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DON'T BET ON IT

 

a novel by

 

Robert S. Swiatek ALLEGATIONS OF AN AFFAIR

With only two weeks to go before the election, Senator Jim Collins was leading his rival, Representative Tom Brown, in presidential polls by 10%. The race had been relatively free of dirt, and that was unusual. Many people thought that there would have been plenty of mud slinging, especially since Brown was known for dirty tactics.

I turned on the television to catch up on the news to find a Kathy Pendleton being interviewed by the media. Her voice was completely drowned out by some kind of machinery in the background and, since I can’t read lips, I didn’t have the slightest notion of what she was saying. Fortunately the interviewer summarized the proceedings and stated that Ms. Pendleton mentioned having had an affair with Senator Collins a few years ago. It was public knowledge that the two had known each other and dated for about a year, but that had been before Collins was married. I figured that this bit of information wouldn't damage the Senator, even if it were true.

I walked into the kitchen to check on the turkey chili and found it just about ready. I sliced some fresh Italian bread and prepared a small salad and opened up the refrigerator to get a bottle of Molson Export Ale.

By the time I returned to the tube with my food, the news was just about over so I changed the station to channel 29 to watch an old episode of Seinfeld. Jerry was recalling his high school days when he beat Duncan Meyer in a sprint. The current day found him in a rematch, proving who was faster. The writers had outdone themselves again.

The chili was as hot as a summer afternoon in Tijuana but the ale helped to put out the fire in my mouth. I finished the salad and brought the dishes back into the kitchen. I would have put them into the dishwasher, but since I am the dishwasher, they would have to wait until later.

I opened the newspaper and read about some of Tom Brown's promises if elected. He wanted a balanced budget within two years and cuts in taxes as well as building up the armed forces. He also talked about making other cuts to help the country. Rumors were about that some of the victims of elimination might be the school lunch program and all forms of welfare. Also in danger was funding for public radio and television and Brown promised to reduce term limits for those in the House and Senate, but only for newly elected individuals. What some people won't say to be president!

On the other hand, Senator Collins mentioned that since most Americans had been forced to endure salary cuts or at least concessions of some sort, it might be a good idea for Congressmen and Senators to bite the bullet by accepting a salary cut. This would set a great example for all. He also added that rushing to eliminate welfare might not be as prudent as properly administering it, and the same could be said about farm subsidies and funding for PBS. Lastly, he suggested a boycott of major league baseball so as to send a message to both management and the players that the fans were getting upset with the greed of both parties.

Tom Brown had mentioned that the public shouldn't trust Collins because of his questionable moral character. He claimed that the senator was a womanizer and that governing the country was very difficult with your pants off. Finally he suggested that the people should listen to what Collins' lady friend Kathy Pendleton was saying about him.

I didn't have a chance to turn the page of the paper when the phone rang.
“Hello!”
“Did I wake you?” It was my accountant and close friend, Tom Daniel.
“That’s OK, I had to get up to answer the phone anyway. How’s everything with you?”
“I’m doing fine. Was your contract renewed?
“I got my notice today. At least they gave me a month to find some work, not like my previous contract.”
“Weren't you happy with a day's notice?”
“Actually it wasn’t even that much time as that contract ended on a moment's notice...and I mean that literally. We were told the contract wouldn't be renewed and ten minutes later we were out of the building, never to return. I went back to my desk before leaving and got my stuff together but I didn’t even get a chance to remove my telephone list, which I should have gotten.”
“What did you want with the phone list?”
“Oh, nothing more than the names and phone numbers of people who might have a connection to future contracts. You can’t have too many contacts in this business. Unfortunately the end came so quickly.”
“You'll be all right, John. I'm sure you'll find something better and soon.”
“I hope you're right.”
“If you want to stop over for a brew, come on over.”
“Thanks, but not tonight. I'm not up to it, Tom.”
“I'll talk to you in a few days. Hang in there!”
“So long.”
Such is the life of a computer consultant. Timing is so important. Once I had three job offers but when you need just one place to work, the jobs aren't there. Fortunately I always save for a rainy day so a short stretch with no checks coming in would not pose too big a problem. I just had to make sure to find something as soon as I could. I turned to the want ads and found a few analyst jobs but they all appeared to be full time work, in which I was not interested. I guess I was going to have to dig out Sunday's classified section. I just didn't feel like bothering tonight.
I spent the next few hours reading the paper and, as I turned the page, I saw an article dealing with the interview of Kathy Pendleton. She mentioned that she was to make a statement tomorrow regarding Senator Collins. She also stated that what she had to say would be damaging to his campaign for president. She said that all the press people would have to wait for further statements and then left with no further comment. Wasn't there a blond named Marilyn in the 60's who had intended to do just this same thing to a politician but her untimely death prevented it?
I turned on the television to see what else was happening and saw that the stock market gained a whopping two points while the NASDAQ lost almost a point. I would have to wait a couple minutes if I wanted to catch up on sports so I figured why not. When the station returned from its commercial messages the lead story was what else but the Bills and their preparations for their archrival Miami Dolphins at Rich Stadium on Sunday. Both teams were almost completely injury free and the game was sold out so there would be TV coverage in Western New York. The next story was on the World Series where game six was still being played in the bottom of the eleventh inning and the score tied at two. I had no plans to switch the channel to watch the remainder of the game so I patiently waited for the end of sports coverage and a few more boring commercials. The weather woman would be on shortly.
I hoped the forecast was better than my day had been. Little did I realize that tomorrow would not turn out much better.
A MURDER IN BALTIMORE

