Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ooh baby baby!

Pay attention now: this may be the first time that an American election will be decided by a fetus. Come to think of it, that's about as viable as an election being decided by a right-wing Supreme Court justice...

I am trying to imagine the vetting interview with Ms. Palin:

"So, Governor, no skeletons, no deep dark secrets that might embarrass our candidate?"

"You know, I believe in sexual abstinence."

"That's great, Governor. Now, you're sure there's nothing the media could find out that..."

"Because, you know, abstinence is the only 100 percent way to avoid pregnancy and disgusting diseases. And I don't believe in condoms, no sir. Nasty things... Make me feel all creepy!"

"Governor, we have to know about potential dangers because, well, Senator McCain is old... He could drop dead and you'd be President, so anything at all..."

"Did I tell you I was Miss Wasilla? And I have guns, lots of guns. I'm Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard! And did you know we are the closest state to Russia? That should tell you something..."

"Yes, we knew that. Very impressive. So that's it, you're vetted. Congratulations and thanks, Governor!"

"Did I mention my seventeen-year-old daughter Bristol?"

"Oh, God, Governor! Don't tell me, she smokes marijuana! Is that it? Please don't tell me..."

"No, no, she's pregnant. She's going to have a little baby and get married, or maybe the other way around!"

"Oh my! What a relief... Pregnant and going to marry the father, you say? That'll play well with conservatives. I am so glad it wasn't marijuana... That would have been a real tragedy."

