J. David Bethel has been published in popular consumer magazines and in respected political journals. For a selection of his current e-publications, please visit Evil Town, which is available on Amazon Kindle or Barnes & NobleNook. For the next few weeks Baltimore Post-Examiner will publish a few chapters of this page-turner book Evil Town. © 2012. Check what people say about it on Facebook. You won’t put this book down. Guaranteed. Read more chapters here.
Evil Town Summary:
The wife of popular Florida Congressman (and prospective Senatorial candidate) Clegg Caffery is murdered. FBI Special Agent Matt Thurston begins an investigation that leads him from the Pentagon to the small town of Clewiston, Florida in search of a photographer responsible for the photo found in the murdered woman’s hand. He arrives too late. The man has committed suicide. Although Thurston uncovers a strange and suspicious story about the dead photographer that he believes is worthy of continued investigation, he is abruptly steered away from the case by his superiors.
Angered by this turn of events, Thurston enlists the assistance of two reporters. With their involvement, he begins to peel away layers of lies and deceit hiding the truth about the murder. Along the way, Thurston slowly unravels a complex weave of story lines that includes a sex for hire plot involving the president’s wife; an attempt by computer magnate Norman Bremen to subvert the workings of Congress to ensure the survival of his sugar interests in Florida; and the revelation of a cover-up of a war crime in Vietnam that threatens the presidency.
Although Evil Town is a work of fiction, it is based on historical and current events. The Vietnam element of the plot delves into the massacre of Vietnamese villagers at Co Luy. This occurred on the same day as the My Lai killings and happened as described in the novel. The military and political cover-up of the incident detailed in Evil Town is an interpretation of actual events that relegated Co Luy to the back pages of history.
The description of the political maneuvering related to the restoration of the Everglades, and to the “sugar wars” in Florida, is a dramatization of the intrigue currently being played out by power brokers, the media and Congress on this issue.
While it should come as no surprise that the drug war can be managed and waged for political purposes – a subplot in Evil Town – it is the subtleties of international politics that often allow this to happen. The novel provides insight on how this is possible.
Through it all, Matt Thurston and his allies match wits with the most powerful in Washington putting themselves in harm’s way. Truth, honor and justice are slippery concepts in this story of politics and fragile human relationships.
This is a town that is full of evil people.
Attributed to former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by Bob Woodward)
Joanna Caffery towered over the small, thin, pinch-faced woman.
“I’m Moira Reynolds, Mr. Bremen’s executive assistant,” the woman chirped, and extended a limp hand. “Mr. Bremen is in a meeting that’s running a little long. He asked me to show you to his office.”
Joanna was led from the plush reception area of the executive suite perched 30 floors above Rosslyn, Virginia atop the Bremen Enterprises Building. She followed Moira Reynolds down an oak-paneled corridor, past a number of offices and an open conference room. At the end of the hall, her guide stood aside, pushed open an ornately carved door and pointed into a spacious office.
“Please make yourself comfortable,” Moira Reynolds said with a tight smile, trying not to be obvious as she considered Joanna’s statuesque figure. She gestured toward an upholstered wing-back chair fronting a large rosewood desk at the far end of the office. “Mr. Bremen shouldn’t be much longer.”
Joanna nodded and stepped through the door, which was pulled closed behind her. She walked to a bank of windows and looked across the Potomac River at the pillared Kennedy Center. The marble walls were gleaming in bright spotlights warding off the dark of approaching dusk. To her left the lushly treed Roosevelt Island was awash in the red, gold and yellows of fall. Her eyes shifted across Constitution Avenue to the grassed Mall extending from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol. Joanna shook her head. Washington was a beautiful city. For that–and only that–she would miss it.
Joanna sat down where she had been directed and faced a wall covered with photographs of Norman Bremen sharing conversation and handshakes with Washington’s most powerful politicians and image-makers. Starting from her left and working to the right, she tested herself. Bremen with President Ralph Warren. Bremen with Senator Will Dawkins. Bremen with Speaker of the House Neville Geiger. The publisher of the Washington Herald was there, along with media celebrities whose names escaped Joanna. The men from the cable and network news programs with their photogenic profiles, and the women with their perfect hair. She could see from the body language and the syrupy solicitous smiles of those in the photographs that they were grateful for the time with Bremen.
