For most of his life, he was known as Grafton Hood. At six feet tall, Grafton’s looks alone made him a formidable political opponent. He had caramel colored skin, a square jaw and cunning brown eyes. Grafton bragged that his silky low voice put people at ease, but his adversaries claimed it was more akin to luring his prey. Grafton’s political success was an amazing feat. But it wasn’t a rags to riches story—no, Grafton came from money.
His grandparents owned and operated a bed and breakfast in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. It was a ten-bedroom white Victorian with a breath taking view of the Atlantic. They had one child, Grafton’s mother. When she was 23, his grandparents died in an airline crash while vacationing in Europe. The crash resulted in a large settlement for Grafton’s mother. After their death, she tried to run the B&B alone but it proved too much. Then she met Grafton’s father, a guest. Their summer romance blossomed into an engagement. He abandoned his life in the United States to be with her. Their plan was to run the B&B and raise a family. That changed when they received a ridiculously obscene offer for the B&B from a corporation developing an all-inclusive resort in Ocho Rios.
Grafton’s parents relocated to his father’s hometown of Atlanta. He was their only child. Raised in the Buckhead area, Grafton attended West Paces Ferry Academy. His childhood friends’ parents included members of President Carter’s administration, professional sports stars, and top executives of major corporations headquartered in the city.
As far as the racial composition of his school, he was a black dot in a sea of white. But he did not experience sheer racism. His family was one of the richest amongst his friends. And Grafton knew his wealth was a powerful weapon against racism. He also knew there were certain lines he could not cross. He could not date a white girl, which made it difficult to find a girl that met his parents’ approval. They simply did not exist in his social circle. Thus, Grafton did not have the sexual experiences of most high school males. He had to listen to the amateur sexual conquests of his friends and play along as if he had shared the same experiences. It led to a sexual frustration that would plague him into adulthood.
He was immensely popular in school. In his junior year, he was elected student body vice president followed by student body president in his senior year. He was accepted by the most popular athlete (who owned the world in high school) but could connect with the nerd simply trying to endure the high school experience-- that same nerd would later in life employ the athlete.
But as Grafton glad-handed his way through the school hallways, his sexual frustration was replaced by an inner rage as he watched acts of public affection between girlfriends and boyfriends. While they were on dates, he was home masturbating. But he learned to hide his rage. In his world, perception was reality and the perception was that he had the world by the tail.
And that perception caused him to catch the attention of his peers’ parents.
They were Atlanta’s elite and they were concerned about the growth of minorities in their city. Money allowed them a world where they did not have to adjust their personal beliefs about racial segregation. However, they feared losing their utopia. They were convinced that their city would become a target for all up and coming black politicians. The city’s elite needed politicians that could court the minority vote but still maintain the status quo once in office. They needed puppets. Grafton was the perfect choice.
Grafton was courted. At first, he was invited to play golf every week with men whose wealth rivaled his parents. Each round ended with another round or two of high end Scotch. They practically owned the club so no one raised an eye as seventeen-year-old Grafton drank a glass of Macallan 12. Then the regular meetings took place. There were conversations about his future in politics. The teenager’s head was filled with thoughts of being mayor and perhaps even governor. His rage was quelled with the excitement of his future as predicted by men nearly four times his age. The men even influenced the school to insure that Grafton graduated with honors.
It was all going to plan. Grafton graduated cum laude and gave the commencement speech at graduation. He would attend the University of Georgia in the fall after working as a page in the U.S. Senate, courtesy of a West Paces Ferry alum. But then life happened.
Grafton’s father operated a non-profit organization called Stay on Track (SOT) designed to help homeless teens. It was a 10,000 square foot home housing as many as 25 kids. But Grafton’s father made sure that it flew under the radar. SOT did not accept donations or applications of potentially eligible teens. SOT sought teens for the home.
A week after telling his fellow classmates not to allow their quest for success drown their moral soul, SOT was in the headlines. It was being investigated on charges that Grafton’s father used it as a front for a teenage brothel. The headlines read, “STD not SOT. Homeless Teens Were Sex Slaves!” The clientele were mainly wealthy Asians. While everyone questioned his father’s motive to concoct this operation, Grafton later learned that his mother maintained control over all of the money. She received it before marrying his father and wanted to insure that it remained non-marital. This enraged his father. He was a proud man who grew up in an era when the husband made the money and the wife stayed home. He was emasculated by his wife’s control over the finances so he resorted to the oldest profession.
