Rejection seemed to be a running theme as three more days passed by, and Henry found himself heading home to a weekend with no solid plans for what to do with his time. A single man whose career focus had left little room for a dating life or attempts to settle down, he found himself on that Friday evening once again queuing up another Star Wars marathon, just as he had most Friday nights for the last couple of months. It was a comforting routine, one he often found himself indulging in whenever he came to a kind of crossroads in life.
The remainder of his prior financiers from his earlier attempts at running for Congress all came back with the same message- we just can’t risk another failed bid. He had no major cases to focus on for the time being, and an entire weekend with no social plans mapped out for himself, a state of affairs which, if he was honest with himself, he had fallen into far too often in recent memory.
Sitting down on the couch with his remote, queueing up Disney+ and clicking through to the streaming service’s ‘Star Wars’ section, he set the remote aside and pulled the card out of his pocket, turning it this way and that. There was a curious symbol embossed on the back, one that, if he recalled correctly, had become synonymous with all things Amelia City; it was a set of four hooked blue claws, joined along their curved tops by a thick horizontal black line.
Setting the card on his coffee table beside his cell phone, Henry got up and stalked to his bedroom, kneeling down beside the bed and reaching beneath it to pull out a shoe box. He flipped the lid open and looked down at the trio of hardcover notebooks within, filled from cover to cover with the various programs and initiatives he’d thought up over his years spent in the District Attorney’s office. He drew the top one out, and flipped it open to random page, revealing to himself the long, convoluted legalese that he was well familiar with; he had handwritten proposals for legislation, a practice he suspected had gone out of fashion with modern representatives in the House and Senate.
“She could make it happen, though,” he mused aloud to himself. “I could still have a chance.” Henry closed the shoebox, tucking it back under his narrow twin bed, and headed back to the couch, setting the notebook down before taking up his cell phone and dialing. The other end rang three times before being connected.
“I was hoping I’d hear from you soon, councilor,” Kowen said before he could even speak to identify himself. “I’ll see you at Rocco’s at nine tomorrow morning, Mister Townsend. Bring your appetite.” And just like that, Henry Townsend was back on the path to a bid for Congress.
“Where did you even get all of this data,” Henry asked as he tucked into another strip of bacon, holding up with his other hand a bar graph depicting Congressman Lewiston’s current favorable/unfavorable broken down by neighborhood. “I can’t imagine it was easy.”
“One of my colleagues,” Sasha replied, signaling their waitress for a refill of her coffee. When Henry had arrived at the diner just down the street from his condo building, he had spotted her quite easily, since she was the only customer wearing a black evening gown and blood red cardigan half buttoned in a booth by one of the wide windows fronting the establishment. For that matter, she was the only person in a booth, with every other customer seeming to give her a rather wide berth.
When she flashed him that fang-like smile, Henry could understand other folks’ reticence to get too near.
“He sort of specializes in all things data related,” she continued. “And I know you prefer to do things on the up-and-up, but we aren’t pulling any punches here, so I had him see what kind of dirt he could pull up on Lewiston as well. There isn’t much to tell there, though; it seems that, for the most part, Craig Lewiston walks the straight and narrow.”
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Henry pointed out. “It means we can debate real issues, talk policy.”
“And talking policy means talking voting record,” Sasha said with a grin, producing another thin folder from her oversized handbag and setting it down to one side of their plates, flipping it open. “I had Ian put these on the first page to highlight their significance, because these votes go directly against what Lewiston campaigned on back in 2020.”
Henry finished his omelet, then plucked up the voting record top sheet, perusing it as he chewed. He swallowed hard, surprised by what he found laid out before him. “Lewiston voted to impeach? Does he not realize that Trump carried this county by almost thirty points in 2016?”
“I don’t think he cared,” Sasha answered. “Remember, Amelia County has voted Republican for President in every election since 2004, but votes Democrat for the House and Senate almost universally since 2006. People here prefer oppositional balance over single-party dominance. Lewiston’s the first GOP Congressman elected to the seat since 1996.”
“And I already know he hasn’t sponsored or co-sponsored a single successful bill to make it out of committee since getting in,” Henry said. “I’ve tried to keep up as best I can, but with a job like mine, I don’t get a lot of time to focus on these things like I’d like to.”
