By noon Friday, Barry Rinehart had propped up his poll numbers to the point where he felt confident enough to call Mr. Trudeau. Fisk was seven points ahead and seemed to have regained momentum. Barry had no qualms about rounding the numbers up a bit to make the great man feel better. He'd been lying all week anyway. Mr. Trudeau would never know they had almost blown a sixteen-point lead.
"We're up by ten points," Barry said confidently from his hotel suite.
"Then it's over?"
"I know of no election in which the front-runner has dropped ten points over the last weekend. And, with all the money we're spending on media, I think we're gaining."
"Nice job, Barry," Carl said, and closed his phone.
As Wall Street waited for the news that Krane Chemical would file for bankruptcy, Carl Trudeau purchased five million shares of the company's stock in a private transaction.
The seller was a fund manager who handled the retirement portfolio of the public employees of Minnesota. Carl had been stalking the stock for months, and the manager was finally convinced that Krane was hopeless. He dumped the stock for $ 11 a share and considered himself lucky.
Carl then launched a plan to purchase another five million shares as soon as the market opened. His identity as the buyer would not be disclosed until he filed with the SEC ten days later.
By then, of course, the election would be over.
In the year since the verdict, he had secretly and methodically increased his stake in the company. Using offshore trusts, Panamanian banks, two dummy corporations based in Singapore, and the expert advice of a Swiss banker, the Trudeau Group now owned 60 percent of Krane. The sudden grab for ten million more shares would raise Carl'sownership to 77 percent.
At 2:30 p.m. Friday, Krane issued a brief press release announcing that "a bankruptcy filing has been indefinitely postponed."
Barry Rinehart was not following the news on Wall Street. He had little interest in Krane Chemical and its financial dealings. There were at least three dozen important matters to monitor during the next seventy-two hours, and none could be overlooked.
However, after five days in the hotel suite, he needed to move.
With Tony driving, they left Jackson and went to Hattiesburg, where Barry got a quick tour of the important sights: the Forrest County Circuit Court building, where the verdict started it all, the semi-abandoned shopping center that the Paytons called their office, Kenny's Karate on one side and a whiskey store on the other-and a couple of neighborhoods where Ron Fisk yard signs outnumbered Sheila McCarthy's two to one.
They had dinner in a downtown restaurant called 206 Front Street and at 7:00 p.m. parked outside Reed Green Coliseum on the campus of Southern Miss. They sat in the car for thirty minutes and watched the crowd arrive, in vans and converted school buses and fancy coaches, each one with the name of its church painted boldly along the sides. They were from Purvis, Poplarville, Lumberton, Bowmore, Collins, Mount Olive, Brooklyn, and Sand Hill.
"Some of those towns are an hour from here," Tony said with satisfaction.
The worshippers poured into the parking lots around the coliseum and hurried inside.
Many carried identical blue and white signs that said, "Save the Family."
"Where did you get the signs?" Tony asked.
"Got 'em for a buck ten, fifty thousand total. The Chinese company wanted a buck thirty."
"So nice to hear we're saving money."
At 7:30, Rinehart and Zachary entered the coliseum and hustled up to the nosebleed seats, as far away as possible from the excited mob below. A stage was set up at one end, with huge "Save the Family" banners hanging behind it. A well-known white gospel quartet ($4,500 for the night, $15,000 for the weekend) was warming up the crowd. The floor was covered with neat rows of folding chairs, thousands of them, all filled with folks in a joyous mood.
"What's the seating capacity?" Barry asked.
"Eight thousand for basketball," Tony said glancing around the arena. A few sections behind the stage were empty. "With the seats on the floor, I'd say we're close to nine thousand."
Barry seemed satisfied.
The master of ceremonies was a local preacher who quieted the crowd with a long prayer, toward the end of which many of his people began waving their hands upward, as if reaching for heaven. There was a fair amount of mumbling and whispering as they prayed fervently.
Barry and Tony just watched, content in their prayerlessness.
The quartet fired them up with another song, then a black gospel group ($500 for the night) rocked the place with a rowdy rendition of "Born to Worship." The first speaker was Walter Utley, from the American Family Alliance in Washington, and when he assumed the podium, Tony recalled their first meeting ten months earlier when Ron Fisk made the rounds. It seemed like years ago. Utley was not a preacher, nor he much of a speaker. He dulled the crowd with a frightening list of all the evils being proposed in Washington. He railed against the courts and politicians and a host of other bad people. When he finished, the crowd applauded and waved their signs.
More music. Another prayer. The star of the rally was David Wil-fong, a Christian activist with a knack for wedging himself into every high-profile dispute involving God. Twenty million people listened to his radio show every day. Many sent him money.
Many bought his books and tapes. He was an educated, ordained minister with a fiery, frantic voice, and within five minutes he had the crowd jumping up in a standing ovation. He condemned immorality on every front, but he saved his heavy stuff for gays and lesbians who wanted to get married. The crowd could not sit still or remain quiet. It was their chance to verbally express their opposition, and to do so in a very public manner. After every third sentence, Wilfong had to wait for the applause to die down.
He was being paid $50,000 for the weekend, money that had originated months earlier from somewhere in the mysterious depths of the Trudeau Group. But no human could trace it.
Twenty minutes into his performance, Wilfong stopped for a special introduction.
When Ron and Doreen Fisk stepped onto the stage, the arena seemed to shake. Ron spoke for five minutes. He asked for their votes come Tuesday, and for their prayers. He and Doreen walked across the stage to a thunderous standing ovation. They waved and shook their fists in triumph, then walked to the other side of the stage as the mob stomped its feet.
