That Wednesday came on like a junkyard dog—nasty, mean, and snappish. A
cruel north wind was thrashing a frigid rain our way. Too damn early for a polar vortex, I grumbled to myself. It would have
been a good day to stay in bed. I would have liked it if McGowans'
could have been called on account of crappy weather, but deep down I
knew nothing was going to
forestall our get-together with Baseball Commissioner John Park.
I considered calling in sick. Sick of the whole damn sports thing. At best, I was
an on-again, off-again baseball fan. A week ago I wouldn't have been
able to tell you who the Commissioner was. Now I know, but don't care. Duty bound, I showered and
shaved before pouring myself a small glass of orange juice, toasting a
cinnamon-raisin bagel, and making coffee. I could think of maybe a dozen
things I'd rather be doing.
In my defense, there have been times when I was somewhat mindful of the
game. If the team
representing my current whereabouts was in the hunt for a pennant, I
would be at least vaguely aware of it. Probably I would learn to recognize the names of
some key players. Just don't ask me their batting
averages or how many RBI's they were responsible for.
I do recall with some fondness my rare visits to Tiger Stadium. Still vivid in my memory
are the greenness of the grass, the contrasting white baselines,
the flagpole near dead center field. I can still hear the vendors
crying out the
availability of their over-priced hot dogs and warm beer. The sharp crack of
a well-hit ball will stay in my mind forever as will the "boos" from
the disgruntled crowd following a crucial, called, third strike.
At some point I got interested enough in baseball to read George Will's book, Men at Work: The Craft of
I admire his mind, his ability to explore the unending intricacies of
game. More recently I read Michael Lewis' Moneyball,
which introduced a
whole new set of intricacies. Envious as I am of these writers, there
is no way will I ever wrap my mind around the apparent trivialities
they detail so thoroughly. Still, I accept their
assessment that the sum total of tiny advantages is the difference
between winning or losing.
About the only sports book I ever really embraced (if you don't count Ben Hogan's Modern Fundamentals of Golf) was Jim Boulton's Ball Four.
Boulton outraged the sports world by telling some ugly truths
about major league baseball. His book met with great critical acclaim.
He knew which players were building muscles by taking steroids and
called them out by name. Time
magazine called it one of the 100 most important non-fiction books
ever, and it sold millions of copies. What is it about dirt that's
so appealing? I've gotta admit I
find Mickey Mantle's excessive drinking quite a lot more interesting
home runs he hit.
I have to wonder if I should be on McGowans' committee.
Shouldn't my position be held by someone who respects sports in a proper manner?
Shouldn't the National Sport be declared by people who actually give
a rat's ass? It's true I have followed the Lions with considerable
never-say-die devotion, but I haven't known squat about the other
thirty-one teams. I never cared who would win the Super Bowl, since it
certainly wasn't going to be the Lions. I have
never hero-worshiped individual ballplayers. Truth is I find most are
What can draw my interest is their
shortcomings. There have been thousands of ballplayers, but Pete Rose,
Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens stand out for me. I realize all three
accumulated enviable statistics, but it's Rose's link to gambling and
Bonds' and Clemens' alleged steroid use that sticks in my mind.
I am more intrigued by the agony of awfulness than
the satisfaction of success. As for football, I followed the Oakland Raiders for
because they were known for dirty play. For the same reason, I have
kept tabs on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. I focused some on Detroit
Cleveland when it looked like they might endure winless seasons. For me the New England Patriots' reign
of terror over the NFL is enhanced in part by its rules violations. When I
watch Olympic figure skaters, I secretly hope they'll fall on their
asses. To my mind, watching John Daly make 12 on a hole is far more entertaining
than watching Tiger make birdie.
I am far from alone. Lots of folks are attracted to
people whose behavior
was, at best, dubious. Genghis Khan, Billy the Kid, Jesse
and Clyde, and Lucky Luciano have all been glamorized unendingly. I am
tempted to throw President Champ into
this unpalatable stew, although his story is still unfolding. In
entertainment, you just can't beat a good bad guy. In so many movies
the villain is far-and-away the most interesting
character. Heath Ledger in
Batman, Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Why do so many of us latch onto the Tony Sopranos of this world?
Having grown up in Detroit as something of a miscreant, I guess It's
understandable that I would be drawn to the city's social pariahs. For
me Henry Ford is notable less for the Model T than for his embrace of
Hitler and distaste for Jews. From the get-go
I rather admired Jimmy Hoffa, who knew what he wanted and wasn't
hesitant about going for it. I think my love for Detroit's outlaw
athletes may have begun with stories I heard about Bobby Layne, the
Lion's wild-man, hard-drinking, win-at-any-price quarterback of the
early fifties. Among
players, there have been more than a few outcasts, but two stand
out—arch-villain representatives of different eras—Ty Cobb and Denny
Ty Cobb? Mention him, and most people conjure up a murderous thug.
image may not be completely accurate—Charles
Leerhsen wrote a book that almost completely exonerates Cobb—but
the popular mind, Ty Cob was an awful person, a racist and low-down
cheat who sharpened his spikes on the shins of opposition
players. Many people have taken it as gospel that Cobb killed
at least three people, although no charges were ever leveled. Never
mind that Cobb was the first player voted into the Hall of
Fame or that his lifetime batting average, .366, has never been
duplicated. In Field of Dreams, Shoeless Joe Jackson says Cobb wasn't
invited because nobody likes him. Fair or not, we love remembering Cobb
as a Prince of Darkness.
Then there's Denny McLain. I'll never forget the night I sat down next
to him in a Detroit sports bar. It's a wonder I recognized him, but
when I did
I ultimately summoned up the courage to ask him how he was doing. Maybe
not the greatest of questions to ask McLain. Few mortals have risen
higher or sunk lower than Dennis Dale McLain. For a high, how
about leading the Detroit Tigers to the 1968 World Championship,
winning 31 regular-season games—a feat last accomplished by Dizzy Dean
in the '30s dead-ball era and not once since?
For a low, how about getting caught joining forces with scumbag
gamblers and Syrian mobsters (and, possibly,
murderers) and eventually serving two prison terms for offenses
that included racketeering, loan-sharking, cocaine trafficking, money
laundering, mail-fraud, conspiracy, and the embezzlement of
two-and-a-half million dollars from a company's retirement fund?
on top of all this, McLain found time to collect a $160,000 fee for
flying a fugitive out of the country. In his spare time, he and John
Gotti Jr.engaged in a fraudulent phone card scheme. Or so the story
goes. One has to wonder if he ever committed crimes that he got away
The night we met, we had a nice chat. He seemed to be completely open
and above board. He admitted to numerous
lapses in judgment. His impulse control was, possibly, worse than mine. He expressed plenty of remorse and appeared to have
acquired considerable respectability. He said he devoted several years
tending to his sick wife, who was stricken with Parkinson's Disease. He
had a daughter who was killed by a drunk driver. He noted that his
rotator cuff is shot and he is unable to lift his right hand at all.
Evidently he gets numerous
guest-speaker engagements. He may harbor hopes of making it into the
Baseball Hall of Fame, but keep in mind what
springs eternal. Good advice: Don't bet
the ranch on it happening, not that I would mind if it did. For me, the
old Denny McLain was a hell of a lot more interesting than the new one.
I snapped out of my musings about Cobb and McLain in time to get to the
meeting ten minutes early. McGowans was already there, shuffling
through a stack of five-by-seven cards. "Keeping track of hits, runs,
and errors," I asked.
"Just trying to save us from sinking into a statistical morass,"
McGowans said. "It's my job to try to separate the wheat from the
chaff. I am afraid that what we have so far is largely chaff."
The other committee members began filing in, and we exchanged small
talk while we waited for Commissioner John Park to arrive. He showed up
ten minutes late and appeared a bit out of breath. "Sorry about keeping
you waiting," he said. "Got caught in traffic."
Troy Smith, the Representative from Indiana, seemed more annoyed than
the rest of us. "It's been my impression that among baseball people
time is utterly irrelevant," he said. "Totally inconsequential."
Commissioner Park looked like a man caught between a smile and a
grimace. He settled on a small grin. "I take it you're talking about
the theoretical possibility that a baseball game could go on forever,"
he said. "You can't lose a game because you ran out of time. The clock
can't beat you."
Peter Myers, the scrawny, bow tie-wearing Representative from Kansas,
said, "I remember one game that seemed like it went on forever.
Seventeen innings I think it was. I was some glad when it finally
"It's not over until the fat lady sings," I said.
"I think she was sitting in front of me," Peter said. "I couldn't see most of the field"
"Why didn't your leave?" asked Misella Gardner, the lovely lady from Burbank, California.
"My date had a brothere on one of the teams," Myers said. "She insisted we stay until the end."
I expected Mike Dunn, the guy with the backwards Red Sox cap, to defend the game, and he did. "That
game that went on for so long," he suggested, "it probably featured two
crackerjack pitchers. True fans enjoy the
beautiful suspense of a pitcher's duel. In such a face-off,
potential disaster awaits every pitch. We wouldn't mind if it went on
forever, keeping us on the edge of our seats."
damn uncomfortable many of those seats are," said Troy Smith, who
we all knew would rather be shooting hoops. "Bleachers are better. I've been in
could double as torture chambers. Seats there made me want to get up,
stretch, head for the latrine, stand in pee to relieve myself, then go
and pay way too much for room-temperature hot dogs and tepid beer. All the
while I'm wondering how I can beat the crowd out of the parking
Endeavoring to interject a cheerful note, I said, "Humphrey Bogart once
suggested that a hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at
the Ritz." I wondered how I ever came up with that. A waste of time;
nobody seemed interested. Committee members were bent on being
It might have been the weather, or maybe this group just doesn't care
Leaping into the mean scene, Winnie Watson, the African-American,
wheelchair-bound Representative from Livonia, Michigan, said, "Baseball
is the only sport I can think of that celebrates stupidity. Yogi Berra
is beloved for being just plain vapid. Like when he was talking about
golf and he said, 'Ninety
percent of putts that are short don't go in.' Was he a moron or
to say," said Peter Myers, who was wearing a snazzy red bow tie with
white polka-dots. "Berra also said, 'Ninety percent of this game is
half mental.' He was either a moron or such a genius that we just can't
plumb his great depth."
"It's the former," Winnie said. "Gotta be the former."
"Baseball is just plain cruel," said Kamila Madera, the Democratic
Socialist from Queens. "It picks on the little guys, never allowing
them to forget their mistakes. It posts them on the scoreboard for
everybody to see."
I could see McGowans was about to intervene, but
Commissioner Park beat him to the punch. Looking shaken, but determined
to defend his sport, he said, "Baseball is special in so many ways.
What other sport
has a song to sing at every event? Baseball's own anthem: 'Buy
me some peanuts and crackerjacks, I
if I never get back . . .' "
Peter Myers was prepared for this one. "The lyrics of that
song were written by two Tin Pan Alley hacks, neither of whom had ever been to a
game. They just didn't give a good goddamn about baseball. Even after becoming famous, they refused to go to a game."
I had to wonder if Myers had spent his entire childhood playing Trivial
Pursuit. His well of useless information seemed to be bottomless. I was
sure I had heard enough about that song, but Troy Smith wasn't
lyrics are lame," he insisted. "I for one don't care if the
vocalist ever gets back. Maybe he can choke on all those peanuts and
crackerjacks or maybe they'll induce projectile vomiting."
was getting too bleak even for me. Again I could see that McGowans was getting ready to take charge. My turn, I thought to myself. "What about movies?" I interjected. "There's been some good ones about baseball."
"Not A League of Their Own," Troy Smith said. "Its most memorable
contribution to our culture is the mean-spirited insistence that crying
Kamila Madera said, "In its way, I guess it did try to suggest sport
can be for women. But that was back in the second World War when our men
were off killing Germans and Japanese. Women baseball layers were
temporary replacements, a necessary evil."
Commissioner Park said, "What about Field of Dreams? Kevin Costner was inspirational."
"Or silly," said Misella Gardner, who to me was highly appreciated eye
candy whose favorite sport, I suspected, could have been shopping for fashionable outfits. "What could be more
ridiculous than an Iowa
farmer building a ballpark in his corn field in hopes that the ghost of
a long-dead, discredited, and disgraced ballplayer would somehow show
"But show up he does," Park said. "Shoeless Joe Jackson will live forever in our collective memories."
For some reason I babbled, "Build it and he will come."
Myers said, "Any sport that requires dead people to perk up P.R. is in real trouble."
Dunn had looked like he wasn't really listening. He
had seated himself across the table from Misella Gardner, and his
gaze kept going back and forth between her face and her considerable
cleavage. I was a bit surprised when he chipped in the notion
that "Joe should have stayed home or dead or wherever he was." Dunn
looked to Misella for approval, but got back a blank stare.
