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Carlos Danger
March 11th, 2014, 07:34 AM
A Story From The Country Club


Archibald Whitman Whitworth III made his way past the Cadillacs and BMWs and up the steps to the Forsyth Country Club just as the mid-September sun fell below the Georgia horizon. The steps took their toll, each one an attack on aged lungs and joints pained by arthritis, but Archibald didn't mind. Tonight he was energized - after all it wasn't every day one got to host the future President Of The United States.

The country club was alive that night, with all the glitterati of Forsyth County in attendance for a $20 000-a-plate dinner hosted by the American Crossroads Super Political Action Committee - a SuperPAC, as they liked to call themselves. Georgia’s very own Jack Perry would be at Forsyth to give a speech to the club, and the money raised would be going straight to his campaign - more specifically, buying Ohio airtime. Unfortunately, as per Federal Elections Committee regulations, Perry couldn’t accept donations over $5000. But, thanks to Citizens United v. FEC, SuperPACs could. And so it would be American Crossroads, America’s largest SuperPAC, that would receive and spend the $20 000-a-plate.

Perry was a Republican candidate of course - there were no mules in Forsyth County. If there were, chuckled Whiteworth to himself, they certainly didn't spend their time at Forsyth. Republicanism was a de-facto requirement at the Club, as was a four-digit annual membership fee to keep the underbelly away.

Whitworth himself was not a political man, or at least hadn't been before his wife of forty-five years had passed away the previous spring. She had been the political one, always on about the current President’s socialist agenda or how the Senator she had donated money to in the midterms was some sort of rhinoceros. Archibald hadn't ever been particularly interested in such things, preferring to spend his time caddying for Forsyth’s junior golfers or fly-fishing along the Chestatee. But when his wife died, he figured the least he could do was continue her political will, if only to avoid facing the emptiness that now filled his days.

The Country Club, where Archibald had played golf for the better part of twenty years, had proved a good place for political activity, and soon he had pulled together over two dozen Grand Old Party supporters at Forsyth. All had deep pockets. And so, when the American Crossroads PAC had phoned him to say that Jack Perry was interested in doing a fundraising dinner in the Forsyth area, Archibald had immediately taken up the offer and suggested the Club as a venue. The PAC had done the rest.

Now here he was, attending the dinner itself - a dinner for a man who, if the polls remained where they were, would be declared the next President in a mere two months. He’d get to shake his hand. Even at age seventy-two, that prospect excited Archibald - a story to tell his grandchildren when they next came to visit him.

Archibald stopped halfway up the stairs to the country club, staring down at its etowah marble steps as he tried to catch his breath.
"Mr. Whitworth?" said a warm female voice from above him.

Archibald looked up. The girl standing there was much younger than him, in her late twenties maybe. She was beautiful, with a smile painted across her face.

"Would you like a hand getting up the stairs?" the girl added.

"I’m alright," he managed between gasps. "Thank you, though."

She nodded understandingly.

"And yes, I am Mr. Whitworth, by the way," he added awkwardly, still struggling for air. "But you can call me Archie. Honestly, I think I’d prefer it if you did."

"I’m Kate Sabo, from American Crossroads," she beamed. "I believe we spoke on the phone about tonight’s fundraiser."

"Yes," he replied, beginning his way back up the stairs with renewed vigour. "Yes, and I believe I’m late to it," he wheezed, climbing the last step and arriving at the landing.

"Late?" she laughed. "It was you who put this dinner together. I hardly think you can be late to it."

"Well, I think it was you who phoned me to propose this thing in the first place. I merely convinced everyone to come," he said, straightening his Armani sports coat.

"Proposing something is the easy part. It’s getting it done that’s hard," Kate said. "You know I admire what you’ve done here, Archie," she added. "You’ve given a lot to the Republican Party; to the country. That sort of dedication is a rare thing these days, I think."

"I try my best," he shrugged sheepishly, stepping inside the club.

