Balance of Power, 14

Desperately Sabrina fumbled with the keys to the small rented house she occupied. She had maintained her composure throughout the remainder of the meeting with President Campbell. But now it was all the young woman could do to hold in the lunch she had hastily downed before leaving for the President's office.

The metallic click of the lock opening was her body's permission to revolt. Sabrina felt the press of bitter bile against the back of her throat and she burst through the door in a dash for the bathroom. The overwhelmed young woman knelt before the porcelain toilet and emptied the meager contents of her stomach until all she could do was retch futilely.

A gentle hand cupped Sabrina's elbow and guided her to her feet. “Here.” Michael Corleone pressed a cool washcloth into her hand and watched silently as Sabrina shakily wiped her face and mouth. “What happened?”

Sabrina did not bother to ask the dark, powerful man just what he was doing inside her home. With each passing incident, she was coming to realize that Michael Corleone operated on his own set of rules. “I found out I was a fool,” Sabrina forced out. She eased past her father and made her way to the living room. Sabrina dropped down onto the couch, afraid that her unsteady legs would carry her no further.

“All this time I was so proud of myself for coming here to Dartmouth and not just graduating, but doing so with honors.” Her face was turned toward the doorway where her visitor stood, but Sabrina's gaze was focused on a point somewhere just beyond Michael Corleone's right shoulder. “I would look at my grades and feel a sense of pride that I had done something so…special all on my own.”

Her sudden bitter laughter filled the room. “Then I find out that none of this was me.” Sabrina finally met Michael Corleone's dark, implacable gaze. “My father, this complete stranger to me, bought me a degree. And made the last four years of my life a total lie.”

“I make no apologies,” Michael Corleone began, “for using my influence to insure that my children are afforded the very best opportunities life can offer.” He stood in the doorway to the living room with his hands clasped behind his back. “But I assure you, what you have made of that opportunity is solely to your credit.”

“Sure.” The single word dripped with sarcasm. “I get it. You only bought me a scholarship. What happened? The degree was extra?”

“Your anger is understandable,” Michael Corleone commented. “And so I will excuse it. This time.” He gathered his hat and gloves. “We will talk again,” he promised.

Balance of Power, 15

William Campbell straightened the knot of his tie and then carefully folded the collar of his freshly starched white shirt over it. He made several minor adjustments before pronouncing himself perfect.

After a night of sleeping more soundly than he had in a long, long time, William Campbell was in a very upbeat mood. It was graduation day at Dartmouth. Another successful term had come and gone under his skillful leadership.

“You have your notes?” The voice of his German housekeeper sounded behind him. Despite her many years in America, a trace of accent still lingered. In times of stress it grew pronounced.

“Right here, Della.” The president patted his breast pocket. “But you know I haven't used them since my very first year here.”

Della shook her head. “It doesn't hurt to be safe.” She stood patiently behind President Campbell and awaited his signal that he was ready for the heavy robe that he would wear for the day's graduation ceremony.

President Campbell spied her reflection behind him in the mirror. “Why are you standing there holding that?” he ordered, suddenly impatient. “Go and put my robe in the car.”

Without protest, the housekeeper turned on her heels and carried the robe out to her employer's car. She was only gone a few moments before she returned and cleared her throat. “President Campbell,” she announced, “ zere is someone vaiting to see you.”

“I've got a graduation to preside over.” He dismissed his uninvited guest with a wave. “Tell whoever it is to make an appointment like everyone else.”

“A moment of your time is all I need, sir.”

The inflectionless masculine voice made William Campbell spin around. “What the hell are-” The words ceased abruptly as he recognized his guest. Campbell had dealt with him several times over the past four years. “What do you want?”

The stranger nodded once at Della, who backed quietly out of the room. President Campbell's unannounced visitor was dressed in a somber brown suit. A matching Homberg hat completed his ensemble.

“I am here to deliver a message,” he replied. The stranger extended a large manila envelope President Campbell's direction. “The malice you directed toward my client's daughter yesterday,” he continued once the president grudgingly accepted his offering, “will come at a very dear price.” Having delivered his simple message, the stranger turned and left.

For a long time President Campbell simply stood and considered the envelope he held within his hand. He straightened his shoulders and tore open the sealed missive. A stack of glossy 8 x 10 photographs slid out into his palm.

William Campbell seemed to collapse in upon himself as he gazed upon the clear, sharp photographs of himself seemingly engaged in explicit sexual acts with several young underage boys. In the foreground of each photo was a local newspaper with the previous day's headlines clearly visible. Campbell realized suddenly why he had slept so well the night before. He realized also just how grossly he had erred.

The telephone rang, shaking the president from his shocked perusal of the pictures. He answered it, certain that he knew the identity of the caller. “What do you want from me?” It did not matter that he had been drugged, or that he had never harbored a homosexual desire in his life. William Campbell knew that all of life was about perceptions.

“You cannot restore the joy you have stolen from my daughter on this day,” Michael Corleone replied. Even through the phone, his voice sounded far too calm. “Perhaps tomorrow's breaking headlines about your sexual indiscretions and subsequent resignation will bring her solace.”