A floor-to-ceiling bookcase was built into the wall opposite the windows. Twentieth century American authors were well represented by Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. A collection of Twain classics took up most of one row. The polished leather bindings on all the volumes suggested first editions.
Joanna shifted in her chair. She wasn’t looking forward to this meeting. The news was not good. When Richard Brooks, a principal partner in the Kupperman and Brooks management consulting firm, surprised Joanna by assigning her the briefing duties on the Bremen project, he explained that as the team leader she was the logical choice for this task. This departed from common company practice which had Ted Kupperman and Brooks closing every project. Brooks sweetened the assignment by dropping the word “partnership,” and mentioned the value of meeting the clients. Joanna suspected that, despite the sweetener, she was taking the first hit that comes when delivering bad news to a valued client.
She had tried to get a fix on Norman Bremen before their meeting. She worked with his people for months, but never met the man. Brooks was vague about what to expect, and when Joanna asked Clegg about Bremen she was surprised to discover that her husband had never met him. She thought their paths would have crossed somewhere along the political circuit, especially since Florida’s 14th Congressional District, which Clegg represented, abutted the 16th, where the Bremen family-owned American Sugar Company was located.
“I am very sorry to have kept you waiting, Mrs. Caffery,” a deep voice called from behind Joanna’s chair. Before she could turn, Norman Bremen was at her side, bending at the waist and offering his hand.
“No need to apologize,” Joanna replied as Bremen cupped her hand gently in both of his. “I amused myself admiring your view and your books.”
Norman Bremen straightened to his six foot four height and inspected the bookcase as he walked around the side of his desk. A slim man, he moved gracefully.
“I am quite proud of that collection, actually. I have spent many hours sitting in auction houses, primarily in London and Tokyo, if you can believe that, bidding on those.” He sat and regarded Joanna speculatively. “I believe American treasures belong in America.”
“Admirable,” Joanna responded politely, glancing again at the books and considering that Bremen could afford to be a savior of national treasures. He had multiplied the family sugar fortune many times over by devising a computer program that captured the requirements of all government contracts, transforming the jargon into user friendly language, and marketed the product to every federal department and agency in Washington.
A smile stretched Bremen’s lips into a thin line as he held his gaze on Joanna. A prominent jaw and graying hair framed his strong features.
“So I understand you are not at all happy with what you have discovered during your audit of some of our dealings with Uncle Sam,” Bremen said as he canted back in his chair.
Joanna tried to pinpoint the clipped accent in Bremen’s speech as she wondered how much information Brooks had shared.
“I’ve found a number of irregularities,” she answered confidently, determined not to show any hesitation in the delivery of bad news. “Mr. Brooks….”
“Richard,” Bremen clarified.
“Yes, Richard,” Joanna acknowledged, wondering if this reference was intended to remind her where she stood in the pecking order. “Mr. Brooks” to her. “Richard” to Bremen.
And she decided that Bremen’s speech was not so much accented as it was labored. Self-inflicted, she guessed, during years at boarding schools. Perhaps Choate or Andover, and then the Ivy League. Joanna eyed the vanity wall behind Bremen. Sure enough a diploma from Brown was positioned in an outer ring, tucked amongst a number of honorary degrees and plaques acknowledging Bremen’s membership in a host of charitable organizations.
“Richard asked me to fill you in on our findings,” she continued. “I wasn’t aware that he had discussed any of this with you.”
Bremen placed his hand on top of a black loose leaf binder that rested in the middle of his desk. “He sent this over and called to say that you would be briefing me. I have read your executive summary and skimmed a few sections of the report. Nothing more.”
Joanna sat forward, sliding her elbows up the armrests of the chair. “You asked for an audit of your government contracts to find out how close you’re operating to the margin. The first thing I did was examine how many man hours you’re putting into the operation to determine costs versus receivables for services. Mr. Bremen, in the course of my survey I found no evidence that the services are being delivered as the contracts prescribe. But you have received substantial payments.”
Bremen steepled his fingers under his chin. “Curious,” he said calmly. “I wonder why we have not heard from the client?” The question clearly rhetorical.
“Well, we are talking about the government here. It’s taxpayers’ money. If your client had been in the private sector, my guess is that the problem would have been picked up immediately.”
Bremen smiled knowingly.
“Let’s take your contract with the Commerce Department. Bremen Enterprises was asked to provide expert advice and consul to the Advanced Technology Program.”
“A somewhat different venture for us. The program has something to do with technology and small business. Am I right?”