"Hold on," Park said. His face had reddened, and I could see he was
getting pissed off. "This story about Shoeless Joe Jackson has
become part of Americana."
so," Peter Myers said, "but Jackson was banned from baseball for taking
money from gamblers to throw World Series games. He confessed to
"Say it ain't so, Joe," I said.
did just that," Commissioner Park pointed out. "He recanted his confession! He
may have been innocent! He hit .375 during that series, the highest
on either team! Hardly what one would expect of a player trying to
"Still the league never rescinded his banishment," Myers said. "No other
professional sport in this country has had a comparable scandal."
you count Tanya Harding and associates smashing Nancy Kerrigan's
knee with a steel pipe," I said. "That was plenty scandalous." It had
intrigued me that figure skating, a non-contact sport valued for grace and beauty,
was the one that had brought forth extracurricular brutality.
Gardner said. "Tanya
wasn't in on the assault, but was barred from competitive
skating after being accused of hindering the investigation. From the
get-go, she had been
treated unfairly. When skating competitively, she had points deducted
because her home-sewn outfits sparkled less than those of her
wealthier competitors. From the beginning, she had two strikes
her, being long regarded as poor white trash."
"Which she was," Mike Dunn snapped. "Banished from
skating, Tanya took up boxing, which is what she should have done in
the first place." Glaring at Misella Gardner, he added,
"Boxing at least is a real sport."
Ignoring this interplay and refusing to be shaken,
Commissioner Park said, "Your expression 'two strikes against her' shows how
deeply baseball is embedded in our culture. It's everywhere around us, it's who we are,
and it can appeal to people
on so many levels. Eight-year-olds can love it, as
can lifelong students of its subtleties. It's no wonder it's long been
called 'America's Pastime.' "
have to wonder if it still deserves this term, or ever did,"
said Jake Morgan, the Lombardi-loving football fan from Wisconsin. "TV ratings for
World Series games are pitiful compared to what the NFL draws during
playoffs, not to mention the Super Bowl. Most people
don't care who wins the World Series. The series does well to draw over
10-million viewers while the Super Bowl attracts way
more than 100-million."
Mike Dunn still wanted to talk about scandals. "There have been other
examples of bad behavior," he said. "What about Lance Armstrong?"
"Who cares about cycling?" Troy Smith said. "Much closer to home,
there's been plenty of doping in baseball. Shouldn't we put an asterisk
beside Barry Bonds' name in the record book?"
My heart was going out to Commissioner
Park. He was was giving it his best shot, but still failing
miserably in his efforts to direct a positive discussion about
baseball. He deserved credit for refusing to give up easily. "In our minds,
the perfect sport," he asserted. "It has no
flaws. Everything flows together perfectly. First off, it is built
around God's favorite shape, a diamond."
"We would have to check that out with God," Myers said. "My hunch is He
prefers circles, a shape suggesting infinity. Or maybe the ellipses of planetary orbits."
"I think it's the star shape," said Troy Smith, the basketball guy from Indiana.
"He made so damn many of them. Could be why we call God's most favored
people 'stars.' "
"I'm betting on the spiral," said Misella Gardner. "Nature favors us with so many beautiful
spirals. They're in the DNA double helix,
sunflowers, galaxies, the horns of various animals, the nautilus shell,
whirlpools, and countless other places. It's a magical shape."
"It's the shape of dirty water down the drain," said Mike Dunn, who
seemed to still be pissed at Misella's lack of appreciation for him. I
had to believe that rejection was stimulating Dunn's limited
It seemed to me that our already tenuous focus on baseball was
spiraling rapidly down the drain. Seemingly oblivious to the battle
going on before her, Kamila Madera said, "Pyramids have mysterious
powers, as do pentagons."
Commissioner Park looked at her in disbelief. "Okay, I guess you all got me there," he said. "Maybe God doesn't
prefer diamonds over all else, although diamonds, like God and true love, are said
to be forever."
"So's bullshit," said Jake Morgan, the football guy.
"And some baseball games," Peter Myers added. "Or so it seems."
The Commissioner might have been down a zillion to zip with two out in
the bottom of the ninth, but still he persisted. "Baseball has other
perfections. Take the
baseline: it couldn't be better. Its length is inspired. A ball hit
sharply to a shortstop,
fielded cleanly and thrown accurately to first base will beat the
runner by half a
step. Any hint of a bobble or misguided throw and the runner is safe.
We even say 'run it out' in reference to any apparently doomed effort."
Whatever could have brought "doomed effort to his mind"" I asked myself. But like a true pro he was running it out. "What other sport offers the
possibility of a perfect game?" he said.
"Bowling," Peter Myers said. "And horseshoes and darts and solitaire and hopscotch and jacks and pick-up sticks."
"And mud-slinging," I said to myself.
unsympathetic to the core, wasn't about to give Commissioner Park a break. "Even a
perfect baseball game is a testimony of failure," he said. "The opposing team
has to fail to get any hits, walks, or runs. It has to have been perfectly awful."
John Park stuck to his guns. "You have to admit, it's impressive when a pitcher throws a no-hitter."
"I am more
impressed by a forward pass thrown to the exact spot
the speedy receiver will be when the ball gets there," Morgan said.
"Most often when he does this several burly men are bearing down on
him, intent on smashing him to the turf. When it's right on, the communication between passer and receiver
uncanny. It's surreal poetry in rapid motion."
Park seemed to have gotten a second wind. "Baseball has its own poetry," he said. "It takes a ninety-mile-per-hour
fastball four tenths of a second to reach home plate. It takes a
quarter of a second for any batter to even see the ball. He has to gage
what sort of pitch it is, leaving him little or no time to decide
to swing, not swing, or get out of the way. To get a hit, a
message needs to go from his brain to his muscles, which also takes
"How in the world does anybody ever hit the ball?" Misella Gardner asked. "It seems impossible."
"Ted Williams claimed he could see the stitches on a fast-ball coming
his way," Mike Dunn said. "But even he got hits less than half of the
I couldn't resist reciting the last line from a childhood poem: "There is no joy in
Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out." I couldn't remember the last time I had heard Casey at The Bat and was surprised it had come to mind.
For the first time that day, Commissioner Park was smiling broadly. "Even the game's miseries can be sweet," he said.
"Sweet miseries," I said. "Sounds like you have the makings of a poem right there."
Peter Myers said, "This shows how baseball is a game of failure. Even Ted
Williams and Joe DiMaggio failed more often than they succeeded. The game's superstars do well
getting hits a third of the time."
"The best pro quarterbacks complete sixty-five or sometimes seventy percent of their passes," Jake Morgan pointed out.
"Apples and oranges," Park said. "At the same time, I would never deny
that other sports require high degrees of skill. I love football and I
play golf. But for a fulfilling experience as a spectator, you can't
beat baseball. What could be better than sitting in your legendary
ballpark, watching your favorite team on a warm summer day with a hot
dog in one hand and an ice cold beer in the other?"
only problem being that nowadays most games are
played at night," said Peter Myers. "The lazy, hazy afternoons at the
ballpark are no more. Money-grubbing baseball people turned their backs
on the fans, the people who had supported them for generations, and
went for the big bucks of TV."
Park reached deep down for a last-ditch retort. "Baseball gives its fans a good long season," he said. "A
hundred and sixty-two games. This is nearly twice as many as basketball.
Football has a mere sixteen. Eight weeks into the football season your
favorite team can be hopelessly out of contention for the playoffs."
"A boring sport doesn't become less so by extending its season," Myers said.
eyeing the door, looking like a man set
to flee. He sighed, then said, "You've gotta admit, baseball is very
fan-friendly. For some
NFL games, you need to apply for tickets years in advance. With
baseball, you can always make a last-minute decision to take in a game."
"Goes to prove there's always empty seats," said Troy Smith, who must
have spent most of this session thinking about basketball. "Indicates a
lack of interest."
Walked right into that one, I said to myself.
There was a pause before McGowans broke what was becoming an uncomfortable silence. "I think
that's it for today," he said. "We've tortured Mr. Park enough. He has
been exceedingly gracious. I do think there is more to be said, and I
hope that upon his recovery, he'll come back again."
Park remained expressionless. No way will he be back.
Journal Entry 288
Once again McGowans asked me to stick around after our meeting. He was
afraid we had given Commissioner Park too much of a hard time. I told
him not to worry. A man in Park's position is bound to face criticism
and can't be too thin-skinned. Granted, we were unrelenting, but
I think he took it in stride. But I also am sure he will never be back.
Sitting in the
middle of our table is an
old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder. Every word we say is recorded
for posterity. Later they're transcribed into long verbatim press
releases. For some reason, watching those spools go round and round
induces in me a sense of dread. What goes around comes around I would
say to myself, not really knowing what that meant. I do know I have
always seen plausible deniability as a good and trusted friend, and
here it is gone. My hunch is Champ insists on the obsolete
breadbox-size recorder because it serves as a constant reminder that
we're under surveillance. Keeps us from forgetting who the boss is.
Maybe Champ feels that a king-size record befits his exhaulted status.
I am well aware that McGowans isn't
all pleased with this most unusual procedure. Ordinarily a champion of
transparency, McGowans feels
that the public would be better served if we held
our discussions privately. It's his contention that guests
would be more comfortable, more likely to express themselves candidly,
if we could
assure confidentiality. In high school, we read 1984, and here, like
there, Big Brother is everywhere, and people aren't allowed to forget
I had suggested to
refuse to comply with Champ's dictate. McGowans replied in no uncertain
terms that my advice was more foolhardy than courageous. He
reminded me that we are serving at the
pleasure of the President and could be terminated anytime. Termination
would be final; no appeal would be possible. McGowans said he didn't
know why Champ wanted him to serve as chairman. Champ
almost never hands out appointments to left-leaning, opposition
figures. Still, McGowans sees it as an opportunity. He feels that its proxmity to Champ can help him reveal what the man is up to.
There is no doubt in
McGowans' mind that Champ is up to something nefarious. I have
witnessed both love and hate relationships, but I have never known
anybody else so obsessed with pinning something on another human being.
In high school, we read Moby Dick,
and sometimes to me it seems like Champ is McGowans' Great White Whale.
(Champ has the girth to play the part.) I have to suspect there
more to this obsession than McGowans has let on. It seems so personal.
As far as I could tell, McGowans isn't one to hold grudges, but he
definitely would love to nail Champ.
Others might feel the same way. McGowans told me that in
the 1980s, Champ tried repeatedly
to acquire an NFL franchise, but Commissioner Ned Rozi,
calling him a scumbag
con man, vowed never to allow him in that most exclusive club. Later
commissioners have upheld Rozi's precedent.
McGowans says Champ never forgives a snub, and he wonders if
our committee might somehow be designed to get revenge. This is an
interesting enough supposition, but I haven't seen any indication that
things are stacked against pro football. There couldn't be a more avid
supporter of the NFL than Jake Morgan, and Champ put him on the committee. I don't know if we will decide
that football should be the National Sport, but it doesn't seem to be
out of the question.
According to McGowans, an NFL franchise is worth some two-and-a-half
billion dollars. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, is on record
as saying he wouldn't consider an offer of less than ten billion for
what was once known as America's Team.
Champ plays golf to excess (and has a reputation as a big-time
cheater), but otherwise doesn't seem to give a shit
about sports. His interest in who wins championships extends only to
the extent that winners are more valuable than losers. To him, teams
are assets no different than office buildings or apartment houses. No
room for sentimentality. They are worth what they fetch. No more, no
less. To him, fans who stick by unsuccessful teams are contemptible
suckers, the true losers. Champ has no patience for people who follow
their hearts instead of their heads. Champ's interest in acquiring a
franchise was for the prestige that would have come with it. That and nothing more.
on to other issues, McGowans said he got another mysterious White House
M.O.—White House stationery, short, cryptic message—in this
SWARTZ—written in red, ultra fine point, felt-tip. McGowans said he
assumes it refers to
Brian Swartz, Champ's Secretary of Energy. A long-time lobbyist for
Peking Petroleum, Swartz was another of Champ's bizarre appointments.
Swartz had never run a large organization and seemed to regard
enemy of the people. As a lifelong petro stooge, he had filed hundreds
of lawsuits designed to undermine federal regulations.
McGowans thinks he knows who has been sending him
those anonymous messages. Mary Ann Nobler, the young lady who greets presidential
visitors. McGowans says he has been to the White House so often that Mary Lou knows he
wants his coffee black. He even gets it served in his favorite mug. On
top of that, he says she gives him three chocolate chip cookies instead
of the traditional two. He claims he has
conversed with her enough to realize she isn't wholeheartedly
on board with Champ's agenda. According to McGowans, she definitely has a mind of her own. McGowans said she became the leading
person of interest when he noticed a red Ultra Fine Point Sharpie on her desk
next to a stack of in-house stationery.
