Writing About A Blood Sport

By Mark Alpert

Relax: I’m not going to talk about the presidential election. All I’ll say is that the ferocity and ugliness of the current political season remind me of the years I spent in Alabama during the 1980s. Politics is a blood sport in that state, second only to football in the passions it arouses.

George Wallace was still governor of Alabama when I started working as a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser in 1985. In fact, it was a minor brouhaha in the Wallace administration that led to me going down there. Wallace’s assistant press secretary, Hezekiah Wagstaff (excellent name, very Dickensian), was fired after saying something controversial, and the governor’s office replaced him with Frank Mastin Jr., a Black reporter at the Advertiser. The newspaper needed someone to take Mastin’s spot, so they hired me after a phone interview. That’s how the journalism business works, or at least how it used to work: There are usually no jobs available, but when there’s a vacancy they need to fill it quick.

Over the next year I reported on the campaign to succeed Wallace, an epic political farce that included torrid affairs, electoral upsets, federal court cases, and finally the election of the first Republican governor in Alabama since Reconstruction. (That joker was forced out of office a few years later after some ethical lapses.) After it was all said and done, I felt confident enough to write a political novel based on the campaign, titled The Emperor of Alabama. It was never published — like most first novels, this one was an apprentice effort whose main purpose was to teach me how to write future books — but I’ve presented a few earlier chapters for your perusal. (See here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

I think a valuable skill for any writer is the ability to see the absurdity of a situation. Politics can be a deadly serious business, but it’s also ridiculous sometimes. As a journalist, I got a firsthand look at the clownishness of some of our leaders, and as a novelist I tried to create characters who illustrate the essential truth of what I saw. Did I miss things? Did I get a lot of things wrong? Definitely. But fiction is all about making the attempt.

In that spirit, here’s the fictional version of the 1986 Alabama governor’s race:

On Monday morning Jimmy Fowler announced to the press that he would seek another term as Alabama’s governor. He went to the Statehouse conference room and gave a speech explaining his reasons for running, repeating the arguments he’d confided to me in his private office three days before. He apologized for his infamous stand against racial integration and for all the hateful things he said and did twenty years ago. And he promised that from now on he’d do everything he could to improve the lives of the Black people of Alabama.

The reporters reacted with a mix of surprise and cynicism, elation and disbelief. They raced off to file their stories, but I didn’t go with them. Immediately after the announcement, I attended my first campaign staff meeting.

Fowler, Booth Taylor, General Hobbs and I sat around the dining room table in the governor’s mansion. Booth had asked Janey, the governor’s cook and day nurse, to fry up a few hamburgers for lunch, but she refused to do it unless we had a vegetable too, so after several minutes of debate we settled on butter beans. It was a good choice. Janey was a phenomenal cook. Her butter beans were flavored with bits of smoked ham, and her burgers dripped with grilled onions. General Hobbs ate three of them.

Alden Hobbs was a big man with backswept gray hair. He was wearing his Alabama National Guard uniform, which was bedecked with an impressive array of medals. I’d known the general for seven years, ever since the summer I’d lived with his daughter. He hadn’t been particularly friendly back when Cathy and I were dating, but he’d warmed up to me after Cathy married Bill Bledsoe, and even more so after Bledsoe turned against Fowler. I guess I started to look good in retrospect. When I saw him in the governor’s dining room he slapped me on the back and shouted, “Welcome aboard, Jack, welcome aboard!” Then he launched into a longish story about a strange character he’d seen the day before. Booth smiled and listened politely. Fowler, who sat in a special chair, a kind of highchair for older folks, focused all his attention on his hamburger. Janey had cut the meat into small pieces so it would be easier for him to eat.

“I saw the most unusual-looking boy at the Greyhound station yesterday,” General Hobbs narrated. “He wasn’t from around here, I can tell you that. His hair was pushed up into spikes, six spikes on top of his head, held up with airplane glue or something. Oddest thing I ever saw in my life. His head looked like a cow’s udder turned upside-down.”

