Another Chapter From First, Family

In this first book, the reader meets Mark Hunter a detective on the New York city police force. The story is a tongue-in-cheek, as it focuses on a dim-witted, inept, farcical president-elect with an office in Manhattan.

Here’s another chapter to sweet talk you into downloading my detective novel, First, Family. In this vignette, President-Elect of the United States, Felix Wolff, addresses supporters at a victory rally and we see the inept, unqualified, self-serving, feckless man he is.

Chapter 3 – Hail to the Chief

The night of the murder, Felix Wolff spent time at his favorite place: The Ambassador Club. The club was an opulent building of the late nineteenth century: eighteen foot ceilings, walls painted a mottled ochre; heavy wooden casings, pilasters and frieze boards glowing with an antique patina, oriental carpets on a parquet floor, heavy leather furniture casually arranged; grime-dimmed paintings of prosperous old men. Here, in the lounge, Felix Wolff held court, basking in the adulation of the club members. He was now President-elect of the United States and he couldn’t say so enough.

His three billion plus dollar fortune, his ubiquitous presence in the media and his radical departure from traditional behavioral norms had garnered the celebrity that propelled his success- ful presidential campaign. Just days earlier, the polls had portrayed him a sure loser. The election night upset had turned the tables and presented this man, with no previous political experience, with a stunning confutation of the so-called experts. He boasted to his cohorts that he had never doubted the eventual outcome.

He would never again consider the associates gathered with him as peers. How many of them could claim a status equal to what he had just achieved? What Felix Wolff, the President- elect, had never understood, would never understand, was that none of the of the elite gentry lis- tening to him crow had ever accepted him as having “right-people” cachet. He was a coarse man, lacking refinement and taste. He thought his money bought him entrance to polite society. He would never understand he was an outsider.

He brayed, “They laughed at me when I entered the race. Who’s laughin’ now? I showed them. Hell, my own party wouldn’t back me. Now I’ve got the upper hand. All those traitors are goin’ to pay, believe me. My enemies are goin to suffer. All those Washington insiders thought they had a lock on the country, but the people knew. They gave me a mandate. I’m goin to make changes in a majorly way. But gentlemen, I won’t lose the common touch. I know who my friends are. You guys feel free to stop by the White House anytime. My door will always be open to you.”

His friends looked at one another incredulously. Did this silly man think he could have people over for drinks at the White House?

Felix Wolff was a queer looking man. His face was tinted a faint purple, the color of di- lute pinot noir. That tinge had gained him the name “Mr. Plum” among his detractors and the so- briquet “Plum’s Palace” for his building. He was so self-conscious of this blemish that he usually wore make up to minimize it’s prominence. His hair was a bright orange, a couple inches long and growing straight up, like a psychedelic lawn. He was six feet and had a belly that hung over his belt and took his weight to two hundred forty pounds. When he wasn’t angry, he wore a smug, self-satisfied expression. His jowly cheeks and chin gave his face a bottom heavy appear- ance; they stretched the corners of his mouth into a perpetual smirk.

The baroque rooms of the club were his preferred environment. He was known here; it was his retreat. The heavy, dark décor was a taste he had inherited from his father. He had no personal aesthetic but he liked anything that smacked of extravagance. He was personally unable to differentiate between elegance and kitsch.

His father had been a long-time member. He had wielded much influence. When Felix first came to the club, he had been admitted as a legacy. Today he had achieved sufficient wealth to belong on his own terms. His father had been a gentleman. He respected tradition and deco- rum. Felix lacked the finesse to pass as a gentleman. Any synergy he had with other members of the Ambassador Club was acquired by standing for drinks. His social class existed in his mind and his wallet.

In the bar beyond the library’s heavy doors, his entourage waited: four secret service agents, his daughter Marguerite and his son, Archer. Felix left the library and joined them. “Hello my children, my pride. Are you ready for the big event?” They were on their way to address a crowd of supporters. Felix enjoyed this more than any other activity. The group moved towards the exit. He spoke to Marguerite. “I know I’m cuttin’ it close. How are we for time?”

Marguerite answered, “Time waits for you, Dad.”

She served her father as a political strategist. She and her brother, Archer, had contributed to most of their father’s speeches. They had coined most of the catch phrases that became rally- ing cries during the campaign: “Return to America…I’m Right and You Know It…What Have You Got to Lose?”

Archer was four years younger than Marguerite. The brother and sister had different mothers. There had been a retinue of five spouses through the mansions of Felix Wolff, but only three children. Felix was no longer married to Archer’s mother; there was a new, younger wife (an upgrade, Felix called her.) The newest wife, Ilona, had not been much involved with the campaign. She put in an occasional appearance when protocol required, but she mostly stayed at home, out of the limelight.

Archer was still a student at Stanford, but he involved himself in his father’s business whenever possible. He was excited by the social swirl of the political world. A bright student ma- joring in business and international affairs, he had a promising future even before his father’s political ascendency. Like his sister, Archer apparently derived his sparkle and charm from his mother. Brother and sister had the aristocratic mien that comes from privilege.