I awoke the next morning somewhat tired. It seemed I got no sleep whatsoever although I probably got a good five hours worth. I shaved and showered and got ready for another day at the bank. I had toast and hot tea for breakfast and put together a quick lunch. With no contract immediately in sight I could see that I was going to have to brown bag it for now. Otherwise the checking account would soon be depleted.

I got to work and things were the same as usual. I finished doing some changes to my program and was ready to resume testing when the phone rang.

“Systems...John Kuzinski.”
“Is your desk still there?”
“Yeah it is, but just barely. I didn't expect to hear

from you so soon, Tom. What's the occasion?”
“Have you read the morning paper?”
“I didn’t have a chance. Why? Is there something of

importance?”
“A certain Kathy Pendleton was found murdered in
her Baltimore townhouse early this morning. Wasn’t this the
day when she was supposed to make a statement to the
media regarding presidential hopeful Jim Collins? Do you
realize what this might do to his campaign?”
“Wow! That just might put Brown in the oval office.
And Collins seemed to be a shoe-in, at least according to the
polls. His political career may be over.”
“Why not stop over tonight for the beer you missed
yesterday? If you want I have an extra steak to throw on the
grill for you.”
“I can't pass that up. See you then.”
I hung up the phone and went back to testing my
program. The day seemed to really drag on. I had plenty of
work and no reason to be anything but busy. Somehow time
stood still or appeared to do so.
Finally it came time to quit and until then I really
believed the day would never come to an end. I drove home
and checked my phone messages. The machine's blinking
indicated someone had left a message but on playback I
heard only an old one. Apparently someone was trying to
sell me something. I changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and
left for Tom's.
It was unusually warm for a Buffalo evening in
October. The sun looked like a pomegranate and I had not
seen a sky like this one in some time.
I drove into his driveway and Tom handed me the
newspaper heading about the murder. I could smell
something out of this world on the grill.
“Hmmm. At this rate I may eat both steaks!” “You better check your nose. The steaks are on the
counter. I forgot to clean the grill from my last cookout. I
thought I'd torture you. Would you care for a beer or some
juice?”
“I’ll have a beer later with the food. So how are
things at the office?”
“Same as usual. I should be getting that promotion
that was promised me.”
I sat down on a deck chair and asked, “Is there
anything new about Kathy Pendleton?”
“I haven't heard much since I talked to you earlier.
But the polls indicate that Brown picked up two points today
alone. At this rate Brown will overcome Collins in less than
a week. What do you know about Pendleton's alleged affair
with Collins?”
“If I’m not mistaken Pendleton dated Collins for
about a year, but that was long before he and his wife Fran
were married. That came out a while ago but there were no
ties after the wedding and certainly no affair that was made
public. Up until two days ago that was the extent of their
relationship and then Pendleton unexpectedly comes out
with the acknowledgement about an affair and something
even more damaging. That news was so fresh that Collins
hadn't even had a chance to refute the claims.”
“Even if it were true that there was an affair, I don't
believe that it would have affected the presidential race,
unless it was still going on. Heck, even if the affair happened
after Collins' marriage a while ago or even just recently, he
could still win the election.”
“I have to agree with you.”
“Let me clean the grill and get those steaks going.
Can you fix the salad?”
“Sure enough. And I'll put on a CD. Any
preferences?”
“You make the selection. Anything you select should
be fine.”
The steaks were coming along nicely and Tom had
put two potatoes in the oven about an hour ago so they
would be ready too. To our delight Candy Dulfer was filling
the night air with her magic sax, accompanied by the Tower
of Powers horns on the song, ‘Funky’.
The strip steaks were sizzling so we sat down to
indulge. The taste was even better than the aroma while they
were on the grill. We didn't let the last two days' events
interrupt our enjoyment of these culinary delights.
Once dinner was over we piled the dishes into the
dishwasher and switched on CNN. The news revealed that
Kathy Pendleton was shot twice with no trace of a struggle
and no murder weapon found. Two empty glasses were found at the scene and they were being checked for fingerprints. There were no signs of a break-in to the townhouse, so it appeared that the murderer knew Ms. Pendleton. The police had no suspects yet but were asking
for any leads in the case.
Senator Collins was interviewed and said he was
shocked to hear of the murder. He sent out his condolences
to her family and friends. He seemed quite shaken by the
death of Kathy Pendleton. He declined any further comment.
After this interview it was time for the latest sports. I had a glass of cranberry juice and Tom and I talked
for a short while and then it was time to leave. The evening
air was sixty degrees and I didn't mind it in the least. I drove
home, undressed and hopped into bed and made up for the
previous night.
COLLINS THE SUSPECT

