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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chapter 12

I never did tell Phillip what a dragon was that day in the Manor, but I can tell you what a one is now, having discovered the beast just days after that meeting. It was, in fact the creature that had insisted on dying in my mouth last night, though only after shitting itself; or so at least it felt this morning.

The bowel movement, death, and subsequent decomposition of a large and rather ugly fire-breathing lizard is the only possible explanation for the feeling that I had in my head and the taste that I had in my mouth. I opened my eyes sluggishly, but it didn’t help the impending doom that was threatening to overwhelm me. Neither was there help to be found in showering, shaving (with a rather unsteady hand I might add), or brushing my teeth. The consumption of the coffee that I had ordered from room service immediately upon rising in a voice that I didn’t recognize began to bring me to some level of humanity, but also brought to the front the headache that I had been holding at bay by shear will alone.

I had committed the cardinal sin on the campaign trail of any type of evening (or any form of travel for that matter), especially where serious work is involved the next day ... eating to little and drinking too much. Not that it wasn't easy enough for such a thing to happen with the schedule that we were keeping. In fact, I would have assumed that it would be normal that you should feel less than at the top of your game when you are attending an average of three dinners in the same evening every night for five straight days. Wiser and more experienced heads in politics know enough to sample the cuisine and liquor on a more sparing level; but it had become obvious to me that I could make no claims to such wisdom based on the present circumstances. Sure these wiser folk might miss some of the local flavor of each stop, but they would also save themselves from the gut-wrenching, nerve shattering feelings that I was experiencing this bright and cheerful morning.


In my own defense, let me say that considering that this was the sixth day of this whirlwind tour of the country, I had done surprisingly well. Immediately after my meeting with Phillip, I had returned to my room and packed my meager belongings into a duffel provided for my use, and I joined Lorelei outside just a half hour later. Patrick had evidently already been briefed for the trip, and was awaiting us at the front door. The luggage was relatively quickly stowed in the cab with all good speed (Lorelei’s luggage being considerably more than mine and requiring some assistance for Patrick on my part), and I helped her into the cab.

Women and luggage, now there’s a topic that certainly requires more scientific study, and is an area that may be one of the greatest indicators in life of the differences in thinking between men and women. When a man packs, he counts the days of the trip, considers in the potential weather conditions, and then factors in the possibility of damage (torn pants, stained shirts) into the final equation. Having completed these calculations on a very scientific basis, he takes the minimum required for survival, with a fudge factor to keep him from having to wear his socks or underwear two days in a row.

Women however, use a distinctively different plan when packing. Make no mistake gentlemen. In spite of the cursing that you have done while manhandling mountains of suitcases around during such trips, there is, in fact a plan involved. Women, as I have come to understand it, use a system that I like to call ‘This or that’. It involves taking at least two potential outfits for every occasion, along with a couple of things that they think ‘just look cute’. They have decided on which outfit they will wear for each of these occasions involved, but that decision is tempered by possibility of a last minute change based on feminine intuition. Packing in such a manner, and attempting to keep anything and everything brought along from wrinkling in the process, is a great deal more work than one might expect, owing to the way that way that women’s clothing is designed and the materials from which it is made. I won’t begin to touch on the issue of shoes in such a situation. My rather limited understanding of such arcane areas is that there has in fact been a highly funded government study going on in this country since the early 1950’s (in parallel with that of nuclear deterrence), and I would not want to let the cat out of the bag before the official report has been published.


Let me however at least reveal that the real secret to understanding how women pack for a trip is this. Don’t even try! You have a much greater chance of understanding the physical nature of time and space in a black hole. What’s more, even if you did understand it, it wouldn’t change the number of suitcases that you would have to carry. Suffice it to say that shoes become an important and significant part of the packing process (see the earlier discussion of women and shoes).

This trip was to last some eight or nine days, depending on the response that we got out there. A number of smaller bags therefore, were hauled up to and secured to the top of the cab, and two trunks were secured to a storage area in back of the vehicle designed specifically for such occasions. I wondered vaguely at the time whether the additional weight would have any effect on the speed of this magically powered vehicle, but if it did, it was on such a scale as to be unnoticeable to me. I put such mundane concerns behind and focused on the trip ahead as we made our way quickly down the road to our first stop.

