Revenge Should Have No Bounds – Chapter 11 (032-041): The Mayor

 [If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
before proceeding.]

Prologue 001-002     Chap 1 003-005     Chap 2 006     Chap 3 007-008
Chap 4 009-010     Chap 5  011-013     Chap 6  014-017     Chap 7  018-019
Chap 8  020-023     Chap 9  024-027     Chap 10  028-031

Revenge Should Have No Bounds

Part 3

The Next Six Months: Murder

There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it.
Shakespeare Hamlet IV.vii.126-127

Chapter 11  (032-041): The Mayor

Roy Rany — mayor, mayoral candidate, potential senator, husband, father, playboy, nauseous — was in a general funk.  His head was stuffed with mashed potatoes, and something that felt like Gorgonzola lined his teeth and palate.  Unappealing as the sensation was, he wished the real problems were as mild, and as easily remedied.

He sat in the semi-dark of a curtained room in a suite at the La Ville and dangled his feet over the edge of the bed;  he tried to recall details of last night’s party after the party in somebody’s suite.  He surveyed the ambient elegance, an incongruous picture of his rumpled Armani suit draped like toss-away rags across a chair and scattered on the deep carpeting amid the rich appointments and expensive furniture tastefully spread out in the huge bedroom.  He fumbled for an aspirin bottle on his nightstand.  He poured water into a cut glass from a carafe and washed some pills down in one gulp.  His Rolex displayed, to his dismay, that it was already 11:30.

It had been a long time since he’d let himself go quite the way he apparently did last night.  Sure, he’d let off some steam a couple times during the last few months, what with the campaign starting to heat up and all, but last night was … well … it was all pretty much a blur in his mind:  raucous laughter, racy women (but not his wife), raunchy good ol’ boys, rivers of booze.  He scratched his chest and pinched the pasty flesh.  It was true, as Bob Abernathy, the sleek campaign manager he’d recently hired at an astronomical salary, had cautioned, he had put on some weight.  But not that much, really.  What can you expect at 55?  The metabolism slows down.  Trouble was, those relentless cameras couldn’t care less and made a pound out of every ounce.

But back to last night again:  in the harsh mental glare of fragmented recall it couldn’t possibly have been as much fun as it had seemed at the time.  He was going to have to watch this indulgence in alcohol.  Especially now.  He’d kept it well in check for a long time, and perhaps it didn’t hurt to cut loose once in a while.  Blow the soot out of the pipes – that kind of thing.   Last night didn’t count.  It wouldn’t happen again.  He had the discipline and the will power.

He felt around the sheets and blankets for the TV remote.

“Cait!” he yelled.  “Cait!”

“Honey?”  His wife came striding in from the living room, pushing open the door and letting in more light. “I see we’re finally awake,” she said.  She started picking up the pieces of his suit he’d dribbled on the floor the night before and shook out the coat and pants before hanging them up in the closet.  She stroked the shoulder of his coat.

“Where’s the remote, babe?”

“Probably where we left it last night.  Or don’t we remember?”

He shook his head and squinted against the pounding light.  He hated it when she used that sarcastic ‘we’ in this way.  Just hated it.  And Caitlin, the loyal wife across all these years, knew it all too well.

“When we came back to the suite, we insisted on watching the early show on CNN.  To see if we’d made it on the national scene.  We really don’t remember that?”

“No,” he said.  It came out more meekly than he had wanted it to.  He was hardly in a mood to begin the day with an argument.  Arguments seemed more and more to have become a common means for them to communicate.

“And we don’t remember wanting to call Rae’s room?”

“Rae?”  He was genuinely puzzled.  And a little scared.  Blackout!  He had no recollection of this whatsoever.  “Why should I want to call my sister in the middle of the night?”

Caitlin folded her arms and looked down on him.  “Isn’t that what we always do when we don’t know what to do?”

He dismissed her with a wave of the hand.  But he didn’t like to be reminded.  “All right, all right,” he said.  “Let’s drop it, O.K.?”

“As we wish,” she said.

He knew that the smirk and arched eyebrows were her supercilious way of undercutting apparent agreement with him.  Only in the vaguest sense did he want to understand why she had such a hard-on for his sister.  Without Rae he knew he’d be nowhere today, and certainly not the party’s shoo-in for a third term as mayor.

“It’s what I wish,” he snapped at his wife.  “And it wouldn’t hurt you to be a little more friendly to Rae. Can’t you at least pretend?  Bob says we absolutely have to put up a united front if this campaign is going to succeed.”  He gave her his most pleading look.  “Please, honey?”

Her head bobbed slowly up and down.  She certainly liked the idea of being a senator’s wife, and last night had been the first time she thought there might be more to this thing than the vain indulgence of yet another whim by her wealthy husband.  There might be a real possibility they could end up in Washington, D.C.  For that kind of payoff, she could, and would, take a lot of shit, even Rae.

“You’re right, dear,” she said, using her most mollifying tone of voice.  “I know Rae has your best interests at heart.  We all do.”  She ruffled his hair and pressed his head against her belly.  “This is a team effort, and I defer to her.  And the other pros.”

“You mean that?”  His eyes turned up toward her.

“Of course I do, sweetheart.”  Ruffle ruffle.  “You know I do.”

“You’re the best, baby, absolutely the best.”

For a man who was rather complicated and had certainly demonstrated his high intelligence in the academy as well as the business world, she thought, he could be astonishingly ingenuous at times.  “I suppose,” she mused to herself, “he’s no different from the rest of us.  We all believe what we want to believe, and then hope it will all somehow turn out for the best in the end.”

“That’s because you bring it out in me, babe!”

He wiggled his head hard against her and grabbed her buttocks with both hands.

The phone rang.

“Let me get that,” she offered, slipping away from his grasping hands.

He let go, and sat back on the bed.  He ran a hand through the thick hair that commentators had recently begun to remark on as a kind of trademark.  When a portion of it lay across his forehead they said it made him look both boyish and wise at the same time.

