A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals ...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chapter 8

I was awake early the next morning, surprisingly no worse for the previous night’s festivities and in spite of the fact that we had managed to find the cafe, the cigar, and the whiskey. All of these were quite excellent, with the only real surprise of the evening being Arturo’s participation in the enjoyment of both the cigar and the whiskey. Evidently, this was not all that unusual in Macundo (considering what I had seen since my arrival, it was obvious unusual had left town sometime back and was not expected to return), though Arturo was the only dog in the cafe that particular night. Without boring you by going into too much detail, suffice it to say that a small stand was set up for the cigar, and once it was properly lit by the waiter, the cigar was clipped into a holder. That holder was adjusted to a reasonable height for Arturo standing or sitting, and his access to it thereby simply accomplished. Arturo puffed away with the rest of us, and seemed to truly savor the experience. He also took his turn at blowing smoke rings into the night sky, and managed quite well. (I will not attempt to describe to you the way in which a dog blows smoke rings, but will say that if you ever get the chance to watch one, don't miss it.)

As for the whiskey, it was all performed quite neatly with a small glass bowl with a non-skid base, which allowed him to lap up the beverage contentedly without it sliding his cocktail around the floor. (Having lapped up a few whiskeys in my day, I’d say that he got full marks and appeared rather experienced in the procedure.) I was quite surprised to find that I found the whole thing only mildly discomforting and quickly got over it, getting into the spirit of things. Choosing to ignore the parts that might have seemed out of the ordinary to me was far easier than failing to enjoy what turned into a thoroughly delightful evening. The company (including the cabbie, as we had talked him into allowing us to stand him to a pint or two) was in high spirits by evening’s end, and the mood was congenial as we parted in the entrance of the manor.


Any lingering romantic flames that I thought might have begun to flicker in my mind (fanned along by the presence of flammable alcohol no doubt), were quickly snuffed out by Angela’s quick peck on the cheek as she departed for her own quarters in the Manor. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think that it could have been otherwise, Angela being the lady that I knew her to be. Ardor (and hormones) however, were never dampened by logic; and oft hope springs eternal in such situations. My disappointment, though not unexpected, must have showed. Arturo’s tongue hanging smirk was quickly stilled by the look on my face, but his amusement was evident from the way his tail wagged as he trotted down the hall to his own accommodations, calling out his good bye as he did so.

Seeing no alternative to yet another in my many nights of desperate and celibate longing, I made my way down my own respective corridor to the lonely bed that awaited me. I expected that either my fantasies and their attendant disappointments, or my trepidation at the task ahead of me would keep me awake most of the night. I fully reckoned on a serious confrontation between my common sense and self-doubt vying for attention on both a personal and a professional level as I tried to make sense of the my place here and the suspicions that I had about my feelings for Angela. I was surprised therefore, when I fell into a dreamless sleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Bathing and dressing having been completed quickly the next morning, I was sitting by the window in my room enjoying the coffee that had been innocuously delivered during my morning grooming routine when Angela knocked. There was no polite inquiry as she entered as she entered this morning, and no clever repartee as she guided me to the meeting that we had set up the previous day. As we followed the same path and entered the same conference room as yesterday, it was apparent that everyone was all business on this, the first day of the campaign.


The buffet breakfast was set up along the side again, but I was dealing with just enough anxiety in the pit of my stomach to face dealing with much in the way of food this morning. Gathering a muffin, some kind of fruit juice, and more coffee by way of a distraction, I made my way towards the table. I was pleased to note that there were place cards around the table this morning, with names printed on both sides. My pleasure was short-lived however, as I discovered that my card was at the head of the table. Had I spotted this arrangement earlier, I might have found a way to shift the cards, but there appeared to be no way around it with so many already in the room, so I sat resignedly in my designated seat. At least I was still to have Angela to my right (for moral support if nothing else).

My sitting down seemed to be some kind of signal, and everyone started settling into his or her respective seats. Arturo had entered the room at some point, and was lying in the corner to my right, but there was no sign of Phillip or Lorelei. No one else at the table seemed concerned at the lack of their presence, so I let it go. There was no point is showing any more ignorance of the situation than I needed to at this point. I didn’t know what procedure if any, we were to be following, so without waiting to find out I took the bull by the horns and blundered forward.

Good morning everyone,” I started, clearing my throat in the process. “First of all, I want to thank all of you for volunteering to be part of this campaign and for being here this morning to get things started. Some of you probably know more about specific procedures than I do, but I hope to be able to change that quickly. I am certain that many of you also probably know much more about each other than I know about any of you, and I hope to change that just as quickly. We may not ever become close friends during this campaign, and we probably don’t need to be to get this job done. It is my hope that at the very least however, that we can learn to respect each other enough to do the right thing for Phillip and for your country.