Grafton’s mother never got a chance to read the article. As soon as his father saw the headlines, he calmly went in his bedroom, retrieved the nine millimeter Berretta from the nightstand drawer, and put a bullet in her head just before turning the gun on himself. Grafton surmised that he blamed her for all of it.
And the very same men that predicted such a bright future for Grafton, scurried from him like rats on a sinking ship. He was alone and the avalanche of litigation against his family was beginning to roll. He knew he was finished in Atlanta branded with SOT across his forehead. He also knew that if he attempted to raid his family’s fortune then the lawyers would track him down. He simply needed to escape.
He took a modest sum from his parent’s estate and in the dark of night, left his life of privilege. He relocated to Charleston and began life anew as Grafton Hood. He attended technical college for the first two years and then transferred to the College of Charleston where he graduated with honors. Grafton existed on a steady diet of Raman noodles, student loans, and tip money from various jobs as a waiter. But between school and work, Grafton had no time for a social life and his inner rage from high school remerged and began to grow in form of a quick temper. It was a demon that he struggled to control.
It was during this time that Grafton met the single most important influence of his life. Allen Pontet.
Allen Pontet was a tall, thin product of the late 60’s, hitting high school just after Nixon was impeached. His proclivity for long hair and an unshaven look instantly gained him the nickname Shaggy from Scooby Doo. It is difficult to enjoy the high school experience while being compared to a character that played second fiddle to a talking dog. He wasn’t particularly athletic unless smoking pot is recognized as a sport. And when it came to grades, his motto was do as little possible to achieve the bare-minimum of what was required. He took full advantage of 60 being considered a passing grade.
Pontet was a Charleston native, but far from blue blood. His ancestors were more likely to have drowned in the bowels of Provost Dungeon than to have signed the Declaration of Independence. His father worked on a shrimp boat (but never owned it) and his mother was the butcher’s assistant at a local grocery store.
Between them, Pontet’s home smelled of a unique mixture of raw meat and dead shrimp. He didn’t have many “spend the night” parties as a kid, and when caught with pot in his room, he would blame his parents. He claimed he was trying to mask the smell of the house. His parents chuckled at the excuse and ignored his drug use. They simply didn’t care. They were beaten into submission by life.
As he grew older, Pontet replaced his use of marijuana with alcohol. His long blonde locks turned grey. His unshaven look transformed into a goatee. He believed the facial hair coupled with his turtle shelled glasses made him look more intelligent—truth be known, he had twenty-twenty vision. His morning scent was a mixture of Ralph Lauren and last night’s alcohol seeping through his pores.
Pontet subsided on the occasional real estate deal or “multi-level” marketing scheme. He spent the majority of his free time (which was most of his time) frequenting local bars from the barrier islands to North Charleston. His array of friends spanned the social gamut. On any given weekend, he could spend a Friday night at a bachelor party of a mid-shipman stationed at the Charleston Naval Base. On Saturday, he was a guest at a wedding of family that inhabited the Holy city since the Revolution. He used Sunday to relax at the beach home of one of Charleston’s new rich.
It was through his countless hours at the bar that Pontet was able to learn every piece of seedy gossip that existed in Charleston. He could outdrink anyone and it was amazing what people would say given the right amount of alcohol. He parlayed that endless source of knowledge into his latest revenue venture, political consultant.
The two met while Grafton was volunteering for a county council campaign. Pontet’s job on the campaign was to disseminate the vile unfounded gossip about the opposition. Grafton was the only volunteer who was neither a relative of the candidate nor a rising high school senior.
Grafton was the unofficial campaign manager, which he relished. He scouted events of more prominent officials. He sent his candidate to events for a perfect photo bomb opportunity. He cropped those photos on signs to create the illusion that the candidacy received endorsements from the mayor, local statehouse representative, and even the district’s congressional representative.
