Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chapter One - The Governor

The air is clearer, thinks Kyle, clearer now than at any other time of year.
“HAPPNING NOW!” Shelby texted and nearly immediately followed, “RITE NOW!!!”
He already knew. Her father was being interviewed by the governor. Shelby too, in a way. They all were.
William A. Wolf was actually her step-father. But “he’d brought her up,” which was how the official relationship was always stated. It was more that Kyle and Shelby had brought each other up, using their mothers and their fathers as guides, but not actual participants. That’s how it seemed to Kyle.
Shelby had no idea what he was talking about when he said this. That’s what she always said when he tried to make this particular point.
He had seen the caravan make the corner, still out of sight of Shelby’s upstairs bedroom window and was receiving her text after he’d seen them pull up at the Wolfs’ house. Kyle watched, irritated with himself for not bringing the binoculars. He now saw how childish  his earlier notion had been, that someone would spot him, report him if he’d stood across the park and watched her house. He nearly flinched again, thinking what his father would say at receiving such a report.
She was texting again.
There had been a debate which room to host the governor in, the living room or the downstairs third of the split level, the area Shelby called the “basement” only so she could  correct herself in her mother’s drawl, “oh- I-do- mean-den-slash-rumpus-room.”
Kyle knew this because Shelby had laughed at her mother’s setting up food and drinks in both rooms. “It’s imperative to be ready for anything,” Shelby quoted in her mother’s drawl, but as frequently in respect as mockery – although in this case she had proven correct. “The governor is not going to traipse through her outdated split-level. He’s going to see if we have three heads, probably kick back a shot of bourbon, compliment her on her outdated split-level and split himself.”
Kyle pictured the governor sitting in the Wolf’s living room, on the sofa where he and Shelby had once made-out, the sacredness of the off-limit-ness of this  pastel living room more thrilling than the tumbling which, while also exciting, was more familiar.
It was, explained Shelby, finally an edge of danger, finally the threat of getting caught.
They’d had free rein in both their houses their whole lives. By middle school the notion that any of the four parents would be home before dinner time – if then -- was so unlikely as to never be thought. Their parents and their various grandparents and another few dozen other family names were the committee members that ran Haden County, a wealthy agricultural district marbled thick and deep with successful thoroughbred  stock. Some years their wealth alone could give Downstate voters the edge they needed to carry the long state.
“Every great politician has this need,” Shelby told him that day on the sofa. “This  need to be caught out and even to be admonished, beaten down, it’s like fuel, the proving you can  come back. Winning is thrilling,” she said, and Kyle knew even this first time she said it she was quoting Mr. Wolf, “but coming back has that sweet, sweet taste of cold revenge.”
“So it’s like power,” Kyle had said.
“What is?”
“Revenge. If it tastes so sweet you’re willing to endure humiliation just to get it must be as aphrodisiacal as power.” Kyle could remember saying this. How she looked and how she nodded. He thinks it might be the only time she granted him superior political knowledge.
For a long while this bothered him. And worse, Shelby knew it. But that was before Carlene Deluccio. Carlene Deluccio who thought she could win a seat on the county council because she was Victor Deluccio’s widow. Kyle laughed like his father. It had always been said he laughed like his father, even as a child. “Imagine, Matthew Grosen said, she cried when the reporter asked about Deluccio’s payoffs at the tracks. What did she think? Women just can’t take it. Just can’t take it.”
Kyle’s mother would cut her eyes at his father, but she agreed. “Shouldn’t have wasted her time,” was how Kyle’s mother saw the ill-fated candidacy of Carlene, whom she liked and played bridge with but who clearly didn’t get it. Not simple, bright enough, but unsophisticated, guileless. That is what Kyle’s mother said about her. “She should have gathered up that money and bought a couple of those sons-of-a-bitches struggling office buildings and started squeezing them a little. Four years of that and I would say that seat could have been hers.”
At that his father would roll his eyes. They had worked together, his parents, when his father had been in private practice. She was a club woman now. That’s what she called it. “I’m a club-woman now, Kyle,” she’d retorted when he’d asked her if she missed being out in the thick of things.  “I am swimming in the midst of those things your father spends his days trying to sort out. Swimming is much more fun than working, dear. More effective, too.”
Shelby’s smarts would only get her so far, Kyle had eventually reckoned. Certainly far enough, farther than most girls. But he was a man and he knew he had the edge whether Shelby admitted it or not. And whether she admitted it or not, she knew it too. If there had been any doubt that was cleared up the day her father had asked him to step in for a foursome at the club.
Kyle had gloated and they’d had one of the colossal fights that got both their mothers praying  for a permanent break-up. “But don’t you have a gold medal or something up there in that soccer shrine that might make you  feel better?”
Shelby had been perfect in high school. Perfect in grade school and even middle school. She played the right sports and was good at them. She made almost straight As, not enough to tar her as unapproachable. But enough to nab a scholarship to – perfect – “go East for University,” as her mother took to saying. “to one of the sister schools,” Lucille announced frequently at bridge.
“More like a southern finishing school,” Shelby complained to Kyle. “But it’s all women, which is what I want. It’s the only way to be school president. Its history department is good.”
Shelby had decided in grade school she would become a history major. Political science was “too political to look good on a resume” while “history has a classical look to it.” While her explanations became more sophisticated, the reasoning remained the same. “And I could stand a look at some of the folks in the East without being in the thick of them. I'd look like a hayseed.”
There was nothing Shelby feared more than looking like a hick. She’d inherited that honestly from her mother and understood just that fear was the source of Lucille's elaborations and grandiose elocutions.
Her step-father would slightly raise his eyebrows, including Shelby in his amusement at the bragging by Lucille, he gave off a slightly embarrassed but bemused air of forgiveness when her mother overstated things. He would lean over and pat his wife's arm or sometimes lift the drink out of her hand. That was how Shelby learned the concept of a faux pas which she'd subsequently tried to explain  to her mother who refused to consider either its meaning or pronunciation. Shelby feared this meant Lucille would in the future mispronounce and misuse the phrase .
 “She’s my step-daughter,” William Wolf was saying to the governor, opening his arm to invite Shelby into the room. She knew he had to say that. On a lot of documents she had a different last name. And not just any last name. Prentiss. Not merely had her mother eloped with a Prentiss, she'd naturally gone with the rightfully tarred black sheep of the entire clan. Just like that, Shelby admired the man she called "my real father," he comes clean with the governor, who of course would have already known.
“Baggage is baggage,” Kyle said, “but money is money.”
Kyle also said, “Everyone’s got baggage.” Shelby knew he was quoting both of his parents when he said that.
Her "real" father had actually never formally adopted her, although he encouraged Shelby to answer to Miss Wolf and allowed her introduction as Shelby Wolf from virtually the moment he had married Lucille. She had been two at the wedding.
By middle school she’d learned you could change your name by simply beginning to use another. "As long as you aren't doing it for nefarious purposes," she'd explain to her parents, "it's perfectly legal."
"It certainly is," William Wolf had smiled and patted her mother's arm in genial amusement and relief at the ease with which Shelby was growing up. It wasn't much of a big deal. Her mother had been doing just that for years. Her biological father, Phillip Prentiss, had never paid attention to her so it occurred to no one to mention the change to him.
Shelby was shaking hands with the governor and thinking he was as good looking in person as on television. He really was good looking. She turned to catch her mother's eye and saw Lucille's jaw slack with the same realization. Her mother was usually much more careful than that. Caught herself, Shelby saw Lucille pull her neck taut as she began to talk. Then Shelby was being somehow moved back into the doorway and now even her mother was standing too close to her and pushing her through.
“The governor and Daddy need to talk in private, now" her mother was saying."You just scoot along, dear. Oh, and me too?. I’ll just see about some refreshments, Governor,” her mother was calling back and Shelby could see how annoyed she was at being expected to leave the room as well.
Shelby knew her mother would be back in that room soon. Quite soon, Shelby was willing to wager. But she herself wasn’t interested in the talking details, she’d seen the governor and he had been in her living room. That was enough for her right now. She returned to her room.
“Talking now,” she texted. “Gov = Gorgeous.”
“Shit,” Kyle texted back.

