ON A BLEAK, nearly sunless morning, perfect for the day after losing campaign, almost no light shone in Suite 437 of the Richard Brevard Russell Senate Office Building. There were only two people in the place, both of them answering the phones, taking condolence calls, thanking the people for saying they were sorry, when the Boston line lit up and it was the senator himself. He wanted to thank them and check with them and make them, in the end, feel better. You can beat Ed Brooke, but you can't outclass him.
A woman in a purple sweater, seven years on the Brooke payroll and not willing to have her name in the paper, went to tell her colleague that Brooke was on the phone. Brooke came on and after he had spoken for a while the other woman came out from behind the partition, glanced at her colleague and said it all with a look.
The woman in the purple sweater had been in the office since 8:50 - just like always. She and the other women were answering the phones. They heard from the man who used to cater Brooke's parties and they heard from Massachusetts people now living in the Washington area and they heard too, from ERA supporters and proabortion people who had considered Edward Brooke to be their champion. The two women took names and wrote them on slips of paper.
In the Senate office building, the hallways were eerie and quiet. The offices were manned with skeletal staffs, mostly everyone being either on vacation or back home after the just-concluded campaign. The place reminded you of those old war movies, an air base somewhere in England, everyone gone off for what they used to call "the fighting," the rest waiting to see who was coming back. Dick Clark is not coming back and Floyd Haskell is not coming back, and neither is Griffin nor McIntyre nor Anderson nor Hathaway nor, of cource, Brooke.
It should have been no surprise, but it was. It almost always is. Brooke, for instance, was behind in the polls and it was no secret that he was in trouble. Still, the woman in purple thought he could pull it out. It would be close, she thought, maybe a squeaker, but just last week she had gone over to see the Percy people and she had felt sorry for them. They were going to lose. She was going to win. They would be out of a job. She would still have hers. All night election night she looked into the sky. Brooke's plane never came back.
In the hallway, a Brooke aide bumped into a woman from another office. They hugged. The woman from the other office was dressed in dungarees and a turtleneck sweater. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I've been meaning to come over and see you guys."
The night before, the woman in the purple sweater had watched television. She had seen the concession speech. She knew the figures. She saw the math on those network tote boards. Still, when she got up in the morning, she quickly turned on the radio, thinking maybe something had happened - the results somehow turned around.
"It's like a nightmare." she said.
In the office of Ed Brooke there was one woman who knew when you go off the payroll. She checked, she admits, guilt written all over her face. No one says anything. In the office of Ed Brooke, the phone rings all the time. In the office of Ed Brooke, a woman talks of the man she has worked with for seven years, of the year it has been for him, the blows coming heavy, the Brooke luck running out, the daughters turning on their father like the children in King Lear. This was a family fight that spilled out onto the porch and all you wanted to do was look away.
Right or wrong, it must have hurt. Saint or sinner he must have been bleeding inside, the last year a gauntlet of horror - the family, the ethics committee, the questions, the questions, the questions. Ed Brooke bled all over Washington and one night, when he was named Massachusetts man of the year, he stood with his mother and she grabbed him and it looked like a mother holding up a son - like it was once, probably, like he needed it once again.
On the morning after the election, Ed Brooke called Washington. There were just two people in his office and he told them that there was a lot of hard work ahead - the transition and all - and he wanted to thank them. They called him senator and they told him to take care of himself and when they mentioned the election he said it was "God's will - it's God's will." The woman in the purple sweater hung up the phone, and they smiled sadly at one another and felt better because the senator had taken the time to call.
He didn't have the votes. But he sure has the class.