The incumbent

chapter 1

There were five of us, four members of the council and me, Mayor Madison Glenn. I seldom use the name Madison except on legal documents and even then only with reluctance. My father told me it was a good name, “strong, decisive, and majestic.” It was my misfortune to be born while my father, a history professor at the University of Santa Barbara, was reading a biography on James Madison. Dad got a good read; I was stuck with the name. I’m thankful that he wasn’t reading a bio of Ulysses S. Grant. It took years of gentle nagging, but now even he calls me Maddy.

Santa Rita is the place I call home, as do roughly 125,000 other people. A small city by most standards, it is large enough to provide everything a person needs: hospital, college, nice homes, wide streets, and an eye-popping view. Located on the ocean shore, eighty miles north of Los Angeles and just south of Santa Barbara, Santa Rita sits like a jewel against the usually brown coastal mountains. The azure Pacific waters glitter in the sunlight, cool the city in the day, and provide a warm blanket of air in the evening. Every day is picture-postcard material. To tourists Santa Rita is Eden; to the rest of us it is home.

The Chamber of Commerce promotes our town as “California’s Heaven.” On most days I agree; on others I can’t help but notice that a little hell oozes across our borders.

When I had left my office to make my way to the council chamber, the sun had already set and a slab of gray clouds had rolled in, veiling the stars and moon. An easy drizzle had begun to streak my window, sending sinuous veins of water coursing from header to sill. I hoped this was not an omen.

I’ve been the city’s mayor for two years—two challenging years. I am the town’s first elected mayor. Before the election twenty-four months ago, the mayor was selected from sitting council members, as with most cities our size. Last election, however, was different. Candidates ran at large, the first time since 1851, when our town incorporated. It was a hot race, full of contestants, each certain they were the best person for the job and that any other candidate would lead the city into utter ruin and degradation. I won. I don’t know how, but when they counted the last ballot, my name was on top. Perhaps it was because I had already served two four-year terms on the council. Or maybe it was because I was the only woman in a contest of six wanna-bes.

Two of the other candidates sat at the bench with me. Larry Wu, an accountant of Chinese descent, had come in third. He was a gracious loser and the least problematic member of the city government. Larry had spent his childhood in Texas and came to Santa Rita when his father’s firm transferred him. I’d known Larry for six years but still struggled to reconcile his Asian face with his southern accent.

Jon Adler had also fought hard for the seat. He had money and outspent me on the campaign two-to-one. A lanky attorney, he treated the campaign like the criminal cases he tried before local judges. He attacked the other candidates with the flair and joy of a hunter blasting pheasants out of the sky. He paid little attention to me, assuming I was the dark horse of the group. He shredded poor Larry.

They were able to remain on the council, since their seats were not up for election for another two years.