Deliverance

How Dwight DeLong became Danny Dukes

Copyright 2018




CHAPTER: ONE

JOURNAL ENTRY: 586

There must be at least a dozen reasons why I shot Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson. He wore penny loafers (complete with shiny pennies) with white socks; he favored toughening laws prohibiting many pharmaceuticals; he believed that creation happened 6,000 years ago, that Jesus rode around on dinosaurs, and that people who thought otherwise were headed to Hell. Deep down he believed that white men (preferably short-haired blond Anglo Saxon, northern European, Protestants) should rule the world, that folks of darker-skinned mongrel races should know their place; he believed we should follow biblical injunctions and stone (not in the good way) adulterers, homosexuals, and, especially, transsexuals. How many is that? Just five? I could go on, but you get the idea.

Can I fairly justify shooting the honky son of a bitch? He was, of course, just responding to the voice of his people, good Southern folk, one and all. Until he came to Washington, I don't think he ever got more than a hundred miles from his home in Chattenburg, Virginia. The people from his district must have appreciated his down-home virtues; they have elected him overwhelmingly time and time again. Of course, the immense servings of pork he passed on to the local infantry post helped a lot.

Did I mention that he made a clumsy pass at my girlfriend Sarah? Needless to say, his frequent pronouncements regarding the mortal sinfulness of extramarital intercourse were less than heartfelt (at least when it came to him). Poaching on what was mine, however ineffectively, was hitting closer to home, but still, I suppose, no real justification for shooting him. Truth is I have often been told I have poor impulse control. Sooner or later, pretty much everybody I get to know reminds me of this. There's no denying it, I have a penchant for doing things that seem appropriate at the time with complete and utter disregard for consequences. My shooting of Senator Jackson, however, had nothing to do with out-of-control impulses. It was cold-blooded, premeditated murder.

Still, I guess I do have poor impulse control. Case in point: I am writing this down, but shouldn't be. I suppose someday it'll catch up to me. I just have an irresistible urge to record things. Could be the writer in me. Although I'll take steps to ensure that nobody but me ever reads this, committing
my transgressions to paper is chancy at best. Believe me, none of it's intended to justify anything I've ever done. Some of it might be in the interests of learning to curb my poor impulse control. As I think about it, however, I can't see how giving into it can help me curb it.

In regards to the Senator, there was one more thing: I had good reason to believe he was a key figure in a plan to set off poison gas at a dozen locations throughout the country, including one at an upcoming D.C. Rolling Stones concert. The idea was to create a false-flag chaos necessitating a declaration of martial law and a suspension of the upcoming election. And that's not all. I am all but certain he sent a guy to gut me. These are kind of important things, and they probably should have topped my list of justifications for shooting the guy.

You're probably thinking nobody could be as bad as I've portrayed Senator Jackson. Think what you will; I stand by my portrayal. The man was a white supremacist. If he believed in nothing else, it was that fascism in America must be preserved. No price was too high to pay. I am quite sure he also believed that ridding the world of a dozen or so Rolling Stone devotees would be frosting on the bigotry cake.

In a reasonable world, thwarting his plans might have earned me round after round of heartfelt accolades. Trouble is, our world is anything but reasonable, and, even if it were, I couldn’t prove my contention that Jackson was committing treason. What I had might most accurately be described as a very strong suspicion. This very strong suspicion (I refuse to call it a hunch) was shared by no one else. It definitely wasn't something that would have automatically earned me a get-out-of-jail-free card. No way would it have convinced a Congress full of Republicans that all-and-all I am an outstanding citizen.

The situation is even more complicated than I have let on. Officially I am a dead man (and can't have committed this crime). Okay, I should say presumed dead man. Two years ago, my name was Dwight DeLong, and I disappeared in the Afghanistan boonies at about the same time and place where there was a fierce fire fight in which our side came out on the short end of the stick. The opposition, the Taliban, had gotten hold of some napalm. Good, old Made-in-Midland-Michigan
napalm. The report I heard detailed how a sizable contingent of  American soldiers were made crispy. I had been with this troop, and I assumed the authorities had no reason not to believe I was either killed or taken captive, which, in their eyes, would amount to pretty much the same thing. Sometimes when I lay awake at night I realize this assumption could be just plain wrong.

The way it happened, I was with 30 or 40 guys, and we had gotten separated from our main unit. Made a wrong turn somewhere. I don't remember exactly, but we might have been looking for a whore house. Anyway, our nominal leader was a mean son of a bitch, first lieutenant Rex Gunthrey. At the first village we came to, he set precedent by shooting an old man he insisted was the father of a batch of Taliban. He could tell this just by the way the old coot shuffled along. From there thingsdeteriorated. We went from village to village shooting people we felt might be Taliban. Pretty soon we were shooting people we felt might be associated with Taliban or who might one day become Taliban, including young children, both boys and girls. I don't recall anybody saying anything about hearts and minds. In one small village, Gunthrey raped a young woman. She was young, barely in her teens. She was naked, lying on her back in the dusty road, sobbing. Gunthrey thrust his AK-47 into her vagina and held the trigger down until her mid-section was ripped apart. "Fucking terrorist," Gunthrey said. 

We didn't all participate in this bloodletting. Some of the guys, me included, had held back. Gunthrey had noticed my reticence and was giving me the evil eye when I shot him. At the time I felt I was adding balance to the universe, although that conviction might have been fueled by the drugs coursing through my brain. Still, I hadn't lost total touch with reality. I only had a few months to go to complete a four-yar tur of duty, and this was not a good time to fuck up. But things were getting too dicey, I just couldn't take any more. It was time to go. I grabbed my duffel bag and an extra canteen and told Larry Knox, my best buddy, I was going hunting. He smiled and nodded like he knew what I had in mind, which would have been miraculous since I had nothing in mind, or, if I did, I wasn't aware of it. Some hunter. I neglected to bring my ÅK-47.

For maybe three hours, I trudged along through the bleak, monochromatic  landscape, luxuriating in the triple-digit temperatures. I had taken off my shirt and was thinking about how good I look deeply tanned. I had polished off one canteen, and was trying to postpone starting in on the second one. It was getting towards late afternoon, and I was beginning to wonder where I might spend the night. I promised myself I would stop at the first bed and breakfast I came to.

I was surprised when some guys in an old, mufflerless Toyota pickup truck came up from behind me and stopped. There were four or five in the back and two up front. Without a word, an upfront guy shoved over to make room for me. It was crowded. I am a big guy and take up lots of space. I cradled my duffle bag on my lap and held on tight. They must have been Taliban. As a rule, regular people don't pack M16M4s. Maybe they were; maybe they weren't. In any event, it would have been impolite to inquire. Neither the time nor place for politics. They were friendly enough. We shared a couple of roaches and, unable to understand each other's languages, still managed a few laughs before we got to downtown Kabul where they dropped me off.

My duffle bag was full of bills. I have to wonder if our encounter would have been different had they known this. By bills I am referring not to the kind you're supposed to pay, but the kind you can exchange for goods and services. I hadn't come by my bagful quite legitimately, but, in my mind, considering the circumstances, more or less okay.

One fine day a pair of trucks had pulled up to our headquarters and dropped off 25 or 30 large cartons of what proved to be U.S. currency. Beautiful, crisp, new, unmarked bills of denominations one to a hundred. Some of the heavy thinkers at the Pentagon had decided that if we made it worth their while, we could persuade young Afghans to side with us instead of the Taliban. Yet another way of winning hearts and minds. The slowest buck private in our group could have told them this would never work. Whatever distribution there could ever be would ensure that the cash would flow to the upper echelons. There are basic laws of plumbing and economics. Shit flows downward, cash upward. What this program did do was solidify our status as laughing stock within all segments of Afghan society.

Anyway, a few days later, in the wee small hours of a morning, myself and three or four buddies were getting stoned with the fellow assigned to guard the stash. Don't ask me for a complete list of the pharmaceuticals we had ingested, but the combined cocktail was making everything seem hilarious. I remember Johnny Rand laughing as he grabbed a handful of bills and stuffed them in his pocket. This seemed really funny. Then Joe Kirby and Roger Banks used both hands to grab even more cash and things seemed uproariously funnier. Even stoned out of our skulls, we knew that the accounting on base was so sketchy nobody would ever notice that cash was missing.

This went on for awhile, I guess, and before I knew it I had filled my bag with bills. Actually it was the next morning before I knew it. I discovered my take before I got my first cup of coffee. I later learned we had broken up the half-dozen or so empty boxes and tossed them into the trash pit before hot-wiring a front end loader and burying them. We must have made quite a racket, but nobody complained. I would like to say a really, really good time was had by all. Pretty damn sure about that.

For the next week or ten days, I carried that duffle bag around with me wherever I went. We were inseparable. Yin and Yang. Siamese twins. I thought the brass might question my attachment to it, but they never did. Well, one day a sergeant did ask me what was in the bag. I told him dirty laundry. He shrugged and walked away.

Anyway, back in Kabul, I knew I had to get out of Afghanistan. For those of you who are geographically challenged, let me remind you that Afghanistan is landlocked. It has no access to the sea. You can't just hop aboard a freighter and steam away. Getting to the United States requires quite a bit of advance planning or, in my case, an ability to lurch from one thing to another while remaining upright. It gets even trickier if you have no passport, no ready identification, and just might be sought as a felonious fugitive and/or military deserter.

You might wonder how I ever ended up in the military. Obviously I was utterly unfit for duty. My induction was the result of still another example of poor impulse control. A spur-of-the-moment indiscretion—one less serious than murder, more serious than smoking pot—had wound me up in court. The kindly judge gave me a choice: two years behind bars followed by six years probation or enlistment in the U.S. Army. I chose the latter and became a "volunteer" in the most absurd sense of the word.

Getting back to the narrative, I did make it home. The way I did it is a long and convoluted tale of bribery, slight of hand, fornication, outright lying, animal cruelty (I tried to get more out of a camel than the camel had to give, may it RIP), and several near-death experiences. Someday maybe I'll write a book about it. For now let's just say it involved Afghan poppy farmers, shifty C.I.A. operatives, disgruntled generals, daredevil pilots, crooked exporters, prostitutes with hearts black as pitch, opportunistic importers, on-the-take banksters, and a motley crew of others in both high and low places. The entire affair took three months and made my duffle bag a hellava lot lighter. I know deep down I'll never write that book. It's a story nobody would ever believe. Thank God for that.

I put the pen down and turned off the light. I can't remember when I've been this tired. Over the past few months, I have run up a heavy-duty adrenaline debt. I may never pay it off. I have to remind myself where I am. New York City. One of the more run-down areas of New York City. I am probably safe here for right now. If I haven't been busted yet, I probably won't be for awhile. I could fall asleep in my chair, but find the will to stumble to my bed. I don't bother to take off my clothes. That would take too long. I am asleep before I have time to fluff my pillow.



CHAPTER:TWO

I agree it's hard to believe I am a Congressman. This was after life as a juvenile delinquent, a cut-short military career, and a stint as a professional kickboxer. Not exactly what one would call conventional preparation.

As a juvenile delinquent, it could be said I brought new meaning to the term "habitual offender." About all I can say in my defense is that I was non-violent except when it came to bar fights (which I don't consider part of my criminal past). Many of my crimes had involved altering somebody else's private property. I had gone about spray-painting acres of it. There were times when I thought of myself as an artist, a highly unappreciated one, an artist like Vincent Van Gogh who had failed to sell a single painting before he died. When I wasn't using spray paint to express my First Amendment rights, I participated in the wonderful world of retail by liberating many smallish items from store shelves. Storekeepers from miles around learned to recognize me, and I was frequently apprehended at the moment of appropriation. It's funny, but I never thought of myself as a thief. To me shoplifting was simply another aspect of my artistry. I was a magician, making objects vanish. Presto disappearo. I am fortunate that the many offenses so lovingly detailed on my rap sheet occurred before my eighteenth birthday. On that day my record was expurgated, and I was free to pursue a fresh beginning.

Early on that day I got two nice presents: a clean slate and a surprise visit from Amanda, the social worker assigned to me. Whenever she was around, I thought of a book title: "In Praise of Older Women." I never read this book or even know who wrote it or anything about it really, but for some reason the title has stuck with me. One thing I knew for sure, Amanda, four years older than me, was certainly praiseworthy. Size and shapewise she was perfect. I was always afraid my poor impulse control would come to the fore, and I would reach out and grab her. Always before we had met either at a detention facility or at Social Services, and neither of these places were inducive to grabbing people since there were always other people around. Down deep I knew this might or might not deter me. Anyway, for me these visits weren't especially enjoyable. Attending them was just something I had to do.

Her coming to my place cast a whole different light on things. Granted, my place was a shit-hole, but Amanda didn't seem to mind. I was surprised she had even able to find it. She brought a chocolate cupcake with a single, three-inch, white candle sticking up from the frosting. She had managed to lug it up three flights of stairs without smudging the frosting or tilting the candle. To me that candle seemed decidedly phallic, and, briefly, I imaginedf she was hinting at something. This cupcake was the first birthday present I had ever gotten, and the gratitude I felt was immense, way out of proportion to the gift's monetary value. Saying "Thank you" and meaning it was a weird but rather pleasant experience. Using a Bic, she lit the candle and told me to make a wish.

