Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bad guys finish first, installment 2:

 Wherein New Orleans's most promising, patrician politician meets the least palatable constituents, mortality-wise. From the just-released novel, World's End:  

                               I did some crazy things…

 Strather Ward left the study, with its walls of law books bound in gilt-edged calfskin, and walked up the hall to Erin's bedroom. Although it was late, the door was closed. He knocked softly and let himself in. His wife lay sprawled among the sheets, hair over her face, sleeping. He sat on the edge of her bed but didn't wake her, gazing about the room at the appurtenances of Erin's ordered, stylish life: a maple breakfront filled with books and correspondence, a splendid original sun face by Klee, the elegant disarray of yesterday's clothes. He was pleased by the sense of her well-being. If he could not give her more of himself at present, he could at least provide the material aspects of stability and love. After the election, he told himself, things would be different.
     "Oh, it's you," she said, sitting up.
     "Whom did you expect?"
     "The governor." She laughed. "It's late, you should be on your way to Shreveport."
     "Not yet. I have to make an appearance downtown.” The sound of footsteps carried along the hall. He went to the door and saw the butler, Clarence, standing at the head of the stairs. "Man downstairs to see you.”
“Who?" Strather asked.
“Name Scali. He say he in the vegetable business.”
“Well, send him around to the service entrance."
"Say he here for his boss. Name Chink Way." He meant Cinque.
"Here? In this house?”
“He only jes inside the door."
"Tell him to call the campaign headquarters. "
Clarence started slowly down the stairs.
"Wait,'' said Strather. "Show him into the sitting room, I'll be right down."
He could hear the sound of the shower in Erin's bathroom: he would not have to answer her questions, at least not now. He had dealt once before with an envoy of Salvator Cinque's, when he was a congressman and a round man with an Italian surname came by the office to discuss the grocery business. Strather recalled endless details about creole tomatoes but nothing about prostitution, gambling, drugs, or vending machines. He had been afraid the man would offer him money, but he didn't: a courtesy call.
Strather went downstairs. The shutters in the sitting room were still closed against the morning sun, his visitor sitting in a wing chair beside the fireplace, the face partially in shadow. He stood when Strather entered the room,  at ease as if they were both strangers in the house. Strather recorded a mournful expression, dark, inanimate eyes, a depression in his glossy black hair left by a hat Clarence would have deposited on the hall table.
"Morning, Governor," the man said.
"Good morning, Mr. Scali. Don’t get up. And I’m not governor yet.”
Strather sat across from him. Scali gazed around the room. “These old houses," he said, "they're all right.”
“Thank you.”
“But I'd hate to fix the plumbing."
The man's casualness was infuriating. "You wanted to see me?"
"That's right. We been watching you and we think you're a real interesting candidate.”
"Me and my associates in St. Theresa. Like Sal Cinque, who you maybe know about." Scali paused. "He's in produce, too."
"I know who Mr. Cinque is."
"Now Sal's a loner, he don't talk much. But a great guy. He's been interested in good government going way back. Down in Theresa he's helped out the sheriff, I mean, unbelievable. He built the wing on that hospital. They put up his name on the wall. That cost plenty, all for children and orphans," pronouncing it erfans.
''Very commendable."
"So naturally he’s interested in your campaign. We just want to make sure where you stand on some issues."
"Where I've always stood, Mr. Scali. I believe in local autonomy, civil liberties, help for the less fortunate, free enterprise…”
“Yeah, free enterprise. We're interested in that, too. What about extradition?”
“I don’t really have a position on extradition."
"Maybe it ain't an issue to you but it is to us. Naturally we wouldn't back nobody that was for automatic extradition of law-abiding citizens that give a lot of bread to charity and like that."
"I'm not for automatic anything, Mr. Scali."
"Well, that's good to know." Scali sank deeper into his chair, eyes fixed on the ceiling, right hand beneath his lapel. Strather was fascinated. No doubt that the man carried a gun and could employ it with lethal effect.
"We wouldn't want to back nobody," Scali went on, the hand searching now, "that was even leaning toward extradition. So I just wanted to try it out on you. See, when we back somebody — and we didn't back you for Congress because we didn't know you real good — we back 'em." Strather knew that much. A judge had just been elected to the State Supreme Court with the assistance of these people, who had spent upward of one hundred thousand dollars in each of four parishes. 
"I don't know anything about Mr. Cinque's problems," Strather said, "other than what has appeared in the newspapers. I couldn't possibly make a commitment, one way or the other."
"We're not asking you for nothing dishonest. What do you think we are?" At last Scali withdraw his hand, a toothpick clamped between thumb and forefinger. "We just want you to have an open mind, not to be too tight with some of the people that would like to see Sal get his."
"Get his what?"
"You know, canned."
"Who’re you referring to?"
Scali opened his mouth and to Strather's horror inserted the toothpick between two molars. He probed thoughtfully. A gunshot would be less humiliating than having to bear witness to Scali's dental hygiene.
"That was some party Rory O'Neill threw for you down to the parish."
"A political pulse-taking," Strather said. "He's done the same for many candidates. I might add that he's never done it for me before."
"They all say you're their man."
Strather felt anger rising. "They're all wrong, Mr. Scali. And I don't like that insinuation. My independence will become more of an issue in this campaign, believe me."
Scali laughed, an unpleasant sound. "We wouldn't want you to be too independent."
"I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. I have no intention of serving any special interests, not you and not Commissioner O'Neill. In fact, if there is anything I would want to be rid of ..."
He saw his mistake too late. Scali withdrew the toothpick and leaned forward in the chair. "Yeah? Go on."
"... I would want to be free of charges of influence. And now, if you'll excuse me I have to address the mayors downtown in ..." He consulted his watch, to cover the blunder. "... in seven minutes."
But Scali hadn't heard. ''You got some problem with O'Neill?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"If you got a problem there, Governor …"
"Please don't call me that. I'm a private citizen, as you are.”
“My mistake. Well, whatever problems you got, Straight, maybe we can help."
Strather had never before realized just how much he hated that nickname. "Why, thank you," pretending to misunderstand, "we can always use volunteers. I suggest that you contact one of my people at the campaign office, on Carondelet. And now, Mr. Scali ..."
"Please call me Jock."
"Jock, I really do have to get downtown." He rang for Clarence. "It's been a pleasure."
"Likewise." Scali stood with an elaborate slowness, and they shook hands. The visitor held on. "I always like to meet a man personal. You never know what will come out of a personal meeting. Take today. I see you're a real person with real problems. I say to myself, 'Here's a real person that maybe we can help.' Everybody's got a product to sell, that's what makes the system work."
Clarence appeared in the doorway holding a black hat with a tiny feather in the brim. Scali drifted toward him and took the hat without acknowledgment, running his palm around the brim. Strather waited for him to speak again but Scali simply nodded and followed Clarence into the hall, leaving Strather uncertain of what had just transpired.    
Next, Bo O'Neill, potent enemy of the district attorney of  New Orleans,  brings down - literally - the men's club on Canal  Street that bears striking resemblance to the sacrosanct Boston Club.

To order go to: http://www.amazon.com/Worlds-End-James-Conaway-ebook/dp/B00HLKFGDS/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1388505312&sr=8-7&keywords=james+conaway


No comments:

Post a Comment