Alternate "Listen to the Future" story

As just announced, I wrote a story called “Survivor’s Guilt” that was selected for the “Listen to the Future” project.

I also submitted a second story that was not selected. Although I think it was perhaps better than “Survivor’s Guilt,” it didn’t fit as well in the ‘view of the future’ and this may be why it wasn’t selected. Anyway, for those interested, here it is..

?The Electioneer? by Eric R. Goedken

Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

7:13 pm
January 3
Annandale, Virginia
Iteration Zero

As the Illinois congressman swaggered forth, Murray recognized that this man carried with him the most important thing in politics: the air of invulnerability. This was a candidate who wore the uniform well. The slate grey suit, the starched blue shirt, the red ?power tie?, the well-coiffed hair, these were all standard attire for modern-day elected officials. When wrapped around Representative Jack Van Houten, however, they came alive like the gods themselves intended. His trappings proudly declared to the voters that this was a man you could respect, a man you could trust, and, most importantly, a man for whom you would be proud to cast your vote. With just one look, Murray sensed it would happen for the man and happen soon. His job was to make it happen this year.

They shook hands to verify that the other had the mandatory crushing grip. Van Houten went to the high-backed Eames art deco chair opposite Murray?s solidly-framed black Dordoni desk

?Mr. Murray. Thanks for this meeting. Your firm comes highly recommended from elected men and women on both sides of the aisle. I am very pleased to be able to bring you aboard my campaign.?

?On behalf of the firm, let me say it will be a pleasure to be of assistance to a great man like you, sir.?

Most politicians enjoyed adoration but Van Houten was positively beaming at the compliment. ?Thank you, Mr. Murray. You are too kind.?

?Before we continue, Congressman Van Houten, perhaps you could tell me why you want to be president of the United States.? Murray got the requisite question out of the way.

He didn?t need to listen closely to the answer because he knew in general terms what the answer would be before he asked the question. The candidate wanted to stand up for ordinary Americans. He wanted to serve the country and be able give something back to the nation that had given so much to him. Perhaps he wanted to return honor and integrity to the Oval Office. Or maybe he was running because of the way the opposing party was undermining the traditions that this noble country was founded on. Because a new voice was needed for change in America, or maybe to continue down the path that we began four to eight years ago. Blah blah blah. The reasons why Van Houten sought the presidency did not matter to the firm, and they didn?t really matter much to Murray. Van Houten was the firm?s client, and he was going to win the election. End of story.

?Excellent, sir. And allow me to say that you?re exactly what this country needs,? he said. ?It?s obvious you have the experience and know-how to make it to the White House. You have already risen to a high rank in the Congress, and you are well-positioned to become the front-runner for your party?s nomination. Given your success to date I imagine it would be unwise to question your own honed political instincts, but as you may have heard, our work here at the firm is somewhat unconventional. As you know, our fees are very high but, as our unparalleled track-record suggests, the return on that investment is nearly a certainty. What we do need for you realize though is that you do not have to understand the requests that I will make of you in the coming campaign. You certainly need not agree with them. You just need to follow the advice that I will give you, or the firm will sever our ties with your campaign immediately. Understood??

?Yes, Mr. Murray. The firm?s board of directors personally made that clear.?

?That?s good, sir. Now by all means you should still listen to your campaign manager?s advice. We at the firm in no way are able to act as a replacement for the services of a good manager, and you?ve already got yourself a great one in Douglas Baynes. Have no doubt; he?s going to get you right to the doorstep of the White House. But Congressmen, together we?re going to open the door and let you in.?

He was satisfied that he had the congressman?s attention as he continued, ?Here?s what you can expect in this campaign: I will contact you at certain times at the number we?ve arranged and ask you to try another option in this race. I want you to think of it as another path in this election. These options are what you are paying us for, Congressman. Taking the right paths in this race is what will turn this year?s election into your path to the presidency. All you need to do is to follow the options we offer you, and you will prevail in November.?

