Book cover


Jack Barns punched his cell phone, texting. The intercom on his desk buzzed. He tossed the cell phone onto the desk with a clatter and punched the in-desk phone.

“Yes, Louise?”

“Ms. Sachs and her party are here for their 10 o’clock.”

“Tell ‘em to swing it in,” and they did.

“Come in, let’s sit over here. The view is better. Anyone care for a drink?” Barns said.

“Tequila and a Coke, in separate glasses, for Mr. Smith Wilson,” Louise said without prompting.

“Ms. Sachs will take Zia-Zong tea and Mr. Papilov will have black coffee, correct?” she said, walking to the bar on the side of the room.

Their drinks dispensed, Louise left the room and closed the door behind her. Papilov pulled a flask from within his coat pocket and spiked his coffee.

“Well?” Barns said. “Where do we stand?”

“You said not to poke around PPD yet. Did you make your call?” Sachs asked.

“No, because there’s something else,” Barns said.

“I have been looking at the predictive analytics, and we predict an almost 40 percent failure rate. I want us to stay off the PPD radar, and if the numbers don’t improve, we aren’t doing anything.”

“Oh, we’ll do something. It may not be this, but rest assured, we’ll do something. If we don’t, they will, and we’ll be right back where we started, before we ever came up with this … this fucking exercise,” Sachs said.

“I still don’t see how these two guys are any different than the last two we tried to use,” Papilov said.

“It’s simple. All the data points to these two guys being at the two pinnacles of thinking on the American political landscape,” Barns said.

“Ordinarily, letters to the editor are read and forgotten. That’s what makes this so beautiful.”

“The people will do all the heavy lifting to keep these guys and America going,” Smith Wilson said, sipping his tequila before a chaser of Coke. Morning buzzes are the best.

“Jack, what we need now is first contact with Evers. Who do you have in mind for the job?” Sachs said.

Barns punched the desk, sending a signal. The office door opened and a beautiful woman, who is not Louise, walked into the room.

“We would like a word with you. Take a seat,” he said.

“Certainly,” she said, walking to the only open chair.

Super-spy Marilyn Ece, pronounced A.J. A beautiful woman of Turkish extraction. Youngish.

“What do you think, Miss Ece? Can you do it?” Smith Wilson asked.

“Depends. It depends on one thing you or I cannot control,” she said with savvy.

“Such as?” Barns said.

“Such as, this guy Evers has an erratic voting pattern. That tells me he is susceptible to reverse-psychology, what you would call changing his mind. That makes him a mediocre candidate at best for this job.

“My skills only go so far, and then the candidate’s natural tendencies must take over. This guy? I get him to that point, and he could go either way. That’s a lot of work that could be for nothing. Not that I’m gonna put this gig on my resume, but if he fails, I could end up dead. That, I would put on my resume.”

“Seems like it would be easy to, shall we say, urge this guy Evers down the path we want,” Smith Wilson said.

“Drugs and herbs leave trails,” Sachs said. “Don’t you watch NCIS?”

“Yeah, right. That’s really off the table,” Smith Wilson said. “I’d use my mother if we had to.”

“Let’s hope for her sake it doesn’t come to that,” Barns said.

“So far, they have been sticking to their game plan, while it looks like we’re sticking to ours.”

“And that, by the grace of God, is the price of freedom,” Smith Wilson said.


May Evers sat at her desk in the precinct, staring at a computer slideshow of faces. After the 133rd face skipped by, she hit the space bar to stop. She moused back four photos.

“Got you,” she said, grabbing for her phone.

“Sgt. Haskins, please. It’s Detective May Evers.” She waited just a few short seconds.

“Tommy? It’s May. I found him, the sonofabitch, I found him,” she said excitedly.

“Yeah, he was in the regular mix I go through and he popped up. Right now, he’s out, last known address is somewhere north. Feel like taking a ride? Okay, I’ll come get you.”

She slammed down the handset, rose, and hiked up her slacks by the 9mm holster around her waist. She grabbed her ballistic vest and coat and left.

She went to pick up Sgt. Tommy Haskins, her former partner and current coworker on the last case they worked together before hitting the big time.

The man they sought laundered a lot of money through a string of strip clubs, from New York City to Florida. May and Tommy wanted him, but especially because the perp was an embarrassment.

Chester Fletcher.

But they would not find Fletcher at home, because he was sitting in his car, a sweet new Camaro, with a pair of binoculars, watching Willingham, as he fished from the dock along the Schuylkill.

Fletcher had been there over two hours and was now convinced the only thing Willingham didn’t have on that damn dock was a stove and a shitter. It was an office, and he even napped between fish catches.

“I want this guy’s job,” Fletcher whispered to himself. Fletcher’s cell phone rang.

“Yeah? There was? Are they still there? What time did they show up? Shit, wonder who it could be? It’s either the cops or the cable company,” still watching Willingham on the dock.

