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El Legend de Tom Delay
by Matt Taibbi
FROM OIL TO OZ
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El Legend de Tom Delay
by Matt Taibbi


A little past nine a.m. in the waiting room of the Albuquerque Amtrak station. Taking the long way back to Los Angeles and then Santa Maria to cover the Michael Jackson trial. Spent the weekend in New Mexico visiting an old girlfriend. She made me sleep on the couch.

Uncomfortable plastic chairs, vending machines, loudspeaker croaking departure times to the few indifferent waiting passengers, most of whom are half-asleep. The usual Amtrak biosphere. Being New Mexico, the only thing different is that the worthless souvenir knick-knacks are sold by Pueblos.



I kneaded my forehead with both hands. "Jesus Christ, you two," I said.

"You're both crazy. And whose finger was that? What have you done?

I'm just about to lift a cup of coffee to my lips when a finger taps me on the shoulder. A sleazy-looking white woman in her 50s is standing before me. She looks like an Anne Klein senior-wear model escaped from a methadone clinic, but incongruously has her hair in a little girl's pigtails.

"Excuse me, mister," she says. "My daddy's cell phone is broken. Could my daddy use your cell phone? My daddy only needs it for a minute."

At that moment a man roughly the same age as this "girl" steps forward. He is wearing an absurd, clearly fake Pinochet-style pencil moustache, and his skin looks to be covered in shoe polish. The polish has been applied unevenly, and his face is dark in spots, light in others. He is wearing a cheap souvenir sombrero.

"Good morning," he says. "My name is Carlos Vasquez. This is my daughter, Lucy. We are traveling together and we must call Mommy at home. My phone, as you can see, is broken. We wondered if the good señor would let us use his."

As he delivered this speech in an unevenly delivered Spanish accent, he briefly produced the "broken" cell phone from his pants pocket, then quickly returned it before I could get a good look.

I paused. The sensible thing to do, of course, would probably have been to get up and soak the both of these characters with a fire extinguisher. But it was clear they had put a lot of thought into this performance, and I was curious. I handed over the cell phone.

"Gracias, señor," the man said. Then, turning his back to me, he began dialing.

I craned my head to listen. He glanced over his shoulder, saw that I was listening, and then moved several steps away, as if to give himself some privacy. That only prompted me to move forward a few steps, too. He sighed and dialed.

"Mr. Jennings?" he said. "This is Carlos. Yes, that Carlos. You'd better hope there are no police on this line. Now, we want what we want, at the drop we agreed on—and no fucking around this time."

I shook my head and raced around to face him. "Hey," I said, grabbing for the phone. "What the—"

"We'll be sending you proof of life in the next twelve hours," he said, pulling away from me. "One million dollars in unsequenced bills, you hear me? Otherwise, your little wifey is going to take a very long nap."

"Give me that phone," I said, grabbing his wrist.

"I have to go now, Mr. Jennings," he said into the receiver. "I'll call again!"

"Give me that!" I shouted.

"Fuck off!" he said, the Spanish accent now completely gone.

We struggled for a moment, and finally I pried the phone free. As we wrestled, something fell out of his pocket right at my feet. I looked down. It was a human finger. I picked it up...

"I'll take that," he said, snatching it away from me and returning it to his pocket.

"You're kidnappers!" I said.

"Well, not exactly," he said. "We're trying to be kidnappers. Hasn't really worked out too well."

"Yeah, we botched the first job," said Lucy. "We were cruising through Georgia and we picked up this chick in a wedding dress. Daddy says to me, 'I bet she's in a hurry. Somebody will pay a pretty penny for that little filly.' So we pick her up and drive her to New Mexico. Throw her in the trunk, she's moaning the whole time. We're getting the ransom demand ready when she gets away and makes this phone call. Next thing you know..."

"The whole country knows about it," says Carlos. "Turns out this chick was actually running away from her wedding, not to it. Anyway, when she tells the story to the police, they don't believe her. Which is good for us, I guess, 'cause nobody's looking for us. Still..."

"No money," says Lucy. "A total fucking waste."

I stare at Carlos. Something about him is familiar. "What's with your disguise? It's pathetic. I mean, you're obviously not Mexican..."

He shrugs. "Yeah, we're still working on that," he says. He reaches up and pulls off his moustache. "We tried a black-guy outfit first, but I couldn't figure out how to keep the hair combed."

I stared. It took about 10 seconds. I pointed at him.

"Hey, you're Tom Delay!" I said. "I knew your voice was familiar!"

He smiled. "Nice to meet you," he said, extending his hand. "This is my wife, Christine."

"Howdy," said Lucy, undoing her pigtails.

"Wow, so you're Christine Delay," I said. "Haven't you been embezzling money from your husband's campaign committee for like four years? Didn't I read—it was $180,000 or something, right?"

"More like a buck-ninety," she said. "And we're not calling it embezzling yet."

"We're not convicted," said Carlos.

I shook my head, flabbergasted. "Okay—but what the hell are you two doing racing around the South kidnapping people? Are you out of your minds?"

"Well, we looked at the numbers," said Christine.

"There's good money in kidnapping," agreed Tom.

"And there's no paper trail," his wife added. "If you do it right."

I kneaded my forehead with both hands. "Jesus Christ, you two," I said. "You're both crazy. And whose finger was that? What have you done?"

"Oh, that wasn't a real finger," Tom laughed.

"Dude," I said. "That was totally a real human finger!"

"Uh, no it wasn't," he said, looking off to the side.

"Let me see," I said, reaching for his pocket.

"No," he said, backing away.

"Gimme," I said.

"Fuck off," he whispered.

As we struggled, Christine suddenly jumped in and tapped Tom's shoulder. "Honey-bumpkins," she whispered. "Four o'clock."

We both whipped around. Four policemen were advancing rapidly. Overjoyed, I reached for Tom to detain him—but he was gone, running the other way.

"You'll never get away with this!" I shouted.

The police rushed up to me, grabbing me from behind.

"Officers," I said. "They went that-a-way!"

They ignored me. One reached into my pocket, produced my cell phone, checked the call register.

"It's our guy," said the one to the others. "He's the one."

"You've got it all wrong," I protested. Then I tried to explain the whole thing—the Hispanic disguise, the congressional misappropriations, the tie-in to the runaway bride story, the upcoming ethics committee hearing, and, in sum, the larger issue of the Republican culture of greed.

"Trust me," I said. "I'm a journalist. I know what I'm talking about. It was Tom Delay—it all fits!"

A cop was looking through my wallet. "What kind of name is Taibbi, anyway?"

And they led me away.

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