© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell
Tom pulled Jack into the black stretch limo and shut the door. One occupant knocked on the front window, and the limo began to drive, circling City Park. Under any other circumstances, Tom would have been enjoying the scenery. However, as it was, he faced many hostile faces of powerful men to whom he wasn’t thrilled about having to answer.
“Gentlemen,” Tom began, nodding in each general direction.
“As you know, things have gone a bit… awry in the past couple of days, and according to my strategist, Jack Jenkins,” who remained impassive, “we are going to have a real problem if we don’t do something quickly.”
“Tom, we didn’t get involved to solve problems here. We backed you because you virtually promised victory. Now what do you propose?”
Jack spoke quietly, “Right now, we face a number of issues. First, the media have jumped on Tom’s indiscretions like a firestorm. He’s already run the risk of alienating his entire voting base because of his relationship to Ms. James. However, now that that relationship has become common fodder for conversation, we face some real challenges. Coupled with last night’s health issues, and the fact that we had a major media circus at Dade’s rally…”
A dark-haired man in the corner spoke up, “What were you trying to do there, Tom? Did this clown tell you that was a good idea?”
Jack knew he was being insulted, but kept his face impassive while his insides were seething. He leaned back, giving the floor back to Tom.
“Uh, no. That was a miscalculation on the part of many…”
“You may have just cost us all the election, Tom.”
“Yeah, well… Jack, why don’t you finish?” Tom was sweating visibly.
Blinking slowly, Jack let each man in the car know that he was in control of the present situation.
“As I was saying, following the fiasco at the rally last night, Tom faces some real issues. However, we still hold one wild card… Karen Cook. She’s still missing. But voters everywhere are notoriously fickle and the best way to get someone elected is to give them something solid to hang onto immediately before the election. You want them thinking our guy is a hero.”
Another man spoke, “Just what are you suggesting, Mr. Jenkins?”
“What I’m saying is this. Karen Cook is currently at large in connection with the murder of a woman who was an important member of the business community. If Tom Delaney can be credited before tomorrow at seven am with the capture, either directly or indirectly, of Ms. Cook, there’s a very good chance that the indiscretions of the past two days will be forgotten.”
“How do we find her?”
“Well, right now I don’t know the answer to that. Either we find her by trial and error, and right now, I don’t have faith that that strategy is going to be particularly effective, or we try to force her hand. Give her a reason to want to come out.”
“Can we use her family somehow?”
“No,” Jack answered. “It’s a good idea, but she’s been estranged from them for years. Our man almost had her twice. And unfortunately, mistakes were made and she eluded capture. So we need to come up with something smarter.”
The car remained silent for a few more moments. Then Tom spoke again.
“Gentlemen, there are fifty appointments open to the mayor of the city of Denver. Ten of those are critical openings- the heads of city departments. Each one of you here stands to gain lucratively from those appointments. Over one hundred years ago, George Washington Plunkett was eulogized this way, “In politics, honesty doesn’t matter. Efficiency doesn’t matter. Progressive vision doesn’t matter. What does matter is the chance for a better job, a better price of wheat, better business conditions.” That’s what I am offering to you. You will be in a prime position to make contracts that will establish your respective businesses in the annals of history, my friends. Your qualifications are insignificant because these appointments are beyond the reach of the city council. They’re beyond the reach of Career Services. You stand to gain considerably if I am elected. But right now, I need your help. Help me find Karen Cook.”
Jack looked somewhat impressed. Tom had been less than enthused about anything for the last twenty-four hours. Now, he seemed to be returning to the man they had originally pegged for the job.
One by one, the men committed to the enterprise. It seemed to Tom that they understood the gravity of the situation, but none knew what exactly to do about that. At different points around the city, the limo dropped off each one. Finally, Jack and Tom were left by Jack’s car. One other man stepped out of the limo, and climbed circumspectly into the car with the two men.
“That was a great speech, Tom. You could have used something as stirring at that stupid debate last night.”
“A minor technicality, Detective. I assume you’re here to update us on the situation?”
“The current news is, there is no current information. After seeing her at the library late Saturday afternoon, there is no record of anyone in the area seeing Karen on foot. She was likely spotted by two of our officers later that evening, but there was no positive ID. No activity on any of her accounts, although that makes sense since Yendale confiscated her purse. She seems to have just disappeared.”
“Transom, I don’t want to hear that. I want to hear that you have some lead… Somebody must know something!”
Detective Transom nodded mutely in agreement. “I handed her to you once. She was home- defenseless. I wasn’t even supposed to be involved there. You told me she had no one- no contacts, no family, few friends.”
Jack spoke up, “I can assure you that that information was accurate. There was no one that knew her that well. She held herself apart from everyone.”
“What’s your part in this, Jack? What do you stand to gain from all this?”
