"What do you know about Mace Gilmore?" Lillian McCord asked her.
"An obscenely well-off proponent and practitioner of Adam Smith's dictums." Cynthia Kang crossed one leg over the other, lulled by the sound of the ocean waves. She sat in McCord's Pacific Palisades hilltop abode. The semi-retired lobbyist also knew something about the good life.
The older woman had a sip of her wine. "He met with Grish a week before his death."
"About this Fallenbee mess?" Gilmore was president of the entity's board and a major investor in it as well.
"Among other things, apparently."
"After that meeting Grish sought your advice?"
"In his way, he did." She stopped herself, looking off through a picture window into the blackness of night.
Kang waited, enjoying some more of her wine. She had her feet up on an ottoman. Good thing no photographer was hounding her. But what self-respecting paparazzo would follow a politician around in LA, what with the latest bubble-brained starlet having a meltdown on her way to jail for DUI or caught exiting her low-slung sports car sans thong? She sat forward, looking at her friend.
McCord breathed in audibly. "He was shaken, Cynthia."
"He did it, took the kickbacks?"
McCord managed a thin smile. "He was worried for Connie."
"I'm not following."
"Connie did some consulting work for a Fallenbee subsidiary." Conrad Waller, Grish's grown son, had been a bright student at Cal Tech. He was adept at math and mechanical engineering. But like some for whom these abilities were second nature, he was bored with formal education and did not envision a life of building robots or teaching in the university. He'd dropped out of school and thereafter had done a variety of jobs, from running an inner city rec center to being an agent for life coaches. All very interesting, but vexing to his patient father.
"What kind of work?And what kind of subsidiary?" She made a gesture with her hand as if warding off a fly. "A damn restaurant chain, Cynthia. Albeit a tony one, the Pasta Grotto line."
"I like their pizzas too, but what was Connie doing for them? Coming up with a Star Trek type of lasagna maker?" Kang did love her some original Trek. Even went to a Halloween Party once in one of those crazy mini-skirts the women wore in the '60s show. Sexism not withstanding, she rocked that outfit.
Lillian McCord refilled their glasses. "He was listed as advising on product acquisition."
"Huh. Right. A man who studied how to soup up the Mars Rover would rather recommend the best cloves of garlic to buy. So he had a do-nothing, no-show job as a way to put some money in his pocket."
"So I gathered."
"And this money is directly linked to Gilmore? That the billionaire gave the son this scratch as a way to gain favor with Grish? Or that father and son were splitting the take?"
"Something like that."
"Or exactly like that?" Kang said, irritably.
McCord looked uncomfortable.
"Come on, Lil, this is Grish we're talking about. He did a lot of shit in his time, carried brackish water for some nasty types now and then, but that's the price of being in this rodeo we call our political system. But out-and-out take a bribe? And for what? He wasn't that way about money--unless you know something I don't."
"I loved him too, Cynthia, I know." She touched the Congresswoman's knee. "This is not easy for me. But it's not just the memory and reputation of Grish Waller I have on my mind."
Kang studied her. "You mean me?"
The other woman sat back, spreading her arms as if embracing the future. "People have been whispering in my ear. I'm not without my own spheres of influence, you understand."
Kang laughed good-naturedly, clapping her hands together once. "Stevie Wonder could see that, Lil. What do you and the whispering ones have in mind for me?"
McCord zeroed her with a glare. "You should take this more seriously, Cynthia."
"You don't have ambition?" she countered, incredulously.
"Naturally, I'm an elected. I have as healthy an ego as the next ABC brought up to succeed." She had more of her wine.
"You're good at deflecting, Ms. Kang. But I know you're driven. I know, too, you want to make a difference." She also had another sip. "I know that it's not just a sound bite with you to talk about change, as it is with our current crop of presidential hopefuls."
Kang wasn't comfortable being analyzed nor talking about herself and what she wanted. To her, expressing such was a bloated self-important exercise in delusion. In that regard, she wryly admitted to herself, she was a traditional daughter of dutiful Asian parents. But then, what was a politician but somebody who believed they had the answer--assuming they understood the question.
"So what was Gilmore looking to influence, Lil?" She reminded herself to have her office check on which representative or senator was doing the Fallenbee Directive's bidding these days.
"Not sure if that was it at all," she said, "Grish clamped up after confessing his concerns for Connie. Saying he'd take care of it and all that. Though I recalled at the funeral about a half a year ago we'd taken a weekend excursion to Taos and were riding horses along this mountain trail."
Kang chuckled, shaking her head. What a crack-up imagining Grish Waller--a working-class boy raised in the old Bunker Hill section of LA back when trolley cars were clanging--making like Clint Eastwood.
"Anyway, McCord continued, "we'd stopped to watch this gorgeous purple and gold sunset behind the mountains, and Grish mumbled something about 'Fuckin' Gilmore wants that too.' " She paused, frowning. "I asked him what the hell he was talking about, but he deflected. I guess you learned from the master."
"Indeed," Kang allowed. "Hey, why wasn't Lacy Mills at the funeral?" Mills had been Waller's chief of staff for more than a decade and maintained a close relationship with him. She'd been the one Kang and Chet Kimbrough had tried to contact when first informed of the pending allegations against Grish Waller by Kimbrough's friend Hal Carter.
She finished her glass of wine. "Good question. Don't know, though I assumed she would be."
They talked some more, then McCord showed Kang to the guest room. "See you in the morning." They gave each other pecks on the cheek. After settling into bed, Kang used the remote to turn on the TV in her room. She went back and forth from MSNBC to CNN, comparing and contrasting their respective prognostications on the presidential mash-up. She got bored with that and chanced upon a Sex in the City episode with Fred Thompson in it as a politician. She fell asleep, dreaming she and Grish Waller were riding bionic horses in a post-apocalyptic Washington.
They rode past Ralph Nader speaking to a small group before a bombed-out windmill, a broken lance leaning against his podium. The riders halted among the ruins of the Lincoln Memorial. Honest Abe's upper body had been shorn off at an angle, and lay on its side on the ground. Kang looked long and deep into those stone, unblinking eyes.
To Be Continued...
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