Grafton took it one step further. Since many of his volunteers were using the experience as part of their social studies class, Grafton convinced the school to allow extra credit based on outstanding service as a volunteer. So he created an unofficial policy that gave extra school credit based on the number of opposition campaign signs that were stolen.
Pontet studied Grafton for a month before asking him to lunch. Grafton was reluctant. He knew of Pontet and considered him nothing more than a gossip happy drunk, which was actually fairly accurate. But he had not eaten a real meal in months and decided to accept invitation. While it was lunch for Grafton, it was noon time happy hour for Pontet. He desperately needed hair of the dog that bit him last night.
Grafton soaked in the sights and sounds of the upper class dining in the linen tablecloth restaurant located off East Bay. He hadn’t been this close to real wealth since leaving Atlanta. Normally, he would have relished the lunch and allowed himself to pretend that he was part of the rich once again. But the stale stench of booze dripping from Pontet’s pours reminded him that this was a lunch about getting fed rather than indulging in fantasy.
He ordered as soon as the waiter greeted him. Pontet’s lunch would be poured. Grafton slammed down his meal while Pontet slammed down his first Gin and Tonic.
“I have never seen anyone devour an oyster Po Boy and fries so quickly,” Pontet smiled. “Either you don’t eat much or you eat so much that you really don’t care about the taste, just the consumption. Based on your body type, I am guessing the former.”
“I budget $200 per month for food so that fried oyster sandwich represents a high end meal for me,” Grafton replied.
“Spoken like someone who has enjoyed a fine meal before,” Pontet said.
“Perhaps,” Grafton drank his sweet tea and wiped the remnants of his sandwich from his mouth.
“Would you like another? I have a hard and fast rule that I don’t leave lunch until I have had at least three drinks. That was is my first.”
“No. No, I am good.” Grafton gave a polite smile. He attempted to make small talk hoping to bore his lunch date into leaving early. “How do you think the campaign is going?”
“It’s in the bag,” Pontet said.
“How so? From what I hear it is fairly close.”
“Not for long, not when they find out about the mother-in-law of our opponent.”
“What about her?” Grafton asked with a raised eyebrow and curious smile.
“She was a den mother for some Girl Scouts and used money from the cookie sale to fund her coke addiction. Folks don’t like that kinda stuff.”
“Is that true?” Grafton asked.
“I really don’t think so. He’s never been married.” Pontet motioned to the waiter for another drink.
“That seems very underhanded,” Grafton replied.
“So is your photo bombing trick or campaign signs for school credit. It is the same thing just differing degrees of effectiveness.”
“You’re talking about permanently damaging a man’s reputation. I am simply cropping some photos and stealing a few signs.”
“Well, why are you doing that?” Pontet asked.
“To win the campaign,” Grafton answered.
“Me too. The only difference is that my tactics are far more effective than your sophomoric antics.”
“No, the difference is that your methods destroy the opposition rather than run a successful campaign. It is more of a win at all costs attitude.”
“How do you think these things are won?”
“There have to be some boundaries,” Grafton stated.
“And I am sure there are and I am sure that the losers can tell you the exact limits of those boundaries.” Pontet chuckled. “Winners don’t know those boundaries, they only know victory.”
Grafton dismissed Pontet’s statements as the mutterings of drunk. “This is my first campaign. I guess I didn’t think that kind of stuff went on at a local level. Maybe I am just a little naïve.”
“Mr. Hood, the last thing you are is naïve.”
The remark and use of his last name caught Grafton off guard. “What the hell does that mean?”
“Nothing. Forget I said it.” Pontet grabbed his second drink from the waiter before it could hit the table. There was a painfully uncomfortable silence, painful in the sense of passing a kidney stone the size of a marble. It was now official. Grafton was ready to leave.
Pontet broke the silence. “Why are you part of this campaign?”
“Because I believe in your, rather our candidate and think he has a real potential to…”
“To what?” Potent interrupted. “Rename a little league baseball field, dedicate an overpass to a deceased town clerk. That’s about all they fucking do.” He paused and started into his second drink. “Why are you here? Really?”