Two days later NBC broke the news. Fingerprints on one glass found in the townhouse of Kathy Pendleton belonged to her. That wasn't too startling. The fingerprints on the other glass belonged to none other than Senator Collins. Perhaps the affair had not ended until Kathy Pendleton died from a bullet. Maybe the Senator had permanently silenced her. It didn't look good for Collins and that was reflected in the polls, which now showed the candidates about even. Collins had been in the lead for the entire race and now this one tragedy had suddenly propelled Brown ahead.

Ms. Pendleton was a well-established business executive who lived life to the fullest and commanded a sixfigure salary comparable to that of males in the same position. She had been married once but her husband had died of lung cancer five years ago and she remained single after her marriage of ten years. Both she and her spouse had been heavy smokers and that’s probably what had killed him. It did set an example for her as she quit shortly after his death and never resumed the nasty habit.

Meanwhile Collins would not comment on any of the events of the previous two days, saying only that he would hold a press conference that evening. NBC did state that the Senator was campaigning in Baltimore and stayed overnight at a hotel in the city on the evening of the murder.

I finished dinner and washed the dishes and let them air dry. The evening paper didn't shed much light on the Pendleton murder but I noticed a small article that had comments from the wife of Senator Collins. Fran Collins mentioned that her husband had never been unfaithful, and she knew of his past relationship with Kathy Pendleton. As far as she was concerned, there had been no affair as reported by Ms. Pendleton just prior to her death.

The doorbell rang and my friend Tom made an appearance. I let him in and showed him the article with Fran Collins' observations. He read it and mentioned the NBC story of the day.

“I understand that Collins is quite bright, probably not one who would consider going into Kathy Pendleton’s home at this time of the campaign. His schedule doesn’t allow that luxury,” my friend noted.

“You’re right about that! It doesn’t make too much sense for a happily married man to have an affair with Pendleton. Of course, if the affair took place, the admission would not have hurt his chances of being elected, even if he lost a few votes.”

