Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.
Daria cut a quick peek at her parents sitting next to her in the pew. She was safe. Their eyes were on the bride slowly marching down the aisle. The bride, a niece of one of her mother's law firm partners, was practically a stranger. The groom was. She wished them the best but the lead story in the newspaper was far more interesting to her. Daria carefully unfolded the copy of the Lawndale Sun-Herald that she snuck in under her jacket.
Mayor Indicted screamed the headline. The mayor in question was Lawndale's own Gwen Hathaway. Almost from the time of her first election she, along with several others in the municipal government, allegedly scammed money from the city by awarding contracts to a dummy company that they set up for that purpose. Lawndale's City Clerk, Chief Financial Officer, and the Chairman of the Planning Commission submitted their resignations within the last month. The Mayor herself so far refused to resigned but with her confederates, each in desperate hope of having the hammer fall a little lighter on them, co-operating fully with the legal authorities it was only a matter of time.
Daria glanced at her father proudly. He was the one who uncovered the swindle with a little inadvertent help from her and Jane. He spent months carefully gathering the proof, judicious that was irrefutable, before he went public. Once he was satisfied of that, he announced at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen the previous March what he learned. The legal beagles of the city, state and federal governments as well as the media pounced on it.
Overnight Jake became the symbol of honest politics. It was a foregone conclusion that the Board of Aldermen would elect him mayor to fill out the remainder of the current term the moment Hathaway resigned but the energetic Edie White networked like a hummingbird on caffeine ensuring that his name cropped up in connection with more than just the probable chief magistracy of a small suburb. Party officials mindful of the massive positive media coverage eyed him for the Maryland House of Delegates, State Attorney General, even the US House of Representatives. Rumor was that Congressman Sacks took the threat of Jake challenging him in the next primary seriously enough to show up for all of his committee meetings and House votes sober for two weeks in a row. Yet Jake, with modesty unbecoming of a politician, waved off much of the acclaim stating that it was only by chance that he picked up the trail.
Late March 1996
A grieving Jake who choose not to go into work that day snapped out of his reverie. Lost in his thoughts about Rafe he paid scant attention to where his feet were taking him. He quickly scanned the area orientating him to where he was and trying to spot who called out to him.
"Hey, Alderman. Over here."
Jake spied Doug Thompson waving from the middle of the Maple Avenue Park. He was standing by a cement mixer as two masons lay cinder blocks nearby. Jake waved back as he cut across the street.
"Hi, Mr. Thompson," Jake said as he came abreast the workers.
"Hey, Alderman," Doug said for a third time. "You look like a man whose favorite dog ran off."
"I buried my brother-in-law yesterday," Jake answered simply.
Doug blushed a deep red. "Aw, dammit, man," he said. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"It's all right," Jake assured him.
Doug shook his head. "I guess the two of you were pretty tight," he said. "Now my brother-in-law, I can't say I'd like to see him in the ground but if he decided to move to Australia I'd gladly help him pack."
"Is this going to be the performing arts gazebo?" Jake asked wanting to move away from discussing Rafe.
"Well, of course it is," Doug drawled. "What did you think? Hell, man, I was told you were the one who got the city to approve it."
"I was," Jake replied watching the masons hard at their task. The gazebo was a project dear to him. Jake hoped that it would give his side of town a positive focal point to enhance the sense of community though concerts in the park, festivals, and other gatherings.
Jake had few fond memories of his childhood in his hometown of Wendland, Pennsylvania but those he had mostly centered on the gazebo that stood in the village square. Santa Claus made annual appearances there to kick off the Christmas parade. Jack o' lanterns winked at him from the gazebo on Halloween and the snow that settled on its rails always seemed to make the best snowballs. Jake watched puppeteers, politicians, preachers, brass bands, folk troupes, magicians, string quartets, and ventriloquists all perform for the crowds that gathered with their picnic lunches on warm summer days. Best of all were the times that his grandfather Albrecht's oom-pah band played.
"Don't you worry none," Doug said. "It'll be solid as a rock. It'll stand a century or more. I guarantee it."
