Excerpt from 2063: Project Weedpatch

Please enjoy the beginning of chapter 1 of my new novel, 2063: Project Weedpatch, a story about systemic, transformative change that’s kind of a diverse, sexy, grassroots West Wing. This excerpt is the first third or so of the chapter; you can get the rest in PDF, iBooks and Kindle formats at read2063.com. And do let me know what you think, my contact information is on the site. Thanks, and enjoy!

Julietta Collins laughed.

Their ramshackle campaign office normally had a bustle to it, but it broke through to a new level of haywire as half the desk & cell phones seemed to ring at once. Julietta had already spent too long on the phone with an unexpectedly thoughtful elderly supporter who’d sent them a check for $25 the day before.

Her donor went on, “Oh yes, I’m fine with this talk of reparations. Never thought I’d see the day. And I just think this democratic capitalism you’re talking about is exactly what we need.” Then she heard the din through the phone and asked, “What is all that, dear?”

“I’m sorry, Ms Evans. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, but there’s some kind of campaign mayhem occurring and I should probably look into it.” Her tone remained charming as her brows scrunched together and she swept her dark brown hair off her shoulder behind the phone. Years of organizing had refined her intuition and was now crunching hard on something she couldn’t identify, and that left her with a strong and unmistakable sense that something was coming at them. Their primary so far against Steve Powell hadn’t been particularly contentious: it was more like a conversation between two old friends that enjoyed talking political smack and had been at it for a long time. Not surprising, since that’s exactly what Julietta and Steve were.

So maybe this was the shift, or maybe it was something else entirely. A negative story in the news, or maybe worse: something exploding on social media, or even just some kind of event planning or scheduling failure, or any of the million other details that a campaign was built out of. As Julietta’s mind wheeled through all the options, Ms Evans politely shooed her off the phone, clucking about kids these days.

Julietta had on her usual look, what her husband Dakota once dubbed “organizer chic”: a ruffled, funky skirt and a loose white blouse with a clockwork mechanism brooch. It was all locally made by a vendor she’d found on vacation at a hot springs a few hours north of Oakland a few years earlier. She noticed she was barefoot. She had tall boots next to her desk, which was empty except for a battered laptop, this morning’s coffee cup and one of the two dozen fancy phones they’d rented. She slipped on her flip flops instead and stuck her head out of her office and around the corner.

The din seemed cheerful, even faintly ridiculous, and the happy chaos contrasted with the view out the 7th floor plate glass windows and the Oakland hills sitting placidly in the late summer clarity. The interior of the office was comprised entirely of donated objects. Old computers and laptops of every lineage sat perched on a mixture of desks, mostly fashioned from repurposed office doors held together with sawhorses. A few cocktail tables had been repurposed as standing desks. Her diverse staff of a dozen or so women and a few men was crowded around them, talking to each other as much as they were focused on the machines. When they’d narrowed down their choices of headquarters, the staffer who had gone to investigate described this one as “amazing view, smell not bad, carpets horrifying, plumbing seems functional.” A slightly moldy tinge had never quite left the air, even after Julietta rented a steam cleaner one night before they moved in and pressed Dakota into service to help her scrub it down, who in turn took the project over and managed to somehow recruit Elijah (their six year old) into helping while Padma crawled around, hopefully improving her year-old immune system with whatever awfulness wound up in her mouth. The posters and historic campaign paraphernalia they’d covered the walls with didn’t completely cover the crumbling drywall. In a few places the wood frames of the walls and wiring was visible. Julietta’s office itself barely had room for her desk, the nicest of the donated couches, and a conference table they could barely get six people around. It would only be home for them for a few months, but it was homey enough.

Julietta’s mood darkened when she noticed Amarika at her desk along the wall outside Julietta’s office, underneath a sign that said simply, “CHANGE” with a small rising sun Obama logo — Julietta’s framed crowd sign from the 2008 Democratic Convention. Her beloved old friend and now campaign chief had a ferocious intellect coupled with a smile that could warm a small northern city in January. But at the moment she was listening silently to a phone and boring a hole into her laptop screen with her stare.

