Game Over

Prime suspect and trusty companion in the Drawing Room

Prime suspect and trusty companion in the Drawing Room


Mrs. White ran a rooming house off the downtown square that was once a grand mansion, one of the few old homes that had escaped Huntsville’s wrecking ball. When we arrived, Mrs. White greeted us sweetly like the innocent broad we knew she wasn’t. I had the Dear John letter in my pocket but didn’t pull it out until Pistol and I accepted her offer of lemonade and teacakes.

“What a homey old broad,” Pistol whispered, his lips dusted with powdered sugar. “You’d never know she’s got somebody buried in the backyard.”

“Mrs. White, tell us what you know about this,” I said and shoved the letter under her nose. “It was in John D. Boddy’s pocket the night he was snuffed.”

She took out the letter and squinted at it. “I need my glasses. Won’t you come inside?”

So we followed our prime suspect into the foyer of the old mansion. What a sight it was, too—massive paintings, dusty antiques and mounted animal trophies on the walls, and a marble staircase leading to a second floor of well-appointed rooms.

As we entered, Mr. Green was skipping down these stairs in a white tennis sweater and white trousers, his jacket slung over his shoulder.

“What are you doing here?” I said.

Green flashed a blinding smile. “I live here. We all do.”

“That’s right,” said Mrs. White. “Mr. Green is in the Conservatory. Miss Peacock is in the Billiard Room, Professor Plum has the Study, Miss Scarlett is in the Lounge, and Col. Mustard-Lighthouse has appropriated the Dining Room.”

“Where are you?” I said.

“I have the Ballroom,” Mrs. White said. “The best room in the house.”

“Say, where do you think you’re off to, whippersnapper?” Pistol said, grabbing Mr. Green’s arm before he could dash out the door.

“A Wendy Davis rally,” said the eager young politician. “Unhand me before you muss my sweater.”

Then, through the bank of windows overlooking the backyard, we saw four mounds of freshly turned earth.

“What’s that?” I said.

“Oh, another one of Professor Plum’s backyard projects,” Mrs. White said absently as she searched a small secretary for her glasses. “He fancies himself a landscape designer.” At last she found them and put them on. Clucking her tongue, she read the rancid Dear John letter that Sarah had written.

“It was mailed here,” I said.

“I’ve never seen it before,” she said and shuddered as she refolded the letter and slipped it into the pocket of her apron. “Nasty business.”

Then Miss Scarlett burst into the room and, before she noticed Pistol and me, blurted out: “You’ll never guess—” Then, blanching a little, she said, “Oh, hello, detectives.”

Mrs. White played the good hostess. “You remember Detective Splendor and—”

“They call me Pistol,” Pistol said, jamming both fists in his pockets. He threw a look at me that said: “Now’s our chance to sweat these dames.”

“You’ll never guess what?” I said, which flustered Scarlett. She blushed. “Only that it might rain,” she said.

“And that would be good for the Professor’s little project,” said Mrs. White, leading us back into the kitchen. “Hydrangeas.”

Then, as he peered through the kitchen windows, Pistol saw something suspicious. “Someone’s in the backyard—and it doesn’t look like one of the inmates of your little asylum.”

“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. White, clasping her hands under her chin.

“You go get a look-see outside while I search the place,” I told Pistol, and he drew his revolver as he slipped out the back door.

So Pistol and I split up, leaving the two women in the kitchen. I went from room to room in the mansion, opening the doors to their wardrobe closets, rifling through their bureau drawers. I ended up in the cellar, and then I found what we’d come for. Muddy shoe prints led from the cellar door to a small dark lair lit by the dim light of a small window. The last home of Fractal Bob. I stepped in and closed the door behind me.