“And we understand that, councilor. That’s why we’ve already done a great deal of leg work,” Kowen said. “Now, the DNC has already started to focus in on someone who they’ll likely be throwing their weight behind. Mary Williams,” she said, pulling out her cell phone and setting on the table, turning the screen toward Henry.
“I’ve never heard of her,” he said, leaning over the table to look at the phone. On screen, he saw a picture of a fairly attractive middle-aged woman in a floral print sundress standing in front of a medical clinic of some sort.
“No surprise there, but I imagine you’ve heard of her husband, Daniel Williams.”
“Of course,” Henry said with a grin. “Last three cars I’ve owned, I bought from one of his dealerships,” he added, his smile immediately fading. “Oh, shit.”
“Precisely,” Kowen said. “His wife benefits from his name recognition, and because of his success, she can be fairly independently financed. And she’s not a complete novice to the political arena; she’s been a school board member for five years now, so she understands how to talk to a pretty sizable portion of the electorate.”
“How do you figure?” Kowen gave him a sardonic eyebrow raise and sipped her coffee.
“The sort of person who gets involved in their child’s school board meetings? The mom or dad who makes sure that they can attend those things? They are guaranteed voters, and they get involved early and thoroughly. Between name recognition and familiarity with a portion of the likely voter base for her school district, she already has a couple of advantages over us if she gets the nod from her Party.”
“How likely do you suppose that is,” he asked, his eyes roving over toward a heavyset fellow seated at the diner’s counter. The gentleman had been casting glances in their direction for a couple of minutes now, and the expression on his face didn’t sit well with Henry; something about the man struck him as quietly hostile, adversarial. Henry felt himself tense up as the man got up from his stool and passed their booth, apparently on his way past toward the restroom.
“As things currently stand, she’s likely their frontrunner. We haven’t heard or seen anything from anybody else to pique our interest, yet,” Kowen answered. She eased back in her seat, hands in her lap. “For the moment, I think the next thing we need to discuss is announcement. You issued a pretty boiler plate press release the last two times; I’m thinking we should do something a little more modern this time around,” she said.
A moment later, the heavyset fellow came up beside their table, and leaned down toward Kowen, his hands on his hips. Henry could practically feel the man’s volatility radiating off of him, though what its source was, he couldn’t say. “Well, shit,” the newcomer rumbled. Henry saw the man’s hands clench, knuckles whitening. “You’re one of them fuckin’ weirdos.”
“Can we help you, sir,” Henry said forcefully, hoping to draw the man’s attention. The fellow looked back at him for a moment, clear disgust on his face.
“You realize this is a dude, right,” the newcomer groused, standing upright and jabbing a finger in Kowen’s direction. “Fuckin’ Adam’s Apple, man. Or do chicks with dicks turn your crank?” Henry swung his legs out of the booth and stood up, towering a good three inches over the other man, straightening his tie and attempting to keep his composure.
“I’m going to ask you to apologize and see yourself out, sir,” Henry said evenly, glaring daggers at the other fellow. “I’ll pay for your meal, even. Just tell the lady you’re sorry and take your nastiness someplace else.” The heavyset man snorted with a smirk, shook his head, and stepped over to retrieve his jacket from the back of the stool he’d been seated at.
“Goddamn freaks,” the man grumbled as he brushed past Henry on his way out of the diner. Henry watched to make sure the man indeed left, climbing into a black pickup and roaring out of the diner’s parking lot at a clearly illegal speed. He let out a long sigh and sat back down, quirking his head slightly to one side at the frozen expression Kowen was giving him.
“Did you know,” she asked him.
“And that doesn’t trouble you?”
“Why the hell would it? You came to me and offered to help, you’re your own person living your life as who you are at heart. Hurts nobody,” he said with a mild shake of his head.
“That’s good to hear,” she replied with a grin. “Now, let’s get back to business. Your announcement; have you ever been on a podcast?”