Murray had previously given this pitch to candidates for state governorships and seats in the House and Senate, but this was the first time he had worked with a contender for the nation?s highest office. His confidence in the firm?s reputation was such that he knew that Van Houten did not need to hear any more to take his words seriously. If not for the extensive efforts the firm had placed in confidentiality since their incorporation, every amateur politico would probably already be speculating which candidate would have the firm?s backing this election year. Fortunately, their work remained a secret. However, to the few in Washington privy to it, the firm?s 15-0 campaign record over the last twelve years spoke for itself.

?Your financial people have already met with our accountants, and we have instructed them how to proceed with the payments. I?m sure you appreciate that we?d prefer to keep our public profile as low as possible. The nature of our work depends upon our isolation from the traditional interplay of the campaign, the media and the voters. This better allows us to recognize the developing trends and, when necessary, to more easily intercede on behalf of our clients.?

?Thank you very much, Mr. Murray,? Van Houten said. ?I would like to know how it is that you people can so accurately forecast the prevailing but fickle winds of politics??

There it was: the ten million dollar question.

?I?m sorry, sir, but that?s a trade secret. I?m sure you understand.? Murray feigned a sheepish grin. ?Now if you will come with me, Congressman, we have some papers for you to sign.?

5:37 pm
Feb. 10
Charleston, South Carolina
Iteration One

The bellboy smiled in appreciation after Murray?s handsome tip. ?Thank you. If you need anything else while you?re here in Charleston, don?t hesitate to ask.?

Murray sat down at the sturdy Hillcross table in his hotel suite to eat his dinner. The food was adequate, nothing exceptional. He was impressed by the flavor of the chardonnay he had ordered. They may not be skilled in defending their borders but the French certainly knew how to construct a lovely wine. He took his glass to the window and looked out at over the city skyline. Due to the cloud cover and time of year, it was considerably dark for the early evening. Thirteen stories below, he could hear the rush hour traffic continue to move past the hotel.

He liked traveling the country as the presidential primary race heated up. Sure, he probably could have done his job for the campaign back at the firm?s Virginia office or, for that matter, from his bedroom wearing his Gucci pajamas. But he loved to soak in all the energy that was out on the campaign trail, and being present in person always gave him a better sense of how things were going at the grassroots level. Poll numbers and focus groups were sometimes misleading or, more precisely, they were slower to indicate changes in the dynamics of the race. He knew there was nothing like watching a candidate rub shoulders and trade stories with the voters to evaluate how their campaign message was playing out. Even better, Murray?s travel expenses were so insignificant in comparison to the firm?s operating costs that they didn?t seem to mind if he only wanted to stay at four-star hotels.

Given the secrecy of the firm?s function in the race, as he followed the ?Van Houten Tour for America? campaign buses, Murray was little more than a shadow at the congressman?s public appearances. Yesterday in Columbia, the candidate waved briefly to him while shaking hands and kissing babies. Because Murray had staunchly maintained his anonymity in the campaign, it was the first time Van Houten had seen or heard from Murray since the previous month when they had met at the firm headquarters. Murray was not accountable or, for that matter, even known, to anyone else in the congressman?s staff, and that was the way he liked it. Though he sought to see the race up close, he did not want to get mixed in with lack of objectivity that plagued most campaign organizers. If things went astray for Van Houten, the firm had made it clear that it was Murray?s responsibility to see to putting it back on track. His job was therefore a delicate balancing act of weighing costs and benefits. He knew that if he acted prematurely and sent unnecessary transmissions, the firm would be spending a lot of capital without cause, and if he waited too long to respond, well, then it would get really expensive.

It was now the Tuesday of the South Carolina primary. This vote was critical to defining the rest of the party?s presidential race. Thus far, Van Houten?s campaign had made decent strides toward winning the nomination. After a disappointing second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses behind Missouri governor Trevor Hackman, he rebounded with a solid win in New Hampshire. The Van Houten team was well-funded and more importantly well-organized in the Granite State. Their organization vastly outnumbered those in the Hackman campaign in a state where the voters expected to shake hands with the candidate personally as well as receive a hand-written letter from his staff before they would consider honoring him or her with their vote. With all the press about his comeback victory in New Hampshire, the media was now affording Van Houten the front-runner attention that meant everything in a presidential race. If this type of momentum kept up for the Van Houten campaign, Murray was starting to wonder if the firm?s services would even be necessary in the primary season.