Nobody had cleaned up in here for years. The small iron bed had been slept in, there were bottles of booze everywhere, and ashtrays full of butts from smokes of different brands. The small typewriter had a broken ribbon. The wire basket was full of half-written trifles and false starts. The desk drawers had been pilfered, no doubt of everything Fractal Bob had owned. I turned on the desk lamp, and there it was, a telltale bullet hole in the door and a pockmark in the concrete above the bed. I got down on the cold floor, glad I’d remembered my flashlight. I’d just found the bullet when I heard someone in high heels running down the cellar stairs. It was Miss Scarlett. “Come quick,” she said breathlessly, a lock of blond hair falling over one eye. “Something’s happened to your detective!”

. . .

Pistol was slumped in a chair with an ice pack on his head when I got back to the kitchen. His crumpled hat sat on his lap. “Well, tell me you at least got a good look at him.”

“Better than that. He’s lying in the backyard. See for yourself,” Pistol said.

I threw open the back door, but the yard was empty. “Hit him harder next time, stupid. He’s gone.”

“He’ll be back,” said Pistol, pulling something from his pocket. “I got his wallet.” And then something from the other pocket: “And his gun.”

“You get a name before he clobbered you?” I said.

“We’ve met him before,” Pistol said, “the other night at the cemetery.”

“Ah, yes,” I said. “The gunsel with the funny name.”

“Oh, my goodness. What a lot of excitement,” said Mrs. White, dropping into a kitchen chair. Miss Scarlett hurried to her side, fanning her with a hanky. But this was all for show. I was beginning to think the old broad’s specialty was trouble.

All of a sudden Mrs. White was on her feet and out the back door, clapping her hands. “You, there! Ward Three! Shoo! Shoo!”

I rushed out in time to see a big black dog, the one we also met in the cemetery, run around the side of the Carriage House and into the trees behind the mansion.

“What’s that you called him?” I asked Mrs. White.

“Why, Ward Three, dear. That’s his name.”

“Your dog?”

“Oh, my goodness, no. He’s everyone’s dog. A good watchdog he is, too. I just didn’t want him digging up Professor Plum’s hydrangeas.”

We stepped inside to find that Miss Scarlett had poured Pistol a big glass of bourbon. His head was feeling a lot better. “What’s the story?” said Pistol. “You find anything upstairs?”

“Upstairs, downstairs.” I turned to Mrs. White. “Bring everybody back here. Everybody who’s mixed up in this case. We’re going to shake them all up, see what we get.”

“Do you know who killed my Bobby Baby?” said Miss Scarlett.

“Indeed I do.”

“Do you really?” said Mrs. White. “Well, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll see if we can round them up.”

The two women left us, eager to have a word out of our earshot.

I nudged Pistol. “Let’s get something to eat. I’m thirsty.”

“Well, Splendor, how you gonna to do it?” he said.

“I haven’t the faintest idea. I’m just going to look and listen and pray that somebody makes a slip. Just one slip,” I said.

. . .

Pistol and I lingered just outside the Drawing Room as Mrs. White, Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, Col. Mustard-Lighthouse, Mr. Green and Miss Peacock took their seats around the room.

“What’s the plan?” Pistol said.

“Build up a case against each of them. Throw everything we got at them and throw it hard enough to bounce,” I said. “Stay sharp. If anything bounces, you need to be the one who catches it.”

Pistol tugged on the brim of his crumpled hat. “You can count on me.”

“You warm up the room,” I said. “I left something upstairs.”

When I got back, the natives were already restless.

“Get on with this, copper. I’ve got places to go and people to meet,” Green said.

I started with the loquacious Miss Peacock, who had just poured her first drink.

“When did you last see Fractal Bob?”

“I’ve already told you. I’ve never seen Fractal Bob,” she said, dark eyes dancing with the mirth of some joke I didn’t get.

“You own a gun? A .22?”

“Doesn’t every girl?” Peacock said.

“Have you ever fired it in this house?”

“Of course not. But—” Peacock paused, looking uncharacteristically discreet.

“But what?” I said.

“It was Mr. Green.”

Green stood up indignantly. “I’d never carry a .22. What’d you take me for. Some kind of pansy?”