The good news for all of us is that this kind of thing hasn’t been done in quite a while, so almost nobody is going to be all that familiar with how it needs to be done. I would therefore like to operate this organization as informally as we can, and I hope that all of you will feel free to share any thoughts or ideas that you have at any time. The only thing that you can be sure of in all of this is that I will need all of the help that I can get from all of you to do my job, and I hope to be able to provide you with the help that each of you needs to do your own. I know that we are all here to make sure that Christy and his family does not get anywhere near the throne, and that we think that we can do that.”

I knew in my heart that it was a pretty lame speech, but something had to be said and I had so little information to go on that it was the best that I could do. I was hoping for a little bit of the benefit of the doubt from the assembled group before things got too far along. I was wrong.

Do we?” came a voice dripping sarcasm from farther down the table. It came from a small woman, fairly young from what I could tell, and not unattractive. Brown hair streaked with blond highlights surrounded a tanned complexion, with intent brown eyes staring out from the middle of a slightly frowning mouth. (I didn’t know for sure, but I was reasonably sure that the frown was for me.) The place card in front her read Katie.

If you really want to hear any thoughts or ideas that we have and would like to be so helpful, maybe you would like to start by taking some time to explain something about who the heck you are in the first place. And while you're about it, maybe you could tell us a little about the rumors going around about your outing last evening. If even half of it's true, it sounds to me as if you are proving yourself more of an liability than an asset to this little project.”


I sensed Angela moving at my side, as if to speak; but quickly reached over to stop her. “No, I would not like to explain anything, up to and including last night,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong people. When I say that I want to hear opinions, ideas, and suggestions, or anything regarding strategy that anyone wants to say in regards to the campaign, I mean it. I also meant it when I said that I wanted to help all of you, at least in as much as I am able. We all need to understand up front that I was put in charge however, and once I make the decision that’s the way it is. I won’t bother with explanations. If you agree with me, you won’t need them. If you don’t, they probably won’t do any good anyway. Either way, they waste too much time and effort, and we can't afford either. Why Phillip put me in charge of his future, neither you nor I might ever know; but we are all stuck with that decision. If you want out, feel free to leave now, otherwise let’s move on.”

This person, whose place card named named her Katie, bit back any retort she might have wanted to make; though it seemed to take an extreme effort on her part, and move on we did. I couldn’t help but feel that the silence was more from some form of group embarrassment than a sense of confidence however. I could also tell that her forbearance and the discussion with this Katie was only only temporary. There was a subtle chilling in the air as we got down to some kind of work.

The next thing on the agenda needed to be some introductions of the people around the room. It would be difficult to know how to proceed without knowing the players that I was working with and the skills that they brought to the table. I needn’t have worried. It turned out rather quickly in the discussion that staff by and large knew what their respective talents were, and had already begun the sorting out process for their division of labor since the funeral. I won’t bore you here with the details of the introductions themselves, but would remiss if I didn't mention some of the gang in general for those of you keeping a scorecard.


Two of them, Gary and Sue, were husband and wife team already well along in the process of polling for the campaign. This was, in fact, their line of work outside of the campaign as well, and they had worked with a number of top marketing groups over the years. Their training and experience had given them an instinct for the right questions to ask and the right way to ask them to get at the truth. In other words, they were pros. They were only waiting for my confirmation before starting on an initial poll of voter needs and confidence that they had already prepared. We quickly went over the questions in this poll as a group, made some very minor wording changes, and they left the room to get on with it.

Two others, Paul and Melissa, were a brother and sister who were well known actors in Macundo’s movie industry. The two of them were to be our primary public faces and their role in the campaign was to be as speech givers. This was a position that had been established in this society by tradition, as the candidates did not appear on their own behalf. They had been going over information for the first round of newsreel interviews that we could set up, as well as any other public speaking that could be arranged for the first few days of the campaign with the writing staff (more on that later). There was an assumption that we would probably need more people to speak on our behalf before it was all over, but the two of them felt sure that they had enough friends in the business to help when and if needed.

There were still others who were already beginning to organize the many volunteers needed to knock on doors and distribute any printed material. Then there was Andy, a quiet middle-aged man who owned a small print shop in the city; and would produce and deliver that printed material to us. He seemed not only knowledgeable about his work, but particularly enthusiastic about our candidate. He said that he could deliver anything that we needed as quickly as might be needed for the campaign, and that the next 90 days was usually a slow time of the year for him so that production scheduling would be no hardship.


There was also Misha, a young woman who had been sent over by the government and was to oversee our finances, document all of the spending, and make sure that all of the rules of the process were followed. Though very much on our side personally, she assured us right up front that there would be no bending or breaking of those rules while she was around.

And of course there was Katie, who had already put her two cents in where I was concerned. It turned out that Katie was the leader of a group of about four writers. All four of them had some talent and experience where writing was concerned, but she was without question the best of them. As a writer for magazines, newspapers, and the film industry, her flare for a well-turned phrase was often sought out in both the movie and print media. She had already been offered a position of importance by the opposition, but had apparently spurned it with a use of profanity that had quickly become legendary, and which still had left some whispering behind her back as she passed.

