“Aw shit,” Congresswoman Kang uttered.
“I’m shocked that an elected official would use such language,” Valdez joked. “I should report you to the ethics committee.”
“Bite me,” Kang said, laughing. She then addressed her staffer. “Brian, dear, go down there and find out what my constituents are complaining about, hmmm?”
“On it.” He started to stalk away.
“And Mr. Betters…?”
“No yelling. This is a dialogue. You’re there as the representative of a thoughtful and caring public official who wants to find out their concerns and seek solutions. Deference and tact are your bywords.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He left.
Valdez folded her arms, regarding Kang. “Just another day at the office, huh?”
“You get to see humanity at its worst, husbands who beat their baby’s mama to death or knucklehead kids killing each other over who threw up what hand signal.”
“But this kind of thing,” Valdez said, nodding toward the street, “this gets you charged, doesn’t it? You like the adversity?”
“I like it when people say what’s on their minds, Des. Democracy in action, as cliché as that sounds. There’s a whole lot of backslapping while greasing the skids under you in my line of work.” Through the window Brian could be seen talking to one of the demonstrators, a woman wearing a large sun hat. The sign she held read Recall Kang for Being Out of Touch.
“Hey hey, ho, ho…,” went up again
Kang continued, “What I really like is getting something done. Too many decent bills die slow deaths up on the Hill. Jobs programs, affordable housing initiatives, campaign finance reform,” she pursed her lips, staring at the scene below.
She added, “Still, if all you do while up there is introduce one after the other idealistic piece of legislation, but can’t get any of it through, then what good are you?”
Valdez said, “It’s not enough having principles if you haven’t mastered the art of compromise?”
“Or is it selling out?”
“You wrestle with that often?”
Kang smiled crookedly at her. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose.”
“God, I hope you’re not a country-and-western fan.”
“There’s a night spot over here in Alhambra called the Cobra Lounge that has a group called the Mongols as the house band. Mostly Asian-American, and they play everything from Willie Nelson to Snoop.”
“How about the Thai Elvis, you ever catch his act?”
“I have,” Kang admitted. “He even sang at a fundraiser of mine.”
The detective shook her head. “Yeah, you’d think he’s kitsch, but once he cranks those tunes up, he’s not too shabby. He does a righteous ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight.’ ”
Thereafter the two let a silence take up the space between them, as Brain Betters continued to talk to the protesters downstairs. “I have a few names of Lacy Mills’s friends I can give you. One of them might know where she’s gotten to”
“I was going to ask about that.”
Kang returned to her desk and consulted her crackberry.
The cop asked, “You think McCain fooled around with that lobbyist?”
Kang looked up from transcribing some names and contact information. “More to the point, does it hurt his chances?”
“You don’t think it does?”
The Congresswoman hunched a shoulder. “This is still a man’s world, to quote my man James.”
“So it makes him more of a stud to have possibly fooled around?”
“He’s not the A-number-one choice of a lot of those red staters and yeah, when they step inside the booth, this business of ‘did he or didn’t he’ gives him a bad boy edge. And it doesn’t hurt his conservative creds to be attacked by the liberal elite New York Times. The day the story broke in print, The New Republic reported online the hoops the story went through inside the Times.
“Was it sex for favors, just sex and the favors one would do for their sweetie or, horrors of horrors, no sex and only him carrying a flirty lobbyist’s water?” Kang finished the list.
“But if it was a woman in McCain’s situation…” Valdez hedged.
“Then she’s a certifiable ho,” Kang avowed. “Sex and politics is a man’s tradition, my good detective.”
“That’s disappointing to hear”
Kang came back around her desk and handed the list to Valdez, who’d remained standing. Betters returned and remained in the outer office.
“Thanks for this.” Valdez folded the slip of paper and tucked it away after looking it over. “Don’t hesitate to call me if you think of anything else.” She gave Kang her card, replete with a silver-and-gold badge stamped in foil on the left side.
“Day or night?” Kang teased.
“Whenever you’re so moved. My celly’s on there too.” She stuck out her hand. “Thanks for your time and the show.” She nodded toward the window.
“Next time we’ll have popcorn.” They shook hands warmly. The cop exited and the stocky man entered.
“Okay, I talked to a few of them, and from what I observed they’re a collection of malcontents from several of the block clubs and that pesky Neighborhood Council over in the Heights.”
“The one where they yelled at me about restoring their classic street lights from the ’30s? Even though I told them that was a city matter and we provided them with who to talk to over in the DOT?”
“What brought these folks together? Those residents over in the Heights have a big stick up their collective arse.” She chuckled. “They are notorious for not working with other groups.”
“Nobody would say it outright, but I had the impression that someone was organizing them. Getting them to band together to go after their common enemy–you..”
“Who? How? Were they canvassed? Phone banked?”
“That was not forthcoming.”
“Your impression is, none of the regular community groups had a hand in this?”
“It didn’t seem to be the case. And nobody was downstairs from any of the orgs in your district. Really, it’s an assortment from the retro light complainer to that odd man who turns up at meetings going on about cat abuse at the animal shelters.”
Kang managed to not roll her eyes. “There’s no unified message. Like they were brought together to what, irritate me? There’s no press down there, is there?”
“No,” Betters confirmed. “I can make house visits on a couple of the people I recognized. They might be more chatty away from the group.”
“That’s a good idea. Make sure too they see you’re paying personal attention to their concerns. If they’re not a united front it’s easier to peel them off one from another.”
“You almost rubbed your hands together in glee like a movie villain, Cynthia.”
“And cackled.” Even in her relatively short time in Congress, Kang had made several unpopular decisions that riled the grassroots in her district. Tenants’ rights organizations and other issue advocates had certainly let her know their disappointments. Usually that meant the office was called and one of her field deputies like Betters met with them to try and ameliorate the matter or at least clarify how a certain decision was reached.
But this starting off with a picket looked to be designed to garner attention, and it had to be for some purpose. Kang checked her watch and her calendar. “Look, I’m going out for awhile since I don’t have anything pressing until the water apportionment meeting at four.”
“Where are you headed?”
“Detective Valdez isn’t the only one curious about Grish’s death. I didn’t put my bonehead brother on the list. He gets me to Connie, Grish’s son, and he’s mixed up in this to some extent.” She headed for the door.
“You’re not supposing what’s happening outside is connected to his death?”
“Would that make me a conspiracy nut?”
She went out and left by the back way to avoid the protesters.
To Be Continued…