“It wasn’t Mr. Green, was it?” I said. “But why did you say so?”

“He always seems guilty of something,” she said, tossing back her second.

I pulled a .38 from the pocket of my trench coat and laid it on a round table. My suspects gasped. “That’s not mine,” Green said. “Mine’s upstairs. I’ll get it if you want me to.”

“That won’t be necessary. What about you, Miss Scarlett?”

“The only .22 in the house belongs to Peacock,” said the full-lipped blonde. Her hands trembled as she lit a cigarette.

“But I didn’t kill anyone, least of all Fractal Bob,” said Peacock.

“The other night you all swore you didn’t know this character, Fractal Bob,” I said and they quickly assured me that that was true. “How can it be when he’s been living here, too?” And then I looked from face to face to see how they took the news. Peacock and Green had gasped, but the others were anything but nonplussed. The two women, White and Scarlett, edged closer together. “But of course you knew that, didn’t you, Mrs. White? You rented him the room.”

Professor Plum turned on Peacock with belittling amusement. “Some sleuth you are. Skulking around Forest Hills, hiding behind bushes, peeking in windows, when all along Lover Boy was right here under our noses. The whole time!”

I turned my gaze on White, who was wringing her hands. “Not the whole time. Right, Mrs. White?”

“I let him move into the cellar room—my, it must have been three years ago—when his parents kicked him out. They found his political tracts, you see. But nobody else knew.”

Professor Plum raised his glass of whiskey in an arrogant little salute. “Oh, I knew. One night I followed a tall figure in a trench coat and fedora here after I’d happened upon him delivering his tracts. But I never said a word. I’d been sworn to secrecy.”

“Balderdash, Plum,” said Col. Mustard-Lighthouse.

Au contraire, Lighthorse or whatever your name is. Fractal Bob and I had quite a friendship—all by post, of course. I was his muse and his most significant influence. My thoughts became his,” Plum said, still smiling with condescension. “He was my protégé until his madness and insecurities got the better of him.”

Miss Scarlett pointed a finger at Plum. “I’ll not let you say my Bobby Baby was mad.”

“Face it, Scarlett,” said Plum, grinning incessantly. “He was barking, disturbed, crazy, plum loco. Ask Peacock. She drove him to it.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peacock said. “Bob and I were the best of friends. Better than friends, if you know what I mean.”

Scarlett sucked in her rouged cheeks. “That’s what you think, sister.”

Green lifted his arms in exasperation. “Oh, for crying out loud! It’s Mrs. White and Miss Scarlett. They’re ‘Fractal Bob,’ always have been.”

“There’s a stiff in the morgue that says you’re wrong,” I said. “Am I right, Mrs. White?”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know who that is. But I can promise you it’s not Fractal Bob. Fractal Bob is very much alive.”

“Here we go again,” Green said. “Somebody pour me another drink.”

Just then we heard a scuffle in the foyer, and Pistol opened the door to a gaggle of cops who held the arms of a large man, struggling to get free.

“Sit,” I commanded and the officers dumped the gunsel in a chair.

“Johnny Stompanato,” Pistol said, glaring. “Here’s the one who jumped me in the backyard this afternoon.”

Johnny Stomp let loose a loud guffaw and I smacked him. That shut him up.

“Last night you asked me to check the stiff in the morgue for a tattoo. ‘No, tattoo, no Fractal Bob.’ What was the tattoo?” I said.

“Lady Echo,” Stomp said. “Says ‘Lady Echo’ on his arm. The sap.”

“Who do you know with that tattoo?” I said.

“Not on your life, sister. I’m paid good money to keep my yap shut,” he said. “Let’s just say he’s flown the coop, and everybody’s better off.”

Peacock looked up, eyes misty with excessive drink. “You mean there really is a Fractal Bob?”

“Not no more,” Stomp said and he laughed again.