Yeah,” she told me later, when I finally got up the nerve to ask about it. “Those two are none too bright, and I wanted to make sure that they understood in no uncertain terms that my no was final. My only real regret about the whole thing was that I might have been too polite in the process to penetrate their thick skulls, in spite of the creative effort I expended.”

All in all, and in spite of what might have been a somewhat divisive beginning, this first meeting had turned into a very positive start and managed to last a little over an hour, as I was pleased to note when we finally broke up.


Have you ever noticed that the longer a meeting lasts, the less it accomplishes. I have been forced to sit in on any number of meetings over the years, and always felt that most of that time spent was wasted. Long meetings usually start late, accomplish little, and never end on time. That’s why governments are usually so good at holding them, and tend to like them so much. It always seemed that without someone of exceedingly strong will and purpose guiding the procedure with a clearly adhered to agenda, that a meeting always seems to digress into meaningless information and war stories of success and failure by the participants. While I am all for the sharing of meaningless information and war stories (as I like to tell them myself), it has always been my opinion that such information was best shared during the consumption of adult beverages after the real day’s work has been accomplished. I should also note here that one of the most brilliant statements about meetings came from sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, “A motion to adjourn is always in order”.

We agreed that our preliminary polling would be in the field before the end of the day; and I would be able to go over that data first thing tomorrow. We would be giving our first speeches in three days, with posters and fliers in the field 18-24 hours ahead of them. Katie would be contacting some reporter acquaintances to pull in some favors and get some of Christy’s more memorable escapades in the next weekend edition. I was pleased to see that she was focusing on the weekend editions for the kickoff. Most people don’t realize that the big weekend edition of a newspaper carries a circulation of about 20-40 percent higher than the normal daily circulation. We needed as much exposure as we could get. I sent everyone on their respective ways, confident that we were truly on our way; but signaled to Angela and Katie to stay back as the others adjourned. Arturo had made no move to rise from his corner, but if I chose to notice this, I was unconcerned.


Thank you ladies,” I started as the door closed behind the last. “There are some things that need to be cleared up before we go much further here, and I would like to do it now. Angela, I know that Phillip and Lorelei may be planning to leave the Manor, but cannot have gotten far away at this point. Could you track them down and ask if they can join us?”

Sure,” she replied rising again quickly. “I’ll be no more than five minutes.”

Katie,” I said when she had left. “You and I will probably be working together very closely over the next couple of weeks, and I don’t want any misunderstanding between us. You may have found my response to your question rather abrupt and maybe even rude, but I want you to know that while I can't say that I know him well at all, I believe that Phillip is one of the finest people that I have ever met. I know that there are a number of things that I don’t understand about how this thing works, but I do know that I am going to do everything in my power to see that we succeed. I'm going to do this because I've been asked to, because after meeting Randall and Christy , it seems like the right thing, and because when I play … I like to win. You may not understand all the things that I do or say, or the methods that I might use; but you may just come to find that though some of them seem quite unusual, they might actually prove successful. I also want you to know that what I am doing is based on the best information that I have at the time and my best judgment as to how to use it.

I should also tell you right up front that I am going to want to work closely with you and your staff, so we're going to need to find a way to trust each other. It's more than obvious that your talent is not only formidable, but well-recognized and respected here. While we both know that I don't have your professional credentials here; I have been involved in the marketing of a number of products where I come from over the years and have been known to plan a winning strategy. In addition, I've managed to turn a phrase or two successfully in my own time and place. I hope that you will be able to look on me as one more tool in the kit, and that eventually you'll think that I can be of help.”


Hey pal,” she returned. “I’ll use anything from anybody who understands the basic concepts of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Just remember who the pro is, and we’ll get along fine. Listening to the way you handled the meeting today, I think I may have a different take on the stories from last night than I did before this shindig started. Just remember, while you may or may not have fooled Christy as to who and what you are, your escapade also gave him a great rumor to spread. You might just want to be a little more careful out there.”

Point taken,” I said, and meant it. It was only in her quick reassessment of the situation that I saw the negative that I had handed out. Misinformation can be a beautiful thing, but it's a double-edged sword and needs to be handled delicately.

While we both refilled our coffees, she asked. “Which brings to the question of where you are from anyway. I’ve been around pretty much every side of this place that there is, and I’ve never heard of you before this.”

It’s a long story,” I replied with a sigh. “Ask me again when this is all over if you’re still interested, and we’ve both had too much to drink and I might tell you. I can’t promise that you'll believe it, but I can promise you that at the very least it will make a great story.”

This sounds like one that I need to hear,” she chuckled, as our three companions entered the room.