As I blew out the candle, I bowed my head and wished (prayed actually) that she would bring me something every day for the rest of my life. Then I quietly told God to forget it; Who was I to wish for a miracle when I didn't even believe in them? I went to a drawer and brought out a carving knife. I could be wrong, but I thought I saw a flash of fear in her eyes. I used the knife to divide the cake in two, giving Amanda the larger of the two portions. Always the gentleman, that's me. Amanda was new at her job, and sometimes it seemed like she thought she could save the world. Her superiors, of course, knew better and had been trying to let her down easy. I was surprised they allowed her to come to this part of the city alone. Maybe they didn't. It occurred to me that maybe she had come here on her own. Anyway, I had thought that in some ways she sort of liked me, and I had considered asking her out, but never did. I just never felt up to suffering through a rejection.

Liking me didn't stop her from being all but certain I would end up in prison. She said, "There are two ways that you might go: straight or off to prison. The first way would be an achievement; the second would be a hell of a lot easier. I am betting you'll go for easy. They call the straight way narrow for a reason." As I understand it, social workers aren't supposed to say this sort of thing. I guess she missed class the day they taught this.

"Straight to where?" I asked. I had no appreciation for what going straight might entail. I did realize it didn't refer to my sexual orientation, but that was about all. I had no sense of who or what I wanted to be. I only had a few friends, none of whom were at all straight. They were people you had to watch because they would liable to pull something. Several of my friendships had ended badly. People told me I had poor impulse control, but I really didn't give a shit. Sometimes when they told me this I punched them.

Amanda tended to have an answer to anything I said, and this was no exception. "Straight into the military," she said. "The army will set you straight and teach you some valuable skills." The army didn't end up doing either of these things, but I thought it was good that Amanda had tried her best.

To my astonishment, I later got another birthday present: a call from Vincent Gilbert wishing me well. Maybe I did have a couple of straight friends after all. If I could call Amanda a friend, Mr. Gilbert might have been a second friend from the straight world. My relationship with him went back to my high school days. He had grown up in Detroit as a lower-middle-class kid nobody thought would amount to much. Somehow he got into Wayne State University and took computer science. He may have been poor, but he was bright, and he ended up writing software that enabled General Motors to program robots for multiple purposes. Later he sold his company for $3.7 billion.

He loved golf and thought it a pity that more kids weren't exposed to it. He thought it would teach them honesty and sportsmanship. He was the sort of guy that, when he saw a need, he would go about fulfilling it, so he set up junior golf programs throughout southern Michigan. A half century ago, he had attended Huron Lake High School, which, by chance, was where I went (from time to time). Just inside the front door, Huron Lake High has a bulletin board labeled Graduates of Distinction. I guess it was meant to inspire us, but we used to joke that it posted any graduates who had managed to stay out of jail. Of course, this wasn't altogether true, and Mr. Gilbert's portrait occupied a prominent position atop the board. It was he who decided Huron Lake High needed a golf team, and he offered to coach one for free. He enticed guys to try out with offers of Izod shirts and promises of cast-off clubs and nearly-new balls. I was one who took the bait.

I guess I had some natural ability. For me lining up putts was not much different from lining up pool shots. You have to learn how to put the dominant eye in charge. I stand a bit above six feet and suspect I have good hand-and eye-coordination. From the get-go I was able to hit the ball a long ways, although not necessarily in the right direction. Gilbert fixed my grip, taught me square alinement, and showed me how to delay uncocking my wrists until the last split-second before impact. By my junior year, I was shooting in the mid-seventies.

Gilbert had used his influence to get team members unlimited access to the Huron Dunes Golf Course for practice rounds and for our home matches. The Dunes is a difficult, semi-private course demanding a wide variety of shots. We practiced and held our home matches there, but most importantly could go there whenever we wished. I spent many hours on its driving range, honing my swing into one I could trust day in and day out. I was the team's number one man, and I got really quite good. Sometimes I caught myself contemplating what life would be like as a touring pro.

One day Gilbert asked me if I would caddy for him in an up-coming member/guest at Oakland Hills. I agreed to do so, and things went wonderfully well for me when I talked him into hitting a firm nine instead of  an easy eight on 16. He caught it on the sweet spot, clearing the water fronting the green by several feet, and he holed a ten-footer for birdie. His team took top money, and I became his regular caddy. 

Oakland Hills is a highly exclusive, private club. Six U.S. Opens have been played there, including one won by Ben Hogan. Thanks to Mr. Gilbert, I began hobnobbing with some decidedly upper-crust dudes. I didn't want to embarrass myself or Mr. Gilbert, and I think I acquired some of their casual yet mannerly behavior. They knew how to be courteous without being obsequious. I may have been a bit crude, but I think they took it for authenticity. At a later member/guest, I hadn't felt at all out of place.

Oakland Hills had a rule: carts only. By and large, walking wasn't allowed. It was a measure of Mr. Gilbert's influence that he was allowed to walk with me as his caddy. He had had some problems with his heart and insisted that the exercise he got from walking was medically essential. He and he alone was granted the privilege of hoofing it.

A problem was that players in carts were faster than we were, and we frequently had to let them play through. This wasn't a major problem since Mr. Gilbert liked setting a leisurely pace and didn't mind waiting for them. On one late September afternoon, we waved a couple of young guys through, and it was quickly obvious from the way they were weaving about that they were thoroughly intoxicated. Mr. Gilbert was halfway down a steep hill, and, driving too fast, they were headed right for him. At the last second they tried to execute a sharp right, and the cart overturned, striking Mr. Gilbert and pinning him to the ground. The two drunk guys were thrown clear.

I hurried over to where Mr. Gilbert was struggling to breathe. The back end of the cart laden with two sets of heavy clubs rested squarely on his chest. Electric golf carts with batteries weigh in at around 900 pounds, and this one was crushing Mr. Gilbert. I guess I had an adrenalin surge, because I was able to heave the cart upright, getting it back on its wheels. I had heard tales of small, adrenalin-drenched women lifting cars, so I guess my feat wasn't all that impressive. Still Mr. Gilbert would have been in real trouble had I not been there. He stayed on the ground for a minute or so catching his breathe, but then with a hand from me was able to get back on his feet. I gave the drunk guys a tongue-lashing before they drove off. As my downtown friends would have put it, I reamed them new assholes. Mr. Gilbert wanted to continue the round, but, ignoring his protests,  I insisted on driving him to a nearby medical center emergency room. His chest x-ray checked out okay, and there was no internal bleeding. He seemed to appreciate my concern as I drove him back to his car.

A week later I reported for duty with the U.S. Army. I hadn't told anybody I had enlisted, and there were no tearful good-byes before I shipped out. I realize now how rude this was, but at the time I felt like I was making a clean break with my previous life. Amanda had suggested I needed to join the Army to save my life. I guess I wondered why I had to risk my life to save it, but decided Amanda was more solidly grounded in philosophy and spiritual matters than I could ever hope to be, so I took her at her word. Anyway, I guess I felt I had to turn my back on even the good parts of my past.

I had been in Afghanistan only a month or so before I met Thomas Deegan, a raw recruit if ever there was one. He was from Maine, and had no more business being a soldier than than I had. He just didn't give a good god damn about soldering. He was indifferent when it came to following orders and was always on the brink of being dressed down for insubordination. He had one saving grace: He knew computers better than anybody else around. The thing that kept Deegan out of the brig was his ability to fix them. In the officers quarters, there were a couple of old IBMs that the brass used exclusively for porn. They kept going on the blink, and Deegan kept coaxing them back to life.

Back home, he had been a hacker. His specialty had been getting into corporate sites and leaving the message "Pudding Head Was Here." He never did any real damage, but when the law caught up with him, a judge told him to enlist in the army or face several years in prison. Hence our paths were fated to cross in Afghanistan. Deegan got an early release from the Army although the record shows he served several full terms, won a chestful of medals, and had been promoted to brigadier general. His was an honorable discharge entitling him to any and all benefits the Army had to offer. I shuddered to think what Pentagon chieftains would have done had they gotten wind of his digital deliverances.

One night after more than a dozen beers and something concocted from Afghan poppies, he had told me that one day would I would need advanced computer skills, and on that day I should come to him in Maine. Then he gave me the coordinates to his camp in Mariaville.

The day came shortly after I made my way back to Detroit. I was, you will recall, a deserter, a killer, and the possessor of a duffel bag half full of illicitly acquired bills. The Army thought that I, Dwight DeLong, had been killed in the fire fight that took out the rest of my fellow soldiers. I wanted it to keep right on thinking that. So I rented a car and punched Deegan's coordinates into the GPS. By the time I got to Mariaville it was obvious why he had given me coordinates. His cabin was in the woods, and I doubt if it had an address. It was way off the grid, down a dirt road that branched off twice onto other dirt roads. The last road was less a road than a field with a stretch of weeds and brush laid mostly flat. Thanks to GPS, I managed to make all the correct turns and kept going until the road dead-ended. Parked there was a rusting Subaru Outback from the mid-nineties that I just knew had to be Deegan's. From there I took a footpath through the woods a quarter mile down to his cabin. Brushing through the bushes overlapping the path set several bells ajingling, guaranteeing he got no surprise visitors. I hoped I wouldn't get shot.

I was later to learn he got his electricity from car batteries which he kept charged by switching them into his aging Subaru. Those damn things are heavy, and I didn't envy his having to lug them back and forth on the path. I guess he used the wheelbarrow that was leaning against the cabin. Behind the cabin was a jerry-rigged satellite dish which brought him internet. I don't know what he did with his rich retirement income. Tom could have kept up with world news, but he seldom bothered. His politics, if he had any, remained a mystery. On the back bumper of his vehicle was a well-worn "Nuke the Gay Whales" sticker. Is there an I Don't Give a Rat's Ass political party?

When I left a week later I had a new birth certificate, social security card, Triple A card, and Michigan driver's' license. I also had an online history extending back eleven or twelve years which Deegan assured me would hold up to moderate scrutiny. My name was Danny Dukes (I was partial to d's and liked the rhythm of my new name).

Back in Detroit, I avoided my old associates. Detroit had plenty of bars, and I just went to different ones. It was easy falling into a new routine. The bars were different, but much the same. They had beer and quarter-devouring pool tables and a clientele ready to drink beer, shoot pool, and, sometimes, exchange blows. I let my hair go wherever it wished, grew a beard, and took to wearing shades. I had also begun to gain weight and with the help of days-old donuts from a friendly bakery did what I could to encourage this. I was Danny Dukes, a mysterious, hefty guy you really shouldn't fuck with.

This didn't stop some guys from trying. Drinking beer and shooting pool no matter where had a way of leading to bar fights. At this I did pretty well. One night I took on three guys, and managed to deck them all. I punched and kicked relentlessly and overpowered them. The last guy down had been trying to club me with a beer bottle. Disabling bozos like them was as close as I ever got to a sense of achievement. That night I was in rare form, and it was with a special flourish that I kicked the beer-bottle guy in the ribs. Watching from a table was a guy who later took me aside, told me he was a fight promoter, and asked me how I would like to fight for money. Dumb as I was, I said, "Sure."

What he didn't tell me immediately was that he was trying to establish a kickboxing league in Detroit. He had no money, and assured me and the other recruits that if we would fight for peanuts initially, big bucks were sure to follow. He was a smooth talker, and we had little to lose by listening to him. He was known as Big Bill Burke, and while he eventually screwed me more ways than I can count, I will give him credit for one thing: He set me up with a fine trainer.

Akito Sato knew his stuff, He was a little, elderly, Japanese guy, but his kicks were almost too fast for the eye to follow. He taught me the long, convoluted history of Oriental martial arts and instilled im me a deep respect for the legendary masters of such disciplines as Tackwondo, Muay Thai, Muay Boran, Kyokushi, and Adithada.

Burke and Sato wanted to stage matches in Muay Thai. This appealed to me because it permits a vast selection of mayhem. It's a lot like bar fighting. Participants can strike their opponents with punches, kicks, (including kicks below the waist), and flying elbows and knees. One can work in close and grab the opponent, and one can toss him about and sweep him, off his feet.  As a brawler, my impulse always was to pull out all the stops.  I loved the vast range of legitimate choices.

Before Sato came along, I don't remember ever wanting to be a professional fighter. The idea had never occurred to me. Now with kickboxing I felt like my real life had began. This was the first pursuit I ever had that involved any real direction. The training was hard work, but I was sure it was leading up to something great. Never before had I given a thought to keeping in shape. Under Sato's watch, I quit smoking and cut way back on alcohol. I was billed as Danny "Demon Dog" Dukes. I thought the name was cool. Didn't people used to say "put up your dukes" when they wanted to fight. In the early going, I endeavored to be as ferocious as the name suggests, but Sato eventually worked me out of this.

I believed Big Bill when he assured us lucrative TV contracts were just around the corner. His contention was that even more than salty snacks people craved vicarious violence. He would go on about how kickboxing was immensely popular in other parts of the world and was bound to catch on here. He suggested we would soon be traveling to exotic lands for million-dollar matches. We were always just a deal or two away from the big time. He kept this up for nearly three years. Fighters came and fighters left, but I stayed on. I had long since quit believing in Big Bill, but I didn't know what else to do.

Over the three years that I fought, I established a 34-7 record and had established a reputation in and around Detroit. Both the Free Press and the News were giving us a few inches on their sports pages. I won nearly all of those fights on points. I seldom knocked anybody out. For a long time I had misgivings about this. Shouldn't demon dogs demolish the opposition? What sort of demon dog just racks up points? Nevertheless, the press, what little we got, liked the name and it stuck.

I had thought I might have a future as a fighter until the night I killed a kid. I still think the blame is only partially mine. The ref should have stopped the fight. The kid was beaten. He wasn't defending himself, but he wouldn't go down. He was letting me do whatever I wanted. I finally decided to end things with one big kick to his head. I delivered, and he went down hard. Trouble was he never got back up. His wife and I were at his bedside when the line went flat. Her shock was followed immediately by rage; she threw a bedpan at me. I could have ducked, but I let it hit me, a blow that left a scar on the bridge of my nose, my first and only fight-related injury. No matter. My career was over.