Tom responded, “I don't think I would leave a glass with my fingerprints at the murder scene.”
“I agree. If you were going to kill someone, you certainly wouldn’t have a drink with that person and then leave evidence. You’d probably have someone else do the dirty work. There is no reason for him to be there in the first place?”
“Good observations. And then why didn't Pendleton make her statements initially instead of saying she was going to make a statement soon?”
“And why did she wait until now to come out with these statements?”
“It seems that all these statements would really benefit no one by themselves. Only her murder would help Brown and destroy Collins.”
I interrupted the discussion, “Are you thirsty?”
“A ginger ale would be fine if you have it.”
I poured two glasses of Vernor’s and continued, “Let’s get back to the fingerprints on the glass again. Maybe the senator stopped in to talk to Pendleton, had a drink and then things got ugly, resulting in her murder. I guess that is a remote possibility.”
“Except the shooting indicates that Collins brought a gun to kill her.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense.”
“So the fingerprints on the glass were planted.”
“Most likely. They had to be to make Collins look like the murderer. He was in town at the time. It wouldn't take much to get a glass from his hotel or from his campaign scene with his prints on it,” I retorted.
“So you think Kathy Pendleton was paid off to come out like she did?”
“It looks like it but that somehow doesn't seem to fit.”
“From her status, it is obvious that she hardly needed the money. But then again maybe she had no choice in the matter.”
“It is possible she was forced to do it against her will.”
“That could be but the delay in coming out still puzzles me if that is the case.”
“There’s something else strange that I noticed when Kathy Pendleton was being interviewed. You couldn’t hear her talk over the annoying background noise. Her comments, though sparse, were summarized by the interviewer. Ordinarily you would think that the media would set up an environment somewhat free of this type of clutter.”
“I didn’t notice that but then I didn’t catch her being interviewed.”
I finished my ginger ale and asked Tom if he wanted another or a pale ale. He passed and asked why I didn't acknowledge him downtown earlier today near the library.
“What time was that?”
“About 11:30 or so.”
“That wasn't me. I was at a meeting from ten until almost 12:30, and a boring one at that.”
“Oops, sorry! It certainly looked like you.”
“They say that everyone has a double.”
We sat talking for a while longer and then Tom departed. I turned on the TV and found Michael Keaton and Andie McDowell starring in ‘Multiplicity.’ It was a flick about a construction supervisor who was so caught up in his work that he barely had time for his family let alone himself. He was really running ragged with only twenty-four hours in the day until he alleviated his problem by having himself cloned. Now he could perform his duties at work, have time for being with his wife and kids and even get a chance to play some golf and do some bungee jumping.
The movie was well done and it wasn’t even finished when it came to me. Kathy Pendleton never did say all those things that came out prior to her death, nor was she the one being interviewed by the television reporter. But someone who looked a lot like her did.
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

I awoke the next morning to the realization that I had missed the press conference. I wasn't too concerned because the morning news would have all the highlights anyway. One highlight they wouldn’t have was that someone was posing as business executive Pendleton.

If my theory was right, it explained a good deal of what had transpired over the last few days. It all fit, too. What a devious plan and execution by the Brown campaign! It certainly was doing Collins in and what could he do about it? Even if he could prove his innocence, it would be much too late for this election. Such is the fate of a politician.

The morning summary of the press conference was not very surprising. Senator Collins did not sound like himself when he sent out his condolences to the family and friends of Kathy Pendleton and mentioned that he had no contact with her and certainly no reason to kill her, completely ignoring any implications of an affair with her. He acknowledged being in the city of Baltimore, but said he didn't even know where Pendleton lived. His wife wasn't with him so he couldn't use her as an alibi, but he did have his associates with him that evening for most of the time. They would testify on his behalf if need be.

I turned off the car radio and headed into work. My days there were numbered even though I still had quite a bit to do. My boss, Madalyn, said to take as much overtime as necessary to finish my assignments. She really didn’t care...it wasn’t her money. Actually the consulting firm I worked for, the SLZ Group (an acronym for Simmons, Lawson and Zeller) was only getting paid the same rate as my regular hourly billing so the bank could care less. Unfortunately for the SLZ Group, they had to pay me time and a half for any hours over forty hours and my overtime rate was higher than their billing rate. I’m sure they weren’t too thrilled with all my overtime. And yet they had made enough money from my performance to buy their BMWs and Volvos so why should they complain? After all, they did indeed find me the opportunity, but wasn’t I the one who had to go through the interview and wasn’t I the one who did all the work. They should have no complaints.