Caitlin held out the phone to him.  She covered the voice pickup and pointing to it said in a mimic whisper, “It’s Mr. Campaign Manager, dear.”

Roy rose from the bed.  “Bob,” he said cheerfully.  “We really did it last night, didn’t we?”

“We sure did, Roy.  You were very impressive.  Have you read the morning papers?  You made the Wall Street Journal and even the national news in the New York Times.  Not too shabby, I’d say.”  But he didn’t offer details on how it was probably as much a matter of all the free dinners and drinks he’d kept the local stringers in as any truly novel platform Rany had articulated last night.  The important thing was that the liberals read the Times to find out what they should believe about November and the conservatives had the Journal for issuing them their political marching orders.  One gun, double barrel.  All that money was already doing its talking, and Bob was going to see to it that that same money just kept right on talking them into the United States Senate.  “We’re off to a terrific start.”

“Say, that’s great, Bob.  It was pretty exciting last night.”

The red light blinked on another line.  “Bob, let me put you on hold for just a sec.  I think it might be Rae on another line.”

“She’s just calling to congratulate you, Roy.”  Bob sounded relaxed but the very name Rae jacked up his blood pressure more than a few points.  She was the one serious reservation he had about managing this campaign.  But while Roy was as malleable as warm putty on just about everything else, he’d been all adamantine obduracy on the matter of Rae;  he had made it unmistakably clear that she was at the center of things and would remain so until he was sworn in for his third term.  And probably long after, Bob had come to believe.  “We need to get together with everybody and discuss things before the press conference this afternoon. It’s set for four so we’ll make the evening shows.  Are you free for lunch?”

“Lunch is fine, Bob.  I’ll meet you in the lobby in about sixty minutes.”

“Sixty minutes it is.  See you then.”  Bob hung up.

Roy switched the line.  “Yes?”

“Oh, Roy,” it was Rae, sounding as happy as a bug in a rug.  “You did it again!  Gus would have been proud out of his skin about this, kiddo.”  He could tell she was choked up.

“I know, Rae.  And don’t you forget who made all this possible.  You did.”

“Nonsense,” she said.  “We did it together, you and me together, like always.”  It flashed through his mind that he should say something about Caitlin as a partner in this enterprise, but he let it slide.  Not the right time.  And he felt uncomfortable.  “I just wanted to call you and touch base.”

“I’m happy you did.  We’ll get together later.”

“Great, little brother.  Love you.”

“Love you, too,” he said.

He hung up the phone.  Thoughtfully.

“Rae?” Caitlin asked.

“Yes,” he answered absently.

“And?”

“And?  She just wanted to congratulate me, Cait.  And get together later this afternoon.”

“I see.”  Dry and disbelieving.

“For God’s sake, Cait, she just wants to talk to me.”

“Did I say something wrong?”

“It’s the way you said it?”

“The way?” she queried.

“Yes, the way.  Like she was going to steal me from you.”

“No chance of that, dear.” She came close to him.  “Let’s not argue about this.”

She’d have to downplay the Rae thing.  Her head understood Roy’s unshakable loyalty to his sister, but her heart kept worrying it like a greedy bitch with a bone.  There were times when she felt she would probably not be his first choice to stay if the three of them ever ended up in a life raft designed for two.

“I agree,” he muttered.  “Let’s not.”  He hugged her.  “I need a shave and a hot shower.”  Even more he needed a few minutes by himself.  “How about pouring me some coffee?  O.K.?”

Caitlin dipped her head in silent acknowledgement, swiveled on her long legs, and marched out into the living area to get his coffee.

As the hot water pelted down on him and he soaped the fumes from his pores he began mentally spread-sheeting assets and liabilities.

On the former side was money, lots of money, the life-blood of any political campaign in modern America.  He had plenty of financial support from the local political establishment and the city employee unions.  Most of the top rainmakers in the private sector were in his corner and their solid contributions said so:  lawyers, construction firms, paving companies, garbage collections – the vast herds in any large American city feeding at the trough of public contracts and services.  And there was always his own considerable fortune, not to mention Caitlin’s.  She was ready to put up with another four years as mayor’s wife in the expectation that when this coming term, which he would win, was over and done with, it was on to national politics for both of them.  Oxley, one of the state’s U.S. senators, had recently announced his retirement in four years, and Caitlin and Roy had, in their way, already begun to run for that office.  He was still good-looking, almost youthful, and he still knew how to make a good suit look better.  He was photogenic, as were his wife and children.  Standard issue of the media version of the perfect family.  And he would start a rigorous exercise regimen today.  No more booze, just meat and yogurt.

All this on the plus side.

The column of negatives was a bit fuzzier.

He’d had to let go the campaign manager for his first two elections.  The man’s greed had grown positively indecent, and in the brazen course of carving out empires of private enterprise under the public umbrella of the Rany machine he’d finally drawn the drooling attention of federal prosecutors living high off the post-Enron hog.  Thank God it now looked as though none of that slime would stick to the administration.  This new man, Abernathy, though a micro-managing Caligula, was running a tight ship and probably worth the money.  But Jake Mohre, his cryptic link with the many fiefdoms of city politics like police, fire, roads, and so forth, could turn into a complication.  Rany was grateful for his get-things-done ethos but questioned some of the ethics involved.  Like Cassius, Mohre had that lean and hungry look, all right, and he thought too much — such men are dangerous.  Too much personal ambition there.  And Roy really would have to watch his drinking, and other aspects of his private behavior that could flush the whole campaign down the toilet.  Along with the booze, he’d simply have to give up that seductive item from Aspasia’s.  He simply had to.

Roy sighed, and turned off the stream of water.

He opened the door and a fog bank of steam created a halo effect around him as if he were a hero emerging into the light.  Too bad the photographers weren’t around to capture this emergence of the great man.  Caitlin noted in a corner of her mind that he’d have to watch his weight, but was still a very good-looking guy whether you factored his age in or not.  For some reason she’d never quite understood, he got a big kick out of toweling off in the nude in front of her, letting the equipment slap back and forth with noisy ostentation.