My initial reaction was that this was damn slim evidence. Almost 500
people work at the White House, quite a few of whom might be able to
filch some stationery. I had no idea how many of these people might
have useful insights into Champ's plans, but it must be more than a
few. Champ demands loyalty, but it has been an open question as to how
much he actually inspires. There have been constant rumors that some
cabinet members dream of invoking the 25th Amendment allowing them to
declare Champ mentally incapacitated and have him replaced by the Vice-President.
insisted the chances of this happening were closer to none than they
were to slim, and he wasn't at all sure he wanted it to happen.
Vice-President John Holyoak is a religious fundamentalist and as
President would almost certainly try to dictate a long list of approved
and acceptable moral behavior. What McGowans did think was important was that Ultra Fine Point Sharpie. These pens were a little hard to find, and many people
didn't even know about them. They hold their points after the points of regular Sharpies have turned
to mush. I asked McGowans if he was sure it was an Ultra Find Point,
and he told me he used to purchase them for his wife, who used
them in her art work. The Ultra Fine Points, he said, are a bit skinnier and have small end-caps indicating colors.
McGowans said he had been prepared for the latest letter. First, he had
it dusted for prints, but the
only prints on the envelope were smudged beyond usefulness. Then he sent it to a
private lab where technicians were
able to obtain DNA from the envelope flap. It was Mary Lou's.
I didn't have to ask McGowans where he had gotten DNA known to be hers.
Somehow he had
been able to get a sample from Champ's new DNA bank. The
facility hasn't been officially announced, but word of it has leaked
out. It wasn't exactly top secret, but Champ was trying to keep it
quiet to avoid flack from Fourth Amendment fanatics. It was still in
Stage One: DNA samples from the entire Executive Branch including all
White House staff. In Stage Two,
scheduled to kick in sometime next year, the program would be expanded
to included DNA from everybody in both houses of Congress and their
staffs. Stage Three,
six of eight months later, would be a collecting of DNA samples from
all newborns in hospitals enjoying federal funding or whose parents
were getting Medicare.
As one might expect, I am among the people in
Congress who object to this idea. Obviously, my objections aren't all
philosophical. The Army has Dwight DeLong's DNA, and Champ might have
the technology to automatically match his to mine. Plenty of
time to worry about that later.
Getting back to the here and now, I suggested to McGowans that he arrange to meet Mary Lou after hours
and tell her what he knows. He rejected this idea, pointing out that
she had gone to great lengths to remain anonymous. Letting her know
that he was on to her might scare her away. Instead, he was proposing a
sort of end run. He wanted me to take her out to dinner. He had
told her I hadn't been in town all that long, didn't know many people, and would enjoy some
casual companionship. McGowans said she seemed readily agreeable to a dinner date.
Of course, McGowans knew that Sarah and I had a more-or-less steady
thing going, and I wouldn't want to jeopardize that. So he came up with
a clever solution: He told Mary Lou I was gay. He said my name was Charles
Grayson, a name he borrowed from a freshman Representative who really
is gay. McGowans showed me Charlie's photo, and we do look a bit alike.
If Mary Lou didn't look too closely, she might believe I was Charlie. McGowans said
I shouldn't press her for information, but should try to make her
comfortable (and trusting). Simply put, it was my mission to get to
know her well, but in a completely platonic sort of way. Nothing more. I could
see all sorts of potential pitfalls to his plan, but, what the
hell, I owed him a lot.
I asked him if I should wear white pants and pink socks.
I was wearing my uncomfortable, political-speech-making suit when I picked her
up on Saturday evening. (I had bought a better-fitting, more official
looking, charcoal gray, pinstripe suit after my electoral victory, but
I have never worn it.) McGowans was right:
Mary Lou was a very attractive young lady. She stood about five-six,
weighed maybe 125 pounds, and had long auburn colored hair parted in
the middle. Her lovely smile displayed regularly spaced, pearl-white
teeth, and her curves all seemed to bend in the right directions. She
was wearing a dark colored skirt and sleeveless white blouse. As we
were leaving, she slipped into an open-front, gray cardigan sweater.
"The forecast says it'll cool off this evening," she said.
I asked her if she would like to go to the Cafe du Park on Pennsylvania
Avenue. I knew this place was pricey, but I thought that with a name
like Nobler she would favor French food. Besides I liked outdoor
dining, which one could do here. Recent evenings had been warm, but the
patio was spacious, and I thought we could try for a table there.
"I don't know," she said. "You look like a steak and taters man
to me. Have you ever been to Medium Rare in Cleveland Park? It's only a
few blocks away. They tell me the price is right, and the culotte steak
and hand-cut fries are to die for. Medium Rare would be my first
"Medium Rare in Cleveland Park it is," I said, feeling somewhat
relieved. French pronunciation is not my strong suit. I found myself
hoping she wouldn't mind being escorted about in my old, gas-powered
Honda. When we got there, I was pleased to see that this place also
offered outdoor dining, and there were several available tables.
Something about eating in the open air puts me at ease. It's more au
naturel or something. I had never been to this restaurant, or even
heard of it, but immediately I liked it. The young crowd seemed to be
having fun in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. We ordered culotte
steaks medium rare, and draft beers. While we were waiting for them, I
tried my hand at small talk.
"Andrew tells me you're new in town."
She nodded. "Pretty much. I came here last June."
"Chicago. It was a horizontal hop from one big city to another."
"Big city girl," I said.
"Down deep, a small-town girl. I grew up in a central Illinois farming
community. Everybody knew everybody else's business, and the price
of hog bellies was headline news. For excitement, we went to
frog-jumping contests. How about yourself?"
"City slicker, I guess. My tormented childhood found me alone on the
mean streets of downtown Detroit. I have a sister in Bloomfield Hills,
a somewhat more civilized setting not far from downtown. But early on
she pretty much disowned me, and we don't keep in touch. I don't know
if she realizes I am a Congressman."
"You represent Detroiters in the legislature?"
"Trying to. Some of them."
"So what are the chances of turning Detroit back into an industrial powerhouse?"
"Slim and none. No, that's overly optimistic. Let's go with none
period. No matter what Champ says, it isn't going to happen. Not in our
lifetimes. Everything's too rusty. In its heyday, Detroit was a
fabulous place, but those days are long gone and non-returnable."
Mary Lou sipped her coffee, which, for some reason, I was pleased to see she drank black. "Your candor is refreshing," she said.
took a bite of my salad, making sure it included a crouton and a bit of
tomato. I found myself wishing she were correct about my candor.
Finally I said, "You're easy to talk to, maybe because we were
practically neighbors. Just the width of
Michigan and Lake Michigan keeping us apart. We're just a pair of
Midwest refugees often referred to as fly-over folks."
Her smile was spectacular. "When I was a little girl, I used to look at
those jetliners high in the sky and wonder where they were going.
Sometimes I wished I was on one of them."
"An urge to just be going somewhere. Sounds like wanderlust, which
makes me curious about you. So tell me about yourself. What did you do
joining Champ's team?" I congratulated myself for what I took to be a
"Believe it or not, I was a motivational speaker."
"Really? That's pretty cool. How did you get into that?"
"Good question," she said, "and 'drift' would probably be a
better word than 'get.' I gravitated to it without giving the matter
much thought. As a little girl, I had a talent for saying things that
made people feel good about themselves. I discovered that saying these
things made me feel good about myself. Little Miss Do-Gooder; That was
me. I was raised in a devout Catholic family, and by the time I was 14
or 15 everybody assumed that I would become a nun. So at age 18, I
joined the order Our Lady of Infinite Wisdom and began studying to
"Sounds like your Catholic Cadillac was on cruise control."
"Sounds like you truly are from Motown. In any event, my family was
pleased with the course my life was taking. They are good people, and I
wanted them to be happy. The problem was, I wasn't happy. There were
things about the Church that bothered me. Before long, I was secretly
reading books I had to smuggle in because they weren't part of the
prescribed curriculum. A lot of Church history shocked me. Some popes
were positively evil. The Church was behind the Inquisition which took
thousands of innocent lives, and it selfishly backed countless other
barbaric wars. In modern times, the Church has protected thousands of
pedophiliac priests. Even things like the lifting of the prohibition
against meat on Fridays or the abandonment of Latin Mass bothered me.
Why the hell couldn't God make up His mind? Pretty soon my faith
was in full-bore crisis."
"Did you quit?"
did not. While I harbored numerous forbidden thoughts, I soon
learned there were others in my order with similar misgivings. We found
each other, became a sub-group. I was able to help many of them. Father
McGaffrey, our superior, found out about us, but instead of making us
disband, gave us semi-official status. He had me address the whole
nunnery, and the response was overwhelming. Many of the women credited
with helping to restore their faiths. This left me with mixed emotions.
They were thrilled, but I felt like a total fraud. I was encouraging
them to adopt a faith I couldn't accept. I wasn't able to hear the term
'Our Lady of Infinite Wisdom' without thinking 'crazy old bitch of
endless bullshit.' That's how bad I was."
"So you quit?"
"Again no. Many of the women in my order had come to depend on me. I
loved them and wanted to help them. We had taken vows of
chastity, poverty, and obedience, and except for the obedience part, I had been pretty much right on. I did the things
I was supposed to do, mostly staying out of trouble. When I
counseled someone, it was on the q.t."
"But eventually you did leave."
"Eventually I was told to leave. To make myself feel less like a fraud,
I had begun suggesting that we question certain Church doctrines. As my
friends came out of their depressions, they were joyfully discussing
issues such as abortion, contraception, chastity, female priests, and
so on. I found that in many cases intellectual awakening can dissipate
depression. Then one day, Father McGaffrey took me aside and said I had
attracted the attention of people higher up — closer to heaven, I guess.
McGaffrey let me know they viewed me as the ringleader of a gang of
Mary Lou laughed. "I suppose I was. I had never thought we were engaged
in full-fledged insurrection, but the Church saw us as a clear and
present danger. A certain bishop with ties to Rome wanted me gone. My
family got wind of this, and sort of let it be known I wasn't
particularly welcome there anymore. So tearfully, I said good-bye to
friends and family and headed out into the big, bad world."
"There are wolves out there."
"Indeed, there are. And they might have gotten me had Father McGaffrey
not come to my rescue. Turns out he was closely connected to a big,
loosely-organized group of wayward Catholics in one phase or another of
impending faithlessness. These people, both men and women, young and
old, met clandestinely a few times a year. Evidently, there is not just
safety, but also salvation, in numbers. A meeting was coming up, and
Father McGaffrey asked me to address this crew of restless souls. He
was a Jesuit, and it was his firm belief that frank and honest
discussion could cure all spiritual ailments."
"I am guessing you were a big hit."
was, and just like that a motivational speaker was born. My
go-to speech was designed for falling Catholics, but I was
able to adopt it for general audiences. I emphasized the importance of
high self-regard and how to achieve it. I had found that following a
life course prescribed by others often drags people down into
self-loathing. I got good word-of-mouth
advertising, and people began inviting me to gatherings. I was still
small-time, just scraping by, but I began to think I might have the
bare beginnings of a future."
"How did you end up working for President Champ?"
"He came to me. I had addressed a small group of New York real estate
developers, and he had stopped by. At that
time, he had hit rock bottom and was desperately seeking salvation. He
may have been suicidal. A
recession was rocking real estate, and what had been a rather
impressive business inherited from his father
was in shambles. He owed millions he had no prayer of
repaying. His father's money had enabled him to be something of a mover
and shaker, but the diverse assortment of businesses he had started
were all failing. Even
his big whore house in Nevada faced foreclosure. He couldn't keep the
girls in line. He would harass them for freebies while threatening to
fire them for no reason. The best of them had left. When he said
he wanted private consultations with me, he insisted it didn't matter
that I knew nothing about real estate, and less about running a brothel. He said my job would be to boost
his spirits. I suspected he was on the make, but I was willing to try to
"He must have presented quite a challenge."
"He did, and pretty soon I was working for him almost full time. I
wouldn't sleep with him, but short of that, I did everything I could to
buoy his spirits. Every day I found new ways to tell him how great he
was. And it worked. He got better and better. Before long he began
negotiating with bankers and, I believe, Russian gangsters. Relentlessly, he
became a man commanding his own destiny. There was a rocky period
during which he all but demanded sex, but I was steadfast in my
refusal, and eventually he backed off. Once we got by that, he still
wanted me around and I stuck by him. I found the man a bit repulsive, but the
pay was outstanding. Does that make me amoral? Disgusting? A whore?"
"No, it makes you an entrepreneur, and evidently a very good one."
"Too good, I am afraid. He became dangerously self-confident. Seems I
didn't know when to quit. I was so engrossed in restoring the man's
ego, it never occurred to me that too much of a good thing is a bad
thing. He took my words to heart and became monstrously, obsessively
self-assured. Evidently I had tapped into a deep well of narcissism. I
knew I had gone way too far when he announced he was running for
president. No political experience? No matter. He had become convinced
he could mold reality through force of will. To him it didn't matter if
what he said was true, because even when it wasn't, it soon would be if
he wanted it to be badly enough."
