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The Last Liberal PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Mark Mathabane   
Sunday, 01 October 2000

Prologue and Chapter One from the political thriller "The Last Liberal"

Mark Mathabane

by Mark Mathabane
October/November 2000



Prologue

THE RESTAURANT ATOP the Upper East side skyscraper revolved, giving Alison Ramsey and Myron Pearson a breathtaking 360-degree view of the dazzling lights of Manhattan, from Harlem to the World Trade Center, and from the Hudson to the East River. A pianist in a tuxedo played "As Time Goes By" on a Steinway grand piano. Lush potted palms separated the round candlelit glass tables from each other, affording privacy and giving the restaurant an intimate, tropical atmosphere.

Their conversation about One Nation, Myron's newly published book on the state of race relations in America, was interrupted by a young female waitress with a long neck, prominent collar bones and the erect posture of a dancer. She walked with her toes pointed outward and her back perfectly straight. She poured the Columbia Crest Merlot they had ordered into fluted crystal wineglasses. As soon as she'd left to fetch their main course Alison raised her glass.

"To us," she toasted.

"To us," Myron echoed.

They clinked glasses.

I have to tell her soon, Myron thought distractedly, before this romantic evening progresses to the point of no return. Myron had made up his mind during the cab ride after picking Alison from Laguardia Airport that he shouldn't lead her on. He would be honest, brutally honest if need be, in telling her the reasons why their wedding should be called off.

"Alison, I was just thinking about us. About our future."

"Funny," Alison said with a smile. "I was thinking about that too."

"Really?"

"Yes. Myron, I have terrific news," she said warmly, her marine-blue eyes shining in the mellow candlelight. "I've been holding it back, waiting for the perfect moment - like now - to tell you."

Myron was at a loss for words. He was rescued by the arrival of the waitress with their steaming food. Alison, a vegetarian, had ordered lentil-stuffed zucchini with Spanish rice and Myron, who was also a vegetarian but not a strict one, had ordered broiled Norwegian salmon with minty new potatoes and asparagus. The waitress served them, refilled their wineglasses, and then left.

"A miracle has occurred, my love," Alison said as they began eating.

"I'm listening," Myron said feebly. He reached for his wineglass.

"My dad finally came around. He's agreed to give us his blessing."

Myron almost choked on the wine. "Are you serious?" he said after a brief coughing spell, searching Alison's face.

"I'm serious." Alison proceeded to explain the talk she had had with her father before flying to New York.

"And I've Uncle Reggie to thank for dad changing his mind. After I walked in and heard dad say all those terrible things against our getting married, I had lunch with Uncle Reggie the very next day, to give him my side of the story. I told him what you meant to me, and that you and I belonged together. He told me not to worry, that he'd talk to dad. That same evening my dad and I had dinner together at the Salem Tavern and he gave me his blessings. And here I am."

Myron stammered. "I don't know what to say."

"And you know what Uncle Reggie plans to give us for a wedding present?"

"No."

"An all-expenses paid two weeks vacation to Switzerland, so you and I can finally realize our dream of hiking in the Alps. He says we can stay at his chalet overlooking the Lake of Lucerne. It's gorgeous. He showed me pictures."

As she spoke Alison was so ebullient, so joyful, that Myron, without thinking, reached across the table, and, caressing her left cheek, said tenderly, "That's wonderful, honey."

Alison gently pulled his hand from her cheek, and held it in both of hers. "I love you so much, Myron. So very much. I'm glad I don't have to choose. Like I told you before, had I been forced to choose, I definitely would've chosen you over my father. But it would've been so painful. Now I don't have to give up either of you."

Myron relished the happy expression on her face, the warm pressure of her soft hands, the deeply moving words she'd just uttered. "We've been through a lot together," Myron heard himself say. "I guess we just made it over another hurdle. I'm sure more lie ahead."

"We'll cross them when we come to them, darling."

"You'll never regret marrying me?"

"Never."

"Are you sure you're strong enough to handle the stares, the insults, even the hatred?"

"I can bear it knowing that we truly love each other."