As a professional fighter with a bit of a reputation I had moved up a few rungs in the social scale. Some pretty damn good looking women were happy to be seen with me. Now I was back where I had begun, hanging out with some of Detroit's bottom-of-the-barrel lowlifes. I had no money—I had blown the remainder of my duffel bag bills, and breaking my contract with Big Bill Burke had left me penniless. I got pretty depressed. I missed my old cohorts, but they believed that Dwight DeLong was long dead, and I needed for them to keep right on believing it.

One night I was sitting my myself in a bar nursing a draft bud when a voice just to my right said, "Hello, Dwight." I twisted my head around, and there was Vincent Gilbert, smiling, carrying a walking stick now, but nattily dressed as always.

"Name's Danny Dunks," I said.

"I've been following your career," he said. "Quite impressive. I was sorry to see it end."

"How could you tell it was me?"

"By the way you moved, the way you shifted your weight before delivering a blow."

"You taught me how to use my lower body. Granted the kicks were something new, but you taught me footwork basics."

Bishop nodded. "Tough break, your last fight."

"Yeah."

"It's been a long time. You dropped clean out of sight. I missed you. After I realized who Danny Dukes was, I often considered contacting you, but guessed you didn't want me to. I found other kids to lug my sticks, but it has never been the same."

For the first time, I looked him in the eye. "I am sorry," I said. "I had no choice. I ran afoul of some pretty bad dudes. They think I am dead, encased in cement in the Detroit River beside Jimmy Hoffa. If they find out differently, I will, as they say, be swimming with the fishes."

I hated lying to Gilbert and never had before.

"Your secret is safe with me."

I think I loved this man.

 


CHAPTER THREE

Our friendship picked up pretty much where it had left off, and I was reminded how much I liked hobnobbing with the swells at Oakland Hills. By and by, I was playing golf with Gilbert as often as I was caddying for him. It never occurred to me he was grooming me for bigger things. Representative Jimmy Johnson had dropped dead six months before the completion of his seventh term, and somebody had to fill in. An appointment is made by the governor, and Gilbert had his ear so I got the gig. Gilbert said he thought the Legislature needed fresh, young blood, and none was fresher or younger than mine. I was twenty-five years old, the minimum age for a representative. Gilbert kept insisting he thought I was the best man for the job, but I suspected he was showing appreciation for my assistance when he was under that overturned golf cart.

With an election coming up, I assumed they would get a real politician to run for Johnson's seat. I thought Gilbert was out of his mind when he suggested I toss my hat into the ring. There was one thing I did know: running for a seat costs at least a cool million-and-a-half, and I had no money. I could not imagine myself begging for bucks from rich potential donors. There have been times when I was seriously down and out, but I never resorted to panhandling. To me politics seems like pretty much the same thing.

Gilbert kept telling me not to worry about money. He had favors he could call in. There would be a mailing, maybe more than one, but nothing would go out that hadn't been approved by me. Our slogan would be: DANNY DUKES: TOUGH-ENERGETIC-SMART-TENACIOUS-EARNEST-DEDICATED.  Privately I wondered if DEBAUCHED should take the place of DEDICATED. The acronym came out as TESTED. What could be more appropriate for a candidate with next to no experience?

I hesitated for a week or two before committing myself. I feared the opposition would take a long hard look at my past, and I shuddered at what it might find. I gave in when Gilbert assuring me that Democrats running Michigan's 14th District faced no real opposition. Once I got the nomination—something he could arrange—victor in the general election was a gimme. I found out later he had exaggerated my changes of winning.

My friend the computer genius had given me a past that went back a little over a decade. I had had my own business creating and hosting websites. I had been reasonably successful, paid my bills, kept out of trouble. I hadn't set the world on fire, but I hadn't burned anything down either. Of course, my career as a fighter was public record, but (other than kill a kid) I hadn't done anything to be ashamed of.

When I agreed to run, I insisted on one condition: I didn't want to know who contributed to the campaign. There was a lot I didn't know, but one thing I did know was that far too many politicians had sold their souls to the one percent. I knew too much, or thought I did, about banksters, Wall Street, big pharm, and the military/industrial complex Eisenhower cautioned us against.. One thing I learned in the army was I didn't like being at anybody's beck and call.

Somebody once said: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; and those who can't do or teach go into politics. When I decided to try politics having no experience worked wonders. Being a Caucasian successful in a sport dominated by Asians also helped a lot. At first I thought it might cause resentment, but it seemed to garner respect. I can think of no other field in which people are chosen for their lack of experience. Who in his right mind would want to bring aboard the least experienced heart surgeon, plumber, or airplane pilot available? The public was so pissed at politics it rewarded the novice.

It hasn't happened often, but in this case luck was with me. The 14th may be the most gerrymandered district in the country. Heavily weighted in favor of Democrats, it begins in Detroit going east, turns west out to Farmington Hills, then north to Pontiac. Democrat here often draw 80 percent of the vote. I couldn't see how a totally unknown white guy like me could waltz right in. As it turned out, a lot of low income people liked the idea of a guy nicknamed Demon Dog. Or maybe it was the sheer novelty of electing a kickboxer. A fair share of high-income people and academics appreciated attitudes I had that I later learned could be called  progressivism. Casually dropping names like Jim Hightower and Noam Chomsky into my speeches seemed to help a lot.

I got several of my offbeat ideas from Norman Hicks, the only high school teacher I really liked. He taught me that the United States was covered with warts. For some reason, his version of the past stuck in my mind better than the candy-coated history I had been taught earlier. His was a lot more fun. Mr. Hicks only lasted a year, but, fortunately, I caught his course. He pointed out that Sam Adams was motivated more by greed than patriotism; that  Ben Franklin was a dirty old man; that Paul Revere nearly got court-martialed; and that Thomas Jefferson knocked up one of his slaves. My political speeches were often in this vein, and I relished dissing the establishment; I insisted I was an outsider who would never become an insider. Like magic this often pleased a generous cross-section of several communities. I snuck in with 53 percent of the vote.

Before leaving for Washington, I got a haircut and invested in a dark blue suit and yellow power tie. At first, being a Congressman struck me as an easy way to make a buck. Lots easier than knocking some poor guy senseless. But then I began to wonder. Polls showed that Congress was held in ridiculously  low regard everywhere. It was a good day when any poll showed ten percent of the populace viewed Congress favorably. We weren't just disrespected; we were loathed. I began to suspect that being in Congress might be more dangerous than bar fighting. I began packing heat wherever I went.

My first assignment in D.C. was to serve on a bipartisan committee to explore more effective ways to deal with drug abuse. I wasn't sure if I was the best or the worst person for such an assignment. I had been smoking pot since I was 14, and back in my apartment I had a generous stash of Pink Hawaiian Starburst. Everybody I knew in Detroit smoked pot. I liked it and certainly never considered it a problem. I couldn't have been more in favor of it.  Non-addicting, lots of fun. I liked most of the thoughts pot put into my head. Granted, they seemed less profound the next day, but at the time of their occurrence they were great. Sometimes even Cosmic. I had no doubt that sending non-violent possessors of pot to prison was insane.

I was curious about the hallucinogenics. I had been told that LSD was dangerous for people who didn't have their shit together. Since I never felt like I had my shit together, I never tried LSD. I had friends who swore by various mushrooms, but I myself hadn't indulged. I believed Graham Hancock when he said that Ayahuasca has been successful in getting people off addictions to harmful hard drugs. But I didn't have easy access t any.

I thought my point of view was at least somewhat sophisticated. I knew the war on drugs had been a resounding failure, and I entered into the fray thinking that this would be a wonderful opportunity to bring some rationality to it. We could single out the dangerous drugs, educate people on how to avoid them or use them responsibly, distinguish them from enjoyable recreational drugs. I was a naive babe in the woods.

Thanks to his seniority, Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson was chairman of the committee, which consisted for three Senators and three Representatives, three Republicans and three Democrats. Supposedly this mixture would promote the deliverance of measures acceptable to all. It was, I soon realized, the perfect mixture to assure that nothing worthwhile would ever be accomplished.

I'll never forget the first thing Senator Jackson said to me. "Welcome aboard, young man. You've made it to the big game." He made me feel somewhat good for about a second, before he went on to say, "The first thing for you to do is forget everything you learned in Civics 101. It was all bull crap. The second thing, if you want your term to be pleasant and rewarding, is to follow my lead. When I say 'jump,'  you don't think twice before asking, 'how high'?" I had no problem with the first part. I don't think I learned anything in Civics 101. The second part sounded like my drill sargeant, but I decided to let it rest.

We met at 3 p.m. the second Friday of every month. Committees usually meet a lot more often than ours, which I suppose was a measure of our importance. Our small room in the Cannon House Office Building was dominated by a large, oak table at which Senator Jackson assumed the head position. I was on time for every meeting as was the Senator. The other members were hit and miss.

I may have been a bit slow, but before long I realized our committee had nothing to do with formulating sensible drug policies. It mostly had to do with keeping blacks, hippies, malcontents, and Hell's Angels in their place, which Jackson felt should be a federal penitentiary. I had often wondered why the government had invested so much time and energy into incarcerating low-level peddlers and users. It was much later that I learned it was a diversionary designed to draw attention away from the activities of the CIA. This lovable group of guys had been heavily into trafficking as a means of acquiring tons of untraceable currency. Of course, this was all in the interests of waging clandestine battles against terrorists (and democratic Southern Hemisphere governments that might have opposed ours).

My education had come in dribs and drabs, and I shudder when I think about how naive I was. Early on I had asked, "Why does possession of crack cocaine carry a much higher sentence than possession of regular cocaine?" To me this just seemed unreasonable.

Jackson looked at me like I was the rube I thought he was. "Possession of crack cocaine is a serious felony because the people who possess crack cocaine are likely to be serious felons," he explained. "Very often our law enforcement friends can prove possession, even if they have to plant it themselves. It can, at times, be hard to establish guilt for other crimes."

Later on I had thought I might make an appeal to the conservative members of our group. "You do realize," I said, "that it costs well over seventy-five thousand dollars to keep nonviolent possessors of marijuana incarcerated for a year. Kids have gotten twenty-year sentences for having a weed that often grows wild. It would be cheaper by far to send them to Harvard."

Jackson looked at me like I was speaking in Swahili. The others found something of compelling interest in their tea.

I was oh so idealistic. I thought we were positioned to make an important contribution to society. We could recommend increased funding for new and better ways to treat addiction. We could encourage doctors to prescribe non-addictive painkillers (if any existed} or research into developing them. We could recommend that the government crack down on companies that allow easy internet access to potent opioids like fentanyl. We could even explore the possibilities of giving addicts free, carefully controlled quantities of heroin with clean needles, something I had heard they did in Denmark.

I did realize that addiction can be horrific. I have had acquaintances who succumbed to heroin and other opioids. The national opioid kill-count, pushing 75,000, was higher than that of car wrecks. Every year more Americans die from opioids than from twenty years of war in Vietnam. At an early meeting, I suggested addiction should be treated as a medical problem, not a crime. My suggestion was met with silence I can only describe as an all-consuming void.

Our air conditioning often broke down, and the windows couldn't be opened. Six months of the year, May thru October, the large fan the maintenance staff provided couldn't begin to overcome the relentless heat. The pitcher of ice tea the staff put out helped, but not nearly enough. The members of our group were missing more and more meetings. Most Fridays they were far more likely to be found in Kennebunkport or Hilton Head than Washington, D.C.



CHAPTER FOUR

At the June meeting of the second year, Jackson and I were all alone, and on this particular day the Senator seemed agitated. "Champ may be in real trouble," he said. "Even Rasmussen is saying he and Stevenson are in a dead heat."

Three years ago, Howard Champ ran for President—Yes, that President, the President of the United States of America. Dismissing his billionaire status, he ran as a populist, a genuine Man of the People.  He assured us he would follow the example set by FDR, the president who saved capitalism by being a traitor to his class. Most people had quit voting, convinced elections were being rigged by opposing parties. The minority of people who had continued to vote, thirty-two percent in this case, had been able to deliver to Champ nearly 400 electoral votes. His populism was short-lived; on inauguration day, he began governing as the oligarch he was. Completely contradicting his promises, he filled his cabinet with folks from Goldman Sachs and the Pentagon. He lowered  high-income tax rates, snatched health insurance away from millions, eliminated the federal minimum wage, made disrespecting the flag a felony, and caused elderly people to wish they could hurry up and die. In short, President Howard Champ was Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson's kind of guy.

"The Post is sitting on a story about our President," Jackson said. "Seems he knocked up an intern and insisted she get an abortion. Somebody close to the President leaked the story. Whoever it was should be drawn and quartered."

I tried not to let it show that I considered this good news indeed.

"He could lose the Evangelical vote," Jackson continued, "which means he just might lose the election. He could be in real trouble unless something miraculous happens."

"Something miraculous?" I said. "Like what?"

"Oh, I don't know," Jackson said. "Maybe something like a terrorist attack. A bad one. Really bad. One so horrendous the fate of the nation is at stake, and the President is forced to declare martial law and temporarily suspend the election. This could gain him six months or so to put things back in order. He might even be able to parlay the suspension into something semi-permanent."

"What are the chances of that happening?" I said.

The Senator winked at me. "You never know," he said. "You just never know."

"I guess you never do."

