The Candidate

By: Josie Brown

“That bastard Padilla has started the process of cutting us off from our oil supply! The Chinese are filling the void in purchasing it quite handily. He’s taking all those yuans and buying guns from those Russian whores, as if it’s World War III already! And considering how the rest of South America feels about his oil—and about us–he won’t have any problem carrying out that little fantasy.” Talbot leaned forward and lowered his voice to a hiss. “And if he does, Smith, it’s all your fault. If I remember correctly, when we liberated Venezuela from Maduro, it was you who suggested that we lend him our support, and all that implies.”

Smith blinked, but said nothing. He’d anticipated that accusation since the moment Talbot had squeezed his stocky girth into the backseat of the limo. Someone else was always the fall guy, right? Well, unfortunately for Talbot, Smith wasn’t going to fall on his sword, let alone put a bullet behind his own ear. And Talbot knew better than to sell him out.

If he ever tried, Smith had a few insurance policies to cover that scenario.

“Something’s got to be done about it immediately.” Talbot leaned back with a grunt. “In fact, the timing couldn’t be better, now that the mid-terms are over.”

“We’ll never be able to take him out in some covert op. He knows us too well.”

“You’re disappointing me.” Talbot met Smith’s eyes in the rearview mirror.

“I don’t mean to. I’m just leveling with you. It will take something different this time.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“If the incident that precludes our takeover were to happen here, on American soil—”

Talbot cringed. “What, are you nuts?”

“Hear me out: A ‘terrorist act’ with Padilla’s fingerprints all over it will ensure that our invasion of Venezuela has the full blessing of the American people, the Congress, and the world.” He turned to face Talbot. “And if you’re the squeaky wheel warning about it throughout the election cycle–”

“No! Too devastating...Should anyone find out—besides, the old men wouldn’t like it, either.”

Smith shrugged. “I’m just saying it’s a slam dunk.”

“Too bad. It’s off the table.” Talbot shifted his bulk so that he could stare at the frigid wonderland beyond the limo’s back window. “Look, everyone has an Achilles’ heel. We both know that. Padilla’s is what, women? Gambling? Drugs?”

Smith knew Talbot was right. But he also knew not to let the vice president in on that, or he wouldn’t get what he wanted from him. “His private physician may be our way in. Particularly with the right incentive.”

“And what would that be?”

“Blackmail. The kidnapping of a family member. This isn’t brain surgery. Although, if we make the right threat, it might be the way to take Padilla out: some kind of fatal surgical procedure, the wrong meds, perhaps an overdose. Damn that socialized medicine, eh?”

As he hoped, that brought out a belly laugh from Talbot. “No shit. Okay, sounds like a plan. Go for it.” His smile dissolved. “Now, about the election: Anything interesting I should know about?”

Smith thought for moment. “We’ve got rats burrowed deep within each of the candidates’ campaign headquarters. As usual, the Dems are scrounging for dirt on each other. While they do all the heavy lifting, we just lean back and take notes.”

Talbot chuckled. “Great. It should be interesting to see who’s the last man–or woman–standing when all is said and done. Then we use the intel to shred the rep of whoever it is. It’s an equal opportunity massacre. You’ve got to love this country. ”

As casually as he could, Smith adjusted the rearview mirror, but really he was double-checking that the digital audio bug he’d hidden there upon entering the vehicle was receiving loud and clear. He’d remove it when he left the vehicle, before Talbot’s PPD did its next bug sweep.

Yessiree, Smith was a firm believer in personal insurance policies.

Chapter 5

The care and feeding of Andrew Mansfield’s most generous campaign donors was well underway by the time Ben got to the Fairmont on that drizzly New Year’s Eve. Dinner was served promptly, the Tattingers flowed freely, and the up-tempo tunes emanating from the ten-piece orchestra on the Colonnade Room’s center stage lured a constant wave of the senator’s well-heeled guests onto the dance floor, so few if any of them minded the long wait to be endured prior to partaking in their prime objective: a few fleeting but memorable moments with Mansfield, in which he shook their hands and intoned a heartfelt thanks to them for ponying up $2,500-per-person for a plate of the Fairmont’s renowned Shenandoah Valley grilled rib eye of bison, the proceeds of which would go to the Mansfield Presidential Exploratory Committee fund.

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