Please note well: In case you were wondering, even though November is over, I will be publishing the rest of this book here, section by section. But if you can’t wait to see how it ends, you can order this book in hard copy, and the link for that is here. In addition, audio chapters are being recorded and released on the new Canon App.
Jill stood behind the long wooden table, and looked across the intervening space to the even longer raised and curved bench, where all the congressmen would soon be sitting. About twelve photographers were seated on the floor in between. Their cameras always reminded Jill of short, black bazookas. Or maybe potato guns.
She swallowed, and was surprised at how dry her mouth had suddenly gotten. Jill had been in hundreds of these hearings, and was struck at how different it felt when you were going to testify, as opposed to what she usually did, which was hand Sen. Hart notes that had suggested questions for the witness. Now she was the witness. She was the one who was going to be grilled.
This whole thing was a joke. Some kind of rumor must have gotten around the climate change rank-and-file that something bad for their cause was circulating and was loose out there. They were not sure when it was going to drop, but when it did, it would be real trouble for every last pure thought on their agenda, and so, returning to their standard playbook, they decided that the best defense was a good offense. This had resulted in them opening an investigation of Larry Locke’s Ecosense, which was actually something they had been wanting to do for a while anyway. It was their understanding that money was absolutely flowing down there, and to causes they thoroughly disapproved of. They always disapproved of money flowing anywhere but through them. Money in politics was not necessarily corrupting. However, other people’s money in other people’s causes was most definitely corrupting, and was a corruption not to be tolerated.
Jill turned around, and was grateful to see Larry seated in the back row. He liked sitting in back rows. That way he wouldn’t block anyone’s view, and he could also be more or less unobtrusive, as much as it was possible for him to be unobtrusive. Larry was scheduled to testify tomorrow. The whole thing had been sloppily arranged by those who had arranged the hearing, but they had still had enough sense to put Larry later, and yes, their enterprise was a total fishing expedition. They had nothing, but just wanted to grandstand for the cameras in an effort to dominate the current news cycle, and if it slopped over into the next news cycle, perhaps they would be in a position to shout down whatever it was that was coming. And what was coming? Whatever that nebulous rumor was, it sounded like a bad hit for their movement.
She heard some bustling behind her, and turned to see a row of congressmen coming in, tailed by their aides and other Capitol Hill riff raff. She took her place by her chair and prepared to be sworn in.
The lead congressman on the investigation for the Democrats was an odious little man named Harrison Cramond-Ross. His name made it sound like he was a true Ivy Leaguer, and he had a button-down shirt that looked like it, and he was representing a district in Connecticut, which made things even more suspicious, but all of that was veneer work—oak veneer on particle board. He had come from a blue-collar family, and had gotten his education, such as it was, from Ball State, and then he fought his way up through the Teamsters. His little simian nose meant that some of his fights had gotten a little personal, in that his adversaries would taunt him about it. But they were all very sorry now, either that or dead. His name at that time had been a bit more pedestrian—Dwayne Dawkins it had been. He changed his name two years before his first congressional run, which was unsuccessful, and every run since, all six of which had been successful. He was an ugly little man, and dapper, and what he didn’t know about dirty politics wasn’t worth knowing. He looked like a civilized man, but if you looked straight in his brown eyes, you could see the sewage pumps. On a bad day you could smell them.
“Do you happen to know Larry Locke, the director of Eco- sense?” Harrison Cramond-Ross asked Jill.
“Um, yes sir, I do.”
“And in what capacity do you know him?”
Jill knew the congressman’s ways, and knew that he was going to ask something that was out of line or over the line, and that he would draw a rebuke from the chair. But rebukes from the chair did not have the capacity to unring the bell, and so whatever it was that was said was still going to be out there, poisoning the well. She had resolved that morning in the shower that she would not let him do that to her.
“Would you say that you were his girlfriend?”
There was some shouting from the far end of the bench. “Mr. Chairman! This is outrageous! And we are not even five minutes into the hearing! What is this?”
Jill signaled to the chair. “I don’t mind answering the question.”
“Go ahead,” he said. He was a kindly one, Rep. Jasper Compton, an elderly gent from Tennessee, and who looked a lot like Col. Sanders, some of which was actually on purpose.
“These things are hard to quantify, and I am not sure what legal definition you are using, sir. We have dated a couple of times, but he hasn’t kissed me yet. So maybe you could tell me what that is. It could be quite a help to me personally.”
The gallery laughed, and Harrison squirmed in his seat. He was not the kind of person who was happy whenever anybody else was happy. The laughter in the room unsettled him, and made him feel things he did not want to feel.
When the laughter finally subsided, Larry was standing up in his back row. “Hasn’t kissed her yet,” he said loudly, and the room erupted in laughter again.
