WALLACE LAMONT, CHAIRMAN of Harkness & Lamont Industries, stood in the quiet library of his luxurious penthouse apartment in Washington , DC, staring out the window at the vast array of federal buildings in the distance. The sight of the U.S. Capitol Building, shining brightly in the June midday sun, always produced in him an uplifting, an excitement, a thrill—not unlike the rush a big game hunter experiences with a prized prey in the crosshairs of his scope, just before he pulls the trigger. The domed structure was the fountain of financial favors that had helped build Harkness & Lamont into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.
Wallace lived for and loved schmoozing and manipulating congressmen, senators, and staffers to extract those favors. His peers regarded him as a true master in exploiting the political system for his own benefit. And now he was embarking on another one of his adventures. Win or lose, he always looked forward to the game with a delicious anticipation. The challenge of the contest and the uncertainty of the outcome were the ingredients that made it so exhilarating.
He glanced at his watch, then walked across the dark wood floor to his seventeenth-century English antique desk sitting atop a Persian rug. He sat down, picked up a brochure for an upcoming book auction in New York City , and read through it while he waited for his visitor to arrive. His extensive collection of rare books produced a musty smell in the mahogany-paneled library. Old first editions were his pride and joy, and he derived immense pleasure each time he found another gem to add to his bookshelves. He was awaiting the arrival of Thomas, his younger brother and vice-chairman of the company. Thomas had called earlier in the morning saying he needed to discuss a problem confronting the company’s Electronic Systems Division, a problem which was becoming more urgent with each passing day.
Wallace reflected on his brother. Both were products of Exeter and Dartmouth but, over the past thirty-five years, they had evolved into two completely different kinds of people. Thomas had become a straight-laced conservative businessman who was an expert in accounting and finance. Wallace had evolved into a skilled and daring risk-taker, a visionary, a master of closing the deal. Their skill sets complemented each other and made them a formidable team. Thomas managed the day-to-day operations of the company while Wallace handled matters of a more strategic nature. Because of the success of their company, they had risen from their upper middle-class New England roots to heights undreamed of. Each was now worth several hundred million dollars.
The door to the library opened and Evans, the butler, announced the arrival of Thomas Lamont. Thomas, carrying a thick briefcase, strode into the library, sat down on the couch, and loosened his tie. His face and the top of his balding head glistened with a fine sheen of perspiration.
“Will there be anything else, Mr. Lamont?” asked Evans.
“Yes, Evans. A glass of our 1990 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux.” He looked at his brother. “What would you like, Thomas?”
Thomas waved a hand at the butler. “Just a diet Coke for me, Evans. Lots of ice, please.”
Evans dipped his head almost imperceptibly, turned, and departed from the library.
“Our Electronic Systems Division has a serious problem,” said Thomas. “We still haven’t received that communications equipment contract from the Department of the Interior. If the government doesn’t award it by early next year, our backlog of work will diminish to a dangerously low level. I’m talking catastrophic. We’d have to lay off hundreds of our best people. It would be very difficult to recover from a blow like that.” He unsnapped his briefcase, extracted a sheaf of papers, and adjusted his bifocals. “I have the numbers right here.”
Wallace leaned forward and folded his hands on the desk. “Thomas, before we get to the numbers, let’s review why we haven’t yet received that contract.” Wallace knew Thomas’s numbers and the rationale derived from them would be precise and impeccable. No one in the world was better than his brother at analyzing balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow summaries. Thomas could smell an accounting problem in an unopened annual report. What interested Wallace was his brother’s perception of the politics underlying the problem.
Evans returned with the drinks on a silver tray, placed them in front of the Lamonts, and exited.
Thomas took a sip of Coke and sat back. “The contract is for modernizing 690 emergency data communications systems for forest fire control, national parks, national monuments, BLM offices, and so forth. The dollar amount is $342.6 million. We’re scheduled to receive the contract sole source, since our company developed the original systems and no one else has the knowledge to upgrade the hardware and software. Unfortunately, funding for the contract is included in a larger appropriations bill that’s hung up in a Congressional subcommittee responsible for Department of the Interior monies.”