"I have no doubts," Jake replied politely.
"That's one thing about being a carpenter," Doug expanded. "You can leave behind stuff. Sixty or seventy years from now my grandkids can point at this, or the boathouse, or the shelter at the dog park and say 'my granddad built that'. Makes you proud, you know."
"You built the boathouse?" Jake asked a curious expression ghosting across his face. "You should be proud."
"Thanks," Doug replied as he scooped out cement filling a pail that one of the masons held out to him.
"You're the subcontractor, I suppose?" Jake asked causally after a few moments.
Doug chuckled slyly. "Sure," he replied. "I bid on this project but lost out to JKI like I did on the boathouse. I got no complaints though. I ended up making more money on both jobs than if I'd gotten the bid."
"JKI give you a call?" asked Jake.
Doug shook his head. "Naw," he replied. "It was that planning commission dude, Franklin. He came to the house. Said JKI needed a local guy and I was it."
"Good for you," Jake said. "I hope that you got a lawyer to look over the contract."
Doug snorted. "No contracts, man," he said derisively. "Cash on the barrel head. No need for lawyers or the IRS to stuck their noses into it. Meaning no disrespect to you, of course."
"None taken," Jake said. "Just remember to squirrel away a little for retirement."
"No need," Doug laughed. "That boy of mine is gonna be a quarterback in the NFL. He's my 401K."
"He's got a pretty good arm," Jake said noncommittally.
"Friggin' cannon," Doug said with pride. "Ya' know he's nuts about your daughter, what's her name, Darla. Thinks she walks on water."
"It's Daria," Jake corrected him.
"Yeah, that's right," Doug replied. "I keep telling Kevin that he don't have to worry none about grades. He's the QB after all but you know kids, they gotta do things the hard way. So he keeps running to her to have her explain this or that."
"Knowledge is power," Jake said.
"Maybe but I tell you what, Alderman," Doug chuckled. "Put a straight A student next to a kid that can drop a ball into a running receiver's hands at forty yards and see which one gets a scholarship."
"Can't say you're wrong there," Jake agreed.
"Damn straight," said Doug.
"I'll let you get back to work," Jake said shaking the carpenter's hand. "Kathy Muller already has plans for this gazebo."
"It'll be ready before May is here," Doug promised.
Late October, 1996
Jake tapped his computer's keyboard typing in the encryption code to the security program that his eldest daughter installed for him over the summer. The information and plans of his clients deserved all of the protection they could get but the data he sought had nothing to do with his firm.
He scanned the file when it opened. Six months of diligent investigation rested in it but there was nothing concrete. He knew something was not kosher with the awarding of the city contracts but the books appeared to match. In the end, he had only his suspicions, the name of the owner of JKI Construction, Judy Kate Ives, and a post office box in Dover, Delaware.
Jake rapidly minimized the screen when his office door opened.
Daria smirked as she and Jane walked in. "Hi, Dad. As quick as you hit the keyboard, I guess you're looking at porn."
"Hardly," Jake said closing he program in a more leisurely manner. "Why aren't you two in school?"
"Teacher admin day," Jane replied. "I don't really know what they do but, hey, it's a day off for me."
"So you thought to indulge in the heady excitement of wills and probate," Jake said.
"That's right," Daria replied. "The fact that we arrived at lunch time is a mere coincidence."
Jake chuckled. "I suppose that springing for lunch at Millie's wouldn't endanger this month's mortgage payment."
"Actually, Dad," Daria began. "We were hoping that you'd take us to Leapin' Lizards."
Jake stood and straightened his tie. "Alright, I'll bite. What is Leapin' Lizards?"
"It's a pizzeria by Lawndale State," Jane supplied. "After the school teams, you know, the LSU Lizards."
"Yeah, I get it," Jake said ushering the girls toward the door. "So, no more Pizza King?"
"It's good to expand your horizons," Daria said. "Besides once you start high school, it's never too early to begin looking at universities."
Jake glanced at the two of them. "Why do I get the feeling that a boy is involved somehow?"
"Oh, so you haven't heard the lesbian rumors?" Daria quipped.