“That’s my business, Transom. I’m being compensated, same as everyone else.” Jack voice was clipped and terse.
Detective Transom nodded as if to say, Alright, forget I asked.
“If you guys can’t come up with something soon, there’s a lot of guys who aren’t going to be very happy about it.”
“We’ve got it. Thanks,” Jack said coldly, dismissing him.
The detective climbed out of the car and walked to an unmarked police car that was parked inconspicuously nearby.
“Alright Jack. What do we do to pull her out of hiding? Assuming she didn’t hop into a car with someone and hitchhike her way to Las Vegas…”
“She didn’t. She’s still here. She wouldn’t be able to get away from this- it’s been her life for too long. No… Wherever she is, she’s still breathing it. What about your son, Tom. What was that all about? I thought you said Jeff was prepared to show up last night.”
“I don’t know what happened to him, to be honest. He knows what will happen if he backs out now. My guess is that something occurred to pull him off that story at the last minute, and there was nothing he could do about it without drawing attention to himself.”
“Well, that was pretty inconvenient, to say the least.”
“I realize that Jack. I’m on the line here, not you.”
Jack ignored Tom and began to think out loud. “The only thing she cares about is work… She has no family anymore, except a work family.” Gears began to turn in Jack’s brain. “Work family… Tom, call that son of yours. We need another favor.”
“What are you thinking about, Jack?”
“Just call him- we’ll meet him wherever he wants. Twenty minutes. Get on the phone!” he barked.
An hour later, the three men sat in a seedy Colfax restaurant with fogged up windows. They chose a small booth in the back corner, but they needn’t have worried. The place was empty as usual. That’s why they always met here.
Jeff spoke first, “Alright, what do you want now?”
“I need you to do a fake press release.”
“Saying what now, Jack? At some point, my boss is going to get suspicious of all this. I’ve had way too much to do with this election already. And with all these last minute requests, somebody is going to start checking facts, and I could get into a lot of trouble!”
Jack smiled coldly. “You don’t have any more to lose than the rest of us. Suck it up, Junior. One more favor, and the election is over.”
“What?” Jeff asked shortly, apparently resigned to the worst.
“I need you to announce an accident.”
“What kind of an accident?”
“I don’t care- car accident is fine. I’m the victim. Before I slipped into a coma, I whispered Karen’s name. Say whatever you want… Just get her here.”
“You don’t even know if she’s still out there, Jack. This could be a colossal waste of time.”
“So what do you have to lose? Just do it.”
“I have a lot to lose, Jack.” Jeff rolled his eyes, and expelled a breath leaning back into the booth. “When do you want all this announced?”
“As soon as possible. Are you anchoring the news at five?”
“Yes, and I really need to get back now. Look, this is getting a little bit out of control. I can’t keep covering.”
Jack replied, “You don’t have a choice here, kiddo. Your dad has informed me as to your past… exploits. And unless you want that all to come out, you still need to hang in here for another day or two.”
Jeff closed his eyes, looking nauseous. “Alright.”
“Okay. Do it. Play it up- I don’t care. I think this may be the only way to get this.”
Jeff nodded without another word and walked back into the late Monday afternoon.
So far, Tom had remained silent, watching Jeff, but saying nothing.
Finally, he turned to Jack. “That’s your big plan? Jack, you know her better than I do and she’s too smart to fall for something that stupid.”
“If you’ve got a better idea, Tom, I’d love to hear it.”
Tom, who had thus been ambiguous in his behavior at best, realized that Jack was as desperate as he was.
Jeff’s face came on the Channel 8 five o’clock news.
Our headline tonight is an unfortunate accident involving one of the chief members of Tom Delaney’s campaign. Earlier this evening, Jack Jenkins was involved in a car accident with a drunk driver and is now in a coma at a Denver area hospital. According to the responding paramedics, before Jenkins slipped into unconsciousness, he told them that he had critical information for Karen Cook. Cook is currently wanted in connection with the murder of a prominent area businesswoman. It is believed that Jenkins championed Cook’s innocence. Police are looking into the situation currently, and we will have more at six o’clock.
Jack looked disgusted. “Is that the best he could do?”
Tom’s eyes were empty. “Does it matter? If she calls, then we have a chance at least. We just need her to call.”
Jack stood. “I have to get going. I’ll be back here in an hour.”
Tom simply sat, glassy-eyed, and stared at the television set high on the wall.
Jack snapped directly in his field of vision. “You still with us, Tom?”
Tom just waved him off, “Yes. I’m fine. Go do whatever it is you do. What else do we have tonight?”
“Call Andrea. She has your itinerary memorized. I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Yeah, you said that already.”
Jack walked out the door shaking his head. If I don’t find Karen, this election is over.
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