Wallace swirled the Bordeaux in his crystal wineglass and inhaled its bouquet. He took a sip. “Why is our money stuck in the subcommittee?” Wallace already knew the reason, but he wanted to be sure he and Thomas had the same information.
“Matthew Monroe, the congressman from Utah ’s 5th District, is the subcommittee chairman. He’s the source of our problem. Our funding is part of a larger appropriations bill in the amount of $4.3 billion. All the subcommittee members are in favor of passing the bill but Monroe won’t let it come to a vote because it contains, among other things, $689 million for roads, campgrounds, and tourist amenities in California ’s Sierra Nevada Mountains . Monroe, who’s a staunch environmentalist, is opposed to the California project because, he says, it will contribute to the further destruction of some pristine forest lands. He’s an odd duck—a Republican who’s firmly entrenched in the environmental camp. Anyway, it looks like the bill is going to die in the subcommittee.”
“The Republican primary in Utah takes place in less than two weeks.”
Thomas shrugged and produced a defeated expression. “Well, Monroe is sure to get re-elected. He’s a third generation congressman from southern Utah . The Monroe family name is like gold in that district.”
Wallace stood up, walked to the window, and looked outside. “Nevertheless, given the right set of circumstances, anyone can be beaten.”
“Not Monroe . He’s a cinch to win,” said Thomas.
“I’m aware of the political situation, Thomas. My friends in Congress have kept me informed.”
“Well, I’m completely stuck on this problem, Wallace. And frustrated. Do you have any ideas on how we can pry that contract loose?”
Wallace turned and faced his brother. “There’s only one answer. We must ensure Monroe doesn’t continue as chairman of that subcommittee.”
Thomas sat back, folded his arms. “What are you suggesting?”
“It’s simple. Monroe must be defeated in the primary.”
“I know you’re the political expert, Wallace, but all my sources tell me he’s unbeatable.”
Wallace smiled. “There are things we can do that might tip the possibility of a Monroe defeat in our favor.” Wallace waited for Thomas to digest that. He would reveal his plan slowly and deliberately, giving Thomas time to ask questions and sort out the logic of what he had done. He knew Thomas wouldn’t approve.
“What kind of things, Wallace?” There was a tone of apprehension in his voice.
“Have you ever heard of the Sagebrush Rebellion?”
Thomas frowned in thought, shook his head. “That term rings a bell but I can’t recall exactly. It was something that happened out West, wasn’t it?”
“It was. First, a little history. When the U.S. Government conquered the West, it became the owner of all the land they’d occupied from the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean. There were some minor exceptions such as towns, ranches, land grants, and so forth, but for the most part, the Feds owned the western lands. In the early days, there were no regulations or restrictions on how that land could be used, so people used it as they saw fit. Miners dug wherever they chose. Lumbermen cut timber wherever trees grew. And ranchers drove their herds to wherever the grazing was good. No one objected. The fruits of the public lands were there for the taking. It was pretty much that way for over a hundred years.”
“What’s all this got to do with our contract?”
“I’m coming to that. As the years rolled by, the federal government created the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to manage the land. Rules and regulations were established with the goal of preserving and husbanding those lands for posterity. To make a long story short, eventually the rules became too onerous for the people who had been using the land to earn a living. That’s when all the trouble started, eventually escalating into what became known as the Sagebrush Rebellion.”
Thomas’s expression revealed his impatience. “I assume you’re going to somehow tie all this back to Matthew Monroe.”
“Yes, yes, but let me finish. The scale of federal land holdings is enormous.” He walked to his desk, picked up a sheet of paper, and read from it. “Here are the percentages of land in the western states currently owned by the Federal government: Arizona, 42%; Nevada, 81%; Utah, 67%; New Mexico, 35%; Idaho, 61%; California, 48%; ….”
Thomas interrupted. “Okay, Wallace, I understand the Feds own a lot of land, but could you please get to the point?”