I won’t bore you with individual descriptions of the towns themselves, as I don’t remember a lot about any one of them in particular. It’s not that there was anything wrong with any of these places, and I’m sure that the people who lived in these cities considered them to be wonderful places worthy of long remembrance. It has always annoyed me however, when someone is telling me a story and gives me a list of the names of places that mean nothing to me, that I will soon forget, and that add nothing to the tale being told. I will therefore not burden you with such information.

Suffice it to say that they were all nice little towns filled with nice little people, that they seemed genuinely good people, and that those good people wined and dined us at each and every opportunity that presented itself to them. Do not let it distract you that most, if not all of those people and places became a blur in my mind rather quickly, as I certainly didn’t. As I have said before, I don’t do particularly well in remembering these kinds of things whether they are important or not and I was true to form on this trip.


Thank Goodness for Lorelei! In spite of my jaded view of her packing methods, she always looked wonderful, and always managed to make a genuine connection with the people she was speaking to and with. She didn’t so much give speeches, as she simply talked to people. She talked about her own life and past, of meeting Phillip and the relationship that they had. She talked of the kind of man that Phillip was and the things that he believed in; and when she did, they listened to her. This wasn’t the negative campaign trip that I had expected, and understanding a little bit about the way that Lorelei is, I’m not sure that it could have been. I’m not sure in fact, that she could have been negative if she had tried. It wouldn’t have fit either the way that she looked at people or the way that she came across to them.

She was calm, concerned, friendly, charming, graceful, and she listened to what these people had to say. She without pretense, exuded the attitude that you should like Phillip because she liked Phillip. Once you had met her and heard her speak, you couldn’t help but agree with her. Upon getting to know her even in this small way, you would do anything that she asked; if for no other reason than to please her. Having been caught in this same spell upon meeting her for the first time, I understood the power that it had on these people, and was grateful for it.

My own part in the process was somewhere between speech writer, social secretary, and the bad cop I guess. No one knew or cared who I was when I was in Lorelei’s presence, and who would blame them. This invisibility did however give me the chance to listen to what she said and to watch how the crowd reacted to it. I then went back to her to let her know what appeared to have been most and least effective. It didn’t take long before she had a repertoire of things that she was comfortable saying, and that we knew were working with the crowds. I was also the keeper of the schedule (with my somewhat anal retentive behavior regarding such things guiding me), pushing to make sure that we were at the places that we were supposed to be, and that we were there at the times that we were supposed to be. This isn’t as simple as it sounds, as it often required tearing Lorelei away from an adoring populace who wanted more of her time and attention. I often had to seek assistance from the local constabulary, as well as Patrick to wrestle our way into a crowd and move the lady to the next campaign stop.


The last of the tasks that I performed, that of ‘bad cop’, may have been the most fun of my tasks. Armed with the information that our staff had been obtaining since the beginning of the campaign, and with additional information that Katie somehow found the time to get to me on the road from time to time, I worked behind the scenes with the press and the local campaign groups at each stop. My job there was to spread a little poison and pain for the opposition in every place that I could. Considering what they had been doing to my friends and loved ones over the last couple of weeks, it was a job in which I took a great deal of satisfaction in doing. I am not normally a vindictive person, but I can find inspiration when the time and situation call for it, and this one did as no other ever had in my life. I used a fair number of the tricks that the opposition had used on us, and everything that I had ever even heard of being used from politics in my own world. It was fulfilling in some ways, if vengeance can be fulfilling (usually not), but it was also tiring and tedious. Though I am normally pretty good at conserving energy while I am on road trips, the effort involved with spreading all of this venom was an emotional as well as physical drain on me, and quite frankly was beginning to wear me out.

