Washington DC has never seen a mayor quite like Wendell P. Watson - coke snorting, contract skimming, Shakespeare quoting, womanizer, who has somehow wielded his power for three consecutive terms, and is working on a fourth. His re-election platform contains many outrageous plans, including a plot to make Washington D.C. the 51st state.
But one night, Watson’s legacy comes undone when he invites Sharon Scott up to his room for a drink. Things go too far, too fast, and after Sharon clobbers Mr. Mayor with an ashtray, he sets his burly security guards on her.
Evelyn Boone has been sent on a secret mission to steal Watson’s paperwork for a major city contract, and accidentally witnesses Sharon’s murder. What started off as a simple assignment turns into an extremely complex situation when she is spotted. Watson orders the guards to kill her too. Evelyn narrowly escapes, and a wild goose chase begins across four states. Evelyn attempts to outsmart Watson’s men in a deadly game of hide and seek, and along the way ends up entangled with the FBI, a hit man, and even a well-known actor.
Very loosely inspired by actual events, debut authors Lee Hurwitz and Tim Treanor have written a darkly hilarious political satire that irreverently dissects a mayor’s misguided nature and ultimate fall from grace.
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About the Author
The authors of CAPITAL CITY, Lee Hurwitz and Tim Treanor, live and work in the Washington, DC area. Lee’s background, serving nearly eleven years in the inner workings of the D.C. City Government during the turbulent Marion Barry years, provided much of the framework for their novel. Lee currently works for the Library of Congress.
Tim Treanor is a trial lawyer for the federal government, and has been active in politics. Tim also has authored and produced a play, and has appeared in over a dozen theatrical productions in the Washington area.
Read an Excerpt
By Lee Hurwitz, Tim Treanor
Astor and Blue LLCCopyright © 2016 Lee Hurwitz, Tim Treanor; House of Stratus
All rights reserved.
Sean O'Brien, who once was a good man, but now was a happy one instead, meditated on his sins. He had fifteen minutes to kill before lunch, so why not?
He had just hired a kid — a product of this year's graduating class, from Howard or UDC or Catholic or somewhere; a history major whose work experience consisted entirely of two years delivering the Washington Post. A nonentity.
O'Brien liked nonentities. This one would fit right in; DC government was stuffed to the gills with people like this kid, clueless as looters in a nuclear waste dump. They were not much use, but they caused little harm. They knew, in their heart of hearts, that they were incapable and so would not disturb the Byzantine rules of the place.
Not like me, O'Brien realized. The mistake that the bureaucrat who hired him made, twenty years ago, was not appreciating the significance of the fact that O'Brien worked his way through college pouring concrete. The job, which O'Brien's union-boss dad had pulled strings to get him, taught O'Brien much about human nature, including the surprising power of hard work. O'Brien had a vague idea that the old bureaucrat had hired him because his muscled six-foot-two body was well suited to industrial-league softball. Now, here he was, a GS15 before he reached forty, sitting at the old bureaucrat's desk. O'Brien would not make the same mistake with this young schmuck, who would be lucky to hold onto the job O'Brien was about to give him.
He had given the new hire — O'Brien realized that if he thought hard he could still remember his name, and resolved not to think hard — a Request for Proposals to look over. "We're buying a new computer system to collect revenues from parking and moving violations that'll generate millions for the city," O'Brien had explained. "Read it over and over again until you dream about it."
Hah! O'Brien walked to the window and looked out at the dismal weather. The new guy would get fifteen thousand per annum, less than a third of his own measly salary, which was a fraction of what he was worth in the open market. Hardly adequate, as his wife reminded him every payday. And yet the kid would be pathetically grateful for his pittance. He had graduated with the rest of the class of 1988 in June. And here he was, more than five months later, still looking for work. O'Brien knew a loser when he saw one, and was happy to toss him into the maw of DC government.
As for the Request for Proposals, it was an eighty-five-page farce, as a sharper reviewer might have discerned. The contract would be wired, one way or another — which reminded O'Brien to get his coat. It was time for his meeting.
