“Figures a cocker spaniel-pampering, double-latte-drinking, brie-sniffin’ liberal like you would say that about the judge.” Desdemona Valdez laughed heartily.

“Can you see the middle finger I’m holding up?” Congresswoman Cynthia Kang responded, settling into her chair in her office in the Rayburn Building.

“I have another idea of what you can do with that finger when you’re back in town,” Valdez whispered.

“See how easy it is to get in trouble when it comes to sex, Des?”

Valdez said throatily, “People lose their minds.”

“Exactly my point,” Kang countered. “Besides, the judge is big on the First Amendment. According to the paper, one time he found out about certain filters blocking sites on courthouse computers, and he led a campaign to have those filters removed. Plus, he argued that he wasn’t even sure what he had on his site was prurient.” They both chuckled at that absurdity.

They’d been discussing a recent incident in Los Angeles involving an obscenity case involving a porn-maker before conservative Judge Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The LA Times reported that on the judge’s personal website he had, among other images, degrading photos of nude women on all fours painted like cows, and a video of a half-naked man prancing around with an aroused farm animal. When this came out the judge did a dog-ate-my-homework defense and blamed the content on his adult son. Nonetheless, he was forced to grant a forty-eight-hour stay as the political firestorm against him grew.

They talked some more, then Valdez said, “Hey, I better go, just caught a shooting on the edge of the Larchmont area outside a Catholic high school. Can you believe that?”

“Damn,” was the best Kang could muster. For her, like a lot of residents of the greater Los Angeles area, the gang situation and the fatal blowback on the innocent was getting to be too much of a usual occurrence–like rising gas prices. And as a legislator, she felt impotent. Society can’t arrest its way out of the gang crisis, but all the youth programs and job-training initiatives seemed insignificant, since those efforts didn’t command headlines and rally tax dollars. People wanted crack-downs and not what was perceived as hand-holding and commiserating with pants-saggers and dope-slangers..

“Yeah,” Valdez said glumly, and added, “Didn’t mean to end on such a downer.”

“Real life always gets in the way. Miss you.”

“Same. See you when you’re back. Maybe we can catch the George Clinton concert at Crash Mansion.”

“I do loves me some Funkadelic,” Kang retorted.

They severed the call as Lettie Cortez, Kang’s office manager, came in to see her, placing a largish FedEx envelope on her desk. “Brian called, said he was trying to find Chet and wondered if you knew where he was.” She was referring to Brian Betters in her Monterey Park field office in California.

“Thanks, Lettie,” Kang said, “I’ll call him. She did, and then opened the delivery from McNair, conspiracy buff and chef in Las Vegas. Having been in touch with the resurfaced Conrad Waller, she’d asked McNair to focus his digging on Mace Gilmore–on whom he’d already been accumulating info, he told her. She glanced through his material, and her boy hadn’t disappointed. This wasn’t an assortment of crap gleaned from wacko websites or self-published books linking every capitalist with the Illuminati or the Masons. Not that, Kang reflected soberly, she didn’t believe the spirit of some of those wild ramblings. There was after all, interconnection of entities like Haliburton, the World Bank and the neocons polluting the White House, some of whom were ex-Trotskyites looking to export our foreign policy by the edge of the sword.

Kang reread the material more thoroughly and made some handwritten notes. She made a few phone calls, and upon getting a return message less than an hour later told her office she’d be back and left. There was a vote coming out of the housing committee, so she had to be back later that afternoon. She took a cab to Rock Creek Park, where the amphitheater was located. The open theater was being renovated, and Kang scanned the area and saw the woman she presumed was here to meet her. This person was looking directly at the Congresswoman.

She was sitting on a bench, thickset, in jeans and windbreaker, her dirty blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. She rose and offered a hand. “I’m Joanie Halstead, Congresswoman.” She was about Kang’s height and had a heavy watch on her wrist.

“No reason to be formal,” Kang said. “Call me Cynthia.”

“Great, she said, taking a seat next to Kang on the bench.

“My understanding,” Kang began, “is you know Cenine Gilmore or rather back when she was Cenine Reynolds.”

Halstead smiled some and patted her middle. “Years before having three kids, I had a better figure than her when were on the cheerleader squad in high school.”

Kang nodded and waited.

The other woman looked off, frowning, then back at the representative. “I know I’m going to sound like a jealous chick looking to knock her former friend who did good, while she… well, your research probably provided you with my bland life story.”

Kang said, trying to tease information out of her, “This revolves around what happened to your brother.”

“Yeah,” Halstead agreed. “He was the typical Southern California golden boy–tall, handsome, a surfer who was also captain of the football team. He wasn’t your typical jock either, he maintained a B average and had a partial athletic scholarship to SC.”

“And he was dating Cenine.”

“Uh-huh. He was into her big time and she set his ass up. Betrayed him. And he not only was kicked out of school but did several years in the state prison, you know that one in Corcoran.”

“I do.” Kang recalled hearings about that facility where the guards staged fights between the inmates. “This was about an ecstasy ring on campus?”

“Selling to those spoiled little shits,” Halstead said. “According to Jared, that’s my brother, Cenine put it together and had several students doing the selling. Her stepdad was some biker dude it turns out, the connection for the product. But once he got busted, he could see she’d been slick and was several steps removed. No paper trail, no beeper–that was the big thing then you know, pagers–no pager that could be traced to her.”

This was interesting and established a certain pattern that Gilmore’s third wife engaged in, but Kang needed something more current, and said so.

Halstead seemed to intuit what bothered Kang and said, “And I have a pretty good idea what she’s up to now on behalf of her husband and his wanting to affect the presidential race.”

That arched Kang’s eyebrow .

To Be Continued…