There was a third child, a daughter, Renata. She was four years older than Marguerite and married to a Frenchman, Jean Marc Pauillac. They lived in France, in Provence between Arles and Nimes, where Jean Marc owned one hundred hectares of land and grew lavender. Renata re- turned to the States twice a year to visit family but had been in no position to participate in her father’s campaign.

The President-elect was addressing his supporters tonight: the rabid throngs that had at- tended his rallies. He had nothing in common with mid-America. Yet they preferred him to the opposition party, which had a record of standing up for the middle class. The most commonly heard explanation for supporting this self-described strong man was to shake up the establish- ment of long-term, self-serving moguls who had gotten rich working in Washington. The people would exult; they had shown the country that the little man still had a voice. Now their candi- date, the man who understood them better than anybody, was their president. The pundits and analysts didn’t understand the President-elect’s broad appeal.

“How do I look? I don’t want a repeat of that disastrous TV appearance. I looked like I was cryin’ that night, the way makeup ran down my face.” He was referring to the night of a televised debate. The hot lights had set his makeup to running. It was clearly visible to everyone and was the source of disparaging taunts from both political columnists and late-night comedi- ans.

“Dad, nobody could see it. The lights were just too hot.” Marguerite tried to comfort her father. That TV appearance had been disastrous. But now the election was over. He had won. He was in charge. She was so proud.

Twenty-six year old Marguerite was beautiful: tall, svelte, a brilliant sheen in her vivid copper hair, a winning smile and a self-confident carriage. A Columbia graduate with a degree in Poly Science, she was perhaps her father’s most trusted confidant. She was a senior member of his staff, but held no official title. Men were drawn to her beauty. Now, as first daughter, her power was the ultimate aphrodisiac.

The Wolff daughter wanted to make her own way in the world without capitalizing on the family name. She could have lived in the family apartment of four thousand square feet, but she chose a place of her own, a modest apartment in Tribeca. Although her building was owned by her father, she paid full rent, like any other tenant. She didn’t own a car and didn’t use her fa- ther’s service. She definitely did not like being stalked by the Secret Service.

The group of seven exited the club and stepped into the New York night. As the eye adapted to darkness, palisades of great shadows appeared that obscured most of the actual sky: man-made escarpments that circumscribe deep chasms with rivers of flowing lights. These are the streets of New York. The massive towers are checkered with windows. At ground level is a kaleidoscopic play of color: the red and white of automobiles, the fuzzy glow of streetlights and the intense saturation of garish, animated digital advertising–enough kilowatts to turn night into day. The sound track for this frenetic illumination is the constant drone of vehicular traffic punc- tuated by car horns, police whistles, sirens, screeching tires and the human voice that occasional- ly rises above it all.

The night was warm for mid-November; the temperatures for this autumn had been un- seasonably high. Two cars waited for this party on the street. The secret service agents got into a second, trailing car; the family of three entered the lead limo and the small cavalcade pulled out into traffic. They had a fifteen-minute drive to the convention center where Felix would deliver his address. The mood in the limo was giddy. All along, Felix’s defeat seemed a foregone conclu- sion. Now he was President-elect of the United States. He could mold this experiment in social democracy to his will. He intended to introduce the levelheaded decision making process that all businessmen used. He couldn’t abide the pussyfooting dance of protocol; he couldn’t tolerate the rigmarole testing and endless studies that every innovation required. He would make things hap- pen. Now that he was the electoral victor, he imagined himself the possessor of unlimited power. Who was going to get in his way?

He was convinced he was adhering to the values of the founding fathers. You can’t have the rabble directing the fate of a nation. The landed, the educated, the aristocrats, such as himself, must assume this role. The dependable people, like those who drafted the constitution, the landowners and such, would be back in control. With like-minded men of like background in charge, the raw power of the country’s people and resources could be intelligently directed to achieve an enlightened social order and economic status.

“Now Dad, we’ll go in the side door so you won’t be visible until you actually walk out on stage,” Archer prompted. He was handling logistics. “There will be a small band. As it plays Hail to the Chief, the three of us will go out on stage. We’ll wave and schmooze a couple min- utes and then Vice President-elect and Mrs. Marshall will come out. We’ll wave another minute or so. Then you’ll talk. Remember, these people are your base. You don’t have to fire them up. Hell, you can say anything and they’ll lap it up. They’re going crazy because they think they’ve accomplished something: they elected you. The establishment didn’t force a candidate down their throats. These people believe they poked the haughty political elite in the eye. They’re em- powered. Just bask in the glow. Policy statements will come soon enough. Just bask in the glow for now.”

In the few minutes they had before arriving at the event center, Felix called home. His wife, Ilona, picked up. “Ilona, baby, tonight you’re sleepin’ with the most powerful man in the world. How does that make you feel?” He grinned at his kids. “Listen baby, let the staff get the phone from now on. We have to act in a way befittin’ our status. OK? Listen, I’ll probably be pretty late tonight. Don’t wait up. I’ll nudge you when I get in bed. See you later baby.” He turned to his son and daughter, “That goes for you, too. We’re the first family. We’re Wolffs. We have to act etiquettely. Image is everything. We have to look like we belong in the hoi polloi.” (He meant ‘high society’ but used the wrong term.) “Remember, it’s really important to make a good impression.”