"I do have a word of advice," Jackson said. "Steer clear of the concert at the mall tomorrow. Lowlife rowdies at these things often cause trouble. Why so many prime, young twats get all twitchy over a paunchy, old fart like Mick Jagger is beyond me. They get the young bucks way too drunk on testosterone."

It was then that Jackson's cell phone chimed in with the opening bars of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Senator excused himself as he stepped into the adjoining bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him, and turning on the water.

Something was up. Something he didn't want me to know about. I have an automatic response to a situation like that. I do what I can to find out what's up.

On the tray with that day's ice tea were five clean glasses. There had been six, but one, mine, was in use. Jackson had been sipping from a flask (Kentucky bourbon, he said), something I had never known him to do. I took one of the empty glasses, pressed the rim  against the door, and brought my ear to the bottom. At first I was afraid the glass was too thick. Thin glass works best. But by holding my breath and concentrating I could hear the occasional word: Mall… Museum… Crowd… Castle… Cross… Signal… Gardens… Station… Basin… Worry… I thought I might have heard the words Cross and Fire, but wasn't sure. His accent made the word Fire sound a lot like Far.

Jackson was saying his good-byes, and I hurried to the table and got the glass down as he was emerging from the bathroom. Too late I realized the glass had been upside down on the tray, and I had set it right-side-up on the table.

"Sorry about the interruption," he said. "Boss woman wants me to pick some things up on my way home." I noticed he was looking at the glass.

"Not a problem," I said. "I believe we're done here anyway."

Jackson nodded and again looked at the glass sitting by itself on the table. He's forgotten he told me his wife is in Virginia taking care of her sick mother. He had told me he didn't care if she ever came back. Said his sex life had improved tenfold during her absence. He had said this with a whisper and a wink, a one-guy-to-another, buddy-to-buddy, elbow-nudge-to-the-ribs sort of confidence. If women find him as disgusting as I do, a tenfold sex-life improvement would still work out to zero.

I picked up the yellow legal pad on which I had been making doodles and stuffed it in my briefcase. There it would languish with the papers I had scribbled upon at all the other meetings. The case was getting thick with paper and a bit heavy to carry. Someday I had to take time to clean it out.

My car was in a parking garage four or five blocks up Independence Avenue. The day was sweltering, but I liked the heat. I meandered along, happily taking my time. No hurry, none at all. This was a marvelous early summer day. D.C. is awash with fine young women, and today most were wearing shorts and halters or lightweight dresses, and I enjoyed taking in the sights. Life was good.

I had rented a modest studio apartment two miles away in a part of D.C. I keep telling myself is transitioning from slum to gentrified. Rumor has it that Starbucks is eying a nearby location. A few weeks ago, a grocery store with some organic fruits and vegetables opened its doors. They tell me it hasn't been doing much business yet (its produce is costly), but who can tell what time might bring. Yeah, yeah, I know, the neighborhood at best is iffy (prostitutes work two or three of its corners), but its only ten or fifteen minutes from work.

It was early for supper, but I decided to stop by the club to see Sarah. Friday is a big night at Blue Indigo, and she would be working until closing. But maybe by coming this early I can spend a few precious moments with her. I have been seeing less and less of her since she was promoted to night manager. When I walked in, she greeted me from across the large room with the big special smile I feel is all mine.

I took a seat at an empty table and waited for Sarah to make her way over. She had come about half way before being joined by another woman, who she introduced as Lila Springer, the club's new singer. Lila is blond and bosomy, long-legged and lively. As we shook hands, she drew dangerously close, a move the ever-observant Sarah hadn't missed. "Okay, you guys," she said, "let's not get too chummy until at least the second date." Lila wasn't scheduled to come on until eight, but I had no doubt she was a fine hire.

I kept an eye on Sarah until she disappeared into the kitchen. When she reappeared ten minutes later,  she was balancing on one slim hand a small, round tray containing an eight-ounce prime sirloin (I knew would be broiled to medium-rare, pink perfection), a mid-sized Green Mountain baked potato, a sprig of parsley, a generous side of sour cream, a serving of baby carrots, and two, cold 12-ounce Michelob Ultras. (Whoever it was who first said the surest way to a man's heart is through his stomach knew what he/she was talking about.)

I hadn't planned on eating, but who could resist such an offering? Apparently my stomach was ground zero. "Gotta put some meat on those bones of yours," she chuckled as she sought to pinch an inch. Her pinch turned into a tickle, and like a small child, I giggled with glee. I liked being there and took my time, making the second beer last as long as possible. The place attracts an interesting clientele, but more than anything else, I enjoyed watching Sarah dart about, talking to the hostess, giving waitresses instructions, getting the lighting just right, making sure the bar is fully stocked. She is light on her feet, constantly in motion, making it seem effortless. I didn't know where or when she learned her trade, but she is very good at it. By the time I left, the place was filling up with students and young professionals savoring the Early Bird Steak Special. I hoped I hadn't over-stayed my welcome.

It was after seven by the time I got back to my place. It's true, you know, that with proper arrangement a small space can become a large-enough space. The trick is to get everything fitted nicely together and to discard anything you haven't used in the past year. My apartment combines a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, an entertainment center, and a writing room into one not-very-crowded package. The bedroom and bathroom are separate. The design works good enough for me, but I don't think it would accommodate two of me (God forbid; could there be a more horrible thought?).

I guess opposites can attract. Years ago in California, Sarah studied Feng Shui basics, learning  principles of soulful decoration. My idea of a good arrangement had been to always have a cold six-pack within easy reach. We reminded people of an old TV show, The Odd Couple. Like Felix Unger, Sarah can tend towards the nasty neat while I can be an Oscar-like slob. She contends that her input saved me from turning into a crusty, sterile, old has-been (or, more likely, a never-was). Sarah has undeniably good taste and likes going first-class. She couldn't imagine living without an InSinkErator Evolution Excel garbage disposal unit or a Rondium By Hafia infrared sauna.

Viewing my apartment building from outside offers no relief. The three-story structure is strictly no-frills; the plain, gray, concrete facade bears not a single decorative touch. Maybe there was a time when large expanses of unadorned concrete seemed dramatic; now they just seem dingy. The building has always brought to my mind the degradation of public housing. At first, I endeavored to think of it as a no-bullshit building. When that didn't noticeably buoy my spirits, I cultured obliviousness. Sarah and I have talked about getting a place together, but so far haven't taken time to coordinate moving.

The ground-level space is reserved for parking. I pulled into an open space and cut my engine. It was darker than usual; it took me a moment to realize that both wall lights were out. Johnny Bowman, our maintenance man, was slipping; he was usually right on top of any such problems. I hesitated before getting out of my Honda. Something wasn't right and was putting me on edge. When I did get out, I looked around cautiously. No signs of life.

I was five or six feet from the elevator when a large, dark figure loomed from the shadows. A young black man, he moved with the decisiveness of a all-star point guard. He was dressed in dark jeans, black turtleneck, and gray hoodie. The extra-large lenses of his dark-blue shades obscured most of is face.How he could see anything at all? The blade he held at hip level was directed toward my gut. He came on quickly, expecting me to back off. I didn't. I stepped forward and delivered two rapid, hard jabs to his face. his dark glasses went spinning to the floor, but he held his ground, slashing upwards with his blade, catching my left arm near my shoulder. I felt a flash of pain as the knife passed through my flesh. I kicked him in the crotch. The jabs were from Gus; the kick from way back when. Both took their toll. He howled with pain and rage as he staggered back a step or two. He had dropped the sieve and was fighting for balance as he groped into the pocket of his hoodie. Hard to do when you're in pain,  off-balance, and holding onto your crotch. He had wanted to use the blade because it would have been quieter, but his gun would do. But not if mine were quicker. I had my glock out before he had gotten a decent grip on his. Assuming he wasn't wearing Kevlar, I put three quick shots into his chest. He was dead before he hit the floor. I ripped my shirt off and wrapped it around my arm.  I wasn't badly hurt, but was bleeding profusely. Using my mount and right hand, I tied the sleeves of my shirt into a makeshift tourniquet. It wasn't as tight as I would have liked.
.
Ignoring my pain, I rolled my assailant over, and, reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, took out his wallet. A driver's license identified him as Eric Brown, a D.C. resident who lived a few blocks deeper than me into the mire of this neighborhood. He had no credit or debit cards, but did have a Club Goodwill and food stamp cards. Last, but certainly not least, he had a thick stack of fifty dollar bills, which I stuck in my front pocket. He had no use for them. This had been no mugging by a man desperate to feed his family. My assailant was... well, nigger rich.

Now what? I can't call the cops and I can't leave him there. I wasn't exactly legal since I hadn't taken time to get a concealed carry permit. I thought I might wrap the body in something. Terrible idea to leave in my trunk anything that could connect him to me. I hurried over to the maintenance closet to look for a tarp. When I opened the door, I knew why Bowman hadn't done anything about the lights. His body was in a fetal position on the floor, the front of his shirt drenched in blood. He had been a good, old guy and deserved to die a dignified death many years from now. Anger was welling up inside of me. I couldn't find a tarp, and this pissed me off even more. I grabbed a pair of latex gloves from a box on the floor and closed the door behind me.

It was a struggle, but I managed to stuff my assailant into the trunk of my Honda. The Japs may be small in stature, but they know how to make accommodating trunks. Maybe I couldn't prove it, but knew damn well Jackson had dispatched the bastard, knowing I had used that glass to eavesdrop on his bathroom conversation.

Nobody seemed to be rushing about to see what the gunfire was all about. Since moving here, I had heard shots at least once a week and realized that in this neighborhood they weren't at all unusual. Suddenly I remembered the surveillance camera. The entire area had been surveyed by a single camera, situated over the elevator. I checked and was pleased to see it already had been smashed, no doubt by my assailant.

My license plate had double zeros. I took a roll of electrical tape from my glove compartment, and a few deft cuts with my pocket knife converted the zeros into rough eights. They were crude, but from a few yards away would probably confuse an onlooker. I didn't think I needed to worry about being identified. Most people can't tell an older Accord from a Toyota or a Datsun or a Nissan, or any other Asian car. Mine was dark blue, but might be taken for black. I felt safe, but one can't be too cautious.

Driving to Maryland, I obeyed every traffic regulation. Not too fast, not too slow, but Just Right. Goldilocks driving. Dim my lights for every oncoming vehicle, signal for every turn or lane change. Jackson had told me all about his big house a few miles outside of Bethesda. I knew where to exit 355, which auxiliary road (Deer Run Lane) to look for, and how to identify his private road by its over-sized, red, white, and blue mailbox, a gift from the NRA. There would be no gate; he often said he hadn't needed one. I found the place easily. It was already quite dark, and I hadn't seen another car for the past twenty minutes. I was sure I could proceed unobserved.

Jackson's house was at the end of a long, winding, loose-gravel drive edged on both sides by lush foliage. My badly-worn tires would leave no tracks in the gravel. The last word in ostentatious, the house itself was a Fuck-You-I'm-Rich-and-You're-Not Colonial. Its three stories were fronted by a spacious porch whose roof was suspended by six thick Roman-style columns. The house, perfectly symmetrical, was painted stark white while its large windows all had dark shutters. The black and white composition was broken by an imposingly large, stark red, mahogany front door. Many times he had told me this house was a replica of the house he grew up in, the grandest plantation house in Chattenburg, Virginia.

Without hesitation, I parked squarely in front and lugged the body out of the trunk. I must have been having an adrenaline rush because I had no problem carrying the corpse up onto the porch and dumping it in front of that big, red, keep-the-Indians-out door. I pushed the button that had to be a door bell and heard chimes respond with the opening cords of "Dixie." I stepped back to where I figured I couldn't be seen through the door's peephole.

Fifteen or twenty seconds later, the door opened inward. A second later Jackson stepped out, his gaze glued on the dark heap I had deposited. I heard him mumble, "What the fuck…" He was wearing a silk robe over pajamas decorated with Disney characters and floppy, Donald Duck slippers over white socks. I wasted no time, shooting him in the side of his head just above his right ear. He crumbled soundlessly on top of the thug he had sent my way. (Maybe, in all honesty, I should say I hoped to Hell he had sent my way.) I put two more slugs in his body just to make sure.

The words of Konrad Lorenz came to mind. "Human aggression is instinctual. Humans have not evolved any ritualized aggression-inhibiting mechanisms to ensure the survival of the species. For this reason, man is considered a very dangerous animal."

I had just shown how dangerous I can be, but I wasn't thinking about that at all. I was thinking about how I no longer would have to listen to Jackson brag about being a direct descendant of General Stonewall Jackson. Way too often the Senator had boasted about possessing the Beaumont-Adams revolver that the famed, but lost-cause general carried throughout what the Senator always called the War of Northern Aggression. Evidently, the antique weapon had been handed down father to son generation after generation and was hanging on his living room wall. I decided to look for it, feeling sure I wouldn't encounter any of the women he had been bragging about.

No problem finding it. The old gun was mounted in a class-fronted case above a massive stone fireplace right beside an over-sized Confederate flag. I took a piece of stove wood from a nearby stack, smashed the glass, and removed the revolver. Then I ripped the flag from the wall and tossed it into the fireplace. Later I would toss both Jackson's piece and my gun into the Potomac. Hopefully, investigators would conclude that Jackson was murdered by a liberal-minded gun nut. I don't know what they'll make of the shot-by-the-same-gun-but-not-here dude at the bottom of the stack. With luck they'll stay permanently confused.

I  began the drive back to D.C. A mile down the road I stopped and removed the pieces of tape from the license plates, turning the eights back into zeros.