"Speaking of lesbians, guess who enjoyed a girls' night out on occasion?" Jane piped up as they neared the elevators.
"A fair amount of women, I suspect," Jake said, a few images from his old commune springing into his mind with starling clarity. "But it's no one else's business what consenting adults do."
"No one cares who's gay anymore," Daria replied. "But I think that it is duplicitous to have a public persona at odds with a private one."
"Sexual orientation matters to a lot of people still," Jake said. "And not many people want their entire life to be an open book."
"Yes, but you don't have to be hypocritical about it," Daria replied.
"It's not hypocritical to try to keep some of your life private," Jake said. "Hypocrisy would be if I told you 'just say no' then disappeared into my office with a fifth of Jack and a joint every evening."
"Yeah but you admit to having dabbled in drugs in the past," Daria asserted with moral certainty. "It's fraudulent to have done something and pretend otherwise."
"Everyone deals with their past in their own way," said Jake. "Exercise a little understanding and compassion."
"It's nevertheless wrong," Daria replied stubbornly as the doors opened on an empty elevator.
"Kiddo, you're still young," said Jake putting a fond arm around her shoulder guiding her into the conveyance. "The day you do something that you profoundly regret come chat with me."
"Sure," Daria replied skeptically.
"How did we get this subject anyway?" Jake asked.
"I was going to tell you about these two old guys that rode up in the elevator with us," Jane said. "One of them mentioned the Mayor and the other one laughed. He said that she might act like butter won't melt in her mouth now but he remembered when a new to town West Virginia hillbilly named Gwen Ives was slinging drinks at the Nook while batting for both teams."
Jake frowned. "Gwen Ives?"
"Her maiden name, I suppose," Daria answered.
Morgantown, West Virginia
A young woman sliding into the booth interrupted Jake's perusal of the diner's menu.
"You kept your end of the deal," she murmured without preamble. "I got the job. This damn state can kiss my ass 'cause Philadelphia, here I came."
Jake nodded. He did not like the woman, a certified nursing assistant at a long term care facility for severely mentally handicapped adults, nor did he like the bargain he made with her but she could get information that he could not so he made a couple of calls and enlisted the aid of a client. A nursing home in Philadelphia gained a CNA and he was going to get the data he sought. Jake knew that, at best, he was in a grey area legally but he did not bother arguing with his conscience that it was for the greater good. He would sleep as soundly this night as the one before.
Looking furtively around the restaurant, she slid a floppy disc across the table to him. "All there is to know about Judy Ives," she whispered.
"What's the Cliff Notes version?" Jake asked in a normal tone as he put the diskette in his jacket pocket.
The woman shook her head. "Total retard. She's almost forty but can't feed herself, dress herself, nothing."
"Sign her name to a contract?" Jake asked.
The CNA grunted rudely. "She can't talk let alone write. If anything needed signing, her uncle would do it. He has whatchacallit, power of attorney."
"Not her mother?" Jake asked.
The woman shrugged as she stood. "Don't know nothing about whys or hows of that. Well, I got some packing to do. Bye."
Jake took a long sip of coffee after the woman left. He could now prove that the supposed president of JKI Construction was both Gwen's Hathaway's daughter and completely incapable of making any decisions. He could not track the money but the police could and would as soon as the matter went public. Jake did not doubt that they would find it in the mayor purse.
Jake shook his head sadly. Integrity he thought was like virginity; once it was lost, it was gone forever. Gwen Hathaway traded her honor for mere money and not very much money at that. No matter what she did with the rest of her life, the name of a corrupt politician would be hers.
"You look down in the dumps, hon," the waitress said when she scooted to a stop by his booth.
"Just thinking of bad choices people make," he replied.
"A bad choice here would be the meatloaf," she joked while refilling his coffee.
"How's the chicken fried steak?" Jake asked.
"Best between here and the next place," she replied.