Chapter Two - The Governor's Aide

“You can’t carry Downstate, Governor.”
“It’s not the electoral college, Buddy. It’s a simple majority. Votes. It is about the number of votes. I don’t need to carry it. Downstate just has to hold Engleson below sixty percent.
“Well you’ve got forty percent. You’ve maybe got fifty.  You’ve given these farmers everything they’ve asked for.  You don’t need to go courting these gee-gaws down here for forty percent.”
“You’re wrong Buddy. I need every gee-gaw I can get.  I need their vote and their wives’ votes and brothers and their dear old moms. So who can carry more gee-gaws? Wolf or Harrison?”
“Wolf,” Bud Nowak said without hesitation. “Haden is the biggest county of the quad, it has the four-year college and Wolf is easier to deal with than Harrison.”
“And he’ll show?”
“Yeah. Wolf will show better than Harrison.”
“So it’s decided. Wolf becomes the lamb.”
“Are you going Biblical on me, Gov?” Most of Governor Powell Paulie’s staff thought Bud Nowak’s use of such a nickname was pretentious and used to make clear his lifelong status in the governor’s life. But the name “Gov” was given decades ago to his friend Paul  – as the governor had been known since birth to Powell Paulie the third and his father’s ambitious third wife, Annabelle – when the two teenagers attended the Illinois State Student Government Convention the year the fourth Powell Paulie was voted governor.
“We’re asking a man to accept a sacrificial seat,” Paulie said to Nowak and turned to look at the short almost gnomish looking man who had been sitting next to him, informing him for a lifetime.
“Not necessarily.”  
Both men knew Bud Nowak had meant, ‘not necessarily sacrificial’ even though both men knew perfectly well the sacrificial seat they planned for William Wolf to seek. Nowak had not meant to say ‘not necessarily asking’ even though both men heard this in the comment as well. That was true. Both men knew that they certainly weren’t asking.  
“How long does he have left in his seat now?” Governor Powell Paulie asked.
“He just won re-election. It was close. But it’s always close. He’s a Downstate Democrat.”
“Why don’t they stagger their terms?” the governor asked.
“I think they do.”
“So we’re asking him to give up his seat and take yet another hit for a party that is all but in exile in his home town.
“No. There’s nothing in the county code that demands he give up his seat while running for another office,” Nowak said.
Both men were silent at this partial truth. Once a man lost an election it was easier to lose the next one.  But Nowak forged onward as was his job.
“That is no way to go into it, Paul,” he said, leaning in toward the governor from his traditional spot in the limousine that was so thoroughly his there was a slump in the seat .  “John Johnson isn’t as strong as he used to be. He’s getting old. This would be good exposure for Wolf.  This guy has some genuine attributes.”
“Genuine attributes,” Paulie repeated and turned to smile at perhaps his only friend.  “Is that what I have, Buddy? Do I have genuine attributes?”
“You have sex appeal and Cook County,” Nowak said.
“Ah yes,” the governor sighed and closing his eyes leaned back into his seat. Keeping his eyes shut he said, “Those are the stronger attributes, aren’t they.”
“And maybe this guy could make some inroads. Wolf is a decent enough guy. Hard campaigner. It sure in the hell wouldn’t hurt Springfield any to have a couple more Democrats representing Dixieland.”
“I’ve told you about that,” the governor snapped at Nowak, his eyes opened but he didn’t turn. To his aide’s well-tuned ear, convivial conversation was closed.
 The governor considered himself a liberal. “A practical liberal,” he said. He demanded his chauffeurs be black. The Dixieland  reference might have provoked a grimacing smile from Paulie in another venue, but not within sight of the chauffeur. It didn’t matter, Nowak knew, that there was no way the driver could hear them.
A black chauffeur played well in Chicago and it played well Downstate. “Not many good deeds get you points the full length of this great state,” Paulie would say during his not infrequent arguments with Sandra Craleck on this demand. Sandra ran  interference between personnel and a great deal of other agencies and the governor’s office. Paulie was exacting .
Sometimes the governor’s mood would go darker even than cynicism and he would add to his good deed quips,  “But we’re not really in the good deed business any more, are we Buddy?”
“Yes you are, Governor,” Buddy Nowak always replied. “You’re doing good every day.”
Buddy Nowak believed that, and believed it as ardently as when the conviction was born in junior high when Class President Powell Paulie knocked nearly senseless in a single blow to the chin  the class vice president who had called Nowak Paulie’s “ grubby little Polack friend.”
“You don’t deserve elected office in a democracy if you believe that,” Paul had said to the vice president whom he had immediately bent over and extended a hand to help to his feet. “That isn’t how things get done.”

