The bell rang announcing the end of the last period of the day, and my students noisily gathered their things and headed out the door. In the hallway, locker doors slammed, and 900 teenagers, glad to be finally released on the last day of the week, headed for the school buses. Over the din I heard the familiar burst of static from the school’s ancient PA system, warning that an announcement was coming. My ears perked up when I heard my name.
“Mr. Nielsen to the office, please. Mr. Nielsen.”
Dammit. It was Friday, and I was anxious to get out of the Milfield High School building and head home. Dan was coming up from Toronto, and I was looking forward to a relaxed evening with him. There was a bottle of wine already in the fridge, and the butter chicken would be simmering in the slow cooker by now. Being called to the office at the end of the day always meant some minor crisis that would delay my departure.
I walked into the reception area of the main office and saw Bob Daley standing there fidgeting with his phone, a worried look on his face. Bob and I served together on the Board of Directors of the local Ontario Conservative Party riding association, the group of volunteers who ran things for the party in the riding of Selkirk-Ettrick River. Bob was the president of the riding association, and I was the vice-president. We were two weeks away from a provincial election, and we had been working hard trying to get our candidate, Scott Matheson, elected to the Provincial Legislative Assembly. It wasn’t unusual for Bob to drop in to see me at Milfield High to talk about party business.
“Hi, Mark,” he said. He looked worried. “Is there somewhere private we can go to talk?”
This sounded ominous. “Sure,” I replied. “Come on down to my classroom.”
I led him down the rapidly emptying hallway to my classroom on the ground floor. A student stopped us along the way. “Hey, Mr. Nielsen,” she said. “I’m going to be away on Monday for a rugby game. Are we going to have any physics homework or anything?”
As I stopped to chat with her, Bob looked at his watch and drummed his fingers against his leg nervously. I finished my conversation, and we continued to my room. I closed the door behind us and said, “What’s up, Bob? You look upset.”
“I want to show you something,” he said. He swiped his phone and turned it towards me; on the screen was a photo of an erect penis.
“What the hell is this?”
“Scott Matheson’s dick,” he said. Bob was a no-nonsense man who didn’t mince words. When he was angry, he could swear like a longshoreman.
“What? Is this a joke?”
“No joke. Scott sent this picture of his dick to a woman a few months ago. The woman is not his wife.”
I suddenly felt queasy. This didn’t sound good. “How do you have a copy of it?” I asked.
“Just about everybody in Ontario has a copy of it by now,” he said. “His wife, Debbie, has left him. As a parting gift, she sent an email to everyone on her contact list, calling him a lying, cheating asshole and attached this picture. She also emailed it to a reporter at CTV News in Peterborough, by the way.”
“Wait a second,” I said. I was confused. “Who’s the woman? How did Debbie find out?”
“The woman is an employee at his construction company. Apparently, he’s been fucking her for about a year now. I guess he promised her he’d leave his wife, and when he didn’t, she sent this picture to Debbie and told her everything. Debbie went ballistic. She’s left town with the kids and gone to stay with her mother.”
“Is it just the one picture?” I asked, thinking that somehow this must be a mistake or a misunderstanding.
“Oh, no,” Bob replied. “The woman – Tanya O’Leary is her name, by the way – has put up a statement on Facebook claiming that she loves Scott, they’ve been banging for months now, and she can prove it because they’ve been sexting each other the whole time, and she’s kept all the texts. This particular photo was sent when Scott was at a trade show in Ottawa last winter; apparently, there are more. Tanya’s threatened to release the whole lot unless Scott leaves his wife.”
“Jesus, Bob, this is bad,” I said. My mind was racing. “First of all, how do we know this is legit? Is this really a picture of Scott? Maybe she’s faking the whole thing to blackmail him.”
“She says she can prove it’s his cock because of this mole on it right here.” Bob held the phone up to show me again. Sure enough, there was the afore-mentioned mole. “I guess that’s why Debbie knew it was for real; she knows every square inch of his junk.”
“Shit, Bob, the election is in two weeks. What do we do now?” I said. I was pacing the room nervously. Although I felt sorry for Debbie and the kids, all I could think about was the election.
“I don’t know, Mark,” he said. He sat down at a student desk with a heavy sigh and rubbed his eyes. He looked exhausted. “We’re in uncharted waters here. No one on the Board of Directors has ever had to deal with something like this before. I’ve been calling party headquarters in Toronto to ask them what to do, but no one there is returning my calls. They’re just as surprised as we are, I guess. But there’s more.”
