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Richard Stevenson

Red White and Black and Blue

Chapter One

'Don, my man! Thanks so much for coming in. I'd've shlepped out to your office on Central-Christ, that's how important I think this is-but as you can see it's already pre-election shock 'n' awe around here, and I'm lucky if I can drag my sorry ass out of this madhouse before the bar shuts down at Jack's at ten. What can Beryl get you? Coffee? Green tea? A Cinnibon from downstairs? You're not vegan, are you?'

Loosening his damp grip, Dunphy chuckled at his meant-to-be mot, and I seated myself on the office chair nearest his commodious desk, which was about as orderly as mine.

'Albany tap water would be fine. I walked over here, and it's warm for June.'

'What, water that comes out of a pipe? That's novel. I'm not sure we have any of that. We do have about forty crates of water that comes out of plastic bottles that might or might not cause liver cancer. In fact, every time I see the senator swig from a bottle of Dasani at an event, I think, fuck, some nasty tumor he picked up from all the plastic shit we all drink out of is metastasizing at that very moment, and just about the time Shy is elected governor he's going to get a diagnosis that says he has about six weeks to live.' Dunphy yelled toward his open office door, 'Beryl, can you get Don some H2O?'

'Okay, commander,' a strained voice came back.

'Beryl's eleven years old and has a master's in political science from NYU. I depend on her for everything. Politically, 9

Red White and Black and Blue by Richard Stevenson she knows where all the bodies are buried in the state of New York, and she's got it all on her laptop.'

'Good for Beryl. But if she already knows where the bodies are buried, I'm not sure why you need me.'

'We'll get to that,' Dunphy said off-handedly as one of the multiethnic array of slender young women and men who sat punching things into laptops in the outer office trotted through the doorway with a foam cup and a bottle of Poland Spring water.

'Don here only drinks Albany tap water, but he'll just have to adjust down,' Dunphy said as the young woman gave her boss a look.

'Shut the door, would you please, Beryl?'

Dunphy was as quick and alert as his young assistant, but his appearance wasn't nearly so fresh. In chinos, loafers, and a pale blue sports shirt, the director of State Senator Sylvester 'Shy' McCloskey's gubernatorial campaign was one of those men who had probably looked fifty-five when he was twenty-five-paunchy, jowly, bright-eyed and cheerfully pink-faced-and would continue to appear to be about fifty-five until a heart attack killed him at seventy-one. The view out the ninth-floor window behind Dunphy looked up State Street at the New York State Capitol, gray and dungeonlike even in the late spring sunshine, a structure as inert on its foundations as its legislative inhabitants, now more than two months late, as usual, with the state budget.

'Before we go any further,' Dunphy said, 'I take it that you support the senator's candidacy for governor. The people who recommended you for this project said they assumed you 10

Red White and Black and Blue by Richard Stevenson would, but of course I have to ask. Otherwise, there's no point in our going on.'

'Sure. I'll vote for McCloskey.'

'You don't sound one hundred percent convinced.'

'I don't agree with your guy on everything. He's too timid, I think, on getting redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature. And on public financing for campaigns he's as retrograde as everybody else. There are a couple of other things, too. But who else could I support? Louderbush is way out in right field, and in the general election it's likely to be Merle Ostwind. I'm trying to recall, but the last Republican I can think of who I might have voted for was Abraham Lincoln.'

'Yeah, the other party peaked in 1865. It's a shame. A healthy democracy needs two parties both working for the common good. Not one dedicated to screwing the poor and the middle class and the other one busy screwing itself every chance it gets.'

'And we get another chance to screw ourselves this fall.'

'Ah, but that's where you come in, my friend.' Dunphy forced a sour smile. 'I'm sure you understand that if Assemblyman Louderbush wins the Democratic primary, we're all but fucked in November. The New York State electorate can be cranky, but it's not by and large clinically insane.

Voters don't at all mind placing Republicans in the governor's mansion-even mediocrities like George Pataki-if our party comes across as too arrogant or too uppity-smarmy or too indictable. Or-and this is why I have invited you here today-if we offer voters candidates like Kenyon Louderbush, 11

Red White and Black and Blue by Richard Stevenson who's too weirdly out of step with the generally mild and centrist thinking of most of the state.

'All the polling confirms it; Louderbush has an electorally formidable primary following. They are mostly deranged Tea Partiers who think the New York State GOP is a secret agent in the employ of European state socialism, and these folks would rather have a right-wing Dem than a Nelson Rockefeller-style commie-Republican in office. So they're reregistering Democratic-switching from Republican or independent-to get Louderbush the nomination in September. Then he'll of course lose to mild-mannered Mrs.

Ostwind, and it'll be four years of Pataki Lite.

'Which would be very lite indeed. The state will stagnate and our party will fall into disarray. Beelzebub will reign, in the form of more investment in prisons than in higher education, minimum-wage privatization of just about every civic function, and teachers being required to stay late and mow school lawns and shovel snow. Our generous friends the unions will have conniption fits. The Legislature, of course, will continue to lie on its back, its legs over its head, transfixed by its own butt hole. Within a period of just a few years, New York State will turn into Mississippi or Idaho or some such benighted bog-an international laughing stock, a pathetic sink. Don, just the thought of what will happen to this wonderful state if Shy McCloskey loses the primary in September almost makes me want to open this window notwithstanding the fact that these fucking things are unopenable even on a day as lovely as this one-and jump out. It's a hell almost beyond imagining.'

'And you're going to depend on me to change all that? I'm humbled.'

'You can help. You can make a difference.'

I knew enough about Tom Dunphy-Timothy Callahan's boss, state Assemblyman Myron Lipschutz, had filled me in to understand that even if the Democrats lost the governorship in November, Dunphy would not be jumping out of any windows. He'd go back to his Manhattan consulting firm and hire himself out to the highest center-left bidder running for office and would pop up periodically as an election-strategy nattering head on CNN and Morning Joe and even-Dunphy could both dish it out and take it-Fox News.

Armageddon only lasted as long as an election cycle, and The Liberal Rapture was always just around the corner.

I said, 'I've never done opposition research before, and generally I disapprove of it.'

'Uh-huh.'

'From what I understand of the practice, it rarely produces information voters need to know about a candidate. Any news that somebody smoked pot in college or had a love child at seventeen who's now the Norwegian minister of fisheries is basically just a meaningless distraction. Unless, of course, the candidate has made a secret pact with Norway to have all the school children in his jurisdiction eating herring noodle surprise for breakfast and lunch.'

A mild shrug. 'The stuff you get from oppo's a meaningless distraction, yes, but it's a meaningless distraction that often matters. Elections, as I'm sure you know, are generally won or lost by a few percentage points. And if you can manipulate 13

Red White and Black and Blue by Richard Stevenson even a small fraction of voters into being turned off by

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