Overwhelmed by the sincerity of her emotions, and the radiance of her smiling face, Myron pushed all thoughts of breaking up with her out of his mind and focused on the beauty of the moment. Perhaps they could stay together after all. The tension that had built up within him since his talk with his grandmother two days ago - brought on by the conflict between knowing he had to end the relationship and feeling a desperate longing and deep love for Alison - finally faded away. He relaxed. He was sure of his feelings for her, and of hers for him. Now, for the first time in days, he believed the bond between them was so strong, so unbreakable, that together they could take on the world.

When they left the restaurant they were so eager to be in each other's arms they skipped the Broadway show and went straight back to his apartment, a renovated ivy-covered brownstone in Morningside Heights, overlooking Riverside Park and the Hudson River. A narrow stairwell from the apartment led to a private entrance onto the roof, which was sectioned off and bounded on all sides by a high cement wall. Myron, an avid gardener, had planted flowers and exotic shrubs, creating quite a lush, sylvan nook. He and Alison went up there often to share intimate moments under the stars, to read poetry, or to sun themselves. It was quiet, peaceful, private.

Myron and Alison stepped onto the roof and breathed deeply the warm August night air, and the fragrance of the red and yellow roses. The stars shone brilliantly, as did the lights across the Palisades. The moon reflected on the Hudson in silver ripples. Myron spread out a Ralph Lauren comforter and placed two down pillows side by side. Alison had finished putting a Marvin Gaye's greatest hits CD inside the boombox. The two lay side by side.

"Do you hear that helicopter?" Myron said as he tenderly stroked Alison's face and shoulder-length dark hair. "I wonder what it's looking for. It's been flying up and down the Hudson for the past ten minutes."

"I don't care about helicopters." Alison smiled seductively.

Myron smiled back and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"I think I saw a shooting star," Alison said softly, her head nestled beside his on the pillows.

They lay there in silence for a while, gazing up at the bejeweled sky.

"How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank," Myron said softly. "Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night..."

"Become the touches of sweet harmony," Alison finished the quote from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

Myron could feel her warm breath on his face. He kissed her.

She looked into his soft brown eyes, inches from her own. "Myron, I'm scared," she said suddenly.

"Scared? Why?"

"I feel so much in love I'm afraid it won't last. I've been having this dream lately, that you and I were little wrens confined in separate cages. We longed to be together, so we frantically beat our tiny wings against the cage. To no avail. Finally, one of us dropped dead. I don't know who it was."

A tear rolled down her right cheek. Myron could taste the briny dampness as he continued kissing her tenderly on the cheek, neck and the erect nipples of her ripened breasts.

"Nothing can keep us apart," he whispered.

She threw her arms around him and pressed her body tight against his. He ran his hands over her shapely hip under her dress, then along her torso. They peeled off their clothes in a whisper of zips, then tenderly reached for each other. Alison suddenly remembered that she hadn't inserted her diaphragm. But it would spoil the precious moment to go back into the apartment, get it from her purse and put it on. She and Myron were going to be married in two weeks, so why not, if fate wanted it, conceive his baby on the happiest night of her life. She let go.

From overhead they must have looked stunning, a man and a woman embracing, naked, one black, one white, moving together slowly, gently, rhythmically to the sensual voice of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing. Relaxed and euphoric, they lay on the comforter, staring lovingly into each other's eyes, kissing softly, relishing the true love they'd just shared.

We belong together, Myron thought blissfully.

They fell asleep wrapped around each other on the roof.

Myron awoke after twenty minutes.

That damn helicopter, he thought as he gathered Alison in his arms and carried her down the narrow stairwell to his bedroom. Both were still naked. She smiled up at him sleepily. Pushing the heap of books on the double bed to one side, he lay her on top and pulled the blankets from around her. As it was a warm humid night, he covered her with only a white cotton sheet, then snuggled in besides her, entwining his body around hers. His face was nuzzled against her neck. By her slow, steady breathing, Myron could tell Alison was fast asleep. He noticed her eyes move under her closed eyelids as if watching a dream.

An hour passed. Then another. He couldn't sleep. His conversation with his grandmother played through his mind like a broken record. He had promised her he'd break up their wedding plans. But how could he, when they were so much in love, and he was so sure of that love.