Chapter Three – The State’s Attorney

“Now what in the hell do you think Snakes wants with that poor Bill Wolf?”
Kyle and his father exchanged familiar smiles as Patsy Harrison Grosen revved up the diatribe against her cousin. Cousin once or twice removed , or something like that. Kyle didn’t know how the relationship wove exactly. But he’d been weaned on stories about Snakes, known more widely as Powell H. Paulie, governor of the Great State of Illinois.
Snakes had not gained  this familial nickname for the most obvious sounding reasons but because he’d carried a pair of dice upon his first visit to the far-removed relations in the south. He had been five, maybe not quite that, and knew how to shake the dice in his right hand and say “I want snakes, I want snakes,” as he rattled them.
Kyle didn’t misunderstand the unimportance of the connection to the man who rose from congressman to governor. “He doesn’t remember us, Honeybun,” Patsy had told her only child when he’d asked why her cousin never came to family reunions. He’d perhaps been ten when Powell Paulie began making big enough news that local talk about him revived. “At best Snakes remembers there were some distant relatives in a diminished past living down south.” In Kyle’s memory it was the first grown-up thing his mother had said to him, despite his equally strong memory of his chin in her hand as she told him this.
He’d grown to recognize, but not understand, how importance and unimportance were like two ends of a telescope. While the governor had little or no memory of his downstate connections, since running off to marry a Chicago man, Patsy Harrison’s grandmother’s sister had never fully dropped from the conversational circuits in Harrison or Haden counties. When the increasingly convoluted and risqué liaisons, marriages, divorces and elopements ultimately produced a governor, well how could the story help but grow?
“He doesn’t care shit from shineola about us,” Kyle told Shelby when she’d first confided in him that the governor was coming to her house.
“Well,” Shelby had said, annoyed that Kyle would – as usual – downplay the whole significance of it all. Act like he was something because he was related. “So what? So what that he doesn’t remember being five years old in good ole Harrison County. Would you want to remember getting dumped for the summer in a farm full of these inbred brats?” Shelby paused but couldn’t hold the pause for long before adding, “Present direct relations excluded, of course.”
“It has something to do with something,” Kyle had tried to explain the strange reverse telescope-thing. It was not the first time he had tried to engage her in conversations about how importance worked. He stopped when he realized she was becoming angrier.
“So what, Kyle? So what? The governor of the entire state is coming to my house to ask my dad to be lieutenant governor. Only you would want to ruin that for me.”
“And that is great for your dad,” Kyle said, knowing already that in his household that would not be the twist. “It’s just strange how that works. How he doesn’t even know about us and we know all about him. It’s symbolic or something.”
“Symbolism will get you nowhere in life,” Shelby snapped.
“Fact,” Kyle  conceded.

Chapter Four -- The Councilman

 “A senator, Bill.”
“Stop it, Lucille. I barely won re-election to the board. I’m honored to be a commissioner.”  But Bill Wolf’s smile quivered about him like a happy puppy.
“Senator.” Lucille sighed the word more than said it. “Bill, listen to how this sounds, ‘Senator William A. Wolf.’ Wouldn’t you want to be senator?”
“It was lieutenant governor a mere hour ago,” he told his wife, fighting the smile threatening to engulf him. They were the exact words in his head. Plus, the governor tapped him before Harrison, that little prick. Thinking of Harrison successfully tamped the puppy quivering. “A primary against Harrison wouldn’t be much fun,” Wolf said. And now he sounded as he wished, brusque, annoyed.
Lucille smiled. “You can wipe the floor up with Harrison,” she said. She cocked her head in what had become their connubial code.
Lucille Temple Prentiss Wolf had a good face. William Wolf’s grandmother, a Haden County girl, had told him that after he’d brought Lucille and Shelby to Thanksgiving dinner. “She’ll age well,” his grandmother had said, “if she stays busy.”
He smiled now at his wife, looking a decade younger than forty-three with that geometric face that William Wolf found attractive and knew others did as well, but which was not actually pretty, perhaps cute, but a bit too extreme for cute.  Lucille’s face was triangular with high cheekbones and round eyes almost too large, like in the waif paintings his first wife had found endearing. There had been two staring him down in the bedroom. He would see them over her shoulder when she was on top, rearing back her head and shaking her red mane and acutely boring him. The night after the impossibly long day following the accident he had taken them from the wall and slipping them conscientiously from their frames broke them into halves then quarters as he walked through the house and out to the garbage pails behind the garage.
Lucille kept her hair cropped short. It was so black it reflected blue in strong moonlight. She kept it clipped raggedly about her face like Liza Minnelli but neater. Much neater. He had grasped the meaning of the word ‘coiffed’ when overhearing one of the councilwomen describing his wife’s hairstyle to another woman. “It caps her perfectly,” Lydia Prince had said, “a precisely coiffed ragamuffin.”
 Lucille was lean and nearly as tall as William Wolf, the fair-haired and proverbial prodigal son of Haden County. He had been aware from the moment the pursuit began that she had targeted him for marriage. He had enjoyed every moment of the pursuit and, well into a second decade later,  still enjoyed the fruits of this power balance.
 All of these thoughts – though not examined, never made cogent  – flooded William Wolf when he saw desire come into his wife. She was game for yet another race despite the exhaustive campaign they’d just concluded. His grandmother had been right about her in so many ways.
“You nailed her PawMaw,” he had told his grandmother the night he lost the senate seat. “I’ll have Grandpop’s seat back on the council in two years. You watch.” Old Helen Wolf had died before that winning election but not without knowing her grandson would hold it. If that had been said once at the quad-county wake it had been said a hundred times. The election ten days after her death  made truth of it.
Lucille had both known that Bill was aware of her intentions and also that without that absolute constant gurantee from her that she was absolutely there for him he would not remarry. There had been no children. He wouldn’t have had to. He could have made a fine political career for himself as his grandmother’s fair-haired boy. A wife would be helpful. Very helpful. But only the right wife. Lucille knew this. William Wolf knew this.
She approached William Wolf more than sixteen years ago and worked side by side with him on his first campaign; his failed senatorial bid against the same Republican incumbent who still holds the seat.  John Johnson had not faced an opponent since, not in five election cycles.
Maybe he was vulnerable now. This was what crossed repeatedly through the Wolfs’ thoughts. Maybe the state party was right.
“What if it’s Thompson they want you to run against?” Lucille asked. “He’s going to go see Harrison too, right? The governor?”
“Run against Thompson? Don’t be crazy. Stanley Thorne is going to run again. I’m not challenging Thorne in a primary. And certainly not for an unwinnable seat.”
“And Johnson’s is more winnable?”
Into the silence they both thought back sixteen years. They hadn’t at the time any idea at all just how young they’d been.
“You’d slaughter Harrison in a primary,” Lucille finally said. There was no doubt in her mind.
Nor William Wolf’s.

