When Kelvin Hanson is dishonorably discharged from his naval captaincy he doesn’t connect the events to the accession of new President Diego Silva. But as he researches further he finds that Silva isn’t as he appears. Determined to rid the nation of a corrupt president, Hanson plots to assassinate him, but someone else gets there first.
Ashlee Townsend, head of the non-profit Freedom Group is equally determined to get to Silva, and is as surprised as Hanson when someone pips her to the post. Still reeling from the President’s assassination, Hanson and Townsend join forces as a military dictatorship takes over the country.
As rumors of terrorist plots and Mexican invasions fly, Hanson’s journalist wife sets the story straight, finding that it was the military themselves that assassinated Silva. As the truth comes out, California secedes from the Union, and Hanson and Townsend find themselves fleeing to Sacramento to head up a rebellion force.
Reuniting the states under a democratically elected President means war. And while Hanson heads up the rebel forces, his wife Kishanna deals with propaganda and information, and Ashlee becomes the center of yet another assassination plot.
This time, however, things go differently. And with a dead dictator, the threat of civil war crumbles. The governor of California becomes the interim President, and Hanson decides to throw his hat into the ring for the coming election. Democracy triumphs, and the United States is united once more.
The absurdly large clock above the television clicked as its minute hand pushed past six. A little after half past midnight. The room was smaller than he’d imagined. Not his choice, but that of his ultra-efficient campaign manager. Not that there were that many places in Wyoming large enough to hold the small crowd that currently surrounded him. The air smelled of sweat and fear and elation, a bitter, sour smell that reminded him of the taste left in his mouth after eating only candy for hours. He was half listening to the chatter around him, the other half of his attention on the television screen.
It was odd, he thought, to be sitting down, to be inactive. For the last few months he felt that he hadn’t slept, had barely eaten, had done nothing but smile until his face ached and shake hands and speak and then smile again. And now nothing. The speech was written. The campaigning was done. There was just a vast empty swath of nothingness, and all he could do was sit and wait. This wasn’t quite as odd, however, as seeing his name flash up constantly on the TV screen.
Diego Silva. Billionaire, businessman, father, candidate. But still, always, the big-eared, buck-toothed kid of a single mom who’d raised him on rice and beans and not much else. Maria Silva was gone now. Pancreatic cancer a decade ago. It was a shame, really—she’d have been good for a slew of photo shoots, and probably a daytime TV interview or two. Silva grunted as he shifted position on the couch, his full belly pressing against the Armani belt on his slate-gray pants.
“It’ll be in soon.”
Mike Callahan perched on the edge of the sofa. His wiry body was like a coiled spring, ready to jump up at a moment’s notice. But Silva knew Callahan well enough to see the man was exhausted, close to the edge. Not that it mattered now. After the next few hours, Callahan could snap like a twig if he wanted to. His job would be done by then. One way or the other.
“What will?” Silva asked, not turning his eyes away from the television.
Silva eyed the clock thoughtfully as the minute hand clicked again, then nodded. Vigo County, Indiana, had voted for every US presidential election winner since Eisenhower. The seemingly prescient county was his good luck charm. Silva had been quite clear on his orders. He wanted no disturbance from interns running in every few minutes, trickling down results that hadn’t been fully counted. Not until after Vigo County had announced. Once he knew that, he’d know. Everything else would just be noise, would be air inflating the balloon until it exploded. One way or the other.
Silva shook his head. His stomach was already sour from too many cups. And God forbid he’d be taking a piss when the result did come in. Thinking of hearing the news as he stood up against a bleach-smelling urinal, dick in hand, made him grin.
“It’s not a guarantee; you can’t afford to make Vigo the be-all and end-all,” Callahan said, turning bright blue eyes to him. “I’ve said it before, Silva, and I’ll say it again: there has never, ever been a candidate with your ratings. Ever. You’ve broken the damn polls. You’ve had the counters checking and double checking their math, convinced they’d fucked up. Whether you get Vigo or not . . .”
He trailed off. Silva grunted again. Callahan was confident, but not quite confident enough that he was willing to jinx the whole thing by saying it out loud. A good old Boston boy, Callahan’s accent had grated on Silva’s ears when they first met. Then he’d ceased to notice it. Only now did those flat vowels again bother him. But he didn’t respond. Had no time to respond.
“Mr. Candidate, sir.”
She was tall and blonde and big breasted, just as he’d liked them when he was a kid. That flawless white all-American girl with enough fat on her bones to have curves. The ideal. Almost as hot as his first wife. Almost, he thought, studying the snub nose sprinkled with light freckles. A slim strip of white paper was trembling in her hand, and Silva nodded at Callahan to take it.
The campaign manager looked at the black print, dismissed the girl, turned to Silva.
“Vigo,” was all he said.
