“Listen, Henry, I’ve tried talking to my client,” said the compact young woman in the gray pantsuit, running one hand through shoulder-cropped blonde locks. “I told him that your current offer is likely the best we can do, given the circumstances, but he wants you to sweeten the deal.” Henry Townsend, too familiar with the sort of requests most within the criminal element considered ‘reasonable’, which he would of course dismiss out of hand, raised one eyebrow at the defense attorney seated across the desk from him.
“Tanya, I’m the district attorney, not a record label rep,” he rumbled, eyes half-lidded as he folded his hands together on the desk in front of himself, giving off an air of detachment. “I don’t ‘sweeten deals’. I offer what is fair and reasonable in the light of presented facts. Given that, your man hasn’t been exactly what I would call the best kind of candidate to get anything better than what I’ve already offered.” Leaning forward slightly, he added in a half-whisper, “And given some of the things I’ve seen that he’s written online before, your client can kiss my black ass.”
Tanya half-grinned in reply, looking down into her lap. “I suppose he should be grateful you didn’t seek a federal hate crimes enhancement on the charges,” she said quietly.
“You know I don’t truck with that shit. If you’re committing a crime against another person, that’s already hateful enough. No need to try and assume extra rationale for it. Now, what does your client want in order to take that deal?”
“A consideration for his imprisonment,” Tanya said, reaching down into her briefcase and taking out a slim manila folder, sliding it across the desk’s oversized calendar blotter to Henry. He flipped it open, looking down at the top page. “His mother is still very devoted to her little boy, and wants to be allowed to bring him one meal every two weeks, for him to enjoy on his own, in solitary or lockdown conditions.”
Henry read over the three pages within the folder, and when he finished, he realized that he was already nodding. This was a peculiar request when compared to most he’d heard, but it was also one of the most straightforward. If the warden at Jennings Detention Facility would agree to it, then Henry saw no reason not to give this the go-ahead.
Amelia City’s people needed this trial to be over. Moreover, Henry Townsend needed it to be over, because he’d already gotten behind on his other pursuits as a result of all the time and attention this trial was taking up. “I’ll have a talk with Warden Tunnish over at Jennings. If he’s onboard with this, I’ll send you an email, and you get in touch with your client ASAP. Now, Tanya, it’s been good to see you,” he said with a sigh, getting up from his chair and buttoning his beige suit coat. “But if you don’t mind, I’d like you to be gone now, so I can go home.”
The pert little defense attorney smiled at him, grabbed up her case, and headed for the office door. She paused, giving him a look over her shoulder as she was leaving. “We should get together again, some time. You know, socially, outside of work,” she said. Henry felt the stirrings of a smile, but he held it in check.
“That didn’t work out so well last time, Tanya,” he reminded her gently. “We can be friendly, but we can’t be friends. You take care, now.” Her smile faded a little, and she left Henry alone once more in his office, his eyes cast down upon his desk calendar.
Two months, he thought, rising from his chair and using two fingers to twitch open the blinds of his lone office window, looking down on Carver Avenue in downtown Amelia. Two months to try and prepare if he was going to run again. Henry Townsend had always been a straightforward man, raised by parents who drilled into his head early and often that the best way to make good on the life he had been granted by a loving God was to be honest and forthright in all things.
But while this approach had yielded him success academically and in the field of law as a prosecutor, it had utterly failed him in the political arena, where his ambitions truly lay. In 2018 and 2020, he had tried to run for the lone Congressional seat allocated to the whole of Amelia County. This was, in and of itself, something that had often fascinated him; since 1956, Amelia County had been reduced to a lone representative, regardless of its total population size. By traditional and historical precedent, the area should logically have been sending two or even three people to the House of Representatives. However, in 1956, an emergency session of Congress was convened, and the whole of Amelia County underwent a redistricting that reduced its representation in the House to a lone individual.
Given some of the more ‘colourful’ history of the region, Henry could sort of understand.
He’d already reached out to some of his previous campaign advisors, all three of whom said they’d come onboard again if he could secure funding for another run. It had been difficult to do so on both prior runs; being a registered Independent, he didn’t have access to the sort of resources that traditional Democrats or Republicans could tap into for a run at a Congressional seat.
“Time to make some calls,” he said, pulling his personal cell phone from his pocket. He couldn’t use the office line to make such a call; campaign finance laws normally didn’t apply if he was still undeclared, but Henry’s personal ethics bound him beyond the strictures of black-and-white application of law. He began getting together his personal affects to head home, all the while reaching out to some of the folks who had financially backed him before.
Between the office and his condo on the city’s west side, he struck out four times. One of his previous major donors replied to his inquiry with a rather damning reply; “The seat always goes to a Dem or a GOP mouthpiece, Henry. There’s been one Independent elected to the seat since ’56, and I don’t think it’s worth flushing away more money on another doomed bid. Besides, people like Lansing, he’s got a stage presence you’re not going to be able to undercut with your approach. I’m sorry.”
Home in his rather Spartan living space, Henry let out a heavy sigh, looking to one of the few pieces of decoration he had up on his living room wall. It was a glossy theater poster cased in glass, a promotional for George Lucas’s “Return of the Jedi”. “Seems like the Dark Side might win out again, Luke,” he muttered to the poster, twisting off the cap on a bottle of Killian’s Irish Red. He took a swig and undid his tie, setting the bottle on the island counter between dining area and living room, and headed down the hall to his bedroom to get changed for an evening of personal deliberation.
He would be consumed for hours trying to lay out the pros and cons of making another run, especially now that at least a quarter of his potential donors had already sworn off of helping him again.
