An Excerpt from...
The amber glow of the security light and the almost dreamlike appearance of the snow as it fell at a rate of nearly an inch per hour made for a peaceful winter scene. Not quite Currier & Ives, but serene nonetheless. With the holidays now a memory, most Rhode Islanders, enamored with the thought of a White Christmas, now cursed the weather at the mere mention of the word snow. The expected yield from the current storm was estimated to be somewhere in the double digits, something that left one ill-prepared unfortunate standing off to the side of the parking lot even more displeased with his current predicament.
It was bitterly cold, and the wind, gusting at times, seemed to cut right through the heavy leather overcoat layered over his $1,200 Italian suit. The Gucci wingtips, worn in fine compliment to his business attire, provided less than adequate protection from the mounting snowfall. He had no cover for his head, and in the rush for the door, scarf and gloves were also left behind. But even with all of these factors, the intensity of the chill experienced could not be attributed to meteorological conditions alone.
The late evening phone call received on his private line was enough to send a shiver in the midst of a July heat wave. Having just arrived at home following a long day of power brokering and political arm-twisting, the stock in trade of any successful legislative lobbyist, thought of a change into more suitable clothing before exiting once again hadn’t merited even brief consideration. When his presence was commanded in the parking lot behind the Trinity Square Café in thirty minutes, he hadn’t dared a mention of the weather. This good sense had been abandoned however with an inquiry as to the nature of the rather abrupt summons. Upon receipt of the answer, he’d wished that he had accepted his instructions without question. The tirade from the other end of the phone line could have been heard through closed doors several rooms away.
So there he stood, ankle deep in snow while attempting to utilize a recessed doorway as shelter, and hoping that there would be the opportunity to explain away whatever it was that had caused such anger. Shaking his head, he gave serious consideration as to what he would offer up to be somewhere other than here. But then again, serious consequences would result should he simply walk away.
Shifting his weight and rotating more into the doorway to escape the biting wind, he asked himself why he was so damned worried? He didn’t understand why the caller was so agitated. Everything was under control. Yes, there were a few citizens upset by his latest initiative, but there always seemed to be somebody grousing regardless of the issue or the project. Really not a big deal at all, he thought. Just a part of doing business.
The parking area was sparsely populated, occupied by his own new Mercedes sedan and what he presumed to be the automobiles of the few patrons left in the cafe at that time of night. He considered returning to the warmth of his car, but given his business associate’s obvious displeasure, keeping him waiting for even a brief moment would only fan the flames.
Headlight beams ran down the wall of the building on the opposite side of the alley that served as the street entrance to the lot, and a Lincoln Town Car plodded into the parking area, snow crunching under the wheels. He left the alcove and moved away toward the approaching vehicle. The cautious pace of the car as it drew closer caused his mouth to go dry and his stomach to sink. As the passenger side window slid down, his paranoia caused him to half expect a shotgun to appear. He hoped his imagination, now well into overdrive, would not be proven prophetic.
No gun barrel immerged. The Town Car contained only the driver, an unnerving individual with or without firearms.
“Get in the fucking car before I catch pneumonia,” the driver said.
The intended passenger reached for the door handle, but the window rose, and the Lincoln continued on. The automobile was steered into a space on the far side of the lot, away from the rear entrance of the café. The headlights were turned off, but the engine remained running. The cold, scared respondent trudged over to the parked vehicle and got in.
There was just enough light to see the driver’s weather worn face, and the expression upon it was not one of contentment. He was a big man, weighing nearly 275 pounds, and when standing, towering to a height of six foot four. The bulky leather jacket that he wore added to his imposing stature. His thinning dark hair showed hints of gray and was closely cropped. He looked to be forty, or perhaps forty-five. In his younger days, he might have been an athlete, but then again, maybe not. His type tended to make career choices early on, and schoolboy athletics didn’t put cash into your pocket.
There was silence for a time. Then the driver spoke, the tone almost paternal, “Tell me what’s going on down in that little town of yours.”
Perhaps this meeting wouldn’t be as bad as first thought.
“I’m not sure what you mean. Everything’s under control. We just had to wait for the timing to be right.”
The driver’s feigned warmth disappeared and was quickly replaced by anger.
“What the fuck does that mean, ‘the timing to be right’?” he asked. “Do you have control of what’s going on down there or not? I read in the paper that you lost your fucking cool the other night after some old lady scolded you like a fucking child. That doesn’t sound like you got control of shit. I am not going to sit here and fucking remind you of how much goddamn money we’ve got riding on this thing. You came to us and asked us for our help. You assured us that you had the town council and the rest of those assholes all in your fucking pocket. You promised us that we would see a tremendous return on our investment.”
The driver leaned in closer to his guest. He glared at the smaller man and allowed the pause to further emphasize his discontent.
“We’re not going to be happy if this comes apart because your assurances weren’t worth shit. Do you fucking understand me you mealy mouth twit? We ain’t some mamby-pamby investment group that’s gonna simply roll over and take it up the ass when our cash gets flushed down the shitter. We don’t give a rat’s ass who you are; that you’re some fucking big shot up at the statehouse. We don’t give two shits!”
