Turning from the smiling barista she just tipped with fifty cents tossed into the plastic cube–none of that Hillary “Tipgate” shadowing her, by gosh–Congresswoman Kang’s cell chimed. She placed her chai latte on the edge of a table, causing a K Street-type in suspenders to frown at this as he sat on the other side of that table seriously perusing the Wall Street Journal.
She ignored his presumptive displeasure and answered her phone. It was good to make self-important Beltway insiders discomforted–on matters big and small.
“I know you haven’t seen the news because I’m calling you and it’s not the other way around,” Chet Kimbrough said over the line.
Lead bottomed out in her stomach. “What’s happened?”
“It’s Grish, CK. They found him dead at his condo in Santa Monica. Bullet hole to the head.”
Very aware of standing in a public space, Kang moved toward the door. The indignant stare of the K Streeter upon her back. Maybe he was worried the ignored coffee cup had a listening device in it and would tape him while he too received a cell phone call from this or that worried public servant client. She exited.
“So it’s suicide. Over this impending charge against him.”
Kimbrough let a beat stretch between them. “There’s a Vince Foster stink already rising from this as well.”
“Shit,” Kang swore softly. “And still Lacy Mills never retuned my call. Why is Foster being invoked over this?”
He didn’t answer her directly. “And of course your name has surfaced.”
“It was bound to.” As she walked along Independence, she noted a few looks her way. A certain degree of percolating paranoia was basic to survival in DC, Grish Waller had more than once reminded her.
“You coming to the office?”
“Meaning there’s news camped out there.”
“Yeah. Let’s meet at McGoohan’s first.” This was a restaurant that Kimbrough had a financial interest in, located near the Adams Morgan area of town.
Kang disliked playing politics in the political arena. She preferred to take a problem straight on, but also knew that being strategic was necessary. She hailed a cab and rode to the closed eatery. Kimbrough let her in through a side entrance and they went into the manager’s office, which had no windows.
“Who found the body?” Kang asked as they sat.
He made a face. “This is about getting our spin down, CK.”
“I’m concerned for him, Chet. Or rather his family.”
“I know,” he said, moderating his tone. “But there’s time for that.”
“So what aren’t you telling me? You’re not saying that some of those conservative assholes are bringing up that May-December crap again?”
When Kang first ran for her seat in Southern California, the right-wing echo chamber machinery had a fiesta. The opening salvo they lobbed was a rumor she’d been the much older Grish Waller’s lover. Then a certain blowhard popular on cable and radio questioned Kang’s citizenship. Kimbrough handled the matter adroitly by advising her not to immediately answer these lies. He even planted more incendiary items, feeding these tidbits through back channels. Then when this clown’s xenophobic, racism-tinged diatribes reached their apex, CK went on MSNBC to trot out pictures taken when she was a Girl Scout on an outing to Disneyland, along with her high school yearbook photos.
It wasn’t quite accurate, she reflected, that she didn’t enjoy playing politics. She just didn’t want to do it now when it involved her old friend.
“No, but like Foster’s death there’s all sorts of stories being… entertained,” he said.
“Including that it’s not a suicide.”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Fortunately you have an alibi.” He didn’t smile when he said that.
“I could have had it arranged. Isn’t that the through line with the Clintons and Foster?”
Kimbrough ducked a comment. “What’s are your statement going to be?”
“The truth, Chet. That I’m going to miss him and that he was a great friend and guide to me, and that this country has suffered the loss of an insightful and valued statesmen.”
He nodded then said, ” I would suggest a possible moderation.”
Kang suddenly wanted the chi latte to wet her dry mouth. “Have the allegations hanging over Grish been specified?”
“I know little more than we did yesterday. Kickbacks from Fallenbee. Supposedly, though, there’s an ongoing SEC investigation that’s been initiated.”
Fallenbee was a far-flung consortium that had divisions handling military contracts and others the discount department store chain Dollarville.
Kang folded her arms, tapping her foot. Then, impatient, she blurted, “Let’s see what’s on the news.” She used the remote and thumbed on the small television set on a side table in the office. Each cable news outlet was cycling through Grish Waller’s apparent suicide. Kang, and several other politicians he was linked with, along with the investigation, were mentioned.
“While the exact nature of the probe hasn’t been established,” one of the news anchors said, “our sources indicate this has to do with alleged cash Senator Waller received from a secret Fallenbee slush fund.” The news anchor, a striking blonde with highlights, turned a sheet on her desk and continued. “The money, we’ve been told, was not to fatten the senator’s bank account but to use in several so far unspecified bribery schemes.”
Kang put the TV on mute and took a deep breath. “I’ll still going to stick with what I have to say, Chet.” She held up a hand before he could object. “I will add that I look forward to this cloud clearing up quickly over Grish or some other strained metaphor I’ll manage.”
“Try not to sound like squirmy like Bush and the streroids mess.”
Deadpan, she retorted, “I can unequivocally say that in all the time I knew Grish Waller, I never saw him use the Clear nor inject anything between his toes. Which reminds me, how can you have this report from Senator Mitchell stating that clearly some of these baseball team owners looked the other way when it came to their players and juicing, but bygones be bygone. And one of the biggest abusers, Jose Conseco, a guy who bragged about his use in his own damn book, is not named in the report.”
“No see, no foul,” Kimbrough said with a slight smile.
“The mantra of this town,” Kang said, rising.
They left to face the wolf pack. In transit, Kang called her office manager, Lettie Cortez. “Herd them onto the steps, would you?” she told her regarding the media. “Have Jason or Rick set up the podium for their mikes, okay?” She listened to her, then added in a response to a question from Estrada, “No, I want to be seen walking up to the office, so I won’t use the private entrance.” She glanced toward a circumspect Kimbrough who was making notes on an index card. “I don’t want it to seem like I’ve been inside ducking them while I figure out what to say.”
She chuckled at something Cortez said and added, “Yeah, girl, you know I got an image to protect. I’ve been out this am doing the people’s business. Okay… see you in a few.” Kang bleeped off her phone.
Kimbrough handed her a couple of the cards, tucking the blank ones away in his coat’s inner pocket. He always had some with him when he was out and about. “Some thoughts. Reiterating Grish’s long record of achievement, how you as a doe-eyed youth got involved in his campaign for all the right reasons and thus and so.”
Kang perused his notes, picking out pertinent memory cues as she also reviewed Grish Waller’s public life in her mind. Careful to mentally file away certain private matters she knew and wondered if Kimbrough also knew. If he did, she reminded herself, he could be more Buddha-like in keeping secrets than any Zen master she’d encountered.
As the cab got within two blocks of the Rayburn Building, Kang told the driver to let them out at the curb.
“You want me to fade back?” Kimbrough asked as they walked toward the gathered print and electronic media. Two trucks with their satellite dishes extended on their roofs were parked in front along with several camera operators setting up tripods or setting their focus. The press had seemingly not noticed them yet.
“They know who you are, Chet.”
“Hmmm.” He liked being in the background.
She tapped the middle of his back. “Cowboy up,” she joked. They strode forward.
At his compound on Kauai, billionaire Mace Gilmore munched on cashews while he watched the Kang press conference. A warm rain softly struck the windows as he paid close attention. Afterward he made a call to Los Angeles on a phone system designed by a former contractor with the NSA. The signal of this call was such that while it could be monitored for specific key words as any other civilian’s call can be surveilled, the origin of the call was masked via a series of bounced signals.
To Be Continued…
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