"The power of positive thinking."
"More like an aptitude for reality distortion, and he was good at it. It was, in fact, running amuck.
His persona, however absurd, got constant media attention, and soon,
thanks in part to a botched Democratic campaign, he was president. Good
for him, but horrible for the country."
"You created a monster."
"I know it sounds absurd to suggest that I created Champ. But what else
can I believe? When we met, he barely had sufficient self-esteem to
answer the phone. I worked with him for several months, and he came to
believe God meant for him to be President of the United States. What's
worse, he was able to convince others that he was the best man — really the only man — for the
job. An unsettling number of devout people came to believe God had sent him to direct their salvations. "
"I hope you're not blaming yourself for his disastrous presidency."
"I try not to. I didn't create it, exactly, but I provided a
means for it to come out. Maybe it was there all the time. In any
event, he made me realize I had to change my
approach to motivational work. Advocating absolute self-confidence, and
that alone, could be dangerous. For sure, self-confidence is good, but it has to be balanced by empathy for
others. A dose of love, not just for one's self, but for others as well, is mandatory."
"So he asked you to come with him to Washington?"
"He did. He pleaded with me to come. My initial impulse was to get as
far away from him as I could, but I had to accept the likelihood that I
was partially to blame for his rise to power. Eventually I agreed to
stay with him.
Somebody had to lead him back to a semblance of rationality, and it
seemed like I was the chosen one. I felt like fate had dealt me an
important, if utterly unwanted, responsibility. As I saw it, my
challenge was no longer to
inflate his ego, but to find a way to deflate it. Not completely, of
course, I don't want the man to kill himself, but cautiously over time.
With God's help I would oversee a carefully controlled release of hot
"So I came to D.C. with him," she continued, "and he installed me in
his front office to greet people, make them comfortable, offer them
refreshments. I meet interesting people, but, really, the job isn't
very fulfilling." Looking perplexed, she set her fork down. "I don't
know what's come
over me. I have babbed way more than I ever intended to. Why in the
world would I open up so completely to someone who is misrepresenting
I gave her my blankist look.
"Why are you pretending to be gay?"
"You're not gay, and you aren't very good at pretending you are."
"You must be mistaken."
"No, I am not mistaken. You're not gay. You're not Charlie Grayson
either. I Googled Charlie, and while you sort of resemble him, you're
not him. I have to ask myself, Why would my date pretend to be gay and
someone he isn't? There has to be a good reason. Whatever could it be?
I extended my hand, which she took to shake. "Allow me to introduce
myself," I said. "Name's Danny Dukes, as in put up your dukes."
She folded her fingers into fists, put them at chin level, faked a left
jab in my direction. "So, Danny Dukes—You are, I realize, Congressman Daniel Dukes—what's with all the subterfuge?"
"Maybe I like keeping a low profile? Maybe I don't like to sweat? Or
maybe I abhor foreplay. I thought I did the gay thing with Oscar-worthy
flair. What gave me away?"
"Mostly it was the way you assessed our waitress."
"I didn't move my head," I insisted. "I kept it rock steady."
Mary Lou chuckled. "Your eyes betrayed you," she said. "They're lovely, but quite lustful. No doubt it
was involuntary, but they gave her a furtive, full-body scan, not once,
but twice, the second one being when she came back to ask us if
everything was all right. She is a cute little thing. Maybe an eight?"
"Oh, a nine at least. With her slim waist and ample bosom, maybe a nine point something or other."
"I have a theory about your pretense. I think Andy learned it was me
who has been contacting him, and he sent you to pump my brain."
"Senator Andrew McGowans. He told me to call him Andy. I suspect he is
something of a newbie to the internet and didn't realize how easy it
would be to crack your Charlie Grayson story. Full disclosure was all
I thought about this for a moment while I drank the last of my
Then I said, "Amazing. You got things almost exactly right. The
homosexual thing seemed necessary since I have a steady girl and don't
want to jeopardize that relationship. My mission is to cozy up to you,
as cozy as a gay guy can get, but with no undue touching. I am not supposed
your brain. Not right away, anyway. Maybe later."
Mary Lou gave me the most marvelous smile. Then she said, "You're really quite likable when you're telling the truth. Maybe we
should try to enjoy ourselves, at least until the brain-pumping begins."
When we got back to her apartment building, she asked me if I
wanted to come up. I shook my head. "Sarah is open-minded enough, but it's possible she might not approve,"
I said. "Besides I have to report back to Andrew. Once he learns how
badly I fucked up my mission, he will probably try to establish a national squirrel census and exile me
to backwoods Mississippi."
Our eyes met as she drew nearer. "I enjoyed our evening together," she
said. "Try to remember, McGowans is a Senator, not a King, but, if you like, your failure can be our little secret."
I smiled back at her. "I enjoyed myself as well," I said. "And thank
you for offering to keep my incompetency quiet. It's a kindness I don't
deserve. I would like it if we could have dinner together again soon.
But I believe I better tell Andrew how things went tonight. He'll want
to plot fresh strategy."
"We can do this again soon," she said, "but next time I'll pay."
"In that event, I promise there will be no brain-pumping."
Mary Lou reached down to unbuckle her seat belt. "It's funny," she said.
"Somehow I sense you know what it means to be an outsider who has
stumbled into the inside. Like me in the convent or, for that matter,
me in the White House. But your situation, while in some ways similar
to mine, is vastly different. I think your outsiderness is of a
different order, more serious, more vital than my sophomoric
questioning of Church doctrine or even my tending to the presidential psyche.
Something about you fascinates me. Fair warning: Watch it, or I may be
pumping your brain."
"Don't sell yourself short," I said. "What squirts out from me would probably be
downright depressing. But your brain, I suspect, could unleash an Old
Faithful-like geyser of profound insights. Heretic or not, you are a
thousand times closer to God than I could ever be." God? Why in hell did I bring up God?
Mary Lou was still smiling as she faked another jab to my jaw. "OK, now, if
we're finished massaging each other's egos, I should point out that I
don't know as much about Champ's activities as Andrew probably hopes I
do. I am not an insider. Champ's closed door meetings are closed to me.
The people Champ trusts implicitly aren't exactly chatterboxes, either.
However, from time to time I do hear things, and I'll make you guys
privy to anything that seems especially juicy."
"I have a question, and I hope it won't seem like I am pumping your
brain. You sent McGowans a message, advising him to watch Swartz. Can
you tell me what that's about?"
"As you know, Brian Swartz heads the Department of Energy. A lot of
people don't really know what the Department of Energy does, but it's a
lot more than making sure the White House's light bill is paid."
"It's his job to make sure we don't all get too lethargic?"
Mary Lou gave me a look which suggested she wasn't sure if I was
kidding or not. "The Department of Energy, among other things, is in
charge of maintaining all of our nuclear warheads," she said.
"Gotta keep those babies shipshape," I said.
Mary Lou wasn't amused and may have been on the verge of getting
annoyed. She hesitated for several long seconds before she said,
"What I am
about to tell you is something I've heard in bits and pieces and could
have all wrong. But as I understand it, in exchange for a huge
donation, Swartz is about to privatize the care and feeding of our
nuclear arsenal. A company called Amalgamated Ballistics Ltd. will be
in charge of them. It seems certain Champ will approve this, and the
Senate will rubberstamp it. Everything, including launch codes, will be
over to this little-known concern."
"Holy shit," I said. My strategy for egging her on seemed to have worked.
"There's more," she continued. "Several foreign nationals are on its
board of directors, including two men from the former Soviet Union."
"Holy double shit," I said. "Talk about giving away the farm."
"Keep in mind I can't prove any of this," she cautioned. "It's all
based on rumors, and I might not have even gotten them right."
"Assuming you've nailed it, how could Swartz possibly justify doing such a thing?"
"The rational is that technicians capable of understanding our most
recent weapons are all in the private sector. The complexity of our
technology is overshadowing our ability to comprehend it, and top
tekkies can demand more compensation than the government can come up
"How are you able to come by even smatterings of this sort of thing?"
"I am gifted," she said. "I have talents others don't."
I hoped I wasn't being rude when I said, "I have no doubt you're gracious as all get out, but you haven't answered my question."
Mary Lou smiled. "In my own way, I'm getting there," she said. "You
see, my secret is I have very acute hearing. God has given me the
to pick up whispers others can't begin to hear. As a kid, if somebody
something behind my back, I could usually hear it. In the White House,
I can be in thebreak room preparing coffee, and I'll hear what's being
quietly discussed in the other
"That's gotta be a useful talent," I said. "Obviously you're in a very strategic
"It has its limitations," Mary Lou admitted. "Once visitors are behind closed doors in the Oval Office, I can't hear a thing."
McGowans describes you as sort of the last line of defense
protecting the President."
Lou shook her head and laughed. "That isn't altogether true," she pointed out.
"There are a couple of armed-to-the-teeth Marines guarding his
"So you're a mere hostess? Eye candy, as they say?"
swear she blushed. "Well, maybe a little more than that," she
noted. "I am not all sweetness and light and chocolate chip cookies.
Possibly I am part bodyguard. Champ
gave be a loaded Glock 43. Told me I should use it if any unauthorized
or uninvited guest gives me a hard time. Terrorist or Democrat, doesn't
matter. They're pretty much the same thing
in Champ's mind."
"D.C. has some pretty strict firearms regulations."
"President Champ insists I shouldn't concern myself with them; They don't apply to us."
"You know how to use the Glock?"
"I do," she said, "although I doubt if I ever would. I also know aikido."
"I'll remember that," I said. "No doubt Champ sleeps better at night
knowing you're there. But in the meanwhile, be careful. More than anything else, he demands loyalty. I doubt if he
looks kindly upon spies."
She nodded. "I have no doubt I would be fired, but at this point that
could be a good thing. I have about given up on my plan to nudge him
into getting a grip on his ego. It seems to exist well-separated from
anything you or I would regard as reality. We may have to depend on the
electorate to send him packing."
"Or term limitations," I said, "although I am not sure he believes in them."
"Should he lose the next election, he's sure to cry fraud," Mary Lou
noted. "His followers
have a high percentage of the nation's guns, Champ could convince many
of these true believers that The Lord is counting on them to defend God
"Setting the stage for civil insurrection?"
"Believe me, it's not as far-fetched as you might believe, and it's why I am willing to do what I can to help you and Andy."
"I don't know. The whole setup makes me uneasy. Champ might do more than just shit-can you."
She shrugged. "In my hands, he's just a big ol' pussy cat. Talk about
irony. He was caught on tape saying he liked to grab pussy, and it
out he is one. But don't worry. Growing up with those farm boys in
Illinois, I learned how to take care of myself."
"Those Illinois boys teach you aikido?"
"No, but they taught me quite a few other things."
I told her I would keep that in mind.
At half past noon the following Monday, I had headed over to the
Mitsitam Cafe for lunch. It looked like it might start raining
at any minute so I drove instead of walked and was pleased when I found a
parking space half a block from the cafe's front door. Housed in the
National Museum of the American
Indian, the cafe is known to have the best food on the National Mall. I
had been told that 'Mitsitam' means 'let's eat'' in the native
language of the Delaware and Piscataway Indians, and I had come to
believe that the people of these tribes knew and demanded good vittles. If you're into
cultural exploration, you can try foods such as fry bread and
corn totopos. When it comes to food, I am a bit of a conservative, and I like the more familiar-seeming buffalo
burger and fried potatoes.
I am a quarter of the way through my burger and am staring intently at the remainder when I heard a tray plop down on
my table. I look up, and there is Big Sam Hawkins inviting himself for
lunch. Boldly attempting camaraderie, he said, "Hi ya, Champ. How're
you hitting 'em?"
"Short, crooked, and often," I replied.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Sam said. "Next you'll be wanting three strokes a side."
"At least," I said. "It's not me who has gotten private instruction from Nicklaus himself."
remark elicited a grunt that could have been interpreted any number of
ways. Hawkins seemed to be more interested in his lunch, which happened to be the
same as mine— buffalo burger, fried potatoes, and
coffee, although ketchup was oozing from one side of his burger and his
potatoes were covered with it. I didn't know they had ketchup here and
wondered if he had brought his own. He took a big bite out of his
burger and let the juice overflow his mouth. His big bite was half-chewed when he looked up and said, "Come here
"Now and again," I said. "I enjoy the irony."
"Which irony is that?"
"The cultural divide. We destroyed Indian culture by slaughtering their
buffalo. In an extended blaze of gunfire, we exterminated some
50-million of them inoffensive, grass-chewing critters. Buffalo Bill
alone killed thousands, and we proclaimed him a national hero. And now,
more than a century later, Indians are serving us left-over buffalo in a bun.