Toward dawn Myron finally drifted off to sleep. He slept soundly for about two hours before he began dreaming. He was in a labyrinth, running frantically through the maze of identical passages, searching for a way out. He saw light at the end of one passage and sprinted toward it. As he emerged from the labyrinth, the brilliance of the sun nearly blinded him. When his eyes adjusted to the light he found himself surrounded by a mob of angry blacks, dressed in the green, gold, and yellow garb of Afro-Purists. They jeered and hurled stones at him, called him a traitor to his race. Then a huge white sheriff, in Klan robes, his prodigious gut squeezed by his buckled holster, pointed a gun at him. The sheriff's face morphed into that of Lawrence Ramsey, Alison's father. In a slow, Southern drawl, the sheriff said, "I tol' you, nigga, not to mess with no white woman."

The gun went off.

Myron cried out and sat bolt upright, breathing hard.

"What's wrong?" Alison asked, startled. She was leaning on her elbow, her hair mussed.

Myron blinked rapidly, stared at Alison, then around the room. "I had a nightmare." He was visibly shaken. He took dreams very seriously. They sometimes revealed hidden truths. He got up, pulled on a brown terry robe, and went into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of cranberry juice. Alison donned a long white T-shirt that reached all the way to her knees and followed him. She found him sitting on a chrome chair at the kitchen table, looking quite forlorn.

"What was the nightmare about?" she asked.

He sipped his juice. "Something doesn't feel right."

"What doesn't feel right?"

"I can't explain it."

"Try, honey." Standing behind him, she wrapped her hands reassuringly around his neck.

"Since you came I've been meaning to tell you" He stopped, wondering how to say what he'd held back for so long, wondering whether to say it.

"Meaning to tell me what?"

Myron cleared his throat. "I've been meaning to tell you that we shouldn't go through with the wedding."

"What?"

"It just won't work, Alison."

Alison removed her hands from his shoulders as if she'd been electrocuted. She slumped into a chair across from him. She shook her head slowly, not comprehending. "What did you just say?"

"I've been thinking a lot the past few days."

"About what?"

"I know that deep down your father doesn't really want me for a son-in-law. He made that abundantly clear when he said all those negative things against interracial marriages. And let's face it, he won't get elected if we marry."

Alison just stared at him, her lips slightly parted in mute disbelief.

"I was also thinking about my responsibilities to the black community," he went on. "I want them to trust me, to believe in me. Having a white wife at this point would be a huge handicap, given how separatist blacks have become."

Even as he spoke he knew his words were insincere, vacuous, at odds with what was truly in his heart. He was forcing himself to say these things. He didn't know what possessed him to say them. As soon as he had finished and saw the tortured look on Alison's face, and the huge tears standing in her eyes, he immediately wished he could take it all back. But it was too late.

"So you plan to dump me because I'm white?"

"I don't mean that."

"What do you mean?"

"I didn't quite put it clearly."

Her hurt quickly turned to rage. "Oh, you put it clearly all right. You fucking hypocrite!"

"Honey, I meant -"

"Don't honey me, you bastard! How dare you make me feel so damn cheap?"

She stood up and rushed to the bedroom. She started gathering her belongings and stuffing them into her suitcase.

Myron followed her, agonizing over what he could say to appease her fury. "Alison, wait."

"Wait for what?" she cried, wheeling to face him.

Myron didn't know what to say. He was too confused to think clearly.

"I said I loved you," Alison said as she continued packing. "You asked me to marry you. I was prepared to give up a great deal for our love. And is this what I get in return? How can you be so two-faced?"

I'm not two-faced."

"What about last night? How do you explain what you said then and what you just said now? How could you lie there and look me in the eye and tell me, 'Nothing can keep us apart'? Obviously it was your prick speaking."

"That's not true! Please understand, Alison. Not going through with the wedding doesn't mean I don't love you."

"Yes it does," she said, tugging on her suitcase zipper.

"But think of your father. The hopes of millions in North Carolina are riding on his candidacy. And the black community needs me."