Booth nodded, pretending to be interested. “Sounds like one of those radical types. Metalheads, counterculture, isn’t that what they call it? There’s quite a few of them in Atlanta, I hear.”

“Goddamn, whatever you call it, it was strange as hell. I figured he was headed for New Orleans or Memphis and he was waiting on his bus. Everyone in the station was staring at him. At first he pretended not to notice, but after a while I guess he got sick of all the staring and he hightailed it out of there.”

“You’d think he’d be used to the attention, wearing his hair like that,” Booth noted.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought too,” the general said. “But then I thought, well, in the place where that boy comes from, New York City most likely, there’s probably a lot of folks with funny hair. And because there’s so many of them, the folks in New York don’t make a big deal out of it. They just say, ‘There goes another boy with spikes on his head.’ So even though these boys mess with their hair to get attention, they usually don’t get a whole lot of it, and it actually surprises them when they come down here and everyone is staring.”

“That’s a very interesting observation, general.” Booth’s deference bordered on the ridiculous. Although he’d worked for the governor for twenty years, General Hobbs had known Fowler for twice that long, ever since they were both law students on the GI Bill at the University of Alabama. Hobbs was the governor’s oldest friend, and Booth seemed a little intimidated by that fact.

“Anyway,” continued the general, “I saw that boy again after I left the bus station. He was sitting on the sidewalk in front of Woolworth’s, smoking a cigarette. And walking straight toward him is this fella from the Veterans Home, a wrinkled old pasty-faced guy with a cane and a beat-up hat. And this guy’s face just lights up when he sees the boy sitting on the sidewalk. I swear, I’d never seen anyone look so amused. The old coot shuffles over to the boy and says — you gotta imagine the look on his face, Booth — he says, ‘Hey, son, what’s wrong with your haid?’” The general laughed uproariously. “Ain’t that a hoot! ‘What’s wrong with your haid?’”

Booth managed a fake laugh. Fowler, who was busy pouring ketchup all over his bite-size pieces of hamburger, didn’t even look up from his plate.

“That’s a very funny story, general,” Booth said. “Now, if you don’t mind, I think it would be a good idea if we started the meeting. We have quite a few things to discuss this afternoon.”

“That’s fine with me,” Hobbs said as he bit into his third burger. “I can work and eat at the same time.”

“Is that all right with you, governor?” Booth asked.

Fowler looked up. “What’s that?” There were ketchup stains on the napkin tied around his neck.

“We’re gonna start the meeting now,” Booth yelled into the governor’s good ear.

“Well, what the hell are you waiting for?” Fowler barked. Then he went back to pouring his ketchup.

“All right, then.” Booth turned to me. “Jack, I want you to take careful notes. Be as detailed as possible and don’t leave anything out.” He gave me a stern look. Booth didn’t like the idea of having me as his assistant, but he was going to make the best of it. “As everyone knows, the polls so far show that we’ve got a tough fight ahead of us. Bledsoe has a strong lead in the northern half of the state and a moderate lead in the southern half. His allies in the Legislature have been drumming up support for him since last fall, so he’s got a big head start. I hate to say this, gentlemen, but if the election were held tomorrow, we’d lose badly.”

“Those polls don’t mean shit,” Fowler said, his jaw working furiously as he chewed his hamburger. “The questions were all wrong. They asked folks if they wanted to see me run again, and of course most of them said no, because they’re worried about me. They didn’t want to see me put myself through the misery of running again. But now that I’ve announced, they’ll get behind me like they always have. So don’t you worry about those polls, Booth. They don’t mean a thing.”

“Jimmy’s right,” the general said. “The polls said we were behind in ’66 and ’70 and ’78 too, but we always came out on top. I’ve always said, the only poll that’s worth a damn is the one they take on Election Day.”

