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As a seasoned political consultant, Dev Conrad approaches working on the reelection campaign of Illinois Senator Warren Nichols with trepidation. The senator s best friend and adviser has just committed suicide. And though Conrad agrees with Nichols's political positions, he s leery of the senator s reputation for sleeping around. When a major televised debate proves to be a disaster for the senator, Dev is forced to look into the backgrounds of the senator s staff, which includes several people who have tangled and troubled relationships with their boss. Dev s investigation takes him through the highs and lows of the political system, the well-meaning people on both sides of the aisle, and the increasingly dark forces that work to destroy reputations and lives. It also leads him into the frightening murder of a sleazy political op who knows something about Senator Nichols that could completely destroy his career.
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SHAMUS, ANTHONY & ELERY QUEEN AWARD-WINNING author Ed Gorman has worked in politics as both a speechwriter and a TV producer. He has won the Shamus, Anthony, Ellery Queen, Spur, and International Fiction Awards. He has been nominated twice for an Edgar and once for the Silver Dagger. His other work includes the Sam McCain series and the Jack Sawyer series. A feature film based on his novel The Poker Club is forthcoming.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
That morning two things happened right away. Chicago had a freak October snowstorm, and Phil Wylie, the man I’d replaced, was in the news. He’d committed suicide the night before.
The staffers up front were gathered in small groups. This was the headquarters for Reelect Senator Nichols, usually a busy and happy place.
It was obvious that Wylie had had a lot of friends here. The mourning, among men and women alike, charged the air with grief.
The staffers closest to the senator had joined him along with Mayor Daley for a breakfast saluting five men and women who’d once been drug addicts but who had managed to go three years without hitting up. Noble as it was, this kind of tribute always strikes me as cynical. This is exactly the kind of presentation politicians, even the good ones, choose for photo ops, as if it were something they did that lent these people the courage and determination they needed to handle their new lives so well.
I was happy to be here, in the private office reserved for the chief staffers. I was the paid bogeyman, as the media had come to privately call all political consultants. That is one reason we stay away from cameras and microphones. Our presence just reminds reporters of how much campaign cash flows to various kinds of advisers, gurus, visionaries, and snake charmers. We’ve come a long way from Abe Lincoln, who wrote his own speeches on the backs of envelopes, no doubt about that.
I read the Trib and the Sun-Times on my computer. I also checked the log to see if we’d been mentioned on any of the local or regional TV or radio newscasts the previous evening. We had, but it was routine stuff—as were the mentions in the newspapers—so I went right on to see how the fund-raising was going.
The race was tightening. Jim Lake, our opponent, had once been dismissed as a histrionic nut job. But apparently he’d gone to sanity school recently. He’d gone more mainstream lately—he no longer demanded that teachers carry guns in inner-city schools—and that had no doubt helped him. But more than anything, he was a powerful presence on the stump and on TV. He was a damned good speaker. Senator Nichols, for all that I believed in his politics if not in him personally, was an efficient but uninspiring politician. It was a problem for us. Phil Wylie had handled Nichols’s two congressional campaigns as well as his first senatorial one. I still had no real idea why they’d split so bitterly six months earlier. That was when my own consultant firm had been brought in.
I was just finishing up my third cup of coffee for the morning—thank God for McDonald’s drive-thru—when Doris Baines, one of the local staffers who’d been with Warren since the days when he was an alderman here in Chicago, drifted back and said, "I wish you could have known him. Phil Wylie, I mean. He was one of the nicest, sweetest people I’ve ever known." Her nose and eyes were red. She tamped them occasionally with a Kleenex. "Everybody loved him."
She wanted to talk. I pushed back from my desk. "Anybody have any idea why he might have killed himself?"
She shook her head obstinately. "That’s the thing. We kept in touch—everybody here with him, I mean. Every few weeks we’d have dinner with him. He had a lot of friends—especially girlfriends—but lately he’d seemed pretty lonely. He had so much—he was so good-looking and so wealthy and he was always in the society pages for being at this gallery opening or this opera—" She started crying again. "But I guess it wasn’t enough."
"I’m sorry I never got a chance to know him."
She started picking at her hands. Then smiled bitterly. "I remember what we all thought of him when Warren first brought him on. We thought he was this spoiled rich man. He drove a Maserati in those days and sometimes a Town Car would bring him to work. Those were in his drinking days. But once he got serious about working here, all that went away. He was just like the rest of us then—"
"With the exception of several million dollars."
A teary laugh. "Well, I guess you could say that. But you know what I mean. He worked harder than anybody else. He really believed in Warren."
"I don’t think I ever got that story straight. Why’d he quit the campaign, anyway?"
Working her Kleenex around her eyes again. "You know, I’ve never been sure. The official reason was that they’d disagreed on some political issue. But they’d disagreed so many times before—they’d really argue. I have two brothers and they were like that growing up. Argue all the time. But there was never any doubt about how much they loved each other. And Warren and Phil were like that. So I’m not sure we ever got the straight story. All that mattered was that Phil was gone. Everybody always turned to him. He was like our older brother. He always knew what to do."
"Nobody tried to patch things up between them?"
"Teresa did. She’d gone to college with Phil back east. They were great friends. In fact, Phil introduced her to Warren one summer when they were all home from college. That’s how far back they went."
Teresa was the senator’s wife. Unlike many spouses of important people, she was not one who envied her mate the spotlight. An elegant woman who was nimble in public as well, she was much better on the stump than Warren. And there was a sweetness about her that I always drew on when the day had gone on too long or too angrily. A good woman.
"He was a lot like you, Dev. Sort of a disillusioned idealist. He still wanted to believe that people would come to their senses and do the right thing. Even the bastards, if you just fought them hard enough."
Kenny Lane, another staffer, knocked on the window that let us look over the entire front part of the onetime supermarket that was our official campaign headquarters. He waved for Doris to come out.
"Well, I need to get to it. We’ll all be a little slow this morning, Dev. It’s really a blow."
By now, and even though I’d never spoken to the guy, I was starting to get a little dejected about his death, too.
Copyright © 2008 by Ed Gorman. All rights reserved.
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