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"I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan:
very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to
me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
II Samuel 1:26 KJV
Tuesday, March 16, 1982
Jonathan was sitting behind his desk, holding a letter from a constituent, but looking off into the distance. He was unable to concentrate as his mind continued to harken back to the previous evening and the heart shattering experience of seeing that unusual singer. There was something about him that captivated him, that would not let go of him. And, then, when he sang that song, of all the songs he could have chosen. It was as if David had grown up, as if David were singing. He had the same red hair, the same freckles, the same lilt in his smile. But, it couldn't have been David, unless it was his ghost.
Tears were forming in his eyes until he realized there was a presence in the doorway of his office. He looked up to see Mrs. Carlisle, in her prim and severe suit, with an uncharacteristic expression of concern on her face. Sitting up abruptly, Jonathan wiped away the tears and cleared his throat.
"Yes, Mrs. Carlisle?"
"Its ten forty-five. The Rules Committee meets in fifteen minutes. You may wish to consult with your witnesses before the hearing."
"Yes, indeed. Thank you for reminding me, Mrs. Carlisle."
Jonathan's embarrassment was painful for both of them and as he cleared his throat a second time and stood, he mumbled, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Carlisle."
"I'm sure there is nothing to be sorry for, sir."
Jonathan picked up his leather folder and sprinted out the door.
The hearing had, not surprisingly, been scheduled for the House's smallest conference room and as he entered the door in the center and looked around, he could see none of the five Democrats or his two Republican colleagues had yet arrived. Nor had his witnesses. Several members of the committee's staff were seated at small tables to the side. Several reporters were sitting around the room drinking coffee and smoking, (it was one of Jonathan's fervent wishes that smoking would be outlawed in public buildings someday). To the side, Jonathan saw Toby and another page seated quietly, looking around expectantly. The page grinned broadly and Jonathan winked as he took his seat behind the committee table. As he opened his valise, the ranking Republican on the committee, the Minority Leader, Bill Cavanaugh, entered and took his seat beside Jonathan.
"Not as big a turnout as we should have," Cavanaugh said. Jonathan could here the remonstrance in his voice. "I wish we had done a press conference yesterday."
"Don't worry. I have my witnesses. I even have a surprise fourth witness, Bill Bransted."
"What? Are you crazy?"
"Don't worry. He came by my office last night. He has something important to reveal today. I think it might just be what we need to get this passed."
However, before Cavanaugh could reply, Jimmy Lee Caldwell, the Chairman of the Rules Committee entered the hearing room and took his seat in the center of the table beside Bill Cavanaugh.
"Morning, gentlemen," he said with a smile verging on a sneer.
"Jimmy, you bastard," Cavanaugh replied jovially. "How's the old prostate doing, today?"
"Not bad, Billy. Not bad at all. You dealing with the hemorrhoids?"
"No problem. Doing great."
"Good. Glad to hear it."
Caldwell looked down the table at a visibly embarrassed Jonathan and called out, "Jon! Looking forward to some fireworks this morning. Hope I'm not gonna be disappointed!"
Jon smiled politely and replied, "I don't know about fireworks, but it may get interesting at times."
"You think so?" Caldwell looked around the room and saw only reporters in the chairs. "By the way, I assume you have some witnesses?"
Jon looked about the chamber with discomfort.
"I do, indeed."
"They're not phantom witnesses are they?" Caldwell replied with a chuckle. Jon and Cavanaugh exchanged glances before Jon turned to the pages at the side and signaled for Toby to approach. He scribbled a short note to Mrs. Carlisle and handed it to the boy.
"Run this up to my secretary, please, as quickly as you can."
"Yes, sir!" Toby replied, his voice showing his understanding of the importance of the mission and his pride in being part of history.
As the page scampered out the side door, Kevin Berkeley entered and started to take a seat behind the AP reporter and the Capitol Bureau Chief for The Chronicle. Jon waved him to the front and when Kevin leaned over the table, Jon whispered in his ear, "Go check on Bransted. Something's up."
Kevin nodded and hurried off.
It was ten minutes after ten before the remaining members of the Committee wandered into the hearing room and took their places at the tables. After another five minutes of banter and badinage, the Chairman banged the gavel and called the Committee to order.
Andrew Cardington, (he of the Mercedes), leaned over to Jon and whispered, "This better be good. I left a breakfast with the State Bankers Association for this."
Jon ignored the comment as Cavanaugh leaned over and whispered, "Stall."
The clerk read, "HR 1218 by Holbrook."