Once inside the event center, the roar was so loud the trio couldn’t talk above the noise. They stood there like three bobble heads. The band was playing America the Beautiful. Then it played Hail to the Chief. This piece is usually reserved to announce the arrival of the President, but Wolff had no compunction about appropriating it. The first family walked out onto the stage. The crowd went crazy. The noise washed over the three figures: two minutes, three minutes; there was no let up, no abatement. Then Felix summoned, with a wave, Vice President-elect, Robert Marshall and his wife, Janet. They emerged from the wings and were embraced by the first family. The crowd still cheered. Robert Marshall was the governor of a state in America’s heartland. He didn’t have much recognition around the country, but his values were close to Felix Wolff’s, and the Vice President-elect comported himself with gravitas; he was used to working in a bureaucratic system. He was seen as a source of stability to balance Wolff’s volatility. Marshall and his wife, Janet, luxuriated in the aura of the Wolff’s. Marshal never saw his career trajectory leading here. He had been flattered to be picked as the V.P. candidate. Now who knew where fate would lead him?

Marguerite leaned over to her father and tried to make herself heard above the crowd; it was hopeless. She pointed to a reveler who had edged his way to the front of the frenzied throng. Felix howled and nudged Archer, who doubled over in laughter and nudged Robert Marshall, who pointed out to his wife: a gangly cut up wearing pink tennies, pink jeans, a white shirt and a shoulder length pink wig and who was waving a placard that read, “Now We’re In The Pink.” It was Bob Perkins, of Wolff’s clerical staff, revealing an aspect of his personality at odds with his formal, button-down business persona.

Then Felix Wolff raised his arms, asking for quiet; still the crowd cheered. Again Felix waved his arms for silence, but the crowd wouldn’t accommodate him. He waved again, like a fan dancer, to no effect; another fan dance, still no quiet. Felix was a man used to having his way; he expected obeisance. He expected to be in control. Here it wasn’t happening and after awhile his patience began to fray. He was too rigid to ride these waves of adulation. The hint of a storm crossed his face: an incipient scowl. The cheering crowd recognized this look. They had seen it often during the primaries. Felix’s short fuse was notorious. When he lost his temper, he could subjugate anyone who irritated him. Now the crowd grew quiet and Felix basked in his authority.

He began, ”Friends, patriots, citizens…what a ride.” The crowd applauded modestly. “We’ve just made a revolution in this country; we’re gonna return to a high standard of livin’ for the people. You know what I’m talkin’ about!” (Applause.) “We will realize this country’s poten- tial. We will use our, um, our natural resources, our financial resources, our human resources. We will build with them. We will take back our country. We will repeal the, um, you know those namby-pamby regulations that hold us back and limit our potential. We will unburden the job creators. This will be the people’s country again. You know what I mean!” (Applause!)

“Now there is reality to consider. Progress must come slowly. I move fast, but hell, I have to learn what my own authority is, what levers I can pull. The benefits have to trickle down. When we lessen taxes on the job creators, then they have more capital to use. Then we get the mines going again…in time you’re makin’ thirty, thirty-five dollars an hour… kids can afford the good tennis shoes, just like the elites. Then we get the pipelines running, the oil moving, and we’ve got access to our natural resources. Not overnight, understand, but, in time; the ball will be set in motion. Now, you bet, we’ve got to build sturdy pipelines, great pipelines, nothing that is going to pollute. But we have the technology for that. And we get the oil to where we can use it and that means more jobs.” Glittering generalities abounded. “And we get, like, vouchers, like, for education so your kids can go to, um, good schools and have advantages, elite advantages. Your kids will get the good jobs. No black lung.” The crowd had worked itself back again into a frenzy. And this time Felix was OK with that. And there’s medical research, like real science, not junk science; we’ll fund hard science, great science that cures disease and increases our qual- ity of life. You know what I mean!” But, the crowd didn’t know that it didn’t know what he meant.” And we’re gonna fix our infrastructure: our bridges and roads and water supply and we’re gonna take back America. This is the beginning of somethin great and I can do it.

“You know I’m the man for the job. I make things happen, great things. Becoming Presi- dent wasn’t easy, but here I am.” The crowd roared ecstatically. “Is there anyone here who doesn’t know my hotels are beautiful, really beautiful buildings? That’s what I will do for Amer- ica: make it really beautiful. You beautiful people will be so glad you elected me that you’ll want me to run for a third term; believe me.” The crowd erupted. “So let’s role up our sleeves and get to work!”

Euphoria swept the hall. Balloons were released; streamers filled the air; people tossed their straw hats. A singer no one could quite place crooned several songs; a rock and roll band that no one recognized played several numbers, one of which was vaguely familiar. Beautiful women in beautiful gowns waved to the crowd. People danced and drank. They celebrated. The real winners of this election has already gotten down to work.

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