“You’re right, general,” Booth said quickly. “I couldn’t agree with you more. But you have to realize that in this race we’re up against a very unscrupulous individual. Bledsoe has absolutely no respect for the truth. He’s already made an issue of the governor’s health, and we all know that’s complete nonsense, because the governor is as healthy as you or me, probably healthier.” He paused for a moment to softly rap his knuckles on the table. “But Bledsoe knows he can’t win on the issues, so he’s going to sling the mud. And we have to be prepared for that. I’ve talked to our media consultant in Washington and he thinks we should confront the health issue head-on with an aggressive counter-attack. He wants us to run a television ad that shows the governor doing something active. Like throwing a baseball, maybe. I’ve already retained an agency and they say they can film the ad this week.”

“I ain’t gonna throw no baseball on television.” Fowler shook his head. “That would just make me look foolish.”

“How about a punching bag?” General Hobbs suggested. “Remember that punching bag you used to keep in the basement, Jimmy? It’s probably still there. You can paint Bledsoe’s face on the thing and give it a good whacking!”

“That may be over-doing it a little,” Booth said delicately.

“I don’t need a punching bag either.” Fowler shook his head again, more firmly this time. “I already got something that’ll prove I’m healthy enough to be governor. I’m getting married on Sunday.”

After dropping this bombshell, the governor casually returned to his lunch. For several seconds the only sound in the room was the wet smack of Fowler’s masticating lips.

I felt Booth tap me, hard, on the shoulder. “Jack, stop writing,” he whispered. Then he leaned toward Fowler’s highchair. “Governor, are you feeling all right?”

Fowler looked mighty annoyed. “Of course I’m all right!” He opened his mouth wide and I got a glimpse of the chewed-up hamburger meat, which was a pretty disgusting sight.

“Well, maybe I misheard you then,” Booth said.

“You heard me right. I’m getting married on Sunday. And don’t try to talk me out of it. I want you to write up a wedding announcement and deliver it to the Advertiser.”

General Hobbs was so elated by the news, he walked over to Fowler’s chair and slapped him on the back. Luckily, the governor had already swallowed his hamburger. “Why, Jimmy, you sly dog! Who’s the lucky lady?”

“I’m not sure if you know her, Alden. Her name’s Mabel Whitehead. She used to be married to my commissioner of agriculture. She comes to my press conferences every now and then, so maybe you’ve seen her.”

“Sure, I know her! She’s a fine catch, Jimmy.”

I saw the logic behind it. Mabel was a good-looking woman. Most voters would assume that Fowler was capable of fucking her, and that he had, in fact, fucked her already, fucked her while his critics were saying he couldn’t even go to the bathroom by himself. I also had a pretty good idea what Mabel’s motives were.

Booth still looked confused, though. He was probably wondering how Fowler had pulled this off without his help. “Well, governor, where’s this wedding gonna take place?”

Fowler grimaced. “How the hell should I know? I told Mabel to make all the arrangements.”

“All right, I’ll just ask her then.”

“She’s coming by the mansion in a bit. My photographer is gonna take some pictures of her on the patio. Listen, Booth, is there anything else you want to talk about? I got some other business to take care of this afternoon.”

“We still haven’t decided what television ads we’re gonna do.”

“How about doing something at the Tuscaloosa Home?” Fowler raised his good hand and waved it in the general direction of Tuscaloosa. “You know, an ad that shows me with some of the poor handicapped children in the asylum up there.”

Booth cocked his head. He was quiet for a few seconds, clearly considering the idea. “That’s not bad,” he admitted.

“Hell, it’s terrific!” General Hobbs chimed in. “We did an ad like that for Jimmy’s campaign in ’74. It was one of the most touching ads I’ve ever seen.”

“All right,” Booth said, “let’s schedule the shoot for Friday morning. Make sure you write that down, Jack.”

I felt somewhat chagrined as I wrote “Ad shoot, Friday morning, Tuscaloosa Asylum” in my notebook. Political work was even more degrading than I’d imagined.

“We should also arrange the campaign schedule for the rest of the week, governor,” Booth said. “You’re meeting the Reverend E.B. Vaughn for lunch on Wednesday. If you recall, Reverend Vaughn is pastor of the Beulah Baptist Church right here in town. He’s also chairman of the Southern Black Caucus. I think this meeting would be an ideal opportunity to talk about the caucus’s plans for endorsements.”