I left my seat at the head of the table and took one further down. Place cards be damned (whoops, they had disappeared when I wasn’t looking), I don’t sit at the head of a table when a prince is in the room. Katie moved as well, and sat about four seats further down on the same side, and Angela took a seat between the two of us. Phillip took up the head of the table as if nothing was more natural, and Lorelei was by his side.

I understand that the first meeting went very well,” he began.

Yes, with a few exceptions, I suppose that it did,” I replied. “There were a few bumps and glitches (I saw Katie blush), but I think that overall we got off to as good a start as we could have expected. There are a couple of questions that I need to ask though before we go very much further. I'm still far too much in the dark about the job that you want me to do, so if you don’t mind Phillip, I've got a couple of questions that I need to get answered. First of all Phillip, without offending you, do you want to be king?”

Ah ... that,” he sighed. “Well Sean, I promised to be honest with you. The answer to your question is no, and yes. I grew up in this house happy in the knowledge that when the time came to choose, that there would never be a doubt that my brother Arturo would assume the throne. As well as being the older brother, he was the natural born leader of the family. I was always much happier pursuing my studies, reading, and doing everything that I could to understand more about the world around me. Did you know that I have published four books on the natural sciences?” (Of course, I didn’t.)

This is not the plan that I had for my life. The truth of the matter is that I only agreed to enter this campaign out of a sense of family loyalty and in order to keep Christy and his father away from the throne. That being said, while I may not have ever wanted this power for myself, I'll be damned if I let them have it and ruin the country that I love!”


OK, that’s fair enough,” I said. “I don’t know if the reasons really mattered anyway, though hearing them from you makes me feel a little better about you actually getting the job. A person who seeks power is generally ill-equipped for it and should be no means let anywhere near the job that offers it. This goes triple for politicians. We have to face the fact that we are going to get some grief from what is probably a well known sentiment in the coming days however. I am assuming that you have made no secret of these feelings over the years, and the populace may not want a king whom they think isn’t interested in ruling. Katie, you will have to think about how we can turn this into an advantage; talking about accepting responsibility vs seeking power. Let’s move on to question two then. What happened to your brother Arturo that let Christy become a player in this game?”

Sean, I can’t tell you everything,” he replied. “Some of it probably just isn’t mine to tell, but most of it is that we just don’t know. What I can say however, is that it happened about a year ago. Arturo and father had been having a number of discussions about something that they didn't share with me. While I wasn't present for these discussions, especially for the last one; it was obvious that the meeting wasn't a pleasant one. Arturo didn’t seem to be angry however so much as determined about something; and he suddenly announced that he was going off on a hunting trip alone that very day. He had always been impulsive and often went off like this when he needed to think. I have no idea why he chose that moment to leave, but assumed that it was just that Arturo wanted and needed to get away by himself, as he had done since he was a child.

He said that there was something that he had to get out of his system, and that he didn’t think that he would be gone terribly long on this trip. You can’t imagine how terribly shocked and surprised everyone here was when the horse that he was riding came back without him on it, the same day that he left, as he was an excellent horseman. My father and I were frantic with worry (Lorelei took his arm at this point), and immediately sent search parties out in every direction to discover what might have befallen him. Though the search lasted for weeks, nothing came of it; nor was anything ever learned of his fate that I'm aware of.


My father, a strong man even under the most adverse of circumstances, blamed himself for what had happened and was never the same afterward. He sank deeper and deeper into depression over time, and it was only when Arturo here (as the dog came up beside the prince and nuzzled his hand) came along that he seemed find any comfort. While never really becoming his old self, father at least began to once more take some interest in things going on around him. For some reason I never understood, father named the dog after my brother soon after he took up residence with us here in the Manor, and they were virtually inseparable until my father’s death.”

Arturo’s tail wagged slowly, as Phillip rubbed his neck. “He was a truly a good and loving man who tried to carry a guilt that was never his to bear,” Arturo said, “and I was proud to be at his side.”

Well then my dear prince,” I said, “it seems that we must do everything in our power to get you a job that you don’t really want, defeat the forces of the wicked, and live happily ever after. Katie, is there anything that you need before you get out the first part of the written campaign?”

No,” she replied. “My people already know where they want to start. Christy has cut a pretty wide path in his past, and I think that we have plenty of dirt to start with. I will have first drafts ready for you to look at this afternoon. Anything that we want to be reading about tomorrow needs to make the print deadline this evening.”


Good enough,” I said. “If no one has anything else, I’d like to stop now, and let everyone get to work. If anyone needs me for the next couple of hours, I will be in the library. I need to do some heavy thinking, and before you comment Katie, I am fully cognizant that this probably isn’t my strong suit. I’ve found it always helps to be surrounded by great thinkers in order to attempt it though, and that therefore is my intention. Thank you again Phillip and Lorelei, and everyone else for your time this morning.”

