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Politics

Daughter, First: You Always Have a Choice

Katie has to decide between protecting her father or her husband — and she stuns everyone.

Illustration by Najeebah Al-Ghadban

Don't miss all of Daughter, First: In part 1, we meet the Governor's daughter, Katie Mahoney Brown; in part 2, the attorney who's going to take down the administration digs into the family secrets; in part 3, the matriarch, Rosemary Mahoney, uncovers her husband's dirty business deals; in part 4, Katie's marriage begins to unravel; in part 5, the federal prosecutor has second thoughts as she closes in on the Mahoney family; and in part 6, Big Jim and his son-in-law Tom go head-to-head over the prosecution.

Katie typed out the curt text — Here — but didn’t send it. Not because she had any hesitations.

She unzipped her purse, located her tube of Chanel Longwear concealer, and dotted it under her eyes with the pad of a finger. It had been an hour and half’s drive in horrific traffic to her father’s stately Boston home, and a hell of a day before that. From the back window of her SUV, there was no sign of paparazzi, but enough pictures of her family had surfaced over the years for her to know that the most enterprising photographers prefer to get their money shot from the bushes. Katie knew the last thing her family needed was an image of her looking haggard on the day her husband was indicted on federal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, bribery, and extortion. Hence, the concealer.

“Thank you, Sully,” Katie said, as her driver opened the door. That’s when she sent the text — but not to her husband.

***

“There she is,” Big Jim said when Katie appeared in the doorway of his study. He leaned back and draped his hands across his generous stomach, wearing a satisfied expression on his face as though he had just eaten a great meal. By the looks of the greasy KFC bucket on his desk, he had.

Tom, in comparison, looked like he could use some sustenance. Sitting in the chair across from Big Jim, her husband appeared drawn, tired, and even paler than usual. Unlike Katie — unlike her father — his guilt was showing. His features were even more pinched than usual.

Tom stood, slowly, unsteadily, as Katie approached. When she opened her arms and hugged him, his relief was palpable. For a half-second, Katie felt sorry for him.

“Hi, Dad,” Katie said, locking eyes with Big Jim over Tom’s shoulder.

Dad. Not Daddy. Something in the room shifted — almost imperceptibly, instantaneously. The name hung in the air between them.

“Thank you for coming,” Tom said, giving Katie a squeeze before releasing her. Katie took a seat — Tom’s seat — so he had to settle for standing beside her, one hand resting awkwardly on her shoulder. The last time they’d been this affectionate was for an interview with 60 Minutes. That had been weeks ago. Months.

“I’m here,” Katie said to Big Jim with the same flat affectation she usually reserved for the journalists who had the gall to ask about her father’s affairs. She went on, “So what do we need to talk about that isn’t already on the landing page of every major news outlet in the country?”

Big Jim didn’t answer immediately, though he did take a great big inhale, snuffling a wad of his own phlegm. Tom felt queasy when his father-in-law swallowed it.

“Katie,” Big Jim spoke at last, “your husband has been offered immunity in exchange for his testimony against me. He wants to take the deal.” Katie tried not to flush — the man she had promised to love and support for all the days of her life had revealed himself to have no backbone. Still, she vowed to support him.

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“And let me guess,” Katie returned, coolly. “You asked me here to talk him out of it. To persuade him to take the fall for you.”

“There’s no fall to take,” Big Jim said. He had the nerve to chuckle. “It’s Tom’s signature on the documents, not mine.”

“We all know you approved the documents before he signed them, Dad.”

There it was again. Dad.

Big Jim’s face turned a shade of red usually associated with a major heart event. “What’s gotten into you today, Katie?”

“Maybe whatever got into you that winter you cut off heat to the apartment complex in Southie? You managed to push the old tenants out, you tore it down and built your luxury condo, but an elderly woman froze to death before it was all over.”`

Tom covered his mouth in utter shock. Katie had always maintained, like her father, that Big Jim had nothing to do with that.

Big Jim checked his phone, either because he couldn’t face Katie as she spoke the truth or because his attention span was stunted and Twitter was calling. “It was an old building. The pipes went out.” He pursed his lips — sad, but not his doing.

Katie dug her perfectly manicured fingernails into the armrests of her chair. She would not let her father off the hook so easily.

For the next hour, Tom watched, bloodless and stunned, as Katie confronted her father with every dirty business dealing he’d had in the past decade. It all came pouring out: the kickbacks and the bribes, the foreign accounts never filed with the FBI, the slew of mistresses he’d paid off over the years using state tax dollars. On and on she went, arms crossed, her voice low, her gaze steady. Her eyes never left Big Jim’s face.

