“Go over the schedule with me one more time.”
Rachel walked down the long hallway of City Hall toward her office. It had been two years since she beat her husband, surpassing his votes by a landslide. She initially won the position of city council president and the following year, she had run against her husband.
Last year, she became the mayor of Twinbrook thanks to the help of her supportive staff, her campaign manager, Gwayne Bayless, her executive assistant, Justin Kayes, and her speechwriter, Jenni Jones-Brown.
Rachel quickly became busy trying to pass her homeless initiative. One year later, she was still short on funding and had struggled to get the land permits from the county. Rachel was in full-blown planning mode – and she came up with a campaign to go door-to-door asking the citizens of Twinbrook to support her initiative, had her speechwriter draft an amazing proposal for the county supervisor, and planned a mid-Simvember fundraiser, with her best friend, Gala catering. It had been Gwayne’s suggestion to invite the homeless to the fundraiser also so the donors could see first hand who they would be supporting. At first, Rachel thought that seemed to exploitative, but Justin was able to convince Terry A. Keyes, the local unofficial spokesman for the homeless townspeople to give Rachel a chance to help them. Between her busy day job, volunteering at the shelter and soup kitchen on the weekend, and being a mom, Rachel was swamped.
Since Rachel had usurped his position, Bill had dropped out of the political scene, sortof and was working on a book called Inane Domain: Inside the World of Smalltown Politics. He already had a blog, and had found an editor. His work allowed him to stay home with their baby girl, Hope, and he surprisingly seemed to enjoy being a dad, especially because he couldn’t really enjoy being a husband.
“You have a eight am phone call with the city council president, an eight-thirty breakfast with the local businesswomen’s bureau. At ten o’clock, you’re making an appearance at Stary Community School at their back-to-school event, at eleven-forty-five, you’re meeting local business leaders to request temporary sanctuary for the homeless once the temperatures drop, and at one, you want me to remind you to go home for lunch and see your daughter,” Justin rattled off, glancing through his portfolio calendar.
Rachel smiled at that last one.
“Then at two-fifteen, you are meeting with the commander of the Sims-in-Arms base to encourage the space cadets to volunteer at the local shelter and soup kitchen, and at three-forty, you are collaborating with the mayor of Edgewater to create a joint food bank, and at five o’clock, you have a photo op at the Bachelor Stadium with Charlie Moon of the Edgewater Saints,” Justin continued. “Looks like a full day, ma’am.”
“Indeed,” Rachel sighed, and rubbed her forehead. “Justin why don’t you go home for the night?”
“Are you sure ma’am?” Justin replied. “It’s only seven-thirty. I can help you go over your speech points for any one of your engagements tomorrow.”
“No, that’s okay. I’m just going to make a few notes and then head home for the night,” Rachel said. “Go home early and have dinner with that lovely eccentric girlfriend of yours.”
“Amy?” Justin smiled widely. “Thanks ma’am. Have a good night.”
Rachel wandered down the hallway, perusing her schedule. She felt a headache coming on. Of course, not every day was like this at City Hall, but the last few weeks had been super busy. She was hoping to get some down time to spend with Bill and Hope, but it just didn’t look like it was going to happen anytime soon. Rachel dropped her portfolio on the desk and proceeded to sit at her computer.
“Mrs. Racket?” a soft voice called to her through the darkness.
Rachel jumped, and flung her attention to a tall, red-haired, wild-eyed woman standing in her office. She had expected to be alone.
“Can I help you?” she asked cautiously.
“Yes, please, you’ve gotta help me,” the woman’s eyes filled with tears.
“Please… sit down…” Rachel motioned to a chair. “Are you alright?”
“Thank you,” the woman sniffled. “I’m sorry… I didn’t know who else to go to.”
“Do I know you?” Rachel frowned.
“No… but your father-in-law does.”
“Max…” Rachel breathed the dreaded name aloud.
The woman bobbed her head up and down and sobbed. Rachel stood up and reached for a box of tissues and brought them over to her unexpected visitor. Whatever could she possibly do to help this woman? And what did it have to do with Max?
“What’s your name?” Rachel asked.
“Penney…” the woman said between quick shuddering sobs. “Penney Pincher…”
“Alright, Penney, can I call you that?” Rachel began, and received a nod of approval. “Start from the beginning.”
“I’m a dancer… but not the good kind… you know the exotic kind,” Penney began. “I dance and wait tables over at Shady’s. You know of it?”
Rachel silently affirmed. She knew the Racket family owned a night club, and she suspected strange things went on there, but she had never been to see for herself.
“I don’t have nothin’ to do with what goes on upstairs, just so you know, your honor.”
“I’m not a judge. You don’t need to call me that.”
“But you was an attorney back in the day, right?”
“Then I need some legal advice.”
“I’m not sure how I can help, but…”
“I’m Max’s mistress.”
Rachel sat in stone cold silence. She shouldn’t be surprised. Max cheating wasn’t exactly beneath him, and she suspected nothing was beneath that man. She didn’t know her father-in-law well, but she did know he abused Marigold, and no matter how many times she offered to help the poor woman, Marigold wouldn’t seek help. Rachel and Bill had discussed it one evening and realized that they couldn’t help Marigold if she didn’t want the help. However, Rachel had ethical concerns because of Marigold’s apparent dementia… or mental illness… she wasn’t sure which one. She had made an effort to get Marigold to regular doctor’s appointments and had even discreetly consulted an out-of-town police officer with her concerns, but there was only so much she could do there.
“I don’t take no part in the gamblin’ upstairs or the girls… at least, I’m not one of ’em… and Max… he’s a careful son’a’bitch. Anytime there is a possible raid, he somehow knows it, and gets ’em outta there anyhow. I think he’s got a snitch in the department,” Penney continued.