"Mr. Holbrook, would you like to begin with your opening statement?"
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman."
And, slowly and deliberately, Jonathan began to read his introduction listing the alleged abuses and examples of corruption in the Department of Human Services. He described the responsibility of the Department for protecting children, the mentally ill, the elderly. He spoke of abuses in nursing homes, in childrens' homes, in state hospitals. As he completed the statement, he looked up. None of his witnesses had arrived in the hearing room, but Toby Greenfield was hurrying up to the table with a worried look on his face. He handed a note to Jon and waited for a reply. Jon stared at the paper for much longer than it would take to read it. He did not see the almost hidden smile on Jimmy Caldwell's face, but several reporters did and they knew what it meant.
"Mr. Holbrook, have you completed your opening statement?"
"No, Mr. Chairman. I have not." And, waiting for Kevin to return, hopefully with Bill Bransted in tow, he began to extemporize further. However, as Kevin entered the back of the room, Caldwell, interrupted Jonathan's speech.
"Mr. Holbrook, if I may please, we all certainly enjoy your loquacious eloquence, but this committee has many dozens of pieces of legislation to consider before the session adjourns next June. We understand you feel there are terrible things afoot in the DHS. Do you think we could move on to the good part? You know, where we get to humiliate your witnesses and then go to lunch?"
It was said with a good-natured twinkle in the eye and, indeed, was greeted with knowing chuckles from the Democrats and the reporters, but, only Jonathan saw in Caldwell's eyes the look of the hunter about to disembowel his prey. Instinctively, Jonathan covered his stomach.
Kevin Berkeley was furiously scribbling a note and waving Toby over to him. Jonathan noticed and replied, "Mr. Chairman, may I ask the committee's indulgence for just thirty seconds?"
"Will that be an actual thirty seconds or a legislature thirty seconds?"
Toby was rushing forward with Kevin's note. Jonathan did not reply as he took it. His face betrayed no emotion as he glanced up at Kevin, who raised a helpless eyebrow.
Jonathan's mind thought quickly.
"Mr. Chairman, I ask the committee's further indulgence in granting a continuance on 1218 until our next meeting, which I believe is Thursday morning."
The Chairman shook his head sadly.
"Mr. Holbrook, do you not have your witnesses ready to testify?"
"Unforeseen events have necessitated that I move to table until Thursday March 18 at ten A.M."
"Second," Cavanaugh said,
The Chairman sighed with feigned sadness.
"It is moved and seconded that we table consideration of HR 1218 until Thursday morning at ten A.M. Debate?"
Almost immediately, a low, threatening voice flowed from the far end of the table as the dark malevolence of Daniel Webster Franklin leaned forward.
"Mr. Chairman, I must protest. I surely must protest. This committee has graciously granted the young firebrand here, a boy barely out of college, indeed, a boy so eager and ambitious to make a career in politics that he was still living in a college dormitory when he began his vicious smear campaign to unseat a fine and venerable member of this body, a boy who only yesterday, it was revealed, lusts, Mr. Chairman, lusts for the office of Governor, lusts as a boy would lust for a cheerleader or a bottle of Jack Daniels! We have granted this naive and ambitious boy time from our crowded schedule to present so-called evidence of a need for an investigation of a agency filled with the most dedicated, the hardest-working, the most selfless public servants in this state. And, when he is unable to produce anything more than a sophomoric rant, he has the audacity, Mr. Chairman, to ask us to give him even more time to spread his filth, his slander. Mr. Chairman, its not enough that the Republicans held a secret caucus yesterday morning to discuss how to exploit the tragic suicide of poor young Luke Henderson. Its not enough that they sought to politicize that tragedy on the floor of our venerable House yesterday afternoon. Its not enough that we were forced to listen to a harangue that even a high school debate teacher would have flunked! Now, Mr. Chairman, he wants us to allow him more time to vomit his vile and vicious slander! I say NO, Mr. Chairman! NO!"
Jonathan was stunned and before he could reply, the Democrat sitting beside Franklin said, "I call the question."
The Chairman allowed no debate.
"All in favor of calling the question say aye, all opposed no, the ayes have it. All in favor of tabling the resolution until Thursday at ten say aye, all opposed say no. The no's have it and the motion is denied. All in favor of reporting the resolution to the floor of the House with a "do-pass" recommendation say aye, all opposed say no, the no's have it and the resolution is not reported to the floor. Is there any other pending business? Hearing none, the Chair will entertain a motion to adjourn..."