The club lobby was lit by candles and low lights that cast a warm golden light about it. Golf memorabilia decorated the room, each with a little brass placard sitting beside it commending some sporting feat managed long ago on Forsyth’s storied course. A gas fire burned in the lobby’s corner, projecting a welcoming heat across the room.

Archie helped Kate remove her jacket, a frayed and worn thing that could have been found in any Wal-Mart across the country. She had a deep indigo blouse on beneath, a few buttons undone, accentuating a decidedly athletic body. Nice breasts, thought Archie.

"Thanks," she smiled back at him as he hung the jacket up. "I know Governor Perry is looking forward to meeting you, so I’ll let you go and talk. In the meantime, I think I’d better go and shmooze."

He watched her walk away. Nice ass too, he added. Then he reminded himself that he was seventy-two and at Forsyth for politics. He frowned and began making his own way to the dinner.

The banquet hall of the Country Club, overlooking the golf course through dozens of French windows, was filled to capacity by GOP supporters. In a corner a bartender was dispensing drinks to the crowd gathered around the counter. The man was alacritous and clearly good at his job, yet still could barely keep up with the demand facing him.

Jack Perry emerged out of the mass as if on cue, self-assured and gregarious. "Mr. Whitman?” he said, arm outstretched.

Archie nodded, grasping Perry’s hand. “Call me Archie.”

“A pleasure," Perry said, giving a handshake that near crushed Archie’s aged bones. "I can’t thank you enough for suggesting this fundraiser tonight. I need all the help I can get these days - it’s a tough fight, and we’re going to win it because of men like you, Archibald," continued the candidate.

Archie gave a humble shrug. The suggesting part was really on Perry and Kate, but he didn’t argue.

"I’m hoping to repay the debt once I’m in office,” continued Perry. “All this talk of income redistribution and bringing down the country club establishment - whatever that is - coming from the left. All the Democrats want to do is play Robin Hood, but they don’t realize that sort of thing hurts the nation; hurts the very American spirit inside all of us. By attacking places like these, they’re hurting families; hurting communities.” Perry gave a dramatic wave about the country club for effect. “I won’t let it happen.”

"I couldn’t agree more," agreed Archie, going along with the grandstanding.

“You know you ought to get yourself a drink Archibald,” suggested Perry. “I can tell you from experience it helps with the fundraising - the more alcohol the less anybody’s watching their checkbooks. It’s a damn good system as far as I’m concerned.”

“I see you’re a whiskey man yourself.”

“Ah, yes - this,” chuckled Perry, taking a drink from his tumbler. “Catherine’s usually around to castrate me every time I pour a white lightning - says I’ll probably deep-six the whole campaign - but I figure a glass isn’t going to hurt anybody. Anyways, she’s back with the kids in Atlanta so I figure I can keep my balls for tonight at the very least.”

Kate sauntered up to them, the smile Archie liked so much still adorning her pretty face. “I see the two of you have met,” she said, amicable voice distinctive over the sound of a dozen other conversations. “I figured you’d get along well.”

“Indeed we are - I’m just convincing Archie here he should go and grab himself a drink,” said Perry. “Say, you look similarly deprived there, Kate.”
She bit her lip and blushed slightly at the comment. "I don’t drink," she admitted finally.

"You’re saying that you can stand a bunch of boring septuagenarians such as myself talking about wealth distribution without something to drink?” grinned Perry. “You must be out of your damn mind.”

“I’m sure we’ve got everything nonalcoholic over at the bar there,” put in Archie. “You like Shirley Temples?”

“A bit too sweet for me,” she laughed. “I think I might just stick to a cranberry juice given the choice.”

“Cranberry juice it is,” agreed Archie. “You know Shirley Temple thought the same thing as you?” he added. “Thought Shirley Temple - the drink - was too sweet?”

“I didn’t.”

