When a gorgeous woman appears at the gates of the White House bearing a mysterious letter, disgraced Presidential Press Secretary and professional spinmeister Jonah Eastman knows that his past has finally caught up with him. Raised by a Jewish mobster in Atlantic City, Jonah was only seventeen when he met Claudine Polk, an unabashed Southern belle, and placed her on an unshakable pedestal for one glorious summer of reckless youth and first love.
Now Claudine desperately needs Jonah's help to save Rattle&Snap, her family's plantation in Tennessee, from the hands of her crooked soon-to-be-ex-husband. Jonah must use all of his connections, from shady undercover agents to the President himself, to engage in Operation Dixie Knish and save his Southern belle's ancestral home.
A perfect mix of "The West Wing," "The Godfather," and Gone with the Wind, Spinning Dixie is an epic novel full of adventure, romance, and unforgettable characters that will have readers laughing out loud.
About the Author
ERIC DEZENHALL is the CEO of Dezenhall Resources, one of the nation's leading crisis management firms.
Eric Dezenhall co-founded the communications firm Dezenhall Resources, Ltd., and serves as its CEO. His first book of nonfiction, Nail ‘Em!: Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Business, pioneered techniques for understanding and defusing crises. The author novels such as Jackie Disaster, The Devil Himself and Spinning Dixie, he lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Read an Excerpt
Spinning DixieChapter One April 2005, Washington, D.C. Omnia vestigia retrorsum (All footsteps turn back upon themselves) People ask me how a boy who was raised by a mobster grew up to become press secretary to the president of the United States. The answer is, when reporters started hammering me with questions about my pedigree, I did something sly that caught the Washington press corps off guard: I admitted everything. the times: Jonah, is it true that upon the death of your grandfather, Mickey Price, you attended a Mafia summit? me: Who do you think called the meeting? follow-up: Would you say your relationship with Mr. Price was of the conventional see-Grandpop-on-Sunday kind? me: It was the opposite of conventional. He and my grandmother virtually raised me after my parents died. They were my best friends. global wire service: Mr. Eastman, it’s been rumored that you arranged for the murder of a mob figure who was said to have crossed you? me: Absolutely not. I handled it personally. As Henry Kissinger once said (but did not abide), “What will come out eventually must come out immediately.” People were stunned by my answers. Sure, I was using candor as a spin device, but Washington found it “refreshing.” Washington likes to think it finds candorrefreshing, but honesty in this town is a novelty mint, not sustenance. Nevertheless, the same frankness and irreverence that had been the “Jonah Eastman brand” for the last two years of the Truitt administration had finally become my undoing. I was fired this morning. Before I took my job as the president’s spokesman, I had been a Republican pollster. I specialized in handling difficult elections, ones that needed an unconventional boost. And, yes, my grandfather was the late Moses “Mickey” Price, the Atlantic City gangster known as “the Wizard of Odds.” Despite its Nixonian whiff, let me be perfectly clear about something: I am not a gangster. My Edie wouldn’t have married a gangster, but she wouldn’t have married a choirboy either. She had choices and, at some level, knew what she was doing. I couldn’t have gotten to the White House being a cherub, and some of the runoff from Mickey’s jungle of shadows had crept into my frequency. While I am tempted to reinvent myself for the reader, I am no more immune from my environment than the minor prophet with whom I share a name, the one in the Bible who tried to run from God and was swallowed by a big fish. Jonah was chosen by God to be in a sea of trouble, and in my more philosophical moments, I believe I was genetically predisposed to scandal. Anyhow, spinning at this stage would be a lie that runs counter to the spirit of my forced retirement from the lying business. Officially, I wasn’t fired. I resigned. I did so after a few unfortunate catalysts put me in play. It began when the head of the Republican Party declared the current recession to be a “communications