“The Sagebrush Rebellion reached a crescendo in the early 1980s. There was a great deal of grass roots resistance to the BLM and the Forest Service, including numerous instances of civil disobedience and sabotage. The locals felt that their livelihoods were being trampled by bureaucrats in Washington who were catering to the environmentalists, a group that was wielding more and more power each year due to the enactment of new environmental laws. The citizens of Utah were impacted in a big way by all this, particularly those in southern Utah . Eventually the anti-government discord settled down, but a strong undercurrent of resentment still lingers among the locals.” Wallace stopped, waiting to see if the light of comprehension was dawning in his brother’s brain. It wasn’t.
Thomas shook his head. “I don’t see where you’re going with all this.”
“Stay with me. Monroe ’s father and grandfather stood squarely in the camp of the locals—the ranchers, the miners, and the timber companies. But young Matthew, who was elected because the citizens of the 5th Congressional District loved and trusted the Monroe family, is an environmentalist at heart. For the time being, at least, the people who elected him have chosen to overlook that fact.” He paused for effect, then looked at Thomas. “If we can re-ignite the flames of resentment in the people of southern Utah , they just might turn against Matthew Monroe.”
Thomas looked dubious. “How can we do that?”
“Whoever wins the Republican primary will win the election. The Democrats don’t stand a chance down there. A man by the name of Russell White is Monroe ’s opponent in the primary. He’s a rancher from the Escalante area. Nice chap, I hear, but naïve in the ways of politics. We must give the fellow a helping hand and make sure he wins.”
“It’s a little late in the game for a large donation to make a difference.”
This would be the hard part, Wallace thought. His brother was not one to take chances when it came to circumventing the law. “I’m not just talking about a donation. I intend to resurrect the Sagebrush Rebellion in southern Utah . We will take steps to pit the hard-working locals against the feds and the environmentalists, at the same time highlighting Monroe ’s strong pro-environment positions and voting record. If we do it exactly right, I think there’s a good chance the voters will turn against him.” He paused a moment, allowing Thomas to digest the concept. “Steps are already being taken to ensure his defeat. Four days ago, I hired Nikolas Oblonsky, our old friend from Brooklyn , to assist us.”
Thomas’s whole body slumped. “Oh no, Wallace. Not that guy, please. He’s sure to get us into trouble. Have you already forgotten the F&C acquisition that you hired him to help us with? It turned into the worst fiasco in the company’s history. We could’ve ended up in jail.”
“I’ll grant you, Thomas, that assignment didn’t go well. But he was an enormous help in convincing the Harkness family to sell us their share of the company at a very attractive price.”
Thomas shook his head. “I’m opposed. It’s too risky.”
“The primary election takes place in twelve days, so time is of the essence. I took the liberty of engaging the man’s services last week. He’s in Moab , Utah , as we speak. He’s been working for us for the past three days. The plan is to make Moab the flashpoint that re-ignites the Sagebrush Rebellion in southern Utah .”
Thomas sat back and ran his fingertips through the few gray hairs remaining on top of his head. “I don’t think this is smart, Wallace. Look, even if we get lucky and Monroe is unseated, how do you know White will cooperate and allow the appropriations bill to come to a vote?”
Wallace smiled. “Thomas, you stick to the accounting and let me handle Capitol Hill.” He raised his wineglass in a toasting gesture. “The beauty of my plan is that we don’t need White to do anything for us. If he’s elected, he might not even end up on that subcommittee. And if he does, he certainly wouldn’t be appointed chairman. Someone else on that committee, the most senior Republican, would inherit the job. That would be Ted Brown, and Ted is solidly in our camp. He will bring that bill to a vote, and quickly. It will pass and we’ll have our contract. All we need to do is to make sure Matthew Monroe is defeated in the primary.”
“I’m worried about Oblonsky. He takes too many chances. He’s liable to do something really stupid—something that could get us indicted.”
“In the world of dirty tricks, Oblonsky is one of the best political operatives in the business. He won’t take any foolish chances. He’ll stick with his assignment until the job is done. I’m paying him well and I promised him a large bonus if Monroe is unseated. And besides, there’s no way law enforcement can trace him back to us. I made sure of that. There’s no paper trail, no money trail, and no electronic trail. It was a face-to-face cash deal. So if Oblonsky gets in trouble and tries to finger us—which I doubt he would do—it would be his word against ours.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Wallace.”
“We’ll know soon enough.”
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