Maybe that’s what contributed to my day five disaster. The day started out not much different from many of the previous ones. There was a breakfast gathering at which Lorelei was the guest of honor, followed by an informal morning press conference that I got to handle. Sowing as much damage as I could with what I had, we then moved to a luncheon held in an outdoor setting. While Lorelei sat at the head table, the personification of all that was good and right about what we were doing; I worked back near the kitchen with my local counterpart, his team, and a few members of the press who were hanging around looking for a story (and a free meal). These so-called members of the press were typical vultures, and didn’t care about anything as long as it got them a good byline.

My local counterpart was a savvy individual; and though a basically honest person, he was not above a little ruthless behavior if called for. The rest of the locals were like most of the staff of volunteers that I had met during my travels. They were bright, committed, and worked with only the best of intentions. In all likelihood, this would be the only campaign that they would see in their lifetime, and they would have to live with its results in the truest sense of the word. Knowing that they had only one shot, they were determined to make it a good one. When speaking to them, I talked about any number of things, and answered any question that I could, in the hopes of giving them the tools that they would need. I finished by paraphrasing an old saying from our world.


Folks,” I said, “Where I come from, they tell me that it’s OK to lie, cheat, and steal; as long as you don’t kick them in the balls. Well the heck with that. We are going to kick them anywhere that presents itself, and damned if we will feel guilty about it now or later.”

The laughter that always followed, tempered with the dedication that was evident in their eyes, told me that we were hanging with a good team. I shook the hands of each one, sent most of them on their way, and told the rest to relax a bit. It was a warm afternoon, and we were doing thirsty work. At some point, beer started to be passed around (much to the gratitude of the press of course), and though I had no intention of over indulging, I did want to be at least companionable. I’m sure that the lunch that they were serving the attendees was available to us as we sat, but if I had anything at all, it was no more than a nibble here and there.

The luncheon broke up, and we went back to the hotel we were using as a base for the night. Lorelei went back to her room to rest and change for the next event. I changed as well, but was too restless to lie down for a brief nap that I probably could have used (even though I had plenty of time before we left). Instead, I made my way back down to the lobby. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I ordered a whiskey and lit one of the cigars that I had learned to carry with me now to supply my habit.

Hey big guy,” I heard from just behind me. “Would you buy a girl a drink?”

I turned from the bartender to find myself staring into almost the last person that I thought to see.

Katie!” I cried loudly enough to turn heads around me. “What in the world are you doing here? How’s is your case going? Have you spoken to Phillip lately?”

Whoa son,” she returned smiling. “One question at a time, but let’s take first things first. What about that drink?” (No sooner said than ordered.) “What I am doing here is helping a person who looks like he desperately needs it, you. The court case is going OK, but the judge took a week's vacation, and there’s nothing that anyone can do until he comes back. I have been trying to visit the Manor when no one was looking, in order to meet with Phillip and what part of the team is still hanging tough. So yes, I have spoken to Phillip lately, as well as the rest of the staff back at the Manor; but I’ll fill you in on that later. As for the question that you didn’t ask, no one has seen or heard from Angela since you left, including Phillip. I have had my eyes and ears out there, but there hasn't been a sign of her. Don’t worry Sean; she’ll be back when she’s able. Women love to fall in love with men who need changing, and I’ve never met anyone in more in need of changing than you.”


Why thank you young lady,” I replied. “Coming from someone who is apparently a member of this country’s criminal element, I can’t tell you what that means to me.”

That's alleged criminal to you pal,” she replied laughing.

We had plenty of catching up to do until Lorelei joined us to leave for the first event of the evening, and spent a happy time in doing so. She mostly talked about the trial, saying that it was going as well as it could, in her opinion. The writer who had sued her was a third-rate hack that few people had ever heard of before the trial had begun to make the news. He was basking in his new found celebrity and the publicity that the case was bringing and was said to have signed a lucrative contract for his own column recently. Katie had hired an old friend to represent her, and after reviewing her background materials for the article (which she always kept on file), was convinced that the case could be won, or at least settled quickly. At least he did until he had found out that the hack was being represented by one of the shrewdest attorneys in the country. From Katie’s description, this shifty example of the legal profession was well known for two things: his ability to make a mountain out of a mole hill, and the exorbitant fees that he charged for doing so. It took a while to dig up, but it finally came to light that Randall was footing the legal bills out of his own pocket. Katie’s attorney re-examined his strategy, and now felt that the best path that they could follow with the case was to try and drag it out for a couple of months. It was his opinion that once the election was over, that the case would go away. The trick was to make it look as if it were taking up all of Katie’s time, since it appeared to be designed to do so, so that they wouldn’t try anything else on her in the meantime.