problem.” As press secretary, communications strategy fell under my purview. Then there was The Remark. I made The Remark two days ago during a press conference after a suicide bomber—an erstwhile taxi driver from Yemen—blew himself up at a Phillies game, killing twenty-four people. Even though I was technically a New Jerseyan, Philadelphia was the provenance of my “hometown” sports teams. When asked by the White House correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin how I felt about the attack as a man who hailed from the region, I said, “It’s hard to believe Western civilization is going to be taken down by a bunch of cabdrivers.” To make matters worse, a network correspondent aboard Air Force One claimed to have overheard the president bark, “Aw, hell, we always negotiate with terrorists,” in a discussion about potential response options. Moments before taking off, the Big Guy had finished giving a speech where he echoed every other recent president with the canard, “We do not negotiate with terrorists.” (fist pound/convey resolve—pause for applause) The president totally said it, too. I was standing right next to him. Like the Secret Service agent who is trained to throw his body into the line of an assassin’s bullet, I defused a potential crapstorm by instinctively telling the correspondent that I had made this remark, too. I was known for doing a mean Truitt impersonation—the molasses Mississippi drawl, literary allusions, tractor-seat wisdom. The network, terrified of a White House freeze-out, agreed to make me the lightning rod. The feelings of having been accused of something you did do and something you didn’t do are both terrible, but have different manifestations. When you’re wrongly accused, you feel lost in time and space: there’s a sensation of motion between dimensions. When you’re accused of something you really did, you feel paralyzed and trapped. I was suffering from a hybrid of these symptoms that averaged out at a common state: panic. The Islamerica League demanded my resignation on the grounds that I had made a racist remark, the implication being that the Truitt administration saw all Muslims as angry cabdrivers. I dug myself in deeper when I attempted to explain that the suicide bomber really was a taxi driver. My buddy Dennis Miller rallied to my defense on his talk show by saying I got in trouble “for making comments offensive to terrorists.” Adding to my predicament were the hearings that loomed for the president’s nomination to the Supreme Court of R. MacDermott “Mac” Dewey—a conservative, white, Georgia-bred circuit court judge. Some of the same civil liberties people who were hammering me for my insensitive remarks would soon descend upon Washington to protest the Dewey nomination. Canning me wouldn’t neutralize this challenge, but it would be a symbolic gesture to Democratic senators who were reluctant to turn a blind eye toward an administration they regarded as being an enemy of the progressive cause. My assistant, Tigger, came into my office, which is in the West Wing of the White House (Coordinates—longitude -77.03740; latitude 38.89766)* facing Pennsylvania Avenue. She wore a quizzical expression. Her real name was Alison, but she revved in a reckless exuberance like Winnie-the-Pooh’s tiger buddy, so I called her Tigger. In an environment where most staffers sought job preservation by taking no risks, Tigger was oblivious to the consequences of anything. She was my figurative sister, aide-de-camp, and personal social worker in one whippet-thin Chanel-suited vortex. What she lacked in subtlety, she made up for in devotion. (In Washington, if given the choice between genius or loyalty, choose loyalty.) “Hey, Wonderboy, there’s an envelope for you at the northwest gate,” she said, quizzically. A Who’s Who in the Truitt Administration fell off my bookshelf onto the floor. Tigger recoiled as if this had never happened before, but every time she came in, something fell. I glanced up from my computer screen, which was spitting out all of the reporters I had to call back. Everybody wants the J-man to trash the president for canning him. “Tigger, I don’t mean to sound like a diva, but since when do I go outside and retrieve envelopes?” “The thing is, Jonah, I went out to get it myself, and, uh, she”—Tigger drew out the she—“said she needed to give it to you herself. It seems personal.” Tigger bit her lip suggestively. She