“It seems you have jumped the shark here,” said Professor Plum, his nose swollen and cheeks blushing with the warmth of a third whiskey. “Who are all these unnecessary characters and the extraneous headless stiff in the morgue? Why, this is as long as one of my columns, maybe even longer.”

Stomp jabbed a fat finger in Plum’s face. “You’re just jealous. Admit it.”

But the Professor was still smiling. “I’m no such thing. I’m a well-established writer of Northern credentials with a solid following. What do I have to be jealous about?”

“That’s rich,” muttered Miss Scarlett.

Plum’s face suddenly went slack, the smile gone. “Careful, dear. These good detectives might want to know what other young lady in the house has been packing a .22.”

I looked at Pistol. “Looks like we’ve stumbled on a little triangle here.”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” Scarlett said. “The professor is twice my age.”

“But Bobby Baby was just right in every way,” I said. “Too bad he didn’t even know you existed.”

Scarlett bristled and who should come to her aid but Johnny Stompanato. “Oh, he knew she was alive, all right. Tell them, Lady Echo. No? OK, then I will. They were pen-pals and lovers, right up until the night she shot him.”

Green leapt up, surprisingly agile for a drunken man. “I knew it!”

“Sit down, you idiot,” said Scarlett. “You thought I was Fractal Bob.”

“So you admit it,” said Pistol, and Scarlett began to cry. “Yes, I shot Bobby Baby.”

“You shot at Bobby Baby,” I said. “You didn’t hit him. I found the bullet from your gun under his bed. It pierced the door and hit the wall. But there wasn’t a single drop of blood.”

“But why? Why did you shoot our Frackie Bobby?” Miss Peacock said slurringly.

I turned on Plum. “That’s a question for the Professor.”

Plum smiled again, his eyes as blue as gas jets. “I had nothing to do with it. I don’t even own a firearm.”

“You didn’t need one. You sent your love-sick little accomplice to do the deed. The two of you were both writing him letters, but he wouldn’t let either one of you get close to him,” I said. “So you sent her to his room, knowing if he’d open the door to anyone, it would be a leggy blonde with a figure that won’t quit.”

Johnny Stomp nodded his head, which was the size of a canned ham. “The stupid sap.”

Plum laughed. “You’ve got this all wrong, detective. I could have tricked her if I’d wanted to, but I didn’t send anyone.”

Mustard-Lighthouse had roused himself. “He’s finally telling the truth. Plum can’t even get the maid to take out his trash. I did it. I sent her.”

“Why on earth?” said Mrs. White.

“Minerva, dear,” said Mustard-Lighthouse, “we couldn’t afford the risk of having a new voice out there we couldn’t control. He might have said anything. Think of it. It was mildly amusing when he was on our side. But what if they had gotten a hold of him?”

“They who?” I said.

“He means The Powers That Be,” said Plum. “That’s what I call them.”

White was fuming. “I had it well in hand, Albus. You should have left it to me. We’d still have Fractal Bob and not these—“

“These what?” I said.

“Hacks,” Pistol said. “A committee of hack writers who pale in comparison to the real deal.”

“I get it,” Green said. “The real Fractal leaves and the old lady takes over.”

“You’re half right,” I said. “Mrs. White began recruiting Faux Fractals to keep the franchise going. She used Miss Scarlett to lure them in.”

“Yeah, every moonstruck poet from here to Austin,” Stomp said, and then something on the table caught his eye and he lunged for it. “My gun!”

But before he got his beefy hands on it, the officers caught him and wrestled him back into the chair. I dangled the .38 in front of him. “This is the murder weapon, the gun that killed John D. Boddy and who knows who else.”

“You can try, lady copper, but this rap won’t stick,” Stomp said. “You know who I work for.”

“I don’t care,” I said and then I stepped outside to fetch the piece of evidence I’d recovered from upstairs, a birdcage covered with a purple velvet drape. “The one who owns this is going to sing like a canary and put the both of you away.”