They’re really all such peacocks, she thought, chuckling inwardly.  Pea-cock-s.  That’s a good one.

A heat-seeking missile when it came to locking in on his moods and thoughts, Caitlin watched him intently from the sofa while pretending to only the mildest interest.  To hide his discomfort, he went over to her and nuzzled the vee between her shoulder and neck.

She gave him a reassuring hug.

“I’ve got to get ready.  Bob wants to do lunch around twelve thirty, and then it’s meetings before the news conference at four.”

“Don’t forget the coffee, honey,” she reminded him.

He drank some, still standing there in the nude.  “You going to be O.K. the rest of the afternoon?” he asked.

“I’ll be just fine,” she answered.

“It’s important you’re there with me at the press conference.  Can do?”

“Of course I’ll be there.  Do we have dinner plans?”

“Fluid as of now.  But you’re coming along, right?”

“Sure, Roy.  I’ll be ready.  What would you like me to wear?”  He would never tell her, but he had once told her it pleased him when she asked.  It was a small price.

“I’ll come back up here and get you shortly before four.  Now I’ve got to hustle,” he said and pecked her on the cheek before turning to the fussy business of dressing.

It was perhaps a bit early, but what the hell?  She fixed herself a Bloody Mary from the well-stocked bar and sat down in one of the luxurious fauteuils that dotted the bedroom. She always enjoyed watching her husband power-dressing, an amusing display of his shaky narcissism in action.

“Hey, baby,” he said as he saw her.  She was reclining in a lazy slouch, drink in hand, watching him with half-closed eyes the way a well-fed cat might deign to look at a mouse it could have had a lot of fun batting around before the kill.

“What’s up?”

Now he was all cheer and eagerness to follow up his triumphant announcement of the previous evening.

“Well, not what I was hoping for,” she purred.

“Huh?”  He followed the line of sight her eyes had established on his crotch.  “Oh,” he laughed nervously.  “Yeah, up, I get it.  But no time now, honey.  Bob’s waiting for me downstairs.  Maybe later.”

She ignored the facile lie.

“Roy, we’ve got to talk,” she said after a moment.

“Talk?  About what?  Can’t it wait?’

“No, it can’t.”

He wrapped a towel around his pelvis and sat down on a chair beside the bed.  He leaned forward on the edge expectantly, the body language unmistakable in its insistence that he had very little time to give her.

“What happened last night?”

“Oh, shit, Cait,” he said.  “Is this really the right time?”

She said nothing but held his gaze without blinking.  He broke the contact first.

“Look,” he cleared his throat, “nothing happened.  No women.”  There was a palpable lack of conviction to his words.  “At least I think not,” he added softly.

“You see, that’s exactly my point,” she said, putting the drink on a side table and inclining in her turn towards him.

“I said nothing happened.”  Defensively.

“But we don’t know that for sure, do we?  Anyway, that’s beside my point, and it’s all in the past.  I do trust you on that score.  What I’m worried about is that you don’t actually remember what happened all evening, do you?”

He would not look at her.  His head was bowed toward the rug where he seemed to seek for answers in the intricate ply of the carpeting.

“I know,” he finally said.  “It scares me, too.”

“Honey,” she turned on the sweetness, “you can’t do that now.”  She came over and sat opposite him on the bed;  she took his hands in hers.  “You have a declared candidacy and you have a very specific platform you’re running on.  You know you could lose this thing.  And then where would our future plans be?”  She gave his arm a companionable squeeze.  “You can’t be taking chances like that.  You can’t say one thing and then act otherwise.  People just won’t stand for hypocrisy and recklessness in a candidate.  It’s not the good old days anymore.  You’ve got to be in control and you’ve got to show people you’re in control.  You don’t do that by cutting loose.  You know I’m not talking just women here.”

“You’re right,” he said.  “I know you’re right.”

She stroked his forearm.  “The past is past, and nobody is going to find out about that.  And you’ve proved over the years you don’t need the alcohol;  you know you do much better without it.”

“I don’t know what got into me last night,” he said, shaking his head.  “It was stupid.  Unbelievably stupid.  It won’t happen again.”

“I know it won’t. baby.”  She wanted to believe him, and she kissed him on the cheek.  The scent of him excited her.  “Now go get dressed,” she said thickly.  “You don’t want to keep old Bob waiting, do you?”

She moved back to the other chair and picked up her drink again.

Some of the bouncy confidence he had shown when he marched out of the bathroom had evaporated like the moisture from his skin, but getting dressed would clothe him in it once more.  He unwrapped the towel and let it drop to the floor;  standing with his back to his wife, he surveyed the closet.

Great ass, she mused and took a swallow.  Still.

Roy Rany was fond of clothes.  He still had the body to wear them and he certainly had the money to buy them.  Bob had drummed into him that in modern American politics substance was all but meaningless unless it was ‘packaged’.  And the packaging began with the candidate himself:  don’t dress like a dandy, but don’t be too conservative, either.  The tieless chino interview in loafers and no socks might be appropriate on some carefully staged occasions, but a day like today called for suit mode.

He surveyed the full closet.  He selected a two-button worsted and hung it on the dressing stand.  A belt in brown Italian leather would go well.  From the dresser drawer he pulled out a solid white shirt with European ridged collar and button-sleeves.  A pair of tan oxfords would complete the ensemble.  Gazing upon himself in the full-length mirror attached to the closet door, he donned long black socks, underwear, shirt, pants, shoes, and cinched up the belt.

“What tie would go well here?” he called to Caitlin over his shoulder.

“How about that red one I got you in Chicago with the little blue and yellow rectangles on it?”

He held it up for a test against the white of the shirt.  “Perfect,” he said happily, and folded up the collar so he could loop it around his neck.  He tied his normal Windsor, and put on the coat.  Turning, he shot his cuffs and asked, “Well?”

“Knock ‘em dead, baby!  You look sensational.  Just like a mayor!”  She wasn’t lying.  A subtle proprietary sense washed over her:  he’s still a looker and he’s rich, and he’s all mine, he really is.  And that’s the way it’s going to stay.  His whores didn’t know who they were messing with.