The chairs pushed back slowly, and everyone filed out of the room with me trailing the field. I was so caught up in thought that I didn’t realize until I entered the library that I was completely alone. The fact that I hadn’t asked Angela to join me, that she might have other duties and responsibilities of her own, and that I had no right to assume that she would want to join me didn't keep me from feeling rather put out that she wasn't there. After all, I had a lot on my mind and shouldn’t be held responsible that I hadn’t thought things through. I was just selfish enough to believe that anything else that she might need to take care of could not possibly be as important as me, and could probably wait a little longer. Certainly there was no logical reason for her to be there, but I had never let logic get in the way of fulfilling my selfish desires in the past.

The truth of the matter was that after even the short time that we had spent together I was having rather confused in my feelings about the lady, and the only time that they didn’t bother me was when she was next to me.

OK, no use feeling sorry for myself, there was work to do. I made my way across the room, and sat down in one of those comfortable chairs (though not at the desk), and put the pen and pad of paper that I had carried with me out of the conference room in my lap.


I started jotting notes to myself on everything that I remembered from any campaigns that I had ever heard about, watched TV programs on, or known of, remembering and noting the differences as I went along (I have some friends that are professionals at this, and what I wouldn't have given for some of their company...):
  • Phillip may not want the job, but in the end is a better man than Christy for it
  • Christy is undoubtedly a puppet of his old man, and the old man had already been passed over once for the jobs
  • Nobody likes voting for ugly or fat people (William Howard Taft excluded), and Christy and Randall are at least one of the two, when not both.
  • Phillip is a good-looking guy, and it’s always easy to assume that good looking means good period. (Sad, but true) This should weigh in our favor, though it couldn't be counted on too heavily. (Pictures of the candidates side by side is likely to be good for us and bad for them.)
  • While the candidates don't go out themselves, we need to ask if there any advantage/ disadvantage to getting Lorelei out on the campaign stops? (Probably an advantage)
  • Look into Christy’s bad debts. If he was a cheat then, he will likely be one in the future, and maybe we can exploit that
  • Money doesn’t matter in this campaign, as the government funding is the only money available and it’s the same for both candidates, so they can’t outspend us to win. (Or can they? Find out if there is a way that they can cheat the rules here.)
  • This is an unashamedly negative campaign, what can they use?
    • Phillip didn’t want the job
    • Arturo disappeared under mysterious circumstances
    • Phillip has a foreigner running his campaign
  • What has the old man been up to since the last election, maybe there is something there?


A lot of other things passed through my head sitting there, but these just seemed to be the only ones worth writing down. I was so lost in thought that I didn’t even notice Angela come into the room at some point a little later in the day and purposefully made a noise to draw my attention away from my thinking processes. A servant was following, with some kind of wheeled tray of sandwiches and an iced pitcher of something.

I didn’t want to disturb you,” she said quietly as she approached, “but it was past lunch time, and you hadn’t eaten anything.”

If you were a disturbance, and you are not,” I said smiling, not realizing how much time had indeed passed, “you would be a welcome one. Thanks for thinking of lunch. I wasn’t paying any attention to the time. No one thinks well when they're hungry and I must admit that now that I think of it, I'm more than a little. Even if I were starving however, one look at the size of that pile of food tells me that even Christy would have a difficult time wading through it. I hope and trust that you are planning to join me and not make me face the daunting task of attempting to eat all this alone?”
Why thank you kind sir for the gracious invitation,” she replied returning the smile. “I was rather hoping to be asked, and am more than willing to accept your gracious offer.”


As quick as a wink, the tray had been unfolded into a table, and another chair had been pulled up to it. I rose to seat Angela myself, as the servant quietly left the room. Angela served both of us from the bounty that she (and the kitchen) had provided. The sandwiches were some kind of meat (I wasn’t stupid enough to ask what kind) and cheese combination that, though unknown to me, met with my immediate approval. The drink was very good as well, being apparently some kind of iced fruit drink (she told me that much, but would not again elaborate on the type). I quickly wolfed down a couple of the sandwiches and about half a glass of juice when I felt her eyes on me. I looked up to find her staring at me with just a hint of a smile. Looking down quickly to see if I had spilled something down the front of my shirt and thereby completely embarrassing myself, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t. This confused me (as most things in life do) unit it suddenly occurred to me that it was just the two of eating there in the library. While it was a public setting, we were completely alone. I wondered if I could or should read anything into it, quickly realizing that it was probably best in the long run if I didn’t. In spite of that minor setback however, I must admit that I liked the situation, and smiled back.

What are you thinking about?” she asked.

