Red White and Black and Blue
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by Richard Stevenson
Category: Gay Fiction/Mystery/Crime
Description: In an election year, Don finds himself in the unlikely role of political operative. Rumors about the Tea Party's opportunistic gubernatorial candidate, Kenyon Louderbush, paint him as an unfaithful, callous exploiter of young men...young men that he puts into the hospital...or perhaps the morgue. Don smells truth in those rumors. But, he's confounded by a shadowy conspiracy, witnesses' fear and a grieving family appallingly willing to give up on justice for a brutalized son and brother. In RED WHITE AND BLACK AND BLUE, series creator Stevenson takes witty aim at the polarization, dissembling and double-dealing of American politics. It's a story that leaves even our hero, Don, tarnished and bruised.
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/MLR Press, LLC,
eBookwise Release Date: September 2011
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [301 KB]
Reading time: 182-256 min.
"Don, my man! Thanks so much for coming in. I'd've shlepped out to your office on Central -- Christ, that's how important I think this is -- but as you can see it's already pre-election shock 'n' awe around here, and I'm lucky if I can drag my sorry ass out of this madhouse before the bar shuts down at Jack's at ten. What can Beryl get you? Coffee? Green tea? A Cinnibon from downstairs? You're not vegan, are you?"
Loosening his damp grip, Dunphy chuckled at his meant-to-be mot, and I seated myself on the office chair nearest his commodious desk, which was about as orderly as mine.
"Albany tap water would be fine. I walked over here, and it's warm for June."
"What, water that comes out of a pipe? That's novel. I'm not sure we have any of that. We do have about forty crates of water that comes out of plastic bottles that might or might not cause liver cancer. In fact, every time I see the senator swig from a bottle of Dasani at an event, I think, fuck, some nasty tumor he picked up from all the plastic shit we all drink out of is metastasizing at that very moment, and just about the time Shy is elected governor he's going to get a diagnosis that says he has about six weeks to live." Dunphy yelled toward his open office door, "Beryl, can you get Don some H2O?"
"Okay, commander," a strained voice came back.
"Beryl's eleven years old and has a master's in political science from NYU. I depend on her for everything. Politically, she knows where all the bodies are buried in the state of New York, and she's got it all on her laptop."
"Good for Beryl. But if she already knows where the bodies are buried, I'm not sure why you need me."
"We'll get to that," Dunphy said off-handedly as one of the multiethnic array of slender young women and men who sat punching things into laptops in the outer office trotted through the doorway with a foam cup and a bottle of Poland Spring water.
"Don here only drinks Albany tap water, but he'll just have to adjust down," Dunphy said as the young woman gave her boss a look.
"Shut the door, would you please, Beryl?"
Dunphy was as quick and alert as his young assistant, but his appearance wasn't nearly so fresh. In chinos, loafers, and a pale blue sports shirt, the director of State Senator Sylvester "Shy" McCloskey's gubernatorial campaign was one of those men who had probably looked fifty-five when he was twenty-five -- paunchy, jowly, bright-eyed and cheerfully pink-faced -- and would continue to appear to be about fifty-five until a heart attack killed him at seventy-one. The view out the ninth-floor window behind Dunphy looked up State Street at the New York State Capitol, gray and dungeonlike even in the late spring sunshine, a structure as inert on its foundations as its legislative inhabitants, now more than two months late, as usual, with the state budget.
"Before we go any further," Dunphy said, "I take it that you support the senator's candidacy for governor. The people who recommended you for this project said they assumed you would, but of course I have to ask. Otherwise, there's no point in our going on."
"Sure. I'll vote for McCloskey."
"You don't sound one hundred percent convinced."
"I don't agree with your guy on everything. He's too timid, I think, on getting redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature. And on public financing for campaigns he's as retrograde as everybody else. There are a couple of other things, too. But who else could I support? Louderbush is way out in right field, and in the general election it's likely to be Merle Ostwind. I'm trying to recall, but the last Republican I can think of who I might have voted for was Abraham Lincoln."
"Yeah, the other party peaked in 1865. It's a shame. A healthy democracy needs two parties both working for the common good. Not one dedicated to screwing the poor and the middle class and the other one busy screwing itself every chance it gets."
"And we get another chance to screw ourselves this fall."