And Silva knew, knew as he’d always known he’d know. His heart hammered in his chest but he didn’t let it show. In a corner of the room on blue plastic chairs, his two sons were playing poker, oblivious and uncaring as to what was happening around them. His two daughters were nowhere to be seen, but they were around somewhere. Sitting alone, her eyes downturned, demure and silent, Min-Seo, his wife, could have been asleep. He had a flash of gratitude that he’d made such a good choice. Neither of his previous wives would have been silent. Both would have been screeching, complaining, thrusting themselves into the midst of things, eager to be the center of attention.
Callahan was talking; the noise level was growing. The television screen blinked as an infographic appeared. Kentucky had declared. Indiana too. The US map filled the screen, the two states bright, bold blue.
Silva felt Callahan clap him on the shoulder, felt, rather than heard, the cheers around him. He looked again at petite, quiet Min-Seo, her eyes now turned to him. She gave a small smile, unsure, and he gave a short, sharp nod in response. And he saw the weight settle on her shoulders. He hated that she was smarter than he, but knew it to be true, though he’d never even hinted that he knew. But now he was glad. Glad because she’d be a far finer First Lady than either of his ex-wives.
President. He allowed himself a smile and stood, turning to face the others in the room, lifting his hands in a sign of victory.
“The numbers aren’t all in yet, Silva,” Callahan warned him in his ear.
But Silva didn’t care. He knew now that he’d won the lot, and he accepted the cheers and congratulations, allowing them to wash over him. He’d done the impossible. The first non-politician, the first non-military man to hold the presidency of the United States. And the first Hispanic leader.
“All right, all right, calm it down.”
Callahan’s voice was a hell of a lot louder than his small frame indicated.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, people.”
There was grumbling, but the motley assortment of interns, advisers, family members, and hangers on quieted. Callahan turned and began giving orders.
“I want the unofficial numbers from West Virginia, and why the hell hasn’t Vermont reported in yet?” he barked at the same blonde girl who’d brought the news of Vigo County. “Hey,” he said, noticing Silva walking away. “Where are you going?”
His tone irked Silva. Like Callahan had any control over what he was going to do now. The man knew every detail about his life, every minute indiscretion. Hell, he knew every place his hands had been, every dime he’d stolen, every lie he’d told. Part and parcel, Callahan had told him when they had first met.
“I can’t cover up something I don’t know about,” he’d said. “And that means I need to know you better than you know yourself. I don’t give a fuck how small, how irrelevant, how minor something is—I need to know.”
Silva had looked him in the eye, debating whether or not to bluff, determined that this man wouldn’t know half the things little Diego had done to get to the top.
“Don’t bother,” Callahan had said in a bored voice. “I’ll find out anyway. And don’t kid yourself. No one’s clean. No one. I could dig up dirt on the pope himself if I had to. And if I can do it, so can anyone else. You get a choice. Trust me to hide your failings, or trust the press not to find them. Up to you.”
And if Silva had had any doubt, if there had been a moment of indecision, Callahan had sealed both their fates with his next words.
“They call me the kingmaker,” he said quietly. “The kingmaker.”
Silva had almost laughed, but then he hadn’t because Callahan had been serious. And because the tiny Irishman had never worked on a losing campaign. In thirty-five years of politics he had never backed a losing horse. Not once. And Silva knew that. Hell, it was the reason he’d chosen the man. If he was having anyone, it would be the best. And Michael Callahan was the best.
Now Silva surveyed his campaign manager for a moment. His time was almost here. But not quite. As much as the guy pissed him off, now wasn’t the time to do anything about it. So he shrugged.
“Just hitting the can,” he said.
But Callahan wasn’t listening anymore. He was back to giving orders, and Silva walked away from him, ignoring those who called out to him, leaving the room.
The bathroom was cool and quiet after the waiting room, and Silva took his time washing his hands. Despite all the coffee, he didn’t have to piss. When his hands were thoroughly clean, he looked up, examining himself. All he’d wanted to do was look at himself in the mirror. He wanted to know if he looked like a president yet. If he had that aura of greatness and power. But all he saw was little Diego, Maria Silva’s son with his teeth fixed up and his ears pinned back and his expensive suit and blue tie.
Fuck it. He smoothed back his black hair. The jet would be on standby. It was time to go. He’d been firm on the fact that he would break with tradition. Wyoming might be his home state as far as politics was concerned, but Washington was where he belonged. And Washington was where he would accept the presidency. Little Diego looked back at him from the mirror. No. President-Elect of the United States Diego Silva looked back at him from the mirror. It was time to get out of Wyoming for good.
Callahan insisted they hold off on the flight until the Texas results were in. And Silva eventually conceded to his demands, though he thought them ridiculous.
“It’s the one state that’s vacillated,” Callahan reasoned. “You get Texas, we can take the jet.”
Silva clenched his teeth but sat again on his couch. Callahan was wrong on this, he knew. True, the Lone Star State was traditionally Republican. But Silva was Hispanic, and with the huge Mexican immigrant population of Texas, he knew he was going to take it. And yes, Callahan was right about the polls. But the problem with polls was that the men in suits asked other men in suits how they were going to vote. No one bothered to ask Juan the gardener where his vote was going. But still, Silva waited patiently as the results from Texas came in, county by county.
