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Kahn and Khan

Two brothers, two winding paths

Kahn and Khan

(Krieg Barrie)

Ninth in a once-a-quarter series of short short stories. (For story No. 8, please see wng.org/branching_out.)

Mark Kahn and Mike Khan were twins as unlike as could be. Mark Kahn protected his dog Chipper and her two tiny puppies. One day Mike tripped over a bag of dog food and threw the puppies against a wall, bashing out their brains.

Their grandfather had wisely fled Germany in 1933. He was also smart enough to change his name from Lipschitz, which he knew would be a source of amusement for English speakers, to Kahn. That made fellow Jews in Texas, where he settled, think he was from the ancient priestly class of Cohens.

Mark Kahn joked about his name and said he felt more like a Lipschitz than a Cohen. Mike in high school transposed two letters and put Khan, as in Genghis, on all his documents. He parlayed his 220 muscled pounds and name change into a WWF wrestling career.

Mark, a slim 160, became a Christian, went to seminary, passed his ordination exams, and became an assistant pastor. He met a beautiful stockbroker, Peggy Cunard, from a monied and politically prominent family: They were married at a wedding with only 500 guests.

‘Our dad taught both of us to shoot, but not what to shoot at.’

Then a member of the Texas House of Representatives northwest of Austin died a month before the primary. Supporters of three GOP good old boys stalemated a quickly called party nominating meeting. After hours of wrangling, when everyone was exhausted, Peggy’s dad, the district chairman, asked, “Why not try a fresh face?”

Mark woke up the next morning to learn he was the nominee for a position he never desired—and the Republican nod was tantamount to election. “The legislative session lasts only five months,” the beaming father-in-law said. “Then you can get back to your calling.”

To his surprise, Mark found a new calling. He enjoyed legislating. He hit the national headlines briefly when a reporter discovered that he and Mike Khan, who had become head of a white supremacist group, were brothers, but Kahn deflected questions by quoting Jimmy Stewart’s character in a 1950s Western, Winchester ’73: “Our dad taught both of us to shoot, but not what to shoot at.”

Four years, three major laws enacted, and two children later, Mark entered the U.S. House of Representatives. But after two cold months in Washington, Peggy said she hated D.C. and would head back to Texas: Mark like other congressmen could come back each weekend.

Nine months later Mark was orating about family values during one-minute early evening speeches in the House, then driving west on Virginia 7 for trysts with Martha, a pretty Leesburg schoolteacher. After a few months shame set in and a Texas-sized opportunity to run for attorney general emerged. He seemed a shoo-in until Martha talked to the National Enquirer.

At an emergency meeting in Austin, Mark’s campaign manager was optimistic—the story had only her words, no evidence—as he grilled his candidate. No emails? Check. No sexting? Check. No blue dress? Check. Then you’re in the clear. Vehement denial and on we go. I’ve lined up a sympathetic interviewer at KLBJ.

Mark went to the studio. Powder on the nose and forehead. First question in front of the cameras: “So, more fake news?” Mark said, “I wish it was, but I did commit adultery. I’m resigning from the House and ending my attempt to become attorney general. I’ve asked God and Peggy to forgive me. I’m going home to my wife, if she’ll have me.” He stood up and left the studio.

Pundits were astonished, then admiring. “Slick politics,” one wrote: “Honesty is the new lying. Expect a groundswell of support. Kahn by renouncing politics rescued his political career.”

But Kahn surprised journalists by standing firm. He focused on rescuing his marriage, which was hard, but Peggy saw his commitment to change and honored that. Two years later he became pastor of a new church in Austin. Its name: the Church of Adullam, a reference to Chapter 22 of First Samuel, where “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul,” came to join David in a cave.

Soon, Kahn had the most diverse church in central Texas—not just racially and ethnically, but with a huge span of ages and ideologies. And then his brother Mike showed up.