California Congresswoman Cynthia Kang gazed out the window overlooking Lennox Avenue five stories below. Last time she'd been in Harlem she watched horses the color of arctic drifts pulling a matching glass-walled carriage along that street. They'd clopped by carrying James Brown in a gold coffin. Men and women dressed for the bracing cold marched behind the procession. The whole of it was on its way to the Apollo Theater, where the Godfather of Soul's body would lie on display before being shipped to Augusta for burial--or at least the fight over who had control of Soul Brother Number One's body.
"Interesting," Chet Kimbrough mumbled, checking the current primary polls now post the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire. He routinely skimmed various political sites on his PDA. He placed it aside on a round table he stood near and removed the lid of his travel cup. He swirled the coffee dregs as if portending the future.
Kang turned from the window. "What?"
"Your name came up on a blog in the context of a thread about Larry Craig."
Irritated, Kang lifted an eyebrow. "Hey, I don't have a wide stance."
Kimbrough allowed a chuckle. "More speculation about your choices in partners, CK. 'Fortysomething, never been married, no children...seemingly no permanent situation.' "
"Me and Condoleezza."
Kimbrough remained silent while he sipped his residue.
Sighing she said, "Speaking of the departed."
"I was reflecting on when we'd been uptown last and the impact Mister Brown had on music, his domestic situations, to use your word, notwithstanding."
Kimbrough touched the screen of his crackberry. "You know JB and Pavarotti sang together on TV, right?"
"Indeed," he assured her. "Can't remember what the program was. But with full strings going, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business sang 'This is a Man's World' in English, while the big tenor did his parts in, you know, opera."
"It was all over the 'net when Pavarotti passed. You didn't see it?"
"I'm an ascetic, I can't stand too much excitement."
Kimbrough smiled crookedly. "Yes, like that time you were dating the baller. The younger man. The younger man with cornrows."
"That's good," the Congresswoman said wagging her finger. "You gave it just the right amount of middle-American disdain."
Kimbrough countered, "I know you don't give a damn, CK, but it does matter who you're seen with if you're to have a higher profile than your district."
"If," she repeated, trailing off. She regarded a poster of little- known civil rights heroine Septima Clark. "Besides, when I was going out with Evan, I was bridging to my black constituents."
"You don't have any," Kimbrough, an African-American, remarked. Her California Congressional district, comprising mostly parts of the San Gabriel Valley, was populated with Asians, with Chinese and Chinese Americans being the majority of those. There was a minority of Latinos, and a smattering of elderly whites left from the era when that area was saturated by the Dust Bowlers.
"I might one day."
"Yes, that is so," he agreed quietly.
The door opened. Hal Carter stepped into the tidy conference room of the Urban Survival Initiative offices, an affordable housing and open spaces advocate organization.
"What's going on, Chet?" Carter said, shaking her chief of staff's hand. "Haven't seen you since that water board race in Cleveland."
"It's good seeing you again too, Hal," Kimbrough enthused. "I'd like you to meet Congresswoman Cynthia Kang."
"Pleasure," Carter said, shaking her offered hand. "I know Eric Ong and Sue Nakawa from A-Pilck back when I was out there working for Maxine."
"Good to meet you too," Kang responded, nodding curtly. The Asian American Pacific Islander Legal Caucus was often referred to how its acronym sounded. Their C4 arm had endorsed and done work for Kang's Congressional race.
"Here we go," Carter said, indicating seats at the round conference table. The three sat. "Y'all good on juice? Sparkling water? More coffee for you, Chet?"
Kimbrough hesitated but didn't give in to his urge. "I better just say no," he smiled.
"You two on your way down to DC?"
"We take the late train tonight," Kang replied.
Carter interlaced his fingers on the table's top. "In this insane political season of ours, several things are in motion as you know. Clinton and cleavage... Obama and Oprah... Fred Thompson the cornpone Reagan and all that. But even with various states having early primaries, it's not clear that folks, our folks I mean, will come out to vote."
Kang and Kimbrough exchanged a look. "We're not trying to get our carts before the horses, Hal," Kimbrough said.
Carter studied Kang. "But this could pave the way."
"I really don't know that," she said. "Primarily I came because you'd hinted there's a fire I need to keep from becoming a four-alarmer."
