Continuing in my effort to tempt you to buy my short story collection, MATTERS FAMILIAR, or—if you’re not feeling especially extravagant—a single, digital copy of the featured story which, I’m confident, will turn your head in time.
Today’s excerpt is from “Term Limit,” a tale that borrows from my own checkered past–up to a point. John Quincy “Jack” Quisenberry was a rising GOP moderate (back when there was such a thing). Elected twice to statewide office, his fortunes cratered, thanks to a stupid personal indulgence and a fatal character flaw in politics: trusting his subordinates. Cornered and depressed, he’s facing a critical legislative hearing, so he reaches out to his cousin–a Capitol journalist keeping his ethical distance–for help in sorting things out.
A Scene from:
Jack’s shock was short-lived. His phone’s immediate, urgent palsy startled him. It was Ernie, presumably with his passenger. “Sergeant Nuñez. Where are you?”
“At the south end of the bridge, Commissioner. Are you coming down or do you want us to come to you?”
“Meet me at the span-level door in the western leg of T2. I’ve got to come down to get the door anyway.”
“Ten-four, ten-four.” Ernie did a passable Broderick Crawford, when he felt like it—another shared joke; this edition sounded forced, at best.
Jack stroked his chin absently as the descent began. This is going to be awkward—at least, at first. Absurd way to get reacquainted, really. I’ll just have to bluff or charm my way through the tail-sniffing part and hope for the best. He leaned into the door and met moving air that was a little less hostile. There they stood, the patrolman and Craig Quisenberry, both mute in troubled anticipation. Falstaff and Iago! Good sirs! Craig seemed bigger than he remembered, though he’d had a couple inches on Jack in every measure, most of their lives. They’d been thick as thieves since sandbox, which was more or less foreordained. Their fathers, Mickey and Roger, were and remained as close as brothers could be, given the times and the circumstances. They played sandlot ball, slogged out of the South Pacific alive, and settled into sturdy and respectable marriages within hailing distance of one another. Oh, they couldn’t finish sentences like their brides Judy and Eliza could; it never really came up, because at any given moment one knew exactly what the other was thinking. Moving inside that circle, it would have been remarkable if Craig and Jack hadn’t been close since boyhood. Craig’s mottled, doughy features and hulking bearing had always complemented Jack’s clean, spare “pretty-boy” looks and angular gait. His cousin’s thick, russet ringlets, full beard, and silver ear stud completed the contrast. Maybe it’s more like Ishmael and Ahab, him and me, Jack thought. But who’s chasing the whale? They hugged easily and genuinely—not that “good game,” male thing with the forearm in front, eyes to the side, and an off-handed clap or two to the back. Jack pushed Craig back a little at the elbows and met his eyes. “How long’s it been, buddy?”
“Six years, plus—since you first dragged yourself out of the primordial slime of the ‘Lower House’ and got elected Grand Poobah of Protection.” Craig sighed theatrically. “Ah, the conundrum of the ethical journalist in the post-modern age…”
“And the cowardly editor-publisher who would otherwise refuse to sign your paychecks,” Jack added.
“Out, out, Moral Relativist!”
They all laughed heartily. Jack took advantage of the weightless interlude. “I’m sorry, Ernie—we tend to get carried away and there’s obviously a lot of pent-up demand. You can take off. You’ve beaten me out of all the overtime you’re going to get today, compadré.”
Ernie was more sober that he wanted to be. “You sure you’re going to be okay, sir? How’ll you get back to town?”
“Oh, we’ll be fine. We’ll do about an hour’s worth of witty reparteé, then grab a bite and a cab. Seriously—go home to Estrélla and that jai alai team you’re creating.”
Jack’s wheel and sometime wing man looked to be as offended as his inchoate playfulness permitted. “Gringo estúpido! Hispanics play jai alai. We are Latinos!”
Jack was obeisant. “Sí, Señor; soy un cerdo. Me disculpo lo más sinceramente posible.”
“Hey, mi amigo! That Mexican immersion thing really paid off! Who says tax dollars aren’t well-spent?” Ernie was crestfallen when he realized an instant later that Jack would likely never have the chance again to reach out to California’s eleven million Latinos. It was a sorrow to him because he felt they, as he, would admire his sinceridad y compasión. They clasped hands and parted in reluctance. Jack and Craig watched him melt into the deepened night.
“Okay, now. Seriously…” Craig was somewhere between puzzled and put out, his hands on his hips. “What in God’s name are we doing here?”
Sheepish and vulnerable, Jack pursed his lips. “I—I just needed to talk to somebody before—” He glanced at Craig, whose arms had fallen to his sides. “—before next week.”
“Goddamn it, Craig! Everything!”
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