She tightened and relaxed the muscles in her thighs a couple of times.  “I love you, baby!”

He smiled at her and bent over for a gentle kiss on the mouth.  “I love you, too, honey.  We’re in this together.”

She walked him to the door and gave his tie a final little tug before he started down the hall.  His bodyguard closed around him like outriggers and walked him to the elevator banks.

Bob was waiting for him by the reception desk, surrounded by reporters and other flacks.  He was jawing without interruption into the hydra-headed mikes that kept sprouting from the milling body.  The equipment people were fiddling with gain-buttons and zoom-levers, and the pretty people were staking out claims near Bob so they could be seen to be reporting.

Roy admired Bob’s glib effortlessness in handling these amoeba-like masses of talking heads that flowed around him in a ceaseless jockeying for position.  He was tall and skeletal, tanned, and had black eyes that glinted in the high wattage of the TV lights.  Women found him irresistible.  But he knew how to keep himself in the background and let the focus fall on his client, the candidate du jour.  “And here he is,” he suddenly said, pointing to Roy.  “Ladies and gentlemen, our mayor and our next senator.”

The mob shifted in lock-step like a flock of starlings or school of fish that had found their true leader. “Sir, sir,” the clamor arose.

“Please, people,” Bob shouted.  “No interviews now.  Please let the man get some lunch.  You’ll all have plenty of opportunity to ask questions at our news conference this afternoon.  Sixteen hundred, right here in the lobby.”

“Sir,” a persistent young woman called;  she had a mike in one hand and with the other was beckoning furiously to her audio and  video, “sir, just one question!”

Roy smiled at her and looked straight into the camera.  Silence fell over the crowd. “Sure, one question.”

“How does it feel to be running again?”

“It feels just fine,” he laughed.  “We’re off to a good start, and we have every expectation of winning in November.  My record speaks for itself.”

“Will that be your last term as mayor, sir?”

“Now that’s two questions.”  The crowd laughed.  “But I’ll answer anyway.”  He donned a more serious mien.  “Yes, it will,” he began, and in passing saw the creases of worry spreading over Bob’s face.  “But I have plenty of experience from the business world and a strong commitment to taking my message directly to the people.  There are other ways to serve my community and my nation.”  Bob’s face still had that tight and tense look.  “It’s time this country got back to some old-fashioned values, personal responsibility and family togetherness.  That’s the bedrock this campaign will be built on – and any future ones.”

The reporters went into feeding frenzy.

“Sir, sir, does this mean you will be running for Senator Oxley’s seat when he retires?”

Other reporters redoubled efforts to shout the same question at him, but he was firm.  “Thank you, good people, but that’s it for now.”  He had caught Bob’s frantic signals to stop before it turned into an uncontrolled free-for-all, the kind of innocent event that so easily could result in an inadvertent but damaging comment it would take days to sort out.  “Let’s hold off till four o’clock.”  He tried to push through the throng.  “Thank you,” he said as he made his way slowly forward.  A large group of interested bystanders had gathered beyond the reporters, and some of them reached out to shake his hand as he passed.  He smiled left and right and shook hands at random with a select few.  “Roy Rany.  How are you, nice to see you.  I’ll appreciate your vote in November.”

At last he and Bob broke free and headed into the restaurant bar.  It had been Bob’s idea that rather than sit in the suite and eat their meals, he should take as many as possible in public view.  “The exposure is great,” he’d explained.  “Makes you look like just one of the folks.  Before all of this is over, you’re never going to want to set foot in another greasy spoon as long as you live.  Unless, of course,” he added slyly, “you run for the senate.”  They both chuckled.

Not that the restaurant here was hardship duty, but he surmised Bob would be proved right in the end.  As they went to be seated, people continued coming up to him, and he obliged with a handshake and a congenial remark about a child’s dress or the sudden snow or the excellence of the food.

At last they extricated themselves from the trailing well-wishers and got a booth.  Bob had pulled out a sheaf of reports from his valise.

“I’ve got the latest polls here,” he said beaming, “and they’re top of the line.”  He licked his finger and began to thumb through the printouts.  “You’re very high on believability and sincerity.  That’s extremely important.  There’s some fuzziness in terms of what you stand for, though.  We’ll have to try to sharpen the focus there.  Caitlin comes across positively, but there’s some question about Rae.”  He held up his hand as Roy opened his mouth to argue.  “I know, I know, Roy.  But I’ve got to tell it the way it is.  Fifteen percent think she’s your mother, and that’s fine.  But it’s the rest of them I worry about:  ambiguity, lack of clarity – that’s extreme death in the voting booth.  Some of them even thought she was your grandmother.”  He looked warily at Rany.

“But I introduced her as my sister last night when we declared,” he said in a hurt and puzzled voice.

“I know.  I was there, and I heard you.  Lesson number one, Roy. You should know this by now.  I mean, this is your third campaign.  People generally believe what they see, and most of all what they want to believe.  Not what they hear or what they read, or even know.  The vast majority of voters – and these are the folks we’re trolling for – make up stories about you in their heads, especially it it’s based on what showed up on TV.  It’s not something they decide to do, and in fact if you ask them about it they’ll deny it.  But it’s a fact.  Trust me on this one.  Rae just doesn’t look like your generation, and that’s all there’s to it.”

“I hear you, Bob.  But Rae is in,” he persisted.  “It’s not negotiable!”  He moved his silverware around.

First Caitlin, now Bob.

He simply couldn’t kick Rae loose.  He wouldn’t.

Rae was sixteen years older.  She’d always been the resourceful one, the one whose feet were planted on solid ground, the realist, the hard one.  When their father, Gus Rany, had finally died back in 1950, Roy had been just two years old and didn’t even remember the old man.  It had just been Rae and himself against the world. She’d been sixteen at the time, and Social Services being what they were in that distant past in a rural county distant from the capitol, it was not all that difficult for her just to keep Roy and herself on the farm.  The hands had all stayed on, and the wife of one of them had taken care of Roy while she finished her final year in high school and got her diploma the following year.  Old Gus knew for a couple of years his time was up, and since his wife had died giving birth to the boy, he had come to rely more and more on his precocious daughter. He’d taught her how the farm was run and made sure the hands knew he expected her to take over when he was gone.  And in two years that cunning old semi-literate tyrant had taught her more about finances and futures markets than she’d have gotten with a B.A. in Finance.