They walked to the bar together. Perry headed off to the front of the banquet hall to begin his stump speech, making sure to shake hands every step of the way. Kate got her cranberry juice (nonalcoholic); Archie got a scotch. He asked her about her life; learned that she’d grown up just outside of Cheyenne and that both her parents had died by the time she had turned sixteen. Since then, she’d travelled most of the country, doing - as she put it - “this and that.” He told her about his wife and then about his grandkids. She listened intently to everything he said, and by the time Perry was beginning his speech and dinner was emerging from the kitchen, Archie felt they had really taken to each other.

The two or so hours Perry spoke for passed by slowly, interrupted only the arrival of dessert - cherries jubilee. Kate had to sit off to the side of the little dais where Perry was giving his speech so she could speak at the end, and so Archie ended up shanghaied to a table with some Atlanta real estate magnate and his spray-tanned wife. Both were deathly boring and, as Archie soon discovered, drunk on mezcal, but it didn’t stop more alcohol from coming around as a cabal of servers made their way through the twenty or so Republicans sitting before Perry. They carried all manner of salads, club steaks, and baked potatoes. Perry gave a good stump speech - talked about growing up on a small pecan farm beside the Ocmulgee river; told a few jokes at the Democrats’ expense; answered all the questions directed at him with enthusiasm. But the candidate he had been so excited to meet had become a mere distraction to Archie - his eyes always returned to the girl from the PAC with her glass of nonalcoholic cranberry juice, now half-full, dangling from between her fingers.

"It’s getting late," said Perry finally. "Catherine’s going to think I’m having too much fun out here - and honestly, she wouldn’t be entirely wrong. I’ve really had a lot of fun here tonight with all of you.

“But I want to end off on a serious note here,” Perry paused. “Each and every one of you has given up your time, your energy, and your wealth to build this country, and by doing so you have instilled in it the values that make it truly exceptional. Now the Democrats want to tear that all down and turn this country into something it isn’t - turn it into some foreign dystopia not based off the principles of the very people who built it. We can’t let that happen - we have to fight to protect this great country we have created together.

“Before I leave, I want to call out two people whom I think really embody this American spirit of opportunity and sacrifice that we are trying to save - Mr. Archibald Whitman and Ms. Kate Sabo. They’ve both done a terrific job bringing everyone and everything together here tonight.”

Applause echoed all around. Archie didn’t feel like he’d done much to deserve it; Kate, who most definitely had, merely gave a humble little shrug.

“Now, the Federal Elections Commission,” continued Perry, “doesn’t allow me to go around asking anyone here for donations directly - and frankly I’m no good at it - so I think I’d best get out of here before I break any regulations. But, to all of you, we’ve got a difficult fight ahead of us, and every donation and every vote will matter. So, with that in mind, please be generous - and remember, your generosity could very well be the difference between victory and defeat in this election. And I think with that, I’ll say thank you and goodnight."

Perry gave Kate a handshake and the audience a final wave, then left the room and the club as applause rang out behind him.

Kate waited for him to leave the room. “Well, everyone,” she began. “I hope you have all enjoyed the evening. I know I have - although I’ve probably had too much cherries jubilee in the process. Now, I don’t think there’s much I can add to what Governor Perry - who I believe will be the future President Of The United States - has said here tonight, so I’m not going to try. Instead, I’d just like to say thank you and that I’ll be collecting contributions to Governor Perry’s campaign up front here - please use checks and please include the dinner in your contribution. Checks are, again, made payable to the Crossroads America SuperPAC. In the meantime, I think drinks are still available for the time being - but please drive sober or else don’t be afraid to call a cab.” With that, Kate gave a final smile and made her way off the dais. More applause followed her.

Archie spent the next few minutes watching the various dinner guests make their way up to Kate. She would speak to each of them for a moment as they wrote their checks to Crossroads America, each little conversation charming and smart. At that moment, he couldn’t help but think that she really was beautiful.

