The campaign has a leak and he’d better plug it in a hurry. Divine Fury. Chapter 28

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Chapter 28

ENZO LEE STRODE through the bar at the Farallon Restaurant, past the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling like illuminated jellyfish complete with dangling tendrils and into a dining room with an arched ceiling that felt like being inside a colorful underwater cavern.

Harry Blount sat at a booth by himself tapping energetically on his black Thinkpad with a glass of white wine in front of him.  On the table were two plates of orange caviar on top of four-inch blinis and thick, white cream.

“Enzo,” said Blount, pushing his laptop to the side.  “How are you?  Thanks for taking the time to see me.”

Blount stood and shook hands with Lee before they both sat down.

“I was starving so I took the liberty of ordering some appetizers and wine,” said Blount, pulling a bottle of Alsatian Riesling out of an ice bucket set next to the table.  He held it in the air, offering it to Lee.  “This really goes great with the caviar.”

“Sure,” said Lee, nodding his assent and watching Blount pour.  “It looks delicious.  I love this place.  Just walking in…the jellyfish lights…the nautical feel…it’s a treat.”

Lee had known Blount by reputation before he started attending campaign events.  Since the Santa Barbara sea otter debacle, he’d seen Blount at three other campaign functions.  Lee liked him.  Blount was always funny, open and entertaining.  His sardonic play-by-play commentary of ongoing events added some levity to otherwise dry press conferences and repetitive stump speeches.  They both understood that Blount was working Lee and the rest of the media, trying to endear himself and his candidate to the press.  But Lee still appreciated Blount’s energy, wit and intelligence.

They took a minute to study the menu and order dinner.

Blount went for the white bass with chanterelle mushrooms in a warm vinaigrette.  Lee settled on a filet of Australian Barramundi with sweet onions in a light lobster sauce.

“I tried to book some otters for entertainment given the nautical theme here,” said Blount after their menus were taken away.  “But they were demanding caviar in the dressing room.  Beluga no less.  Those prima donnas.”

Lee narrowed his eyes and scanned the dining room.

“I don’t know,” said Lee.  “Did you check this place for tramp freighters?  They seem to follow you around.”  Blount chuckled, shaking his head.

“By the way,” said Blount.  “Your article about the campaign – however painful it might be – was absolutely right on.

“Thanks,” said Lee.  “I’m used to getting beat up when I write stories like that no matter how accurate they are.”

“Well,” said Blount.  “We’re big boys.  Yeah, we’ll kick and scream to try to get the spin we want.  But we know we’ll take our lumps on occasion.  It’s just part of the game.”

Blount paused for a moment and raised his eyebrows inquisitively at Lee.

“However,” he said.  “Are you open to the possibility that it isn’t just bad luck or our own incompetence that has us looking like the Keystone Cops?”

“What do you mean?” asked Lee.

“Well, look,” said Blount.  “One of the first rules of managing anything – a business or a campaign, it doesn’t matter – is to understand what happened when things go wrong.  Pretty basic, right?  There is no excuse for repeating a mistake that can be corrected.”

“Right,” said Lee.

“So, we drilled down to see if we can explain why some of those things happened – the  events you mentioned in the story,” said Blount.  “And the ship that nearly drowned your compatriots?  Well, we found out it belongs to a shipping line based in Houston.  And four members of the executive team made maximum contributions to Chapman’s campaign.

“And the crop duster that I’m sure you remember fondly?” continued Blount.  “Well, it’s a one-man outfit and he’s been grounded for a month after we complained to the FAA.  But he works for the big farmers around Salinas.  They’re almost all Republicans who are also Chapman contributors.”

The waiter cleared their appetizer plates and refilled their wine glasses.

“Hmm.  Okay.  And, you’re telling me this…why?” said Lee.

“Obviously, I’m trying to sell you on a story,” said Blount.  “Look.  Cards on the table.  I know you were an investigative reporter before you came to San Francisco.  If there’s a dirty tricks campaign going on, you can probably dig it out.  I’m not saying write a story because of what I’m telling you.  I’m clearly biased.  Take everything I say with a grain of salt.  But, I do truly believe there is something rotten going on here.  If I’m right, it’s worth taking a look.  If not, there’s some time wasted but no harm done.  That’s all.”

Lee took a long sip of the Riesling.  It was dry yet tasted of melons and something else.  Maybe a hint of peach.  A good combination.

“I’ll think about it,” said Lee.  “It’s not what I’m doing these days – investigative work. The ship connection is interesting.  The Salinas angle…I don’t know.  Seems a bit circumstantial.  Big business owners are mainly going to be in Chapman’s camp anyway.

“What I don’t get,” he continued, “is what happened with the Wainwright endorsement?  You guys kept that pretty close to the vest but someone got to him.  What happened there?”

The waiter brought fresh, hot bread.  Blount slathered some butter on a piece, took a bite, and washed it down with a little wine.

“Well,” said Blount.  “You’re right.  This is off the record and I don’t know that it’s necessarily a story for you.  But it’s a huge problem for me.  We’ve got a leak.  A bad one.  It’s like they know what we’re doing before we do.  I don’t know if someone is talking out of school or what.  I’ve got to find out and plug it…fast.”

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

You can learn more about Divine Fury on Amazon.

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