It was over in less than thirty seconds. Jonathan sat in numb silence. He barely noticed the glee in Bill Cavanaugh's voice as he leaned over to Jonathan and said, "Well, done! We have the best issue we could ask for in the fall campaign now! Excellent!"
When Cavanaugh left, Andrew Cardington, with a sneer, said, "Oh, well done, Jon. Say, the Realtors Association breakfast is tomorrow. I'll be happy to skip that as well if you have any other crusades."
Jimmy Caldwell came over to Jonathan's chair and squeezed the younger man's shoulder and in the most condescending tone, said, "Don't worry, Jon. You're young. You have many more battles before you. You may even win a few."
With as much dignity as he could muster, Jon stood and carefully closed his leather binder. Kevin approached. Jon turned to the left and saw the look in Toby's eyes, the look of sadness, of sympathy, the look a boy might have when his hero strikes out or fumbles on the three yard-line or misses the game-winning free throw.
"What happened to all your witnesses?" Kevin demanded.
Jon shook his head disgustedly.
"Mrs. Carlisle called them. They each has a sudden emergency come up. Where the heck is Bransted?"
Kevin shook his head and held out his hands.
"He hasn't been in all morning and his secretary doesn't know where he is. He missed the Democratic caucus this morning."
Jonathan angrily bit his lower lip.
"These were not coincidences. We've been played."
"Like a fiddle."
The two turned and watched Daniel Webster Franklin slowly saunter out the door. Jonathan took a deep breath and Kevin took his arm.
"Lets go get a Coke and head back upstairs."
As they walked down the hall toward the Rotunda, however, they saw a huddle of people listening to a transistor radio as they stood beside the statue of some obscure Governor from the twenties. A woman was crying. They continued on until they reached the balcony. Jon looked out over the five story well of the Rotunda, at the terrazzo state seal in the floor below, at the stained glass in the domeless roof above, at the giant paintings surrounding the Rotunda of great figures from the state's history. Suddenly, they heard a woman to the side of them cry, "Oh, my God!"
Jerry Forsythe, one of Jon and Kevin's Republican colleagues, was hurrying toward the snack bar when he spotted the curious looks on his friends' faces. He quickly detoured toward them.
"Have you heard?" he asked as he approached.
"What?" they both replied.
"Bill Bransted! He's dead!"
Jonathan's heart stopped.
"How?" asked Kevin softly.
"They found him about half an hour ago in his car in Indian Creek Park with a half bottle of whiskey and a .38. He blew his brains out."
Matt walked into the lounge and stopped by the window. Several rather spirited games of foosball were under way to his left. A television to his right was showing the end of The Young and the Restless. Two boys were sitting on a window sill at the other end of the room not so surreptitiously smoking and blowing the smoke out the open window. Matt looked outside at the desolate dirt and gravel around the Boys Home. Across the street, Pushitaw Park was deserted except for a few students from Pushitaw Bible College sitting under the trees with one of their teachers. A pick-up truck belching smoke rumbled past.
He turned to find his only friend standing beside him, his sunny smile lighting his face.
"Hey, Little Buddy."
"How come you didn't eat any lunch?"
Kyle nodded and sat down on the arm of a tattered chair, watching a commercial for Pepsi on the television. Matt turned and watched it, too. Kyle looked down at the rear pocket of Matt's jeans.
"What's that book?" he asked, pointing to a thin, tattered, white paperback sticking out of the pocket. Matt pulled it out and showed it to him.
"Its called Anthem."
"What's it about?"
"Its about the future when people don't learn anymore and they live like in the Middle Ages and nobody knows the word `I.' They just know the word `we.'"
Kyle scrunched up his face.
"That's weird. How can you not know the word `I'?"
"Well, it's a world where you can't think about yourself anymore. Everything you do has to be for everyone else."
"I don't think I'd like that. That sound depressing. I like happy stuff."
Matt smiled and squeezed Kyle's shoulder as a fight broke out at one of the foosball tables. A couple of "counselors" broke it up and hauled away the offending parties when suddenly Kyle froze and pointed to the television.
Matt turned and saw a picture of an old man with a weathered face and graying black hair.
"He was here Saturday. He was talking to some of the guys. He spent a long time talking to Luke. When they were done, Luke said he was gonna help us."
Matt walked over to the television and listened.
"... Bransted was found in a late model Ford Granada which was parked near a gazebo in Indian Creek Park. It appears he shot himself with a thirty-eight caliber pistol. Scottsburg Police spokesman Dan Reilly will not confirm if a suicide note was found. Bransted was a one of the Legislature's most experienced members and..."