This question, for those of you who didn't know it, is in fact, the second deadliest question in the world. (The first is what kind of God you believe in and the answer usually involves the infliction of punishment on a scale that leaves the person being questioned in the position of discovering if there is an afterlife.) It makes the questions that were asked by the legendary sphinx of Egypt seem like a simple version of Trivial Pursuit. When a woman asks, it means that she is already thinking of something, and hopes that you are thinking the same thing. The answer given to such a question can (like the previous example) be life threatening, both physically and emotionally. Not answering the question in a reasonably short period can also be a threat to one’s future existence either physically or emotionally. The way that such a crucial moment is dealt with is so critical, that it has in fact ended many a relationship. Often, the best one could hope for was a sentence of solitude and celibacy for an indeterminate (some would use the term endless) period of time. The peril in this situation is clearly defined, and as real as an approaching train when you're standing on the tracks. I know this because of the number of times in the past that I improperly handled the situation, experience that has made me something of an expert. I knew that I was trapped, and flop sweat began to pop out on my forehead. My hands were clammy, and my breathing was labored.


I was thinking about us. You know, about you and me,” I fumbled out, and I knew I was dead when I let it come out of my mouth. It was neither gallant, nor clever. I had exposed myself in such a way that could only lead to disaster. It’s not that I wanted to; it’s only that having been placed in a position where I couldn’t think of anything, I said the first thing that came into my head. Now while I have always believed that when all else fails, try the truth'; saying the first thing that comes into your head to a woman is only slightly more intelligent than telling a state trooper that's pulled you over that he looks like his chin strap is too tight (which I've also done).

Really,” she replied with no change of expression.

Yes, I was,” I said knowing that in so doing, I had doomed any chances that I ever thought that I might have with this woman. The truth is a tricky thing however, and a path which once begun is impossible to turn around on. I would have to face the consequences of my precipitous (one might say foolish) actions.

I was thinking that I just met you and that I hardly know you; but I really like it when you are around. I know it’s a silly thing to say. I don’t even know if I should even be saying any of this, since I don’t have any clue as to the etiquette where such things are concerned, have no idea how long I will be here, don't even know if you're involved with someone who I might also be offending. In spite of the fact that I know that I should be keeping my mouth shut on the subject, I can’t seem to help myself. While I might have been able to keep it all in for a bit longer under normal circumstances, you've asked me and I've answered. I’m sorry that I let it slip out, and I hope that I haven’t shocked or offended you by my foolish, though well-intentioned remarks.”


You know,” she said, with the hint of a smile turning up her lips. “You’re really kind of sweet. Of course it will probably turn out that you are a demented stalker or sexual deviant that should be put down like a rabid dog, but in your own way, you are kind of sweet. And no by the way, there is no one else.”

You must have put something in the food,” I cracked back, relief and hope flooding through me with the return of oxygen and blood to my brain. “I normally don’t confess to such devotion or create the impression of a stalker until I’ve known a woman for at least a week. Is that why you are here asking me these things and embarrassing me, or is there some reason that you came here other than to feed and torment me?”

No, that was pretty much it,” she replied. “Is there some further torment that I can provide now that you've been fed? I wouldn’t want to waste the trip.”

Yes, in fact there is,” and I handed her the list. “Read this.”

She looked it over carefully before commenting, and I was reviewing the document in my head for spelling or punctuation errors, and sentence structure, as well as content. She nodded, and added a couple of notes to the bottom.

  • Phillip’s father Simon was well respected. There may be something to use there.
  • What happened to Arturo? Can any blame for his disappearance be placed onto Christy and his bunch?


(Some of you may have noted that I could read what she wrote, which makes you clever indeed. I know that I certainly noticed, and would later recognize that this meant that all of the books in the library were therefore at my disposal. At the time however, I found that I was far to distracted to reach such logical conclusions.)

She was right of course, and in this match of mudslinging, there might be something there on both of these items. I would have to remember to run this by Katie as well. Knowing her, she probably had a list of her own already, and hers would be much more detailed.

We finished up the sandwiches, and Angela folded the table back into a cart and rolled that cart out the door. I found that I was dismayed when she didn’t immediately return, in spite of the fact that I still had some thinking to do, and that again I had failed to ask her to return. Now my mind was completely distracted from the campaign stuff. Her departure left me with a return of some of the wild thoughts that occasionally ran through my head last night. These, coupled with the ridiculous school boy behavior that I had exhibited when she arrived, added up to a magnificently confusing situation. When was I ever going to learn to engage my brain before opening my mouth, especially in the presence of a woman that I liked? Oh well, I would add the day’s adventures to the list of misgivings and failures from my past at a later opportunity. There was something more important to worry about in the meantime. (Right!)

The problem right now was that I didn’t really know what I needed to do next. The beginning of a thing is always the most difficult time. Whether you are starting a project or a relationship, it is always too easy to ignore the simplest or most important facts, miss something fundamental to the situation that is right in front of you, or just go charging off in the wrong direction. I hoped that I wouldn’t fall into any of these traps, but you can never be sure. I also hoped that I would have the strength to trust the people around me, and in return, gain their trust.


I was also beginning to hope that Happy Hour would begin some time soon around here. All of this thinking and emoting was making me thirsty.