Henry had been on local radio shows a few times over the course of his career, and he had always admired the professionalism of the studios he’d visited. This, however, was most certainly not that. To begin with, the young woman whose dining room table he sat at didn’t appear to have changed out of the sweatpants and hooded sweatshirt she likely wore to bed the night before. Secondly, she didn’t strike him as exactly a mover and shaker in any sort of way; she struck him as something of a loon. There were books stacked everywhere in her small apartment, most of them related to the occult and the bizarre, and she seemed nervous, fidgety, as she set up her laptop and the pair of professional-grade wireless microphones that she lashed to it via Blutooth.
Sarah Chambers, according to Miss Kowen, hosted one of the most popular podcasts on the internet based out of Amelia City. As such, she seemed a natural choice to chat with for making his announcement that he was once more leaping into the political fray. “Just be aware, politics isn’t usually her thing,” Kowen had warned him on the phone as he drove to Chambers’s building on the city’s south side.
“What is her usual thing,” he had asked.
“All things Amelia, my dear councilor,” Kowen had answered, hanging up. Now, sat across from the human stick figure that was Sarah Chambers, her mop of unruly brown hair half covering her face, Henry wondered if he should perhaps be worried that this whole operation was doomed from the start.
“I need to test the levels, Mister Townsend,” Sarah said amiably, offering him a crooked smile. “If you could just click the button on the base there, it’ll turn on your unit, then just say something into the mic.” Henry touched one thick finger to the mic’s button, which lit up robin’s egg blue.
“Um, testing, one-two, testing,” he said, leaning down toward the mic. Sarah nodded and clicked on her keyboard.
“Okay, so, you don’t need to lean down into the mic, it’s got pretty good ambient pickup,” she clarified, clearing her own throat. “Sasha sent me some questions to make sure I work in, and I will, but I’ve got some others of my own, I hope you don’t mind,” she said with a nervous little chuckle, pulling a spiral notebook over from her kitchen countertop.
“Do you mind running them by me first?”
“That wouldn’t be authentic,” Sarah said with a shake of her head. “You don’t want to sound rehearsed, canned. People expect that in a run-of-the-mill candidate. Sasha was pretty clear, she wants you to stand out, so, we’ll just do it during the recording. Do you want anything to drink before we get started? I’ve got coffee.”
“That would actually be great,” he replied, massaging his temples. He’d been struck by a night of disruptive dreams, strange things that put him on edge. He didn’t recall all of the imagery within them, but for one sequence, an oddity if ever he’d seen one; he had seen one of Sasha’s tattoos, a metal plated scorpion with three barbed stingers, come climbing off of her left forearm, swelling in size as it climbed down off of her flesh, snarling and hissing like a demon in a deep fog on the streets of the city.
The rest had been a blur, but these dark subconscious adventures had disrupted his rest, bringing him awake at four in the morning, unable to get back to sleep. A few moments later, Sarah set a steaming mug before him, along with a small dish of sugar and a bottle of creamer. He poured and stirred, took a sip, and thanked her with a nod.
“Shall we, then,” Sarah asked.
“Let’s.” The podcaster cleared her throat, clicked on her touchpad, and smiled at him.
“Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to ‘All Things Amelia’, the only show that brings you news about anything and everything going on in Amelia County, regardless of how strange, mundane, unbelievable or completely par-for-course. Today, we’ve got a guest in studio to talk to us a little bit, Henry Townsend. Henry, would you care to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about who you are, and why you’re with us today?”
“Thank you, Sarah. Ah, yes, I’m Henry Townsend, the District Attorney for the Greater Amelia County area, which includes Amelia City itself, Candleton, North Perry, East Perry and Wolf’s Reach. I’ve been serving as the region’s District Attorney since 2010, when I ran for the vacancy being created by the retirement and departure of my former boss, Karen Worton.”
“And that has, by and of itself, been the subject of some curiosity for some few of us who live here,” Sarah said, pulling one of her many notebooks over beside her laptop and opening to a Post-It marked page within. “Mrs. Worton was only 56 years old when she decided to retire from her post, a position which she had successfully held for nearly sixteen years. And just a few days after the election in 2010, it was reported that she just disappeared, seemingly having vanished off the face of the planet, never to be seen again.”
“Yes, I remember that,” Henry said, pulling at his collar, sensing an uncomfortable shift in tone. What was Chambers driving at here?