The silence that ensued was nerve racking; the tension palpable. The only sounds beyond the almost imperceptible rumble of the running engine were the slight ruffle of wet snow landing on the windshield and a low wheeze in the driver’s agitated breathing. The political operative could feel the other’s eyes boring in. What was he supposed to say… to do? He was fearful of physical retribution should he err in judgment. So he opted to hold his tongue.
“Did you hear one thing that I just said or are you fucking sleeping over there?” the driver asked.
“I heard you and I know that you have concerns, but…”
He nearly made the mistake of saying yet again that things were under control. The entire situation was quite frustrating, and he thought to himself that this animal had no clue as to how these things were done. After all, the man in the passenger seat made his living by controlling others and influencing their decisions. How else had he been continually re-elected despite the inevitable hammering that he always withstood from the supposed good government watchdog groups. Now, as one of the highest compensated and most sought after lobbyists in the state, little had changed. This thug needed to understand that it was in a politician’s nature to manipulate people without their knowledge or objection.
The larger man once again broke the uncomfortable silence, and speaking in a mocking tone said, “You were saying?”
The lobbyist refrained from making eye contact as he carefully chose his words in response, “We had a couple of homeowners and some of the local merchants squawking about being displaced, and about the price that they would be paid for their property if they were forced to sell. It’s the usual stuff. That’s all it was. I may have lost my temper a bit, but I have not lost control of the sheep on the town council. They’ll do whatever I tell them to do. I’ve been running that town for a very long time, and my family longer still. People owe me there because I get them jobs. I get their entire family jobs. I ensure that state business is sent their way. I did so as a town councilman, as a legislator, and I still do. My party continues to consider me as one of their leaders. Thus, I continue to swing a great deal of weight with my former colleagues on either side of the aisle. They loved me then, and they continue to love me now. You and your associates recognized that fact, and that’s why you joined me in this little venture. You also see the potential for this income stream to continue with other projects in the future.”
The corrupt politician now drew upon a renewed sense of self-esteem, and, at least in his mind, believed himself rising to the occasion. That burst of self-assurance was short lived.
The man behind the wheel, displaying quickness unexpected from an individual of his size, lunged over and with his left hand grabbed his passenger by the testicles, squeezing hard. He spoke directly into the passenger’s face, drops of spit accompanying the terse delivery like beads of venom.
“Let me tell you something. If you fuck this up, we’re going to put these in a vise and squeeze until your fucking eyeballs come popping outta their sockets. You came to us, asshole. You wanted a little seed to get things going; to set up a front that couldn’t be traced real easy; to quietly buy up the land cheap so you could skim the fucking profit. Then you wanted our associates to handle the construction so that you could hide more of your fucking graft. You promised us a tremendous return as well as a way to washour money if we provided the bucks you needed for this goddamn thing. What’d you call it, hard money financing? You’re about to find out just how hard, you piece of shit!”
There was a momentary pause for emphasis along with a slight reduction in the applied pressure. The driver’s tone was very low, but still quite effective.
“You’ve been warned.”
Then the pressure was increased once again. The man in the passenger seat wreathed in agony as his genitals where crushed under the force of this brute’s grip. Tears rolled down his face, and his eyes desperately pleaded for the aggressor to loosen his hold. When the release came, the lingering pain made the politician nearly vomit.
“Now get the fuck out of my car and get this fucking thing going,” the driver said, “or the next time we have this kinda conversation, you may not walk away so easy. You understand me?”
The response was strained.
The driver, with his face no more than two inches from the other man’s, said calmly, “Tell me that you understand. Say it.”
One again in a labored voice, the passenger responded,“I understand you perfectly.”
The driver reached over and opened the passenger side door. His guest tumbled out of the car and into the snow that now measured over five inches deep. The door was pulled shut and the Lincoln began to back out, nearly running over the prostrated figure. The former legislator rolled to one side and watched as his tormentor drove away.
His worst fears were coming to fruition. Never fully comprehending what he was getting himself into, he had approached these people through his trade union contacts. His arrogance had never allowed for the possibility that they were not like other businessmen, the type that he masterfully handled all the time. But after the initial cash installment covertly changed hands, he began to come to the realization that control of these men was nothing more than an illusion.
It had been a serious miscalculation assuming that this transaction would be no different than his previous dalliances into the lining of his own pockets at the taxpayers’ expense. At first, he’d been very pleased with himself, believing his graft elevated to a whole new financial level. But now he was well in harm’s way. Given the lesson so recently imparted, failure was not an option.
Fighting back the urge to void in his pants, he began to gather himself and regain his footing. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that a patron had exited the café, taken note of his prone figure, and was now approaching.
“Hey, buddy. Are you okay? Are you hurt?” the patron asked.
As this Good Samaritan, a younger man perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties, drew closer, the disheveled, snow covered lobbyist tried to look away to avoid being recognized. The last thing he needed now was for some citizen to get a good look at his face.
Good Christ, he thought to himself, what else could go wrong?