The Candidate

By: Josie Brown


At the thought of that, the tears that could not fall glistened in his eyes.

In front of him a cluster of unattached women unraveled quickly in order to sidle up to whatever single men were still around. Any moment now they would bestow the first kiss of the year on some lucky stranger, one of the joys of being young and single on this special night—


One girl, pretty in pink, her blond hair grazing her bare shoulders, glanced over at him. By her quizzical look he could tell she’d noticed his tears. She waved at him. Of course he couldn’t wave back. No matter. Undeterred, she swam against the deep wave of humanity between them, to his side.

A burly red-haired man, watching the exchange, glared hard at Carlos. The fact that he didn’t respond irritated the man, like a red flag waved at a moody bull. He grabbed the women’s arm, she tried to shake him off, but he shoved passed her, hell bent on reaching Carlos first.

Her boyfriend perhaps, determined to win her back? Que lastima! Perhaps the lovers could make amends in heaven, because in a mere twenty-two seconds, the bomb strapped to Carlos’ chest would blow all of them to pieces...

December 30th,

One Year Earlier...

Chapter 1

“I hear you’re one smooth sonofabitch.”

Thanks to the hustle and flow of the Tilt’n Diner’s dinnertime crowd, Republican Senator Andrew Jackson Mansfield’s genial jibe was just loud enough to be heard by its intended party: Democratic political campaign strategist Ben Brinker.

Ben washed down a mouthful of the diner’s whoopee cake pie with the last sip of his coffee and winked knowingly at his hosts—a couple of New Hampshire Democratic Party chairs—before facing his accuser. “Senator, if I’ve made you sit up and take notice, then I must be doing something right.”

Unlike Mansfield’s smile, Ben’s was genuine, for good reason: at that moment his client, Congressman and recently declared presidential hopeful Richard Calder, was sharing his cozy vision of a Calder presidency with a reverential Katie Couric and all of America, including the New Hampshire voters gazing up at the television mounted over the diner’s short order grill.

The flop sweat on the very young, very green campaign aide who was trailing Mansfield evidenced his relief that the senator’s pique had been directed at Ben and not him. Ben, on the other hand, was used to being called all sorts of things by all sorts of people—especially those who, like Mansfield, were running for president, but didn’t have a seasoned A-List sonofabitch of their own.

Specifically one who could get them an exclusive with Katie this early in the game.

To be honest about it, even Ben’s clients were known to label him with a colorful name or two, particularly during a campaign. Smartass for sure. Bastard without a doubt. And yes, sonofabitch was a given. In Ben’s mind that was all par for the course. Better he should piss off a client with a much needed reality check than watch him show his ass in public.

In any event, all was forgiven by the time the votes were tallied, because with Ben on your team it was a given that you would win.

Which is why the smart clients inevitably shut up, listened, and followed his advice.

And why, for the past twelve years, Beltway insiders had placed their bets on Brinker.

Even his dark horses were winners, and had been since his very first high profile campaign—for an incumbent senator whose unappreciated stance against his own party’s policies put him some thirty points behind in the polls. But by election day, Ben had conjured up a slim but uncontestable lead by doing his usual voodoo: discerning the grittiest issues; crafting surefire sound bites that rallied those who might not otherwise go to the polls; and most importantly choosing an easy-on-the-eye candidate who appealed to female voters.

So when Ben jumped onboard Calder’s presidential exploratory committee, bets on all the other Democratic candidates—both unannounced and already declared—were off. Hell, the kowtowing of these two state New Hampshire DNC party bigwigs between bites of the diner’s celebrated White Mountain meatloaf was proof of that. Despite a field of six other party contenders, their initial polls of both declared Dems and independents were making Ben very happy. One had even slipped up and called the congressman “President Calder.”

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