Fowler narrowed his eyes. For the first time that afternoon, he seemed to be paying close attention. “Vaughn’s pushing the teacher-pay bill, right?”

“Yes, the reverend wants to add an amendment that would increase funding for the school districts in the poorest counties.”

The governor nodded. He was clearly filing that pertinent fact in his head.

“We have a cabinet meeting on Thursday,” Booth continued, “and a conference at the Farm Bureau on Saturday. Sunday will be taken up by the wedding, I presume. You weren’t planning on a long honeymoon, were you, governor?”

“Hell no.” Fowler grimaced again.

“That’s good, because you’re scheduled to make a speech at the retailers convention in Gulf Shores on Monday night. Since you’re gonna be driving through Covington County on the way to the Gulf, you might want to make a stop at the Rattlesnake Rodeo in Andalusia. It’s a pretty big event, so there should be a good crowd. All you need to do is make a five-minute speech and sit for a few photos. Then you can get back on the road.”

“Fine with me.” Fowler swung his head in my direction. “Why don’t you come down to Gulf Shores with me, Jack? The weather’s always nice there this time of year.”

“That’s not a good idea,” Booth cut in. “Mr. Blanchard has no experience in press relations yet. He wouldn’t know what to do if a crisis came up. I should be the one to accompany you to Gulf Shores, governor.”

“No, you got enough work to do right here.” Fowler pointed a stubby finger at me. “Besides, Jack has to learn the ropes sooner or later. Might as well do it now. What do you say, Jack?”

“Sure, I can handle it,” I said.

Booth glared at me. “I don’t know if you realize the importance of this assignment, Mr. Blanchard. It’s absolutely essential that the governor’s trip go smoothly. He should arrive in Andalusia by three o’clock and leave by three-thirty. I don’t want you crossing paths with Congressman Bledsoe. If Bledsoe shows up at the same time, he might start a shouting match with you, or he’ll try to arrange a handshake photo that’ll make the governor look ridiculous. So if you see him, get out of there as quickly as possible. Am I making myself clear?”

Before I could answer, there was a commotion in the hallway outside the dining room. I heard a loud thud and then a woman shouting, “Be careful with those things!”

I recognized the voice. A moment later, Mabel Whitehead stepped into the dining room, decked out in a pink dress that was almost as big as a hoopskirt. Yards of poufy fabric billowed around her legs, and the lace hem grazed the floor. Behind her was a state trooper carrying a stack of hatboxes.

“Jimmy darling, I’m here!” Mabel cried. She swished over to where Fowler sat and bent down to kiss his cheek. Except she didn’t actually kiss him, she kissed the air about two inches from his face while loudly humming, “Mmmmmwhaa!” Fowler shrank back from her, scowling.

“Congratulations, Mabel!” General Hobbs rose to his feet. “I heard the good news.”

“Why thank you, general,” Mabel drawled sweetly.

“Yes, congratulations, Mrs. Whitehead,” Booth added.

“Thank you, thank you all. I meant to tell y’all about this personally, but the last few days have just been so hectic. I realized yesterday that I didn’t have a single picture to use for the wedding announcement. So I said, ‘Jimmy, I just have to get a decent picture of myself,’ and he was sweet enough to let me use the mansion as a backdrop.”

“You sure look wonderful in that dress,” General Hobbs said.

Fowler seemed annoyed by the general’s comment. “Mabel, go on back to the patio. We’re finishing up a meeting here. Jack, you know where the patio is, we had a press conference there last month. Go with Mabel and show her the way.”

I stood up to go, but General Hobbs grabbed my sleeve. “Hey, Jack, you coming to my house for supper on Thursday? Cathy said she invited you.”

I hadn’t forgotten about Cathy’s invitation, but until that moment I wasn’t sure she still wanted me to come. She got pretty emotional the other night after we left the Jubilee. “Uh, yeah, sure, I remember.”

“My wife’s roasting a turkey,” the general said. “Be there at nineteen hundred hours.”

He let go of my sleeve and turned back to the governor. Then Mabel and I and the state trooper with the hatboxes headed for the patio behind the mansion.