I yanked off the veil and inside the cage was Boddy’s skull. Miss Scarlett screamed. But the Professor was smiling again. “You can’t prove that belongs to Boddy. I have twenty-seven hours toward a master’s degree in anthropology. I have artifacts such as this all over my room.”

“And in the four shallow graves in the backyard,” I said. Then I put my two lips together and blew. At the sound of my whistle, Ward Three, the watchdog, galloped in, tripping over the carpet and losing his footing in its heavy folds. He had a dirty femur in his mouth, which he dropped at the Professor’s feet.

“Curses,” said the Professor. “Foiled by a retriever.”

“Oh, I’ve solved it,” said Green. “This one shoots them and this one buries them.”

“Hooray!” said Miss Peacock, clapping.

“Take them away, fellows,” I said, and the cops hustled out Johnny Stomp and Professor Plum. Green followed, watching the two unlikely cohorts being stuffed into a black maria for the trip to jail.

“Holy smokes,” said Green. “Politics sure makes strange bedfellows.”



No, Frack You

posted on Saturday, January 07, 2012, 8:42:12 AM | fractalbob

I was home alone when Johnny Stompanato showed up. I knew there was trouble when Fractal Dog slipped past me and hid under the couch. Johnny doesn’t knock, he just pops in. And then he thinks it’s hilarious when you scream and throw things into the air. The thing I threw into the air was a bike wrench, which came down on my toes. Johnny waited ’til I finished cussing and hopping around in my bike shorts.

“Put some pants on and come with me,” he said.

I checked the back seat as I got into Johnny’s black Escalade. Empty, spotless and protected by a neatly arranged drop cloth. The dash was dust-free as though the car had just been detailed. Inside smelled like dry cleaning fluid.

We drove up 11th Street to I-45. I hadn’t asked where we were going, but by the time we hung a right at Veterans, I’d figured it out. “Walker County Hardware was a lot closer,” I said as Johnny parked in the lot at Home Depot. “And the service is a hell of a lot better.”

“People remember you at Walker County Hardware,” Johnny said. “They remember what you bought.”

We went in Home Depot. Johnny picked out a shovel, he paid for it, we left. We got back in the Escalade after Johnny had carefully positioned the shovel on the drop cloth, and we took off again, this time out Highway 190.

“OK, where to now?” I said.

“Errand,” Johnny said. “For the Man.”

“What do you need me for?”

“Just shut up and enjoy the ride.”

At first it worked, this Tough Guy Theater. I was rattled. But as we traveled wordlessly south by southeast and the minutes ticked by, I got pissed. I had this beautiful balmy winter morning planned before Johnny Stomp apparated into my home like a dark wizard. I wasn’t Johnny’s boy, his employee, his subject. He had no right to hijack me like this.

Then Johnny broke the silence.

“Your father says you’ve developed an unnatural interest in city government as of late,” Johnny said.

“Really? I don’t know why he’d say that,” I said and explained that I had joined my father’s existing ritual — watching televised City Council meetings with a Scotch or two. And this new season was shaping up to be just as good as the last one, thanks to a new character, Ronald Allen.

Johnny rolled his eyes, his hairy hands gripping the steering wheel. “I told them that was a bad idea, but do they listen?”

“Dad said Patricia Allen finally got what she’s always wanted and now the City is going to be in as good a shape as the County.”

I was hoping to lighten things up, but Johnny stiffened. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, and neither does your old man.”

That shut me up for the moment as the tall pines of the National Forest filled the view. We turned off of Highway 190 to take a little road past modest homes where children played outdoors with new Christmas toys.

At the end of the road, we pulled into a rutted clearing, a natural gas drilling field. And it had only recently been cleaned up — maybe a month before City elections — but not before the children of the neighborhood had ridden their bikes through the oily, carcinogenic sludge.

“So they were fracking out here?” I said.

“What did you just say to me?”

“Hydraulic fracturing,” I said. “Shooting water into the rock to break it up, which releases the gas. The only trouble is, it contaminates the soil and groundwater with benzene.”