Jill should have blushed, but didn’t, and Harrison had no need of blushing, but inexplicably flushed red anyway, which was totally unnecessary. But his color was more a function of not liking it when others were enjoying themselves, and also not liking the sensation that he was no longer in complete control of the questioning.
“Order, order,” the chairman said, tapping the gavel lightly. He had enjoyed the joke as much as anyone.
“As you have visited with your, um, friend, has there been any reason for you to think that Ecosense was funneling money to activist groups?”
Jill nodded her head. “Well, we haven’t ever talked about it, but I did know that this is something they do. I mean, it is in just about all of their brochures. But if you are asking about any of the internal workings of Ecosense, I can save you a great deal of time. I know nothing whatever at all. I am a nullity as far as all of their operations are concerned.”
Huh, Larry thought. She speaks the truth. But this will be true only for a limited time. A time is coming when Mrs. Locke will drop by and all the staffers will scramble, some to get her coffee, others to get her some water, and others to find her a chair. I will insist upon it.
The rest of the questioning was perfunctory. Harrison Cramond-Ross had wheeled in his huge well-drilling rig, and now, as a result of his morning of industry, he now had himself his first dry hole. The rest of the day was filled up with other lower-level types—one book-keeper, one marketing guy, and two grant-fulfillment executives. All in all, it was a duddy afternoon, made a little festive in the late afternoon when the chair allowed for the video that Trevor had made about that earnest professor of revolution to be premiered. That caused something of a sensation, but it also caused the ecochondriacs to drop their guard. They thought that it was the supposed big problem they had been all worried about, and they knew they could brazen that kind of thing out.
The fireworks were reserved for the following day, when Larry took his oath in order to be able to tell them what he thought. The fireworks happened because he took full advantage of the opportunity to tell them what he thought. But in addition to the fireworks, there was one genuine scare, at least as far as Jill was concerned. And as things unfolded, the scare was the first thing on the agenda.
He did the same thing that Jill had done, and stood by his chair until it was time to be sworn in. Jill, unlike Larry, had sought out a place in the front row. She really wanted to watch, and to watch from up close. She knew how smart he was, having read his book. And she was starting to get some inkling of how quick he was from the handful of conversations that she had had with him. But she wanted to watch him closely under some respectable social pressure. She knew he did fine with criminals and thugs.
The only problem was that he didn’t appear to be acting like he was under pressure at all. He appeared to leaning forward slightly, like a race horse waiting for the gate to clatter open. She imagined a thought bubble over his head for him. When is this thing going to start?
The same bustle that happened the day before happened again, and the file of important people commenced. The people in the gallery began to settle in their seats, after doing their obligatory double take over Larry’s bulk. Larry turned around and faced the front of the room, prepared to raise his right hand and take his oath. That happened, and then Larry took his seat.
“Mr. Locke,” Harrison Cramond-Ross said with a sneer, “I believe that you wrote an op-ed that appeared in The Wall Street Journal last week?”
“Yes, sir. That is correct,” Larry said.
“Were you aware that we have discovered three sentences in that piece, in the penultimate paragraph, that were lifted without attribution from a German climatology skeptic, a man named Klaus Weber?”
A congressional aide had helpfully set up a tripod with a blown-up foam core poster, one that had Larry’s full column emblazoned on it, and with the three offending sentences high- lighted in yellow.
Jill gasped, and then coughed nervously. Oh no, she thought. Oh no. Good things never last. He’s still a nice man. The best of men are men at best. An anvil had mysteriously appeared deep within her abdomen. Her respect for him didn’t know what to do, having been shot in one wing, and she felt like she was hurtling toward the ground. And when she heard Larry laugh out loud, she had never been so amazed at anything in her life.
When she looked up, she saw Larry swiveled around in his chair, looking over the crowd. He was looking for someone. That someone, as it turned out, was his publisher, Ken Corcharan, whom Larry had seen about ten minutes earlier. He smiled when he saw Ken already heading down the aisle to his table. He turned back around to Cramond-Ross, and said, politely enough, “Would it be possible for my publisher to be sworn in? His testimony should take five minutes or less.”
Cramond-Ross was shaking his head, but the chairman, as I have mentioned, was an affable fellow. “Sure,” he said.
After Ken was sworn in, he took the seat next to Larry, and Jill had perked up considerably. She didn’t know why, but she felt that the winds had somehow turned back in a favorable direction. Her wing felt fine again.