Mabel’s dress rustled loudly as we walked down the hall. “You didn’t congratulate me, Jack,” Mabel chided. “Aren’t you gonna congratulate me?”

“Have you gone crazy?”

She lowered her voice. “Jackie dear, I simply don’t understand your reaction. What girl would turn down a chance at being First Lady?”

“Don’t you think he’s a little old for you?”

“Well, he’s not my idea of the perfect husband, if that’s what you mean. But he’s a darling creature and he could use a little tender loving care. Believe me, Jack, when he first mentioned the idea to me, I was just as shocked as you are. But once I realized that I wouldn’t have to actually do, you know, anything too intimate, then it began to sound like an attractive proposition. All I have to do is sit next to him when he makes his speeches and throw a lot of parties at the mansion. Now what’s so bad about that?”

“What about Commissioner Whitehead? Your ex-husband? Is he coming to the wedding?”

Mabel smiled. “I certainly hope that by the time the wedding comes round, Commissioner Whitehead will have the good sense to resign. If he doesn’t, there may be a very unpleasant scene. Look, there’s the photographer, he’s such a sweet thing.”

The governor’s official photographer stood in the middle of the patio, struggling to set up his tripod. Mabel blew him a kiss and then ordered the trooper to open the hatboxes. She spent the next ten minutes deciding which hat to wear. She finally picked a pink organza sun hat and sat down in a wicker chair facing the photographer.

It was a hot day. I leaned against one of the mansion’s neoclassical columns and watched the photographer take his pictures. In the strong sunlight Mabel looked quite fetching, if you could forget for a moment the ridiculousness of her outfit. I closed my eyes and for a while I heard nothing but the rapid clicking of the camera. Then I heard the distinctive squeak of the governor’s wheelchair behind me. You could hear it a mile away.

Janey pushed Fowler out to the patio. After parking his wheelchair next to me, she wandered over to the flowerbed and started berating the gardener. Mabel waved when she saw the governor, then turned back to the camera.

Fowler looked at her appraisingly. “What do you think, Jack? She’s a fine-looking woman, ain’t she?”

I nodded. “She sure is.”

“Yeah, a fine-looking woman. Reminds me of Eugenia in some ways. She doesn’t let any grass grow under her feet.” He stared at her for a few more seconds, lost in thought, his mouth hanging open. Then he looked up at me. “So how do you like the job so far?”

“It’s a little too early to tell,” I replied, smiling.

“You getting along all right with Booth?”

“Well, to be honest, I don’t think he likes me too much.”

Fowler shook his head. “Don’t you worry about that. Booth acts that way with everyone at first. Just give him some time and he’ll come around.”

“All right,” I said, although I didn’t really share the governor’s optimism. I had the feeling that Booth was going to make my life miserable, and there was nothing I could do but sit there and take it, because I had to pay Greenville Academy five thousand dollars before Philip could enroll there in September.

Mabel decided to switch hats, tossing the pink one aside and opting for a big, floppy straw hat. Fowler watched her for a while, amused. Then he stretched out his good arm and shifted in his chair, trying to get comfortable. “I’m curious about something, Jack. You grew up here in town, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said, somewhat anxiously, wondering what was on Fowler’s mind. “We lived on Clinton Street.”

“So you went to Jeff Davis High School?”

“Yeah, until halfway through my senior year. Then I took some classes at Tutwiler Community College and started working part-time at the Advertiser.”

“You still have family in town?”

I thought of my mother standing in front of her ramshackle house. “No, my mother lives in Butler County now.”

Fowler nodded. His mouth was closed but he moved his jaw muscles as if he were still chewing his hamburger. “My daddy was a sharecropper in Barbour County, you know. He died back in ’36. Wasn’t even forty years old.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, although I already knew about the governor’s father. When I’d prepared Fowler’s obituary for the Advertiser a few years back, I’d done a little research into his family history.

“My daddy never had two nickels to rub together, but he knew just about everyone in Barbour County. He was friendly with the sheriff’s deputies, the road crews, everybody. Friendliest man in the whole damn county. Negroes, too. He didn’t discriminate. Never had a bad word to say about anybody.”