“And something similar happened to her own predecessor, James Mackleroy, back in 1995. According to public records, he went missing for a period of approximately three weeks, before he was located out at the Whispering Woods Campgrounds near Candleton. Several reports and documentation indicates that he seems to have had some sort of nervous breakdown or psychotic break, and he was remanded to the care of the staff at Ravenwood Asylum, where he still resides to this day. Mr. Townsend, does it trouble you at all that your job seems to leave behind a trail of mystery and misery when the person holding it decides to leave?”
Henry did a bit of a double take at this question; he’d heard a few rumours over the years, suggestions that he had somehow pressured Worton out of her post and had something nefarious done with her once she was out of his way. But those rumours had died out quickly, all unfounded. What he was faced with here, however, was something that equally disturbed him, but about which he had no definitive reply.
“I suppose, if I was a more superstitious sort, I might be worried about that kind of thing,” he said. “But I’m a man of reason, of logic. Reason and logic are precisely what I’d like to represent for the whole of Amelia, actually, as a member of the House of Representatives. You see, Sarah, I’m here with you today to announce my intent to seek the seat once again.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” she replied, moving to another notebook and flipping it open to another Post-It marked page. “In 2018 and 2020, you ran close campaigns for the post, losing in 2018 by a margin of only about seven-hundred votes, and in 2020 by a painfully closer margin even than that, of only a hundred and fourteen votes, according to statistics gathered by Politifact.com. For an Independent, you’ve done exceptionally well for a kind of ping-pong, back-and-forth district in the House.”
For nearly an hour, Henry was then able to re-introduce some of his prior policy positions from before, as well as clarify some of the changes to his thinking since that initial run in 2018. Chambers’s questions were thoughtful, complete, and to his pleasant surprise, she had a few in there that were genuinely confrontational without feeling ‘combative’, per se. When they were finished and Sarah bade her listeners farewell, Henry thanked her for not spoonfeeding him easy queries.
“Hey, you’ve obviously done a lot of deep diving on the history of this city,” he said as he finished the coffee she’d given him. “Can I ask you something about a few past Reps from this district?”
“What can you tell me off the top of your head, if anything, about Kelly Lambert, Seth Pierce, or Chuck Pembrook,” he asked, referring to the trio of former House of Representatives members whom Ms. Kowen had referenced before with such obvious praise in mind. Chambers quirked an eyebrow at him, half a grin forming on her lips.
“You’re kidding, right? You don’t know about any of them?”
“I haven’t had much chance to look into them, it just popped into my head. Someone mentioned them the other day, but I can’t remember why they’d be lumped together,” he said.
“Well, Lambert served as House Rep from 1982 to 1984,” Sarah said evenly, looking askance, eyes narrowed as she recalled the information she was now relaying to him. “One day, during what was supposed to be a session discussing the federal budget, she brought a traditional Japanese tanto with her to the floor, and in the middle of someone speaking from the floor, she committed ritual seppuku. Lots of screaming, lots of blood, people were totally freaked out.”
“Understandably,” Henry said with a sigh.
“Right? Pierce, he was elected in 88, but only served a little over a year. When he didn’t show up for like, three weeks, somebody from the DNC sent over an assistant to check on him at his apartment, and found him with the corpses of seven or eight dogs, which he was in the process of cutting up and eating, raw.”
“Jesus Christ,” Henry muttered, feeling both repulsed and more than a little concerned, now. Why the hell had Kowen named those two as examples of Reps from Amelia? “And Pembrook?”
“94 to 98. He was removed from the floor for losing his mind in the middle of remarks on a Defense bill, he tore open his coat and shirt and popped open his briefcase, which he’d put a bottle of barbeque sauce in. He starts pouring it and smearing it on himself, screaming about a man with a flaming head and hands threatening his life, claims to have seen some kind of portal into another dimension. They calmed him down eventually after they removed him, and he finished out the term, but he didn’t run again.”
“Is he still alive?”
“No. Suck-started a shotgun back in December of 2001. Left a letter saying that if the horrors of Amelia didn’t get him, then the evils of the world of men just might well do it, referenced 9/11. It was rough.” Henry thanked her for these bits of trivia, and saw himself out to his car. Driving for his condo, he wondered quietly how he might bring up his newfound concerns over Sasha Kowen’s referring to these three people as ‘True representatives of Amelia’.