knew I was a married straight arrow with kids, but she had worked for politicians long enough to know that, well, one never knew, façade being the cornerstone on which political reputations are built. “Did she tell you her name?” I asked. “She said she had a message from Claudine Polk.” Heat shot up my back. I felt dizzy, and my throat tightened. My heart raced. I was supposed to be the Dark Prince of Cool in the face of hostile data. I had shooting pains in my jaw and arms. Heart attack. Dear God, heart attack. But I exercise and eat right, how—? “Claud—,” I managed to half-say. I must have looked like an imbecile. I fell into my chair. “I haven’t seen Claudine for twenty-five years. 1980. I was eighteen.” “So, who can it be now?” Tigger asked, singing the question, which was a verse from an early 1980s song by an Aussie band. “Claudine was a weather system. Something that engulfs you. I mean, you’re in it. This woman outside, is she my age?” I stood and looked out my window. “No, Wonderboy. Early twenties I’d say, and . . .” Tigger sighed. “And what?” “Ruin-your-life/crash-into-a-tree/light-your-hair-on-fire gorgeous . . . It’s the only reason why the Secret Service guy at the gate buzzed me instead of telling her to get lost.” “It’s reassuring that our national defense is in the hands of a bunch of adolescents.” The White House’s northwest gate was about thirty yards from my office. I could see it from my window. The Secret Service gatehouse blocked my view of a section of Pennsylvania Avenue, and I could not see the mystery courier, just people milling about beyond the gates, and a lone rabbit scurrying among the bushes. Freshly scandal-bait, I wanted to avoid the press corps in the briefing room, so I went outside the West Wing’s main door, the one where the Marine honor guard stands. It was dusk. There’s no more enchanting city in the world than Washington in April at dusk—and, yes, I’ve been to Paris. It is cool, usually in the seventies, and a misty halo floats beneath the street lamps. I’m not sure what causes the mist, but it’s not the humidity yet. Hell doesn’t arrive in our nation’s capital until May. The sky is a clear azure, flecked with stars slipping across the heavens like fugitive beads of mercury. Politics ceases to be about power, and becomes another excuse for falling stupidly in love. Even if we fail, we still sense our lover-shadow awaits us in Georgetown to fill that bagel hole we all drag around with us. A few of the camped-out camera crews noticed me, and began to stir. I overheard somebody say, “Riptide.” This was the Secret Service call name I was given after I started receiving death threats early in the president’s term. My politician’s ego had hoped the threats would be traced back to a shadowy foreign revolutionary movement, but I was crushed to learn that my typical nemesis was a constipated retiree in Daytona Beach who had also threatened other people who were on TV. As I approached the gate, I spied my messenger though the iron bars. She was in profile at first. Her auburn hair was shoulder length, her nose gently sloped—a nose you see in Vogue. A ruin-your-life nose. She wore a white sundress, which gave her an otherworldly aura beneath the floating vapor of the street lamp. Lips like a bow, which made me wonder where she kept the arrow. When she turned to me, her green panther eyes narrowed in a challenging way, then quickly softened, opening wide. There appeared to be moisture around her thick lashes. When it comes to women and tears, quantity is an important variable: A few tears make men feel strong; a torrent makes us feel powerless, claustrophobic. Then I thought, April in Washington means allergies. That’s what it was. The thing about an outrageous beauty is that when she acknowledges you, you feel as if you’ve known her forever. It’s the incarnation of the overused term charisma—God touching you, leaving out the others. The problem is, when you’re in your forties, your baser instincts are derailed by a chronological factor that has its anchor in morality: I was an adult when this kid was born. I felt the concrete go wobbly. My breath was short. Second heart attack in three minutes. I had a family history of fake heart attacks. The uniformed Secret Service agent buzzed me out of the gate. “Rattle & Snap,” she greeted me. Raddlinsnap. Bewitching. Melodic. Southern. I smelled flowers, but didn’t see