As it was, the greatest threat to Van Houten right now appeared to be from the Hackman campaign?s opposition research team. They were undoubtedly digging in detail through Van Houten?s ten-year career in Congress but Murray knew from his own research that the congressman?s voting record was usually safely within the mainstream of his party. Additionally, they were also looking into his eight year stint in the Illinois State Legislature, in which they may have found some ammunition. Van Houten?s record on the death penalty from those days was in contrast to the unofficial position of his party which he now professed, and this could easily cost him some votes if not handled carefully. Hackman was now running 30-second television attack ads that were bringing the issue of Van Houten?s views on the death penalty to the forefront for the first time in years. News organization polling had revealed some softening of Van Houten?s support in the last few days, but no one was certain how much damage had been inflicted.

Through it all, Murray had faithfully recorded the ins and outs of the primary race in his campaign logs, which contained printouts of news stories alongside many writings of his own analysis. Those documents were secured inside his metallic brief case under some very extensive and advanced shielding. If anything needed to be done to help this race turn out properly, preserving the contents of the case would become very important.

Murray checked the clock. 6:15 pm.

The polls in South Carolina closed at six o?clock; it wouldn?t be long now. He finished his chardonnay and switched the hotel room television to CNN. Their political coverage had begun hours earlier, and their parade of talking-head analysts was dissecting the race with manic delight. The news anchor interrupted the roundtable debate to go to breaking news.

?CNN is now predicting that Trevor Hackman will be the surprise winner in the South Carolina primary. Shifting opinion between he and Jack Van Houten, his chief rival for the nomination, was evident in the polls over the last few days, and it appears it has turned this primary election vote into an upset victory for Hackman this evening.?

Murray opened his laptop and logged into his account on the firm?s server. As expected the Van Houten campaign had already uploaded their exit polling data from today?s apparent loss in South Carolina. He poured over the questions, which verified the survey from the Voter News Service now available online. It was official: the negative publicity about Van Houten?s ?waffling? in his death penalty positions were costing him votes, and they were probably enough to account for Hackman?s win today. Murray could predict that as the primary race went nationwide it would be more and more difficult to control the dynamics of the contest. Unless something was done, this loss in South Carolina would likely be the start of more in the coming weeks.

Murray knew how to deal with this problem. Two years ago, he had helped a senatorial candidate out of a similar situation when questions were posed about his commitment to his position on the legalization of recreational drugs. Murray understood that the way to handle changes in your candidate?s position over time was to take control of the issue yourself. You don?t want to be stuck reacting to what the other guys are saying. Instead, you just break the issue, and you tell as many people as you can, ?I?ve changed my position and I?ll tell you why?? It?s important to come up with a compelling narrative to go with the explanation, and it always helps if the story mentions a family member or close friend. The main thing was to not try to hide ?a flip-flop?, but use it as a selling point. With this strategy, you kill the fun that the press and the other candidates are going to try to have with the issue, and you are inoculated against further damage down the road.

The surprise loss for Van Houten this evening warranted the firm?s first transmission of the campaign. Looking to the coming weeks with contests in states that mostly played to Hackman?s strengths Murray knew, barring some spectacular gaffe by the Missouri governor, that he would have to act sooner or later to get this race straightened out. Every second that elapsed only increased the associated transmission costs. He contacted the firm?s board of directors, asked for their approval to transmit, and in less than fifteen minutes they approved his request. Murray pulled the AP story on Hackman?s upset win from the internet. By this time, with 96% of the South Carolina precincts reporting, it was all but officially certified that Trevor Hackman had defeated Jack Van Houten by five percentage points. Murray unpacked his portable inkjet printer, and pages of the news story joined his campaign log in the silver briefcase. He checked once again that its case seals were in place and functioning, and then placed a call to the firm?s Transmission Department.