Finishing high school at seventeen, she’d devoted herself full time to Roy and the farm.  Rae was nobody’s fool, and back in 1951 a high school diploma was still worth a sixth-grade education.  She could read The Wall Street Journal and she could do all kinds of sums, and that’s about all it had taken.  Plus her infallible instincts for timing.  “Ripeness is all,” she had read in one of those Shakespeare plays they still read in high school back in those benighted days, and that deeply practical point had stuck where even the name of the play was gone.  The farm had prospered, and so had Roy.  Rae loved her little brother more than a mother could, and she pushed him hard in school.  She wanted her little brother to be something, somebody.  She had never fully gotten over the patronizing arrogance of the bankers and brokers and the feed lot managers when she first started doing business with them.  A woman – no a mere girl – and one without much education, either.  Nobody was ever going to talk down to little Roy that way.  He was going to be somebody.  She’d make sure of that.

When Roy graduated from high school, at the top of his class, in 1965, she packed him off to the university, where he studied electrical engineering.  On her recommendation he had signed up for ROTC at the peak of its unpopularity on American campuses, but it enabled him to finish college right on schedule in May of 1969.  And he’d been lucky in Viet Nam.  With his background it was natural that he be assigned to command authority over one of the groups servicing the electronics boxes on the Phantoms F-4’s, and thus he had never been exposed to any front-line danger in the pitiless jungle.  But he had the military service on his record, and Rae had enough innate cunning to appreciate how important it would be for political candidates years from now to have served.  Even at the risk of losing her baby brother she had actually urged him to sign up for a second tour when his time was up, and by the time he finished with an honorable discharge, that sorry war was pretty much finished in its own ignominious way.

When he’d returned to the farm in 1973, he and Rae had had a serious talk about what to do.  She was forty-one and tired of the farm, and she wanted to sell it.  She’d like to get a job where she didn’t have to worry all the time and carry the responsibility for other people’s livelihood.  Enough was enough.  Roy had no objections, as he was tied even more loosely to the farm than she was.  They sold everything.  Everything was a single lot, for old Gus and his father before him had been adding a little acreage here and little there to the original farmstead since the mid-1880’s.

Rae got an apartment in town and a job as teller at one of the local banks.  In the fall Roy went back to the university for his M.A. in the new area of Computer Science.  It was Rae, again, who saw the future and encouraged him to pick this field.  In October she had called him and reported that after the accountants, lawyers, and tax authorities had stolen their share, the farm had cleared just over two million, a not inconsiderable sum in the mid-1970’s.  “And half of it belongs to you, kiddo!” she’d said.  When he’d asked what he should do with the money, she’d laughed and told him not to worry about it.  Just keep living the way you are and forget about the money for now, she said.  “I’ve invested all of it in some new little stock called Intel.”

And she had let it all ride till the Spring of 2000!

Roy knew at some level that his campaign manager was right about Rae.  But for now he just wanted to fill in the silence, deflect the strong disapproval written broadly on Bob’s face, and change the direction of their strategizing.  “How can you get polls so quickly?” he asked.

“Pantucci is the best.  Believe me.  I’ve worked with him before.  They guy knows what he’s doing, and for the money you’re paying him it’s suicide not to listen to what his numbers say.  Actually, except for the Rae thing, you’re polling exceptionally high.  It helps of course that you’re an unopposed incumbent, but we should be grateful nonetheless.  My spies tell me the other party will run a take-no-prisoners campaign. But numbers like Pantucci’s have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies:  just the perception you’re a winner translates that way in the minds of the voters, and everybody wants to vote for a winner.  The polls are like the oracles of Zeus.”

Roy smiled.  “You know, Bob, I took one of those freshman civ courses right here at this university God knows how many years ago, and I remember this old codger in the Classics department droning on in a lecture about oracles in the ancient world.  Yeah, they gave the right answers, but people often misinterpreted them because they heard only what they wanted to hear.  I’ve never forgotten an example that professor gave:  The oracle told this Cronus, the king of Lydia, that if he attacked the Persians he would destroy a great empire.  Great, thought Cronus, let’s go for it.  Too bad he misread the oracle, because the empire he destroyed was his own.  He heard it his way, if you see what I mean.”  He waved a fork gently at Bob.

“I see what you mean, my friend.  I’ve heard the story before.  And for the record, it was Croesus who went to oracle, not Cronus.  Cronus was the schmuck who got the shit kicked out of him.  By his own kid, if you can believe it.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Roy said.  “Cronus, Croesus.  Who gives a shit?  It’s the point that counts.”

“Right, Roy. Not to worry, though.  We’re not going to Croesus this baby here.  But we have to listen to what Pantucci says, and we have to factor it into our strategy.”

“You’re right.  On all counts.  My point is simply I don’t want us to be hearing these polls only the way we want to.”

“I’ve got it covered.  That’s what you pay me for.”

Rany was uncomfortably silent.  He jutted his chin out and tugged nervously at his collar.  Bob, sensitive like a shark to nano-parts of blood in the water, went for the jugular.

“No secrets from each other, Roy.  Remember?”

“I’m just thinking how we could work Rae into the campaign.  I mean, there must be something she can do, isn’t there?”

“Absolutely.  I’ve been brain-storming with Peggy  — you remember her, right, my right hand?”

Rany nodded.  “Sure.  Peggy.”

“Anyway, all morning we’ve been at it about this.  We think Rae’s just the ticket for the over-sixty crowd.  They’re important to us.  They vote in larger proportion than other groups, so it will help a lot if we start off by having the two of you visit some retirement homes together.  You’ll introduce her as your sister.  Old people like to see older people making a difference.  It will identify her in the eyes of an important demographic and give her a specific rôle – I’m talking metaphor here. Then she can run with it by herself.  That way people won’t be worrying about who she is.  No more uncertainty.”