It would be at the Maison Blanche, one of Washington's most expensive restaurants. Over a filet mignon, cooked rare the way he liked it, and a couple of drinks, he and his boss, John Stone, would be courted by a favored bidder on the parking-ticket contract. He would sit at the right hand of Stone, who sat at the right hand of Mayor Wendell Watson, Jr., who sat, apparently, at the right hand of God.
Nationally, the Republicans had just elected a President for the fifth time in the last six elections, but in the City of Washington the Republicans were a minor party, no more important than the US Labor Party, and considerably less significant than the DC Statehood gang. This was Wendell Watson's town, and the Shakespeare-quoting Svengali ruled it like God Almighty Himself. His many shenanigans — he had run around on, and through, three wives already, and there were rumors of drug use as well — seemed only to endear him to the voters. Even widespread, and well-documented, allegations of secret deals, kickbacks, bribes, and worse did not prevent him from being elected to a third term three years ago. Now the question was whether Mayor Watson would run again or cash out and become a consultant.
O'Brien shrugged himself into a coat, and then wrapped a scarf around his neck to ward off the bitter cold. When he turned around he saw his new hire was still in his chair, blinking.
Well, nothing was going to spoil his good day. "That's it. We're done," O'Brien said. "I'll see you Monday."
"Mr. O'Brien." The new hire stood up. "I just wanted to thank you ..."
"Thank me with your good work." It was O'Brien's standard phrase.
"I will," the kid promised. "You can count on me." He was clutching the RFP.
O'Brien ushered — shooed would be a better word — the new hire through the reception area and into the hall. "Thanks for coming by," he said. He was running out of things to say.
"You can count on me."
O'Brien smiled, nodded, and turned heel. Thirty seconds later he was in the elevator.
The City of Washington's newest hire watched his new boss's receding back for a while, and then turned in the other direction.
He noticed that a lot of the offices seemed empty. He figured that either there were a lot of vacancies or everybody was on vacation.
He decided to poke his head into one of the offices. It featured a chair and a desk, both empty save for a telephone on the desk. There were two bookshelves, both similarly vacant.
He looked up and down the hall. No one was there. So he went to the desk and opened a drawer. Nothing. He opened the other two drawers. Nothing there, either.
He sat in the chair. Maybe he would get an office like this, or maybe even this office. More likely he'd get a cubicle, though, or a desk in an open floor plan.
He picked up the phone and was surprised to discover that it had a dial tone. He wondered if he could call long distance. He decided to call an old friend, to find out. First, he punched "8," which was the way you dialed long distance in many hotels. Nothing happened, though. So he hit "9" for an outside number and dialed the area code and number ... and he got through. Amazing!
"Hello," his friend said.
He decided to skip the preliminaries. "I got a job," he said.
"Woo woo woo! Congrats. Where you working?"
"The Washington Zoo."
"The Washington Zoo! You don't know anything ..."
"The other Washington zoo. The City Government of the Nation's Capital."
There was a pause on the other end. "Holy excrement," and it did sound reverent, "you're working for Wendell Watson."
"Well, technically, I'm working for a guy who works for a guy who works for Wendell Watson, but you get the general idea."
His friend gave a low whistle. "Will you have to wear a Hazmat suit?" "It's not that bad," he said, and then gave a little laugh, because, well, it was that bad. "I'll keep my eyes and ears open."
"Take copious notes," his friend advised. "And take pictures. Or else, nobody will believe you."
O'Brien walked through the bitter pre-Christmas cold, his mouth set grimly, as though he was accepting punishment for the sins he was about to commit. He entered the hushed, dimly-lit restaurant, handed his coat to the maitre d' wordlessly, and went directly to his table. He was glad that he was in ahead of Stone. He didn't like to keep his boss waiting; more importantly, if Stone had arrived first, O'Brien would have had no chance at the bread.
O'Brien reached across the table. "Sean O'Brien, Acquisitions," he said, shaking the hand of a slender, white-haired man in a gray suit.
"Joe Spagnola, Relational Database Economies." Spagnola's eyes showed not the barest hint of recognition. In fact they had talked many times, and as soon as the contract was finalized, O'Brien would leave DC Government to join Spagnola's firm as a Vice-President. But there was a third person at the table, and she was not privy to this development.