Ken launched into it, without any introduction. “Fifteen years ago, after the Delmar incident—I am sure you guys remember that one—I resolved to never let any of my writers be caught in that position again. Whenever one of my writers does something for any outlet other than mine, I am the one who submits it. That is what I did with Larry’s piece last week. And I have a cyber-safe that all such submissions are copied to at the same time the article is sent to the media outlet. This means that I can prove to anyone’s satisfaction that the submission did not have those three plagiarized sentences in it.”
Harrison Cramond-Ross was caught, but he gamely tried one more twist. “And so how did the sentences get in there?”
“That would be a question for The Wall Street Journal. I would suspect a lowly editor trying to curry favor with the lowlifes of Washington. If you would like to pursue this line of questioning, we can always arrange to call whoever it was as a witness, and we will be able to ask them many awkward questions.”
“That will not be necessary,” Cramond-Ross muttered into a sheaf of papers that he was tapping on the desk in front of him. That observation turned out to be true enough, because Ken was able to turn the attempted plagiarism hit into a full-length article in the monthly newsletter that Aegis put out, and the lowly editor in question was identified in that article, with a photo and everything, and all the awkward questions were asked by his superiors, soon to be his former superiors.
“Will that be all?” Ken asked. Cramond-Ross nodded curtly, and Ken went back to his seat.
By this point Jill had successfully recovered all her aplomb, while Cramond-Ross had recovered almost none of his. But unfortunately for him, he still had a hearing to steer, and so he resorted to what he thought might be a safe question.
“Mr. Locke, could you please summarize for us what you believe the cause of global warming might be?”
“It depends, sir. If you are asking why the globe is warm at all, it is because there is a huge ball of flaming gas in the sky above us . . .”
And Congressman Cramond-Ross coughed, and interrupted him. “Spare us, Mr. Locke. You know every well that this is not the kind of thing I was referring to. What is your understanding of the crisis of climate change?”
Larry answered, and his voice was steady and methodical. “There are layers. First, we don’t know that any significant climate change is occurring at all. Second, we don’t know, if it is in fact occurring, that is a bad thing. It could well be a good thing, or no big deal one way or another. Third, we don’t know, if it is occurring and is bad, that man is in any way contributing to it. Fourth, we don’t know, whether or not we are contributing to it, and if it is bad, whether we have any capacity to halt it or slow it down. Other than that, I have no views on the subject.”
“And you apparently believe, from that answer, that you have the right to donate money to groups that are climate-deniers?” Larry coughed politely. “I am happy to answer the question, but I have to correct something first. Language is important. I have never in my life given any money to any group that denied there was climate.”
“No, I said ‘climate-denier.’”
“And I would wonder in return what a climate denier could possibly be, other than someone who denies there is such a thing as climate.”
“You know what I mean . . .”
“No sir, I do not. I know what you want us to start meaning by it, but I do not know what the thought processes in coming up with such a phrase could possibly be. You apparently want us to think that people who differ with you on the science are the equivalent of Holocaust deniers.”
Harrison decided to drop it. “Go on,” he snarled.
“Yes, we donate money to various groups that are doing the Lord’s work in combating all the regnant eco-nonsense, of the kind we see everywhere.”
Jill briefly wondered how Larry knew so many odd words that were still short. Regnant?
“And so you acknowledge that you are fighting those who want to save the planet?”
“I acknowledge that I am fighting those who like to pretend to themselves that they are saving the planet. But you don’t save a planet—that doesn’t even need saving in the first place—by convincing hotel chains to try to get out of washing your towels every day. And showing the guests a little cardboard picture of a cute koala, the one that your unwashed towel will somehow mysteriously save.”
Harrison, for all his faults, actually believed that climate change was happening, and so he flushed red. “Everyone needs to do their part,” he said.
“The way you do?” Larry’s eyebrows went up. “Tell me, sir, how many times have you flown on a private jet to Davos, in order to talk with all the swells there about climate change?”
Larry knew you should never ask a question like that unless you already knew the answer yourself. In this case, it was seven. Harrison sat sullenly, rummaging through his papers like he was looking for a factoid, or a question, or something. Larry’s question remained sort of out there, hanging in the air. So Larry resumed.
“The answer to my most reasonable question is seven. You have flown to Davos seven times on your lame crusade to save the planet. Perhaps you have heard about the Hummer that I keep constantly running outside our headquarters? If not, you should have heard about it. Do you happen to know how many years I would have to run that thing in order to burn up as much fuel as one of your gallivanting trips does? The answer to that question is about thirteen years, give or take. So multiply that by seven, and you have a side-by-side comparison of our respective carbon belching—you, in your attempts to save us from carbon belching, and me in my modest little efforts to make fun of the whole enterprise.”
The hearing went downhill from there, and all the different news outlets showed completely different snippets of it. In some cases, it was hard to believe they were covering the same event.