Chapter Five -- Senator

“The boys at the barbershop say he asked him about being lieutenant governor,” Matt Grosen told Patsy and Kyle, after the Snakes diatribe had ended.  
 “Well that’s bullshit,” Patsy said.
“Yeah, I think so,” Matt laughed.
“Why?” asked Kyle.
“There aren’t enough Democratic votes down here,” Patsy explained. “Snakes needs someone from up north who can pull a whole lot of votes to keep us Republicans out of the mansion come next election.”
“Nothing like a born-again,” Matt said, grinning at his converted wife.
 The Harrisons were just about the biggest horse breeding family in southern Illinois and the only such family to be Democrats. Patsy grew up believing, as the whole lot of arrogant jack-ass Liberals believed if you asked Matt’s opinion, that they were the anointed party chosen  to lead the dumb-ass southerners into Liberal Lincoln Land. “Lincoln was a goddamn Republican,” was a phrase not often left out of any comments Matthew B. Grosen had to make regarding the races.
Although he alluded to others that it had been his influence,  it wasn’t Matt who had drawn Patsy to a new world view. Rather a chance eavesdropping in the horse barn when she was an impressionable thirteen. Looking at the event now, decades later, her shattering event couldn’t even garner a shrug. After the past four elections, winning the last two, Patsy Harrison Grosen doubted that much of anything could even raise her eyebrows anymore. But at thirteen she’d been deeply shocked overhearing her father agree to back the Republican congressman as a thank you for his support of Nixon’s wheat sale to Russia.
At the time it seemed her shock grew from seeing her father cheerfully negotiating profits with his most sworn enemies: the Republicans and the Russians. But over the decades of looking back at that scene what Patsy has come to realize is that what she was staring at throughout the men’s entire conversation was that they were both standing in horse manure. It had been her father’s favorite lawyer joke – and one he never failed to tell or at least quote when he saw Matt. The punch line was the lawyer, on his way into a farmer’s home, looking down at what he’d stepped in and crying, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”
That was also the day of the night she’d learned her best friend’s older brother – whom she’d had a crush upon since first grade and who had been recently, handsomely drafted – had been killed in Vietnam.
The day had coddled her into, not a Republican, but rather a non-believer.
 “No longer a believer,” was how she’d explained herself to Matt when they began dating a few years later. When a few years later she agreed to register Republican they both knew what she was actually doing was saying “Yes,” to a man who could do nothing less than follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
“I said ‘I do’ to a hundred years of outlaw lawmen and their idiotic version of womanhood,” was how she described her marriage to a dynasty of right-wing lawmen.
But there was no doubt in Haden County that Patsy Harrison Grosen relished her role. At forty she was slim and blonde and vivacious with time for volunteer work in the hospital, women’s center and Head Start. “I’m just a bleeding heart conservative,” she would laugh.
“That’s going to break Lucille’s heart,” Kyle’s father said now to his mother. “I’ll bet she’d got curtains picked out for the governor’s mansion already. That poor son-of-a-bitch,” Kyle and Patsy knew he meant William Wolf. Matt and Bill had played ball together in high school. They had been friends. Their wives had not. Indeed, neither Matt nor Patsy had liked either of Bill Wolf’s wives. And Patsy’s outspokenness didn’t leave much doubt that she didn’t like Bill either.
“You don’t much like anybody in Haden County,” Matt had once shouted at Patsy. They didn’t argue often but they argued loudly when they did. So Kyle didn’t feel particularly shocked or concerned when he overheard this argument. But he gained interest when he realized it was about the Wolfs.
“I like Kyle. I like you most of the time. I don’t lose you as many votes as I gain you. What more do you think you can ask?”
Patsy had not yelled this answer and his father had not yelled back. Something Kyle didn’t understand had been settled between his parents, but their dislike of Shelby had not been altered.
“She’s not even a Wolf,” he had screamed once at Patsy. He hadn’t been a teenager yet. Perhaps he was as young as ten. Maybe even eight. He and Shelby were still young enough to spend the nights at one another’s houses. His mother had, this time, said, “No.”
“No,” she had said, “the Wolf girl cannot spend the night and it would be better if you saw less of her anyway. You’re both too old for this.”
Kyle remembers his sudden rage. It was the first time he recalled that type of anger. He had never even been in a fistfight. He just wasn’t that interested in being right. But at this he had become enraged with an intensity that surprised his mother and shocked him. Nothing specific had ever been said to him against Shelby or her family, but at this comment of his mother’s he suddenly realized his mother did not merely dislike Shelby Wolf, he realized that like his father, his mother saw some people as enemies. And Shelby was an enemy.
“No, she isn’t a Wolf,” his mother had said, “she’s a Prentiss in Wolf’s clothing. And if you were about a decade older with a lick of sense you’d know enough to run like hell away from her.”
 “He shouldn’t have married her,” his father was saying now, regretting he’d made the curtain comment in front of Kyle, but unable to keep himself from once again making his point against Lucille. “He would have done better to fiddle about with her and send them on their way.”
“You mean, and marry one of those church ladies. You are all sons of bitches,” Patsy had replied. “I don’t like her either. But Bill Wolf knew exactly what he wanted and he got it. No reason to go blaming Bill Wolf’s problems on his wife.”
“You ‘re such a feminist,” Matt teased and tried to plant a kiss on her neck. She shrugged him off.
“Don’t start on me,” Kyle’s mother had said and dinner – which had consisted of open containers of various leftover on the counter and the three of them grazing among them with forks – was abruptly over. Like usual.
It was the next day Shelby had rushed over after school with the news. “He’s going to be Senator,” she told Kyle.
 “What do you mean?”
“He’s going to run against Johnson for Senator. The governor wants him to do it.”
This, Kyle realized, was what his father meant about women just not getting it.
“And,” she said and paused, “this is even bigger news, I think he’s going to resign his seat! Mother thinks he’s an idiot, that the governor is only going to screw him,” Shelby said.
“Your mother can be pretty smart, Shel,” he told her. “What does your dad say?”
“He says he won’t have that son-of-a-bitch Harrison saying he was using the office to run against him.”
“Yeah. They think there’s going to be a primary. Mom and Dad do.”
“Wow, Shelby. When is he going to do this? Give up his seat? Why is he going to do that?”
“I don’t know when. But soon I think. You know you can’t tell anyone.”
That bond between them, that what they shared could never be repeated to their parents or the other kids they knew whose parents were political was so ancient that it was nearly an insult for Shelby to have verbalized it. And Kyle shot her a look. And Shelby realized it. And they both relaxed a bit.
“It’s just that, well, I think Mom wants the appointment.”
“What appointment?”
“Dad’s seat.”
“What? Your mom wants your dad’s council seat? She thinks the Democrats are going to appoint her to your dad’s council seat? He just won. Why is he doing this? He isn’t really going to resign, is he?” Kyle made himself shut his mouth. Stop talking. He knew he’d already said far too much.  .
Indeed, Shelby just smiled. “You don’t think she can do it?” she asked. She had heard her mother ask her step-father just that. And she knew Kyle would say the exact same thing.
“No,” Kyle said, “that’s not it at all. It just won’t look right.”
“That’s just what Dad said. Exactly.”
They grinned at one another. They had been together their entire lives. There was a part of this life they shared that  was just like sitting next to one another, watching the same movie. When Shelby had once suggested something like this to Kyle he’d readily agreed. “Except we’re the only ones who see it as a comedy,” he’d added.
“What does it matter?” Shelby now asked. “If he quits; if she get it. You know what she says?” Shelby asked. “She says, ‘Who wants to stay a councilman anyway?’”
“That’s right,” Kyle said and quoting his mother launched into the line that had become his and Shelby’s private anthem, “there’s another election just around the corner.”