“Sir? There’s a young woman in your office waiting to speak to you,” Henry’s personal secretary said from behind her desk, her expression showing a clear sign of distaste. Henry, still tired and feeling a bit bedraggled from his previous evening’s musings, held his briefcase loosely in one hand, his cup of coffee halfway to his lips. He pulled it down and raised an eyebrow at Kelly.
“I don’t remember having any appointments at this hour,” he remarked.
“She didn’t have an appointment, just sort of insisted that you’d want to talk to her. I personally don’t like the look of her, sir. Do you want me to call an officer in?”
“Just in case, but have him hold up out here,” he replied, heading for his office’s door. He noted that through the textured glass, he could only just make out the distorted silhouette of someone’s head, cast mostly in darkness. Whoever was in there, they hadn’t turned on the lights. Curious, he thought. He opened the the door, briefcase tucked under one arm, and pushed inside.
The first thing he noticed about his unexpected guest was that whoever she was, she had perhaps overdone it on the perfume. Even from behind, she was letting it be known that her presence was to be noted. Henry made his way around the left side of the room, carefully avoiding looking directly at her as he set his case down beside his chair and put his coffee down on his blotter. He reached for the light switch behind his desk, annoyed that the light overhead did not respond. Hands on his hips, he straightened and cast his eyes down at her.
The young woman before him was pale, with an equine slope to her jawline that drew attention to the broad leather choker she wore around her neck. A smoke gray top was worn under a leather half-jacket, and her wrists, folded primly in her lap, were festooned with bangles and bracelets of all sorts. She had on a blood red skirt, itself covered in strange occult-ish symbols and images, her fish net covered legs crossed at the knees.
She grinned tightly up at him, a look he noticed only after trying to make out the tattoos on her legs, distorted by the stockings. “Can I help you, miss,” he began, keeping on his feet.
“Perhaps,” she replied in a husky but pleasant tone, looking around his office. “But first, introductions. I’m Sasha Kowen,” she said, offering a slim hand to shake, more tattoos sliding into view from her sleeve. Henry took the hand and shook, her name spinning wheels in his head into motion.
“You already know me, obviously,” he said. As he eased down into his chair, he realized where he knew her name from. “You just had an installation featured at the Connors Art Museum, right?”
“Quite correct, councilor,” she said, flashing a smile that exposed teeth that looked like they’d been filed into fangs. “And they say all public servants are Phillistines.”
“Is there some reason you’re here to speak with me, Ms. Kowen? Because if you have a criminal complaint to file, you’re supposed to start at a police station,” he said evenly. “Even folks of your, economic stature, are supposed to follow the chain of command,” he added, letting a touch of his disdain for the hoy paloy seep into his voice.
“I’m not here to report any crime, councilor. I’m actually here on behalf of a group of interested persons who would like to discuss your other pursuits,” she said, pulling a clutch purse into her lap and popping it open. She reached in, plucked out a card, and with a clearly practiced flick, sent it across his desk. Solid stock, it was printed with the following in standard capitalized block script:
‘HENRY TOWNSEND- THE SANE CHOICE FOR CONGRESS, 2022.’
“I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to run again, Miss Kowen,” he said, looking up from the card. “So forgive me for saying so, but I really hope you and your people didn’t print up a lot of these,” he said, tapping the card.
“Just a few thousand,” she said, waving one hand dismissively. “It’s really not a problem, and we’ll need more before too long anyway.”
“I haven’t filed yet,” he pointed out. “It might not even be feasible. I have no financial backers at this juncture, you see.”
“And that’s where we come in,” said Kowen with a hand to her chest. “Myself and some of my, patrons, are prepared to fully fund your campaign, councilor. We would bring you a war chest positively set to assure you a fully legitimate run at the seat.” She took from her clutch a thumb drive, and set it before him. “I’ve even made some pieces for digital and physical fliers and posters around the county, completely pro bono, of course,” she said with a fox’s clever, self-satisfied smile.
Henry felt the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stiffen, his every instinct blaring at him to not trust this woman. Yet still, he was intrigued. “And what are you and your patrons hoping to get in return for this largesse, Miss Kowen? It’s been my experience that in politics, people don’t just help each other out, not without wanting something in return.”
Once more, she gave him that fang-filled smile. “Your instincts would normally be pretty spot-on, councilor, but in this case, they do not serve you correctly,” she said. “All we want, you see, is what anybody in this great nation wants; someone who will be a true representative of their district. The people of Amelia deserve to send someone to Washington who truly understands what it is to be wholly and completely from here,” she said with a touch of genuine passion, her eyes flaring wide. “Think Kelly Lambert, Seth Pierce, or Chuck Pembrook, councilor! Now they were true representatives of Amelia,” she said, snapping her clutch shut and standing up abruptly.
“I see,” Henry said calmly, momentarily unsettled by the artist’s sudden passion. He took up the thumb drive, turning it this way and that, then gave her a curious look. “How long have you and your people been discussing this among yourselves?”
“Since your last run at the seat,” she admitted. “I voted for you in each of your two bids, Mister Townsend. I genuinely believe that the constant either/or of the traditional parties fails to accurately portray what this city, what this county, is all about. I have faith in Amelia,” she said. “And I think you do too. My number’s on the back of that card, councilor,” she said, heading for the door to his office. “Call me when you’ve recognized that we can give you a real chance at this.”
The moment she exited his office, the light overhead flickered on, leaving Henry looking at the flash drive intently. Whoever Kowen’s patrons were, they might just be the solution to his financing troubles. However, he wouldn’t make any rash decisions, not just yet. Kowen’s most convincing argument had been her last, though she likely didn’t know it; he did indeed have faith in Amelia.
He wondered if faith would be enough.