“How the fuck should I know?” Johnny said. “I look like a chemist to you?”

“So what are we doing here?”

“You stay in the car and play with your little pequod,” he said and opened the back door to retrieve the shovel, “while I do what I gotta do.”

Johnny broke ground with the shovel as the wind ruffled the pines and the cooling engine clicked. I checked the road behind us, almost expecting to see coming a couple of matching Escalades bearing a few Stompanato associates. But as it turned out, this was a little job, not a big one. Johnny produced a specimen cup, squatted gingerly to scoop up some of the overturned dirt and then dropped the cup into a plastic bag.

He got back in the Escalade and we drove away.

“For that you needed a new shovel?” I said.

“I needed a clean one. Mine has something on it you can’t get off,” he said.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ve got things to do. Can you drop me off?”

“Who you working for?” he said.

“Nobody right now. That’s why I’m going to _______ on Friday. I think I got a gig.”

“You working for Lanny Ray?”

“No. Why?”

“You working for someone at The Item? Or Rich Heiland maybe?”

“No,” I said.

“Tell me it’s not George Russell.”

“I’m not working for George Russell.”

“Then what the fuck?” Johnny said. “You thinking of making a run for office yourself?”

“What’s this about?” I said, blood rushing to my head because I already knew.

“Your mother found something you left on her computer — ”

“It wasn’t me! I just downloaded it,” I said, “from the Internet. Somebody else wrote it. I don’t — ”

“You shit-for-brains,” Johnny said. He smiled, showing his teeth. Then he laughed. “And now you’re busted.”

I was sweating, wringing my hands, my pequod having shrunk to nothing. “Shit, they found my blogs? Did they read them? Did you read them?”

“If you hate Huntsville so much, you little fag, why not just get the fuck out?” Johnny said. “Pack up your snow skis and your fancy racing bike and go the fuck back to Brooklyn.”

“I don’t hate Huntsville.” But Johnny only clucked his tongue. There was a finality to his demeanor that confirmed my worst fears. “So what are you going to do?”

“No, what are you going to do?” he said.

But I didn’t know the right answer. Pay him off? Leave town? It couldn’t be as simple as pulling down the blog and hanging up the raincoat and the fedora.

“You think these Lanny Ray people like you? You’re as big a joke to them as you are to me. If they find out who you are, they’ll drop you like a bad check. George Russell’s hatred of your people has been hard-wired into his DNA, and you’d think it’d be vice versa, for fuck’s sake.”

Johnny took a side road and pulled onto the shoulder so he could look me in the face. “Not another word from you online, not on My Face or Tweeps. Nothing. Say it. And then this is over, we move on, no one will be the wiser.”

I thought of my virtual friends and online comrades who had been nothing but kind to me and supportive of my blog.

“You’re not going to say shit to anyone, Stompanato. We both know it. You’re not going to embarrass my parents.”

Johnny raised an eyebrow, surprised by my insolence. “Once it gets out — and it will — you might pick up a couple of drinking buddies,” Johnny said. “But they’ll tear your parents apart. Both factions. For sport.”

My face fell, and he knew he had me. It made him sigh with whatever small exertion it had been to wrangle me in. “What the fuck were you thinking?” he said as we pulled back onto the road.

“This is my town, too. I was born here and when I die, I’ll go to Oakwood Cemetery to lie with everyone else,” I said.

“So blood is thicker than politics,” Johnny said.

“Yes, you Trinity County toad.”

Johnny chuckled, and it sounded like a cold diesel engine trying to turn over. “You just keep telling yourself that, bright boy.”


Brandy and Cigars with Johnny Stomp

posted on December 3, 2011 by fractalbob

So I drew the short straw and had to drive Johnny Stompanato to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston earlier this week. His flight was delayed, so Johnny and I ended up in a bar in the vast terminal, where we each ordered a brandy.