Chapter Six - The Appointee

      “I’m just saying,” Lucille Wolf said, for the fourth time since the meeting had convened an hour and a half before. “As chairman  of the Democratic Central Committee for Haden County I am responsible for establishing how the deliberations and the interviews will be conducted to replace former-Council President Wolf.  Of course after that anyone who wishes to be considered for the seat will have to remove themselves from the deliberations.”
     Lucille Wolf, for what seemed the hundredth time scoped the table, meeting the eyes of each member before moving on to the next; member to member to member, counting the votes over and over, returning always from where she’d begun, with Carlene Deluccio.
     “Everyone,” she emphasized into Carlene’s eyes, “who wants to run will have to announce their intention and then everyone in the running will excuse themselves. But first we better have a method in place to fairly assess the candidates on their merits and experience. Don’t you think, Carlene?”
      The women smiled with hatred as symbiotic as were their different affections for their very different husbands. Particularly different now that one was dead.
     The committee members waited for the two women to settle whatever needed settling. They waited and if so asked would perform tasks, primarily out of courtesy to Lucille. Lucille had put in her time, stuffed envelopes, knocked on doors, married William Wolf who had been tapped by the governor. She deserved courtesy. But regardless of how long they waited or how many tasks came to be demanded of them, Lucille would not be handed her husband's seat.
      So Lucille grew more frenzied and Carlene grew smug. The room grew thick with their inability to stop Lucille and let the inevitable transpire. They, after all, could only wait so long, before they needed to turn their deference to Carlene.
     “Is she crazy?”
     “Stranger things have happened,” Stanley Thorne replied to Irene Hanley when the committee finally took a lunch break. It had been Irene, of course, who ultimately cut into Lucille's filibustering  and demanded a break.
     “Well don’t you be a part of it,” Irene snapped back at Thorne.
     As longed for but nevertheless thoroughly unanticipated, lunch provoked Lucille into submission. Lucille expected such a thing least of all. She had hurried to the bank, determined to get Al Plover to make Henry Warren put her name forward for Bill’s seat. But a chance passing of Matt Grosen’s  wife shocked her into recognizing the futility of her pursuit.
      Patsy Grosen saw Lucille, head down, roaring toward her and was preparing herself for their traditional faux friendly greeting offered on behalf of their children. When Lucille looked up it registered with Patsy just where Lucille had been and the strain in Lucille’s face was clear. Both women realized the instant their eyes met that Patsy pitied Lucille.
     It would be hard put to determine which woman was more shocked.
     Lucille turned without gaining the bank, her business unfinished. No greeting passed between them.
      The unanimous vote came within a quarter hour of reconvening. Carlene Deluccio’s name was sent to the governor and five of the seven members of the committee confided to Lucille afterwards that she was the best choice, but that the circumstances wouldn’t permit it. They each concluded with the assurance that they knew she understood.
     But she didn’t. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t.
“Fucking bitches. Fucking seventh grade girl bitches,” Lucille said.
“Lucille,” Shelby’s step-father reprimanded.
“Shut-up,” Lucille replied. “I didn’t see you do a goddamn thing to help me. Not lift a finger. I have done nothing but help you from day one. You wouldn’t even stand up for me.”
“How in the hell could I have done that?”William Wolf asked.
“Behind the scenes. For god’s sakes, you’re behind the scenes all the time anymore. Drumming up more votes for Paulie than for yourself. You better be careful,” Lucille said, “that governor’s gonna play you for a sucker you don’t take care of your own self. And that means me, too, buddy.”
     “In a few weeks you’ll see it was impossible,” William Wolf said and packed his suitcase and said he’d be in Springfield for the next week.
     The waters were smoothed when he returned. Lucille had made a few dozen calls on his behalf and brought in some money, not a lot, but the campaign could pay down the bill to the TV station now, enough to cut the second spot.
     Lucille had also organized a dinner meeting of the full campaign committee to serve a buffet with beer and some wine punch, get everybody excited again, see if they could gin up some more worker bees for Bill.  There was still a long way to go.

Chapter Seven - New Councilwoman

     Carlene Deluccio was a lot smarter than people gave her credit for. “Doesn’t say much, does it?” Carlene Santano Deluccio would loudly proclaim. “I just tell ‘em it doesn’t say much to be smarter than the zero they think I am,” she would tell her brother Alex, “and then I just laugh and laugh in their faces," she told her brother, "and look like a loud-mouthed Wop.”