Here's installment 42 of Wasted Miracles.
“This is one of my favorite establishments,” the Senegalese said spinning a fork in his spaghetti. Colin knew the restaurant well, it was a favorite of the AA crowd, they all came to Angelo’s after the meetings and mostly drank coffee and sodas. Colin had never understood why the place was popular--the coffee was weak and the food mostly microwaved. Neither could he fathom Angelo’s hospitality towards a bunch of people who smoked heavily and rarely spent more than a couple of dollars apiece.
“It’s not that the food is that good,” the Senegalese continued. “Because it isn’t. I guess the fact that it’s open all night is a major advantage. I often come here after a job, three, four in the morning, and even if there’s not a single other customer, they carry the full menu and I get good service.” He forked the spaghetti into his mouth, chewed contemplatively. “You’re sure you don’t want anything? I’m buying. My nickel, as you Americans say.”
Colin shook his head. He toyed with a piece of pie, separating the apple quarters from the dough. It looked like a Mrs. Something-or-Other from the freezer section at Food Value, and not quite baked enough.
Mamadou tore a bit of garlic bread in half. “The photo you showed me? I took that. You may have deduced that by now. Incidentally, is that how you found me? The license plate?”
Colin nodded.
“I thought so,” Mamadou said. “The young man in the photo, of course I know him. He is--was, I should say--a fairly steady customer. Whenever he met a new lady I could count on his patronage. He liked to impress them, you see, and a limo is far cheaper than a Cartier watch or, for that fact, two nights at the Four Seasons or even a good suit. He was a dealer, a fairly minor player, actually, two or three steps up from the street corner.”
He paused, popped the bread in his mouth. “You know, of course, that he’s dead?”
“No. I didn’t.”
“Oh yes. Very dead. Not an important loss to society, but I’ll miss him as a client. He tipped well, never misbehaved in my cars.”
“Two or three days, maximum. Found near Klingle Road, in Northwest. Stabbed. Shot.”
Colin nodded, thought about Joe the Cop’s master plan. “It was in the papers, but they didn’t identify him.”
“Correct,” said Mamadou. “But they don’t have to as far as the street is concerned. The people there know instantly.”
Angelo’s lobster-shift waitress was sitting at a nearby booth watching the science fiction channel on cable TV. A giant slug was sliming its way down the major avenues of what could have been Tokyo. Mamadou waved his hand in the air until he got her attention, ordered a piece of baklava and coffee. Colin nodded yes as she hovered the pot over his cup.
“His name was Herbie French. He was 32, went to law school at Georgetown for a couple of years, then decided there were too many lawyers already, so he opted to go into business for himself.”
Colin sipped at his coffee. It was lukewarm. “How do you know all this?”
Mamadou looked up, slightly annoyed. “I’m not deaf, Mr. Marsh. I drive people around all day and often all night. They talk. They don’t pay much attention to me. I listen.”
Mamadou picked up where he had left off. “So, as I said, he went into business for himself. Small transactions to start with, peddling amphetamines and such to his former classmates. Big business during exam time. Students stay up all night to study, they need a bit of artificial help. Herbie is there. One of his friends, a fellow student, turned out to be the son of a Colombian gentleman with connections. Herbie starts dealing cocaine. Very lucrative as I’m sure you know. In no time at all Herbie is making a lot of money. He uses my limo service with increasing frequency, gets to be quite a man about town. For a while, as a matter of fact, he hires my limos as rolling offices. Quite safe, you see. I have an excellent reputation about town. I cater to the diplomats, and more than one discreet meeting between representatives of nations that are not supposed to be on speaking terms has taken place in the back seat of my cars. The limos are swept for bugs before every new assignment, that’s one of the services we offer.” Mamadou Dioh tore another piece of bread in half, mopped up the sauce in his plate. “So Herbie is moving up in the world. But he’s a smart young man, Herbie is. He realizes that the higher he goes, the more visibility he acquires, the bigger the target he becomes. The drug business is rather ruthless, dog eat dog. Herbie made sure he kept a low profile, didn’t handle too much business. In effect, he became a large, small dealer. I suspect as well that he came to realize that there’s only so much money one individual can spend. After that, money becomes moot, and what you’re dealing with is power. Herbie, I think, was never really interested in power.
“As such things happen, the Colombian and his son, the people Herbie was now working for full time, meet with an unfortunate accident. You may have read about it, it made the papers, a really ruthless set of murders. Father and son were literally eviscerated, left to bleed to death with their entrails draped about them. The media did not carry the full story, of course, but one surprising thing that occurred shortly thereafter was that photos of the corpses, official pictures from the medical examiner’s office, started appearing in the street. The whole idea was to send a message, to advise dealers and suppliers that the father and son team had somehow offended another organization in town, one that didn’t shrink at acts of great violence.”
The Senegalese belched discreetly, covering his mouth. “All this talking has made me thirsty, Mr. Marsh. There’s a tavern down the street. Let’s go there and continue our conversation.” He signaled for the check, paid it with a twenty dollar bill.
In the bar, a place called Palmer’s, Mamadou ordered a scotch on the rocks, Colin asked for a ginger ale.
“You don’t drink, Mr. Marsh?”
“I’m allergic to alcohol.”
The Senegalese made a face. “How unfortunate. What happens.”
Colin smiled without amusement. “I get drunk.”
The Senegalese stared for a moment, burst out laughing. “What an excellent response! Consider me admonished, Mr. Marsh. Whether you drink or not is none of my business. I was only trying to make conversation.”
Colin nodded. “No offense taken. I’ve actually wanted to use that line for quite a while.” This time, his smile was genuine.
“Well.” Mamadou took a long sip of his drink, sighed contentedly. “Back to our friend Herbie. You’re not bored, I trust?”
Colin shook his head.
“Good. So Herbie is left without a supplier, and, I suspect, running scared. I think he may have actually left town for a while, but he eventually came back. And, to make a long story short, he finds gainful employment with the very people who deprived him of an employer.”
“Isn’t that a bit unusual?”
Mamadou sipped again. “Perhaps. But smart as well, if you think about it. Herbie was an experienced dealer with an established clientele, a ready-made market, if you will. And I’m sure that, when the new partnership was established, Herbie was made quite aware of what could happen to him if he was tempted to stray. As I mentioned, the photos were circulating, and I’m sure Herbie was given copies. A subtle reminder, so to speak.”
Colin emptied his glass, walked to the bar to get a refill, returned, sat down. “You found all this by listening to conversations in your car?”
The Senegalese made an attempt at being offended, failed. “Please Mr. Marsh, you make me sound like a common eavesdropper. No, of course I didn’t. But I have many, many clients, from all walks of life. Almost all of them talk. Like any other profession, they like to share the latest gossip. This holds true of deacons and drug dealers alike. And I have quite a few contacts on the street, including some with the police. On one or two occasions, I’ve offered the authorities very discreet help. They’ve shown their appreciation by sharing information with me.”
“And you obviously have a good memory.”
“No,” Mamadou said. “I have an excellent memory. And very strong powers of deduction, which is what made me a superior police officer in my native country. But mostly, Mr. Marsh, mostly it’s due to the fact that Washington is a very small town. And when you start dealing with the moneyed folks, the people who think nothing of spending a few hundred to rent a limo for a night, then the fact of the matter is, all these people know each other. Perhaps not directly, I’m not suggesting that the President of United First Bank is a personal friend of criminals, but I can guarantee you that somewhere, somehow, there’s a link. They’ll know people in common, see the same plays at the Kennedy Center, possibly rub elbows at the same restaurants after the performance. That’s how it works. Money knows money.”
He sat back, rattled the remaining ice in his drink.
Colin said, “And the girl, Josie. What were she and Herbie talking about that night, the time they were both in your car?”
Mamadou shrugged. “Of that I have no idea. There was no reason for me to notice.” He looked inside his glass as if to make sure it was empty. “Perhaps I haven’t made myself entirely clear, Colin--may I call you Colin? Good. I should have added that Herbie never bragged about his employment, particularly to the women he was with. To them he was a successful real estate entrepreneur, or a lawyer, or merely a young man with inherited wealth. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if your young lady had no inkling of what he actually did for a living. As a matter of fact, I’d be willing to wager that she was totally unaware. He was handsome, he had money, he showed her a good time. She had no idea.”
It made sense. Colin glanced at the bar, took note of two teen-agers who seemed to be too young to be drinking. They wore baseball caps on backwards, slammed Budweiser from long-necked bottles.
He asked, “Why?”
Mamadou looked up. “Why what?”
Colin removed the printout from the Post’s online service from his pocket, unfolded it, slid it across the table. The Senegalese found a pair of thin reading glasses in a pocket, put them on. He scanned the page, smiled.
“Well, I’m honored. You’ve done your research.” He refolded the sheet, slid it back to Colin. “You have access to the Post files? The story’s essentially accurate. Some gunmen attacked me in my home. I defended it. I believe that’s one of the express rights I have in this country.”
“Just like that? Attacked you.”
“Absolutely. Burst into my living room. I had no choice.”
“Lucky you had weapons to defend yourself.”
Mamadou smiled. “Lucky indeed. I’m a former policeman, Colin. I was trained to handle weapons of all sorts, and in this violent nation of yours, it’s a right I exercised.”
Both men fell silent. The two teen-agers left. Mamadou laughed briefly. “That’s such a strange fashion, the baseball caps. It always makes me think their heads are facing the wrong way.”
Colin smiled. He hadn’t thought of it that way but he knew it was an image that would stick. “So where do we go from here?”
Mamadou raised an eyebrow. “We? I don’t know about ‘we.’ What I’ll do is ask around. Discreetly as always. There’re bound to be rumors. Everyone knows about Herbie’s fate by now. Maybe someone knows about his girlfriend’s fate as well.”

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