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WEB EXCLUSIVE | SCOT LEHIGH

Dark Shadows at the State House

A DEEP frown creased the face of the dark count.

He had had a rough go of it in recent weeks, and now he was wondering if he had been a little rash in the early assurances he had given.

The count had as much as promised to turn over a new leaf back when he took charge as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Why, in an inspired burst of imagination, he had even styled himself as — a reformer.

Now, given that the count had been an insider for years beyond memory — indeed, for so long that there was an eerie timelessness to his status as a member of the political netherworld — word of his putative new persona had astonished some observers.

But then, the count had made more startling transformations before — and with the mere sweep of his cape. It’s true that becoming a reformer had gone against his deepest instinct, which was to stick to the dark shadows of the castle — ah, the State House. Sunlight, he knew, had always been the implacable enemy of the furtive creatures who depend on the crepuscular gloom to work their will.

The count had tried, though. Really, he had. Why, he had even invited George Keverian, a storied rules reformer from another era, back to the castle. And yet, while everyone else was remarking on how grand it was to see the former speaker again, the count, casting a covert glance at his neck, had found himself ruminating about the rich legislative traditions that must flow in his veins — and thinking how extraordinarily tasty his guest looked.

He had quickly banished the thought, of course, for the count was a reformer now, and reformers simply didn’t think like that. Not about their own, anyway.

Reformers, the count had heard, relied on persuasion to work their will. And so, when Representative Marie Parente had refused to move to a remote first floor office until it was spruced up, the count had acceded, even when Parente had insisted on painting her new digs ‘‘bunny nose pink,’’ a color that cast an odd hue into the hallway, and, for the count, brought back haunting memories of a rare pint of O negative he had surreptitiously sampled during a State House blood drive. It had been delicious, with rich, sanguine hints of short work weeks, lame-duck sessions, and handsome pay raises. Even better than a glass of fine merlot, really, which was what the count usually had to content himself with now that he was a reformer. Perhaps that was why, every time he passed Parente’s office, the count found himself longing for the old days.

Worse than sunlight were klieg lights. The count could fairly feel himself start to shrivel each time they came on. Why, if he had known that a reformer had to put up with all that ...

And the questions that were starting to come: What had he done as speaker?

The count knew what he’d like to say: Well, he had just finished a great round of golf.

That was the kind of answer he would have given back in the old days, for unlike his forebears, the count had never been one to strike fear into his foes with a baleful glare. Cosmopolite that he was, he preferred to disarm them with the gentle bite of his well-honed wit.

But then Channel 5’s pesky Janet Wu had caught up with him and Senate President Robert Travaglini as they were embarking on a little charity golfing on a weekday. What did they say to people who thought they should be at the State House working, she wanted to know?

Work? With summer here? Why, the temerity of the very question!

The count did have an agenda, of course. He wanted to manage the court system.

Well, not manage it, exactly. He and Speaker pro tempore Thomas Petrolati wanted to keep it as their own shadowy province, a place where their word was law — and where they could tuck away favored members of the politically undead.

The count, after all, had always had a special interest in the courts.

In another age, he had made a good living as a barrister, such a good living that, years ago, the Globe Spotlight (ugh, how he hated that word) Team had identified him as one of those politically connected attorneys whose State House ties always seem to tip the scales of justice in their favor.

As for Petro, he had made the stuffing — ah, the staffing, the staffing — of the court system his particular interest. Why, the Bride of Petro was even one of the undead.

So was it any wonder the count and Petro had used the budget to reward their chthonic servants? And to ensure that they, and not Robert Mulligan, despite his silly title as chief justice for administration and management of the trial court system, would really control the staffing of the courts?

The count had tried to keep those machinations quiet, but the Globe’s Frank Phillips had somehow gotten wind of something. And so, despite his new status as a reformer, the count had retreated to the shadows he knew so well, his lips sealed tighter than a lead coffin.

Yet still the Globe had printed a story detailing the teeth marks the count’s House had left on the courts.

In his darker moments, the count thought about flitting out to leafy Concord on a moonless night, swooping through an open window, and giving the Yankee reporter a literal pain in the neck.

Perhaps then the nosy newsman would come to sport the same look of glassy-eyed compliance that marked so many members of the House leadership team.

The count had only two questions:

Would blue blood give him indigestion?

And could a reformer do a thing like that?

Scot Lehigh’s e-mail address is lehigh@globe.com.

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