One Observatory Circle
Free at last Jake thought as he knotted his tie. He knew that he was unhappy and had been from the beginning of the administration but the vastness of the relief he felt stunned even him. I should have resigned far earlier he mused instead of waiting for a 'crossing the Rubicon' moment to force the issue. He did not bemoan breaking the tie vote in the Senate killing the President's pet project, the cornerstone of her vision for a new United States, but lamented the ensuring uproar expected though it was. His beloved country did not need more aggravation that is why he submitted his resignation effective upon the swearing in of his successor, which was due to take place in the west wing in twenty minutes. He would not attend.
When a misty-eyed Helen entered their bedroom, Jake was looking himself over in the standing full-length mirror. Still a handsome man she thought. Straight and slender with a winning smile he even now cut an appealing figure despite his nearly seventy years. His once dark brown hair had long ago turned white but it remained thick. Since his retirement from the Army Reserves a few years earlier, he let it grow out some. It swept back from his forehead coming to a rest at the nape of his neck. More the one member of the media used the word leonine when describing the Vice-President.
He beamed when he caught sight of her in the mirror. "Hey, no sad faces, now. I've been looking forward to this day for weeks," he said. "For over two years if I'm honest."
"No regrets?" she asked smoothing one lapel.
"Only that I acceded the office in the first place," he replied. "I didn't want it but too many people I respect asked me to."
"She never respected you," Helen said archly refusing to speak the name of the current occupant of the White House.
Jake sighed. "No, I suppose not," he admitted. "And I can't say that she was ever high on my list of favorite people either going all the way back to our days together in the National Governors Association but I had hoped that we could at least remain civil."
"You could have voted in her favor," Helen pointed out.
Jake shook his head. "No," he said. "That bill would have been disastrous. I honestly believe that as bad of shape as our country is if it had become law, it would have killed it. Half the state legislatures were seriously considering votes of secession."
"A lot of people want you to run in 2020," Helen said.
"To quote a comedian portraying one of my predecessors, 'not gonna happen'," Jake replied.
"Why not?" she asked.
Jake sobered, the smile falling from his face. "The country's in dire straits," he said. "And I don't have the answers. I am old and tired. I know that I'm likable but the people need more than that. They need someone with ideas. Someone young, dynamic, and energetic who can make them believe in America and themselves again."
"Good luck on that one," Helen said shaking her head.
"Yeah," Jake said gloomily but a small smile returned to Jake's lips.
Helen arched a questioning eyebrow when she spotted it. Jake winked in return.
"What..." she began but Jake stopped her question with a small cutting gesture. Helen looked around. She would not put it past the President to bug their bedroom. She could wait for answers.
Trent, for a few more minutes Assistant to the Vice-President and Director of Communications, knocked on the open door. "Hey, Colonel," he drawled. "Everyone's downstairs waiting on you."
"Hopefully the mood's not too funereal," Jake replied lightly.
"Everyone's a bit down," he said. "What do you expect? You're a hero to a lot of people and you're being tossed out like last night's leftovers."
"I resigned," Jake replied.
"Like you had a choice," Trent snorted.
"I did not have to resign," Jake said. "And the President could not fire me. I could have stayed on."
Trent shook his head. "Honor would not have allowed you to, Colonel."
"No, it wouldn't," he agreed following his wife out of the bedroom.
Kevin Thompson met the three of them at the bottom of the staircase. Although like the others he knew this day was coming for weeks, he could not keep the tears from his eyes. He had been with Jake for years following his brief professional football career rising from aide to Lieutenant Governor Morgendorffer to Chief of Staff of Governor then Congressman then Vice President Morgendorffer. The leadership, people, and organizational skills he acquired from sports translated well into the world of politics even more so than his degree in Political Science or his MPA.
Like so many others, he wanted Jake to run for President but knew that Jake meant it when he said that he would not do so. It was the end of the road. Kevin forced a smile onto his face but it did not fool Jake who pulled the younger man into a heartfelt hug.
"We done some good, hoss," Jake told him.
"Yeah, we did," Kevin concurred in a voice husky with emotion.
"And you're going to do some more once we get you elected to the House," Jake said.
"If I get elected," he replied. "I'll do my best to live up to your standards, sir."
"Oh, aim higher than that," Jake laughed. "Live up to Kevin Thompson's standards."