Alison spun around and faced him. "So what am I?" she cried. "Some lamb you sacrifice to pacify the political gods for the benefit of my father and the black community? Jesus Christ, Myron. Grow up. There's more to life than politics."

Alison's rage was making Myron more and more defensive. "Politics are important. If your father loses blacks in North Carolina will suffer. And if you don't understand that, you'll never understand me."

"Oh, so now I don't understand you. It's a black thing, huh? Little honky me wouldn't understand. Is that it?"

"Why are you dragging race into this?"

"ME? You're the one who dragged race into this. Do you think you'd be breaking up with me if I were black?"

"It's not because you're white. It's so your father can win."

"What makes you think my father can't win if we get married? Why does everyone think North Carolina is overrun with bigots? I don't think my father is the issue at all. I think you're just chicken. That's it. You're a coward."

"I am NOT a coward!"

"You can't hack being in an interracial relationship anymore. It takes guts, doesn't it? And you haven't got any."

Myron was so furious he wanted to punch a hole in the wall. Instead he smacked his fist hard against his open palm to let off steam.

The gesture stopped Alison in mid-sentence. She stared wide-eyed at him. He was looming before her, livid and powerful. Suddenly it flashed through her mind: Could he possibly try and hurt me? What have I gotten myself into? I've been shooting off my big mouth, making him mad as hell.
n>

Alison recalled the harrowing testimony about spousal abuse during the O.J. trial, and the words of her aunt Mimie, who was so shocked when Darlene told her that Alison was dating a black man that she'd called Alison in New York and warned her, "You'd better not get involved with black men, my dear. You might end up like Nicole Brown Simpson."

Alison zipped the suitcase shut, slipped on her sandals, and tried to leave. Myron blocked the door.

"Don't leave yet," he said. "Not like this."

"Would you please move?" Alison said firmly.

"Let's both calm down and talk about this rationally."

"Move."

"We love each other too much to let it end like this."

"Let me out of here or I'll call 911." When he still didn't budge she added, "I swear I will." She turned toward the phone on wall.

Myron promptly stepped aside. He remembered O.J. and the infamous 911 tape. He definitely didn't want the cops getting involved. Besides, he could practically read Alison's mind by the stony expression on her face. It surprised and hurt him deeply to think that she suspected him of being capable of ever doing anything to hurt her. He could never ever do that.

"Go on, then," he said, feeling sick at heart.. "Leave. I'm not stopping you."

She slammed the front door behind her as she left. Myron went to the window and looked down. A few minutes later he saw her emerge onto the sidewalk. She headed up the street, looking over her shoulder for a cab. She had to raise her hand just once before one screeched to a halt. Myron remembered how often he'd watched several empty cabs race by before one would stop for a black man.

He went back into the apartment, slouched on the brown couch, buried his face in his hands, let out a deep sigh and muttered, "My God, what have I done? What have I done? I've lost her. I've lost the woman I love more than anything else in this world."

He'd never felt so empty and so miserable in his life.

Chapter One

LAWRENCE RAMSEY, FLUSH FROM his narrow victory the night before in the North Carolina Democratic Gubernatorial primary, sat behind the wheel of a shiny black Lexus LS400 waiting for his wife Darlene. He was humming along to the music from his favorite CD, Antonio Vivaldis The Four Seasons. The Lexus, its smooth but powerful V8 engine purring, stood in the driveway of the Ramseys sprawling double-story red-brick house in Emerywood, a prestigious neighborhood in High Point, the furniture capital of the world.

Darlene, wearing a soft crepe de Chine dress, locked the mahogany front door, and put the key in her slim black leather purse. She hurried toward the Lexus, her flat-heeled, low-cut pumps clattering on the brick walkway. She entered the passenger side of the car and fastened her seatbelt.

Ramsey shifted the gear from park to drive and slowly pulled out of the winding driveway lined with magnolia trees sprouting purple and white spring blossoms. Reaching the end of the driveway, the Lexus turned left and headed toward Main Street.

Were you able to reach Alison, dear? Ramsey asked, turning down the stereo just as the Spring Allegro began.

Yes. She was getting ready to take a nap. Shes very tired. Her labor lasted twelve hours.

My poor girl. Hows the baby?