Ever wonder if they might be tempted to spike our burgers
with something equalizingly nasty?"
Hawkins looked down at his burger, but didn't reply. I am sure he had
never thought along this or similar lines. Irony was not his bag. He
probably thought it was a condiment in restaurants frequented by
undocumented immigrants. Finding nothing threatening about his burger,
he said, "I've been thinking about you. Been wondering what a liberal
weenie like you would think about Champ's microchipping proposal."
Champ had been offering legislators the opportunity of having
a microchip implanted at the base of their skulls. The chip, the latest
in high-tech wizardly, was supposed to make our work much easier.
It would buzz us ten minutes before a vote was coming up, but that was
just the beginning. Supposedly we could close our eyes, hang on tight, think the name of a bill,
and the most pertinent information about it would be fed directly into our brains. No longer will our
staffs have to trudge through endless sleep-inducing legalese. Some
bills go on for hundreds of pages, and most are never read in their
entirety. This permits much mischief to find inclusion. Most of us simply vote along party lines. Supposedly, with
the skull chip, a
non-partisan group would deliver to us the
essential high points of impending legislation. I had my doubts, all
but certain the discourse would be spun in Champ's behalf.
"You gonna sign up for it?" Hawkins said.
"I think as much as possible I'll try to keep Champ and company out of
my skull," I said. "The chips require a degree of faith I just can't
muster up for Champ and friends."
"I can," he said. "Chipping is already making my life easier."
"At a price, I suspect. Everything comes at a price."
"Seems affordable enough to me. I regard my chip as a right friendly gesture from President Champ."
"What was it Truman said? If you want a friend in Washington, buy two
dogs. You'll need two, because one of them is bound to turn on you."
Hawkins and I sat for a few moments in uncomfortable silence before he
said, "The committee you're on with McGowans is the talk of the Hill. I
hear you all but crucified Commissioner Park."
"I am afraid the group was a bit hard on him. Kinda too bad. He seems like a nice enough guy."
"With you and Andrew and Winnie Watson on it, I'll bet golf will be our
national sport. God knows I love golf and have my moments of brilliance
at it, but I would rather see football take top honors."
"It very well might. Andrew only gets to vote to break ties, and Winnie
seems well-versed in a variety of sports. No doubt, golf should be
Scotland's national sport, but I am not at all sure it should be ours."
People coming into the restaurant were either dripping wet or closing their umbrellas, and I was glad my car
was parked reasonably near the door. I had finished my burger and was considering taking
a pass on dessert
to get away from Hawkins, but he wasn't through talking. He let it rest
for six or seven seconds before he said, "There haven't been any
arrests in Senator Jackson's killing."
I would have taken another sip of coffee, but my cup was empty. I settled for
opening my eyes a bit wider and looking down at my cup.
Suddenly Hawkins asked, "What's your blood type?"
"A-positive," I lied. My blood type was none of Hawkins' fucking business.
"Glad to hear that," Hawkins said. "Saves you from moving up."
"Moving up where?"
"Moving up on my list. I have been compiling a list of people who might
have taken an intense dislike of Senator Jackson. I believe I put you
in sixty-seventh place."
"Should I be honored? And what does my blood type have to do with it?"
friend with the FBI told me they found specks of AB-negative blood on
the bodies on both Senator Jackson and Eric Brown. It wasn't theirs.
It's a rare type, fewer than one percent of people have
But I do. No doubt about it, the blood they found was mine.
"Frank Brown says that blood is the most important lead they have."
"Who is Frank Brown?"
"Eric Brown's brother, who just happens to be with the FBI. Classic
case of good brother, bad brother, I guess. He's keeping the
investigation of his brother's murder alive, noting that Eric wasn't
killed where his body was found, and there was a good chance state
lines were crossed. It didn't hurt that Eric was deposited at the home
of a U.S. Senator. He realized this was a stretch, but he managed to
keep the FBI involved."
"Bloody determined of him," I said.
Hawkins gave me a weird look; He was probably wondering if I was making
light of the investigation. I suppose I was. I may have been trying to
counterbalance the heavy weight forming in the pit of my stomach.
"He says he's convinced that the blood they found will prove to be the
key to solving the case. There just aren't that many people with AB-negative blood."
"Now all they've got to do is find that individual," I said, "although
a case based on blood type alone would be highly circumstantial."
"Convictions have been based on less. Still, finding the right guy can
be difficult," Hawkins admitted. "That's why Frank is a major booster
of Champ's national blood type registry."
"Blood type registry?"
"Not surprised you haven't heard of it. Champ has kept it quiet, but he
wants law enforcement officials to be able to link blood types with
specific individuals. Granted with A- or O-positive blood, types so
common, the registry would provide millions of names. But there are
other types much more rare. A few are rare indeed. One person in
250,000 has ABO negative blood."
"Can't technicians extract DNA from blood samples?"
"Yeah, sure, of course they can. But determining blood type is much quicker. This is important if the cops are on a hot trail."
"You've done your homework."
If Hawkins had had arm length to match his girth, he would have patted
himself on his back. "I have," he said. "Senator Jackson's murder
fascinates me, and I've kept in touch with Frank. He's made me realize
how often blood shows up at
crime scenes. At present it's very difficult to trace blood to
particular persons. This is too bad, since just about everybody's blood
type has been recorded. Hospitals routinely do this and keep their
records for seven or eight years. The military keeps records even
longer. Champ's team has approached
several hospitals about gaining access to these records and have
been met with resistance. Patient privacy and all that. Champ figures
if he can find a hospital that will release its records, it'll give him
a precedent he can take into court."
Wait until he stumbles upon St. John Health Providence,
I said to myself. The place is Detroit's lowest ranking health
provider. I have no doubt that if they kept my records, they'd make
them available. Under-staffed as they are, they would be certain to
take the path of least resistance.
"What good is blood type?" I said, hopefully. "It wouldn't be
definitive, like fingerprints or DNA. Probably wouldn't be admissible."
"Not by itself," Hawkins conceded, "but it could give investigators
leads to follow. Champ also favors legislation requiring hospitals to
run DNA tests. That way they could see when DNA lines up with the DNA
blood. That's what Frank calls it—found blood."
"It's getting harder and harder to be a successful bad guy," I said.
"Champ is promoting the idea that the blood and DNA registries would be
used largely to establish innocence," Hawkins said. I rolled my eyes. Champ had never shown a smidgen of concern for the
rights of innocent people. Hawkins continued, "A blood match couldn't prove
guilt, but a mismatch could prove innocence."
"Including his own?" I replied. I don't know why I said that. Champ was
being investigated by several agencies—including the Justice
Department, the FBI, the IRS, a Special Council, and the State of New
York—but I was pretty sure none of these inquiries involved DNA or
blood types. Impulsively, I said, "Do witches have peculiar blood
types?" Obviously confused, Hawkins stared back at me, his lips
slightly parted. No way would he pick up on my oblique reference to the
witch hunts Champ insisted were pestering him. I hoped he would be
equally oblivious to the sweat I felt around my collar.
I needn't have worried since Hawkins wasn't looking at my collar. He
was looking at somebody across the room, waving him over. "Frank, how
are you?" he said, standing up to shake the man's hand. "I haven't seen
you in a coon's age. Whatcha been doing with yourself?"
"The usual," the man said, "bowing to the wishes of my constituency."
When he looked at me, Hawkins said, "Frank, I want you to meet Danny
Dukes. a rep from Michigan. He's a bit brash, but we'll bring him
around to our way of thinking. Danny, meet my friend Frank Shelton.
You're familiar with his name, I am sure. He's a long-time senatorial
Small, fucking world, I thought as I shook the man's dainty hand. Here I am being introduced to the son of a bitch Sarah had interned for, the
man guilty of hardcore, career-wrecking, sexual assault.
"This is indeed an honor," I managed to say, damning myself for the insincerity.
"It's raining cats and dogs out there," Shelton said. "On my way in, I stepped on a poodle."
Keep your day job, I said to myself.
"Sit down, sit down," Hawkins insisted, and Shelton complied. "This
calls for a round, but I am afraid this place doesn't serve anything stouter than cider."
Shelton reached into his coat pocket and produced a flask. "I am
already off to a pretty good start with my good friend Old Tom," he
exclaimed. He poured some colorless liquid into Harkins' empty water
glass. "You?" he asked, looking at me. I extended a palm his way. "No
thanks," I said. "I
have a busy afternoon." The truth is I have an aversion to gin and
other hard liquors.
Hawkins began talking about how years ago he and Shelton had authored
concurrent crime bills, Senate and House versions eventually
reconciling into beastly legislation mandating multi-year sentencing for
possession of even tiny quantities of crack cocaine, leading to the prolonged incarceration of thousands of more-or-less
inoffensive black people. It seemed to mark a high-point in Hawkins'
legislative career. "Them coons never knew what hit 'em," he laughed.
handled those monkeys, but now we have to deal with uppity women,"
Shelton snorted. The one that seemed to annoy him most was Kamila
Madera. In his mind, she and others like her posed a grave threat to
the union. "Democratic Socialism, my ass," Shelton said. "Given their
way, the Unided States will become a banana republic, a shithole
swamp reekin with lowsome libs." Credit where credit's due,
I said to myself. His alliteration has merit, but his pronunciations are
beginning to wobble. I wondered how much gin he had drunk before joining us. Getting more out of his flask required tipping it almost upside down.
His sloppy words brought Norway to my mind, but,
fortunately, not to my mouth. Nobody here wanted to hear about a
socialist country leading the U.S. in corruption-free government, per
capita income, educational attainment, life expectancy, and over-all
happiness. Before I knew it,
Shelton was into his third drink while Hawkins had stopped at two.
Suddenly it was two-twenty and Hawkins was saying he needed to get back
to his office. With Hawkins gone, Shelton soon grew reflective,
grappling with one of those disturbing insights that sometimes occur to
drunks. "Gotta watch my ass," he was saying. "Already had two
DUIs. One mo' an I am n deep shit."
he said his car was four blocks away, an idea began to form in my head.
An impulsive idea, one whose rashness was matched only by its
unpleasantness. "Let me drive you to your
place," I said. "You can send somebody back for your car."
Shelton's keys were on the table, and I picked them up and slid them
into my pocket as I got up and made a move towards the door. I could
see that Shelton was following along.
Again I congratulated myself for having the foresight to drive here.
The rain had subsided a bit, and we were able to get into the Honda
while remaining mostly dry. Shelton wasn't tall, five-six at best, but
he was quite
wide, and I wasn't sure he would find my ride sufficiently
accommodating. I don't know if he could have gotten his seat belt
buckled, but no matter. We would be spared the annoyance of an
incessant chime since I had it disabled some
time ago. It's my conviction that I should be telling the car what
do do, not visa versa.
When we got to the Tidal Basin Welcome Area near the Jefferson
Memorial, I pulled in and stopped the car. Shelton had had his eyes
closed, but opened them and asked what we were doing there.
"I've got something in my trunk that I think you might find interesting," I
said as I punched the button opening the trunk. It was a fifth of
Glenfarclas Single Malt Scotch, given to me by a
donor the night the election returns were going my way. If my benefactor had been
expecting a snort, he was disappointed. I later learned he had spent
over $400 on this particularly fine stuff, but I simply don't drink
When I was a kid, eight, maybe nine years old, I had stolen a swig from
a bottle one of my mother's boyfriends had left behind. Gawd, it was
awful, I can still remember gagging again and again, and I have never
felt the urge for
more. Beer, plenty of that, wine, sure thing, but no hard liquor.
Instead of opening the bottle, I stuck it in a bag and later got
into the trunk of my car. There it had stayed mostly forgotten awaiting
a special occasion.
I got back in the car, I handed the bottle to Shelton and wasn't
surprised when he caressed it worshipfully in his small, soft hands.
"This is mighty fine stuff," he said. "Forty years old it is."
"Older than me," I said, "and no doubt better. Before we tap into it, I
do have one question: You're known to have a way with women, so tell me, what does a man have to do to get laid around
"What'd ya mean?" Shelton said, failing to coordinate his lips, mouth, teeth, and tongue. "Pussy everware."
"I see it everywhere, but when I come near, it tends to wave me off."
I pried the bottle from his hands, twisted the cap off, and handed it
back. "Age before beauty," I said.
He chuckled before taking a healthy swig, pausing a moment to
appreciate the sting. Then he said, "You have to convince 'em you're
important. You're a newcomer, drive a junk Honda, and
ave a Timex on your wrist. What yah expet?" He
handed the bottle back to me.
"When I first got elected, I thought I was pretty hot shit," I said. "I
was delusional, I guess. Thought I could bang whoever I wanted."
"Patience, my good fella. All good things come to those who wait. Also
who're pushy, take what they want, don take 'no' for anser." For
the first time
that night, the man laughed.