She also let me know that while Andy’s case hadn’t gotten any better, it hadn’t gotten any worse either. The investigators had determined that there was no doubt that the fire had been started on purpose, the question now was by whom. Andy was not in custody, nor had he been charged with anything; but was still spending a good bit of his time working with his own attorney, and they were being open and forthcoming with the investigators for both the city and the insurance company. Andy was also still working to get his printing business open again, which was proving much more difficult than he expected. Few of the area banks were willing to extend any credit to him, which in light of his service to Phillip was rather suspicious. Andy had at least managed to find a friend and former employer to take over the work that we needed done, and had in fact, gone to work at the shop in order to help expedite our work. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was working.


She was just beginning to go into the situation with Misha when Lorelei joined us from her rooms. The ladies greeted each other cordially, and it was only then that I noticed that Katie was very nicely outfitted for the evening as well. (Isn't it amazing that love tends to distract a man from noticing other women?) While there was no doubt that I was in love with Angela, I couldn’t help but notice that such attire was very flattering to Katie.

Is that what all of the fashionable felons are wearing this year?” I asked, taking her hand and spinning her around for a better look. “If it is, can I arrange to spend time in the local jail?”

Down boy,” she replied, and I could tell she was pleased by the compliment as the color rose to her cheeks. “For one thing, you’re already taken, and for another fresh meat like you wouldn’t make it through a night in any local jail that I know of.”

Knowing that discretion is the better part of valor, and not having a suitably clever response to this latest jibe, I merely offered each of the women an arm, and escorted them to the waiting Patrick. He noticed Katie immediately and smiled as he tipped his hat to the ladies.

Good to have you back ma’am,” he saluted, as he helped Katie up into the cab. “We can always use a stout heart and a level head around here. A bit of help in the beauty and brains departments wouldn’t hurt us either, and might take a bit of the pressure off the princess.”

A target,” I mumbled as I pulled myself up, shaking my head. “I am nothing around here but a damned target.”

The first dinner went well, of course. Lorelei was beautiful and poised as always; and Katie took over working behind the scenes soon after we arrived, doing a much more competent job with both the press and the volunteers than I ever could have hoped to. I spoke to a couple of people that were specifically looking for me, but soon found that I was mostly unneeded by these two capable women. Rather than feeling put out at my lack of stature, I was feeling relief more than anything else as I watched. In fact, I had managed to quietly slip away into the bar for a drink and some of the food that they were serving at the dinner. I don’t know exactly how to describe what they were serving, but I can tell you that it was pretty spicy. As much as I enjoyed it, I was forced to leave most of it on the plate. Uncontrollable flatulence at the later events from enjoying too much of this meal seemed both impolite and impolitic.


The time slipped away unnoticed, and so did the cocktail in my hand, until I could hear that unmistakable sound of the kind of applause that means that the event was over, and everybody was getting up to leave. I made my way quickly to Lorelei’s side, trusting that Katie would find us without help. It was great to have her to help run interference, and we were quickly on our way to the second event.

This was a dinner as well, and I found myself being made extraneous to this event as soon as I had performed my escort duties. Taking my cue from the previous stop, I slipped into the bar, and again managed to nibble on something while having another drink. The food this time was some kind of sweet and sour something (I didn’t ask what, and probably better off not knowing anyway). Though I again nibbled, I don’t think that I was all that concerned with food by that point. The beer at the lunch in combination with the couple of drinks that I poured down during the day, added to the irresponsibility that I was enjoying, and had provided me with a warm glow. I sat quietly, finishing my drink and another cigar before hearing the sound of applause again. The whole thing had seemed to end quickly enough, with both Lorelei and Katie operating at maximum efficiency. As I made my way up to the main table at the end of this second event, I may have felt a minor wobble to my step, but put it off to being tired rather than anything else. As we made our way to the third and final event of the evening, I was beginning to firmly feel the warm glow of brotherhood for all mankind. (usually a clear sign that I was either feeling a little drunk or a lot stupid.)