     “You’re not a Wop,” her brother invariably snapped back.
     Carlene would laugh some more and then she might grow suddenly annoyed and snap, “If I was as dumb as people say, what am I doing here?” 
     It was a trademark line with her. She would snap it out any time at anyone who annoyed her.  But even victims of this line – for Carlene Santano Deluccio heard insults to her intelligence frequently – admitted that few other things annoyed her at all. Carlene was an affable, welcoming, even mothering type of woman, although she’d never had children. This was well known since her childlessness could prompt grand emotional outbreaks. “What am I doing here?” she would ask at the conclusion of these outbreaks as well.
     What was she doing here? That was the Haden County Democrats’ perennial question. An immigrant amongst such WASPs they would confess to one another.
     She wasn’t an immigrant herself, but from an immigrant’s family. From Chicago. The Haden countians actually meant by this her husband’s family, the Deluccios. Her husband, Victor Deluccio, had been two decades older,wealthy and now dead.
    It was assumed in Haden County that Victor Deluccio took care of the Chicago mob’s southern Illinois interests in horses and horse racing. According to his IRS filings, so said First National Bank of Haden County President Al Plover, Victor Deluccio reported ownership of a single racetrack and a few horses at Stovepipe Farm, which had, from the day the Hansen boys sold the place, been placed and remained solely in Carlene’s name.
    Victor Deluccio was a big campaign donor, lending credence to his reputed  mobster connections. He gave generously to both parties in all level of races. He himself was unelectable, too shady in reputation for appointments to local building committees or economic development boards, too rogue to fit with the local chamber or community chests.
     But Carlene joined everything, childless and tireless and with Victor’s checkbook in her hand. Each year she passed in Haden County brought more invitations to join foundations, boards and trusteeships. She worked for child welfare, battered women, cultural development. She ultimately became both a trustee of the local hospital and the college.
     “If I’m so dumb,” she said in accepting the latter trusteeship, “what are all of you doing here?”  The laughter was polite and quickly drowned in her own guffaws.
    Sooner or later most people came to, if not exactly like her, at least appreciate her, albeit, preferably at a distant table instead of at their own table. She was loud and opinionated and generous.
     Victor had been so careful in his giving neither party considered him a member of the other.And despite all those volunteer hours and the couple's appearance at social and fund raising events within the quad-counties, her political yearnings were unsuspected as well, indeed, as far as anyone could recall, unexpressed. No one remembered a single political or even general civic conversation with Carlene for all those years. She talked about money. Raising money. And she did it well on her own and leveraged that successfully on behalf of her boards.
     Yet Victor’s corpse wasn’t cold, so went the talk in both parties, when Carlene Deluccio filed for a county council seat as a Democrat, within hours of the codified deadline, she forced a primary with the well liked and clean-cut WASP, William Wolf.
     It was obvious from the start she would lose and lose big. Wolf was popular enough to be a Democrat able to securely and hold a council seat in the largely Republican county. His respect from members of both parties routinely landed him the presidency of the board. He had honorably paid his party dues and his civic dues. He had served on boards and fund-raised for others. And throughout he had remained friendly with all.
    Carlene’s move was too sudden against too solid of an incumbent, said the shocked Democrats of Haden County. It appeared such a spur-of-the-moment peccadillo that many Democrats were surprised to see how many votes she did garner. Then further aggrieved when she did land a seat on the party’s central committee. Her numbers were so striking, some Democrats in Haden County speculated that had Carlene run as a Republican she might have beat Wolf in the general election.
         “If I’m so dumb, what am I doing here?” Carlene slapped the various committee members on their backs and upper arms as she attended her first meeting, the first freshman member in more than a decade. Money and elect-ability gained Carlene Deluccio credentials other party workers had spent decades attaining or more often, failing to attain. Now it would be she, little more than half a year later, being asked to accept the seat she’d sought.
     “She outfoxed the wolves,” was how Irene Hanley saw it and repeated the phrase a number of times after first tossing it into William Wolf’s face when he told her he planned to resign.
     “Yes,” Wolf had said without inflection, “she did.”
     “And what does that tell you?” Irene had asked.
     He didn’t dislike women, which William Wolf reminded himself when he found himself sparring with Irene. Not because of Irene intrinsically but because somehow Irene made him think of all women rolled into one. That was just too much. That was just too much all-knowing, condescending and general priggishness rolled into a great big shaking finger.
     “That I’m a chump?” Wolf asked.
     “But loyal,” Irene smiled, reached up and patted him on the cheek before returning home and launching the telephone tree that would bring them all together to give Carlene Deluccio William Wolf’s council seat as soon as Bill resigned and Lucille got through with her hissy fit.
     “Poor boy, he didn’t know his granddaddy long enough to learn that honor comes even before loyalty,” she told Stanley Thorne as she started the telephone tree.
     “So he isn’t a Marine,” Stanley had replied. “He could still beat Johnson.”
     “Not even his granddaddy could have beat Johnson,” Irene said.
     “Well, he’ll beat Harrison,” Thorne retorted, deciding he would not tell Irene at this moment that he would, again, be launching a campaign against Thompson.
     “Yes,” Irene sighed, “yes he probably will. But why does it sound like some kind of Carlene joke when you say it?”

