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Mind Games | The Nation

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Mind Games

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Congresswoman Cynthia Kang sat in the red cracked-leather booth considering, yet again, the scenario Joan Halstead had suggested to her a day ago. That shadowy billionaire Mace Gilmore was seeking to influence the ongoing presidential race. In and of itself, that wasn't much of a revelation, as what person of means wasn't sticking their finger into the American pastime, the blood sport called politics? She took another lady-like sip of her vodka martini, comfortably aware the Blind Pig Bar and Grill was off the regular media radar, but also knowing such self-assurance was false security in the age of bloggers and cell phone video.

About the Author

Gary Phillips
Gary Phillips's short stories have appeared, most recently, in Los Angeles Noir (Akashic) and in Full House (G.P....

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In this last episode we mostly wrap things up, but leave a few strange matters for earthly or cosmic interpretation.

Breakfast turns violent, more is revealed, and while a decent president gets elected, there's no rest for Congresswoman Kang.

Just ask Barack Obama about Mayhill Fowler, the 60-something Huffingtonpost "citizen journalist" who busted him on his comment at a fundraiser in SF she attended, herself a contributor to his campaign. She was recording him as a discussion arose about people in small towns where job prospects had become nil. "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." It's not like, Kang reflected, this comment was particularly harsh or inaccurate, and those so-cool-we're-frosty San Franciscans pretty much said that about Southern Californians on the regular. But perception is everything, and naturally the right-wing echo machine latched onto this to whipsaw the white electorate, branding Obama an elitist--launching the Bittergate two-step.

Kang eyed her martini glass and lifted it from the table, determined to pace herself, even though she certainly wasn't going to get drunk and start muttering obscenities or cracking off-color jokes in the Pig. Even among the good ol' boy gentry of the Beltway, such behavior was frowned on these days. The eatery was on the outer edge of what had been the traditional Chinatown in the DC metro area--small by San Francisco and New York standards. When she first got elected, Kang had been invited by the Greater Asian Pacific Islander Action Council to a dinner in Chinatown. GAP, as the 527 was called for shorthand, helped raise monies for progressive Asians seeking office or seeking to retain their office. The dinner was in a second-floor restaurant whose windows overlooked a Hooters across the street. Apparently after decades of neglect, DC's boutique Chinatown had been given the gentrification treatment, and all the swell stuff that came with it.

Eschewing her own advice, she signaled for a refill, vowing to make it a maximum of two drinks. What was it about drinking and the mistaken belief that was the way to handle pressure? "Dutch courage" was the cliché from back in the day. A term her father the good pastor would use with reverence in his ritual raising of a glass of bourbon, neat, on Sunday evenings. After a week of dealing with the leak in the church basement, his parishioners' woes and that morning's sermon--he always regretted that he couldn't have given it more work--he'd down his drink, sigh appreciatively, and then they'd have dinner. Sundays were her mom's pot roast, stir-fried vegetables including bok choy and aubergine, rice and youtiao, a fried bread. Her mother was into fusion cooking before the term was in vogue.

Halstead claimed that Gilmore, while he hadn't encouraged his wife to have an affair with Dieter Countryman, knew full well about it. She claimed that Gilmore was suffering from Lou Gehrig's Disease and was not only looking to play a role in who was going to be the next President of the United States but writing (and dictating) his tell-all memoir. Even more eyebrow-raising was her assertion that Gilmore was stirring up the mix to raise the stakes for independents and third-party types like former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, running for the presidency as the Libertarian candidate.

"Say what?" Kang had said when they'd met in Rock Creek Park.

"It's what I understand," the other woman asserted.

"Since you and Cenine aren't exactly bosom buddies, how do you know all this, Joanie?"

"I'm an RN, do mostly private, in-home care work these days."

Kang nodded her head. The information she'd been given by McNair on Halstead confirmed this. Nearly two decades ago, she'd come east after two years in college in California, running off with a non-tenured professor who'd written a play about an imagined encounter between Nikola Tesla and Edgar Allan Poe--in the style of Brecht with touches of Beckett. The play did get mounted way off Broadway and kept folks in the seats for a month or so. By then the two had broken up and the young Halstead, determined to not have to come home to finger-pointing, pursued a variety of endeavors, including attending nursing school.

Halstead continued, "Not surprisingly, I have a couple of friends who do what I do, and we pal around when we have the time. One of my friends was interviewed at Gilmore's compound in Fairfax."

"By Gilmore?"

"No, underlings. But she knew the place was his, she'd done her homework. And in my circle, rumors of rich people with cancer and such get around. They tend to see the same high-profile doctors. Gilmore's condition has been talked about for a while now."

"So this was about caring for him as his disease progresses?" Kang asked.

"Exactly."

"How'd this political stuff come up?"

Joanie Halstead made gestures with her hands, searching for the correct words. "She was asked about her politics. Or rather, would she object to signing a non-disclosure agreement given there would be certain individuals she might recognize coming in and out of the house. The implication being they knew she was a registered Democrat, we guessed."

"Then why even interview her?"

Halstead fixed her with a grim stare. "Karen, that's my friend, has had experience with those suffering from ALS. Including her own family." She didn't elaborate about that but had gone on that her friend Karen had been invited back for another meeting, this time in an office of K Street. Where apparently she did meet Gilmore, who explained he was composing his book and indicating his plans for the presidential race.

At ease with her second drink in the red leather booth, Kang wondered why Gilmore would reveal this to the nurse, particularly as she hadn't yet signed a non-disclosure. What sort of mind games was Gilmore up to?

Her cell chimed and she saw it was a call from Lillian McCord. "What up?" she said, answering. "It's late out there."

"I've found Lacy Mills, Cynthia," her friend the semi-retired lobbyist on the West Coast said. "And she's got plenty to say."

To Be Continued...

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