Barry Rinehart managed to contain his amusement. Of all his creations, Ron Fisk was the most perfect.
Families were saved throughout south Mississippi the following day and into Sunday.
Utley and Wilfong drew huge crowds, and of course the crowds adored Ron and Doreen Fisk.
Those who chose not to take a church bus to a rally were bombarded with relentless advertising on television. And the mailman was always close by, hauling to the besieged homes yet more campaign propaganda.
While publicly the campaign raced on in a numbing frenzy, a darker side came together over the weekend. Under Marlin's direction, a dozen operatives fanned out through the district and hooked up with old contacts. They visited rural supervisors on their farms, and black preachers in their churches, and county ward bosses in their hunting cabins. Voter registration rolls were reviewed. Numbers were agreed upon. Sacks of cash changed hands. The tariff was $25 per vote. Some called it "gas money," as if it could be justified as a legitimate expense.
The operatives were working for Ron Fisk, though he would never know of their activities.
Suspicions would be raised after the votes were counted, after Fisk received an astounding number of votes in black precincts, but Tony would assure him that it was simply a case of some wise people understanding the issues.
On November 4, two-thirds of those registered in the southern district cast their votes.
When the polls closed at 7:00 p.m., Sheila McCarthy drove straight to the Biloxi Riviera Casino, where her volunteers were preparing for a party. No reporters were allowed. The first results were somewhat satisfying. She carried Harrison County, her home, with 55 percent of the vote.
When Nat Lester saw this figure in Jackson, at the McCarthy headquarters, he knew they were dead. Fisk got almost half the votes in the most laid-back county in the district. It soon got much worse.
Ron and Doreen were eating pizza at the crowded campaign office in downtown Brookhaven.
The Lincoln County votes were being tallied just down the street, and when the news came that his neighbors had turned out in big numbers and given him 75 percent of the vote, the party began. In Pike County, next door, Fisk received 64 percent.
When Sheila lost Hancock County on the Coast, her night was over, as was her career on the supreme court. In one ten-minute span, she then lost Forrest County (Hattiesburg), Jones County (Laurel), and Adams County (Natchez).
All precincts were in by 11:00 p.m. Ron Fisk won easily with 53 percent of the vote.
Sheila McCarthy received 44 percent, and Clete Coley retained enough admirers to give him the remaining 3 percent. It was a solid thrashing, with Fisk losing only Harrison and Stone counties.
He even beat McCarthy in Cancer County, though not in the four precincts within the city limits of Bowmore. In the rural areas, though, where the Brotherhood ministers toiled in the fields, Ron Fisk took almost 80 percent of the vote.
Mary Grace wept when she saw the final numbers from Cary County: Fisk, 2,238; McCarthy, 1,870; Coley, 55.
The only good news was that Judge Thomas Harrison had survived, but barely.
The dust settled in the week that followed. In several interviews, Sheila McCarthy presented the face of a graceful loser. She did, however, say, "It will be interesting to see how much money Mr. Fisk raised and spent."
Justice Jimmy McElwayne was less gracious. In several articles, he was quoted as saying, "I'm not too keen to serve with a man who paid three million for a seat on the court."
When the reports were filed, though, three million looked rather cheap. The Fisk campaign reported total receipts of $4.1 million, with a staggering $2.9 million collected in the thirty-one days of October. Ninety-one percent of this money flooded in from out of state. The report did not list any contributions from or expenses paid to such groups as Lawsuit Victims for Truth, Victims Rising, and GUN. Ron Fisk signed the report, as required by law, but had many questions about the financing.
He pressed Tony for answers about his fund-raising methods, and when the answers were vague, they exchanged heated words. Fisk accused him of hiding money and of taking advantage of his inexperience.
Tony responded hotly that Fisk had been promised unlimited funds, and it wasn't fair to complain after the fact. "You should be thanking me, not bitching about the money," he yelled during a long, contentious meeting.
Soon, though, they would be attacked by reporters and forced to present a united front.
The McCarthy campaign raised $1.9 million and spent every penny of it. The $500,000 note produced by Willy Benton and signed by twelve of the MTA directors would take years to satisfy.
Once the final numbers were available, a storm erupted in the media. A team of investigative journalists with the Clarion-Ledger went after Tony Zachary, Judicial Vision, Ron Fisk, and many of the out-of-state donors who'd sent $5,000 checks. The business groups and the trial lawyers exchanged heated words through the various newspaper stories. Editorials raged about the need for reform. The secretary of state pursued Lawsuit Victims for Truth, Victims Rising, and GUN for such details as the names of members and total amounts spent on advertising.
But the inquiries were met with stiff resistance by Washington lawyers with wide experience in election issues.
Barry Rinehart watched it from the safety of his splendid office in Boca Raton. Such postgame antics were the rule, not the exception. The losers always squawked about the lack of fairness. In a couple of months, Justice Fisk would be on the big bench and most folks would forget the campaign that put him there.
Barry was moving on, negotiating with other clients. An appellate judge in Illinois had been ruling against the insurance industry for many years, and it was time to take him out. But they were haggling over Barry's fees, which had jumped dramatically after the Fisk victory.
Of the $8 million funneled through various routes by Carl Trudeau to Barry and his related "units," almost $7 million was still intact, still hidden.
Thank God for democracy, Barry said to himself many times a day. "Let the people vote!"