Fine. Hes in the nursery. I told them that wed stop by this afternoon.

I cant wait to see my first grandchild.

Me too. I only wish Alison were happy in her marriage to Eliot, Darlene said with a sigh.

Don't worry, Ramsey said. The baby will bring them closer together.

I hope so, Darlene said doubtfully.

You don't sound too hopeful.

To be honest with you, Lawrence, I'm not.

Why not?

I know you don't like discussing Myron but - she stopped short.

But what?

The Lexus was now passing the High Point library, whose board of directors Darlene was a member. The library had just re-opened after closing for almost a month for the computerizing of its cataloging system. Its parking lot was packed, as always, and several patrons, their arms full of books, were making their way up the brick sidewalk to the entrance.

Well, I think Alison's still very much in love with him. I wonder if it was a good idea for you to oppose their getting married.

What do you mean I opposed their getting married? Ramsey said, stiffening. Didn't I tell Alison that I'd approve the marriage if she were sure of Myron's love?

Yes. But that was after you'd said all those horrible things about mixed marriages right in front of Alison.

How did you expect me to react? I was shocked by her sudden wedding plans.

You forget that I agreed to marry you after we'd known each other only a week, honey. And Myron and Alison had been together over a year.

You talk as if you had no objection to the marriage.

I didn't.

It's because you were just carried away by the fact that your daughter turned out to be a non-conformist like you.

What should she conform to? Prejudices that say blacks and whites can never love or marry each other?

Stop being idealistic about the whole thing, okay.

The Lexus came to a stop at a red light.

Listen to yourself, Lawrence. You sound just like your father did when you told him you wanted to marry a Jewish girl from New York.

That was different.

Why?

Being Jewish isn't the same as being black.

To some people I've met down here being Jewish is worse than being black. Don't forget they accuse us of killing Christ.

Darlene, why are you always imagining things? People adore you around here. You were the finest teacher Wellington Academy ever had. And you now have a fulfilling career in furniture, an active social life, and lots of friends.

I know when people smile in my face and yet despise me because I'm Jewish, a Northerner, and a feminist. I know our marriage has hurt your political career and business.

The signal light turned green. Ramsey waited for an old lady walking a poodle to finish crossing the street before turning left onto Lexington Avenue.

Come on, Darlene.. Don't exaggerate. Yes, a few anti-Semites didn't vote for me in '77, so what? And as for business, we've made more than enough to live comfortably the rest of our lives. You can't say that Alison and Myron would've had as easy a time being married as we've had. Especially with the races getting more and more polarized. And you forget that I told Alison that I'd be willing to give my consent if she was sure that Myron wanted the wedding.

I know that.

And you know the rest too. She flew up to New York eager to tell Myron that their wedding was on only to come back with a broken heart.

"And in her pain and confusion, Darlene said, she agreed to a shotgun marriage to Eliot. Now shes very unhappy.

The Lexus was now cruising down Lexington. A jogger in blue shorts, white Adidas T-shirt and a visor ran passed at a steady pace. He was sweating profusely but seemed to be enjoying his run. On some of the manicured lawns alongside the road signs of various candidates for local and state office were posted. Several of the signs had Ramsey For Governor and Lynch for Governor on them.

I wonder what exactly happened when she flew up to New York to talk to Myron. She's never told me about it.

She did tell her Uncle Reggie.

She did?

Yes. It was the day after you left to attend your cousins funeral. Alison and Eliot had had a big fight and Alison threatened to leave.

A big fight over what?

The usual. Politics. Anyway, I asked Reggie to go talk with her, since they'd become rather close after her break-up with Myron. He has a way of getting her to reveal things about her love life that she never tells me or you.

And?

Apparently Myron told her that marrying a white woman would hurt his credibility in the black community.

Myron said that?

That's what Alison told Reggie. And I must say I'm not surprised. Myron's an up-and-coming leader in the black community. Hes written an influential book and is now an advisor to Clinton on the race initiative. Hes obviously destined for great things. Having a white wife would've been a big liability. The black community isnt exactly thrilled about its leaders getting into mixed marriages, you know. Especially after the O.J. Simpson verdict.