Not longer after the guests began departing into the warm humidity of the Georgia night, leaving in their wake a mass of dirty plates and half-empty wine bottles. Eventually all were gone but Archie and Kate.

“Nearly five million dollars,” said Kate cheerily, punching the last check into a pocket calculator. “4.87 million, I think.”

Archie laughed. “You haven’t got my donation yet,” he said, pulling out his checkbook and ballpoint. “You can add another million to that, I think. Better take that calculator back out.”

“You’re sure about that Archie?” she asked, but then she knew he was.

“Believe me, I have lots of money and few things to spend it on these days,” Archie replied, pen decisively sweeping across the blanks on the check. “Besides, you’ve earned it. Now, before I have any second thoughts, that’s Crossroads America, right?”

“Crossroad America, yes.” She smiled as he signed his name. “Thank you, Archie. I mean that.”

He passed her the check and walked her to the door, moonlight shining through the French windows of the club. The white light accentuated the soft features of her face and every curve of her body.

“We should have lunch,” offered Archie hopefully, stepping out onto the veranda with Kate. “I know this great Cajun place off Route 19.”

When she smiled this time, it was tinged with melancholy. “I’ve got work to do in Florida tomorrow,” she sighed. “And I don’t think I’ll be back here anytime soon. I’m sorry.”

Archie sighed. In another life, he reminded himself. “Well, goodbye then,” he said.

“Bye,” she said, making her way down the same steps they had met and to a beaten up Corolla parked down on the drive. She gave a final wave as she stepped into the car, and that was the last he saw of her.

Archie watched the taillights of the Corolla fade into the night and then disappear. He then returned to the bar, now deserted. He found a half-empty bottle of Seinheiser’s behind it and poured himself a glass. Then another one. Finally, he drained the bottle and hurled it into the sink. The shattering of glass echoed across the emptiness of the banquet hall.

When he returned to his Lincoln out in the drive, Archie’s breath and sports jacket stunk of whiskey. You shouldn’t be driving, he told himself, but then he didn’t particularly care. He turned the keys over, threw the car into drive, and pulled out.



* * *





Six days later, Archibald awoke to the ringing of his bedside phone. The sun was just rising above the ancient South Oaks silhouetted beyond his window. Still groggy from sleep, he groped around for the phone and clumsily brought it to his head.

"Hello?"

"Archibald. It’s Jack Perry here."

"What can I do for you Jack?" Archie said. It had better be something good at six in the morning, he remonstrated privately.

"Well, Archibald, I’m sitting here with my friend Karl Richards. He’s the CFO for American Crossroads. We were just about to dig into some fantastic-looking Cincinnati goetta when I asked how he intended to spend the six million dollars from your fundraiser. Now, Karl just told me something I have a very hard time believing. He told me that American Crossroads has not received six million dollars from last week’s fundraiser - in fact, it hasn’t received any money whatsoever. I’m wondering if you would know anything about that."

Archie yawned. "The cheques probably haven’t been processed yet. They’re big checks, the banks will have to verify that everything’s in order."
"Archibald," said Perry, voice suddenly cold and succinct. "Karl also told me that American Crossroads never put on a fundraiser on at the Forsyth Country Club on the twenty-second of September."

"Well, they were there, were they not?"

"... And that there has never been a Kate Sabo associated with American Crossroads. Nor any Sabo for that matter," continued Perry, speaking with an odious calm. "Archibald. Give me a reason why I shouldn’t have you arrested for fraud right now."

"It was you who suggested the fundraiser in the first place!" exhaled Archie, suddenly wide awake. "I got a phone call from Kate - she told me you were interested in doing a dinner fundraiser in Forsyth County."

"Now, Archibald, you’ve got that wrong. I got a call from that girl telling me that you had a group of large donors put together in Forsyth and was wondering if I would be available to do a fundraiser there. Hell, I’d never heard of Forsyth County before that phone call," Perry said. “So I’m wondering - who exactly were the checks addressed to?"

