Hush Money(3)

By: T. E. Woods


“What exactly would you have me do with our homeless, Melanie?”

She shoved a still-damp tress of red hair behind her shoulder and shrugged. “I’ve always been a fan of the simplest approach. While I can’t support the kind of funding your centers represent, I’m sure I could get the council to approve relocation expenses. It’s in their best interests, after all. Summer’s coming. It would break my heart to see those folks swelter through another hot Madison summer. Not to mention another frigid winter. Sending them to a place with a more temperate climate gives us a win-win situation.”

“Relocate? All of them?”

“Don’t be dramatic, Roger. There couldn’t be more than a few dozen. As I said, I’m confident I could get the council to approve the expense.”

“How about bus tickets, Melanie? Let’s buy each and every damn one of them tickets to Florida. That temperate enough for you?”

“Frankly, I don’t care where the tickets take them. So long as it’s one way.”

She didn’t look like a woman who was joking.

“Fund those centers, Melanie.”

“It’s not happening. You’re mayor, not king.”

Roger felt bile rise in his throat. The next gubernatorial election was thirty-one months away. He needed to build a statewide reputation as a man who could govern all of Wisconsin. These centers would be his launching pad. He’d put in too much effort and time to let some rookie politico stand in his way of taking the governor’s oath of office.

No matter how hot she might be.

He opened his top desk drawer, pulled out a thick folder, and slid it across his desk.

“What’s this?” Melanie asked.

“Open it.” He leaned back and kept his eyes on her face. He didn’t want to miss the instant she understood who was the puppet and who pulled the strings.

Casually she flipped through the early pages. Her pace slowed when she came to the first eight-by-ten glossy. The blood drained from her face when she saw the second. Her hands shook when she picked up the copied bank records. She set them aside and held up a thumb drive.

“What’s this?”

“Video. With full audio, too. You’d be surprised at the fidelity of the sound. You look great in the close-ups, by the way.” He nodded toward his computer. “Wanna take a look?”

She dropped the thumb drive back into the file. “Who’s seen these?”

“Just me. Different people supplied me with the various pieces, but I’m the only one who’s seen the…shall we say…fully assembled file.”

“You’re blackmailing me?”

“Blackmail? Should we get the FBI involved to see if that’s the word they’d use? Or would it be better to go straight to the papers?” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his massive cherry desk. “And by all means, let’s send a package to Daddy and Mum.”

Melanie shoved the file back across the desk. She stood. Her posture was less imperious than when she’d entered his office. She picked up her raincoat and said nothing as she headed for the door.

“Next council meeting, Melanie,” Roger called out. “I want those projects funded. It doesn’t need to be a unanimous vote of support. An overwhelming majority will do.”





Chapter 3


NOW

Sydney Richardson fought the urge to run panicked into the street when she glanced at her watch. Four-thirty. She looked out the glass facade of Hush Money, the restaurant she and her team had spent the last eighteen months perfecting, and saw nothing but the foot traffic typical of a late afternoon on this first Friday in June. Buses, cars, and bicycles rolled by. The State Capitol building rose from manicured lawns across Mifflin Street. Not one person stood under the portico protecting the heavy bronze-and-glass doors to her establishment.

No one’s coming, she realized. Over three hundred thousand dollars invested in this place and it’s already a flop. She looked at her watch again. 4:32. Twenty-eight minutes before Hush Money’s official first night of business. What the hell was I thinking? I should have insisted on reservations. But no, I had to have our first night open. More party than dining. A festive birthing for Madison’s latest eatery. Great idea, huh, Syd?