Julietta got up, walked around the corner and stationed herself quietly behind Amarika, peeking over her shoulder at the screen. She was scrolling down through the Sludge Report; not a site that had taken much of an interest in their race so far. Pacific coast urban Democratic primaries were often the front lines of the battle between grassroots, racially diverse and more progressive Democrats and corporate establishment forces. As critical as they were for setting the direction of the party overall, they didn’t tend to garner much interest in the more extremist corners of the conservative media universe. Amarika noticed Julietta behind her and tried to shoo her away too, but when Julietta wouldn’t budge, Amarika clicked on the snarky headline anyway: “Bay Area Democrat ‘Family Values’… Shocking New Photographs.”

Julietta mumbled “Oh, this can’t be good,” to no one in particular but hoping it’d land somewhere in Amarika’s direction, who kept ignoring her. Amarika didn’t budge or look up as she scrolled down the page past pictures of Julietta that she recognized from a party. They were old, maybe eight or ten years ago. Lovely shots that a friend of hers took, standing in front a glittery sign that said the name of the party they were at, “Sea of Kinky Dreams”. There were a few pictures of her and Ayala, and then some pictures of her and Ayala and Kiyana, all in sheer lacey robes. Then a picture of her and Ayala smooching, then a picture of her and Kiyana smooching, then the three of them surrounding a sublimely happy looking Dakota. Julietta’s lips were pursed, sending the camera a little kiss, her brown hair longer then and up and messy behind her, while Ayala had a slightly goofy big smile, her huge brown eyes looking out from under a dark, almost-black tangle of curly bed-head. Kiyana was between the two, somehow both smoldering and approachable, with dark skin, a big frizzy afro and a smile more deep than broad that radiated some kind of secret knowledge. Julietta had started dating Dakota just a few months earlier, and the two of them had had their first date with Ayala maybe a week before this. Then the three of them went to the party together, where they met Kiyana for the first time.

The actual visual content of the pictures wasn’t that shocking, but she could see how the impression they transmitted — the clear, unmistakable sense that these were three dangerously empowered women — might have been, at least to certain audiences. If Sludge thought this was shocking, what happened the rest of the night would probably have required fainting couches for their entire newsroom. Julietta’s happy memories collided with her shock at being so exposed. She felt a wave of nausea.

Amarika finally hung up and looked up, and most of the tension was gone from her eyes. “No big deal, we knew this one was coming. Although…”

Julietta nodded, wanting her friend to go on.

“I don’t know Julietta. I warned you, least. The whole thing about making things more difficult for yourself, right? This is it.”

Julietta sighed. “I know, but what can I do?”

The campaign had made a deliberate decision not to try to do a thorough social media scrub for Julietta. She had planned early on her career on never running for office. It wasn’t that she’d never wanted to be out front or had some preference for working in the trenches. It was simply that growing up mostly poor with a single mom, nothing much beyond that had seemed possible.

So her social media footprint and trail of images was simply too large to deal with. When she’d decided running might actually be an option, her team reasoned that the times had changed, particularly in this district, and it would be at most a minor liability. So they did what they could: quietly tidied up the easy stuff, so at least someone would have to really put together an oppo file and spend some money to find anything, then written up an outline of a contingency plan as part of the campaign plan and hoped they wouldn’t need it. Now, six weeks out until voting started, they needed it.

The chaos bumped up another notch with a new round of ringing phones. One of the new, young staffers came over and handed her a cell phone and said, “I don’t know what this is, but I think it might be a death threat.” The young woman gulped and held the phone out. It radiated awfulness.

As their eyes met Julietta saw how scared the young staffer was: not shaking with it, but she was definitely affected. Julietta felt a brief moment of guilt at not being able to remember her name, but touched her arm and said “Don’t worry. Thank you.” She put the phone up to her ear. The voice was loud and scratchy and indistinct, ranting and crackling in the little device’s speaker. She didn’t talk, just listened as it kept going. There was a lot of “fucking” and “slut” that she could barely make out. Then some graphic descriptions of what the caller wanted to do to her and Ayala. At that she recoiled, the phone falling out of her hand as she jumped back. Her stomach knotted and flipped.

“Ami, ah, we need to get the police and possibly the FBI on the phone. Let’s go through the procedure.”

Amarika went to her desk and flipped through a notebook that they’d prepared…

Thanks for reading so far! You can download the rest at read2063.com.