Chapter Eight – The Campaign

It wasn’t until putting the decorations away Shelby began shaking. Shaking so she nearly dropped the ornament she’d been told her paternal grandmother had given for her first Christmas. She’d been slightly more than six months old.
“It was the thought that did it,” Shelby told Kyle. “I thought, ‘This is the last time I’ll be doing this.’ And I suddenly realized that with everything I placed back into its box I was thinking the same thing, ‘This is the last time I’ll be doing this.’ Just like I was going to be dead before next Christmas.”
“You know that’s crazy, right?”
She was silent after that. So Kyle remained silent too. They sat huddled in separate sleeping bags in Kyle’s father’s Jeep. Neither Kyle’s truck nor Shelby’s compact had four-wheel drive. The snow had stopped only a few hours ago.
It was after just this type of a snowfall, a snowfall heavy enough to take down small branches, followed by a north wind, you could hear the wolves.
The cemetery had huge old markers in the center. They configured just right for the wind to howl through. It was a small cemetery, deep within the forest that for the most part was what constituted Haden County’s Jefferson Park.
Unlike in the counties of the Metro East, the park in Haden County wasn’t named for the third president. It was named for its donor, Bernard Coates Jefferson, a man made wealthy in the Metro East from the railroad and riverboats and then made poor buying acreage in Southern Illinois. Jefferson had given five-thousand- plus acres to Haden County a century ago. The land at the time included the small cemetery, a large lake and thick woodlands abutting acres of inactive farm fields.
“Mr. Jefferson saw a future in land, expected to capitalize on land in and of itself,” the executor of the B.C .Jefferson Trust explained on a field trip Shelby’s and Kyle’s ninth grade history class had made. “An idea before it’s time,” he said.
“Still is,” Shelby had said within hearing of their teacher who smiled broadly.
“Precisely, Shelby.” The teacher turned to the rest of the class, “Do the rest of you grasp this economic concept?”
Shelby had overheard Mr. Plover and her stepfather talking while mixing drinks for their wives in the Wolf’s kitchen. There was apparently to be a new racetrack in the southeast portion of the state. Haden County needed a state interchange built there to make it profitable according to the banking officials who were working on securing private investors for the region.
“There’s plenty of land over there at Jefferson,” Mr. Plover had said. “There are acres and acres the bank would love to move on.”
Shelby didn’t know how this was what Mrs. Turner meant, but treasured that five-year-old commendation and as a result registered for a freshman economics class first semester at her small private college in the East. Her grasp of economics in that class were a precise D on the bell curve. Her standing among her peers was a bit lower. A further surprise was discovering that she had an accent and that it was openly referred to as a “twang” and audibly behind her back called “hillbilly.”
 “They all went to pre-school together,” Shelby explained to Kyle her decision not to return. “Besides, Mom and Dad could use my help on the campaign. Even Dad said it would help. They can’t get the donations they need to hire any help at all. And Harrison is rich. He is so rich. The campaign manager says Dad has to compete no matter how much Harrison spends.” Shelby paused and looked at Kyle. “I think they took out a loan,” she said.
They both knew the adage: If there isn’t enough money to support your candidacy, there aren’t enough votes to elect you.
“They just need help,” Shelby said. “And I don’t plan to go back there anyway. It was so phony.”
The wind shook snow from the trees that surrounded the parking lot and the road in to the forest.  A few other cars had crunched quietly past but presumably found their own private coves in the snaking lot circling the cemetery. Or they had driven on, content to repeat the ghost stories of Victoria Forest while driving past.
  Jefferson had named the thick stand of hardwoods and pines for his maiden sister. Her tall grave stone was among those creating the winter cries. The forest had been long ago nicknamed Voodoo Forest. It stood alone on the horizon, one of the first stands of trees to mark the edge of the ancient prairies. There the land becomes increasingly hilly as it descends  into the great rivers convergence at the tip of Southern Illinois.
Shelby and Kyle had brought sleeping bags so they could turn the car off and listen for the wolves. They each had climbed into one and sat in the front seat of the Jeep. Snow had fallen all day, quitting only a few hours before sunset. It was early evening now but dark as night. The cemetery felt just barely beyond their sight. Sometimes it seemed one of the tall gravestones could be seen amongst the lean black trunks that swayed as the snow blew past.
They remained silent, unusual just a few weeks ago but having become typical as Shelby’s winter break wore on. She received a crash course on how the campaign was running since returning home in mid-December. She returned looking brittle and unhappy and at first seemed quickly revived. But that was short lived.
 Shelby arrived home on a Thursday and went with Kyle Friday afternoon to the Starbucks in Vernon County – he had taken her out of the county, knowing she wouldn’t want to be in Haden and still it hadn’t mattered. Susan Prince was there with a handful of her student council cheerleading bitches and asked loudly if anyone had ever heard of a Political Gold-digger?  “They don’t do it for the money,” she said, “they do it for the party.”
“I get this is for me,” Shelby said to Kyle, “but I don’t get it.”
“Harder to deny.”
“Ah,” Shelby said. “Brilliant in its own way.”
Whether she had known then, whether she had always known, Shelby couldn’t dodge the bile her mother was acquiring as William Wolf ran a grueling campaign that made the phrase no-holds-barred meaningless.
Harrison hadn’t hesitated to paint Wolf as the husband of a two-timing floozy who took the life of a good upstanding county man she’d tempted him into disaster and then death. And  Harrison went on colorfully noting that Wolf’s current wife was so slatternly as to be tossed out by the wastrel Prentiss. Wolf himself, explained Harrison, was a man who had only come home from the city to help his old man drive the once illustrious Wolf Farms into bankruptcy.
 “Pains me to say of a native son of my neighboring county, but Bill Wolf is more akin to a carpetbagger than a prodigal son,” Harrison intoned at any number of church picnics. “Now Billy Wolf might be nice enough,” Harrison would concede. “It’s nice to have your commissioners be coming from the salt of the earth, and all like that. But you surely don’t want some ne’er-do-well with a questionable ability to choose uplifting company for himself to be representing your god-fearing interests in Springfield. Do you?”
That Richard Harrison, better known as Dickie Harrison, could call anyone a ne’er do well with a straight face was testimony to a life lived unexamined. Richard Harrison was happy with his life, happy with himself, happy that his plump little wife stayed home with his plump five children leaving him most of the time to take care of his business and his pleasure elsewhere.
Business for Dickie Harrison was running his daddy’s harness and tack shop which provided a nice little income for Dickie so long as it was attached to the Harrison’s huge farm interests which produced thoroughbreds with Kentucky Derby trophies in their careers.
Dickie didn’t so much run the store as conduct a farm to farm to convention to convention door to door service that did indeed increase orders and kept him on the road – sometimes for a couple of weeks in a well outfitted travel trailer – at least six days out of ten. He could be found as often at a home’s kitchen table in the middle of the day as in a man’s barn or a neighborhood bar. Conducting business and pleasure.
Betty Jean did not seem to mind. She had a beautiful ranch house with a swimming pool and a maid.  No other girl in her entire graduating class had anything even close to it. Dickie was agreeable and charming when he was around and usually threw a party every week or two when he was home. She felt neither lonely nor maligned by any of the talk that surrounded her husband. “Dickie loves me fine,” she would giggle if anyone braved hinting with her about his antics.
Dickie would grab her ass at a party and squeezing it say to the people nearby, “Betty Jean’s got it good. I give her everything she could possible need.” And then he would growl and she would squeal.
The one time Lucille had seen the display – the one time she had attended a Harrison party – she had made a slight gagging sound and said, “I think I need a glass of water.”
 Dickie overheard her and hollered, “Getting’ too hot for you in here, Lolita?”
Bill Wolf had blushed to his hairline and looked first at Lucille and then at Dickie and then back at Lucille to see what he should do. Lucille smiled. “I’m older than I look, Ducky,” and took to calling Harrison Dickie Duck when she had the chance.
