This is a work of fiction, a chapter from a work in progress.
Friday, February 9, 1973
The Baltimore office of building contractor Joseph N. Fugenski
Joe Fugenski had the face of a bulldog, a serious under bite, that made him not only unattractive, but also a little scary at first glance. He had bulging biceps, a size 19 neck, granite boulder shoulders, Popeye forearms and a wine barrel for a chest. His round face, bushy eyebrows and moonscape complexion added to Fugenski’s intimidating presence. He seemed a barroom bouncer with an IQ no greater than the overnight low in Nome. He was in fact none of this, but an intelligent contractor, a millionaire builder of homes, bridges and roads. He was the second largest contractor in Maryland and owned a 400-acre farm in Harford County where he raised Thoroughbred horses, two of which he had entered in the Kentucky Derby.
At the moment, Fugenski was smoking an aromatic Nicaraguan Louis XVI cigar in his Baltimore office, trying with great difficulty to pay one whit of attention to the woman sitting across from his desk. To Fugenski’s mind, she was an uppity broad in her late 20s who had come to accuse him of bribes, (taking and paying) kickbacks (taking and paying), and fraud. Fugenski regarded any and all of such activity the necessities of doing business in great state of Maryland. At the moment, Fugenski’s uppity broad, Ms Jacqueline Beckquid, was a fly in this contractor’s ointment.
Ms Beckquid had mousy brown hair, wore no makeup, a two-piece wool herringbone suit from J.C. Penney and a constant expression of bewilderment on her otherwise ordinary countenance. She had brought her secretary, Lawrence Aleworthy, a short, skinny lad with skin a shade darker than an albino’s. He in turn had brought a 40-pound German reel-to-reel tape recorder, which he fussed and babied as if it were the Hope Diamond. Also in attendance was Ginger Pergroin, a court stenographer with a small round mouth crowded with fire engine lipstick, Betty Grable legs, perky breasts, a gap-tooth smile, short, black curly hair with carefully lacquered ringlets at the sides, painted finger- and toenails in matching fire-engine red and makeup applied with a trowel.
A quiet, clean-shaven man with a touch of silver-gray at the temples of his otherwise wavy brown hair sat in a leather wingback chair in a dark corner of Fugenski’s office. He was movie-star handsome with blue eyes, brown wavy hair, a blue pinstripe suit, a crisp white shirt and a bright orange bow tie and lapis lazuli cuff links. The wavy hair style was borrowed from Rudy Vallee. He smoked French cigarettes and read Wordsworth in his spare time. His name was Beauregard Pennington Lewellyn, an alumnus of the University of Virginia, holding both undergraduate and law school degrees from that venerable institution. Although it was but half past 10 on this fine, chilly morning, Beauregard Lewellyn nursed a McCampbell’s single malt Scotch, nectar of the Gods as he was wont to say in the sweetly soothing dulcet tones of his Nawth Geoja accent.
The team of inquisitors sat in a semi-circle in front of Fugenki’s desk. Jackie Beckquid sat in the middle, her back as straight as a kneeling nun’s, both feet planted firmly on the ground. A yellow legal pad lay on her lap. “Thank you for agreeing to this recorded interview Mr. Fugenski. It is much easier than a formal deposition.”
Fugenski said “Huh.” He then blew a stream of cigar smoke slightly above Aleworthy, who focused his attention on the recorder. It was his job to list the question and note the counter number. Just as soon as the smoke reached him, Aleworthy began to cough. At first, the coughs were a couple seconds apart. Then the cough morphed into a hacking fit and Aleworthy was gasping for air, his face ashen.
“This bother you?” said Fugenski amused at his obvious observation and gesturing with his cigar. Still gasping and now turning slightly blue, Aleworthy nodded, one hand covering his mouth, the other clutching top of the tape recorder.
“Hey you,” said Fugenski, pointing his cigar at the stenographer, “You, Betty Boop, open a frickin’ window.” Ginger put her steno stand aside and pulled at the window, as Aleworthy continued to perfect his cough and Bulldog continued puff at his Louis XVI Nicaraguan smoke turd. The pane did not budge.
Beau came to her rescue. He pulled at the window. It did not budge.
“The latch is half way up the window,” said Bulldog, jabbing the air with his cigar. “I’m surrounded by frickin’ putzs.”
Ms Beckquid watched, her bewildered look slightly more bewildered, as the window opened and gust of sub-freezing air whipped into the room like a marauder. “Perhaps,” said Beckquid, arching an eyebrow, “you could extinguish that thing you’re smoking.”
“Perhaps, said Fugenski, “all three of you pack up and leave. This is my place, my office and my frickin’ cigar. Otherwise you can all go sit on a brass pineapple and spin.”
Beau Lewellyn sat in his seat, sipped the last of his McCampbell’s 30-year-old hootch, and while he was pouring himself another, said “Ms Beckquid would you be so kind to ask the questions my client has graciously and cooperatively agreed to answer? He is a vera busy man whose time is most valuable. We, and I am certain the great nation for which you toil so earnestly, would be most appreciative.”
The room was quiet except for the pouring of Scotch. Jackie Beckquid agreed with a “Yes” and a nod. Thus the questions spewed like water through a fire hose, Bulldog Fugenski professing ignorance with all the sincerity of a carnival barker. She asked the same question with as many variations as she could conjure regarding the contracts Fugenski and Sons Contractors:
*How much did you have to kickback to get the contract for the Baltimore waterfront project?
*Did you pay kickbacks regularly or on a one-time basis?
*Did you make the payments in cash?
*Did you make overseas transfers.
*Who handled the money?
Three hours, seven cigars and four-fifths of a fifth later, Bulldog Fugenski had had it. His stomach was churning, his face was red and his sphincter muscles fighting to hold back an enormous fart. Finally, he said, “Look, I did none of that. For Christsake, leave me frickin’ alone. I’m still paying off Ted Agnew from ‘66!”
Lewellyn, who was moderately in his cups, rolled his bloodshot eyes as Fugenski slapped his forehead with his beefy right hand, a furious rush of gas sounding like a whoopee cushion, swearing, “Oh shit! Oh shit! Fuck! Oh shit! Fuck, fuck fuck me.”
Jackie Beckquid lost her bewildered expression and beamed in triumph. Betty Boop’s wide dark eyes darted to and fro. Larry Aleworthy issue a final cough and gasp.
“My client,” said Beauregard Lewellyn, “will say no more until the sun rises in the west or you grant him full immunity from prosecution for his cooperation in this investigation.” Lewellyn took a final slug at his McCampbell’s, adding in his lilting, wholly sober Southern drawl, “Whichever comes first.”
Spiro Theodore Agnew, Nixon’s vice-president and object of great scorn, whose plane was at the moment somewhere over Cambodia, never saw it coming.