The third event of the evening was a coffee and desert affair, and though coffee was probably the best thing for me at this point, I made my way into the bar instead. I didn’t bother to eat at this stop, as deserts were never my preference. I did get another drink though, and settled down to pass the time quietly. My good humor remained, but I was also feeling a little sorry for myself (a natural part of the cycle that overindulgence can have on me and many others, if not closely monitored).


No one was noticing my absence (and why should they), and I still hadn’t solved any of my personal problems. I hadn’t been drinking heavily, but I had been doing so rather steadily for some time now. I also had not been eating enough that day to be able to adequately handle any real amount of alcohol consumption. Being in such a condition doesn’t bring on drunkenness for me, as much as it can lead to melancholy and a touch of self-doubt. Being alone in such a condition allows me to feel sorry for myself without having it bother me or anybody else.

The truth of the matter is that eating won’t keep you from getting drunk, but can help with the inevitable empty feeling the next morning. You get drunk when you digest a certain amount of alcohol and you sober up when it has worked its way through your system. As for the other, I think everyone has to feel sorry for themselves from time to time, if only to allow themselves a chance to get it out of the way of the life that we are all to often caught up in. Such feelings are just the body’s way of telling the mind that most of everyday existence is a mindless tedium of bullshit that must be endured when it can’t be enjoyed.

This is a lot like noting that stress is the condition that arises when the body overrides the mind’s desire to choke the life out of some idiot that desperately deserves it. OK, all of this is a cheap rationalization of the fact that I had gotten myself half-hammered without realizing it. Come on now, I’m looking for understanding and sympathy here, not lectures.

This one ended rather quickly (thank goodness for me at this point), and before I knew it, that applause was sounding again. I made my way to the front of the room on legs that were a bit more unsteady than they had been at the last stop, but by then I was convinced that they were not noticeably so. I must have been a little longer than I thought in getting to the spot, because Katie was already with Lorelei when I reached them. They were both smiling with self-satisfaction over the nights’ results, and we made our way easily to the cab. The two chatted amiably about something on the trip back to the hotel, but I must admit that I wasn’t paying too much attention. I might have even dropped off (just for a second mind you), and I felt my head jerk up as we stopped in front of the lobby. Patrick had leaped down from his seat by the time that I exited the carriage, and added a steadying influence to my assistance of the ladies from our transportation (I think that he might have noticed and had a bit of concern over my condition.) and into the hotel lobby.


Lorelei excused herself as soon as we were inside with a few parting words to the both of us. The events of the day had taken their toll on her, and she just wanted to collapse if we didn’t mind. Feeling just the opposite, Katie was pumped up by the evening’s work and opportunity of getting back into the game. She suggested a nightcap. Casting common sense to the wind, I agreed. There was a courtyard off on side of the bar, and Katie and I adjourned there for cigars (my third of the evening) and another whiskey. The evening was clear and bright, and it was comfortable to be out of doors, even this late. We sat quietly, but my thoughts were back on my situation, and not on the evening’s events.

I know how you feel Sean,” Katie said, surprising me with the subject. “It’s not easy to be without someone you care about, and I if anyone ought to know.”

Maybe I was in more of a fog than I thought that I was. “Really,” I replied. “Would you care to elaborate on that remark young lady?”

Why not,” she said, looking around to see if there was anyone close that might overhear us. “You see, I was engaged to Phillip’s brother Arturo.”

The stunned look on my face must have said it all, but I was forced to keep a bit of control while the drinks were served. For her part, Katie seemed to have relaxed, as though getting a chance to unburden herself was something that she needed to do rather badly.