As insinuations of these attacks began appearing in Harrison’s ads and radio spots William Wolf began demanding his dwindling local committee come up with some counter slings. Lucille was adamantly opposed to the idea.
“Buddy Nowak thinks it’s a good idea,”  Bill hissed one night to Lucille as once again the campaign committee shrugged and failed to take up his request.
“”You can’t fight him back by saying Dickie Duck cheats on his wife,  squanders his daddy’s money, is a redneck and a racist. Who in Harrison County doesn’t already know that? If Buddy Nowak wants to go around calling Ducky a sleazebag, more power to him. But don’t let him have you do it.”
“What makes you think you know so much,” Bill Wolf would snap. “You’ve already said what you think. But it isn’t you out there, is it.”
“Right,” Lucille said.
“ Well I just want to remind you that Buddy Nowak has won a lot of campaigns.”
“So have you,” Lucille retorted.
“Not like this one,” he said.
They didn’t need to argue to gauge how grueling the campaign was. All they had to do is look at one another.
 Since Shelby had left in early August Lucille had gained two dress sizes and found strands of gray hair. She began dying immediately. She lost her chair on the central committee as well as seats on three charity boards. Two of the boards lost major donors, both Harrison supporters. She was reappointed to neither and her third board announced she would have an honorary early retirement luncheon in light of her increased duties on her husband’s campaign. “Kicked me off before I had a chance to kill off another donor,” Lucille told her daughter. Shelby had escorted her mother to the luncheon the day after she returned from college.  They gave Lucille a plaque.
Bill had lost two pant sizes, a collar size and looked haggard and old. He looked as Shelby remembered old Mr. Wolf, Bill’s father, who she’d known for the few years he’d still been alive when Shelby was a child. Those were the years the Wolf farm was finally lost and the old man died. She worried her step-father would die. She had heard her mother warn him he would have a heart attack if he kept it up. Shelby had heard him say the same thing to her mother. Shelby had thought about her mother dying, but could not conceive of such a thing and did not worry about her.
During the months Shelby had  been away, Bill and Lucille’s bickering had become mean and intense.  There had always been times when the three of them had perchance sat a meal together and found themselves all talking and seemingly speaking separate languages and talking about completely different topics. When they caught themselves all would laugh and they became a family again.
Shelby looked up the kitchen counter that first Friday morning she was back from college expecting the same experience to end their bickering. They h ad scheduled this morning to eat breakfast together,  joking that family time now had to be scheduled. Shelby had expected it would be the time for her to tell about her first semester and begin convincing them of her desire to leave the school.
So when they quickly fell into a tussle and caught themselves and fell silent, it was Shelby who first looked up with a chuckle, expecting them to all laugh.  Instead Bill and Lucille gulped down the remains of their coffee in unintended unison and pushed abruptly back from the counter with barely a farewell to Shelby.
 She sat alone at the counter and began to feel afraid. Shelby herself had lost a dress size and her appetite and her perfect complexion. Her grades were abysmal compared to high school. Her mother hadn’t noticed any of these things.  Shelby had seen the envelope  from the school, surely her grades, unopened on her mother’s desk. As the days of her vacation passed the letter was buried in more envelopes which also remained unopened.
It was some days after Christmas Day before the three of them found themselves again at the kitchen counter. Shelby blurted her intentions of remaining home for the next semester and helping with the campaign. Her father had looked up from his meal first at her and then questioningly at her mother. As soon as his eyes hit Lucille’s she turned to Shelby and said, “I think that’s an excellent idea, Shel. Do you know how to use Excel?”
By then Shelby had gotten a full dose of the campaign. In addition to Susan Prince’s Starbucks show, two other girls had let her hear “gold-digger” at holiday parties and one had even called her mother a gold-digger to Shelby’s face.
“How do you figure that?” Shelby had asked, stunned more into curiosity than anger.
“You know what I mean,” the girl had said and walked off.
“My mom has been married to Bill Wolf for longer than she’s been alive,” she said to Kyle.
She heard and overheard her stepfather called both an opportunist and a buffoon. She heard people say it in adjacent restaurant booths, in store aisles, saw it on the growing local blog entries. The newspaper had always been Republican so she’d long ago learned not to expect kind treatment there. She’d been surprised, however, by how many of the old Democrats were quoting the paper they had spent her lifetime scorning. They quoted its criticism of her stepfather.
“Not all of them,” Kyle said.
“Only the ones talking,” she replied.
“Well,” Kyle said.
 She herself had been called a slut by Bobby Hanley who had become a rabid member of the Republican Youth Club to spite his councilwoman mother, Irene. Kyle punched him in the jaw and landed in a great deal more trouble than Bobby.
“I was a Republican in my youth as well,” Irene excused her badly behaved son.  Irene called his behavior “independent thinking” and indicative of a well-adjusted son despite a  no-good father who had walked out on them when Bobby was four. The abandonment forced Irene back to her parent’s farm next to the Wolf’s old place where Bobby grew up. Shelby had known him as long as she had known Kyle.
  “There,” Kyle whispered as a burst of wind slightly rocked the car. He turned the key to allow him to lower his window about an inch. He was on the lee. It was how he always parked at Voodoo Forest just for this reason.
Shelby nodded.
The faint howling grew with the wind and the fresh snow blew across the windshield and it was exactly what Shelby had asked for, “I’d like to be neatly packaged inside one of those snowballs you shake and then set down,” she had said to Kyle, . “let’s go listen to the rocks.”
“The winter wolves,” she said now as the howling picked up and then drifted away.
Kyle said nothing but kept his eyes on her. It felt he was more than watching her, more even than guarding her, he felt ready to rush in quickly and save her. Save her from what? He kept asking himself. As if what? As if she was about to whip a razor blade across her wrists? He had never seen her act like this. As if she had deflated. Except that she was angry, he knew that much. She was really angry and swallowing all signs of it. She just grew more silent. That had never been her style; his style, perhaps, but never hers.
 “You know he’s going to beat Harrison,” Kyle finally said. “Even my mom says it. “
“Do you think so?” Shelby asked so suddenly he reflexively pulled away.
“Yeah. Yeah, Shel, he’s going to win,” he leaned back toward her, reaching an arm out of the warm bag to touch her shoulder..
“Senator?” she asked, without turning toward him.
“Sure,” Kyle said. But he had merely meant the primary and she knew it. There was no consideration in his household that William Wolf stood any chance of taking the seat from John Johnson. “Maybe it will get better in the general. My dad always says primaries are worse than  generals.”
It was a poor save. It wasn’t a save at all. Shelby looked at him and grimaced.  “Yeah, fighting you Republicans will be clean after this,” she said.
Kyle grinned.  “I wouldn’t bet on it,” he said and pulled his arm back inside his bag.. Shelby gave him a brief smile.
Shelby knew from Carlene Deluccio that primaries were worse than general elections. In the general election at least most of your own party puts on a face of supporting you. In a primary it is  rigueur de jour to support no one but yourself.
“Dad keeps saying that too, ‘Once we get through the primary, Shel.’,” she mocked a gruff voice, “ ‘ Once we get through this primary.’ They both say it, Mom too, to the campaign people, to the volunteers, to Lydia Price our loyal treasurer,” she says to Kyle and looks at him. “But they never said what that means. Once we get through the primary it gets worse? And which is worse? Winning or losing? Once we get through the primary, what? We eat our young? Float our dead into the sea? Throw the whores and money changers over the cliff? What?”
  Three months. She was only eighteen years old. Her big shot college had shot her down. Her acquaintances of a lifetime had turned vicious in her absence. She could hardly eat. Her big shot parents were unraveling. Shelby had never been so unnerved. Kyle had never seemed so tedious. But there he was. There was no one else. Absolutely no one else.
“You might all be right,” Shelby said, “it  really can’t get much worse short y’all eating us.”
Shelby leaned into Kyle and they touched heads, watched the snow swirl and listened to the wolves.