Then why the hell did he propose to our daughter?

I wonder about that too.

A visibly dejected Darlene stared out the window at the cloudy sky. She somehow felt betrayed by Myron. She'd thought very highly of him, especially for his principled stance against black anti-Semitism. She remembered the article he'd written for the New York Times op-ed page, challenging blacks to denounce black anti-Semitism with as much passion as they denounced white racism. The article had brought him a great deal of flak from some in the black community, who called him an Uncle Tom, but it had also earned him the respect of many, including her father, a retired professor of Urban Planning at NYU. A stalwart of the civil rights movement who'd been one of Dr. King's close advisors, hed said of Myron: Martin would've been proud of him. What he said in that article took courage. But it needed to be said if the civil rights cause is to retain its moral high ground.

Something tells me Myron would've made Alison very happy, Darlene said reflectively, without looking at Ramsey. They were so compatible.

But we couldn't well force him to marry Alison, could we? Anyway, let's not rehash the whole business, okay? Alison is now a married woman. And I have a tough campaign ahead of me.

The two drove in silence for a while.

Do you really believe I'd have won the primary if Alison had married Myron? Ramsey asked suddenly, as the Lexus drove past a newly opened shopping center with several stores displaying Grand Opening and Sale signs on their windows and entrances.

We'll never know, will we?

I didnt tell you this, but Reggie did some private polling which showed that a mixed marriage would've cost me enough votes to make a difference in a close election. Yet still I was willing to take the risk. You know why? Because I care more about Alison's happiness than about some political office. And yet you keep on insinuating that I have no backbone simply because I've decided to follow Reggies advice to run as a conservative Democrat.

Speaking of Reggie. I know he's one of the best political strategists and your childhood friend, but I don't like the kind of control you've given him over the campaign. He decides everything.

Ramsey glared at his wife.

I told you a long time ago to leave Reggie alone, he said, somewhat miffed. He's the best campaign manager I could ever want. The people he brought with him are all pros. And don't forget, they've never worked on a losing campaign.

But they're so clannish, Darlene countered. I've heard numerous complaints from volunteers about how they poke their noses into everything. The other day I met Nelson Wallace at a fund-raiser for the United Negro College Fund in Winston-Salem. He told me that Reggie keeps denying him access to you.

Reggie doesn't deny anyone access to me, Ramsey said as the Lexus took a right on High Point-Wallburg road, and went down a narrow, two-lane country road. He's simply trying to streamline my time and prevent me from being swamped. Do you know what'd happen if I started granting everyone audience and patiently listening to their latest treatise about what sort of campaign I should run? I'd be a basket-case.

So you only take advice from Reggie?

And from you, too, dear, Ramsey said, reaching over and kissing her on the cheek. The car had come to a stop at a four-way stop. There was a huge freshly ploughed tobacco field to their right. Ramsey signaled left.

You know why I value Reggie's advice? Ramsey said as he completed the turn, just as a rabbit scurried across the road. I trust him completely. Not only is he brilliant tactically and strategically, but he's not afraid to tell me the truth. He's unlike other campaign managers who only tell their clients what they want to hear. It took guts for him to say that he couldn't possibly manage my campaign if I ran as a liberal Democrat. I could've gone with James Carville.

Why didn't you? Carville's as good as they come. He did get Clinton and your friend Wofford elected, remember?

Times have changed, Darlene. There's been a conservative Revolution. And in North Carolina it swept liberals like Sanford out of office. Besides, that cross burning on our front yard made me realize that a lot is at stake this election year. Our country is steeped in hate. If I win I can offer real leadership on the race issue. But to win at a time when liberals are on the defensive I have to run the kind of unorthodox campaign Reggie recommended.

What about a campaign based on principles rather than polls?

Jesus Christ, Darlene. Look across the political landscape. How many Democrats are advertising themselves as liberals, huh? Even Clinton is casting himself as another Ronald Reagan. If I'd run openly as a liberal Austin would've creamed me in the primary. Instead, Reggie's strategy of having me run as a stealth liberal has paid off. I'm now the Democratic nominee.

Darlene raised her eyebrows.

What's a stealth liberal?