"Ah, but that's where you come in, my friend." Dunphy forced a sour smile. "I'm sure you understand that if Assemblyman Louderbush wins the Democratic primary, we're all but fucked in November. The New York State electorate can be cranky, but it's not by and large clinically insane. Voters don't at all mind placing Republicans in the governor's mansion -- even mediocrities like George Pataki -- if our party comes across as too arrogant or too uppity-smarmy or too indictable. Or -- and this is why I have invited you here today -- if we offer voters candidates like Kenyon Louderbush, who's too weirdly out of step with the generally mild and centrist thinking of most of the state.
"All the polling confirms it; Louderbush has an electorally formidable primary following. They are mostly deranged Tea Partiers who think the New York State GOP is a secret agent in the employ of European state socialism, and these folks would rather have a right-wing Dem than a Nelson Rockefeller-style commie-Republican in office. So they're reregistering Democratic -- switching from Republican or independent -- to get Louderbush the nomination in September. Then he'll of course lose to mild-mannered Mrs. Ostwind, and it'll be four years of Pataki Lite.
"Which would be very lite indeed. The state will stagnate and our party will fall into disarray. Beelzebub will reign, in the form of more investment in prisons than in higher education, minimum-wage privatization of just about every civic function, and teachers being required to stay late and mow school lawns and shovel snow. Our generous friends the unions will have conniption fits. The Legislature, of course, will continue to lie on its back, its legs over its head, transfixed by its own butt hole. Within a period of just a few years, New York State will turn into Mississippi or Idaho or some such benighted bog -- an international laughing stock, a pathetic sink. Don, just the thought of what will happen to this wonderful state if Shy McCloskey loses the primary in September almost makes me want to open this window -- notwithstanding the fact that these fucking things are unopenable even on a day as lovely as this one -- and jump out. It's a hell almost beyond imagining."
"And you're going to depend on me to change all that? I'm humbled."
"You can help. You can make a difference."
I knew enough about Tom Dunphy -- Timothy Callahan's boss, state Assemblyman Myron Lipschutz, had filled me in -- to understand that even if the Democrats lost the governorship in November, Dunphy would not be jumping out of any windows. He'd go back to his Manhattan consulting firm and hire himself out to the highest center-left bidder running for office and would pop up periodically as an election-strategy nattering head on CNN and Morning Joe and even -- Dunphy could both dish it out and take it -- Fox News. Armageddon only lasted as long as an election cycle, and The Liberal Rapture was always just around the corner.
I said, "I've never done opposition research before, and generally I disapprove of it."
"From what I understand of the practice, it rarely produces information voters need to know about a candidate. Any news that somebody smoked pot in college or had a love child at seventeen who's now the Norwegian minister of fisheries is basically just a meaningless distraction. Unless, of course, the candidate has made a secret pact with Norway to have all the school children in his jurisdiction eating herring noodle surprise for breakfast and lunch."
A mild shrug. "The stuff you get from oppo's a meaningless distraction, yes, but it's a meaningless distraction that often matters. Elections, as I'm sure you know, are generally won or lost by a few percentage points. And if you can manipulate even a small fraction of voters into being turned off by your opponent's one-time or even current dropping-his-drawers problem, say, or by his having neglected to file his state tax return in a timely manner when he was nine years old, chances are you win. To the sensible folks you and I dine with at La Serre, these rude matters are an irritating distraction, of course. But to that always unhappy segment of the electorate that's eager to focus its inchoate resentments on a public figure who wants something from them -- such as a vote -- these irrelevancies can reign supreme. Especially if the irrelevancies have to do with things these unhappy voters aren't getting enough of, such as sex or money."
I said, "I've never heard anybody use inchoate in conversation before. What were you, an English major?"
Dunphy laughed. "Why else would I end up in a job like this?"
"Anyway," he went on, "opposition research can turn up information that's not merely ugly but does in fact bear on character, which is not irrelevant at all for public officials. Example A is one of our own. It was almost certainly a hired investigator such as yourself who tracked down Eliot Spitzer's wayward peregrinations. I know, I know -- a man hiring prostitutes. Ideally that ought to be between a man and his wife and his conscience, not for the readership of the New York Post to drool over. But our formerly revered crusading Democratic briefly-governor had cracked down on call-girl operations when he was AG, and it was the monumental hypocrisy that was so universally galling. It pains me to say it, but this was a legitimate call by the other side. And think of the closeted gay pols who scorn gay marriage and sexual-orientation job-protection laws, and so on, and then it comes out they've got wide-stance tendencies in airport restrooms. No, matters of character do count -- openness, honesty, actually being the person voters are led to think a candidate is. Which brings us, Don, to why I've asked you to come over here today."
Dunphy's cell phone warbled, and he picked it up, checked the number and shut the phone off. "That'll wait."