I decided to get up and wander through the room for a bit, glancing at titles on the shelves that, for the most part, meant nothing to me. In this world, I couldn’t tell a reference book from romantic fiction (not that I am entirely convinced that there is a difference in some cases) by the look of the covers.

I know you can’t tell a book by its cover, but if it has bug-eyed monsters on it, it usually, but not always, means that it is not about philosophy (unless it is about bug-eyed monster philosophy), but enough already.

I was able to recognize, and not at all surprised however, to find a section that appeared to be devoted to magic. Thoughts of solving all of this world’s problems by the casting of a spell danced in my head next to thoughts of getting the hell back home using the some of the same methods. Fortunately for me, I was again limited by a lack of knowledge as to what was fact or fiction in this world. What secrets might I learn though? What arcane practices might I discover? What great leaps in knowledge might I make? Would it be possible to use any knowledge gained here in my own world? There seemed to be some intriguing possibilities laid out in front of me.


I will freely admit at this point, that a fleeting thought regarding love potions crossed my mind as well. While not nearly so lofty as my other goals, it would have certainly helped to settle one situation. I chuckled as I once again realized that I am only a frail and faulty human being after all.

Good sense (and a healthy dose of fear) won out over any personal desires, and I left the books on magic in their shelves. All of the books in this place had a good feel to them, as I ran my hands over some of the spines. There weight and stability on the great shelves seemed to put my mind a little more at ease for some reason. I think that all libraries tend to have great restorative powers to the human spirit, and it’s a shame that more people don’t use them for that reason, if no other.

I finally realized that I was far too restless for any real reading anyway and decided to get out for a little fresh air. Maybe the chance to walk off the sandwiches as well as my own sense of uselessness would be of benefit. The front door appeared to be agreeable to letting me leave, and opened at just the right time to let me out. I followed the path to the stones that I had noticed when I first came to the manor, and decided to follow them to the left of the path. It didn’t take long before I realized that the row of stones was in fact a circle, perhaps serving as some kind of a border. I felt like I must have made my way just past the halfway point, and was enjoying the sight of the formal gardens that I assumed were just behind the manor when Arturo ran out from a bed of flowers in one of them to join me.

Well met Sean,” he said. “Were you looking for me, or just enjoying the day and the scenery?”

I must admit that I was just wandering the grounds Arturo, but I would certainly be glad of the company.”


Arturo set himself at my side, and we continued in silence for a while, the two of us just soaking up the peaceful atmosphere of the place. The sun felt wonderful, and there was again for me an indescribable, but lovely scent from the nearby flowers on the light breeze that was blowing. Walking on a pleasant day is always an enjoyable experience; doing so with a well-behaved dog only increases the pleasure of the experience. I looked down at Arturo, and for some reason couldn’t help but think about all of the things that people threw for dogs to retrieve in such situations. Why people and dogs exhibited this kind of behavior, I didn’t know; but both parties seemed to enjoy the practice, so maybe that was enough. The thought struck me of course because as I had mentioned earlier, Arturo looked like some kind of a retriever (of a different color of course) in the shape of his body and bearing. Something in his manner however seemed to say to me that he was anything but that kind of dog.

These thoughts suddenly made me a little more thoughtful about my diminutive companion. Arturo had shown me a depth of knowledge and character that intrigued me, and made me more than a little curious about my erstwhile smoking and drinking companion. I decided to try and see exactly what the limits of his knowledge might be, 'what this dog was made of' as it were.

Arturo, these stones around the manor, do you know what the story is behind them?”

Sure Sean, everyone does; though I keep forgetting how little you know about us. The stones that surround the Manor House are known as the ‘Border Stones’. They have been here for longer than anyone can remember. Certainly they have been here longer than the Manor itself. It's said in our traditions, that the first true king of Macundo placed them around the area in which he was going build his castle. The stones were supposed to be endowed with some magic property that would protect residents in the castle from harm. Later generations deduced that if the stones in fact worked, and it appeared that they did, that there was no longer a need for a fortified castle. Over time, the castle walls and defenses were taken down, and the Manor House that you see assembled from its remains. Based on the size of the manor as it stands today, it must have been one heck of a castle in its day.”


And no one who has lived in the castle or the manor has ever come to harm?”

Well, no I didn’t say that. Many people who have lived in the Manor have come to harm over the years, Angela’s father was a perfect example. No one however, has ever been harmed while inside of the border of the stones.”

And Phillip’s brother Arturo, was he outside of the stones?

That’s an interesting question Sean,” he said, though it seemed that there was some unwillingness to discuss the subject. “You've already heard that he had gone on a hunting trip, but since no person actually saw what happened, there's none to say where it happened. As Phillip told you, I came here later. What makes you think that anything happened to him anyway?”

