Barton Brock had a bad day. A very bad day.
The vasectomy was not, as the doctor promised, painless. Brock’s balls hurt and he is having unpleasant thoughts about swelling, discoloration and perpetual soreness.
This is not the worst of it. The poll numbers are devastating. It looks like Jason Crump is going to get creamed. The primary is just four weeks away.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck." These are pretty much the only words going through Barton Brock’s head. It’s Brock’s job to get Crump elected, and he can’t fuck up.
Political campaigns are brutal. The stakes are high. Not for the electorate—Barton Brock does not particularly care about the electorate. But for the team, the one that boosts the candidate into office, the stakes matter, a lot. The guys on the team get big payoffs, good appointments, cushy jobs, bigger campaigns.
It’s like fishing. You start small, then throw away the little guys, the ones self-respecting cats wouldn’t call dinner—and then you cast out for the big mothers.
Crump’s big problem is that he’s up against Lee Rogers, mister fancy-pants incumbent who’s scared off most of the challengers in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary.
Crump, an Iraq war vet who has a chest full of medals and an artificial leg to show for his trouble in Operation Desert Storm, does not lack for candidate brownie points. And he has a nice, yes-you-would-like-to-have-a-beer-with-this-guy frat-boy appeal.
The trouble is he doesn’t have a lot going on upstairs. Certainly nothing Rogers, with his Columbia Law School dazzle, can’t blow away at the debate in two weeks.
As Crump’s campaign manager and strategist, Brock’s MO springs from a line he read in a David Mamet play: "The only way to teach these guys a lesson is to kill them."
Brock is going to teach the pretty-boy politicos a great big lesson, one that will kill their chances. And it’s going to take a very dirty trick to do it.
Brock, 42 and busily not thinking about how he is not going to tell his wife about the vasectomy, applies himself to the question of how best to smear Senator Rogers.
First thing, we move the news cycle away from foreign policy, farm subsidies and all that and towards something Rogers would rather not talk about, something like his zipper problem, maybe.
Brock feels a familiar excitement as he considers what dirty rabbit he can pull out of his hat. Suspecting that Dr. Jack Daniels might supply a little inspiration, Brock drives his rental sedan past several hard-to-distinguish strip malls—it seems to Brock that suburban Pennsylvania may, in fact, be one interconnected strip mall. He steers the sedan into a big lot and heads towards One Fish, Two Fish, a tavern at strip’s end. A swollen goldfish floats at the top of the tank inside the front door. Brock pulls a stool up to the bar and orders. A couple of shots later, no light bulbs have gone off.
The good thing about having a history, even a bad history, is that your record can be a source of confidence—or sometimes supply a sense of direction. Brock, now dim in the ideas department, decides maybe a little sleep will kickstart his dark genius. He’ll come up with something in the morning. He’s sure he will. He always has.
He heads for the Red Roof Inn Motel, and, just before the turnoff, is cheered by the sight of a pair of golden arches. McDonald’s. God Bless America and God Bless late-night snacks.
Brock ducks inside. It’s a few minutes before closing. A surreal vision greets him at the counter: there stands a drop-dead gorgeous blonde. Her stiff yellow apron barely contains her voluptuous curves. For a moment Brock imagines a wrestling match between her giant breasts and the tight seams of her Ronald McDonald wear. His better ball starts to tingle.
"Double quarter pounder with cheese."
"Anything extra?" asks the knockout.
"Just one question."
"Is the answer on the menu?"
"Nope. It’s a personal question."
The blonde shakes her head. She’s beat.
"Sorry, mister. I’ve been on my feet for twelve hours. I’m ready to go home. If it’s not on the menu, I’m not interested in what you have on your mind."
"Really? How about this: I wonder if you’d be interested in a better-paying job that doesn’t require you to be on your feet all day."
Elizabeth deCarlo looks up at the clock. She looks back at Brock. He seems a little rough around the edges but he’s got on a suit and tie and looks like he could be some kind of manager. He does not look scary.
Ten minutes later, Elizabeth has turned off the blinding dining area lights and is sitting inside Brock’s nondescript black town car.
Brock gets right to the point.
"I’m the campaign manager for Jason Crump. We need people to conduct push polls tomorrow.""Push polls?"
Brock explains that push polling involves calling Republicans, encouraging them to go to the polls and slipping in a few questions before they hang up the phone.
"What kind of questions?" Elizabeth doesn’t quite follow and wants to go home.
"Like how do they feel about their candidate supporting Right-to-Life legislation?"
"What does it pay?"
Brock knows push polling doesn’t pay anything. Local volunteers do this stuff for nothing. But he has an idea it would be good to have Elizabeth in his sphere of influence where he can prime her for a job she was born to play, one that will be extremely lucrative.
Ten days in and $2,000 later, Brock calls Elizabeth into his office for a special after-hours chat.
"How’s the job going?"
Elizabeth shrugs. "Most of the people I talk to don’t know who Jason Crump is. In fact they don’t even know they’re supposed to vote next month. They do know who Senator Rogers is."
"They bring his name up?"
"How do they feel about his womanizing?"
"I don’t ask them about that. Am I missing something?"
"Rogers has a history of philandering."
"Stop the presses," she says. "What man hasn’t? And what difference does it make? Aren’t we campaigning for Crump?"
Brock affects a professorial tone. Political Campaigning 101. "We are. But one way to campaign for Crump is to attack Rogers, expose his negatives."
In a matter of seconds, Brock unveils his big idea. "This is a man who plays around, okay? He’s been doing it for years. He just hasn’t been caught. The voters deserve to know the truth about the man representing them in Washington, don’t you think?"
Elizabeth doesn’t care much one way or the other.
Brock continues. "How about this. We get the senator in a compromising position with a girl and photograph it. Maybe we send a couple copies around, stir up some gossip with a little strategically placed web video. Then we push poll along these lines: ‘Lee Rogers cheats on his wife. Would this make you more likely or less likely to vote for him?’ "
Brock smiles. It’s simple. It will be deadly. He’ll be that much closer to the Crump victory that is his job.
Elizabeth gets it. "Sounds like a pretty dirty trick."
"Exactly. And it’s kind of an ideal smear. It will cause a ruckus and no one will be able to trace it back to the Crump campaign."
Brock has been studying Elizabeth’s cleavage for the past few moments. He’s not subtle. So Elizabeth isn’t surprised when he says, "You’re going to be the girl in the photograph. You know, the heart of the dirty little rumor."
"I don’t think so, Mr. Brock. Thank you very much but I’m going back to my job at McDonald’s."
Greasy french fries, dirty tricks, it all sounds pretty much the same to Elizabeth. She doesn’t need to get involved in political smearing. Big Macs are oily enough.
"Sit down!" Brock barks. Now this guy is beginning to scare her. Elizabeth sits back down. "You think minimum wage at McDonald’s is going to pay for you to fight that nasty landlord who is trying to evict you from your home?"
"What do you know about that? That’s my personal business."
"I’m concerned about the welfare of my employees. I try to be well acquainted with their personal problems. And you need money. A lot of it. Even bad lawyers are expensive." Brock has a sinister cool. He’s got it all figured out.
Elizabeth knows when her back is to the wall. She does need money. Fuck. Maybe this sneaky bastard can help. She’s not running for Senate. How compromising can it be?
"Okay," she says. "Let’s cut to the chase. You want Rogers to be caught with someone just like me."
Brock smiles. "You are a bright girl."
"Make it fifteen. And throw in a couple of grand for a clothes budget. I can’t go to work dressed like this."
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