any. She handed me a small envelope. I took it. It was embossed: Rattle & Snap Mount Pleasant, Tennessee I felt my hands tremble, but they appeared to be still. “It’s a Passover greeting,” she said. That’s right, I remembered. Passover had just begun. I had lost a sense of the calendar. “Are you here to liberate me from bondage?” I asked. “I got you to come out from behind those iron bars, didn’t I?” “Yes, but where are the plagues?” “No plagues,” She of the bow lips said. “You look taller on TV.” “Sorry to disappoint you.” “Oh, I didn’t mean it that way.” Thay-at whyy. That voice. Tell me to impale myself on the White House gate, and I’ll do it. No questions. “Who are you?” I asked. “A ghost.” She said this in a businesslike manner. But then I caught a quiver at the side of her lips, and a tiny dimple surfaced. I saw a few teeth. I wanted one of them. “Ghosts don’t usually drop things off at the White House,” I said. “Although there was that time Millard Fillmore brought me hot pastrami on pumpernickel. Which was nice.” The ghost suppressed laughter, and dabbed beneath a perfect nostril with a tissue. “Are you all right?” I asked. “Hay fever,” she said. “You weren’t crying?” She waited a beat, then nodded in the negative. “I have it, too,” I said. “Where do ghosts get tissues, anyway? Do they have haunted Piggly Wiggly stores, Halloween items, antigarlic lotion for vampires?” “You’re borderline funny.” “And unemployed because of it. The clown goes home alone.” “Then who gets the girl?” “The strongman. The acrobat. Somebody with no self-awareness.” “I’m not sure about that. I read someplace that you wear a St. Jude medallion.” I showed her the chain. “Patron Saint of Lost Causes. How do you know the Polks?” “I was asked only to deliver that envelope,” she said firmly. “Was it an easy delivery?” “Eventful,” she said, studying my eyes. “Mine are green, too,” I said. “The eyes. Different shade.” She seemed embarrassed. We were about the same height, and Ghosty’s sandals had no heels. “This is so strange,” I said. “Would you wait while I read this? Is that what I am supposed to do?” She shrugged her shoulders. “Rattle & Snap, sir.” “You’ve got some sass, don’t you?” “Nobody knows where I got it.” “Well, Ghosty, I know Rattle & Snap is a plantation.” By plantation, I didn’t mean some nouveau riche development of tract mansions riddled with social-climbing orthodontists calling itself The Plantation. I meant the kind of place that God had set aside long ago for the fleeting use of American nobles. “Look—” Stall her, Jonah. “Would you like to come into the White House? We’ve got cable.” I felt like a child molester. Still, she’d have to show her identification to get in, which might help with the whole Who-Is-She thing. She said no. Several tourists walked by and recognized me. I heard one of them say my name. The ghost overheard it, and nodded warmly, as if to say, And I’m with him. I liked it, and I wished I had this job when I was single. Ghosty saw my confusion as I studied the envelope, and she appeared to be pained. She began walking away. A few of the network camera guys sidled closer from the other side of the gate. Not good. I took a few steps to follow her, but a disgraced White House press secretary chasing a Victoria’s Secret model down Pennsylvania Avenue might not look good. “You’ll have to reckon with Claudine Polk,” she said. “Claudine wasn’t much of a reckoner, as I recall.” I stood helpless, watching her step toward Lafayette Park. As my instincts turned protective, she turned to me one more time and said, “You don’t look like a thief, Mr. Eastman.” “I’m not . . . a thief.” This came out sounding like a question, and I wanted to do another take, but this was real-time—unforgiving. “And those men you saw out in the field that summer, and in the town?” She swallowed, and I thought she said, “They worry, spaz.” “What? I’m sorry? I don’t—” Then she said it again, but with the blaring of a nearby siren, all I caught was something like “They worry, spaz.” While I stood perplexed and shivering, the moonlight touched her in a way that reddened her hair. Then she disappeared among the subversives of Lafayette Park. Copyright © 2007 by Eric Dezenhall. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from Spinning Dixie by Dezenhall, Eric Copyright © 2006 by Dezenhall, Eric. Excerpted by permission.
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