“No, I’m gonna stay for a little while longer. No, he hasn’t done shit. Caught a few fish. He has a real curious habit after he does. I gotta go,” he said, clicking the call to an end.

“I definitely could do his job,” Fletcher said as he watched intently through the binoculars.

Fletcher’s orders from the PP were to observe Willingham, and report on his movements.


As it turns out, Tick was not a willing news source.

“Fuck no, I don’t want to talk to no reporters,” he told the guard who said he had people asking for him.

“There’s a priest, a Father Fancy? Says he knows you,” the guard said, looking at his clipboard.

“No shit, Fancy’s in the house? I must really be in trouble. Yeah.”

A few minutes later, Tick was escorted into the visitor’s pen, slotted next to the wall, right below the overseeing guard on a platform, directly behind and above Tick.

Father Fancy walked in after Tick sat down. Tick watched the hulk of a priest make his way to the seat he dwarfed. He sat, eyes fixed on Tick.

“Hey, Father, whatchoo doin’ Downtown?”

“Ronald, your friend Toby’s dad called me, told me what happened,” the priest confided.

“I don’t think even you can help me, Father.”

“Ronald, I didn’t come for that. I came to talk with you about tomorrow,” Father Fancy said.

“Tomorrow? What do you mean?”

“Tomorrow, your legal proceedings begin and so far, you told your public defender that you did it. Is that true, my son?”

“Straight on,” Tick said, elbows on knees. “Man came on our turf. Had to go down.”

“It's not too late to do some good. I want you to pray with me, today, and every day after that, until …” the priest looked down.

“You gonna come visit me every day? Don’t waste your time,” Tick said, sliding back the chair and rising.

“Thanks for stopping by, Father.”

The priest quickly rose and the sight of it drew all eyes to him. The priest motioned a blessing with his right hand.

“Go with God, my son,” he said before walking toward the door, all eyes still on him.

A calm in a sea of violence. Later that day, Father Fancy made a phone call from the church office.

“No, it was a pretty short visit. Yeah, he says he did it. Seems like he’s already accepted his fate.”

“Well, you tried,” Jim Wallace said from his office. “Thanks for going to see him.”

“I told him I would come every day, to pray with him. He told me not to waste my time,” the priest said. Jim felt bad for the priest.

“You could pray for him and not go to the jail every day, couldn’t you?” Wallace asked.

“That isn’t what I said I’d do,” Father Fancy said.

“He’s right, you know. You aren’t going to save him. He’s gonna die, eventually.

“Ya know Father, I’ve turned into a praying man myself. But I pray for those outside the penal system. Maybe you could take care of those inside.”

“Good ideas are the best,” Father Fancy said. “Take care, my son.”


On his dock, Cornell Willingham answered a call.


“You have a meeting at the office at 3 p.m,” said Solange Benson, Willingham's assistant.

“You asked me to remind you, remember?”

“Remind me again why we don’t have an office in Washington?”

“Because you don’t like to travel, and office space is cheaper in Philly,” the woman said perfunctorily.

“I’ll be there,” he said, ending the call, and dropping the phone into his chair caddy.

He rose, stretched and turned slightly in the direction of Fletcher, almost a hundred yards away, whom he spied spying on him.

This guy needs better training, Willingham thought.

“Hope this isn't your real job,” Willingham said.

Fletcher, meanwhile, saw that he had been spotted. He slowly lowered his binoculars and got a weird idea. He exited his sweet, new Camaro, and retrieved a fishing pole and a bucket with a specially fitted seat-top from the trunk.

The dock is small, but can accommodate two fishing spots. Though one spot was open, lines from both spots would tangle, due to the current.

Fletcher walked slowly down the grass slope to the dock. He stared at the river without putting his stuff down.

“How they bitin’?” Fletcher asked, looking at the river.

“I think the fish are on vacation, like me,” Willingham said with a smirk.

“It’s a funny thing, fishing,” Fletcher said.

“How do you mean?” Willingham gently wiggled his pole and line.

“I don’t know. Sometimes, when I’m fishing, all the bullshit in the world seems like it doesn’t matter as much. But then, when I hook one, I have to come back to reality, and decide what to do with the fish.”

Fletcher looked at Willingham, knowing the old man suffocates his prey.

Willingham wiggled his pole and began a tune to go along with the fish he felt at the end of the line.

“I don’t know, but I been told, a squirmy old fish, ain’t got no soul, but it’s FUNKY,” at which point Willingham snagged a big fish on his line.

He flicked it up onto the dock, and bent to unhook it. He straightened, to see Fletcher staring at him.

“What should I do?” Willingham said.

“I got a frying pan it would fit in. How about you?” Fletcher said.

“You fish as much as I do, you kind of get tired of eating it. Sometimes, I like a big steak instead,” Willingham said, offering Fletcher the fish by the gills.

“The fish don’t know no better,” Willingham said. Fletcher reached for the fish.