Four days later, I was asked to say a few words at Jackson's closed-casket funeral. I declined, stating that while I deeply admired his selfless service to the country, being a newcomer I didn't feel l knew him well enough. They never did find a Democrat willing to eulogize the man. Eventually Senator Jackson was cremated, his ashes, in violation of local ordinance, spread about the city of Chattenburg from the timely explosion of a Fourth of July Fourth celebratory rocket.

The Rolling Stones concert had gone off without a hitch. They say Keith Richards had never sounded better.

The Post ran its story about Sally Mae Hathaway, Ronald Orthello Bunker's pregnant intern. There was plenty of sock-o news that week, and she went nearly unnoticed. Bunker won re-election in a landslide, taking every state except Maine and Massachusetts. He drew ninety-seven percent of the Evangelical vote after it was alleged the woman he was running against was a transsexual. The allegation went viral. All over the land, YouTube pages were lighting up. Some people claimed that in certain locales, lights actually dimmed. Chalk up a big win for Fake News. Bunker's intern, Sally May Hathaway and her baby got excellent, up-front seats at the inauguration. Only a few people knew about the half million dollars President Bunker had given her. None would ever mention it. Publicly, they toasted her arrival into the world of young motherhood.





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CHAPTER: FIVE

JOURNAL ENTRY 587

I am pretty sure than shooting Senator Buford Beauregard Jackson was the proper thing to do. Complete certainty is hard to come by.

Neighbors a mile-and-a-half down Deer Run Lane told police that an old, Galaxy 500 convertible with the top down and a boom box blasting metalic rock into the night filled with Negroes had gone by earlier in the evening.

Without Senator Jackson's inspired leadership, the drug war committee just sort of dissolved itself. No report would be forthcoming.  Nothing to recommend the continued incarceration of pot possessors. Users of crack cocaine would continue to bear the brunt of a brutally unjust law. There would be no hint that help for the addicted would be merciful. It would be business as usual for Big Pharm.

My dream of being some sort of reformer has been battered by the ram of reality.

Six months later, I was placed another committee. Its role was to determine what role, if any, government should play in American sports. I felt more at home on this committee than I had on the drug war fiasco.As a boxer I had engaged in professional sports and had thoughts on how the government might help legitimatize it.

The NFL was the country's most valuable sports franchise. Teams (with the exception of the Green Bay Packers) were owned by billionaires .

We have evolved to the point where most of would think twice before saying, "Birds of a feather flock together."  The slightest suggestion of racism was avoided by nearly everybody, save a few Neanderthals from the Deep South.











CHAPTER SIX

My troubles with Big Sam Dawkins began the moment we hit our tee shots on the first hole at Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Maryland. It was a warm, cloudless day, and I had been anticipating a delightful outing at this beautiful, highly exclusive venue. My defenses were down; I was unprepared for anything at all disagreeable.

My initial warning of impending trouble came when Dawkins, a Representative from Columbus, Ohio, swaggered onto the tee box. He took three or four vicious practice swings, then stretched by reaching as high into the heavens as humanly possible—so high his golf shirt became untucked and his big bare belly was there for all to see. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck begin to tingle. I half expected him to toss a few hairs from his chest into the air to see which way the wind was blowing. This man obviously regarded himself as a bomber, a tightly-wrapped package of immense power, difficult to contain, anxious to be unleashed. Sam and his thick-gripped driver, which must have had a 48-inch, Double X shaft, seemed to devour the entire tee box.

The world seemed to fall silent as he addressed his Titleist, which sat high atop a four-inch tee. Was it my imagination or had the birds in the trees paused in mid-tweet? Was everyone for miles around engaged in a collective holding of the breath?  Had the previously hefty wind retreated on tippy toes? Entering my mind was the line from the Bhagavad-Gita delivered by Oppenheimer at the detonation of the first nuclear bomb: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I had to repress a snigger.

To his credit, Sam didn't altogether embarrass himself. He let loose with a towering, rain-maker of a tee shot down the left-hand side, seemingly as high as it was long. His ProV1 carried about 220 before plunging back to Earth and plugging into the freshly-watered fairway. Obviously pleased with himself, Sam thrust his driver back into his bag with a "take-that-you-sons-of-bitches" flourish. "Tee it high, and let if fly. Jack always said to hit 'em high since there aren't any sand traps in the sky."

"But there are some back on the ground," my host, Senator Andrew McGowans, said.

"I think Barbara kept reminding him of that," I said, momentarily forgetting my status as a humble, first-time guest.

Dawkins grunted as he jammed himself into his cart. Andy Simmons, his partner, a normal-sized guy, had to scooch over as far as possible to avoid unseemly contact. Dawkins was a big, beefy guy whose muscles hadn't yet turned entirely to fat. He made it a habit to let everybody know he knew Jack Nicklaus and had played football at Ohio State. Later on I did some research, and it turns out Woody Hayes had put Sam, an offensive guard, into the waning moments of a 42 to 13 Rose Bowl thrashing of Washington State.

I was up next. I suppose I was expected to hit a modest two-hundred-yarder to the middle of the fairway. Respectable, but not flamboyant. On this beautiful, Fall day, however, I felt especially energetic. Without giving the matter much thought, I made a huge turn and hit a bullet down the left side, fifteen or twenty yards past Dawkins. McGowans let go with a low whistle. Dawkins had to have noticed the discrepancy between his ball and mine, but said nothing.

We were playing from the tips on this 402-yard hole, and for his second shot, Dawkins made a huge, John Daly-type swing with his seven iron. He caught the ball a bit thin, but it rolled onto the bottom part of the green.  He seemed happy enough when he said, "You know, my wife Melony discouraged me from going into law enforcement. She wanted me to concentrate on golf. She kept saying that Jack and I were cut from the same mold. Later, after I was elected to Congress, Jack told me that Washington's gain was the PGA's loss."

I smiled. I knew that Nicklaus could be quite the kidder. Without replying, I played a smooth six iron fifteen feet right of the pin and, later, when I holed the putt, it seemed to put a positive tone on our match.

When we got to the sixth hole, McGowans unleased an incredibly long drive, a three-hundred yarder at least. When we got to his ball, I had played my second shot, and was well set up sixty yards short of the green.

Six is Congressional's number one handicap hole, a 553 yard par five. I saw that McGowans was reaching for his hybrid. I hesitated to say anything, but then decided to speak up. "Hit a three wood as good as you hit this drive, you'll be putting," I said.

"My fairway woods have been giving me fits," he said. "I can't seem to stay down on them. You saw what happened on one." His second shot on one, a three wood, had been a wormburner, never really getting off the ground

"I am in good shape to make four, or at most five," I said. "I think on one you spotted the ball too far back in your stance. Get it up an inch or two off your left heel.Then just sweep it off the ground."

McGowans drew his three wood from his bag and made a couple of lazy practice swings. "Worth a try, I guess," he said. He proceeded to make one of the prettiest swings I've ever seen. Flowing, full,  and seemingly effortless. The ball took off with a "crack," and flew high with a slight draw, coming down ten yards short of the green, bouncing twice before rolling up onto the green, twenty feet from the hole. I clapped my hands. "With shots like that, you could play this game for a living," I said.

By spotting the ball back towards the middle of his stance, Mcgowans had effectively delofted his three wood, making a decent trajectory impossible.

McGowans's eagle putt curled off to the right, but his was a tap-in birdie. As we were leaving the green, he shook my hand. I felt I had made a friend for life.

We had won six of the first nine holes. I had played as well as I ever had and was just one over. As we were waiting to tee off on on ten, I felt comfortable enough to ask McGowans about his irons. "I like your clubs, vintage MacGregor MT Tourneys. They look like the sticks I was lusting after when I was a kid."

McGowans laughed. "I guess you're wondering when I gave up on hickory shafts."

"Not my business," I said. "But are the balls you use stuffed with goose feathers?"

McGowans laughed again. "No, but don't knock featheries. Did you know that in 1836 Samuel Messieux hit one 361 yards?"

"I knew that good players could hit them a long ways," I said. "And with clubs that were little better than tree branches. But back to your clubs; I am guessing they have their original True Temper steel shafts."

"That they do," McGowans said,  "and I haven't found any reason to change. It's not that I am a sentimental old fool. I just don't care for graphite. I find it unpredictable. With it I might hit an seven iron 140 yards or I might hit it 165."

"Hogan did pretty well with his Tourneys," I conceded.

"Indeed he did."

"But he refused to play their ball."

"True," McGowans agreed. "MacGregor was paying Hogan to endorse its products, and he loved their clubs, but he told them he would play their ball once they started making a good one. Back in the day, Hogan was the one player who could have things entirely his own way."

We began the back nine with me feeling good about McGowans. He knew his golf and seemed to care deeply. On top of that, we worked well together. I birdied ten, McGowans birdied eleven, and we both parred twelve, taking all three holes.

When we reached the 13th hole, a short par three, our match was all but won, and I relaxed as we waited for the group ahead to chip onto the green and hole their putts.

McGowans had stepped off into the woods to pee when Dawkins sauntered up to me. I could tell he had something on his mind, and he wasted no time getting to it. "They tell me you worked with Senator Jackson," he said. "Must have been quite an experience."

"The Senator was an interesting man," I said.

"He certainly was. His views struck some as a bit antebellum, or course, but he loved the country and took the constitution literally. I believe this annoyed many of his consorts."

"Quite likely it did," I said.

 "It surprises me that his case remains open," Sam continued. "Most homicides are solved quickly. Especially the routine, hum drum ones, but I don't see why this should be any different. The culprit turns out to be a loved one, a member of the family, or a close associate."

"I believe his wife was in Virginia at the time of his death," I said. "They didn't have children."

Dawkins wasn't really listening to me. He was waiting to continue talking. "Unsolved cases are particularly interesting to me," he said. "I started out in law enforcement, you know. I was the assistant prosecuting attorney in Ohio's Franklin County. I had an instinct for determining who the bad guys were. I thought seriously about becoming a private investigator."

"What stopped you?"

"Fate, I guess.  "I had been active in the Democratic Party when the Representative from my district was killed in an auto accident. I was appointed to finish his term, and then won re-election. The rest is history."

"What goes around comes around," I said, not really knowing what the hell I meant by that.

"Anyway, Jackson's case is an interesting one. I am friend's with the lead investigator, and he has told me some things privately. You know, it took them six weeks to identify the black guy they found him with. Eric Brown, a real nobody. Big rap sheet for mostly petty stuff. I doubt if he had ever before been to Bethesda. He was brought to Jackson's porch. He had been shot somewhere else, and dumped there. Why? I keep asking myself. Who would do this? And why?"

I looked down at the now-vacant thirteenth green. "I believe I am up," I said as I drew an eight iron from my bag. I fought to steady myself over the ball. For sure I wasn't going to let an ass like Dawkins unnerve me. Relax the grip. Not too much. Control the club.  Breathe deeply. Ease the tightness across the chest. Lock your head in place. Not too tight. Chin up, lock-up, imprisonment. Go back slow and low. No going back. Execution. No not that execution. Execute the shot. A shot execution. Hang your shoulder beneath your chin. Strange fruit. Hang on...

I swung before I was ready, catching the ball on the hosel, the junction where the shaft meets the clubface, a cold, cruel shank. Nobody's fault but mine. I had been off-balance and jerky. As it had to, the ball took off low and sharp right, ending up no nearer the green than from where it had started. McGowans gasped, breaking the silence. Nobody said anything.

I looked over at Dawkins. A deep frown lined his face.

"I don't suppose I get a do-over," I said.





CHAPTER SEVEN

My embarrassingly bad shot didn't hurt the team. McGowans chipped up close for par and picked up another point for us. Didn't much matter. We had won the front nine, taking six of the first seven holes,  and had taken the first three on the back. Our lead was commanding, and anything short of total collapse would have us winning all three legs of the nassau. Dawkins and Simmons knew they were beaten, and weren't pressing. They were beginning some good-humored grumbling about McGowans having brought in a ringer.

To me my shank, however ugly, was a thing of the past, water under the bridge, ancient history. Good players don't dwell long on mistakes. They learn what they can from them, then let them go. Everybody hits the occasional asshole shot, and I assumed mine would be excused as just one of those things that go with the often aggravating territory called golf.

After putting out on 18 and shaking hands, Dawkins handed me three hundred dollar bills. "Next time I'll bring my A game," he promised. I was taken aback. I was used to five dollar nassaus. Nobody had told me the stakes of this game were considerably higher. Truth was I didn't have three hundred dollars with me. Damn good thing we won. Later over lunch McGowans apologized for not letting me know about the stakes and said he had me covered in the highly unlikely event we had lost.

McGowans's invitation of this day had come as a surprise. Congressional caters to the ultra-elite, which isn't me. I nearly turned him down. We had never been formally introduced, and I had been prepared to dislike the man. He was Eastern Elite, head to toe, with a big place in Hyannis Port not far from the Kennedy compound. I had heard that his wife was a distant Kennedy cousin. I knew he was a  Democrat, and had assumed he was a Bobby wannabe, but without the sincere passion. In the past six months, I had met all the neo-liberals I ever wanted to know. I half expected him to address me as "ol' chap," and I had to wonder if polo was his preferred game.

I accepted his invite mostly because this would probably be my one and only chance to see the Congressional Country Club. I had been reading about it from the day I first got interested in golf. Its Blue Course (there are two, Blue and Gold) has hosted five major championships, including three U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship. Tournament winners at here have included Rory McIlroy, Ken Venturi, Ernie Els, Justin Rose and Tiger Woods, among many others.