"They tell me that back in the day things were really wild,"
I said. "The Kennedy boys, dating starlets, sharing
broads with mobsters and Russian operatives, driving off bridges."
Shelton produced a snort of derision. "Their day, the media too polite to blab stuff."
"It seems like the Dems got all the goodies. What's GOP stand for? Gimpy Old Men?"
Shelton chuckled, took another swig, almost choked on it. "Fuck no. Our profiles, kept low. Remember I got hooked up with
stripper, called herself Itsy Bitsy. Well, bout her boobs, they weren't that."
the good old days, I said to myself. Way before my time, but I know a bit about them. "The
Tidal Basin, right here, this is where Wilbur Mills and Fanne Foxe were
romping and stomping."
Shelton's tone brightened. "The Argentin Firequacker. Met her once. Sumpem else."
"Mills eventually got taken down, didn't he?"
"He 'n' Foxy got reel public. Don't
know, love, lust, drunk, he cudn't stay away. Way back, he's wun powerful mothafuck. Ways an'
Means, revnu control,
everythin importnt. Unimposing bugger, reel meek, but Fanne says he knock her up."
don't know," I said. "Seems to me things are more buttoned down now.
We've all become politically correct. Touch a broad in the wrong spot,
and all hell breaks loose. Might be twenty years later, but it'll come
back to haunt you. Careers are being wrecked for incidents that
happened decades ago. Seems like it's open season on virile men."
Shelton took still another hit from my bottle. He either hadn't noticed that
I wasn't partaking or didn't care. "I wouldn't shay that nessarly,"
he slurred. "These days ya wanna be discret, but yu'd be 'prised what goes on 'n privit."
"Clinton got blow jobs in the Oval Office. Could that happen now?"
"He got screwed. Who'd thought that skank would hang onto that blue dress?
Can't trust 'em. We impesh the bum, had noway kickin' em ou."
"Still, who would have believed he was carrying on in the Oval Office?"
"Cum to my office sumday. Button on the desk, locks
the door tighter'n nun's cunt. Visits leave when I tell 'em dey kin. Na befor." He took another swig from the bottle without
having handed it back to me. He was getting possessive.
"You've never gotten any complaints?"
thought about this for awhile. Then he said, "I did git won. Bitch got
me before an ethic bord. My lawyears made damn shor work
"I think I heard something about that. Girl by the name of Sharon?"
"Sharon, Cheri, Charlotte, Cindy, Saucy, sumpting like that. I had a grl Saucee wnce. She sharpen mi pencils."
"Take off your clothes."
"Take off your clothes, please."
"Wha? Hell, no. I donn swing tha way."
"Neither do I. Take them off, all of them, now."
"Wha the fuck yu doin?"
"Forcing you to disrobe."
"I don't get it. If you na quer, wha the fuk ar yu?"
"Think of me as an avenging angel."
"Wha...Wha da hell yu wan?"
"Humiliation. I want you to experience some."
For a moment, Shelton became almost sober. "Well, I won do it."
I drew the Glock 19 from my jacket pocket and pressed the muzzle against the side of his head. "You sure about that?"
"Yu wone shuut me. I'm Sentor Unite Stats."
I cocked the weapon and tapped its muzzle against his head just below the hairline. "You really want to bet your life on that?"
"Do you know who you screwin' wid? You're a fuckin' kid, but now
you finished. I'll have you run otta town. Yual nev sho face agin."
"You might be surprised," I said as I brought my iPhone out of my other
pocket. "I've taped your confession. You want the world to know how
badly you treated Sarah? How fucking proud it makes you? You've got
thirty seconds to get out of that suit." I was bluffing. I had neglected to turn the iPhone's recorder on.
Shelton blinked at the iPhone. I was quite sure I saw a hint of comprehension cross his countenance.
mine! Evidently I persuaded him. Tossing in his hand, he began fumbling
with his suit coat buttons. There was barely enough room in the Honda,
but he got it
off. It was well over thirty seconds by the time he worked his way out
of his pants, but he was doing the best he could so I cut him some
"Shoes, socks, and underwear too," I said.
"Plese..." he started to say, but a closer look at my Glock brought
him around to my way of thinking. It took another 30 seconds, but he
got everything off. The rainfall was a Godsend. There was no pedestrian traffic, nobody to wonder what the hell we were up to.
He had been handing his clothes to me. No place else to put them. I had been gathering them
into a ball, and he was beginning to show some concern. "That's a Brks Broers, ya nowe? Twelv undred buks.
Take it easy fore Chrst's sak. And the shoes. Berlutis. Sho sume respect."
didn't reply. Instead, ignoring the rain, I walked to the sidewalk surrounding the Tidal Basin and threw them in. I
watched for a moment as they settled into the basin's still waters. It struck me
as a grand gesture, and I almost wished I had an audience. When I got
back to the car Shelton was bawling like a
baby. "I'll get you for this," he slobbered. "Sume how, sume wae I'll get
"Out!" I said.
"No wae," he stammered. "No fuckin wae. You cand mak me..."
Turns out I could. His valiant last stand crumbled like a fresh Ritz cracker
after I whacked the side of his head hard enough for it to hurt. "Out!"
I said, louder than before.
Between whimpers he may have stammered "please" a couple of times and
the word "cocksucker" may have been among his incoherent blubberings,
but he did slide out of the car, stumbling as he sought to retain his
balance. Immediately he tried to cover his nuts with his
elbows and, for some reason, his nipples with his hands, but he did a
bad job of it. Flabby and tear-stained, he looked pathetic. Sarah had
been right about the size of his
dong. I still had his keys in my pocket, and I decided, what the hell,
I guess I'll keep 'em. I put the cap back on my malt Scotch before I
gave the woeful Senator a last
disdainful look and drove away.
JOURNAL ENTRY 289
Frank Shelton was all over the front page of
the Post. I was hoping for some au naturel photos, but was
disappointed. As far as I could tell, the police picked him up five or
minutes after I dropped him off. The lead story said he was naked,
drunk, and incoherent when they brought him into the station. Hours
later, according to the Post, he insisted he couldn't remember how he
got that way. By day's end he was taken to the Psychiatric Institute of
Washington for further examination. So far, so good. It doesn't look
like Shelton is eager to blow the whistle on me. It seems like he bought my recorder scam. Let's hope they don't
resort to sodium pentothal.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I shouldn't have done what I did. I
don't know what gets into me. Poor impulse control, I guess, but that's no real excuse. I
haven't wanted to
draw attention to myself, never mind put myself at grave and
unnecessary risk. I did it for Sarah, I suppose, although it's hard to
see how it's going to do her much good. Shelton is
certain to try to get back at me. He isn't the type to shrug things
off. Certainly not something like what I did to him. I doubt if he has
forgiving bone in his body. Senator Jackson sent somebody after me (I
think); why wouldn't Shelton do likewise? I hope Sarah will appreciate
efforts in her behalf. Does she love me? Do I love her?
I am accumulating too many things to worry about.
I could have CTE. My brain may be deteriorating rapidly and I am too
stupid to notice. Maybe the people around me are too polite to say
anything. Then there's the ever-obnoxious
Hawkins. Does he know more than he's letting on? Is he trying to spook
me? Am I a
suspect or a so-called person of interest? Did our paths just happen to
cross at the Mitsitam Cafe? Is
he keeping tabs on me?
Okay, let's be rational. There could be a highly circumstantial
connection between me, Brown, and Jackson. Brown didn't live that far
away from me, and I was on Jackson's committee. But that really isn't
any sort of connection at all. But what if the FBI decided it was
enough of a connection to warrant digging deeply into my past? Deegan
said the dozen years of history he provided me would withstand moderate
investigation, but surely the FBI has resources to dig very
deeply. But if it had done so, I would already be under arrest, wouldn't I?
Maybe I should pack up and run. I wonder what Deegan would say if I
showed up wanting another new ID. Good as Deegan is, would he be able
to shield me from a really thorough investigation? Hawkins could have gotten
my DNA from our lunch together.
So far, I have been mostly healthy and have managed to avoid
hospitalization. As far as I know, St. John Health Providence in Southfield, a city near Detroit, was the only hospital that
would have a record of my blood type. It is rated as among the area's worst hospitals, and I had
very little faith in its ability to keep my records private. My
hospitalization was six or seven years ago. Hospitals can't be expected to keep those
records forever. I hoped its inefficiency extended to record-keeping.
army has my DNA on file. Not mine, but Dwight DeLong's, and he's
dead. I wonder what the army does with the DNA of dead soldiers.
They could, of course, store it all forever. Wouldn't take up much
computer space. Keeping it would be easier than weeding it out. Maybe
I could get Deegan to go in, take a look, delete it if it's there.
this shouldn't be necessary. It would be hard to trace me, Danny Dukes,
to the military.
course Jackson sent Brown to eliminate me. I shouldn't allow myself to wonder
about that. But questions do arise. Jackson evidently arranged this
just a few hours notice. Hard to believe Jackson had ready access to a
hired killer conveniently located close to me. And Brown had that wad
of cash. Were things set in motion before I overheard Jackson's
telephone conversation? It couldn't have been the first time. Jackson
must have used him before. Or maybe there's a third person, a
go-between. If Jackson wanted me dead, there must be others with wish
lists that include me. Hawkins' FBI pals should be able to figure out
was a thug for hire. Can it be that hard to figure out who hired him?
Should I run? Where the hell to? Turn myself in? Throw myself on the
mercy of the court? Plead insanity? Resign myself to the likelihood of spending the rest of my days
behind bars? Beg to end up in a nice, peaceful asylum? Why can't I come up with a scenario I like even a little bit?
Once again I arrived at my committee meeting ten minutes early, and
McGowans was already there. "Commissioner Backus won't be with us
today," he said. "He is sending a lawyer, Larry Stevens."
"Why a lawyer?" I said.
"Backus said an 'urgent family matter' came up unexpectedly. I don't
believe this for a moment. It's his way of telling us we
choose football as our national sport or we face legal action."
"Would he have a case?"
McGowans shrugged. "Hard to say what slick lawyers could
come up with. Discrimination? Fraud? Corruption? Conspiracy?
Treason? The list of possibilities is endless."
"You're a slick lawyer. Couldn't you beat them back?"
"I haven't practiced for years, and they could come at us with
a team of lawyers. Make no mistake, they're fully capable of making
life miserable for us."
My initial impulse was to tell Champ and Stevens to go fuck themselves. "Do we really care?" I said.
"Besides making us wish we were elsewhere doing almost anything else,
it could play into Champ's hands. A big court case could keep things
disrupted long after we've finished our work."
I wasn't sure I gave a good God damn if we ever finished our work, which to me was seeming more and more irrelevant.
A female voice interjected. "Are we here to talk about sports or
litigation?" Neither McGowans or I had realized that Winnie Watson had
come into the room. Before McGowans could reply, the door swung open,
and Jake Morgan, the
representative from Green Bay, came in. "Hi, guys," he says. "Are ya
ready for some football?"
McGowans smiled as he replied, "All my rowdy friends are here on Monday
night!" The exchange engendered vivid memories of Howard Cosell and
company keeping me up way
too late. There was a time when it seemed like folks throughout the
doing whatever they were doing to tune into ABC. As a celebrated
Institution, Monday Night Football was a sensational, if somewhat
short-lived, phenomenon. Some of the wind was taken out of its sails
when Howard Cosell compared an elusive black running back to a monkey. Since the
mid-eighties, the show has had to make do with less compelling
personalities (O.J. Simpson was on for three years), games have been
played on Thursday and Sunday nights, and ratings have dwindled.
One after another, the other members of our committee filed into the
room. They were followed by a distinguished-looking fellow in a pin
stripe suit who I took to be Larry Stevens. McGowans shook his hand and
offered him the chair next to his. Once everybody was seated around the
table, McGowans introduced Stevens to the others, each of whom
responded with a quick bio. Stevens listened politely and nodded at
"We are here today to discuss football," McGowans said, "and to try to
determine whether or not it should be our National Sport." Turning to
Stevens, McGowans added, "Do you have anything to say to kick things
Stevens arose and one-by-one made eye contact with each member
of the committee. When he was sure he had everybody's attention, he
said, "Kick things off? What a wonderful way to begin a discussion
Misella Gardner said, "The metaphor would work just as well with soccer or rugby."
Stevens glared at her for a moment before continuing, "Well, I think we
can cut this discussion short with a metaphor of my own: Nowhere other
than football does it pay to
kick when things aren't going well. And I can guarantee that things
won't go well for any of you if you recommend any sport other than
football for the honor of being the National Sport. Any idiot can see
that should some other sport be chosen there would be grievous public
outrage. I can't imagine this happening in any fair and honest
Kamila Madera spoke up quickly. "Are you suggesting this committee
might in some corrupt way torpedo the selection of football?"