“Yes. ATP provides seed money to small companies to promote economic growth of hi-tech businesses. Your company was called in,” Joanna checked her notes, “three years ago to advise on which companies were the soundest risks for limited federal funding.”
“It is coming back to me. Commerce wanted to pick our brains…get our best judgment on what we foresaw as the prospects for some of the companies. Machine tools, biotechnology and optics.” Bremen paused, then added. “But you say we didn’t do the work.”
“I could find no evidence that you did, but you have been paid $4.7 million.”
Bremen spread his hands in question. “And we have received no questions from Commerce?”
“Four point seven million is a relatively small sum for a program that has spent billions,” Joanna noted. “Even smaller when you consider that the bill was then parceled out to a number of other agencies that are involved in different aspects of the program. Between the relatively small amount of money that came out of the various budgets in these agencies, and the fact that we’re talking about billings filtering through layers and layers of huge bureaucracies, I’d say your invoice was paid without much double-checking.”
“But you were diligent and identified the problem.”
“Better us than the Inspector General’s Office at one of the agencies, and better now than later. You have an opportunity to clean this up, rectify the situation and make good on the contracts.”
Bremen drummed his fingers on the cover of the binder. “As I said, this is a new venture for us. We were an obvious source of information for a government agency woefully understaffed, and also terribly undereducated about the latest in technological advances.”
“I’m sure you’ll be able to straighten things out now that the problem has been spotted.”
“If I am not mistaken, your report suggests that K and B share its findings with the Justice Department,” he said thoughtfully.
“I don’t think we have a choice. If K and B doesn’t, we’re courting trouble. We would do this, of course, in conjunction with your efforts to make good on the situation. In that scenario, I’m sure DoJ would work cooperatively with you.”
“There is another option, of course. We could say nothing and continue to take advantage of massive bureaucratic inefficiency.”
Joanna let a beat pass, considering Bremen’s response to be certain she hadn’t misheard. She prepared herself for the possibility that he might react with disbelief, or even refuse to accept what he was hearing, and demand more information. She had also considered that he might erupt angrily, understandable given the news she was delivering. But she was not prepared for this reaction.
Bremen smiled at her evident surprise. “Indulge me, Mrs. Caffery.” He rose from his chair and walked to the line of windows which revealed a now darkened Capital City twinkling with street lights, the bridges to Virginia awash in headlights as the government town emptied for the day.
“Do you think those people scurrying from their boxy, little offices in those huge, ugly buildings really want to be brought this information?” He turned toward Joanna. “Then they would have to do something about it. Their comfortably routine days would be thrown completely out of whack. Worse still, suppose the politicians got wind of this? Oh, for some on Capitol Hill there might be political benefit in exposing it. But in today’s political climate, it would probably be interpreted as additional evidence of their lack of responsible stewardship over the taxpayers’ money.”
Bremen returned to his desk. “And it would be terrific fodder for those who will be running against the incumbents. What do you think your husband would advise?” he asked as he sat down.
Joanna stiffened. “My husband would be among the first to want this reported and made good.”
“You really think so?” Bremen paused as if gathering his thoughts. “This might surprise you, but I fully expected you to discover these irregularities. I even hoped for this result.”
“What are you…?”
Bremen held up his hand imperiously. “Let me continue and all the pieces will fall into place. I needed you,” he arched his eyebrows and nodded toward Joanna, “to find the irregularities. I specifically asked Richard and Ted to put you in charge of this audit.”
Joanna tried to respond but couldn’t find the words.
Bremen made a show of consulting his watch. “Almost six. Senator Dawkins will be calling your husband shortly to restate the importance of his running for the open Senate seat in Florida.” He pulled his cuff over his wrist. “I’m sure you two have discussed the other conversations the Senator has had with your husband.”
“On occasion,” she replied cautiously, only having to go back to the previous evening for this recollection.
“You are being too modest. I know your husband leans heavily on you for advice. Therefore, it is important for you to know that we need a man of his integrity in office, which gets back to your contention that he would be the first one to want any irregularities reported. His credentials are impeccable and there is much he and I could do together to keep our state and country prospering. I just need to make sure that you and your husband share my vision.” Bremen leaned forward in his chair. “I understand from Senator Dawkins that you find Washington tiresome.”
Joanna’s eyes widened.
“Ah, I see the light is dawning, Mrs. Caffery. I need your help as an influential adviser to your husband. I need you to advise him to make that run for the Senate.”