McGowans was beaming over the scope of our victory as he invited me into the House Grill for a late lunch. "I like the ham and cheese sandwiches here," he said. "They use Black Forest ham, 365 Organics Sharp Cheddar, and fresh-baked multi-grain bread with Dijon mustard."

While we waited for our sandwiches, McGowans kept going over the scorecard. "You know you demoralized them, don't you? Sam is used to being the long ball knocker of any group. You kept out-driving him, and his swing kept getting quicker and shorter and jerkier. He'll be awhile getting over today."

The sandwiches were as good as McGowans had promised . "You know, this is just one of half a dozen places we could have eaten here at the club," he said. "We could have gone to The Chop House, The Founders Pub, The Pavilion, The Main Dining Room, The Stop and Go, the Midway House, or, if we were in a hurry, any of several  Beverage Carts."

"I guess we weren't in danger of starving."

McGowans glanced about as though he thought somebody might be eavesdropping. "Seriously," he said, "what do you think of this place?"

"It's impressive," I said. "It's a beautiful course and the accommodations are sumptuous. I appreciate your inviting me to come along, and every so often I do enjoy hobnobbing with the well-scrubbed rich and famous."

"But?"

"But I don't know if I could ever get comfortable here. Deep down I miss the converted cow pasture back in Michigan where me and some buddies learned the game. We used cast-off, mismatched clubs, played for dimes, heckling each other all the way. Most of the balls we found in the woods had big smiles and were Club Specials or U.S. Tigers, but every once in a while I would come across a new Maxfli, and I still remember those great days. We played in hundred degree heat, we played drenched in rain, we played in thirty-degree, freezing snow when when visibility was near zero and mis-hits stung our hands something awful. When you get addicted to the game under these circumstances, you never recover."

McGowans grinned. "I was hoping you would say something like that. You've confirmed my belief that you're just the sort of guy I want to serve on a committee I am going to chair."

He had my attention. "What's it got to do with?" I said.

"Sports. It hasn't been announced yet, but next year is going to be designated as the Year of American Sports. The mission of my committee will be to determine the country's National Game."

"Tiddley winks with manhole covers."

"What?"

"Oh....nothing, never mind. When I was a kid and somebody asked you what you were doing, you were likely to reply 'playing tiddley winks with manhole covers'. As I recall, we found this to be quite funny."

"Don't let the rarefied atmosphere of this place isn't cast you back into your childhood."

"I think it's the reminiscing over early days of golf. The good ol' days. Back when the world was a simpler and better place."

"I hesitated over approaching you. I wasn't sure I wanted any former professional athletes on my committee."

"You know about my boxing?"

"I know a lot about you, warts and all. I do thorough background checks. I thought professionals might be blind advocates of their sports."

I gave silent thanks to Tom Deegan, my friend in Maine. I had to assume that McGowans' vetting, thorough or not, hadn't gone deeply enough to reveal my really cancerous warts. McGowans might be an easy-going liberal, but he wasn't about to shrug off murder.

"You needn't worry about me," I said. " I wouldn't want Boxing to be America's Sport."

"Too violent?"

"That and other reasons. Too many scumball associates. I would advise young people to steer clear of it."

"I had also been warned that you were something of a thug."

"I am from Detroit," I said. "To many I may as well be from the unexplored jungles of deepest, darkest Africa. Who knows? I could be a secret headhunter."

McGowans smiled. "Yet you play golf like a fine gentleman. Let's play word association. When I say American Sport, what is the first thing you think of?"

"Girl watching. Every year I look forward to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue."

"Second thing..."

"Football, I guess. I know baseball has always been called 'America's Pastime,' but I am more into pro football."

"So is much of America. Nothing attracts more TV viewers than the Super Bowl."

"So why don't we just declare football the winner and move on to other things?"

"Because I think we should look into the issue more deeply. We might very well end up up endorsing football, but we should give other sports a close look-see."

"Does the country really need an officially sanctioned national sport?

"No it doesn't. Not at all."

"Then why establish one?"

"President Champ wants one, so there's going to be one."

"I didn't realize he's a big sports fan."

"He's not. He's a big Champ fan. I believe his Year of the Sport is a diversionary tactic. He's up to something. I don't know what, exactly, but I believe he wants to divert people's attention from something else."

"The plot thickens," I said.

McGowans gave me a long hard look. "I've reviewed your voting record," he said.  "I know you aren't in bed with any big donars. You're  your own man, a man I believe I can trust. So I am going to tell you something I haven't told anybody else. You will keep this to yourself, right?"

"Absolutely."

"Six week ago, I received an anonymous letter on official White House stationery. It was knocked out quickly with, I believe, a Sharpie. I couldn't tell if it was a man's or a woman's script, but it warned me that Champ has plans to retain power after his term expires."

"Good trick if he can do it. But what if it's true? By chairing his committee, aren't you aiding and abetting whatever it is he's up to?"

"Possibly, but if not me somebody else. He told me he wants to work closely with the committee, and I want to stay as close to him as I can. If he learns I am spying on him, I'll be gone so quick your head will spin."

"So what are the possibilities? Martial law?"

"Maybe, but I don't believe so. It would be all but impossible to turn this into a permanent acquisition of power. So far he seems to be following through on his promises to diminish government. He has moved to privatize health insurance, the nation's parks, a lot of defense, postal services, and our intelligence agencies. He has signed dozens of executive orders, knocking down regulations for God known how many companies. Rumor has it he wants to altogether eliminate corporate income taxes. The stock market loves all this. It's never been higher. As a Libertarian, he seems to be forfeiting his power, casting it off onto others."

"So how can he be planning on retaining it?" I said.

"That's the sixty-four million dollar question," McGowans said. "I don't want to be overly dramatic, but I have a queasy feeling the future of our so-called democracy just might depend on us answering it."







CHAPTER EIGHT


JOURNAL ENTRY 588

I was elected to a political position, so am I a politician? You tell me. In my defense, it's true that for most of my life I haven't been at all political. I had my mind on other things (most of which, as I recall, were unsavory, but that's a story for another time). Often I didn't bother voting or even knowing who was running. I thought they were all scum suckers. I became politically aware (vaguely) when I was seeing Janice Hooper, who brought me to a variety of protests. We let it be known we disliked (among other things and in no particular order) GMOs, police brutality, LGBT discrimination, capital punishment, guns, restrictions on abortion, most military engagement, and student loan payments.

Secretly I was somewhat disinterested in much of this, but I found the scene exhilarating. I was young, and I loved the music, the drugs, the sex, and the heady aura of revolution. (As a former kickboxer, I was Janice's tough-guy protector, if anybody tried hassling her). Because I wanted to be able to talk to her without sounding like a total, asshole idiot, I read some history. For awhile, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky were my main men, and I spent a lot of time checking out others on YouTube). Janice called herself a neo-Marxist, although she didn't seem to have much of an idea what that was. I know she worked hard to instill in me social consciousness. She had long blond hair and good-sized breasts so I didn't mind. Accommodating as I was, her efforts weren't particularly successful, although she did teach me how to interrupt the daily news with a proper mix of bitter cynicism and livid rage.

Then one day I was a congressman. I wonder if she would have ditched me had she known that would happen. (I know damn well my electoral victory left her absolutely flabbergasted. Ha, ha, ha. Serves her right). Of course, it wasn't just her. Nobody thought I was remotely electable, even though I ran as a Democrat from a district that almost always elects Democrats. Since I had never been a party functionary, I got no endorsements. Since I had no legislative experience, nobody had reason to believe I might be good at it. I had neither money nor important friends except for Wayne Gilbert, who I had caddied for; he was kind enough to mention me to a few influential acquaintances.

What I did have was a little name recognition from my stint as a boxer and an electorate that was pissed at establishment politicians. I got the backing of good folks, black and white, who were tired of listening to the same tired, ol' bullshit. I think they sensed I didn't much give a shit if I won or lost. I didn't think I could do much for these people, and wasn't about to claim otherwise. Somehow this endeared me to them. They didn't expect (or even want) groundbreaking legislation and didn't want to reward another phony asshole. Their support for me was enough to sneak me in. Having been elected as a Democrat I guess I am one, although I don't pretend to know what being one entails. I do know that there are Democrats I detest (many) and Republicans I admire (damn few).

I am expected to vote on bills I can't comprehend (nor have time to read), so maybe I should establish a few touchstones—stepping stones out from my gulf of uncertainty. Perhaps this composition (lone-wolf manifesto??? a howling at the moon???) will help me know where the Hell I stand, which party I really prefer. I don't have a lot of time or patience to frig with it, so don't expect something at all definitive. Timewise, there will be huge gaps, and much more will be left out than put in. I know damn well it will often be disjointed (as am I). One might think of this as a course titled American History .0001. The good news is I won't try to differentiate between Whigs and Federalists, nor will I deal with the Know Nothings because, well, I know nothing about them. I also promise I won't try to tell you who shot either Kennedy).

Picking a starting point is necessarily arbitrary, so I might as will begin with 1863. This is the year that Lincoln (reluctantly) freed the slaves. Right quick I will proclaim that this was a good, noble, and necessary thing to do. (Having slaves, as did so many of our founding fathers, including Washington and Jefferson, was a lot less laudable). Lincoln, a Republican, oversaw a civil war that witnessed the death of some 620,000 Americans. He is often regarded as the best president ever (despite his suspension of habeas corpus), at least by people north of the Mason Dixon line.

Be that as it may, his good work in no way excuses the awful things we later did to blacks. It's impossible to say which political party has been most egregious. (Nowadays the cops who shoot unarmed blacks may belong to either party, or, I guess, neither party. News reports fail to enlighten us). For a long time in the South, politicians who wouldn't associate themselves with Lincoln, but weren't real Democrats, came to be known as Dixiecrats. The Ku Klux Klan had its roots in the South, but later did well up here. Lynchings once were common.  Nobody kept track, but historians say more than 3,000 African Americans were put to the noose. Photos from lynchings were popular on penny postcards. Strange fruit, indeed.

Moving on, a giant step takes us to Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who seems to have had mostly good intentions (except when he ignored Pearl Harbor warnings, turned away Jewish refugees (including the family of Anne Frank), interned Japanese citizens, and tried to pack the Supreme Court). His comforting fireside chats and innovative social programs helped inch us through the Great Depression, and he dreamed of developing tidal power in Passamaquoddy Bay. As was true of many presidents, he was a lecherous old fool (despite being crippled). His wife Eleanor was a much better person (although celebration of her is muted, due either to her outspokenness or her questionable sexual orientation).

Roosevelt died, and his successor, Harry Truman, surprised Japanese people by dropping atomic bombs on them. (A failed haberdasher, Truman hadn't been popular, but this encouraged many to view him more favorably. He went on to surprise people again by defeating Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 presidential election). His big bombs ended World War II and the lives of at least a quarter of a million Japanese civilians. Truman did fire General Douglas MacArthur (a real asshole), and later he integrated the military (although he didn't do much to tame it). On his watch, our military went berserk, decimating North Korea, destroying all 67 of its cities, bombing them until there was nothing left to bomb. Our warplanes dropped more bomb and napalm tonnage on North Korea than they had during the entire Pacific campaign of World War II. We killed at least a million civilians. Both parties participated, with Republican Eisenhower impatiently threatening to nudge things along with atomic bombs. All this helps explain North Korean defensiveness (insanity?). To this day, North Koreans don't like Ike (or Americans in general). The same is true of most people in the ninety-some countries where we have a military presence. Many historians say Rome fell in part because its empire got too extended for effective management. Might this give us pause?

Back home, insisting upon school integration was a good thing, and initially that was done by Eisenhower. He sent troops into Little Rock to see that black kids got into school okay. More than a decade later, Lyndon Johnson, a Southern Democrat, rammed through a good-intentioned Civil Rights Bill. (It's been far from completely successful; blacks, Hispanics, gays, transsexuals, and women—way over half of us—haven't gained full equality). Promoting this bill took real courage, and it lost the South for Democrats for years to come. Good as it was, the bill ignored Indians, to whom we owe much. Way back when, we invented germ warfare by giving them small pox-infected blankets. Concurrently, we broke every treaty we ever made with them. In 1830, Democratic president Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, resulting in mass displacement and many deaths on what became known as the Trail of Tears. Indians have long memories, and some still won't accept twenty-dollar bills. (Some good karma did kick in: We put them on land thought to be worthless, but often turning out to be mineral-rich.)

Once we disposed of Indians, we turned on blacks. In the South, Jim Crow laws mandated racial separation, and things weren't better in the North. Despite the Supreme Court edict that separate is inherently unequal, de facto segregation persists, and our schools are less integrated than ever. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency came nowhere near settling the score although, I suppose, it provided some justification for hope. There are still plenty of White Supremacists, none of whom can explain Tiger Woods, LaBron James, or Tina Turner.

The War in Vietnam was a terrible thing. Eisenhower kicked off U.S. involvement, and left it simmering for JFK, who may have been considering withdrawal. (Thoughts like that could get one killed.) Kennedy also entertained the notion of dismantling the CIA and the Federal Reserve (two more blasphemies that could get a man killed). Kennedy was killed, passing our involvement in Vietnam on to Lyndon Johnson (having LBJ as a vice president could get a man killed). He enlivened our involvement a hundredfold. He kept escalating matters; eventually some two million Vietnamese civilians were dead. Richard Nixon, a Republican, was a creep, a liar, and probably nuts, but in 1975 he did end our involvement. For this he doesn't deserve much credit since for years anybody with a smidgen of sanity had known it was all a big mistake. At home, opposition to it was tearing the country apart, encouraging a lot of young people to form lasting impressions of an evil government. From the get-go, it had been a criminal endeavor, and the old farts who continued to send our guys off to be killed should have been castrated.