"No, no, not all," Stevens replied just as quickly. "Of course not. I have no reason to suspect any such thing."
Smooth move, I thought. Stevens has planted a seed of doubt. Certainly he'll find a way to make it bloom.
believe this matter is cut and dried," Stevens said. Pulling a legal
pad from his briefcase, he glanced at it several times as he began
reciting statistics. "Professional
football is far-and-away the nation's most popular sport. About a third
of the nation tunes in to every Super Bowl. The 17 most-watched
programs in TV history have all been Super Bowl games. Each year, a
Harris Interactive survey asks Americans to name their favorite sport.
Surveys always show the NFL to be incredibly popular.
Some 225 million Americans watched an NFL game on TV this season—nearly
100 million more than the record number of Americans who voted
in the last presidential election. College football also has a huge
following. At many universities and small colleges, revenue from the
more than pays for the rest of the athletic program."
Peter Myers, who had no problem with hosts of the Olympics spending
hundreds of millions of dollars, spoke up. "I guess this is true, even
with the high cost of
stadiums and top coaches earning more than university presidents. You
got stats on that?"
Addressing Myers, Stevens said, "I have info on you. It seems, you love being
the group smartass. Two weeks ago,
you spent an hour or two putting Commissioner Park through the
wringer. You can hardly blame Lloyd Wrangler for opting to avoid a similar borking."
Winnie Watson said, "It was our understanding that a pressing family
matter prevented Commissioner Wrangler from joining us today."
Stevens flashed an engaging and practiced smile he probably had used to charm
countless juries. "It's possible he prefers the company of his
family to that of a hostile and biased committee."
"How very unforthright of him," Troy Smith said.
"Let's cut to the chase," Stevens said. "I'll do my version of an
onside kick. It is our steadfast
conviction that professional football should take top honors as
national sport. No other sport comes close to matching its impact. If
necessary, we're prepared to take the matter directly to the people.
I've listened to your taped proceedings, and at one time or another
every one of you has been a jerk. Fight us on this, and your careers
are over. You
would be better off running against the flag or mom's apple pie than
"A lot of moms would take issue with that," Winnie Watson said. "They aren't allowing their boys play football."
often been noted that New Yorkers won't take crap from others, and
Kamila Madera, the representative from Queens, proved it. "The NFL is
far from invincible," she said. "The player it tried to discipline for
staging public protests made out like a bandit with endorsement
contracts. People respected him. He stood up for himself, and so will
Stevens shrugged. "That man will never take another snap for an NFL team," he said.
"Why the hell would he want to?" snapped Misella Gardner.
all sat looking at the man in stunned silence. I had no doubt we all
agreed he was the ultimate jerk, the first time we had ever reached
unanimity. I felt an impulse to
do his body great harm, an impulse that under different circumstances
might have been impossible to restrain.
"Any questions?" Stevens asked, displaying a smile we all would love to have
wiped off the face of the Earth. "If not, I'll take my leave."
Myers started to say something, but thought better of it. After a
short pause, Stevens said, "Good day" and was out
Winnie Watson spoke up first. "What a pompous asshole. He can't harm us. He's gotta be bluffing."
"No way on God's green earth will I give that shit my vote," said Mike Dunn.
McGowans said, "We have to keep in mind, he isn't running for anything. A vote for football wouldn't be a vote for him."
was right, of course. We all knew that. But the only way we could see
to retaliate against Stevens was to vote against football. Jake Morgan,
who I had thought would defend football to the bitter end,
looked like he was trying to bore a hole through the table he was
glaring at. He finally sputtered, "Anything would be better than
kissing that man's ass."
McGowans spoke next. "Mr. Stevens has left us all a little shaken," he
said. "We'll have to think this thing through. Time is on our side, so
we mustn't run off half-cocked."
Morgan whacked the table with an open palm. "How about de-cocked?" he said. "I'd
like castrating the bastard. Rashly or not, I want to gang tackle that son of
a bitch for a twenty yard loss. He's a dirty player."
"There are penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct, aren't there?" said Misella Gardner. "He'd be a prime candidate."
I decided to speak up. "This is pretty much the first time we've been
united. None of us like Larry Stevens. We're all outraged by
his arrogance. But this isn't a popularity contest. Our job here isn't
to pass judgment on Larry Stevens, but to recommend a National Sport.
Stevens or no Stevens, it's possible football should be that sport."
"Not in my mind," said Kamila Madera. "The NFL is strictly for guys. We should name a sport that's open to both genders."
Jake Morgan did finally speak up. "What about those Dallas cheerleaders? They seem plenty sporty to me."
Kamila shot him a dirty look. "If you wanna whack
off, go whack off. But do it on your time, not ours." Her outburst left
the others momentarily speechless. Finally Troy
Smith said, "Baseball may once have been America's pastime. But it lost
that status the moment TV came along. TV and football bonded immediately. Little bursts of violent activity followed by
intervals of non-activity. What with Instant Replay, there is plenty of
opportunities to slip in
ads. A sport like s occer has way too much continuous action."
Winnie Watkins said, "An avalanche of creative advertising can draw
many spectators to the Super Bowl. But fewer people are watching
regular-season games. The President's suggestion that certain players
run out of town for kneeling during the National Anthem
Makes no difference that they were protesting white cops murdering
black men, not the American flag. Ratings have fallen, especially among
"They're still miles ahead of every other sport," Morgan said.
"I have teenage children," Misella Gardner said. "A boy and a girl.
Neither of them would think of sitting down for three hours and
passively watch any sort of game. I think this is a good thing."
Myers asked, "How much do you know about ADD?"
"A lot," Misella made clear. "As a mother, I keep on top
of things. I know it stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, and I know
my kids don't have it. At times, their ability to maintain attention is
incredible. Both of my kids can carry on text exchanges for hours on
Myers wasn't done. "Any problems with impulsiveness? Do they
make spur-of-the-moment decisions without thinking about the chance of
harm or long-term effects?"
"I wouldn't say so," said Misella. "No more-so than their friends.
Teenagers are more inclined to think about what's happening next weekend
than what'll be going on twenty years down the road."
"Teenage brains aren't fully developed until they're 25 years old," Myers said. "Accounts for much of their foolish behavior."
This was hitting too close to home for me. I am sensitive to
observations about dysfunctional brains. Could smoking, drinking,
recreational drugs, bar fights, and kickboxing stunt the maturity of young brains? Do full-blown
adults come down with ADD? Have I always had ADD? Am I punch drunk?
Peter Myers jerked me back to the moment. "Speaking of brains, it turns
out that on average black people have smaller brains than white
people," he said. "I know how politically unpopular this is, but we
ignore scientific inquiry at our peril. Anyway, this tends to make blacks better
Winnie Watson, herself an excellent all-around athlete, frowned. "Where in the world did you learn that?" she asked.
Myers said, "I don't know. Read it somewhere. At my doctor's office,
there are some obscure medical journals. I peruse them when I'm waiting
to be seen."
"So you have no idea who sponsored the study?" Winnie said.
"Not really," Myers replied. "But it makes a sort of sense. Smaller
brains would warm up rapidly, allowing for quicker reaction times. You
got a better explanation why so many blacks run faster and jump higher
than whites? Facts are facts, and it's undeniable that three-quarters
of players in the NBA are black. When you were at Michigan State
University, you ran circles around just about everybody else."
Winnie retorted, "You're saying we're dumb, but quick?"
"Don't be so defensive," Myers said. "I didn't say anything about intelligence."
"Maybe you're both being dumb," Kamila Madera submitted.
"I thought this all had to do with muscle fibers," Troy Smith said. "Short fibers versus long fibers."
"I thought it was legacy from slavery," Misella Gardner said. "Since big strong
slaves were more valuable than small weak ones, they were treated much
better and survived longer, enabling them to have more offspring. Simple survival of the fittest."
"Circular logic," Kamila said. "Who survives? The fittest. Who are the fittest? The ones who survive."
Everybody seemed relieved when Mike Dunn changed the subject. "Fantasy sports are popular,"
he said. "Maybe fantasy should be our national sport—or maybe our
"Time Magazine made the computer Man of the Year," Peter Myers said. "Who says we can't make Fantasy Sports our National Sport?"
"Or fantasizing in general," Troy Smith said. "Most of our love-making is an exercise in fantasy,
isn't it? Or is it just me? You should see some of the beauties I've
"Is this a committee-meeting or a confessional?" Winnie Watson wanted to know.
"The things we say here stay here, right?" Smith said, who was suddenly looking worried.
"You're on tape," Myers reminded him. "This isn't Vegas. You'll soon be part of an indelible public record."
"Oh, God," said Smith. "My marriage . . ."
Mike Dunn said, "Your wife is a normal woman, right? Chances are she knows all about imaginary lovers. She
probably fantasizes over dudes bigger and badder than you'll ever be."
Smith looked unconvinced.
slapped his briefcase down on the table and opened it. "We're not
accomplishing a hell of a lot here today," he noted. "All these asides
should be set aside."
"I don't know what we have done, but what we haven't done is consider
the brutality of football," Winnie Watson said. "Some tests have
indicated that nearly all players suffer brain damage. It's like
millions of people who lap up the spectacle are just plain blood-thirsty."
don't know," Morgan said, "Much of the carnage is invisible, stuff we
didn't even know about until recently. There are rules to our games.
We've tried to prevent serious injuries. For example, players aren't
allowed to use
their helmets as battering rams."
"Were Roman gladiators made to abide by any rules?" Troy Smith asked.
"Actually, they had rules," said Misella, who continued to show impressive
spurts of expertise in unexpected areas. "Examination of gladiator remains disclosed
that very few died from blows to the back of the head. Evidently, sneak
attacks were discouraged. Their fights weren't necessarily to the death,
either. Records show that around ninety percent of them lived to fight
another day. Losers were often spared if they put up spirited defenses."
I wondered if I was out of line in wondering where Misella came by this information.
Morgan was ready to abandon football. "The NFL offers players a hell of
a good deal as well," he said. "Professional players make shitloads of
"Not much of a retirement plan,
though," said Winnie Watson, looking almost angry. "Their average
career is four years, and some of them end up in chairs like this one,"
she added as she slapped an armrest. "Many ordinary people with modest
salaries do better over the long haul."
"Many suddenly-rich players invest in gold jewelry instead of blue chip stocks,"
said Peter Myers. "Too many of them seem to have an excessive fondness for
"A lot of players grew up dirt poor," Misella said. "It isn't an easy adjustment to suddenly having millions."
"So where do we place the blame?" Myers said. "Team management hasn't
been entirely brainless. Some have made financial advisers available to
Gardner was far from convinced. "I wonder what the NFL will look like
in 20 years," she said.
"I am not at all sure it'll be here then. Do we want a National Sport
that's on the way to extinction? Most of the young mothers I know won't
let their young sons engage in
football. No way, not ever.""
Silence engulfed the room. At last nobody had anything to say.
It was probably presumptuous of me, but I stayed seated as the others
left the room. McGowans looked decidedly downcast. "You look like your puppy has been run over by a semi," I said.
McGowans shook his head. "Stevens played us like a fiddle," he said. "We responded precisely the way he wanted us to."
"How so?" I said.
"Watson, Dunn, Myers, and Misella are all on record of intensely
disliking the guy. Dunn even said there was no way he'd ever vote for
football because of him. A strong case can be made that a group vote
against football is a vote against Stevens — an obviously unfair vote.
Don't forget that our anti-Stevens tirades are all on public record. He's got us by the short hairs, right where he wants us."
"You think he's shrewd enough to have planned this?"
"I do. I definitely do. We're up against some very sharp intellects."
"Guys like him earn at least twenty-five hundred an hour. I guess they better be sharp."
"We should be sharp enough not to look like total idiots."
"One would hope so. Incidentally, Mary Lou saw through my gay act. Didn't fool her for a moment."
"Is she shunning you?"
"Not at all. She has agreed to see me again soon."
"She sent me another letter. Longer than the others. She said there is
reason to believe that the privatization bidding process is
rigged. Champ's cohorts seem to be getting all the best contracts."
"There must be a review process."
"Not really," McGowans said. "Yeah, there is an oversight committee,
but it's manned by
Champ minions. Very quietly, Champ has been issuing hundreds of
executive orders. He often signs them on late Friday afternoons or
coincident with other major announcements. Turning an entire agency
over to private enterprise in one fell swoop
would draw attention, but he seems to be doing it a bit at a
time. At this point, almost the entire Food and Drug Administration is
in the hands of big pharmaceutical companies. The Department of the
Interior is being run by major oil companies. Right now they're drilling
for oil in a forgotten corner of Yellowstone National Park. Google has
been put in charge of our drone fleet."
"Talk about letting the foxes guard the hen houses."