He had an excuse for it all. Every unscrupulous charge.

In the end, Katie started to tremble with frustration and rage. Tom had never seen her so emotional, so undone. Baby hairs stuck to her forehead with sweat.

“Stop lying!” Katie shouted at her father, doing something then that she hadn’t done since she was a little girl: cry. “Take responsibility, Dad, for once in your life. Take it right now, or you will never see Orla or Declan again — you will never see me again.”

Big Jim ran his hands over his face. He left them there, covering his eyes, as he thought a moment. Whatever he came up with, it moved him to open the bottom drawer of his desk. Tom peered over the gleaming mahogany surface, trying to see what it was Big Jim had removed from the bottom drawer.

It was one of his father-in-law’s infamous campaign hats. Keep Boston Strong, it read in white lettering across the bright-blue fabric.

“Use this to cover your face on your way out,” Big Jim said, tossing the swag at Katie. “There’s probably some vermin hiding with a long lens out there, and you look like shit.”

Katie didn’t flinch. “Bye, Dad.”

***

In the car on the way back to their house, Tom reached for Katie’s hand. He whispered, “Thank you for choosing me.”

Katie looked at Tom’s milky-white hand on top of hers. She started to laugh. She threw back her head and laughed until there were tears streaming down her cheeks.

***

Three hours before Katie arrived at her father’s house, Dia had climbed into the back of Katie’s car. Dia looked exactly as Katie remembered her, and Katie wondered what made it possible for a woman she hadn’t seen since senior year of college to appear as though she hadn’t aged at all. No one looked the same after fifteen years — not even Katie, with her every-other-month IPL treatments and forehead smoothed with Fillerina (more natural looking than Botox, Dr. Ruby assured her).

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Dia said, “Thank you for meeting me.”

“I don’t believe I had much of a choice,” Katie said, noting the squad car parked next to her own SUV. Dia had texted her the address of an abandoned warehouse in Quincy, somewhere far from the fray of Beacon Hill, where the paparazzi wouldn’t think to stake out in hopes of a Mahoney sighting. She had told Katie to meet her there at six on the nose or her husband would be taken into custody before the night was over.

“Sully,” Katie smiled, when her driver opened the front door and went to climb behind the wheel, “some privacy please.”

Sully dipped his head in apology and closed the door, leaving the two women alone.

You always have a choice, Dia thought but didn’t say; she needed something from Katie, and she knew antagonizing her wasn’t the way to get it. Instead, Dia said, “We know you’re on your way to see your husband and your father.”

Katie laughed — “What, are you tapping my…” — then stopped, as reality set in. Of course they were tapping her phone.

“I’m here to offer you a deal.” Dia’s stomach turned as she said the words. She prided herself on being a barracuda, but she was negotiating with a shark. Her only chance at winning was to bite first, to injure and weaken her much more formidable opponent.

Katie listened, stone-faced, as Dia laid it all out. She would wear a wire. She would get Big Jim to confess. In return, she would be granted immunity.

“Immunity from what?” Katie genuinely wanted to know.

“It’s your signature on the checks to Ellen Palmer, whom your father fraudulently reported as the president of Wychmere Selections. You’ve been paying her to keep quiet about the affair she had with your father, which amounts to an illegal campaign contribution. It helped your father win the election by keeping politically damaging stories out of public view.”

“I’ve never even heard of Ellen Palmer,” Katie said. “If what you say is true, my signature has been forged. It won’t stand up in court.” Katie’s voice was steady, but as she changed the cross of her legs, Dia heard the back of her thighs unstick from the leather interior. Katie was sweating.

“I haven’t even gotten to the most attractive part of the deal,” Dia said, and Katie was quiet again.

“The FBI will hold off on pursuing the multiple charges against Tom until you have time to arrange for a divorce and protect your assets,” Dia continued. “Tom is going down, and so is your father, whether you help me or not. And you know as well as I do that there is no real money in the Mahoney name. Your only shot at maintaining your lifestyle — at maintaining your children’s lifestyle — is your husband’s trust, which will be considerably diminished after we move forward with the charges against him. I’m giving you the chance to secure a healthy chunk before Uncle Sam comes for the rest.”

Katie stared out the window, recalling the Dia she knew in college while the sun bowed behind the Charles. Katie met Dia crying on the sixth-floor landing of their dorm. She had been scared and profoundly out of place — and Katie had offered her a kind word and a helping hand. Now, Dia was in a position to help Katie, and instead, she wanted to destroy her, destroy her family. To the window, she muttered, “I was nice to you, Dia.”