Our invasion of Iraq was justified by misinformation (lies) of Republicans, but with much Democratic support. Many voters assumed it was retribution for nine-eleven, although Iraq had nothing to do with that. Truth is, both parties were interested not in revenge, but in oil. Bush couldn't admit this, so he insisted we were threatened by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Bullshit, Iraq had no WMDs, but nobody much cared; our occupation of Iraq became permanent. Later on, Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize (for not being a Bush?). He proceeded to drop bombs on more than a dozen, non-threatening, mid-Eastern countries. He talked Libya's Muammar Gaddafi into abandoning his nuclear program by promising not to depose him. Obama had him killed anyway, creating lasting turmoil throughout the region. The whole thing amused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "We came, we saw, he died," she laughed.

The detention camp (prison) at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay holds accused terrorists indefinitely without formal charges, trials, or legal representation. It was started by Republicans, but continued by Democrats. Here we commonly tortured detainees, violating international law. Our system of justice had once been the envy of the world, but GTMO has besmirched it beyond repair. Obama frequently promised to close the place, but never did. Republicans often accused him of being a weenie, but he was plenty militant. Determined to be a tough guy, he did little to stem a bloated military budget (more than the rest of the world combined), an outlandish outlay that drains billions from infrastructure repair and benign social programs. (Both parties are oblivious to the notion that enough might be enough; our nuclear warheads can destroy the world many times over).

Bush invaded Afghanistan on the pretense that there were terrorists there. Sixteen years later, we were still there as were at least some terrorists. This war, the longest ever, may go on forever.

Every worldwide poll identifies the United States as the gravest threat to world peace. Let's face facts—our exuberant use of drones has made the U.S. the world's foremost terrorist nation.

Democrat Bill Clinton (who many say is a serial rapist), manipulated drug laws to label young black men predators. A spectre of runaway (mostly imaginary) crime in the streets terrified us. The hysteria got thousands of African Americans sentenced to long prison terms. America, land of the free, racked up the world's highest incarceration rate. The United States, with five percent of the world's population, had seventy-five percent of its inmates. Later, long after everybody with a smidgen of sanity began to favor legalizing pot, Republicans continued to insist on draconian penalties for possession of God's favorite weed. Still later, when big pharm developed synthetic marijuana, Republicans welcomed it as prescription medication, but continued to list the real thing as a schedule I drug (same as heroin and crack cocaine). Anybody can grow pot, and people in power don't like drugs they can't tax.

They do like wars, whether on drugs or against terrorists. We are urged to be suspicious of strangers with accents. I think immigrants should be celebrated. Time was the U.S. attracted the world's most strong, healthy, intelligent, ambitious, creative, and freedom-loving people from near and far. They energized us, making us great, but now we fear them. To discourage their coming, we've set up roadblocks at every turn; vetting them can take years. No longer do we attract the brightest of the bright science students; too many of them are refusing to deal with our bullshit. Republicans are leery of higher education; they know that the higher one becomes educated, the more likely he is to hold progressive values. Republicans often seem to be fighting a war against science, especially when it comes to dealing with stem cells and climate change.

In the late '80s, both parties supported bailing out the big banks whose practices nearly brought down the world economy. (They're encouraged to take big risks: If things go right, they make billions; when things don't, they get bailed). Neither party questions a system that aims for infinite growth. Nobody at Goldman Sachs worries about sustainability. It's insane for billionaires to struggle mightily to become ever richer. The thugs they hire (banksters) should be shot.

Back in Detroit (my hometown) Democrats held sway for a long time. When the crappy cars they produced got supplanted, they left the place in a shambles. The few that stayed went on expecting working guys (who had become non-working guys) to vote for them. What else could they do? They had no place else to go. Surprise! They voted for Republican Howard Champ, who convinced them he was a populist. This was a lie, but it has taken awhile for this to sink in. To some it still hasn't.

Beginning with Republican Theodore Roosevelt, presidents have all promised universal health insurance. None has materialized. It shouldn't be that hard; every other developed country in the Western Hemisphere has it. Here Medicare for all is the obvious solution, but big pharm (and the insurance industry) doesn't cotton to it, and we all know who's boss. Prescription drug prices in the U.S. are the world's highest. Some of our less fortunate people have to choose between eating cat food and getting the pharmaceuticals they need. Evidently that's just their tough luck.

Bigoted as they are, politicians care mostly about money. Politicians from both parties bow and scrape before the Masters of petroleum, pharmaceuticals, Wall Street, and defense. This is understandable; most of their money comes from these guys. I have to agree with McGowans: Our system is unsustainable; collapse is inevitable.

Not too long ago, I thought technology was refashioning the world more to my liking. The internet provided a platform that gave anybody with something to say the possibility of reaching millions. Guys like Jimmy Dore, John Oliver, Chris Hedges, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and Lee Camp were delivering aspects of news almost impossible to find elsewhere. Then the FCC began cooperating in the smashing this platform, muffling and gagging people with alternative messages. We will sorely miss what's bound to be remembered as the Golden Age of alternative news.

If I have a core belief, it's that government should try to level the playing field. As it is, people like you and me are completely mismatched against the rich. We have numbers, but little else. In a democracy, numbers should suffice, but our system is rigged in favor of fat cats. Both parties are suspicious of democracy and have never given it free reign. Our forefathers restricted the vote to male, white, property owners. Things haven't gotten that much better, and many minorities who would tend to vote progressive are barred from voting. It's no wonder congress can't bag a double digit positive rating. Congressmen from both parties are obsessed with getting power, getting rich, and getting laid.

I am sure many people would find this whirlwind tour of latter day American history way too negative. They can all go fuck themselves. I'll go on thinking any goddamn way I like. All and all, I can't see how one party has earned better grades than the other. I would be overly generous if I awarded each a D-plus. If I were to give myself a goal as a congressman, it would be to try to edge up this grade. I realize this would be an uphill fight on a slippery slope, and chances are I would wind up on my  ass.




CHAPTER NINE

McGowans seemed anxious to get his committee going. He called for a meeting on January 2, our first day back from holiday break. We met in the Congressional Office Building in a room just three doors down from where Senator Jackson's committee had met. There were nine of us: six males, six Caucasians, six Democrats, and six Representatives. We were to meet at 9 a.m. the second and fourth Wednesday of every month.

McGowans began addressing the group at nine sharp. After welcoming us, he got right down to business. "As you know, we are going to be considering matters you may or may not have thought about much. Namely sports. What do sports mean to you?  What do sports mean to our culture? What the hell is a national sport? According to one definition, a national sport is a sport that is considered to be an intrinsic part of the culture of a nation. They can come in two varieties, de facto and de jure. A de jure national sport is established by law; a de facto not by law, but by popular acclaim. It is our mission to nominate a sport for de jure status."

Misella Gardner, a pretty, young senator from Montana, spoke up first. "Our culture is complex," she said. "Do we even have a single culture? What are the qualities we should look for in a de jure national sport?"

"Good question," McGowans said. "That's our first job. We will have to establish criteria for consideration. It's up to us."

"Popularity," said Jake Morgan, a big black guy who looked like he had probably played football at some level. "Shouldn't our national sport be the most popular one?"

"Maybe, maybe not," McGowans said. "Part of our job is to decide that."

"Off hand, I think it should be an Olympic sport," said Peter Myers. "It's during the Olympics that the world's eyes are upon us." A Republican representative from New York, Myers is short and thin and wears thick glasses and a bow tie. He looks like a guy who when he was in high school was always chosen last.

"It should be the sport with the most participants," said Winnie Watson, a black representative from California. "More than 25 million Americans play golf. Small children can play, as can senior citizens. With handicaps, poor players can compete against good ones. It's a wonderfully inclusive sport." I am guessing Winnie is pushing forty, but she has kept herself in shape. She is long and lanky, and I had been told she was a field and track star. I had also been told she's a scratch golfer. Like many black women, she oozes vitality. I would love to watch her run hurdles or swing a club.

"The Scots might have invented golf," said Mike Dunn, who hadn't removed his Red Sox cap, "but we gave it Hogan, Snead, Nicklaus, and Woods. These guys were everyday Joes; they brought golf to the masses." I am wondering if Dunn, a bachelor senator from Maine, is currying favor with Winnie.

"We've had our share of fine players," Misella said, "but Harry Vardon, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Jason Day, Nancy Lopez, and Annika Sorenstam, to name a few, weren't Americans. We certainly have had no monopoly on excellence."

"I think our national sport should be one invented in America," said Troy Smith, a Republican representative from Massachusetts. "This pretty much narrows it down to basketball, volleyball, skateboarding, and snowboarding."

Myers was smiling. "Did you know that the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, was a Canadian? A physical education instructor, he came up with b-ball in 1891 while working at the YMCA Training School in Massachusetts."

"I see you've done some prior research," McGowans said. "That is commendable."

"I've done lots more," said Myers. "Did you know that Lacrosse and surfing arose from Indian and Hawaiian activities that go back to the sixteen hundreds? We could honor those minorities by singling out their sports."

Lucia Lopez, a Democratic representative from California, raised her hand. McGowans nodded at her. "Yes, Lucia..."

"I think it must be a sport with a fair share of both female and minority participation," she said. "There are plenty of good female golfers, and minority women are active in the Olympics."

"Ballroom dancing," Dunn said. "God I hope that doesn't become our national sport. Or figure skating. Who would want faggots to be our official representatives?"

"Amen," said Morgan. "I would much rather be represented by quarterbacks, tackles,  and linebackers."

Everybody else seemed eager to move on from this.

"There have been several woman NASCAR drivers," Misella said. "Danica Patrick hasn't been the only one."

Dunn said, "If being hot were a sport, I would nominate her."

"At age 16, Michelle Wie made the cut in a men's PGA tournament," Winnie pointed out. "Male pros might hit it further, but sometimes women can make up for this in other ways."

"With their womanly wiles?" Myers said.

Winnie smiled. "We can be cunning in ways you can't begin to imagine."

"I'll bet you can be," Myers said. "Especially if you're armed with a stiff-shafted club."

"I could probably use one right now," Winnie laughed. "You've gotta admit, our country has seen some fine female golfers. The list is extensive. Patty Berg, Juli Inkster, Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Mildred “Babe” Zaharias. You couldn't ask for a better bunch."

"You forgot Sandra Gal," Dunn said. "She may not win a lot, but she is one hot chick."

Lucia said, "Leave it to a man to focus on physicality. Male chauvinist p-word."
Undeterred, Dunn said, "None of those American gals would have been able to keep pace with all the Korean gals named Kim something or other."

"It's something or other Kim," Winnie said. "In Korea, Kim is a common surname."

"If being stood corrected were a sport, I'd be a super star," Dunn said.

"Okay, you guys," McGowans said. "You'll have to learn to play nice together. Let's consider other sports."

"Time was just about everybody went hunting," Troy Smith said. "Is hunting a sport?"

"Not if you're shooting supper," Myers said. "Only if you're killing something for fun."

American swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, with eighteen Olympic medals, twenty-three of the gold," said Misella Gardner. "Maybe in honor of him our national sport should be swimming."

I looked around the table, and nobody seemed at all interested in this.

"It's gotta be the sport with the richest American tradition," said Mike Dunn, evidently abandoning Winnie. "It's gotta be baseball. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe Dimaggio, Willie Mays.' Damn Yankees' was a popular musical. Every kid has heard 'Casey at the Bat.' We all know the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Mention Robert Redford and people think of 'The Natural.' Everybody knows about the Curse of the Bambino and the former futility of the Chicago Cubs. We've all seen 'Field of Dreams'."

"Build it and they will come," said Peter Myers.

"My point exactly," Dunn said. "Baseball is intrinsic to our culture."

Winnie Watson spoke up next. "How about the sport with the highest ethical standards? Golf is the only sport with a long tradition of participants calling penalties on themselves. In most sports, successful cheaters are idolized. Baseball players steal signs and throw spitballs. In football, players work on techniques to keep cheating undetected. Basketball players foul intentionally and elbow the opposition when they think they can get away with it. The list goes on and on. Bobby Jones once lost a U.S. Open in part because he unintentionally nudged the ball as he addressed it. Nobody noticed his infraction, but he called a penalty on himself. When he was commended for this, he famously said you might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."

"Stolen bases," Myers said. "Don't forget them. Baseball players love to steal bases."

Lucia Lopez was next. "How about the fastest growing sport?" she said. "Soccer is growing more rapidly than any other, I believe. Also, lots of girls love to play soccer. Both black and white girls."

"Lucia has a point," Misella Gardner said. "So many kids are into it. The term  'Soccer mom' has been added to our dictionaries."

McGowans intervened. "You all have raised some excellent points here today. Popularity, tradition, ethics, origins, inclusion, growth—all of these things are important.  Over the next couple of weeks, think about them. What should take priority? Which sport is it we most want to represent America?"

As the others were filing out of the room, McGowans asked me to stay a moment. Once we were alone, he said, "You didn't have much to say today."

"It's my nature," I said. "When I find myself in a new situation, I tend to hang back until I am confident I know what's up."

"I am sure that's wise," McGowans said. "In Congress we have many would-be leaders, not so many dedicated and thoughtful followers."

"There's gotta be room for a few casual, impartial observers," I said. "The proverbial fly on the wall. Once we get going, you'll probably wish I would shut the fuck up."

McGowans smiled at that. "What did you think of the group?" he said.

"It's quite a crew. I have to wonder how you came up with them."

"President Champ strongly recommended most of them. His recommendations were such that ignoring them would have been folly. Do you think we'll ever be able to work together?"