Spagnola had done this thing before — many times, since he formed RDE fifteen years ago. Ten years before that he had been a clerk working for the Department of Social Services for the City of New York, making a hundred dollars a week and looking forward to a life of filing and living in a four-room apartment. In the sixties, New York City was ruled and fueled by paper — a forest's worth, every year — and tens of thousands of men like Spagnola would work in DSS' cavernous offices, trotting back and forth from long tables with metal stools to the bank of filing cabinets which seemed to stretch on to infinity. Spagnola had made his girlfriend pregnant when he was a college sophomore, so he dropped out to marry her and get a job here. For five years he never imagined he would work anywhere else.
But in the late sixties they began to introduce data punch cards, and Spagnola got an idea. Computers were getting smaller, faster, more efficient — and they were doing so at warp speed, to borrow a phrase from one of Spagnola's favorite TV shows. Why couldn't we code the data we keep at Social Services in Fortran and put it on tape?
Well, there was a good reason why DSS couldn't: it had a clerical staff of many thousands, none of whom knew anything about computers and none of whom could be terminated except on account of gross malfeasance, or death. In fact, DSS had gone on a hiring spree to acquire data processors.
But a private company offering to do the work on contract — why not?
In 1971, his boss told Spagnola that he was ready for a supervisory slot. There was a supervisory job opening up with his name on it. Paid eleven thousand a year.
Eleven thousand dollars a year was a lot of money ... ten years ago. But Spagnola was looking into the future. He turned his boss down and, shortly thereafter, quit.
His wife was furious. She nearly divorced him. But thanks to the pill (and no thanks to the Pope) he had managed to keep the family size down to three, and thus save a couple of thousand dollars to keep them fed while he worked out the kinks in his system.
Eighteen months later he incorporated RDE — he called it "Digital Economies" back then; the new name came in 1980 — and put in his first bid: for the Town of Oyster Bay, New York's pension check program.
Oyster Bay considered itself a progressive place; after all, it was the home of Theodore Roosevelt. The Selectmen liked Spagnola's proposal. He walked away with a fifty thousand dollar contract to redo the Town's entire pension-check program.
He moved on to a project for a much bigger town — Hempstead, population 800,000 — and then for all of Westchester County, and then finally his old employer, the New York City Department of Social Services. After the humiliation of a Financial Control Board, even NYC was becoming hip to efficiency.
RDE billed half a million its first year, then a million and a half, then five million. Spagnola moved his wife and kid to a beautiful home in suburban New Jersey. The taxes were better there, too. Spagnola liked being able to worry about things like that.
Spagnola was no child. He understood that it wasn't enough to be good if you wanted to win municipal bids. You had to be good to the people who made the decisions. RDE had a substantial fund for political contributions, and he personally kept a large fund for off-the-record contributions.
Spagnola was clever, but part of being clever was being cautious. He didn't like surprises. He got a bad surprise in Custom Grove, New Hampshire, where an upstart company called Capable Computing stole a contract from under his nose.
"Mr. Mayor, I respect your decision," Spagnola said to the Chief Executive at a post-mortem which he had arranged. "I just need to know where we fell short, so that we can prepare a better bid next time." They hadn't fallen short in greasing the wheels, he knew; they had dropped fifteen thousand in the Mayor's re-election campaign, which in Custom Grove should last him for the next ten elections.
The Mayor gave him a pained smile. "We just thought Capable's product met our needs better."
Six months later Spagnola learned that Capable had appointed the Mayor's wife to a $75,000-a-year position in new product development.
Spagnola learned a lesson from that; two lessons, actually, since the Mayor's wife turned out to be a dimwit, and Capable crashed and burned a year later. From that point on, Spagnola made sure that he had someone on the inside of the decision-making process — someone who would help steer the contract to him in return for a lucrative job, and someone who would actually be able to do the job afterward. He had found such a person here, in Sean O'Brien.
Nor had he forgotten the rest of the pieces he had to put in place to win this contract, including the requisite minority subcontractor, here represented by the attractive woman sitting on his right.
