I’ll never forget the look on my dad's face. We were stopped at a checkpoint by dangerous looking men in military uniforms. Soldiers hollering back and forth waiving weapons, searching through our things, taking anything they wanted. One guerilla was approached by an emaciated little boy with skin so thin it strained to cover his veins. Crying out, eyes bulging from hollow sockets, the child’s spindly arms grasped for the soldier’s leg. The helpless act was answered with the butt end of a rifle, sending the child violently to the ground. Semi convulsing, blood gushing from his head, the boy curled up in a tiny brown ball and went to sleep. At least that's what my mom told me.
That scene played over and over in my head growing up. It made me sad, but mostly furious, that life could be so unfair. Our family missionary trip to Africa meant to teach us love, compassion and understanding had burned a fire in my belly so intense it stayed with me throughout my life. Even at the tender age of ten, I knew someday I’d change this cruel and unjust world. That was forty years ago.
A long recession has brought desperate times. Many in the working middle class are unemployed or have fallen below the poverty line, millions have lost their homes. People lucky enough to have jobs are doing triple the load, working every day with a lump in their throat, feeling disposable, fearing they’re next. In a sick twist, Big Business and Big Banks got bailed out, but the government screwed the people. Honest Americans are feeling anxiety, shame and hopelessness as suicides, domestic violence, and homicides are climbing to an all time high.
Oh yeah, there are still plenty of guys buying Ferrari's, but the disparity between rich and poor has become obscene. The wealthy have become fatter, picking off the laboring carcass of a foreclosed middle class. The underlying greed is unconscionable.
I’m the Senior Democratic Senator from Kentucky. My name is John Canon; people call me Jack. Though my once brown hair has turned a little gray, I can’t complain, having served nearly three terms in the most powerful city on earth. I’ve gotten a bit softer around the middle, but I’ve learned good clothes can hide it. The biggest eye opener of my political career so far: an unsuccessful bid for the Presidency. It was a major shock to find out--what it’s really going to take--to fulfill my destiny:
To someday have the power, to dedicate the highest office in the land, to make things right. This time I’m all in.
Sandy Collins, my assistant, sticks her head in, peeking around the door, "Morning Jack, how you doing?”
“I’m alright, just working on some lines for my stump speech.” Sandy’s my right hand and more importantly my best friend. It only makes sense though, even at eight years old my best friend was a little girl, I just loved holding her hand.
Men are hard-wired to want women like Sandy. She’s a drop-dead knockout. She likes her high heels, which put her about five-nine, and wears her blonde hair straight, pulling it into a ponytail at least part of the day. Her only negative, she’s a bit naïve for someone turning thirty-seven.
“Jack, did you want me to do all your Christmas shopping again this year?” Sandy had great taste in gifts. She put a lot of thought into her choices, usually hitting a home run with my family, especially the kids. It’s like she was tuned in to what my girls would want.
Ignoring her question, “Listen to this,” speaking my notes as I’m writing, “this country is being run by elitists who could care less about ordinary Americans.”
I’d actually written, couldn’t give one sweet shit, but adjusted it for a broader audience.
“The system is badly broken, the wealthiest Americans have profited unfairly, taking advantage of an increasingly helpless public.”
Bud, my campaign manager, chief of staff, and close friend for the past 15 years, enters the office listening, mid-sentence.
“Devastated by the economy, the rich have gamed the system, bought everything up on the cheap. Greed threatens our way of life.”
Sandy commented, “It sounds so bleak Jack.”
“Jack, I’ve arranged for the transfers.”
Bud was being careful with Sandy in the room. He’d gotten me elected to the senate, but despite several tries going all the way back to McGovern he’d never won a presidential campaign.
“Bud, just say it straight, if we can’t trust Sandy we’re done already.”
“Alright Jack.” Bud turned to Sandy, “We got our asses handed to us the first time around cause Jack here didn’t want to break the law. This time I’m funneling huge donations into Super Pac’s that we’ll control. ”
“Bud, Sandy’s in the thick of this with us. Honey, you know we aren’t supposed to be getting the money for them. Let alone this crazy kind of money. If anyone finds out we’re all going to jail.”
Sandy said, “Give me some credit boys, I get it. Besides you’re only doing what everybody else does already.”
Bud cautioned, "Never before to this degree. When the Republicans are coming after us we’re gonna need every dime to fight off the attack.”
Politics is a tricky game and, lucky for me, Bud was an expert player. I’m excited to have a guy like him with only one thing left to prove. This was to be Bud’s last time out of the gate. His doctors told him his heart wasn’t up to handling the stress of another major campaign. He was willing to put it all on the line, because he believed in me, but deep down in my heart I knew that more than life itself, Bud Singer wanted to go out with the win.