?This is Murray. I need a line to Van Houten. This was approved by the board of directors in the last hour. You have the number and coordinates I forwarded??

?Yes, Mr. Murray. We?re almost ready on this end.? Over the line, he could hear the technician typing away at the firm headquarters in Virginia. ?We?re locked. The call is going through. Transferring signal to your end??

The number began to ring and Van Houten answered.

?Hello, Congressman Van Houten, this is Curtis Murray.?

The candidate sounded pleased to hear from him.

?Yes, sir, the numbers for next week?s primary in New Hampshire look great,? said Murray. ?You?ll definitely rebound after Iowa. No doubt about it.?

Van Houten asked if Murray had seen the latest polls in South Carolina where he was leading Hackman by fifteen points. ?My advisors here seem to think that lead will hold if I can win in New Hampshire.?

?Actually, sir, I?m calling because I?m concerned about how some issues might play out down the road. For example, I think we really need to get out in front of the death penalty thing??

7:37 pm
July 23
New York City
Iteration Two

Murray and a slender brunette woman walked down Third Avenue as they made their way to the theatre. His date was an enchanting Manhattan attorney whom he had met when while staying in town for the New York primary four months earlier. Prior to the show, they had dined at the delightful upper Eastside restaurant Fresco and shared a cocktail at the Ruby Lounge. Murray found her to be a lovely woman, and tonight he had enjoyed her company even more than he had expected. There was a bit of trouble tonight, though, as she persisted in asking him about his work. His vague answers had not satisfied her, and he had already mentioned last time that he worked for a political consulting firm in DC. He couldn?t very well tell her that he was responsible for ending the slide of the sagging Van Houten campaign last February. After all, until he found his own papers in the shielded case after the six point Van Houten victory in South Carolina, he himself hadn?t known what he?d done to the presidential race.

Following their success in New Hampshire and then in South Carolina, the Van Houten campaign had mounted an impressive series of quick, painless victories in New Mexico, Michigan and Tennessee. The rush of momentum and campaign donations that these wins afforded Van Houten had been enough to drive Trevor Hackman out of the race. After the coup de grace, several days before the California primary, Hackman had prominently praised Van Houten ahead of cheering supporters in Sacramento. Once the primaries in Texas and New York concluded, Van Houten had a firm lock on the delegates needed to win his party?s nomination at the coming national convention in August. This afforded the candidate the liberty to sharpen his attacks on Colorado Senator Wilson Hyatt, his likely opponent in the November general election, and to work with his advisors to craft a mainstream party platform.

The other critical concern for a candidate in this stage of a presidential race was the judicious selection of a vice presidential running mate. After a careful consideration of the electoral geography and the presumed deficiencies in his own background, Van Houten selected New Mexico Governor Harold Donovan for the other half of his ticket. Donovan had executive branch experience, a huge list of influential friends and a long record of service to the party. Even better, he was fierce debater with a great stump speech, and though he was eleven years the elder, he was a physically smaller man who would never appear to dominate Van Houten.

Murray and his date stepped across East 44th street, they approached a newsstand. As was his habit, he couldn?t resist checking the papers for any recent developments. To generate interest from passersby, the plucky middle-aged vendor operating the stand had put up a hand-drawn sign that read VEEP NOM DONOVAN?S TRANSVESTITE SCERETS.

Immediately, Murray excused himself from his companion to buy the paper which contained the boldly-advertised story. To his date?s consternation, he read the entire article twice before saying another word.

The essence of the story was that while in his mid-twenties, future governor Harold Donovan had performed in an all-male drag revue known as Missy Misty?s Fantasy Faire. The story contained quotations from the owner of the Albuquerque club who confirmed that Donovan had performed in the show under the stage name Miranda for more than six months. How Donovan had managed to keep this out of the media until now was a mystery, but with the intense attention of the entire national press corps now focused upon him there were few secrets that could survive such scrutiny.