The waitress came to take their orders.

“I saw you on TV last night, Mayor,” she said.  A thousand-watt smile in a pretty face.

“Thank you,” Roy read her name tag, “Priscilla.  We hope it stays that way.  Mayor, that is.  Are you voting age?”

“Yes, sir,” she beamed.  “First time this year.”

“Well, I’ll sure appreciate your vote for me if you can see your way clear to it.”

“I’ve already decided to vote for you, Mr. Rany.”

“What are the other people who work here saying?” Bob inserted.

“They’re all real excited,” Priscilla said.  “They think Mr. Rany is the kind of person you can trust in city hall.”

Unlike the clowns there now?   Bob zeroed in on what she was implying and winked at Roy.

“You can put that in the bank,” he said.

She laughed.  “So what can I get you gentlemen?”

Roy had been doing a quick scan of the menu.  “I think I’m going to have …”

“…  slice of cantaloupe, dry toast, one poached egg no butter, and black coffee.  I’ll have the same.”  Bob collected both menus and handed them to the waitress.  She looked uncertainly at Rany.  He nodded approval.

“Thank you.  I’ll be right back with the coffee and fruit.”

“What was all that about?” Roy asked a bit querulously after she had swished off.

“Listen, Roy.  This is as good a time as any.  Peggy and I also spent time this morning going over the out-takes from the news programs last night and this morning.  State and national.  The camera is cruel, no doubt about it.  We’ve decided you’ve got to lose about ten pounds, and you might as well start today, right now.  It’s got to be salads, fish, poached and boiled eggs, fruits, veggies, that kind of thing.  Peggy’s working with a dietician putting together a list of no-nos and yes-yeses.”

“Am I that fat?”

“No, you’re not, Roy.  You look great sitting here in front of me.  But 99% of the people who vote won’t have seen you in person.  They’ll know you from TV and news photos. It may not be fair, but you have to look lean on TV.  Sure, people will tell you they’re not biased, fat is fine, character counts.  The truth in the booth? Fat equals failure, slim equals success.  When you run you can’t afford a few extra pounds.  Not now.  I’m dead serious about this.  We’re also starting you on a regular exercise routine, which we’ll do in public as much as possible.  Jogging, walking, that kind of thing.  Maybe even some skiing,” he said, and then changed course.   “Though that could have the potential of putting an elitist spin on you it if it’s overdone.  In general, though, people eat up wholesomeness, in particular if they don’t have to come up with it themselves but can observe it in the man they’re thinking of sending back to city hall”

“If you say so,” Roy said sheepishly.  He had a pretty good idea what was coming but volunteered nothing.

“Which brings up another thing, Roy,” Bob said with an upbeat smile.  The man was in flow now.  “I wanted to cover this between the two of us, mano-a-mano, so to speak.  No need to involve the rest of the team.”  He scraped phantom crumbs off the white damask, hesitated briefly, plunged in.  “Last night after the official celebrations were done with?  What the fuck were you up to?”

“I don’t know,” he said honestly.  “Did I do anything,” he cleared his throat, “like, crazy or something like that?”

“No, you didn’t.  But you sure as Sherlock didn’t act like the person voters want to make their mayor.  They would never put up with this.”

Rany sighed with relief.

Bob smelled fresh blood pumping into the water and circled.

“You haven’t forgotten that little talk we had before I agreed to manage your campaign, have you?  You were supposed to tell me anything, anything from the past that could snake around bite us in the ass.  But I don’t recall you told me anything about this drinking problem, if that’s what it is.”

“It was a long time ago, Bob.  I didn’t think it was worth bringing up.  I’ve been pretty much on the wagon for almost twenty-five years.”

“Pretty much?  What does that mean?”

“It means I rarely drink, and never once in that time have I lost it the way I did yesterday.”

“But you used to, is that right?”

“Yes.  I did.  But as I say, that was a long time ago.”

“Did you go the A.A. route?”

Roy had a pained expression on his face.

“Listen,” Bob enthused, “that could be good.  There was this guy from Iowa in the seventies who was the governor and a very public member of A.A.  People loved it.  They sent him to Washington as a U.S. senator.”

“I’d rather not get into all that.  I haven’t gone to meetings for a long time.”

“We’ll see,” Bob said.  He activated his handheld recorder and spoke a few sentences into it.   “It’s something to think about down the line.”

Priscilla brought them their grapefruits and coffee.  She put a small pitcher of cream midway on the table.  “We won’t be needing this, honey,” Bob said and handed it back to her.

“Right,” she said.  “Enjoy.  The rest of it’s coming right up.”

Bob signaled for him to hand over the sugar packets he had in his hand.  “No sugar, Roy.  From now on, always think calories.”

“You want me to eat raw grapefruit without sugar?”

“You want me to get you back into city hall?”  He twisted the knife a little.  “And the senate?  Later?”

Resigned, Roy shrugged his shoulders and gave Bob the sugar.  It was no contest, and he’d have to get used to being handled.

“On this alcohol thing,” the campaign manager persisted, “did you ever get a DWI?”

“Never,” Roy shot back.  “Not that I shouldn’t have a few times …”

“… don’t ever repeat that,” Bob interjected, horrified.  “Not to anybody, even me.”

Roy waved a dismissive hand.

“This is on the level, right?”  Bob came at him again.  “I can’t do damage control if I don’t know the damage.”

“It’s on the level,” Roy assured him.

“How about arrested for intoxication? Brawling? Anything like that?”

Roy shook his head emphatically.  “Nothing.”

“So if I run your sheet I’m not going to find anything?”

“How could you do that?”

“Fifty bucks and a friendly cop or ad-ass in the computer room at headquarters.”

“Ad-ass?”

“Yes.  Administrative assistant.

“Piece of cake.  By the way, friend, you didn’t answer my question,” Bob pressed.

“No, you won’t find anything.  A parking ticket about fifteen years ago, and that’s it.”