Grafton began to feel uneasy as if he was being interrogated. He was also still trying to digest the naïve comment. “Does it matter if I am helping? Do you normally question a volunteer?”
“I mean I guess not, but you just don’t seem to fit. Kinda outta place,” Pontet replied.
“I don’t know how to take that?”
“Oh, it’s a compliment. You just don’t carry yourself as someone befitting a county race. You seem more, um what’s the word…polished.”
“Well, I appreciate that. It may not be glamorous so to speak, but at least I am doing more than dig holes for campaign signs.”
“So”, Pontet paused. “Is that to say that you considered other campaigns but opted out of those in favor of being a bigger fish in a small pond?”
“I guess so. Post hole digging for a national campaign never really appealed to me.” Grafton smiled.
“Nice pearly whites, Mr. Hood.” Pontet smiled back. “Still, you act almost like you’ve done this before. Not your first rodeo. What did you say you did before coming to our fair city?”
“I didn’t,” Grafton thought to himself “Who is this guy and why the hell has he invited me to lunch?” And then he regurgitated his same story to cover his real background.
“I grew up in Portland, Oregon.” It was far enough away that Grafton thought no one would or could check. “Parents died and I wanted to get a fresh start. I wanted something on the east coast, but not a big city. I also don’t like cold weather. So, I found Charleston and she fit the bill.”
“How did they die?” Pontet asked the obvious inappropriate question but he knew the answer.
Grafton was taken aback. Most people heard “parents died” and felt uncomfortable to the point that they didn’t ask him anymore. Grafton knew this wasn’t a social blunder. He was definitely being interrogated. “I really don’t like to talk about that.”
“I am sorry. That was rude.” Pontet didn’t even attempt to pretend that the apology was real. “I don’t enjoy much of a relationship with my parents. I guess I have an overdeveloped degree of insensitivity for folks who are lucky enough to be without their parents,” Pontet replied.
“Lucky enough?” Grafton replied in disbelief over the statement.
“I know. That is a horrible thing to say. I would blame the booze but I am not even buzzed yet.” Pontet laughed.
“I am going to have to take your word for that.” Grafton pointed to the drink.
Pontet stayed on topic. “I mean when your parents bring you into this world and do nothing to help you conquer the hurdles of life, you kinda have a jaded view of them. Right?“
Grafton was uneasy. He always was when discussing his parents. “I guess.”
“I mean it’s tough when your parents join the parade of hard knocks that march over you.”
Grafton just nodded as Pontet continued.
“I mean it really takes a toll on you. You know what I mean?”
Grafton wasn’t touching that comment. The conversation was hitting too close to home. Grafton would have raced from the table but was concerned that would raise suspicions.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but I really need to get back to the…” Grafton tried to get up.
“I got one more drink, remember?” Pontet interrupted. “So Grafton? Family name?”
“Um…yes.” Grafton nervously straightened his dirty plate and arranged his used silverware. His name was the least of his lies.
“You know they have busboys for that,” Pontet said. He used his eyes to point to Grafton’s hands mindlessly cleaning the table.
“Yeah, right.” Grafton let out a nervous laugh. “Old habits die hard. Putting myself through college waiting tables.”
“Right.” Pontet smiled. “So, Father’s side or Mother’s side? Grafton?”
“Huh?” And Pontet was back to Grafton’s least favorite subject in this world. “Um, my mother’s side.” Grafton nervously scratched the back of his neck.
Pontet had grown tired of toying with this ball of string. He decided to test Grafton. He wanted to see if what they had told him was really true. “Mother’s side, you say?”
“Yeah. Yeah that’s right.”
“Her name was Celion Brown? Right?”
The only thing that kept Grafton from hitting the floor was the chair he was seated in. That was her indeed name. He hadn’t spoken it aloud in years, and to hear it come from the gin soaked breath of Pontet was proof positive that you really have no control in predicting life.
Grafton’s temper started to overtake him like a cancer. If unchecked, he would explode on Pontet in a physical fit of rage that would reduce Pontet’s face to a tenderized slab of meat. Grafton visualized his first, second, and third punch. He could feel Pontet’s cheekbones cracking against his knuckles. He felt the warmth of Pontet’s blood from a broken nose splattering across his hands. He had to remain calm.