“Yeah,” Fletcher said, taking the fish and tossing it into the river.


The wall of the Neighbor Party headquarters in Downtown Philly, the main wall everybody looks at as they enter the public entrance of the office suites, is emblazoned with the party’s name and slogan.

The Neighbor Party. Citizens of America. Citizens of the World.

Entire classes in colleges across the nation devoted themselves to determining the underlying meaning of the slogan.

Could it really be that simple? The short answer: No.

Several reception-type personnel clustered on one side of the room, standing at concierge-style pulpits of entry into a place, it had been said in the press, “where people without political ambition and the will to see it through should just stay the hell out.”

Willingham sat at the head of his conference table. Kate and her sister Isabel Smith Wilson sat to his right.

“Good morning, we’ll get started after Mara Trent arrives,” Willingham said.

A few minutes later, the door to the outer office opened and Mara Trent walked in. Willingham rose.

“Good, you're here,” he said, motioning Trent to sit.

“I wanted you to meet Kate and Isabel before we start this thing,” Willingham said.

“They are going to be on point for us and the PP,” Willingham said in an approving tone.

“Do you have a plan yet, for when you contact Mr. Wallace?” Isabel said.

“I'm going over to his house tonight and get the ball rolling,” Mara said.

“I think we'll be okay. I have an edge.”

“Well, let's hope it's a good one,” Willingham said.

Trent would contact Jim Wallace that night, and the Smith Wilson sisters, also that night, the first in a series of meetings between party contacts.

Things were starting to get interesting.


Jim Wallace sat at his kitchen table and flipped through the Bugle. The doorbell rang.

He opened the door to find a woman who bore an amazing resemblance to Vanessa Wallace, his dead wife.

“Yes, can I help you?” he said.

“My car broke down, oh, that sounds so suspicious. I don’t need to use your phone or anything. I just didn’t want to wait for the tow truck by myself. Could we sit out here on your stoop until it comes? I’m Mara Trent,” she said, holding out a hand.

Wallace took it and trance-walked out his door, almost not remembering to leave it unlocked.

“Wallace, Jim Wallace, sure. Hang on,” he said, stepping back inside for two folding chairs. He set them up and they sat down.

“Sure you don’t want to wait inside?” he asked.

“No, this is fine. Thanks,” she said with a smile.

“So what happened to your car, do you think?” Jim said.

“I dunno. I had oil, that light wasn’t on. And I had gas. Thanks for letting me barge in on you,” she said, tapping his arm with her hand, just as his wife used to.

They talked for an hour, but it seemed like less. Finally, the tow truck showed up.

“Just in case,” the tow truck driver said. He asked Mara for her keys, got in the car, and it started right up.

Jim didn’t even have a clue.

Jim came to his senses, and realized he wanted to see this woman again, so he asked, and she agreed to come over the next evening for dinner.

Jim had only met one other woman ever who was that easy to talk with, and he married her.

Years later, he buried her.


May Evers walked into her home and tossed her keys into the bowl of keys. She heard the lilting laugh of a woman she did not recognize.

She instinctively reached up for her sidearm, strapped to her right waist. She grabbed it, then let her hand slip away, straightening her jacket.

She then walked a little too loudly on the wood floors into the kitchen to see Anton, opening a bottle of wine, and Marilyn Ece sitting at her table, May’s table.

“Oh honey, this is Marilyn Ece, she’s from the newspaper,” he said, reaching into the cabinet for a third glass.

“Oh really, which one?” May said, shaking hands with Marilyn. May sat and tried not to act like a cop.

“It’s a variety of them, actually, Northern Republic, Southern Times, some political, broad-spectrum publications. Thanks,” and she took a sip of the wine Anton delivered to her first before May, who received hers second.

“And why are you here?” May asked, trying unsuccessfully not to sound like a cop.

“We’d like to do a write-up on Anton. His letter was very inspiring.”

“Letter? What letter?” May said.

“This letter.”

Anton handed May the Bugle with his letter. She read the letter silently and quickly, providing a pregnant pause.

“So, what, Anton’s a hero, for speaking up?” May asked.

“Yes, and no,” Marilyn said.

“Yes, because he stated, rather eloquently, I might add, the opinion of a great many people around the country, many of whom read our publications. The no part is that the time we have to, shall we say, spread the message, Anton’s message, is limited.

“I hate to say it, but it’s the length of time until the young man he wrote about … goes to death row.”

“Anton, what do you think?” May asked, now wondering what part she would be forced to play.

“Mrs. Evers?”

“Call me May, please.”

“May, I know this is kind of sudden, but many people in our country are concerned about teen violence. A good portion of them think as Anton does, but so far, they have been shouted down by … others,” Marilyn said.

“This is a chance to shout back, or talk back, at least. We’ll try to keep the shouting to a minimum.”

“What do you want me to do?” Anton said with verve and a hint of suspicion.