I nodded but didn’t say anything. I recalled from my research that his father had died of typhus, probably exacerbated by malnutrition. The Thirties were a shitty time to be poor in Alabama.

“You know, there was a Negro family who lived down the road from us. My daddy once invited them over for supper. When the neighbors heard about it, they weren’t too pleased. They came to our shack that night and started throwing rocks at the windows. One of ’em even lit a torch and threatened to burn the place down.”

Now this was a surprise. Over the past four years I’d heard the governor tell all kinds of maudlin stories about his childhood, but I’d never heard about this incident before. “What happened then?”

He let out a hoarse chuckle. “Daddy got his shotgun and stood in the doorway. He didn’t have to say a thing. They all just faded away.” He waved his good hand to show how the neighbors had disappeared. “You know, a lot of folks think I grew up ignorant. They say, ‘Of course Jimmy Fowler’s a bigot, just look at where he came from.’ But my daddy was a good man. He wasn’t ignorant.”

I studied the governor’s face, trying to determine how much of this story was true. It seemed a little too pat, too perfect. And it didn’t jibe at all with the Fowler I’d seen twenty-three years before at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. I suspected that the governor had just invented the anecdote and now he was trying it out on me before he used it on the campaign trail. But because this was my first day on the job, I kept my suspicions to myself.

Fowler shook his head emphatically. “But here I go, talking about myself again. What year did you graduate from high school, Jack?”

I was a little startled by the sudden change of subject. “Uh, nineteen-seventy-four.”

“So did you know General Hobbs’s daughter when you were in school?”

My guard went up. I knew that Fowler had a way of working up to the subjects he wanted to talk about. But I also knew that he had a scattershot mind and this could turn out to be another stray piece of shot. “Yeah, I knew her.”

“Did you know her well?”

There was no point in denying it. General Hobbs must’ve told him. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“Huh.” Fowler was silent for a few seconds. He was filing this fact with the millions of others in his head. “Well, that’s very interesting. We should talk about this again sometime. I like to get to know the people who work for me. That’s one of the great advantages of a political career, getting to know people. You know how I got started in politics, Jack?”

“You mean when you ran for the Legislature?”

“No, no, before that. Right after I got out of the Army, I started sending Christmas cards to everyone I knew in Barbour County. I did that for three years while I was going to law school. Spent everything I had on postage stamps. And when I ran for the Legislature in ’48 and I went around to all the farmhouses in the county, folks would say to me, ‘You’re that Fowler boy, ain’t you? The one who keeps sending us those Christmas cards?’ And I’d say, ‘That’s right, and I’d appreciate it if you remembered me on Election Day.’ You know how many people are on my Christmas list now, Jack?”

“How many?”

“Twelve thousand two hundred and forty-eight. I added your name to the list this morning.”

This seemed like a somewhat dubious honor, but I said “thank you” anyway.

“I got some famous people on the list, you know. Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter. I believe you can have a political disagreement with somebody and still send him Christmas cards afterwards. That’s the kind of thing that never gets written about in the newspapers. Everyone writes stories about my disagreements with Kennedy and Johnson, but no one ever mentions the fact that I was sending Christmas cards to both of them the whole time. Only a couple of folks did something so awful I had to cross them off the list.”

“Have you crossed Bill Bledsoe off the list yet?”

Fowler frowned. “I didn’t have to. He’s never been on my list.”

I could see that the governor didn’t want to talk about Bledsoe. Maybe the polls were bothering him more than he let on. He turned away from me and stared again at Mabel, who was posing now with a pink parasol, holding it coyly over her head.