"Before we proceed, I can assure you that this office has been swept recently for listening and recording devices. Somebody comes in every morning at six. It's Clean-Tech. We use them, and the Republicans use Hunsinger, and Louderbush uses Price. You should know that about Louderbush."
"Since what we're about to discuss is extremely 'sensitive'" -- Dunphy waggled a set of quotation marks -- "and by that I mean very dicey falling-into-the-hands-of-the-media-wise. I would normally ask that you sign a confidentiality agreement. But I'm told that you can be trusted, so a handshake is going to have to do."
"It's your reputation for borderline-difficult, independent-minded integrity, in fact, that got you recommended for this job. That plus, of course, the fact that you are said to be gay as a Greek sailor. That's true, am I right?"
"I've taken it up the butt more than once."
Dunphy grew even pinker. "So you're going to have an entree into gay circles, and you'll be able to gain the trust of gay people involved in this thing far more reliably than any heterosexual investigator we might have taken on."
I said, "I never heard that about Greek sailors."
"Really?" He looked as if somebody had given him bad information, and what was this going to mean?
"So, what you seem to be getting at, Tom, is that Assemblyman Louderbush is secretly gay? If that's what this is -- me outing another closeted pol -- I'd have to give that some thought. Louderbush is anti--gay marriage, but otherwise he's not as rabid as a lot of his supporters. He did vote against the hate crimes bill, as I recall. But he's for civil unions, and otherwise he seems to prefer to avoid gay issues altogether. I can think of elected officials far more dangerous to the cause of gay rights than Louderbush. And there are some of those virulently antigay fellows who -- if it was established that they'd had a few call boys up to their hotel rooms for back rubs or for luggage-toting duties on junkets to Ibiza -- then I'd be prepared to go to town on the situation. But I don't know about Louderbush. In the hypocrisy department, he wouldn't rank high on most lists."
Dunphy looked somber. "If it was just his being gay, I might agree."
"So he is gay? What else?"
"Here's the deal. If it's true, it's really bad. There's no two ways about it. It is shameful and ugly. Two sources have led us to believe that Louderbush was once in a physically abusive relationship with a young gay man. Louderbush was the abuser. The young man committed suicide -- driven to suicide by Louderbush, two of the young man's friends insist. I'm not sure exactly how that would work; it sounds exaggerated. But whatever the truth of the situation, it does seem as if Louderbush was involved in a gay relationship that was messy and ugly and reflects poorly on his character. It was certainly a violation of his marriage vows, not that that alone disqualifies anybody from public office in this easygoing day and age, or should. But it's the physical and emotional cruelty to his boyfriend that -- if true -- is something I believe voters need to know about before deciding whether or not to cast a ballot for or against Shy McCloskey's primary election opponent."
I thought about what I'd seen and read of Louderbush. "He doesn't come across as mean."
"He's aggressive and noisy on behalf of what he sees as his libertarian principles. But the only people he seems nasty to are elderly people with medical problems. He wants to abolish Medicare, which at this late date has to be considered a sick joke. But that's all ideological and theoretical, and it's hard to imagine Louderbush actually beating up on any individual he's face-to-face with."
"It could be a Jekyll and Hyde type situation with him. This happens."
"If it's not true, of course, we'd pay you for your time and effort, and that would be that. Truth, justice, and the American way would prevail whatever you came up with. But if it is true, well, you'd be doing your bit to help elect a good man governor of our state, and Louderbush could slink away and enter rehab and refind Jesus and live to drive us all nuts another day."
I said, "Okay."
"Okay, I'll do it."
"I hate this stuff."
"So do I."
"Gay people should be held to the same moral standards for their behavior as other people. But anybody Louderbush's age -- what is he, in his fifties? -- grew up with so much homophobic crap getting heaped on them, it's a miracle most American homosexuals aren't seething and twisted deep inside. Seething or ashamed."
"Really? Are you?"
"No. I got bored with all that long ago. There's just a bit of residual melancholy."
"Before you start looking into what we've got on Louderbush," Dunphy said, "I should tell you one other thing."
"We know that the Republicans have gotten wind of this and they don't want it to come out. They want Louderbush on the Democratic primary ballot. The Ostwind campaign will be working overtime to discredit anything bad you come up with on Louderbush."
"They'll say it's all a smear. So you'll need to have all your ducks in a row before we leak this stuff to selected media outlets. Have I whetted your appetite, Don, for your work in the days and weeks ahead?"
I told him no, he hadn't.