“The light isn’t dawning. What the hell is going on here?”
“We have mutual interests, you and I.”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about.” Joanna stood. “And we don’t have mutual anything. My findings will be reported to the proper people at the Department of Justice.”
“By whom? You?”
“By the company, of course, with me acting as its agent.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Bremen said, pointing Joanna back to the chair. She remained standing. “Richard and Ted understand they would gain little taking that approach. Bremen Enterprises is an important client for K and B. The important client.” Again, the arched eyebrow and slight nod. “Problems for us would spell very serious problems for your firm. Neither Richard nor Ted would want to lose my business, and I would be forced to look for another firm if K and B acted against my interests.”
“They know about all of this?”
Bremen shrugged. “Specifically, no. But they understand the value of keeping a client happy. We have reached understandings in the past. I assured them that you and I could work together. Now, please, give me five more minutes to clarify the situation. You seem confused and this is very important to you.” His blue-gray eyes were flat, cold, and when he pointed to the chair again, Joanna found herself sitting.
“I have always admired the strict code of confidentiality that is respected by your firm.” Bremen lifted the binder off his desk. “Only two copies of the report exist. Mine and the final one you gave to Richard.”
“And yours, of course. Pardon me. I should have said two other copies of the report.”
Joanna could feel herself trembling with anger and fear. She gripped her hands tightly in her lap.
Bremen placed his forearms on his desk. “If you decide not to help us steer your husband in the right direction, I will instruct my own lawyers to take this report to the Justice Department. An option you yourself proposed, only with a slight twist. They will make a show of mea culpas and negotiate the appropriate fines. Those should prove light considering my willingness to make amends. Lighter still when we reveal that you had plans to extort the company for a rather large sum of money in exchange for hiding your findings.”
Joanna shot forward in the chair. “That’s crazy. You’ve got nothing to prove that.”
“I’ve got Richard and Ted,” Bremen replied calmly.
“They’ll never….” The words caught in her throat.
“As I said, we have worked well together in the past.”
“And this is about me getting Clegg to run?”
“Your role does not even have to be that overt, Mrs. Caffery. Presently you are standing in his way. Simply withdraw your objections to remaining in Washington and my guess is your husband will gladly take the plunge.”
Joanna straightened in her chair. “There are a lot of reasons Clegg and I have discussed for not running. But we…he sure as hell wouldn’t be intimidated into it because of some lame blackmail attempt by you. I’m going to take what I know to Justice.”
“Unfortunate. I was so hoping to reach an amicable understanding with you, but every good plan has a fail-safe mechanism. I hate to bring something else into play now. In fact, it was going to be my bridge of understanding with your husband once he was sitting in the Senate. But what the hell, it has a long shelf life.” Bremen jutted his chin forward. “Ask your husband about Co Luy.”
“C-o L-u-y. It is a small hamlet in Vietnam. Your husband spent some time there during the war. I am sure he will recognize the name.”
Joanna stood and walked to the door, where she turned. “I would have expected a more subtle approach.”
“Would that have worked?”
“Of course not, but you’ve proved to be nothing but a common thief.” She opened the door and started through, turned again and pointed at the wall behind Norman Bremen. “You’re going to need every one of those friends by the time I’m finished with you.”
As the door closed, Bremen pushed himself away from his desk and walked to the bookcase. He dragged his hand along the bindings of a row of books as he paced, then pressed against one of the shelves, which swung open revealing a wall safe. He twirled the combination lock and the door released. Bremen lifted out a manila envelope and returned to his desk, where he pressed the intercom button on his phone. “Moira, please ask Mr. Squier to step in here, will you?”
As Bremen sat down in his chair and swiveled it toward the windows, a large, thick man entered the office. He carried himself with authority and stopped next to the chair where Joanna had been sitting.
“Mr. Squier?” Bremen’s voice was strained, his eyes focused on the darkness outside. “I think it would be a good idea for you to pay Mrs. Clegg Caffery a visit at home this evening. She should be headed there now and will be alone. You will not be interrupted. The House has an extended session tonight.”
Bremen swiveled in his chair and extended the manila envelope toward Squier. “There are some photographs in here. Ask her to review them, please.”
“No, please bring the photographs back with you,” he said, only then releasing the envelope.
Bremen added, “She will have a black binder like this one.” He indicated the one on his desk. “Bring that back with you as well.”