Matt turned and looked Kyle in the eyes. He saw fear in the boy's face, a fear he himself felt.
"Did he talk to you?"
"No. I was in the nurses office. I had the runs after eating breakfast."
"Who else did he talk to?"
"I dunno. Luke said most guys were afraid to talk to him because he was asking about all the stuff that goes on around here. You know, like the showers and stuff. Luke was the only one who really talked to him."
Matt sat down on a couch in front of Kyle, who instinctively moved over and sat beside him. Matt put his arm around his buddy's shoulder.
"Kyle, Luke didn't kill himself and neither did that guy Bransted. He was a politician and he was trying to stop all the shit that goes on here. And, Luke talked to him and then he ends up dead and they claim its suicide. And, then this politician ends up dead and they claim that was suicide."
Kyle looked down at his lap and leaned against Matt.
"I'm scared, Matty."
Matt squeezed the younger boy.
"Don't be, Little Buddy. I'm gonna figure something out. I'm gonna get us outa here or stop the shit or something."
But, from behind them, they heard the cracking voice of a boy just hitting puberty. "Man, look at those moes, there! They're huggin'! Ain't it sweet."
"Fuck off, Bixley!" Matt spat as he looked behind him at a group of thirteen year-olds, all sporting mustaches and shaggy hair.
"Shut up, McAllister!"
Everyone turned to find the disheveled mass of Cletus Murdock entering the lounge.
"And, get your hands off Walker! Jesus! You are a pervert."
Matt stood and gave Murdock a look of withering contempt.
"Come on. We got sompm for you to do!"
With that, Murdock spun around, as much as he could spin, and headed down the hall. Matt turned to Kyle and said, "I'll see you after Shop, OK?'
Kyle nodded. Matt's heart broke as he saw the fear and uncertainty in his friend's eyes.
"I'll be back, Little Buddy."
He followed Murdock down the hall and was surprised when the counselor turned left to the main door of the building rather than to the right toward the counselors' offices.
"Where are we going?" he demanded. Murdock turned.
"Never mind! Just get your ass out here. Now! Its time for Matty boy to earn his keep!"
Matt exhaled and looked at the floor in despair.
"Come on!" Murdock barked. When Matt looked up at him with pleading in his eyes, the counselor added, "You know I can separate you from Walker."
Defeated, Matt trudged forward, following Murdock out the door and across the bare dirt of the front "lawn" toward the parking lot. He climbed into the front passenger seat of Murdock's old and dented Chevy and looked back at the sandstone edifice as Murdock pulled out onto the street. Staring out the windows of the lounge on the first floor, he could see the face of his Little Buddy.
Murdock lit a cigarette and turned the radio to a country station as the car turned onto the bypass around Pushitaw. When they merged onto the interstate, he realized they were driving into Scottsburg. The beautiful fields soon gave way to motels, and roadside restaurants, and shopping centers. Matt cleared his mind of all that was happening, a trick he had learned over the years, and simply gazed at the passing scenes. He was surprised, however, when the car turned onto the loop and, instead of heading into the city, headed north toward an area of cheaper shopping centers and run-down apartment complexes.
Soon they exited the loop onto Twelfth Street, once the main highway from the east heading into Scottsburg, now relegated, after the construction of another interstate, to miles of discount stores, used car lots, and cheap motels. It was into the parking lot of one of these motels that Murdock turned. It was a ratty structure, probably built in the late fifties. A long turquoise building lead down to a another, this one a faded pink, that ran perpendicular to the first. Murdock pulled up next to a black Lincoln Town Car which looked completely out of place in that kind of motel.
"Now listen," he said, turning severely to Matt. "You behave yourself and you could really profit from this. You fuck up, and we can make life really shitty for you."
Matt gave no indication that he had heard anything Cletus had said. He simply opened the door of the car and stepped out, standing limply beside the car after closing the door.
As Cletus slammed the driver's door, one of the rooms opened, revealing an older man, probably in his fifties, pudgy and balding, but dressed in an obviously expensive white shirt with fancy cufflinks and black slacks of exceptional quality.
"I was about to give up, Murdock," he said with a critical tone in his voice.
"It was difficult to leave, sir. I had to exercise great discretion, Mr. ..."
But, the man held up a cautionary finger causing Murdock to stop speaking before saying the man's name.
"Well, at least you're here. But, I have to say," he said as his eyes critically examined Matt, "that I am a bit disappointed. I wasn't expecting white trash."
Despite what he knew to be his reason for being there, Matt felt the injury to his pride.