"Mr. O'Brien, I'd like you to meet Evelyn Boone, a Vice President at MBG Services. They are a Washington-based minority-owned data processing company, and they'll be working with us on this bid."
Shaking the outstretched hand of the buxom, sloe-eyed Evelyn, O'Brien was compelled to nod his head briefly in admiration — not at Ms. Boone, who seemed admirable enough, but at Spagnola's ability to cover so many bases at once. The man clearly understood Wendell Watson's top priority in all public contracting: to assure that local minority-owned businesses get a piece of the action. It was only good politics, after all, in a town that was two-thirds Black. And Spagnola clearly understood John Stone's top priority, too: to put himself in close proximity with comely young women with sizeable breasts so that he, too, could get a crack at a piece of the action. O'Brien marveled at Stone's compulsion toward well-endowed women, which O'Brien took as an extension of Stone's endless appetite. Stone consumed everything — food, drink, departments — to excess, which was why he was now in charge of the Department of Public Works, which is to say, the Department of Everything. Indeed, it was by putting together a reorganization which brought the Department of Transportation under the control of the Department of Public Works that O'Brien first came to Stone's attention, and Stone — sometimes to his extreme discomfort — considered him a political intimate ever since.
Stone was six foot five and well over three hundred pounds. Subtlety was not his long suit. His eyes, surprisingly small, seemed imprisoned in the mound of suet that was his face. Occasionally, those eyes would dart from side to side, as though they wanted to make a break for it. He was a sweating, comic character, but he could be effective, even convincing, when he had to be. He managed to stave off three grand jury investigations into Watson-regime corruption by making statements which O'Brien knew were untrue in the most persuasive manner.
Stone, O'Brien knew, was originally a political appointee — a favor Watson did to a well-wired supporter — who occupied one of the vague "counselor" positions in the Mayor's office. His infamous interview, in which he said, "Sometimes I think of Wendell Watson as Moses, and sometimes I think of him as God," won him much ridicule, including from the Mayor himself, but identified him as a man whose loyalty to Watson was unquestionable. Stone had branded himself, and Watson knew it.
So Watson plugged him in, third tier from the top in the Child Welfare Department, and followed his progress. Stone was not so fat back then, but he was fiercely and single-mindedly ravenous.
Stone never married, and from afar O'Brien thought his approach to women was the same as his approach to food: he would feast on one until she was used up, and then toss her aside for another. O'Brien thought that Stone should use the Mayor's technique. None of Watson's ex-wives, or ex-lovers, ever had a bad thing to say about him. But now, of course, no woman would sleep with Stone, except for money.
Stone cemented his standing in Watson's hierarchy when, as Deputy Commissioner for Child Welfare, he testified before a Grand Jury that he was solely responsible for the disastrous selection of Quark Enterprises to supply food for the city's custodial youth. The Mayor, Stone insisted, had no input on the decision to give the contract to Quark. Yet O'Brien knew personally that Stone was the bagman for an under-the-table contribution to Watson — O'Brien didn't know how much, but he knew it was a boatload — from Quark's principal, Everett Heap. Heap was somewhere in Mexico now, O'Brien had heard.
The Commissioner resigned over the Quark catastrophe, and, ironically, Stone, the man admittedly responsible, took over. It was a short walk from there to Public Works.
Excerpted from Capital City by Lee Hurwitz, Tim Treanor. Copyright © 2016 Lee Hurwitz, Tim Treanor; House of Stratus. Excerpted by permission of Astor and Blue LLC.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sex, drugs, and corruption is the DC government A riveting novel about political corruption and cover-ups in the Nation’s Capital, December 1988. I enjoyed the storytelling and the writing kept me engaged. Entertaining characters and recognizable locations and players in the DC government. Mayor Watson is a ringer for the former DC Mayor Marion Barry who had a history of adultery, drug abuse, and corruption in his own right. As with the fictional character Mayor Watson and former Mayor Barry, the more shenanigans they participated in, the majority of the DC residents embraced them more. The epilogue was a wonderful way to wrap up.