"Meaning you're staying in the party?" Carter asked.
"Meaning," Kang answered, "that as Chet suggested, I'm taking one step at a time."
Cater considered this then said, "I guess that'll have to do for now. What I know is that tomorrow the story's going to break that retired Congressman Grish Waller will be implicated in the growing Fallanbee Directive mess."
"And this is being orchestrated by whom?" Kimbrough asked. "The finger-pointing at Waller, I mean."
"That I don't know or better, can't say as I don't know for sure." Carter stared at him evenly. "But it is going to break."
Kang asked, "And you called Chet, why?"
"I understand you take his counsel," he paused, adding, "at times, at least."
Kimbrough added, "And because you've been reading too many lefty blogs that think--"
"Or project," Kang interjected.
Kimbrough inclined his head toward his friend. "That CK is going to break with the party and run as an independent for the presidency in the next dust up."
Carter hunched his shoulders. "It's all just speculation, right, Congresswoman?" Kang was in the first year of her second term.
Kang didn't answer immediately. When she was in high school and other teenaged girls were worried about cheerleader tryouts or learning the latest dance steps, she'd gotten turned on to wanting to make a difference. This after seeing a Doris Day movie called The Pajama Game with her mom one Sunday afternoon on TV. Well, she had lost getting a slot on the cheerleading squad by one lousy vote.
"By knowing this, you expect me to warn Grish or get my spin ready so as to distance myself from him while kicking him to the curb?" she finally said.
"Could be both, but that's not my purview, Congresswoman." Carter spread his hands wide. "I'm just trying to keep hope alive."
"Uh-huh," Kimbrough allowed. "Anything else you wish to share, Hal?"
Carter held his hands wide. "Whatever it is that CNN is going to unload on him tomorrow, it might not get an indictment, but as far as the court of public perception is concerned, he's going to be nasty old moldy toast."
"Caught on tape taking a pay off from a Fallanbee lobbyist? Or something sexual? Text messages to bosomy strippers?" Kang only half-joked.
Carter shook his head. "I honestly don't know. I would tell you if I did, since it's in my interest to keep your possible future candidacy viable."
"Nobody's a virgin in politics, Hal," she quipped. Carter, who sat on the board of the Initiative, was a mover among a coalition of East Coast independents and Greens. Grish Waller, an old school pol, chaired the housing committee she sat on. His being tainted could hurt her politically, given conservatives had been targeting recent programs the committee was advocating, such as her pending bill on just cause evictions.
"We appreciate the heads up on this, Hal," Kang said, standing up.
Carter also rose. "I hope it helps." They shook hands again.
Outside after saying their good-byes, Kang and Kimbrough, both in long coats, stood in the doorway of the office building. There had been a chill all day, though the ice storm in New York City had passed. Kang tamped her heavy scarf around her neck.
"You want me to call Lacy?" Kimbrough asked. Lacy Mills was Grish Waller's chief of staff.
"She might stonewall. Assuming they know this is coming."
Two teenaged girls listening to their respective iPods walked past. One was playing a 50 Cent song so loud, Kang and Kimbrough could nod their heads to it--if they were so inclined.
"We just shore up our defenses and let him get sandbagged?" There was no emotional inflection in his phrasing, merely a question about tactics.
"Sometimes it's hard keeping track of who's wielding what influence and when," Kang lamented. "Was it Mao who said no permanent friends, only permanent issues?"
Dropping out of law school at Berkeley, Kang had become a labor organizer, thanks to the seed planted by that goofy Pajama Game, a romantic comedy about a pending strike over seven-and-a-half cents at a pajama factory. At one point she'd been assigned by her union to oversee the phone banking for one of Grish's campaigns some twenty years ago. He wasn't a father figure to her, but he wasn't a stranger either.
Kimbrough waited. He was used to these moments of self-reflection.
"Call Lacy," Kang decided as they walked toward the subway. The air seemed to get colder.
Meanwhile, in somewhat warmer California, Grish Waller opened the desk drawer in his antique colonial desk. He stared yet again at the old-fashioned snub-nosed revolver. It had been a gift from a NRA booster friend of his.
To Be Continued...
and post suggestions about where the story goes next here.