"I am not white trash!"
The man raised a critical eyebrow.
"Well, at least you have some fight in you. I like that."
The man then pointed to the car and, looking at Murdock, commanded, "Wait there."
Matt had never seen Cletus Murdock act so subserviently. The counselor immediately turned and climbed compliantly into the car. The man in the doorway signaled for Matt to enter, and with a sense of resignation and of the inevitable, Matt complied.
The room was disgusting, furnished with a tattered brown carpet which may have been some other color in a previous life. Two side tables guarded the bed. The veneer was peeling off a low table along the wall on which sat an old Emerson television, the UHF dial of which was missing. The room smelled of industrial disinfectant and something else that Matt couldn't identify. As the man closed and locked the door, the click of which sent a shudder down Matt's back, the boy looked at the open door of the bathroom and the window along the top of the wall.
It took only two seconds, but the decision was made.
"I gotta go shit," he declared in as offensive a tone as possible.
The man looked at him with disgust and shook his head.
"Well, hurry up. I don't have all day." As Matt entered the bathroom and was about to close the door, the man added, "And, be sure to wipe!"
As Matt locked the door, he shuddered at the thought of allowing that man to have his body. Quickly, he turned the water in the sink on, and climbed up on the toilet. He slid the glass window open, behind which was a screen. The window looked out on an alley, on the other side of which was a cinder block wall protecting the backyards of the neighborhood beyond. He thought for a moment. There was a ledge over the window.
His heart was racing as he tried to force the screen out. It wouldn't budge. Trying to control his fear and alarm, he quickly glanced around the bathroom. His eyes landed on a plastic toilet brush in the corner. He picked it up and then flushed the toilet for more noise.
"What the hell's going on in there?"
Matt took a deep breath.
"I'm just trying to make sure I'm good and clean for ya!"
"Well, hurry up! I don't have all afternoon!"
At the peak of the flushing noise, Matt jammed the handle of the brush against the screen and tore the wire mesh. He dropped the brush and then desperately tore at the screen. Turning around, he reached up through the opening, grabbed the ledge above the window and pulled himself upward until his rear end was sitting on the window sill. Looking both ways, he could see no one in the alley.
"Hey! Open up in there!"
The man was pounding on the bathroom door. Matt struggled to get his lower body out the window without falling backward. He clutched the ledge as his legs finally emerged from the window and dropped down to the asphalt below as the door burst open.
The alley was covered with broken glass and other detritus. Quickly looking to both left and right, he chose to head west toward a dumpster in which he might be able to hide. But, as he sprinted off, the man looked out the window and yelled, "Come back here, you piece of shit!"
Matt knew he was spotted. He had to run. He had to run fast.
Next to the motel was a restaurant that had once been a Denny's and still had the orange and purple design. But, as he came to the corner of the building, he saw Cletus Murdock walking into the side door.
"Fuck!" he whispered to himself. He looked back. The man was no longer looking out the window. Would he make the effort to warm Cletus that he had run away? Or, would he simply curse and climb back into his Town Car and chalk it up to experience? Matt didn't want to wait to find out. Once Cletus was in the door of the restaurant, he sprinted across the edge of the parking lot and around the building.
Where to now? To the left was a neighborhood of post-World War Two crackerbox houses. He would be totally obvious running through that area. To the right was Twelfth Street. The alley ended at the next street. Carefully, he crept toward Twelfth, cowering below the cars parked at the side of the restaurant, not knowing if Cletus was in a position to see him through the windows or not. At one point he looked to the east and saw a city bus a couple of blocks away lumbering slowly toward him. That was it.
Looking in all directions, Matt sprinted across the front parking lot, and dodged the east bound traffic on Twelfth until he was on the center island. The bus was coming up and he waved frantically. The driver waived back and stopped. In the next break in the traffic, Matt ran across and, hidden from view from both the motel and the ex-Denny's, he entered the front door of the bus, dropped two quarters in the box, and took a seat on the far side of the bus. As it began to lumber onward, he could see the Lincoln Town Car pull up to the street in the motel's parking lot. Apparently, the john was just going to give up and drive away. Matt, sat back on the plastic seat in relief and wondered what Cletus would do when he returned to the motel to find both he and the man gone. The guy would probably shit a brick, and the thought brought a smile to Matt's face for the first time since he had held Kyle back at the Home.
Thus ends Chapter Four. I certainly hope you are enjoying the story. Please send me comments email@example.com . I appreciate any feedback you have and am grateful for any comments you make. Thank you!