“I want you to do me a favor, Jack,” he finally said. “In every election there’s always gonna be some dirty politics. Every four years I hear the same stories. People talking about my bank accounts, bringing up the old IRS investigations. It’s all just filth, but Bledsoe’s sure as hell gonna bring it up, so I don’t want you to be surprised if you hear all sorts of accusations.” He motioned me to come a little closer. I bent over, placing my hand on the armrest of his wheelchair. I could hear a deep rasp inside the governor’s chest every time he exhaled. “Back in ’82, there was a story going around. Folks were spreading the rumor that I had a child with a Black woman. We sent telegrams to every newspaper editor in the state, saying we’d sue each and every one of them for ten million dollars apiece if they put that story into print. And we’ll do the same thing this year if it comes up again.”

I thought of the anonymous letter that had been left on my desk at the Advertiser. Fowler was more right than he knew. But I kept my mouth shut.

He reached out and rested his good hand on my shoulder. “Here’s what I want you to do, Jack. If you ever hear a reporter talking about this, I want you to call up his editor and tell him that Governor Fowler has a whole team of libel lawyers just waiting for him to run a story like that. Then call me up and I’ll get one of the lawyers to speak to him personally. That’ll put the fear of God in ’em.”

His face was so close I could see the gray stubble pocking his cheeks. It was too close — I felt nauseous as he gripped my shoulder and looked me in the eye. This was part of his plan, I suppose. Even in his deteriorated state, he could still be intimidating. But behind the bluster, I sensed a trace of uneasiness. He was hiding something.

“I hate to expose you so soon to the dirty side of politics, Jack. But that’s the nature of the beast, and you might as well learn about it now instead of later. You understand, right?”

I understood perfectly. There was something in Fowler’s past that he didn’t want anyone to know about, something I’d never caught wind of in the four years I’d been writing about him. And even though I wasn’t a newspaper reporter anymore, I wanted very badly to know what that something was. So badly that I couldn’t stop myself from posing the question. “I’m sorry, governor, but I have to ask you this. Is there any truth to this particular rumor?”

I fully expected him to be outraged at the suggestion. But instead he gave me a lopsided grin. “I said it was libelous, right? And it can’t be libelous if it’s true, Jack. You’re a newspaper reporter, you should know that.” He tilted his head, clearly amused. Then he stretched his good arm again and let out a yawn. “Now I think I’ll go upstairs and lie down for a bit. Say goodbye to Mabel for me. Janey!”

Janey stopped harassing the gardener and returned to the patio. As she pushed Fowler back inside the mansion, I could’ve sworn I saw him wink at me.

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About Mark Alpert

Contributing editor at Scientific American and author of science thrillers: Final Theory (2008), The Omega Theory (2011), Extinction (2013), The Furies (2014), The Six (2015), The Orion Plan (2016), The Siege (2016), and The Silence (2017). His latest thriller, The Coming Storm (St. Martin's Press, 2019), is a cautionary tale about climate change, genetic engineering, and Donald Trump. His website: www.markalpert.com

7 thoughts on “Writing About A Blood Sport

  1. This is so interesting since my own recently released novel’s background [100+ years in the future] is a near dystopian USA due to the political decisions being made in our own time. And the sequel, on which I am currently working, is set in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Given today’s political environment, it is prescient.
    My recently released novel is here:

    I am also a huge fan of Alabama football. And today is game 1 kickoff. How cool is that?

    • Cynthia, this is true. While I was born in Florida, I lived a good portion of my life in Alabama and am a graduate of the UA in Huntsville. I had a friend who was from New York state who came down the AL for a job. He confided he thought he was coming into an area of bare feet and outhouses. Little did he know he had landed in one of the most heavily PhD-populated areas in the country. By the way, I introduced him to grits which, I later learned, he secretly went out and bought for himself. Ha.

    • I guess you’ve missed the DELIVERANCE banjo-playing, relative-marrying memes so popular with the youth. I’m used to South bashing from those who have never set foot here, but that is just brutal.

  2. I live in a purple state that is considered one of the five most important to win in the presidential and senate elections. Add into that millions, if not billions, of dollars pumped into every race in the state from outside sources. That is political election suffering where almost nothing we do is free of the ads, and the candidates or their families are always here. The only things almost as dangerous as talking politics are ACC basketball, here in the home of the ACC Big Three basketball powerhouses, and whether Eastern or Lexington-style barbeque is better.

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