Bud spent a lot of time on the cocktail circuit and at charity events rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, lining up contributions. He looked in Sandy’s direction, trying to engage her directly, “The Country my father knew was built on cheap energy. Families of the fifties could live well on one income. We took weekend joy rides in the country - in big heavy gas guzzlers, just for the fun of it.” He looked over at me then back to Sandy.
“Remember the station wagons Jack? People moved to the suburbs in droves. Our factories were busy making all kinds of products – Made in America was the sign of Quality. We were a nation of producers, not just consumers. That’s all changed now. This country is going to the dogs.”
Sandy wasn’t even faking interest in Bud today, she told me once he reminded her of a sinister figure, a shorter version of Orson Wells in a suit. Even when Bud worked at it, he never seemed to hold her attention for very long.
“Jack, I was serious before, do you want me to get started on your presents? I was in Macy’s the other day listening to Christmas music; it’s getting to be that time of year again.”
Sandy was making every effort to get my undivided attention; she stood right in front of me, bent over my laptop and looked chin out straight into my eyes, “Jack the store’s been decorated since Halloween.”
“We’ve still got over a month” – then I thought for a second.
“Yeah, maybe you could pick up a couple of gifts for the kids and help me with a few ideas for Kathy’s and I’ll go get those, myself.”
“Great Jack, I’ll put together a tentative list and we’ll go over it when you can focus.”
Sandy turned and did an exaggerated one-foot-crossing-the-other walk, accentuating her hip movements as she left the room. If she wasn’t getting my attention in the room, she was determined to get it going out.
Bud shook his head, “She’s a tease.”
“She’s right Bud, you don’t give her much credit, remember she graduated cum laude from Boston.”
“In journalism, for Pete’s sakes Jack, get real.”
“You just don’t like reporters.”
“No really, don’t you think it’s odd that in all the years you’ve known Sandy she’s never had a boyfriend. Hell, I don’t ever remember her having a date.”
“What are you getting at?”
“She’s a beautiful woman Jack, where I come from there’s a line around the block for a girl like that.”
“Well for one thing she never stops working, you know sometimes she’s texting me late into the evening.”
“She should put herself out there, get married.”
“I’ve begged her to take some time off but she never does.”
“What a waste.”
Bud was right, Sandy didn’t have much of a personal life; it was my fault, I had her managing both the Campaign Administrative Staff and the Senate Office.
“I never thought I’d say this, but we may be working the girl too hard, Jack.”
“I’ve taken her out a couple of times after work for Martinis.”
“Does she ever mention her personal life?"
“Not really, we talk mostly about work and me being president. She really wants it for me.”
Sandy usually accompanies me on business trips to help me stay organized. She’s a kindred spirit and knows first hand the difficulties of being a Senator.
“Jack, running for president can rip you apart if you are not ready. I just hope she understands that we’re in a dogfight, any misstep in this arena and they’ll eat us alive. You know how I worry.”
“Relax she knows we’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
“But can she keep it to herself?”
“Yeah, Bud, she’ll never betray my trust. Listen to this,” my reading glasses were hanging on my nose, “our mission is to take America back for the people.” I continued reading aloud.
“Big oil is causing the American Dream to fade away. Regular, hard-working, middle class families have lost their homes. The Government bailed out the banks but didn’t do a damn thing to help the people. We have become a nation of service providers, importing nearly everything we use. America is like a locomotive, once powerful, that has left the tracks, on a collision course with economic disaster.”
Bud said, “I like that line; it’s got powerful imagery. You didn’t really answer me though. Do you think she really gets it?”
“Bud, I think that little walk shook you up.”
“Why, do I seem fixated?”
“You can’t stop talking about her! Listen, we had a heart to heart a long time ago and I told her the game is rigged. To make a difference in this world, we’ve got to get our hands dirty, really dirty. Bud, I promise you she’s with us all the way to the White House.”
“Okay, I hope you’re right. I don’t want to see her on 60 minutes some night spilling her guts out about you.”
I wedged my feet on top of the desk, leaned back in my chair, and continued typing notes and reading them aloud; the thoughts were coming. “Recession President Gillard Barker, third year in office with nothing, no, scratch that… with little going right.”
Bud said, “Barker still thinks he can be re-elected. The power of the Presidency has to be intoxicating; it’s blinding him to reality.”
Barker said in an interview, ‘The Democrats’ dismal four years left such a bad taste with voters, it would take two Republican terms to wash it out.’
As Bud was walking toward the door, he chided, “I still think he’s a cocky bastard.”
I answered, “It happens, Bud. Look at Carter.”
Neither of us wanted to admit it, but many leaders in our own Party were afraid the president was right.
Genre – Political Thriller
Rating – PG
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