Archie gulped, realizing what had happened. "Crossroads America."

"Give me a minute," muttered Perry. Archie heard a whispering of voices across the line.

"Karl says he’s not aware of any Political Action Committee going by the name of Crossroads America anywhere in the United States." Perry paused for a long moment. "Archibald - I think we may have just been defrauded to the tune of six million dollars."

“Yeah, I suppose so.” Archie said. He thought about it all for a moment. Then he laughed and hung up the phone.

Later that morning, after coffee and marmalade toast, Archie walked out of the house and checked his Joroleman mailbox. Amid the usual insipid mass of bills and junk mail, he found a postcard addressed from San Juan, Puerto Rico. On the front was a picture of a beach, maybe Condado. Written in elegant, swirling handwriting on the back was:

Hoping there are no hard feelings between us - you’re a nice guy, and you should find someone again.

PS - Found that cajun diner!


Kate

Archie tucked the postcard into his pocket and smiled again before walking back to the house.



* * *



The con hadn’t been difficult to pull off - after all, Kate had been doing them since she had turned sixteen.

Convincing a few dozen people, half of whom were drunk and the other half of whom were having too good a time to doubt anything was amiss, to address their contribution checks to “Crossroads America”- a PAC Kate had created out of thin air three months previous - rather than “American Crossroads” was easy.

Setting it up had been only slightly more difficult. First Kate had phoned Perry on behalf of American Crossroads and told him that Archie and his Republican friends at Forsyth wanted to do a fundraiser and expected to raise at least four million if he would give a speech. With that much money there for the taking, Perry had, of course, accepted. Then she had phoned Archie and told him that Perry wanted to do a fundraiser in the Atlanta area and was wondering if the Forsyth Country Club would be available as a venue. Archie, with his wealthy country club group, had, of course, also accepted the offer.

Cashing the checks had been the hard part, but she had plenty of experience. Kate deposited the 5.87 million in twelve banks registered to Crossroads America across the Orange State. A week later, after the checks had floated, she withdrew just over two-hundred thousand dollars in cash. A few questions were directed at her by inquisitive bank managers, but she had no difficulty answering them. Within just a few hours, she was on the sunny streets of Miami, a backpack filled with hundred-dollar bills slung over her shoulder.

Her first two purchases were sunscreen and an economy-class ticket to San Juan.

The rest of the money was split two ways. Half was wired to a bank account registered under an assumed name in the Cayman Islands. The other half found its way to a Boys And Girls Club just outside of Cheyenne - she figured she owed them that.
There was no investigation - Perry decided that 5.87 million dollars was a small cost to pay in exchange for an electorate that knew nothing of him inadvertently supporting a fraudster.

Archibald Whitman Whiteworth III did, in the end, have a story to tell his grandkids. He also remarried, happily, the next year to a woman he met at a Cajun diner off Route 19. At 67, she was a bit closer to his own age.









Thanks for reading :)

LeeC
March 11th, 2014, 04:12 PM
Not all that original a storyline, but well done. Just the right amount of descriptive detail, and character insight, to instill a sense of being there (at least in my mind). And a happy ending, with the takers getting stung :-)

Politics (regardless of stated agenda), like all human society throughout time, has always involved a high degree of self-serving behavior. The redeeming aspect of such being some measure of balance with the give and take of the opposing parties. That is what you encapsulated here, without resorting to exaggeration.

Of course there are many readers that will shy away from this type of story, because we don't like to address our human frailties. Kudos to you.

That said, you have a little editing to go.

e.g. "She listened intently to everything he said, and by the time dinner Perry was beginning his speech and dinner was emerging from the kitchen, Archie felt they had really taken to each other."


Hang in there,
LeeC

Carlos Danger
March 11th, 2014, 05:48 PM
That was deep analysis there Leec :)

Thanks for the comments.

EDIT - Story is back up with a couple of changes, mostly typo fixes.