I dialed Tom Daniel at work and he answered in his usual happy voice.
“What if someone who resembled Kathy Pendleton passed herself off as Collins’ lover a few days ago? Don’t overlook the wonders of makeup.”
“That is an interesting thought. Even if it could be proven, it probably won’t save Collins’ campaign.”
“I know,” I said.
“Now that you mention it, that explains a lot. All the puzzling questions that we brought up now have answers. Your observation about the so-called Pendleton interview with the background noise indicates that whoever this was may have been a near clone of the real Kathy Pendleton but her voice was not in anyway close to that of the business executive whom she was trying to impersonate. How did you figure this out, anyway?”
“Two events inspired me: your comment about seeing me downtown yesterday and a movie I watched last night called ‘Multiplicity.’ Maybe you’ve seen it.”
“I sure have. It’s a movie about cloning. Oh, I see where you’re coming from. That woman was a look-a-like and the fingerprints on the glass were a setup! She didn’t have to say anything to implicate Collins just as long as it appeared that Collins had her murdered. Killing someone was a lot more serious matter than adultery with that person. What a setup!”
“Even just the possibility that Collins had her eliminated could very well give the presidency to Brown. And that is what we have now.”
“It looks like the senator is finished, unfortunately. So who is this mystery woman, anyway?”
“You got me. Chances are we’ll never find that out. If we do find out, it will be thirty years from now when both Brown and Collins are long gone from the political scene and it won’t make any difference. Where did Brown find this woman?”
“He probably had his henchmen dig deep into Collins background to come up with any dirt they could on the senator. They came across his relationship with Pendleton, but that seemed to be on the up and up. They were completely at a loss for what to do. Then one day some member of the Brown entourage happened to catch a glance of this good-looking woman who had a strong resemblance to Kathy Pendleton. It didn’t take long before they figured why not use this woman to somehow destroy Senator Collins. Before long this devious plot as we now see it was developed.”
“Very ingenuous, indeed.”
“Did you find a new contract yet?”
“No, but I am actively searching. SLZ Group is looking for me too, or so they say. I'm also in contact with two other firms to see what they have.” I would have to cut this conversation short, as the water I had earlier was catching up with me.
“You'll find something, I'm sure. You always have before.”
“I hope it doesn't take too long.”
I was relieved when Tom said, “Well I've got a meeting in two minutes so I have got to go. Talk to you later.”
“Adios.”
I made the necessary trip and returned to my desk to find a report program change on my desk. It didn’t take long. The rest of the day passed fast enough but I had a very restless feeling within. The thought of the murder scenario didn't set well with me. If Brown gets elected and that seemed forthcoming, what would he do while president? I wasn't looking forward to four years with him in the White House.
A RE-UNION

A few weeks later, the gloom set in. Election night came and the race was as close as two newlyweds on their honeymoon night. Brown carried California just barely and Collins had control of New York and Massachusetts. The rest of the country seemed to be a toss-up and it brought to mind the 1960 election when John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon. Rumors then were that the Democrat’s success might have been due to some wheeling and dealing by those who expected some favors from Kennedy. Would that same thing happen here?

I went to bed before the final results were confirmed but it appeared that Brown would be the next president. He was in the lead and I somehow felt that he would make sure that this election would be his or at least his cronies would do so on his behalf. I didn’t like the looks of things.

I awoke and the radio was announcing that Brown had defeated Collins for the presidency by a few electoral votes. I felt quite nauseous and it didn’t help that at the same time my contract at the bank had ended. I had a few interviews and was submitted to quite a few companies, but no one offered me a contract. Luckily my checking account had some funds so I was prepared for the layoff. With a little free time I figured I would call some people whom I hadn't seen in some time. The first was my sister Elaine in New Hampshire. I also planned to call my friend Ed in Maine as well as Father Ted Evans, a Jesuit who taught me computer science back in college a few years ago. Since it was only seven a.m., I figured that I would wait a bit before calling anyone. They were probably all up and out of bed anyway but I made it a habit not to call anyone before nine a.m.

I shaved and showered and then had a small breakfast while catching up on the election details. There was a rumor of some voting improprieties on the part of the Brown campaign. After realizing what happened over the last few weeks, I figured that it was probably more than just hearsay. But I had no way of proving it.

Before too long I decided to try to reach my sister. She answered the phone after three rings so I said, “Hi Lainie. It’s your long lost brother.”

“Well, it’s good to hear your voice. I haven’t heard from you in weeks. Mom said your contract at the bank ended. How are you coping?”

“I’m OK. I’ve had a few interviews but no offers so far. I should be fine with no work for a few weeks. I imagine I should get something soon. How are Mike, Steve and Kim?”

“They’re all fine. The children ask about you all the time. So, when are you coming to visit?”
“I have a fair amount of free time so maybe in the next week or so. Unfortunately I’m at the mercy of the consulting firms, as I have to be available for interviews at a moment's notice. That means that it would probably be closer to the end of the week. I do have an interview set up for next Wednesday, so the earliest I could leave would be later that day. Ideally, I could interview, be offered the contract and have to start in a week or two. That would give me plenty of time to visit. Unfortunately it probably won’t happen that way. But it sure would be nice.”
“We’d love to have you, even for a few days and we don’t need advance notice.”
“Well let me see how this interview goes and as soon as I know I’ll give you a call. You’ll hear from me no later than next Thursday.”
“That will be fine. Talk to you soon.”
“So long. Give my regards to Mike and the kids.” “Bye.”
I decided to try to reach Ed in Maine although I figured he probably wouldn’t be home but at work. I was surprised when he answered the phone.
“Go ahead, it’s your dime.”
“Good morning.