The reception was brief. Jake spent the last several weeks saying his good-byes to his staff and doing his best to see that they all got new jobs so there was little to add. A few final hugs and photographs and some last parting words before an even pithier press conference and Vice-President Morgendorffer and the Second Lady were no more. Private Citizens Jake and Helen left Washington behind. Their daughters and grandchildren awaited them at home along with a few close friends. The barbeque grills already fired up. The food being done and their arrival would coincide.
"So just who are you working for in 2020?" Helen asked as they crossed the DC border into Maryland.
From behind the wheel, Trent chuckled. "Damn Colonel, you do play it close to the vest, don't you?" he rhetorically asked glancing in the rear view mirror.
Jake shrugged unapologetically.
"You know," Helen asked looking at Trent's reflection. "So who is it?"
"Guess," Jake mischievously said while squeezing her hand.
"Jake," Helen shot back.
Trent chuckled again. "Let's just say that you were the Second Lady, Helen, which isn't bad," he began. "But we want Janie to go you one better."
Helen looked at her husband in disbelief. "Tom Sloane?" she asked. "But he's a Unionist!" she added referring to one of the two parties to emerge from the shattered pieces of the Republicans after the Tea Party tore it asunder.
"Yeah," Jake replied. "But he was a hellava Senator and he's been an even better Governor. I believe absolutely that he's the best hope for this country. If anyone can stop the slide, he can."
Helen looked unconvinced.
"Look," Jake continued. "The Democrats are not going to turn the President out and that Artic moron will probably get the Constitution Party's nod. Four years of either one of them and you can kiss the USA good-bye. We'll disintegrate as fast as the USSR did."
"If we can get the Unionists to nominate Tom and then get him elected, maybe our grandkids can still grow up in the United States."
"You honestly think that it's that bad?" she asked.
"Baby, I know it's that bad," he replied sadly.
As the sun set behind the treetops and the moon rose, the last guests left as did Helen's earlier gloom driven away by family and long-time friends. She could not say that she hated Washington but being out of the fish bowl was sweet. No more having to guard her tongue or putting on a polite face. Helen sat on a rocker on the back porch sipping an iced tea while surveying the cleanup. Her daughters plus Trent and his ten-year-old daughter Holly forbade her and Jake from even the least thought of helping.
Helen hid a smile behind her glass as she watched Daria and Trent work together. They moved in perfect harmony without realizing it. Holly made no secret that she wanted the divorced Daria to marry her widowed father. Helen wanted the same thing. She never warmed to her ex-son-in-law. For the life of her, she could never see what Daria saw in him but whatever it was could not survive him cheating on her.
Jake, an old battered Washington Senators replica ball cap on his head, stepped out onto the porch with a telephone in his hand and Quinn's twin boys bouncing around him. Spotting Helen, they ran to her as quickly as their toddler legs would allow. Laughing, she scooped up the two of them.
"Quinn, it's Steve," he said holding out the phone. "He's in Los Angeles. He's pitching tonight. I wonder if it's going to be on television?"
"Thanks Daddy," Quinn replied taking the phone. "You have that Major League package, remember. You can see any game you want."
"Cool," he said sitting down beside his wife.
He watched Trent, Daria, and Holly for a few moments before looking over to Helen.
"It'll happen if we don't say anything," she said. "Although I hope he doesn't go back on the road after they do."
Jake shook his head. "I don't think he will," he replied. "Trent hated touring, too much of a homebody to get into the whole different city every night living out of a suitcase life style. Besides, he can bear to be apart from Holly very long and he certainly doesn't need the money."
"If anything, he'll probably be working for his brother-in-law, doing for Tom what he did for me."
Helen nodded. "I hope so," she said. "I want to see Daria happy. Trent, too."
"What about you?" He asked. "Now that we're free, what would you like to do for the rest of our lives?"
"Maybe a little traveling," she mused. "But just staying here puttering around in my garden has a lot of appeal. How about you?"
"I want the same thing that I wanted since 1968; just to be where you are," he
said as he leaned over to kiss her.