You realize of course, that no one knows about this,” she began. “You shouldn’t tell anyone one else about, oh hell… Arturo and I had only known each other for a couple of years. We met when I began covering events at the Manor House for the newspaper that I was working for at the time. He was handsome, intelligent, and charming; and it was love at first sight for the both of us.

Oh, there was no way that it could work of course, and we tried to hide it from each other for as long as we thought we could. I certainly couldn’t let on. I had a career that I was trying to build and needed to hang onto whatever shreds of journalistic impartiality and integrity that I could; and that meant keeping my feelings to myself. We stayed at arms length for many months, but I melted every time that he looked at me.


For his part, he was merely the soul of politeness. His attentions were patient and undemanding, and if he had stronger feelings for me, he did a pretty damn good job at not showing it. We both had our careers to consider, and we were both too responsible to jeopardize them. I needed to remain free to do what I loved. He needed to stay free to win the election that would come when his father passed away. Before either one of us had realized it though, the feelings and the situation had become bigger than both of us.

I don’t remember who confessed first, but both of owned up to the truth of our feelings one fateful night. We knew the score where such a relationship was concerned, but we were bound and determined to find a way to make it work somehow, and our careers could be damned. We kept our love a secret, spending time together when we could and waiting patiently. We had made a promise to each other that when the election was over, whichever way that it went, that we would find a way to have a life together.

Then he disappeared without a word on that damned hunting trip. For years now, I don’t know if something happened to him, or if there was just something or someone else and he couldn’t admit it. I told myself that it was all for the best. I told myself that he never really loved me anyway and that he never would have been able to fulfill his promise; but I’ve never been able to reconcile myself to the way that it ended. I can't believe though that knowing him the way that I did, that he would have left me without a word. I tell myself sometimes now that I hate him for what he’s done to me, but I know that it’s a lie. I know that as long as I live, it will always be him that I love, and that I’ll never care for anyone one else.”

And no one else knows,” I asked?

Oh, there might have been some suspicions at the time, but I know that I never told anyone. If Arturo did, he never told me about it.”

That my dear lady,” I offered, “is as incredible a story as it is a sad one. I don’t know if there is really anything that I could say that would be of any condolence, so I will say nothing. At any rate, your secret is safe with me. Let me instead offer a toast. To the ones that we love, though they be not present in our lives, they will always be present in our hearts.”


We lifted our glasses and toasted, feeling sorry for ourselves and for each other. Then we toasted again. We called for more whiskey, and toasted everything and everybody. We even toasted our competition, hoping that they would rot in a particularly nasty part of hell. We toasted until we were both toasted, as a matter of fact. Then, with a quiet hug of shared misery and companionship, we made our separate ways to the oblivion of unconsciousness.

This brings me back to the morning of day six, and the dead animal syndrome that I was currently experiencing. The plot was thickening (or was that just my head). There seemed to be wheels within wheels within wheels that were apparent to this place. There was also something about all of this that was beginning to take some kind of shape in the back of my mind. It seemed to me that if I could only figure out what it was, and was going on around me, that it would mean something, and perhaps even help our efforts. It was nothing I could put my finger on yet, but was something that just gave me a feeling like we were leaving the heavy woods and that a path lay just ahead. The trick was not to become impatient and try to force a solution, but to let the idea come of its own. (Let go Luke and use the force…)

I therefore told myself that all I really needed to do was to keep my wits about me. I told myself that I had to focus on the moment and to get back in the game. Then reality set in and I told myself that what I was giving myself was one of those bullshit speeches that really used to annoy me. Strangely enough, this self-revelation didn’t bother me in the least and likewise decided that I believed myself. Somehow, it spite of ourselves and perhaps even too late, we were getting our act together. First things first however (how could it be otherwise) it was time to fight through the fog caused by the evening’s activities and the malaise of a struggling campaign, buckle up, and face the world.

So saying, I put my luggage in order (such as it was) and made my way down to the lobby. The day would be a miserable one to face, but I had no one to blame but myself for the way that I felt. The good news was that there were only three days left in the trip and that the lessons that I had learned last night would probably last me until we reached home. Or at least, one could only hope...

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