Ramsey grinned conspiratorially. A stealth liberal is someone who's a conservative on the outside and a liberal on the inside, he said. And as a stealth liberal I'll be able to evade enemy radar until I'm safely ensconced in the Governor's mansion. Then bang, I can be as liberal as I want to be.

So you're running as a fraud, is that it? Darlene said, scarcely hiding her disgust. No wonder you barely won the primary. By abandoning your core principles you demoralized your supporters, Lawrence. Many of them stayed away from the polls because the only choice they had was between two Republicans masquerading as Democrats.

Ramsey's pale face flushed crimson.

I'm not a Republican, dammit. I had to do what it takes to win. Every politician does that.

Are you a politician or a leader?

What do you mean?

Well, my dad used to say that a politician will do or say anything to get elected. A leader welcomes defeat, if winning means prostituting his principles.

That's idealistic. We aren't living in Plato's Republic, Ramsey said dismissively, suddenly recalling the lively discussions he used to have with students when he'd taught philosophy at Guilford College in the '60s. I'd be naive not to play the political game according to its rules. And it's a fact that the Democratic Party has to moderate its liberalism. Else it risks political oblivion.

No wonder it's in trouble, Darlene said. Its leaders are trying mightily to out-Republican Republicans, instead of standing up for what they believe. But I'm sure of one thing. Had you run as a liberal our only child would've married the man she loved, and she'd be happier than she's now.

She'll be happier as soon as she, Eliot and the baby take a vacation. Reggie has offered them his chalet in Switzerland for as long as they want.

I wish him luck, Darlene said skeptically. Eliot wont go. Hes a workaholic, just like his father.

But he listens to Reggie.

Eliot listens more to Theodore than he does to anyone, Darlene said. And Theodore has been trying to form that boy in his own image ever since Laura died. That's why our daughter is so miserable. Remember how open-minded Eliot used to be? Now Alison tells me that all he does is parrot Rush Limbaugh.

It's just a phase he's going through. Dont forget hes only twenty-six.

Ramsey came to a stop in front of a gigantic ante-bellum mansion massive pillars and a lawn like the greens of the nearby Willow Creek golf course. Stately magnolia and oak trees draped in Spanish moss surrounded the 30-room house. A profusion of tulips, freesias, azaleas, African daisies, violets, forget-me-nots, pansies and gladiolas lined the brick path leading to the front door.

Enjoy your book-club meeting, Ramsey said. When should I pick you up?

Darlene glanced at her watch. Three oclock. I told Alison that wed stop by around four and see the baby before you leave for East Carolina.

"Okay. Reggie should be back by then.

Where has he gone anyway? I haven't seen him since last night. And I'm still waiting for my schedule of activities for next week.

He left for Boone early this morning for a meeting with Richard Kessler. Ramsey looked at his watch. He should be on his way back by now. He told me he left your schedule with Jeb.

Meeting with Kessler? What for?

He's been trying to persuade the reclusive billionaire to host a major fund-raiser for me. I hope he succeeds. Ill need a lot of money for the general election. Im told that Lynch already has more than ten million dollars in his war-chest.

Are you going to headquarters after you drop me off?

No. I have a noon TV interview and then a one-thirty speech at High Point University.

Don't forget to stop by the office. Caldwell has been swamped with orders from market. He wants to talk to you about hiring more drivers. Apparently that Buck Maguire is proving quite unreliable. He still hasn't returned from California.

I will. Bye honey. Ramsey lightly kissed Darlene on the cheek. And don't worry about Alison. She'll be all right.

I hope so. Bye.

What a dear friend and partner, Ramsey thought with a smile as he watched Darlene walk briskly to the front door. He turned and drove away to the News-8 TV studios just off Interstate 85.





Mark Mathabane touched the hearts of millions with his sensational autobiography, Kaffir Boy. Telling the true story of his coming of age under apartheid in South Africa, the book made the New York Times and Washington Post bestseller lists and was translated into several languages. Today, the book is used in classrooms across the U.S.

If you've enjoyed reading the Prologue and Chapter One of The Last Liberal and would like to read the rest, send an e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it for easy instructions on downloading the next installment.




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