Well, he disappeared didn’t he? I mean here he is the oldest son and all, and from everything that I hear the logical choice for the next king. This is something that he knows, accepts, and even appears to want; and then bang; all of sudden he’s out of the picture. My guess is that something pretty bad must have happen to him to keep him from coming back to fulfill responsibilities that he seemed to be born for.”

Arturo had stopped as I got onto this subject, and looked at me with that half-turned head look that I dog will give you when it is trying to figure you out. “I guess you’re right, Sean. I guess you’re right.”


Though I don’t consider myself the brightest bulb on the tree, I know when I am getting the brush off on a subject, so I decided to drop it. I quickly moved on, thinking instead about the morning meeting, and decided to feel my four-legged friend on that subject instead.

What did you make of the morning’s proceedings Arturo?” I asked.

I thought that it all went well enough,” he started. “In fact, it went a good bit better than I thought it might. I was concerned with your confrontation with Katie, but you seemed to handle that well enough in the end. She’s brighter and more experienced than most of the others in the group, and totally dedicated to Phillip’s cause. I knew going in that many of them would take their lead from her. She seemed to genuinely warm to you by the end of the larger session, and that’s a good sign as far as I am concerned. I believe that her trust in you will be very important for the long term success of the campaign.”

I wouldn’t have said that she liked me, merely put me on probation, subject to later rejection based on new information,” I returned. “I must tell you though that based on my first impressions, I think very highly of the lady. I hope that our first meeting might provide something to build on. I agree with you on her importance however, and know that we'll need more that a truce before this is over. I only wish I knew how to break through.”

Oh I agree, you haven’t finished proving yourself to the lady,” he said. “But I also noticed that she chose the same side of the table as you for the second session with Phillip. It may have been an unconscious choice, but in terms of body language she certainly seemed to be placing herself with and not against you. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed.”


What are you talking about?”

Oh, and I suppose that you didn’t notice that Angela placed herself between you and Katie. It certainly looked as if she was clearly staking a claim in what might become a potential female turf war to me.”

Really!” I replied, genuinely surprised. “I guess I must be getting slow in my old age. I either didn’t notice it, or refused to consciously acknowledge it. I won’t tell you that knowing it displeases me though.”

Yeah right,” he huffed at me the way that dogs can do. “Because nobody has noticed the way that you have been acting around her or the eyes that you've been making in her direction since the moment that you got here!”

They'll be no more scratching behind the ears for you my friend,” I replied, attempting almost successfully to keep a stern expression. The I saw his ears droop a bit, as an offending canine will do when scolded.

OK ... I freely admit that I am guilty as charged, your honor,” I then laughed, bowing to what I now considered my colleague’s superior powers of observation, and scratching an ear just so he would know I meant it. “I just didn’t think that it was that obvious.”

Only if those doing the looking and listening were blind as well as deaf my friend,” he rejoined soberly while enjoying the scratch. “And while I must admit that it is easy to both sympathize and empathize with your plight, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you to remember why you are here Sean. I know that it is easy enough to be sidetracked by a beautiful female, and Angela’s qualities are as attractive as they apparent; but I hope that you also realize that you need to stay focused. It appears like we may have made a good start today, but ninety days is both a very short and a very long time.”


He was right of course, and this mild rebuke got us returned to the problems at hand, discussing some of the items that had been gone over in the earlier meeting. We spoke about the list that I had put together in the library as well, and he promised to give some thought to it. He was able to recall every detail of it, and without referring to the document. I was quite surprised at his ability to retain the detail of the conversations. In addition, his thoughts and opinions were insightful, and it was obvious that he was well versed in the use of political strategy in this world. Before I knew it, we had reached the front path again, and agreed that it might be time to join the others. It was in fact getting on towards evening, and Arturo assured me that by this time, most of the rest of our group would already be together.

I followed him, and true to his word, they were all gathered in another of the seemingly endless rooms of the Manor, this one set up with a small wet bar and a dinner buffet similar to the one that we had on my first night there, though on a smaller scale. I found that this was the usual way that dinner was served for those residing in the Manor, and that only the number participating in the meal changed from day to day. I had been encouraged by Arturo to grab my list in the library before the meal began, and we worked not only through, but also well after the meal was completed and coffee served.


The day finished late, but by the time the last gathering had broken up, we had covered most everything that we could that first day in a great deal of detail. The initial polling had come in during the meal as well, and had become part of our discussions. While there was nothing there that was a surprise to those assembled, it provided us with a number of useful bits of information in terms of the direction that we needed to follow. With this additional information in hand we adjourned the session and went our separate ways for the night. I firmly promised myself that I would try and not worry myself over every little detail of the day’s events; but knew that even as I made the promise, I would spend at least half of the night running it over and over in my head. Operating in this fashion had proved an annoying, but useful way to juggle various strategies over the years, and though I knew it would probably cost me a night’s sleep; it would also probably prove worthwhile in the end. Thank goodness that the coffee here was good; I had a funny feeling that I would need it in quantity in the morning.

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