they’re already protected,” Karl said. “There are deep psychological barriers that prevent incest from occurring. Incest is a powerful taboo. I don’t think it needs help from a federal law. And the taboo is not going to be broken just because some people are talking about it.”
“And yet…” Senator Clark said, leaning back in his chair. “And yet, in his book, isn’t Dr. Gavin Sebastian saying the exact opposite? That people can be persuaded to try incest?”
I really should finish that book, thought Laura. She was glad that her brother was up to the senator’s challenge. She also wondered—if and when Karl met Sebastian, how would he react? Were they on the same page? Would there be a confrontation?
“I think you’re reading too much into Sebastian’s book,” Karl said. “It is research into the phenomena of incest. He has found individuals that have overcome those psychological barriers, but nobody knows exactly how they have done so. He has some ideas, some interesting ideas, but the subject needs more study.”
“Well, I completely disagree,” Clark said. “This is not a subject that needs to be explored. The American people don’t need exposure to Sebastian’s twisted research.”
Karl gave Laura a discreet thumbs up.
Laura said, “Are you gathering much support for your bill?”
“Absolutely, very much so. I believe I have the votes for it to pass, and I know I have the public support.”
“What have people been saying?”
“People are scared. People are worried about their families. And it’s a hard thing to talk about, and even harder to understand. It’s like a sickness sweeping over this country, and we have to fight it any way we can.”
“If you had a chance to speak to Dr. Sebastian, what would you say to him?” Laura said.
“I don’t know if I would say anything to him,” Clark said. “What kind of person pokes around dark corners and then shouts to the world what he’s found? I think he’s responsible for a lot of broken families and a lot of pain and confusion.”
“So he has to be punished?” Karl said. “Research in unpopular fields is a federal offense?”
“If the ideas produced escort kadıöy from that research are dangerous, yes.”
“More dangerous than ideologies?”
“When can we expect your bill to move through Congress?” Laura said, hoping to disengage and wrap things up.
“Very soon,” Clark said, quick with a smile. “The time is ripe. We’re all ready to move forward.”
“Well, Senator, thank you, I think that’s all the questions I have,” Laura said, closing her notebook.
“It was my pleasure,” Clark said, standing. “I’ll let you get back to your assignment. Have you managed to track down Sebastian yet?”
“Still working on it,” Laura said. But how did he know that? What did Harrison tell him?
Clark said, “If you have any more questions, be sure to contact my office. Dr. Miller, I enjoyed talking with you. A couple of sharp minds. Must run in the family.”
They said their goodbyes, and then followed a trail of signs leading them out of the building.
“That went well,” Karl said. “That was fun. Maybe I should look into a career in political commentary. Do you think it’s easy to get on one of those television shows?”
“I’m just wondering what I’m going to tell Sebastian,” Laura said. “What did you think of Clark’s bill? Obscenity laws?”
“Yeah, who knows. Seems like it’s just a gesture. Something to appease the church folk back home. It’ll probably run into trouble with the first amendment, free speech, or whatever, right? No, wait, as a political commentator I should be unwavering and polarizing. Senator Clark’s bill is in clear violation of the first amendment!”
“I think we have to get out of this town.”
* * *
“Hello, Ms. Miller. I hope it isn’t too late to talk?”
Laura was at her desk in an almost empty newsroom. After driving back to the city, dropping off her brother, then dropping off the rental, she could have easily called it a day, but she decided to come into work for the evening, hoping for the sense of normalcy that her job usually gave her. Harrison had gone home, as well as most of her coworkers, which suited her fine. She didn’t exactly get much done while waiting for Sebastian’s phone call, but the atmosphere helped her think.
“Hello, Dr. Sebastian,” she said. “It’s the perfect time to talk. I’m at the office, just catching up on some work.”
“So you’re back in New York?”
“How was your time in Washington?”
“Oh, relatively painless,” she said. “I was in a room with a senator, a lawyer, and a psychologist who happens to be my brother, and the subject of discussion was incest. And you know what? No big deal. I guess I really am a jaded reporter.”
“Not many people get past the discomfort, it’s a difficult subject to deal with. What did you think of Senator Clark?”
“He was friendly enough. I don’t think he likes you very much.”
“No, I can imagine. What did he have to say?”
“He wants to rewrite the obscenity laws, or expand them, or something, I’m not clear on the terminology. If Clark has his way, the subject of incest would be considered obscene.”
“It’s understandable. Incest maltepe escort is too closely tied to child abuse. There are many types of incest, but you can easily divide them into two groups—consensual and non-consensual. There should be two different words to call each of them, instead of lumping them both under the name incest.”
“Nothing, I was thinking out loud,” she said. “If Clark’s bill passes, what do you think its effect will be?”
“That’s a good question. Look, I know what’s happening now, I’m not that removed from the buzz of pop culture—my book has stirred something up, or at least has added to the stirring, incest has been caught up in the zeitgeist somehow, and it’s being treated as a naughty joke by most, and a threatening idea by some. If charges of obscenity start flying, if a wave of negativity starts rising… actually, if this means that more focus is directed towards victims of incest, if they can get the help they need, that would be a very positive effect.”
“Do you think about this a lot?”
“I do. It’s tragic. I’ve focused my research well away from criminal incest, but it still crops up. Anyway, the people I’ve interviewed, those who are definitely not victims, how will they live in a climate that is even more hostile to their relationships than the one that exists now? They already live their lives in secrecy, so maybe they will be relatively unaffected. Still, I’m sure they wish they could be more open about themselves, that society could be more accepting, but perhaps that was never going to happen in the first place.”
“You’re being very philosophical about this.”
“Well, this is all speculation, isn’t it? We don’t even know if Clark will be successful. By the way, about Senator Clark… no, maybe I shouldn’t mention this.”
Laura perked up. “Do you know something about the him?”
“I can’t give you any details, but…” There was a long pause. “Senator Clark may not be who he appears to be. Please don’t ask me any questions about that, I really can’t talk about it.”
Laura wrote that down and circled it. Not who he appears to be—what could that mean? What did Sebastian know? He can’t talk about it but casually brings it up—was he telling her to dig up dirt about Clark? As she tried to sort out his message, she said, “Right, I wont ask you then.”
She heard the shuffling of paper on his end. “When I spoke to you yesterday, I believe I mentioned Dr. Albert Wilson.”
“Yes, you did. Another interview. Is he a colleague of yours?”
“Yes, we worked together for a short time. I’ll let him explain.” He gave her a phone number. “He’s expecting you tomorrow. Would that be convenient for you?”
“Absolutely. I have to say, I wish all my assignments were like this one, with interviews lining themselves up for me. You’re making my job much easier.”
“Good, I’m relieved to hear that. It still feels like I’m making you jump through hoops.”
“You have to be cautious,” she said. “And I have to prove myself. I understand completely.”
“We’re getting closer to a meeting, I promise.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Laura said.
“I’ll call you tomorrow evening. Good night.”
“Good night, Dr. Sebastian.” She dropped her phone and twirled in her chair. Progress. And the weird doctor was starting to seem not so bad. Maybe this wasn’t such a terrible assignment after all.
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