Rachel tried to string together the logic of the woman’s statements. A snitch in the department? She wondered who it could be. She just had lunch with the police union the other day. One of them was probably Max’s informant.
Illegal gambling? Girls… prostitutes? She tried to hide her expressions, but she had to wonder if anyone else in the family knew about the prostitution, particularly Dennis. Her brother-in-law told her time-and-time again he was the family accountant because he’d been demoted from the drug running and illegal arms sales because he “pissed off the old man.” Rachel was aware the Racket organization was multi-faceted but she hadn’t realized the club across town was anything special. If anyone knew about the comings and goings on there, she suspected Dennis would, and she felt her heart sink into a pit of despair. She couldn’t imagine the man condoning prostitution. The thought made her sick. Rachel forced her attention back to Penney.
“He asked me to meet ’em one day outside and so I did…” Penney said. “That was last summer ago. He told me he’d seen me dance and he liked my looks. He came onto me strong, and man, did he pour on the charm or what? I knew he was married and all but I liked the attention. He booked us a room at a hotel, a fancy one too, and he waited on me hand-and-foot. I mean, I got the works… breakfasts in bed, full spa services, fancy clothes and jewelry and stuff… I asked ’em once about his wife catching us and he said the old bat wouldn’t bother prying. Made me think he got away with this stuff before, but I didn’t care. Thought I was the luckiest girl in the world.”
“He took me to Championne… and I saw that tower with my own eyes,” Penney’s eyes widened for effect. “And he took me on business trips with him whenever he’d go up and down the coast. He actually treated me well for a long time, but then the bouts of anger came… I think he was pissed because of that nephew of his meddling in the family biz. He told me he never forgave him for what he did… getting him thrown in prison and all…”
“When we was in Al Simhara, he beat me so hard that I didn’t think I’d ever walk again. He would always apologize later and tell me he was just frustrated with work and didn’t mean to take it out on me. He bought me flowers and those little candies I like and some new shoes,” she shrugged. “Guess he thought that would make up for beating the crap outta me.”
“I have a boyfriend. He doesn’t know about Max,” Penney admitted. “We got engaged just last week. I knew I needed to break things off with Max, but I wasn’t sure how. When I told him I had something important to tell him, he said he booked out an entire bed and breakfast for us. I went like the stupid woman I am…”
“…I told him about Clark, and fully expected to get beat up… I was even worried he’d kill me. But he took it surprisingly well. He asked me if he could sketch me nude… said it’d be a wedding present. I thought it was odd… but what the hell right?”
“We had some champagne. I acted a bit silly with my posing. I remember feeling a bit ill afterwards and asked if we could lie down…”
“One thing led to another, and I’m fuzzy on details but apparently we had one final romp of fun in the sheets,” Penney made a disgusted face. “I did things to that man I’ve never done before,” she shuddered. “And the worst part of it is when I woke in the morning, Max showed me a tape of the whole thing. Said ‘you’re mine now and always will be.’ Threatened to show Clark the tape if I didn’t stay with him.”
Penney was crying again. “I feel so dirty and ashamed… and used..” she blew her nose into a tissue. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sure he drugged me that last night together, but the times before that… I don’t know… I just don’t know…” she wailed.
“Have you considered going to the police?” Rachel tried to stay neutral in her tone.
“Are you kidding me?” Penney scoffed. “He’s got people working for him in the department. I’d be dead… or probably sold as a hooker in the family biz. That’s why I came to you.”
“What can I do?” Rachel puzzled.
“You’re a straight honest citizen as far as anyone knows. You’re the only Racket that’s halfway decent…” Penney started. “And you’re the mayor… and you’ve got power.”
“Penney, I want to help you, but I don’t know how…” Rachel protested.
“I’ve got numbers… numbers from the books… suspicious ones… and I know you’ve got connections… connections with people outside of town… who can take down the Racket operations once and for all.”
Rachel stayed silent, contemplating what she had heard. The thought had crossed her mind before, but she never could get enough evidence. From her days with Dorthemeir, she had met a few state police officers. She had been approached about spying on her extended family before. This might be the perfect opportunity to take someone up on it.
“I couldn’t do anything without access to the books,” Rachel said cautiously as she didn’t want to get the woman’s hopes up.
“That’s okay,” Penney leaned forward excitedly. “I think I know a way in. Max has been talking about his money to me a lot recently. He said he wants to rewrite his will to include some and take others out.”
“And he has mentioned you on several occasions… well… saying stuff about how he thinks your political connections could go a long way in helping him reestablish control of the Racket operations since his nephew… Russ… is it?… is currently running most of the family biz.”
“I still don’t see how this gets me access to the books,” Rachel replied.
“He wants to write a new will…” Penney said slowly. “…he wants to include new people… and take out others… I’m going to assume he means you and your daughter.”
Rachel frowned. She didn’t like the idea of leveraging Hope to that evil man.
“So if he’s writing a new will, and if he’s including you and your daughter, and if he’s looking for a new attorney… and you with your legal experience and all… you could help ’em.”
“Who says he’s looking for a new attorney?”
“His old one got thrown in jail and was shanked.”
Rachel pondered Penney’s line of thinking. With some refinements, her plan might actually work, if Rachel was careful. She had already previously considered helping the state police shut down the Racket operations, but she had never gone through with it because she was pretty much kept on the outside of operations. Max was a careful man, and Russ was even more so from what she had heard. If she had an opportunity to eliminate the biggest threat to her daughter’s future, and her niece and nephew too, she might just have to take it. Her own future might be in jeopardy also… politically and personally. If she could get Max and Russ taken down, she could save a lot of people, and it would be an excellent career move. She would just need to proceed with extreme caution and lots of preparation.
“I’ll do it.”