"Champ's mini-steps haven't attracted much attention. Taken one by one,
none seems to amount to much. A few paragraphs on the back pages of the
Washington Post and New York Times. It's all in the pages of the
Congressional Record, of course, but news reporters dread being assigned to it."
"Aren't they competing for scoops?"
McGowans laughed. "That's a term I haven't heard for half a century.
The media have been reduced to five mega-corporations. Being
corporations, they can be counted upon to embrace a corporate point of
view. They're concerned about profits, not a well-informed following.
Editorial staffs have been cut to the bone, and they seldom dig deeply.
They rely on press releases handed out by the government. Long gone are
they days when press people served as watchdogs."
"There is online opposition."
"Some is still allowed. It reaches fewer than five percent of the
people, and it is experiencing increasing censorship. It fosters an
illusion of lively opposition, but reaches only so far. For
newspapers and broadcasters, a little controversy boosts reader- and
viewership, allowing for higher ad rates, but there can never be enough
to challenge the system."
"I guess that's where we come in."
"It's why Champ wants to provide the media plenty of access to our
discussions. It makes for lively though harmless debates. We're all
being manipulated by the government."
"Can't we do something?"
McGowans shrugged. "Hard to say what," he said. "Champ has
intimidated just about everybody, and he hopes to screw the lid on even
tighter. He is trying to ram through his so-called Victim of Lies
Protection Act. Under its provisions, publishers or broadcasters
releasing anything that can't be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt
could face years of imprisonment. Matters of opinion could be regarded
as treasonous. Champ gives the impression of wanting to silence even a
hint of opposition."
"Just an impression?"
"I don't think he's serious," McGowans said. "Champ must realize that his Victim of Lies
Protection Act is unconstitutional. In the end it'll get beaten down even by the right-wing judges he's installed. In the
meanwhile, however, it can become a matter of great debate. It's like a previous
debate to make flag-burning a federal offense."
"I remember that," I said. "Seems that most people didn't know that
burning is the prescribed way to dispose of a damaged or dirty flag."
Issac Norman, my unrestrained high school history teacher, had told me
McGowans nodded. "Champ is a master showman," he continued. "His proponents will
believe his flag-waving assertions that he is a man of great strength and patriotism. They'll accept his charges
that the judicial system is weakening the country. The time is coming
when Champ will openly defy a federal court, and when it does, he'll need to have plenty of support."
"The man seems to be a master of misdirection."
"He is," McGowans agreed. "He would have us believe that we're engaged
in a great battle between a free market system and totalitarianism.
Truth is we have a mixed system—neither unbridled capitalism nor
total governmental domination—and there's no reason to believe things
will change radically anytime soon. Guys like us would like to see it
swing away from unbridled capitalism a bit, way too much wealth is
ending up in the hands of the top two or three percent, but we
certainly don't favor total government domination."
"So what's he up to here?"
"Either extreme is bad, and Champ realizes this. He plays both sides
against the other. He pretends to be a man of the people while he
caters to his base by opposing public services. Nobody says
anything out loud, but his billionaire friends see such services as a
slippery slope to
Communism. Schools, parks, highways, sewer systems,
buses, and libraries annoy them no end. They can't see the possibility
of eliminating them altogether, but still they regard them as expensive
wastes that put burdensome taxes and annoying regulatory constraints on
worthy people. The power structure will never allow public services to
get sufficient funding."
"Explaining why our infrastructure is in such rotten shape," I said.
the past five years, three U.S. bridges have collapsed due to postponed
maintenance. Eighteen people died. Hundreds of other bridges are in
dire condition. Water in a great many cities is contaminated by lead
from century-old pipes. Champ has eviscerated legislation that
protected endangered species in order to open America's coastlines to
drilling and public
lands to mining and fracking. He has drastically increased entrance
fees to our
national parks while reducing federal support for their maintenance.
Hundreds of hiking trails have been closed because they're dangerous
and pose too high a risk for hikers."
"I had a teacher in high school who said that while our goverment is
supposed to consist of three co-equal branches—the Executive,
the Legislative, and the Judicial. The Executive, meaning the
President, has been steadily usurping power from the other two
branches. This goes way back. Lincoln suspended Habeas corpus. FDR did
all sorts of
previously unimaginable things. Can't Champ be said to be following in
"Lincoln and Roosevelt faced wars that threatened the existence of the
country. They knew that national survival demanded that they do what
they did and were prepared
to suffer the consequences. Champ, on the other hand, is contending he
has a right to do
whatever he wants to do any time at all. People from both parties are
fond of saying
that in America no man is
above the law, but then they turn around and say a sitting President
can't be indicted. Champ regards himself as way above the law. He is
openly challenging the legitimacy of the Judiciary. He is facing
multiple-investigations, but by ignoring subpoenas, he is mocking
Congress, the media,
the Justice Department and other regulatory agencies."
"In an effort to make himself all-powerful?"
"One would think so, but that isn't what's happening. The federal government, and he himself as its leader, are becoming less
powerful, not more. A strong leader would be flexing his muscles, but
Champ is backing off. How can we do battle against a foe who refuses to
fight? As you pointed out, our top-rated presidents have always been those who amass more
and more power in the Executive Branch. It is arguable that this is
unfortunate. Nevertheless, we expect a man like Champ to endeavor to
become more, not less, powerful. If he was accumulating power, we would bitterly
oppose him, but his refusal to do this is both confusing and
"His latest tax cuts will double the deficit."
"It can devastate the country, but too many people don't care. They're all in
favor of anything that'll bring them short-term cash. Champ
controls the Federal Reserve, which insists on keeping interest rates at
near zero. He wants money to be cheap, which pleases the corporate
elite, but ultimately can bring on run-away inflation. More and more
foreign countries are doing transactions in alternative currencies,
setting the stage for the U.S. dollar to be dropped as the worldwide
reserve currency. Should that happen, a deep depression would be the
"Is he simply short-sighted?"
can't be that simple. Sometimes he directs his followers like a
masterful conductor of a vast symphony orchestra. At other times, he's
absolutely blind. We're
seeing the effects of climate change all around us, but Champ refuses
to admit anything is happening."
"What are we going to do about all this?"
Again McGowans shrugged. "Beats the hell out of me. I feel like the country
is going down the tubes, and there isn't a fucking thing we can do
about it. We're in a regressive loop. People have little or no
confidence in the government. When the government gets weaker, people
are happy to see it go so they applaud. When it gets weaker still,
people applaud more. Those of us who oppose Champ, who feel the
government could be a powerful force for good, are left confused. What
the hell is he getting out of weakening his position? Is he being paid
by China? By Russia? What is he getting out of destroying America?"
I wondered how hard it would be to kill Champ.
Scenarios about how I might kill the President flitted through my mind
as I went back
to my apartment. On the one hand, I figured I couldn't hope to get away
with it, but then I recalled three famous assassinations of the
1960s—those of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King—and how
still swirled around who did what to whom. Still, getting away with it
couldn't be foremost in my mind. I would have to be prepared to
sacrifice myself for the sake of our country.
Back in my apartment, I read a bit, thought about doing some laundry,
considered preparing some lunch. What I really wanted was a drink. Not
far from my apartment is a tavern, a godsend.
Nothing fancy. Nobody pretending to be important. There's smoking,
drinking, pool and darts, and an occasional late-night brawl. The place
wouldn't rate half a star in any sensible visitors' guide. It's a beer drinkers'
bar. Perfect. Couldn't be better.
When I got there, the jukebox was
belting out a country-western, lonely-hearts lament of lowdown betrayal. As always there
were no unattended females under the age of fifty. I was nursing a
third beer when a man sat down at my table. Beardless and twenty pounds
heavier, I didn't recognize him until he slapped his broad-brimmed, leather,
outback hat down on the table.
Rex Gunthrey, the guy I shot in Afghanistan.
"Holy shit," I said.
He needed a haircut and shave, his eyes were bloodshot, and he had
black bags under them. His jeans were threadbare, and it looked like he
had used his sweatshirt as a strainer for his lunch, but no matter: He
was definitely Rex Gunthrey. "Long time, no see," he said.
"How ya been?" I said.
"Better now. I was laid up for a spell after you shot me."
"I gotta hand it to you; You're one tough son of a bitch."
"Gotta be. Ya never knew who's gonna pop ya."
"I thought you needed popping."
Gunthrey seemed to give the matter serious consideration. Finally
he said, "Yeah, could be. There is a lot I don't remember from back
then. I've heard old farts say if you can remember the sixties, you weren't
part of them. Same for Afghanistan, I guess. Too many pharmaceuticals,
too much gore. But I do remember you. You are crystal-clear in my mind.
Nothing foggy there. It's like getting shot focuses the mind. I was
King Shit and you were Squat, and now it's the other way around. Karma,
"So what're you doing with yourself?"
"Mending, collecting disability, going to rehab, getting smashed, going
back to rehab, settling old scores. Back then I racked up quite a few.
Can't recall 'em all. I was part of it, that's for sure. Those were the
"We thought they'd never end."
"But they did, my friend. They ended for us, and gawd how I miss 'em. Sometimes I
wish you'd killed me. Now those days seem fuzzy, just out of touch. I
reach out for 'em, but can't quite contact 'em. I'm left grabbing thin
air. Could be the meds, I guess. Now those days occupy a wild, strange,
terrifying, and unreachable time way back when. I hated every second of 'em, and god how I want them back."
"We did some bad shit," I said.
Gunthrey looked puzzled. "We did, I guess. Hard to recall. Probably a
good thing our government squelched any and all war crime
investigations. You and I might be in deep doo doo."
"I guess that's one way of looking at it. How'd you make it out?"
"The guys carried me to a nearby house. Turned out to belong to the
parents of the girl terrorist I took out. There was a photograph of her
on the dresser, smiling and holding a book. Small world, huh? They
spoke a little English
and were wondering where she'd gone. They were afraid the Taliban had
gotten her. She had gotten some schooling and was learning to read.
Nice people. They gave me their
bed and cleaned me up. The guys found a radio and called for a medevac.
I told 'em I'll come back to see 'em, but I know I never will. Next
thing I know I'm stateside. I guess you know I'm gonna kill ya."
"I assume you'll try."
"Tough guy, huh? Hear you killed a guy in the ring. I'm impressed. But you had a different name. I knew you as Dwight DeLong."
"You did. Clean start, new name. Buy you a beer?"
Gunthrey nodded. "Whatever you call yourself, you'll never see it coming."
"No high-noon shoot-out in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue?"
He shook his battered head. "I ain't no John Wayne. He attracts way too
much attention. I'm more of a Ninja. Sneaky, but deadly. You won't
suffer. Not much, anyway."
"Time will tell." I caught the attention of the woman behind the bar,
pointed at my bottle and flashed two fingers. She brought them over and
I handed her a twenty. "You might want to apply that to my account," I
We sat in silence, drinking our beers, our thoughts years and
miles away. After maybe five minutes, I broke the silence. "How'd you
"Dumb luck. Out in Montana, saw your picture in an old Ring
magazine. I don't read much, but I was looking at pictures and there
you were. The page was torn, the caption was gone, but I knew it was
you. You'd let your
hair grow out, grew a beard, put on weight, but I recognized you right
away. It was your eyes. They were what I was looking at when you shot
me. They're blue and seemed to get bigger and bluer when you pulled the
trigger. The picture was part of an article about Motown
kickboxing, so right away I headed for
Detroit looking for ya. It took awhile, I had to hit a ton of bars, but
finally I found somebody who'd known Dwight DeLong. He said you were
dead, killed along with a bunch of guys in Afghanistan. I didn't need to be told they'd never found your body."
Gunthrey drained half of his beer in a single, extended gulp and looked
reflective. "I didn't give up. I showed the picture around and found
somebody who knew Danny Dukes. He said you'd just sort of disappeared, so then I began asking about
Danny Dukes, claimed you were an old Army buddy. This was easier. Danny
Dukes was pretty well-known, respected even, but at first nobody seemed to know
where he was or that he'd been in the service of his country. Didn't
matter, I was like a bloodhound, hot on his trail. I couldn't believe
it when somebody told me you were a Congressman. DeLong, the punk kid, and Dukes, a Congressman,
seemed like totally different dudes, but I knew they had to be one and
the same. Your eyes. Can't forget
'em. Never will. Funny how
things work out."
"So here I am, clear across the country, meeting you at last. And here
you are, a hot-shot Congressman, alive and kickin', on your way to
becoming one of the grizzled, old farts sending sweet young boys off to
be shot up in shithole countries around the world. Who'd ah thunk it?"
"Not me, that's for sure. You packing?"
"No. Not now. You?"
"Afraid not," I admitted. In my haste to get a drink, I had left my weapon in my apartment.
Gunthrey sighed. "We'll have to settle this another time."
Gunthrey pushed his chair back, grabbed his outback hat, shoved it on
his head as he stood up. "Til later," he said as he turned and headed
(Continued at chapters21-30.html)