I groaned. How could this get any worse?
“Reporters have been streaming into town all day,” he said. “CBC, CTV, Global, all the major papers, they’re all here. I even got a call from TMZ this afternoon. There’s blood in the water. They’re camped outside his house in Kelso right now – satellite trucks and everything. Scott came out a few minutes ago and told them that the story is all lies. He said, and I quote, ‘My phone must have gone off accidentally in my pocket and taken that picture.’ He says he has no idea how the photo got sent to Tanya, that someone must have hacked his phone.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. “That’s his explanation? I’ve heard better excuses from my Grade 9 students. Who’s going to believe that?”
“I know, it’s ridiculous. I think he panicked when the shit hit the fan. He told the reporters to leave him alone and he would have another statement for them at five o’clock.”
“Have you talked to him? Do you know what he’s going to say?”
“No clue. I’ve been calling him all afternoon. He’s not answering his phone.”
“So what now?” I said.
“I guess we just wait to see what Scott says this afternoon,” Bob said. “I’ve scheduled an emergency meeting of the Board at my house tomorrow at 10:00 am. We’ll have to come up with some kind of contingency plan, I suppose. In the meantime, I hope someone at HQ calls to tell me what the fuck to do, because I sure as shit have no idea.”
I felt sorry for Bob. He was the much-loved former mayor of Kelso, and scandals like this were unheard of in his community. People were discreet, and rumours about adultery and unconventional tastes in sex were kept hush-hush. The internet and social media were certainly putting a strain on this traditional arrangement, and this particular sex scandal was about to go public in a big way. The situation must have been difficult for him, and he was uncomfortable being in the limelight.
“OK, Bob, I’ll be at the meeting tomorrow,” I said. “I guess we’ll just watch the press conference and hope for the best.”
Bob ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “I’m afraid the best is going to be a fucking shit storm,” he said sadly.
When I got home, Dan was waiting for me. He had driven up from Toronto for the weekend as he did when I wasn’t able to join him there. Our careers kept us apart most of the time, so we treasured the days we were able to spend together. As I hung up my coat and dropped my messenger bag in the hallway, he handed me a glass of wine. “You look like you’ve had a rough day,” he said as he leaned in to kiss me, weaving his fingers through my hair. I kissed him back.
“You won’t believe what happened today,” I said. “Selkirk-Ettrick River has its very own political sex scandal. Scott Matheson did a very bad thing.”
“Well, let me put it this way: he put his dick somewhere he wasn’t supposed to,” I said. “He’s having a press conference in half an hour.”
At five o’clock we curled up together on the sofa to watch the spectacle; all the networks were carrying it live. We watched as the front door of Scott’s house opened, and he stepped forward to a scrum of reporters who held their microphones up to his face.
“I have a brief announcement to make,” he said. “I will not be taking any questions.”
The reporters stood silently, waiting for him to continue. He pulled out a sheet of paper and read from it.
“A few months ago, in a moment of weakness, I made a terrible mistake and committed adultery. I apologize to my wife and children for the hurt I have caused them. I am committed to salvaging my marriage and am entering a treatment program for sex addiction and substance abuse.”
He paused and took a deep breath. “Obviously, under the circumstances, I cannot continue as the Ontario Conservative candidate for Selkirk-Ettrick River, and I am withdrawing from the race effective immediately. I would appreciate it if the press would respect the privacy of me and my family at this difficult time.” He folded his paper, turned and walked back into the house.
“Wow,” said Dan. The cameras showed reporters shouting questions at Scott as he retreated into his home. “I don’t know what to say. The election’s in two weeks; what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Bob Daley is trying to get some guidance from party headquarters; no one knows what to do. We’re having a board meeting tomorrow morning.” Dan took my hand. “But it looks like we’ve got to find a new candidate.”
I was running through lists of potential replacement candidates in my mind: municipal councillors, Board of Education trustees, local business owners. Convincing any of them to run at this late date was going to be tough; it had taken us months to jump all the hurdles to select Scott as our candidate.
I turned to Dan. “Whatever happens, I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks.”
Thanks as usual to rec for his valuable editing advice, and to Parker Owens for his beta-reading suggestions.