There was no doubt that this was going to be an embarrassment for the campaign, but, by themselves, the drag show allegations were probably a minor bump in the road for the presidential ticket. After all, this was decades ago, and his marriage to his second wife had been stable throughout Donovan?s career in politics. However, Murray recognized that it was far more damaging to the campaign that the same story asserted that these ?female impersonation? incidents had occurred without the knowledge of his first wife. In the article, she was quoted as saying that she later found out that the ?Fantasy Faire? performances had occurred on nights Donovan had claimed to be working late at the law office where he was then a junior partner. This was compounded by the fact that when confronted by the Times? reporter regarding Donovan?s past flamboyant dalliances, his ex-wife could offer nothing but negative stories toward the man she claimed had treated her ?without the respect one would give a dog.? She went on to allege that Governor Donovan had frequently come up short on alimony payments over the last twenty-five years.

Murray continued to walk his date to the theatre. During the show, he found it difficult to concentrate on Sondheim?s quirky lines and catchy melodies. He tried to gauge if this Donovan scandal was enough to bury the campaign. Given the difficulty of predicting the public response, he was forced to conclude that he would have to wait to see how it played out in the coming weeks. The party?s national convention was next month. Once it commenced, the presidential race would begin in earnest, and the American people would start making their minds up about the two candidates vying for their votes this November.

As the final curtain fell, Murray was convinced of one thing. If the late-night talk shows were still running transvestite jokes in four weeks? time, he would have to transmit a call to help Van Houten narrow down his short list of potential running mates.

10:12 am
August 28
Miami, Florida
Iteration Three

Despite the sticky summer heat, a large crowd of well-wishers numbering in the thousands had developed along the edge of Miami International Airport. They waited expectantly for the newly-nominated candidate and his entourage to arrive where Van Houten?s campaign jet sat on the sun-beaten tarmac. The city of Miami had been wonderfully accommodating to the Van Houten – Dodge campaign during the party?s national convention. They welcomed the gathering delegates and the concurrent media onslaught with open arms and took the dollars they pumped into the Florida economy with clutched fists.

Amidst four nights of enthusiastic displays of American flags and an endless sea of red, white and blue streamers, party members from around the country had come to cheer on Congressman Jack Van Houten of Illinois and his running mate Governor Francis Dodge of Georgia. With equal tenacity, supporters jeered the recently-nominated challenger from the opposing party, Senator Hyatt. In his strong endorsement for the man he called ?the next president of the United States? Governor Hackman pledged to do whatever possible to help their party win the White House. Dodge?s stirring acceptance speech for the vice-presidential nod shook the very rafters of the convention hall when he said he looked forward to ?eight more years? at Van Houten?s side. Later that night, when the time-honored pageantry of the roll-call of the states confirmed the delegate count, Van Houten officially became his party?s nominee for the office of the presidency.

On the final night of the convention, an elaborate and slickly-produced fifteen minute film detailing Van Houten?s ?life in service to the American people? ran before the convention crowd and television audiences worldwide. The film?s nationalistic appeal to hope for the future of the United States brought the crowd?s vigor to a fever-pitch. When he finally stepped onto the blue-carpeted stage, the entire chamber erupted into screams and thundering applause that lasted nearly five minutes before the convention hall quieted enough that Van Houten could begin to deliver his acceptance speech. Just as the race was beginning to solidify, Murray knew that the convention was a well-orchestrated piece of political theatre that was likely to give the Van Houten campaign a large bounce in the polls.

That night as Murray listened to Van Houten articulate his vision for the nation?s future, he was reminded of the past pitfalls that might have been. He wondered where Harold Donovan was that final night of the convention, and how he would feel if he knew that in some extinct cosmos he had been Van Houten?s first choice for a running mate. Was Donovan even in Miami? Maybe he was at home relaxing in stockings and heels? For a moment Murray thought of all the late-nights jokes about the New Mexico governor?s youthful dress- and mascara-covered exploits that would never be. For posterity?s sake, Murray started to wish he had placed a few of the more clever Donovan bons mots in the reports he had left in the shielded briefcase.

