The Brotherhood #22
By Mark W. Meier
The First Horseman
A month later I urged caution. The city’s parks department wanted to rename an area for a popular former mayor who’d abused his wife. Most on the council knew of the abuse, but nobody would object because he contributed to their campaigns.
You came to my office – which held better furniture than yours. My custom bubinga wood desk alone cost more than all your desks, bookshelves, and credenzas combined. “We can’t name that park after a misogynist, even if he used to be mayor. The only reason it’s even proposed is because his family is rich.”
“True, but that’s the reason we can’t fight it.” I turned a computer monitor to face toward where you paced. “A poll shows residents admire the man by a margin of eighteen points. The park board favors the change seven to one. You’re the only one who’d vote against it.”
“If we don’t stand up on this, when will we fight back?” You dropped into a handmade chair.
A message flashed on my screen. You saw your name and the House Minority Leader’s name before I swung it back around. That was enough to whet your appetite for more.
“If you stand up on this you’ll be a single-term councilman. You’ll never fight for anything else. Evil didn’t take root overnight, and you can’t fight it without incremental progress, Bob.”
The wisdom of my argument – and the names you saw – swayed you.
Over the next year I kept your attention focused on reelection. You promised constituents everything you could. My Brothers and I kept the streets in front of the city’s wealthy residents cleared of snow, repaved, and lighting updated. Crews managed such miracles without inconveniencing residents. Contributions flowed.
Roads through the area were widened without objection from neighborhood groups. A write-in campaign put you on the ballot for the county board, even though you were serving on the council. You won both those seats in landslide victories. Unfortunately, the statutes forbade you from serving on both political bodies. You had to choose.
“I think I should keep the council chairmanship.” Reclining in your new leather chair you withstood the urge to put your new wingtips on your polished mahogany desk. The aroma of fresh leather and lemon-scented furniture polish vied for supremacy in your office.
So did we.
“Why would you do that?” I drew out a thin manila folder.
“It keeps me more connected with the common voter.” You crossed to a mini fridge and selected a diet cola and offered me one.
I shook my head and handed you the paper from my folder. “Do you think being chair of the county board would prevent that? A national study shows county board chairmen are no less connected than council chairmen.”
It was a lie, but I didn’t want facts getting in your way.
You sipped the cola and pondered the data. “I see. Perhaps you’re right. I’ll take the county board.”
“It does hold more possibility. Who do you think will head the city council?” As if I didn’t know. My Brothers and I controlled enough of the council to elect anyone we wanted. The support flowing from the Brotherhood gave me enough power to do all of that – and more.
She was a client of someone who owed me many favors. I could sway my Brother into having her support in my current project.
“You should get married,” I said. When your jaw dropped I laughed. “Not to Phoebe. Andrea. You’ve been with her for three years, and a run for state senate is much easier if you’re married.”
Four months later Andrea became your wife. You told her about what you’d seen in my folder, and her excitement was contagious. You weren’t churchgoers and didn’t believe the Bible, but chose to accept my skewed story of the first horseman. How humans could hold two conflicting views bewildered me.
Your only reluctance came from paying me, now that your grace period had ended.
“Twenty percent of my salary? Unacceptable.”
Yet you’d come to my office for the conversation – a concession to my dominance. My selection of soft drinks was better, too. Even though it was loaded with sugar, you took the Stewart’s Key Lime.
You sipped, and a blissful smile erupted. “Heavenly.”
I ignored the insult and steepled my fingers, leaning back in my Wellington’s Heirloom custom leather chair. “That’s my rate, Bob. If you’d rather not pay, I’ll find another who will. You need me more than I need you.”
You frowned, placing the cold bottle of soda on a coaster. “Leo, I have ambitions that will lead to a massive income for your partnership. If you insist on twenty percent, I’ll find another firm and you’ll never be more than a small-time consulting business.”
“You’ve done some research,” I said, though I knew you were being foolish. Leaning forward I stared into your eyes. “Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you’ve found everything.”
An expression of doubt flashed. “Is your fee negotiable?” Your hand wavered as you picked up your soda.
You intimidated, I threatened, we both postured. You didn’t want to give up such a large percentage to what looked on paper to be a mid-size consulting firm with only regional clout. I understood that, but couldn’t put up with it. My firm had tentacles reaching into far more pockets than those in your wardrobe. Eventually we settled on fifteen percent.
You won reelection. Next on our schedule was a run for the state senate, and you were more than eager. Companies and individuals who bankrolled that campaign also sabotaged those working against you. Eventually I had the imps supporting my efforts back off to keep your win from becoming an unbelievable landslide. Subtlety keeps the Brotherhood effective.
“A ten-point victory!” Your acceptance speech thundered from the massive speakers in the packed arena. “We’re on our way to bringing justice back into politics, here in the state, and eventually the nation.”
Supporters cheered the tacit admission you sought higher office. A steady stream of donations came from across the state, throughout the region, and from foreign sources laundered through multinational corporations. All of it was orchestrated with the help of the army of imps in the Brotherhood. I even had access to a few full Brothers for assistance.
Unlike posers who did nothing but collect a paycheck and show up for votes, you regularly proposed legislation to fix more roads, put more police on the street, and cut bloated budgets. Not everything passed, but the failures were used to hammer your opponents. Last-minute add-ons to fund popular causes helped you accuse others of not caring about feral cats killing songbirds.
Through it all, people passed money to you during handshakes. Blank envelopes full of cash from anonymous sources were delivered by messengers. Checks for speeches and appearances poured in. If anyone looked they’d find rampant impropriety. I kept watchdogs from looking by the judicious use of innuendo, suggesting I had documentation of their own dishonesty. Which I did.
Before your reelection campaign started you publicly announced a run for a soon to be vacant congressional seat. Six members of the media covered your speech in the nearly empty reception hall.
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