"I think we'll have some spirited discussions. I've gotta say, the proceedings today weren't as solemn as I had thought they would be."

"Chaotic is what I would call it," McGowans said. "It's gotta be part of Champs plan. He's devious as hell. I know damn well he wants us to engage in heated skirmishes that will engender bold headlines. To me it's obvious he wants to keep media heat off some of his other activities. Incidentally, Champ has suddenly become a big believer in transparency. I've been instructed to provide the press transcripts of our meetings."

"But you have no idea what lies behind all this."

"Sad, but true. All I can do now is focus on the committee. Do you think we'll ever reach a consensus?"

"Hard to say. It definitely won't be easy. Morgan is a diehard, single-minded football devotee while Dunn probably has a huge collection of baseball cards. Ms. Lopez is bent on representing both her gender and her ethnicity, and Myers is a gadfly, a loose-cannon wiseass. He is well on his way to becoming a pariah. Maybe Winnie Watson and Peter Myers could get together, since golf is in the Olympics, but I very much doubt it. Lucia might ultimately side with Dunn, since there are so many Latino baseball stars, but again I doubt it. Troy Smith might remain friendless since his real love is the Massachusetts connection to basketball's origin. On the plus side, Misella Gardner is bright, informed, and flexible. She might be a big help."

"That's a damn good wrap-up," McGowans said. "You've probably guessed that you, Misella, and Winnie are the members I solicited without Champ's directives. You're out-numbered. Right now I am wondering if I should take over. Should I dictate the priority of the criteria?"

"Eventually you might have to, but I wouldn't do it right away."

"That might be the only way I can get us on a single track."

"It very well might be, but wouldn't it be interesting to see how things play out without your intervention?"

"Interesting is good; fisticuffs are questionable; murder is unacceptable."

"You know I've long thought that sports exist in part to give men something to talk about that is interesting, but not dangerously divisive. Weather is too boring, or at least it was before global warming became a hot button issue. Things like gender identity, religion, race, ethnicity, wealth distribution, and war pose problems. Men are all too likely to become homicidal over these."

"You're right, of course," McGowans said. "Sports help establish tribal identities. In New England, a man might be a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, a theist or an atheist,  but chances are he supports the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox. Maybe even the Bruins. Win or lose, sports create a we're-all-in-this-together mentality. Of course, this doesn't mean we can let our guards down."

"What do you mean?"

McGowans glanced about as though he thought somebody might be listening. He was almost whispering when he said, "I got an anonymous letter the other day. It said we damn well better choose football as our national sport. Any other choice could prove unhealthy for me and my family."

"Good God," I said. "Why in the world would anybody take this so seriously?"

"Follow the money," McGowans said. "Most people don't realize how insanely lucrative the NFL is. Annual revenues exceed ten billion dollars. This is largely thanks to the millions TV networks pay to televise games. During the season, there are fifteen weekly televised games spread across three different nights. Every team has throngs of avid fans. They tend to be young and reasonably affluent, the demographic most prized by so many advertisers. The Super Bowl is always the most-watched spectacle of the year. It's serious business. Thirty-seconds of Super Bowl time costs over half-a-million dollars."

"Big companies save their best creative efforts for the Super Bowl," I said. "Lots of people who don't care a whit about football watch Super Bowl ads. I'll never forget Apple's 'Big Brother' introduction of the MacIntosh. They ran that commercial just once, but nobody who saw it has forgotten it."

"NFL franchises are worth billions," McGowans said. "Every big city wants one, and most are willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to build stadiums. Plans are well under way for world-wide exposure. Games are being played in Canada, Mexico, and England.  Analysts say that making football the official national sport could double NFL revenues."

"I guess there are plenty of motives for foul play. I suppose we are on potentially dangerous ground. Shouldn't you let the others know about your threat?"

"I don't think it's necessary to alarm them. I've been threatened before. I got some when we were working on legislation to tighten restrictions on private sales at gun shows, and I got others when we were overriding state restrictions on abortion clinics. I ignored the threats, and nothing came of them. Some blow-hards just have to let off steam. They'll never get off their butts long enough to actually do something other than rant."

"Some people got off their butts long enough to kill the Kennedys."

McGowan doesn't reply, but the thoughtful look on his face makes me wonder if I'm hitting too close to home.







CHAPTER TEN

Early that evening, I was halfway through a medium-sized, microwaved,  Stouffers Lasagna with Meat Sauce, when I got an urgent-sounding text from Sarah telling me to get my ass over to Blue Indigo as soon as possible. Unless the place was burning down, I said to myself, what could be so damn important? I gulped down half of the last half of my lasagna, swished down a chunk of unbuttered, multigrain mini-boule with some lukewarm coffee, and dutifully hit the road.

Fifteen minutes later, I walked through the front door of the club. There wasn't much going on. This early on a Wednesday night, I would have been surprised if there had been. A busboy motioned me to the back office. Tapping twice on the door, I heard Sarah bark out, "It's open." When I went in the first thing I saw was Lila Springer sitting behind the desk holding a towel drenched from melting ice to her face. When she let it down, I saw she had a nasty-looking bruise all around her right eye.

"What happened?" I said.

"Brock slugged her," Sarah said. "She asked for ten dollars, and the son of a bitch belted her."

"You've called the cops?"

"No!" Lila cried out. "We can't!"

"Why the hell not? He has committed an assault..."

"He would be suspended, maybe cut from the team. He can't lose his livelihood now, not when he stands to make five million dollars over the next two years."

"That doesn't entitle him to use you as a punching bag."

"Of course, it doesn't, but you've gotta understand, he's not a horrible person. Really. He's always so sorry after he does something like this."

"Always?" I said. "How often has he done this?"

"Not that often. Only a few times. Really. He can be a really sweet guy."

"Why am I here?" I said.

"We want you to talk to him," Sarah said. "Tell him in no uncertain terms he can't do this sort of thing."

"Evidently he can," I said. "With Lila as an enabler, what's to stop him? Some men get off being brutes. Anyway, why would he listen to me?"

"He knows about your stint as a fighter," Sarah said. "He knows you killed a man in the ring. He has enormous respect for you."

I like being respected, but not for that. "I don't think that any bully ever stopped being one because somebody told him it wasn't nice. Even someone he respects. It just doesn't work that way."

"He also knows you're with the government," Sarah said. "You might be able to put the fear of God in him. Or the fear of Uncle Sam."

"He thinks that since you're with the government, you must know IRS agents," Lila said. "If he's afraid of anything, it's the IRS."

I sighed. Trying to scare Brock was itself a bit scary. A highly regarded linebacker, Brock had four inches and fifty pounds on me. Known for his hair-triggered temper, he'd been ejected from several games for over-the-top violence. If we got into an altercation, I could be in big trouble. Not only might I get beat up, as a former professional fighter the law has registered my fists and my feet as deadly weapons. This was one sleeping dog I would have preferred to let lie.

"Where is he?" I said.

Lila gave me their address. It was in Silver Spring, Maryland, about half an hour away. Reluctantly, I promised the women I would speak with him.

The house was in an up-scale suburb with immaculately mowed lawns and late-model SUVs in the driveways. Brock was home. Lights were on, and a shiny, black Lincoln Navigator sat in his driveway. The house, a white, two-story Colonial, was less grand than Senator Jackson's, but still worth at least a million bucks. I pushed a button by the door and was rewarded with the ringing of loud chimes from somewhere inside.

It took a minute or two, but the door finally opened. Brock, obviously not expecting visitors, was wearing boxer briefs, a dirty undershirt, and flip-flops. He was clutching a half-full Budweiser as he stared at me impassively.

"I am Danny Dukes, Sarah's friend from Blue Indigo, and I am sorry to bother you unannounced," I said. I extended my hand to shake his, but he didn't move. He took up most of the doorway.

"I know who you are," he growled.

"Sarah and Lila asked to drop by to speak with you."

Brock still didn't move.

"May I come In?"

Brock hesitated before retreating a half-step back. Taking this as a yes, I stepped into the doorway. Brock looked annoyed, but he let me in, leading the way to the kitchen. "Beer?" he said as he opened the refrigerator. I don't respond, but he brought out two Buds and tossed one of the bottles to me. I was grateful for the hint of hospitality.

"I guess you know why I'm here," I said.

"Yeah, of course I do. I whacked Lila. I lost my temper and punched her in the face. She had it coming, but I guess that's no excuse."

"Giving into such urges can get you into a shitload of trouble. But you already know that."

Brock nodded.

"Lila doesn't want to involve cops."

"Of course, she doesn't. This could lead to her meal ticket being canceled. Lila doesn't know much, but she knows which side of her bread is buttered."

I set my unopened beer down on the table. From the looks of Brock, I had to believe he already had had several.

"Lila won't call them, but I will. I won't sit around watching her get beat up."

I couldn't tell if Brock had the beginnings of a friendly smile or a sneer on his face. "Sir Galahad, are ya?," he said. I wondered if he was measuring the distance between his fist and my jaw. A guy like him has a gun somewhere; I have to wonder where. But then he nods his head. "There are times when I just don't know what gets into me. You might not believe this, but I have always regarded myself as a gentleman. For the past year or so, I sometimes have scared myself. I get headaches and can't seem to concentrate. Sometimes I just want to demolish something. I'll try to do better. I will. I really will."

Our encounter ended with a handshake. "Thanks for coming by," he said.

Driving back to my apartment, I reflected on Brock's admission as I drank his beer. He seemed sincere, but what would account for his sudden switch from growing aggressiveness to contrite remorse? I was reminded of my own poor impulse control. I have anger issues; Would I ever slug Sarah? I didn't think so, but how could I be sure?

When I got home, a big, C-Class, Mercedes sedan was parked in front. As I got out of my Honda, McGowans got out of it. "You left this at our meeting place," he said. "I thought I'd drop it off." He was holding my MacBook Air, a recent acquisition I hadn't gotten used to lugging around.

"Thanks," I said. "My mother used to say I'd lose my head if it wasn't attached."

"You brought the Mac in with you, but then you took copious notes on a legal pad."

"Old habits die hard," I said. I hesitated for several long seconds before adding, "Speaking of old habits and losing one's head, I have a few questions for you. They're both personal and related to our committee work. Can you come up to my humble abode for a few minutes?"

When we got there, I said, "I would offer you a drink, but don't have much on hand. I do have tea and coffee."

"Black coffee would be great."

As I was dumping Chock Full o'Nuts into a filter, I asked, "How much do you know about  CTE?"

"Quite a bit, actually. I know it stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It's a degenerative brain disease that occurs in people who get hit in the head a lot. People like football players. Researchers at Boston University found it in over a hundred former NFL players, some of whom committed suicide."

"Would its prevalence be a good reason for rejecting football as our national sport?"

"I think it could be a very good reason. It would certainly be something to closely consider."

"I was thinking of Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end who was convicted of murdering his friend, Odin Lloyd, for no particular reason. Hermandez later hanged himself. As I understand it, a posthumous examination of his brain showed he had a severe form of CTE."

"Yeah, it did. There is a strong likelihood that CTE contributed to his erratic, violent behavior. Hermandez was twenty-seven, and an examiner said it was the most advanced case of CTE she had ever seen in a man so young. The matter will be litigated for years to come. What brings it up?"

"I was wondering about myself. When I was kickboxing, I got whacked in the head plenty of times. Now there are times when my behavior surprises even me. I am wondering if I should remove myself from your committee."

"Everybody does things they later wonder about," McGowans said. "If I were you, I wouldn't worry too much about it. I haven't noticed anything untoward in your behavior. You showed plenty of composure when you hit that awful shank on thirteen."

"I was on my best behavior," I laughed. "There have been times when that club would have been thrown so far into the woods we would never have found it."

Smiling, McGowans nodded his head. "We've all had those times. God knows I've had my share. The state of your brain might be something that bears watching, but for now I want you on the committee."

"Can CTE be positively diagnosed?

"Not unless you're dead. To confirm CTE, they have to slice your brain apart. They did dissect the brains of over a hundred former NFL players and found that all but one had signs of CTE."

"That's not at all comforting. Can CTE be treated in some way?"

"Unfortunately, no. Not at this time. Question: Have you considered suicide?"

"No. Not lately. Why do you ask?"

"Several former NFL players besides Hernandez killed themselves. This would include, among others, Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, and Ray Easterling. Autopsies disclosed they all had advanced CTE."

"There must be symptoms."

McGowans had switched on my laptop and Goggled CTE. "It says here possible signs and symptoms may include impulsive behavior, short-term memory loss, poor impulse control, difficulty carrying out tasks, and emotional instability. But these can be signs of problems other than CTE."

"What about boxers? They must get it."

"It's only in recent years that analysts began referring to CTE. People used to call wobbly, old fighters 'punch drunk,' and Muhammad Ali's  Parkinson's was likely brought on by CTE. Fortunately, you don't seem to be suffering from either of these afflictions."

"It would be good to know for sure. Examining retired athletes doesn't help?"

"Not definitively. Symptoms can be related to numerous things." Reading from the laptop, McGowans went on to point out that symptoms can show up weeks, months, or even years after a player retires. "This is good news, in a way.  Even if you have it, it might be a long time before it does you in. So keep the faith, my friend."

McGowans had put on his jacket and was headed towards the door when I noticed the coffee was done dripping and was sitting on the counter untouched.

Good news or not, I wasn't feeling any better. "But it's progressive, right? If somebody has it, it keeps getting worse and worse..."

"Afraid so," McGowans said on his way out. "See ya a week from Wednesday."


(Continued at chapters11-20.html)