He felt the crowd?s energy rise as Van Houten?s motor pool moved through the outskirts of the airport. Secret Service agents watched nervously as the diverse crowd surged forward against the security barriers. Murray had positioned himself adjacent to the press area where a hundred reporters from all corners of the world waited to pepper Van Houten with questions.

The motor pool came to a stop and, after a brief security delay, Jack Van Houten emerged from the limousine with the poised strut of a conquering hero. He smiled and waved at the crowd. After a few thumbs-up to the blaring supporters, he walked past the roped-off area with three Secret Service agents clustered closely around him.

When the congressman was within thirty feet of the press area the barrage of questions escalated. Through this din, Murray struggled to make out bits and pieces of what the reporters hoped would get a reaction from the recent nominee.

?-do you respond to Hyatt?s charge that-? ?-you support the Free Trade Agree-? ?-agree that the Supreme Court should-? ?did do you know Oleg Graber ?

A redheaded woman in an Elie Tahari suit stepped forward as Van Houten neared the airport?s sliding doors. Murray recognized her as a rising star at ABC news, and listened as she repeated the question that caught his ear.

?Congressman, did you know that Oleg Graber who directed the promotional film that aired before your convention speech was successfully sued in Austria for defamation of character and slander??

The reporter?s words cut through the air with the effect of a heat-seeking missile locking onto the campaign?s surging momentum.

Van Houten pretended he couldn?t hear the question, and he continued to wave to the throngs of supporters who began to chant ?Van Houten ? Dodge! Van Houten ? Dodge!? His smile remained a square-jawed masterpiece in pearly teeth. Murray had to admire his dedication to his role as a confident presidential candidate after the Graber accusation. Maybe he really couldn?t hear the question that linked his campaign?s publicity engine with tawdry half-truths and court-repudiated lies.

But Murray knew that unless he made another call, the rest of the country was going to hear about this for the rest of the election.

3:13 pm
Oct. 17
San Francisco, California
Iteration Four

A cold wind blew through the tall buildings of the financial district as Murray flagged down a taxi. He was pleased to be able to get away from the pernicious new-carpet smell of the firm?s recently-opened West Coast offices. As with all successful companies, now that they had proven themselves in their initial business plans, the board of directors saw expansion as a deserved necessity. While the firm?s engineers had yet to succeed in sending matter back, the utility of regressing electromagnetic radiation was ample to insure a successful business model. With the broad usefulness of their unique brand of services, many new markets beckoned for the firm?s involvement. Now that Murray?s charge in the presidential race was leading by twelve points in the latest polls and after heading four previously successful campaigns, Murray was the board of directors? unanimous choice to assume leadership of the firm?s West Coast branch.

In forty-five minutes time, the third and final debate between candidates Hyatt and Van Houten would begin. Given the nature of presidential politics, barring some major error in tonight?s debate, Van Houten would be virtually unstoppable in his march to the White House. His double-digit cushion was likely more than enough to bring the firm its sixteenth successful election campaign and to yield Van Houten a landslide electoral victory on November 4. Yet feeling the weight of the silver briefcase on his lap, Murray reminded himself that his client wasn?t in the Oval Office yet.

The Pakistani cabbie dropped him off at the firm?s spacious apartments on Portrero Hill. He moved to the study and took a seat on his cream-toned Karlanda sofa. He verified that his TiVo was recording the broadcast of tonight?s debate from all the major networks so he could examine the coverage in detail tomorrow.

He grabbed the remote control, and switched on his Hitachi high-definition monitor.

?- and we have word now that Boston police have cordoned off the University of Massachusetts campus area in order to search for the assailant. Again, we have scant detail as of yet, but we do know that presidential candidate Jack Van Houten was seriously wounded in the chest and thigh by gunfire at approximately 6:38 eastern time. This occurred as he was moving to enter the rear entrance of the Clark Athletic Center for tonight?s debate with rival Wilson Hyatt. A CBS film crew has released this footage showing the exchange of gunfire with Secret Service agents. Here we see the man now believed to be Daniel Thorton fleeing the scene moments after shots were fired. We remind you that NBC News has reported that Thorton is a janitor at the university where tonight?s debate was to scheduled be held. The Boston police department have issued a statement stating that they would like to speak to Thorton about the – We?re now going live to Mass General Hospital where Van Houten was brought immediately after being wounded earlier tonight.?