“Grafton, you there?” Pontet dug in. He wasn’t impressed. One name and he drew in like a turtle.
Grafton again thought about darting out of the restaurant but decided against it. He wanted to learn the proverbial who, what, and how as to Pontet’s knowledge. But his mind was in a battle: his desire to obtain an orgasmic release of physical violence versus the rational side to maintain the calm necessary to learn what Pontet knew.
The best he could muster was a gruff, “What do you want?”
“Excuse me.” Pontet finished his second drink. “I just asked a simple ques…”
Grafton’s temper interrupted. “Why the fuck would you mention her name?” Grafton hissed.
Pontet just stared at his lunch partner. He was enjoying the show at first but was now getting nervous. “Will this guy really hit me? The cats in Atlanta got this guy wrong,” he thought to himself. There was not even an attempt to playfully dismiss the name. He expected Grafton to quip, “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” Pontet was confused…this was their handpicked politico?
“You must want something.” Grafton held out his right hand and extended his index finger. “Either, I leave town.” Next his middle finger was raised. “Or two, I pay you to shut up.”
Pontet shifted back in his chair.
“We both know I don’t have any money so why do you want me to leave town?” Grafton pressed.
Pontet didn’t want to waste any more time until he talked with someone from Atlanta. “You know, never mind. Just forget it. Let’s get this bill and go.”
“But your third drink.” Grafton grabbed Pontet’s hand and slammed it to the table. The other patrons noticed. A waiter approached the table to render some assistance. Pontet shook his head to waive him off.
Grafton was oblivious to the scene he created. He did not loosen his grip. “Listen, you don’t just mention that name and then decide to just drop it.”
“Okay,” Pontet mumbled.
“If you know that name then you know of me and my past. Correct?” Grafton pressed.
Pontet just nodded as he divided his glances between Grafton and the firm grip on his hand.
“And for some reason you asked questions just to watch me lie. Why would you do that?” Grafton started to cool down. The over boiling pot was off the stove and his political acuity was running the kitchen.
“Why don’t you ask yourself that? How did I come by that information and why would I want to see your reaction?”
Pontet looked at Grafton’s hand and then around the restaurant. “As much apathy as I harbor for others’ opinion of me, I really don’t want all these folks thinking that I am in a lover’s quarrel. Can you let go?”
Grafton released his grip.
“Thank you. Last thing I need is some of Charleston’s proper thinking I am the bitch in this relationship.”
Grafton smirked. “Sorry.” His temper now contained, Grafton remembered why he remained at the table. He need answers. “Okay, so how do you know about me? And why confront me with it?”
“To gauge your reaction, which left much to be desired and,” Pontet paused, “to let you know that folks in Atlanta still want to help you.”
“Atlanta?” Grafton was shocked to have learned the source. “Why would those folks profess any knowledge or connection with me?” Grafton thought to himself.
“Yes. And your former backers have become more organized since you left. They have even started a corporation known as Practical Solutions.”
“Yep. And the first order of business is getting you back on track. Making you a candidate rather than a posthole digger.”
“Who exactly is part of all this? I had quite a few folks in my camp.”
“That isn’t important, those sources may or may not be revealed in time.”
“Okay.” Grafton was intrigued. He never thought the folks from Atlanta would help in his planned resurrection.
“What is of paramount concern your temper….rather…. rage.”
“Yes, I know. It is my Achilles’s heal.”
“I wouldn’t be that diplomatic. Having a weakness is one thing, a demon is another. The former will hurt you,” Pontet said.
“And the latter?”
“Will actively destroy you,” Pontet said as he waved down the waiter. He ordered one more drink.
“So where do we begin?” Grafton asked.
“Yes,” Pontet replied.
“Huh?” Grafton asked.
“We begin at the beginning. Need to start you as a newbie. Someone without money or real backing.”
“Make me earn my stripes so to speak,” Grafton replied.
“No. It’s not that simple. We need more time to pass and let your history continue to be just that,” Pontet paused and sipped his third drink, “history.”
“Right.” Grafton nodded.
“Not many good demographics for sons of teenage pimps,“ Pontet said.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish