Heir to Scandal

By: Andrea Laurence

Strawberries. The leading story on the news was about strawberries. No murders, no robberies, no political scandals. “Xander,” he said to himself with a wry chuckle, “you’re not in D.C. anymore.”

Xander Langston had been glued to the local news tonight, as he had been for the past two nights, waiting for things to hit the fan. He’d come home to Cornwall to handle the fallout, but so far the local broadcasts had focused on the unseasonably mild weather, the local youth baseball team’s successes and the upcoming strawberry festival. He flipped off the old fuzzy television in the living room and tossed the remote onto the coffee table. He was ordering a flat-screen television for the bunkhouse and the main house the next time he got on his laptop. He wouldn’t have time to drive into Canton and buy them in person.

If the biggest buzz around town was the Strawberry Days Festival, life was good. No news was good news—especially with his first book hitting shelves next week and an election year coming up. His critics liked to point out that he’d been elected the first time only because his predecessor and mentor, beloved longtime congressman Walt Kimball, had hand-selected him to follow in his footsteps. Whatever the reason, Xander had succeeded in a landslide victory over his opponent. At the time, he was one of the youngest congressmen ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, just making the age requirement of twenty-five.

This fall he would be kicking off yet another reelection campaign and Xander would prefer to remain gainfully employed. That meant a solid voting record, no sound bites that could be taken out of context and absolutely no scandals of any kind. Typically, it was easy for Xander to avoid scandals. He wasn’t married, so he couldn’t have affairs. He didn’t have an interest in prostitutes. He’d never been offered any bribes, and even if he had, he would have turned them down.

But everyone had a skeleton in their closet, so to speak. And that was why he was back in Connecticut at the Garden of Eden Christmas Tree Farm watching this crappy television instead of burning the midnight oil in his Capitol Hill office.

With a sigh, Xander got up from the couch and walked over to the window. The sun had already disappeared behind the rolling green hills, but it was still light enough to illuminate the farm. For as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but balsam and Fraser fir trees.

It was a startling view after being away for so long. Looking out the window of his office in the Longworth House Building earned him an excellent view of the Capitol Building and the sea of tourists and buses traveling up and down Independence Avenue. Those people traveled thousands of miles for the sights he ignored on a daily basis. He was too busy to appreciate the classic architecture and historic significance surrounding him. Most of the time, he took the underground tunnels to the Capitol Building and missed it entirely.

He might have a plush, professionally decorated town house a few blocks from the office in the Capitol Hill district, but this place—with its old, worn furniture and acres of trees—was home. This was where he’d grown up. Being back here, surrounded by the calming influences of nature and fresh air, Xander felt more at ease than he had since he left home for Georgetown and a fast-track career in politics. There was no traffic gridlock here, no honking cabs, no frantic running through the metro stations. He could finally breathe.

Things wouldn’t stay peaceful here for long, though. The literal skeleton in Xander’s closet belonged to Tommy Wilder and last Christmas it had been unearthed by a construction crew on land that used to be part of the farm. So far there had been no luck in identifying the body, but that would soon change. Brody, his computer-genius foster brother and one of the four “Eden boys,” had emailed them all about a week ago with news that the police had commissioned a facial re-creation sketch, but it hadn’t been released to the public yet. Xander hadn’t asked how Brody knew about it. He was just grateful for the heads-up.

When the sketch hit the news, people would start sniffing around the farm for answers. They’d garnered some attention when the body was first unearthed, but no one really believed it had anything to do with his foster parents, Ken and Molly Eden. The sketch would change that. When Tommy was identified, it would place the dead teenager in their care and people would be forced to consider their involvement. His foster parents weren’t fit to deal with the journalists and police that would knock on their door looking for information. Ken was recovering from a heart attack and Molly would be too distraught by the idea of Tommy’s death to answer questions. They needed someone at the farm to run interference and Xander was the best choice.