A ragged doctor appeared behind a hastily-prepared podium. ?Ladies and gentlemen, we are grieved to advise the nation and the world that Congressman Jack Van Houten died at 7:45 pm as a result of the injuries he suffered earlier this evening on the U. Mass. campus.?

Murray was frozen to the sofa?s leather upholstery as he watched the continuing details of Van Houten?s assassination unfold. By 8:30 pacific time, Boston police had reported finding the body of Daniel Thorton inside a university boiler room near the scheduled location of the debate. They indicated that Thorton died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

All told, Murray had done some distinctly strange things since he began to work for the firm. He had seen the inner workings of a process that violated the traditional ideas of casualty and space-time. He had compiled documents and written words that served as the only surviving historical record of an existence that no one would ever experience again. He had directed political campaigns to electoral victory largely by carefully following news coverage in luxury hotels. At astronomical cost, he had transmitted his voice back though the ether of time in order to bring flailing candidacies back from the brink of political death.

But he had never before saved another man?s life.

10:56 pm
January 20
Washington DC
Final Iteration

Through the walls of the elaborate fiberglass set on the main stage of ballroom, the deep-voiced crooning of a world-famous singer could be heard as the Inaugural Gala continued into its third hour. Earlier that day, Jackson Van Houten was sworn in as the President of the United States of America.

Wearing a grey pinstripe Versace suit, Murray sat backstage waiting in an abandoned dressing room. There was a knock at the door, and a Secret Service agent peeked his head and shoulders through the doorway to verify that Murray remained the room?s lone occupant.

Seconds later the President entered and smiled broadly as he shook Murray?s proffered hand.

?Curtis, I?m so glad you could be here tonight.? Van Houten said, making the assumption that as president he was now on a first-name basis with everyone. ?Your firm?s perfect record is safe. Sixteen and O, right??

Murray smiled. ?Yes, Mr. President. Sixteen and O.?

?Thanks for all your advice in the race that got me here. Heh, I still can?t believe my other people didn?t pick up Graber?s legal problems! If we had let him run our campaign videos as we?d planned, well, we could have been really hurting.?

?We just want to spare our clients from embarrassment.?

?Whatever your goals, I certainly won?t argue with the results,? said the President. ?You have earned this client?s gratitude, big-time. I mean it, Curtis. Especially for the warning about that Thorton lunatic. I never got a chance to tell you but when the Secret Service inspected his apartment, they found a lot of very bizarre writings, many of them mentioning me by name as ?a coming plague.? Honestly, I fear to think what might have happened with someone like Thorton having an irrational vendetta against me and university-wide building access? Well, thank God he was apprehended before the debate.?

As an afterthought, the President said, ?Say, Curtis, I never did understand how you knew that we should tip off Secret Service about him.?

?Well, it?s funny you should ask, Mr. President. This may help.? Murray lifted up a metallic briefcase. ?As a token of our appreciation, the firm would like to you to have this.? He opened the case to reveal reams of documents from his campaign logs. ?The contents of this case should answer all your questions.?

Van Houten was perplexed. ?I ? I don?t understand.?

Murray closed the case.

?As you may know, sir, our firm is expanding,? he said. ?We will soon be offering consultation services in economics, foreign policy and military affairs. I think when you take a close look at what?s inside that case, you?ll recognize that we could be very helpful to your administration.?

The President took the briefcase from the firm?s representative, and he was surprised to feel its considerable weight.

?We also ask that after you?ve thoroughly examined its contents that you make sure to destroy what?s inside, sir. Neither the firm nor your administration would want it to fall into the wrong hands.?

Murray walked to the door and then looked back over his shoulder. ?Not to worry though, Mr. President, we have copies stored safely away in the firm?s vaults.?