Johnny sat on the edge of his seat in the airport lounge, feet planted widely apart, balls hanging over the seat and leaving no doubt that the answer to the question “boxers or briefs?” for Johnny Stomp was “neither.” I tried not to look, but it was hard to ignore stugats the size of Johnny’s dangling over the side of that naugahyde chair. Quite intimidating to a sheltered and insecure Irish lad such as myself.

“So what’s your beef with Bill Baine, kid?” Johnny said with a piercing look into my eyes. “Why you got such a hard on for the man?”

“Things he said about my family,” I said, gazing at the overpriced brandy swirling around the fat-bottomed glass in my hand.

“That was before,” Johnny said, “with them that hired him. They hired a monkey. We turned him into a gorilla. You don’t have to worry about him no more. He’s not gonna be talking trash about anyone but the tin-foil-hat-wearing loonies on the other side. The club and art league ladies like your ma got nothing more to worry about from him.”

Then Johnny leaned forward, stugats almost hitting the floor. “We got something on him so good he won’t even think about fucking around.”

What could you have on Bill Baine, decorated military officer and brother to bank presidents?

“We got him smiling his ass off with those left-wing loonies posing in front of George Russell’s fucking hearse, champagne glasses hoisted toasting the death of the TIRZ.”

“No shit?”

“You put anyone next to George Russell and they are fucked for life. They might as well be a lesbian Arab college professor on welfare with an ACLU and an AARP card. And they did that to themselves, not us. You listening to me, kid?” Johnny Stomp said. “We got something on everyone.”

But I was checking my watch. Johnny was in no hurry to finish his brandy, and he still needed to get through security, where some unsuspecting TSA agent had a surprise waiting for him when it came time to pat Johnny down.

“What have you got on Don Johnson and Keith Olson?” I said.

“Don’t be flip with me. You know what I mean,” Johnny said. “We’re on the verge of creating a boom like this town’s never seen, and you and your family will be some of the first in line to thank the Johnny Stompanatos, the Don Johnsons and the Bill Baines.”

Johnny leaned forward again, his green eyes alight with glee. He was bringing me into the fold. We were now two collaborateurs talking about big plans in the works 100 miles away in a natural gas- and land-rich town now under our unchallenged control. And Johnny felt nothing but pride about this because the Machiavelli in his gene pool had him convinced there was a worthy end in sight.

“Those other guys, Davidson, Ray, Wagamon, Forbus, Cole and those broads, Mahaffey and Zender,” he said, “they’re not all crazy. But they are losers, and most of them have tiptoed off like the losing losers they are. And you know why, bright boy? Because they made this a whatchoo call zero sum game. Us against them, winning or losing, who’s got the bigger stugats.”

“Well, you showed them,” I said, averting my eyes as Johnny shifted in his seat.

“First thing we got to do is shut down those fucking fake Peep accounts,” he said, “and pull the plug on those anonymous asshats in the no-growth sleeper cells. If those smart-asses can’t watch Council meetings on their little laptops at Starbucks, that shit stops, because they don’t have the balls to sit in chambers with their iPhones out yucking it up.”

Indeed, I said, but is that a good idea? Won’t it look like you’re trying to limit public access to a democratic process?

“Look, government’s been running for two hundred years without fucking video cameras, and if you ask me, a lot more got done. You think Jack Wagamon would have pulled half the shit he did if there weren’t no fucking cameras broadcasting his every move?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Did it stop Mickey Evans? Wagamon didn’t invent City Council Theater, did he? If anything, the video can be the tool to inform the public about new programs and initiatives and show how dec —”

“SHIT,” Johnny said as he jumped up and gathered up his carry-ons. “I gotta go!”

I got up, too, and helped him with his bag and briefcase. “You’ll make it,” I said.

“Always do,” Johnny said and gulped the last of his drink. “Thanks for the brandy.”

I watched him walk away. He was light on his feet, treading briskly and confidently through the terminal, not a care in the world and his balls swinging free.