“O.K., Roy.  That’s good.  Real good.”

He had already excavated his grapefruit and was watching Roy poking without interest in his.

“Since we’re on the subject,” he continued softly.  “Is there anything else you left out of our earlier confessional?  Anything at all?”

He waits a beat.  “Nothing.”

Abernathy was only half Roy’s age, but he was cynicism incarnate.  And much too shrewd a campaigner and too knowledgeable about people to have missed the fractional hesitation on Roy’s part.  Or what it suggested.

“You’re lying to me, but I’ll let it slide for now.  Is this something that could queer us?”

“Forget about it,” Roy said.  He tried to sound as though it were nothing, which if not entirely true was probably close enough.

The waitress brought them their poached eggs and dry toast.  “More coffee, anyone?”

They both nodded, and she poured.  “You have a nice day now, and come back see us soon.”  She slipped the bill under the toast stand, and Bob pocketed it.

“That we will,” Roy said, and both of them smiled at her.

They ate in silence.

Bob was like a pit bull with his jaws around a bleeder.  “I reserve the right to revisit this matter of your omissions from the C.V. later.  We live in a world today, Roy, where politicians and would-be politicians are put under electron microscopes.  And those babies can see everything.  Just don’t forget that!”

Roy nodded, but he wondered.  It couldn’t possibly be the case, could it?

They steered clear of the campaign specifics for the rest of the meal.  People stopped by to say hi and chat briefly.  Roy was impressed with the extensiveness of Bob’s circle of acquaintances in journalism, all of them here to cover the afternoon’s news conference.

When they’d finished, Bob left a five-dollar tip.  “I’ve got to go check some things out with Peggy and Pantucci before our meeting.”  He checked his watch. “It’s almost two now.  Why don’t you come up to my suite in about half an hour, and that’ll give us about an hour before we’re on.  We need to go over the issues, see if we can sharpen the focus a little.  You be sure Caitlin is there with you on the stage.  If Rae doesn’t come on her own, don’t encourage her.”  He held up his hand against the protest he was expecting.  “Not at this stage.”

“I understand,” Roy said glumly.

They were walking through the lobby.  “One more thing, Roy.  I was watching  that impromptu conference when you came down into the lobby.  Be awfully careful about what you say.  When you talk into a single camera you’re stroking millions of viewers who are voters.  You have to keep that in mind.  You know it.  Scheduled conferences we can prep you for.  Don’t shoot from the hip just because somebody draws on you, my friend.”

As they parted company at the elevators, Roy noted through the large vaulted panes of the La Ville lobby that it had finally stopped snowing.

Just before four that afternoon Roy and Caitlin along with Bob mounted a festooned podium at one end of the La Ville’s huge lobby, and an expectant hush descended over the gathered throng.  At first scores of camera flashes popped off in a flurry of photo-taking, and then only intermittently.  The police commissioner, the city comptroller, the party leaders, two CEOs of major corporations doing business in the city, the university’s vice-president for external relations, and a student representative were already on the stage.  Everybody was full of smiles and hearty handshakes, and they all gave the appearance of astonished joy at having finally had this opportunity to get together.  Bob went up to the mike and tapped it a couple of times, and then made the obligatory query, “Can you all hear me back there?”  A murmur of assent rolled forward.

Besides the healthy turnout of reporters and camera people there was a surprisingly large crew of young people in the audience.  Bob’s operatives had been busy bees.  It was only early January and the university term had just started, so nobody was panicking yet about papers and midterms.  “Ladies and gentlemen,” Bob’s voice was amplified throughout the lobby.  “Before we get started here, I’d like to thank you all on behalf of the candidate and his wife for being here.”  At the same time he gestured grandly towards the anointed couple, secretly grateful that Rae had not put in an appearance.  “A few introductions are in order.  You all know Mr. Mark Pulverino, our police commissioner.”  The man got up from his seat, and there was a smattering of applause.  “And Dr. Tranch, University vice-president for public relations.”  He to stood up briefly, but the applause was muted.  “And the young lady on his right is Ms. Nora Endicott, the representative from the student council at the University.”  Enthusiastic clapping accompanied her rise from the chair, and she waved to her supporters who had packed the area behind the press.   He quickly ran through the other notables.  “Again,” he wound up the prologue to the afternoon’s little drama, “we of the Reelect-Rany Committee are honored to be holding our first press conference of the campaign here at the La Ville.”  He turned and clapped until others in the audience picked up the cue.  He added, without further precision, “This turnout bodes well indeed for our prospects in November.”  Everybody cheered, and a few strategically placed sign carriers hefted aloft their placards commending Rany;  the campaign’s own cameras, equipped with wide-angle lenses so as to exaggerate the size of the audience panned slowly over the festive audience and began purring.

“It is now my distinct privilege and special honor to introduce to you our mayor and our next mayor, Roy Rany.”  This time he clapped hard, and the audience knew what to do.  It was an eager and voluble reception.  “Roy,” he said, sweeping his left arm back in a dramatic semi-arc and beckoning to the candidate, “how about you and Caitlin standing up?”

As they stood up, holding hands, the crowd went into accolade overdrive.  Bob was pleased to note that all the commotion had attracted viewers from the larger lobby area with no inkling of what was going on in the hall.  Flashbulbs started popping once more and motorized drives engaged.  Bob held up his hands as if to plead with this enraptured gathering to modulate its boundless enthusiasm for Roy Rany, the city’s mayor and next mayor.  It was like a mini-convention.  “Rany, Roy Rany — Rany, Roy Rany,” the chanting started, swelling into a dull booming as more and more people caught the words. “Rany, Roy Rany — Rany, Roy Rany.”  Bob and the Ranys stood as if transfixed and let the delicious sound wash over them.  After several minutes of this spontaneous exuberance so carefully orchestrated by Bob’s experienced staff, Roy walked up to the speaker’s stand and grabbed a mike.  “Please, folks, please.”  He was dousing the fire with gasoline.  A new burst of enthusiasm exploded from the crowd as they all rose from their chairs, and this time the chants were accompanied by a rhythmic stomping.

