Bob Stockon sat in the mayor's chair with his feet hiked up on the mayor's desk. In front of him was the Central City Citizen , the daily paper that served as the Combination's official rag. Francis Rhodes, Central City mayor, obliged the seeming affront to his office. The reason for the fealty was because Rhodes knew this office and desk was his only because Stockton and A.J. Patterson saw fit to bestow it on him.
But Rhodes wasn't on Stockton's mind at the moment. The man was off in chambers doing something with the city council. Stockton couldn't remember what exactly, he just knew it wasn't important. He made a beeline for City Hall after going home and seeing his family. He couldn't visit the Social Club even if he went through the back door. During Stockton's first congressional run it was decided that he and A.J. could never be seen in a place where the public could see them together. That meant that Stockton hadn't visited the Combination's headquarters in nearly sixteen years. So instead, he sent word to A.J. that he was here in the mayor's office waiting.
"Sorry about that, senator," Rhodes said as he came into the office. "Just some minor municipal business that you don't need to concern yourself with."
"Oh but I do," Stockton said as he took his feet off the desk and folded the paper. "I need to concern myself with every facet of city life, Mr. Mayor. I represent this city as much as you do, sir. Whatever goes on here is as much my concern as it is yours."
Rhodes gave an uneasy smile. "I figured you would be more concerned with the statehouse, Senator. Wood and the opposition are lining up rather quickly."
Stockton scowled. Michael Wood. Governor Michael Wood. The son of a bitch had been elected four years earlier as a reform candidate, vowing to clean up the state's politics. So far it was easier said than done for him, but now he had a slate of reform candidates poised to try and take the statehouse away from the Combination. If Wood's party took the statehouse, that meant the end of Stockton's senatorial career. It was the Combination's legislators that put him in office and kept him there. While most politicians had to win one campaign for reelection, Stockton found that he had to manage and win several campaigns to stay in the Senate.
All that may be moot after the convention. Who cared about the statehouse if he was focused on a national race? What did it matter to him if Wood got the senator he wanted? A senator is just one of seventy-six. What Stockton was after would put him as first among equals. But still... he couldn't resist the urge to have a little fun.
"Wood's up for reelection," he said nonchalantly. "Rumor I hear is that his plan is to win re-election and then resign if his party wins the legislature back and have himself take my senate seat."
"Low down and dirty," Rhodes said with a shake of his head and his best attempt at false concern. "Is the Combination running someone against him yet?"
"We want to, but A.J. doesn't have a candidate in mind." He paused and looked at Rhodes. "But I do."
Rhodes was many things, but an actor he was not. Stockton stood up and walked around the desk, wrapping one arm around Rhodes' shoulder. While the mayor was several inches taller and twenty pounds heavier, Stockton was able to manipulate him around the room as the two men walked in lockstep during his monologue.
"Yes, Francis, you. You've been mayor for six years now. Six years experience running a city as big as this one trumps even Wood's two years as governor. He was just a state senator before that, he has no real experience. Not like you do. You have executive experience running the fourth biggest city this side of the Mississippi. After this town, the state is easy. I want you as the Combination's man come election day. Governor Francis Rhodes. And think about where you could go from there? Ever since Lincoln, the party has been starting to think of the west as an emerging political base it needs to tap. A two-term governor running for president in '84 could be just what they need. Did I say Governor Francis Rhodes? How about President Francis Rhodes?"
Rhodes stood ramrod straight and looked at Stockton with a wide smile.
"Senator... I'm honored by your words... do you think I could?"
"I know so," Stockton said with a wide smile. "Before we talk further, can you find out if A.J. ever arrived?"
"I sure can."
Stockton held back his laughter as he watched Rhodes bound out the office like a schoolboy. The odds of him beating Wood were unlikely, even with the Combination's full weight behind him. Wood had an iron-grip on the rural parts of the state where the Combination's reach couldn't quite be felt. Even if Rhodes took the city and the areas around it with the machine's usual 90% turnout, Wood's power base in the country would equal that and make it a deadlock. Then it would come down to the non-partisan voters. Comparing the two men, Wood would almost certainly win those votes.
It would be close, and that was all Stockton wanted to achieve. Hard for Wood to engineer a statehouse coup when he had his own tight race to run. He had no faith in a Governor Rhodes or even, god help us all, a President Rhodes. But a viable threat to Wood's job would make it all that much easier for Stockton and A.J. to get the Combination's state legislators back in office.