“You were polite to me. The way you’re polite to him.” Dia nodded at Sully, who stood at the edge of the muddy brown river, hands stuffed in his pockets, his body language telegraphing subservience. “That’s not the same as being nice.”

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Katie turned to Dia, green eyes bright with resolve. “I’ll try my hardest. I will. But my father is paranoid. He may suspect something is up. If I can’t get him to confess, will I still get the deal? Immunity? Time to protect myself before you go after Tom?”

Dia knew Big Jim would find a way to weasel out of charges. He always did. The only way to nail him was to get him to let down his guard around his favorite child, with the feds listening. Dia shook her head no.

“I have children, Dia,” Katie pleaded.

Lots of people do, Dia thought, callously. But in a moment, she recalled the Daily Mail images of Katie carrying Orla out of her school earlier that day. The little girl was sobbing in her mother’s shoulder, terrified. Dia ran a hand over her face with a sigh.

“If you can’t get him to confess,” Dia conceded, “but I listen to that tape and it’s clear you tried every trick in the book — and I do mean every trick in the book — then yes, the deal stands. But only if you really try, Katie.” Dia nodded at her, as if to say: I*’m sticking my neck out for you, so you better do the same for me.*

Katie frowned at her. “Deal.”

***

“Why are you laughing?” Tom asked.

Katie wiped her eyes and tried to catch her breath. Sully glanced at the couple in the rear-view mirror.

“Because you think I chose my father over you, and that is very, very funny.”

Tom’s eyes flashed. “Isn’t that what happened back there, Katie?”

Katie spoke to her driver. “Can you please put up the privacy window, Sully?”

“Yes, Miss Mahoney,” Sully said, pressing the button.

“Thank you,” Katie said, only after Sully could no longer hear or see her. She began to unbutton her shirt.

“What are you doing?” Tom cried, horrified. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Katie without her clothes. She’d given up trying to seduce him after Orla was born.

Katie shushed him, the way one would shush a child. Tom watched in amazement as his wife removed the wire wrapped around her taut upper torso. She dropped the contraption onto the floor of the SUV, using the heel of her nude Jimmy Choo to grind the micro-recorder to pieces.

She said, “Ever since I was a freshman in college, Daddy and I have had our own special signal.”

Tom tried not to shudder. Katie was back to talking about Big Jim in that lovesick, little-girl way of hers that had always disturbed him more than he was willing to admit to when the press asked about the creepy-close bond shared by his wife and father-in-law.

“If I ever call him Dad, that’s our signal that it isn’t safe for him to speak candidly.” Katie smiled at Tom as Sully made the turn onto their street and everything changed.

Sully lowered the privacy divider, taking in Katie’s reaction as she watched the cavalcade of FBI agents entering and exiting the front door to her classic redbrick townhome. Like a small, efficient army, they ferried file folders, lock boxes, and whole drawers from the built-ins that lined Tom’s and Katie’s home offices. Life as they knew it was over.

Sully felt a prick of remorse as he imagined how much Declan and Orla would miss their parents, but it was quickly replaced by the memories of his Christmastime bonuses, which for the past fifteen years had taken the form of designer scented candles. He may have preferred Katie to her siblings, but this was a low bar when it came to the entitled members of the Mahoney family. When Dia had approached him before Tom’s indictment, asking for permission to bug the SUV, Sully hadn’t hesitated. He gave the D.A. his full cooperation.

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Katie was halfway out the door before Sully could put the SUV in park. She shouted at Dia, who stood on the front steps, bathed in police-blue light. “We had a deal!”

“And I was all set to honor it until I heard about your signal with Daddy,” Dia replied as an officer approached Katie and told her to put her hands behind her back. Dia watched the steel cuffs enclose Katie’s wrists, her baby-pink nails waving helplessly and the ends of her now-frizzing blowout trembling with indignation. She was going to look like shit in orange.

Thank you to instagram user @trishyhimot for the Chanel Longwear detail, and Instagram users @vintageismylife, @sailorgirl_85, @gilly_chilly_ ,@im_ricky_1599, @ah3ahna, @gvenvivare, @mjugar10, @shannonlcaruso, @heather71394, @hannahlovespll, and @ceceliafoglia for suggesting Katie would wear Jimmy Choos.

Jessica Knoll is the New York Times best-selling author of Luckiest Girl Alive and The Favorite Sister, which will be released from Simon & Schuster on May 15th.