He turned sideways, shrugging his shoulders.  An elated grin spread across his face as he turned back to the mike and said, “Is this a great city or what?”

More excitement and deafening noise from the whipped-up crowd.

Finally the clamor died down and people settled back into their seat.  Bob was thrilled to see the large standing-room only crush in the rear of the room.  “Mr. Rany – Roy – has consented to answer some questions this afternoon.  We’ll begin with the press, and then we’ll entertain any comments from the community at large.”  He handed over the podium to Roy, patting him on the back.  “Remember to keep it short and on the path,” he whispered to Roy.  “No long walks.”  Roy nodded in quick assent.

A dozen hands shot immediately into the air.  The opening questions were friendly and relaxed, eliciting answers to innocuous questions about himself (“I’m not much different from any one of you, except maybe luckier.”), his war service (“I gladly gave my country five years in Viet Nam;  it wasn’t always fun, but I’m proud to have served.”), his relationship with his sister (“Without her constant love and looking out for me, none of this would have been possible.”), and his wife (“No man could be more blessed.”), and the nature of his hugely successful software distribution empire that had turned into a Cinderella story (“I give my sister Rae full credit for being way ahead of the curve on this one.”)

“Sir,” a red-faced stringer yelled, waving his hand, “I’m sure we would all like to hear a little more about your platform.  I realize this is early in the campaign, but the polls I’ve read suggest people aren’t sure of just what you stand for.  I wonder if you could elaborate for us.”  He shoved a tape recorder near Rany.

Bob winced at the question.  The press conference had been ideal up this point, but it had to happen sooner or later.  He crossed his fingers.

But Rany was polished as a pro.

“I’m glad you asked that question, sir,” he said.  There was a drizzle of laughter.  “I mean that,” he went on, stepping out from behind the protective covering of the speaker’s stand and unbuttoning his coat as if to reveal he had no tricks up his sleeve.

Great symbolism, Bob thought.  An instinctive politician!  He realized he had felt the first tiny electrical surge of excitement that maybe, just maybe this thing could go all the way.  He inched forward on his seat as Bob, spreading his hands wide, began to talk.

“It’s very simple, ladies and gentlemen, and I won’t try to complicate it.”  His voice was soothing yet commanding, and it was full of conviction.  Bob observed with great interest that the audience now gave Roy its total attention.  “There are two basic ideas that form the foundation of this campaign.  One is my belief in the strength of the family as the fundamental unit of society.  On this score our country has somehow lost its way in the last generation and a half or so.  We must find that path again.  I’m not sure how, and this afternoon I’m not going to pump you full of empty slogans about how to rectify this delinquency.  But if you reelect me to be your mayor, you will know with a certainty that I shall be doing everything in my power to make sure our city and city agencies address this problem.

“This point addresses not only family values, but also the second, related pillar of my campaign.  Personal responsibility.  We live free in this country. But we must also live responsible. The one entails the other, and if you sever that connection you create chaos in society.  From the president on down, the statement, “I take full responsibility” can no longer be allowed to remain the meaningless rhetoric it has become, and serve as a convenient escape hatch.   We are responsible for what we do;  and what we do has consequences. People should not be allowed to escape these consequences.  We see in our schools, in our judicial system, and, in the last two years, in our business culture what happens when that becomes the norm.”  The CEOs looked distinctly uncomfortable.  “I believe it is possible one person can do something about that, at least in this city, and I believe I am that person.  I want you to give me the chance to prove it.”

Thunderous applause followed.  People were turning to their neighbors and nodding their heads in vigorous agreement with what Rany had said.  Roy Rany would save them.  The clapping subsided but a restless excitement was sloshing around the room.  Abernathy was beside himself with excitement.  He’d never really heard Rany speak to a purely political gathering, but it did seem the man had the gift.  He was a born orator.

Others in the press followed up on his declaration with requests for details on this point and that.  Rany did a masterful job of fielding their comments without insulting the cynicism of the reporters or tangling himself up in unrealistic pledges.  What he lost in support by not promising them he would instantly transform their lives, he gained twice over in the priceless political coin of credibility, without which no politician could accomplish anything.  Or be elected to the senate in four years.

When Bob opened up the floor to the public, a few students solicited Rany’s perspective on student loans, the city’s faltering job market in the new millennium, and some reminiscences about his own days as a student at the university thirty years ago, long before any of them had been born.  Roy saw this latter interest as a terrific opportunity for him to show this audience he belonged here.

“Is Professor Smyth still teaching, the Latin scholar in the Classics department?” he asked at one point.

“Still here,” a young man boomed from the rear.  “And Professors Gildersleeve and Lodge just retired from teaching Greek last year.”

“I never had those two for a course, but I do remember the names.  I guess in a sense, though, those old Greeks and Romans never really do retire, do they?” he joked.  Everyone broke into appreciative laughter.

Bob could scarcely contain himself.  Rany was working them, brilliantly, actually stroking them.  To be sure, this was the first day of the campaign, and it was a long time from January to November, but things simply could not have gone better this afternoon than if he had personally scripted every word and directed every action.  It was a fabulous kickoff.

It was getting on to five, and the wire services would have to send the feed now if they were going to make the early evening news in-state and the late shows nationally. Bob was gesturing that enough questions had been answered.  “I think that’s all for today, ladies and gentlemen.  You can pick up fact sheets at the exits, and please route all queries to Mr. Rany directly through my office.  My numbers and e-mail are on the sheets.”

A woman who had come in late and was standing in the back persisted in waving her hand for attention.  “Please, just one more question, sir?”

“All right, one more, madam,” Bob said magnanimously and deferred to Roy.   “But this is absolutely the last one.”  Silence fell, and every video camera in the room swung to the rear and fixed the woman in the intense brightness of their lights  She was shortish, and wearing a white coat.

And then, before the candidate could take cover, she lobbed a pinless grenade into the campaign.  “Just this final question, Mr. Rany, sir.  Mr. Mayor, who is Michelle?”

TO BE CONTINUTED

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