By two o’clock they had the result. The infographic of the United States appeared again on the screen. And for the first time anyone could remember, Texas was colored in blue. Better still, all signs from Florida indicated that they too would be blue. Silva had spent long nights making speeches in Spanish, long afternoons doing meet-and-greets in bodegas and churches. He’d expected nothing less.
He stood as the cheers from his supporters at the Texas result still rang through the room.
Callahan nodded, and Silva turned to his sons.
“On the plane, boys.”
They shuffled up their cards and grabbed their jackets from the backs of their chairs. His daughters, seeing their brothers move, gravitated toward them. Safety in numbers. Or safety in familiarity, perhaps; none of the four was much used to being surrounded by politicos. Looking at them, Silva wondered again at the miracle of genetics. While the two girls had the angular, blonde good looks of their mother, his second wife, the two boys were mirror images of himself. Dark haired, dark skinned, they were the product of his first marriage. The only right thing his first wife had done was to give him the heirs he wanted. Other than that, all she’d done was cost him money. A lot of it.
Callahan was already collecting together tablets and papers and issuing instructions, and Silva was turning to discuss orders with him before he remembered his wife. Min-Seo remained seated in her chair, still silent. It wasn’t until he gave her the nod that she stood, prepared to follow him. When she came to his side, he smelled the flowery scent of her bespoke perfume, saw the flawless glow of her skin. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. She had been a good choice. A wise choice. But he didn’t take her hand. And when they left the building, Min-Seo walked a comfortable two steps behind him.
“They’re calling it the biggest landslide since Reagan,” Callahan said, unbuckling his seatbelt and stretching out his legs.
“Screw that,” Silva said, not turning from his tablet. “It’ll be the biggest since FDR.”
“Perhaps,” said Min-Seo. “Even the biggest since Harding.”
She did not often speak out of turn. Maybe it was the late hour, or the thin air in the plane cabin.
“FDR,” Silva said, the warning tone already in his voice.
“No, she’s right,” said Callahan, popping open a can of Red Bull. “Harding versus Cox, 1920, the biggest-contested election result in US history. A 26.17% margin. Now that was a landslide. Get California and you’ll beat it.”
This pleased Silva, though no one would have known by looking at him.
“Dad, I’ve got Agri-Com on the line. They’re willing to come down to fifty; what do you think?”
Jake, his older son, leaned over, across the aisle, mobile dangling from one hand. Silva frowned at him.
“No, no, Jakey,” Callahan said immediately. “No dice. He gets no input, no say. You know the rules.”
The younger man scowled at the campaign manager but settled back into his own seat. As the rules dictated, Silva had divested himself of all business interests in the run up to the election. Silva Eco-Energy Solutions, the green energy company that had made his fortune, had been handed over in full to his older son. Silva waited until Callahan’s attention was diverted back to his tablet before catching Jake’s eye and briefly shaking his head.
“Nah, I’m afraid that’s not going to fly,” he heard Jake say into his phone before he turned his head away.
Jake—a nice, wholesome American name. Jake, followed by Andrew, followed by the two girls, Madison and Nicole. He hadn’t lumbered any of them with loaded names like Diego. Silva was enough of a blight for them to carry. And those good, solid American names now graced the boardrooms of some of the largest and most successful corporations in the country. A job well done. Silva beckoned over a staff member, allowing himself another coffee before settling back to see just how blue that US map infographic could get.
They were still in the air when the call came. At 05:27 a.m. on November 9th, Harrison Foster-Bright, esteemed Republican candidate for the US presidential election, conceded defeat. The call was later than they had expected, though earlier than most other historical concessions had come. It had been clear for far longer than an hour now that there was no way Foster-Bright could catch up. And as Silva watched the tall, thin figure take the stage in his home state of Mississippi, a state that Silva had won hours ago, there were shouts of jubilation from the back of the plane. Silva put his tablet down on the table, clicked open his seatbelt, and stood.
“Congratulations,” said Callahan, rising to his feet. “Congratulations, Mr. President.”
And despite the number of times Silva had wanted to punch that smug Boston smile off the man’s face, and despite the number of threats he’d made and promises he’d sworn to himself, he found himself embracing his campaign manager.
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” he said.
It wasn’t politeness. It wasn’t a token gesture of appreciation. It was simple, bold truth. Without Callahan he’d have been lost, trodden underfoot and laughed off the stage. With him, he’d won. Simple as that.
“I know,” Callahan said.
And it wasn’t boastful. It wasn’t immodest. It was clear, simple truth. And they both knew it.
Silva gave him a nod before turning to his children first to be congratulated, then the campaign workers on the plane, and then, finally, his wife. It wasn’t until a half hour later that he again spoke to Callahan, this time in the small galley of the plane, and in private.
“You are my golden goose,” Callahan said bluntly. “And I won’t disrespect you by sugar coating things. I’ve done the impossible. And I will be rewarded.”
“You’ve been paid,” Silva said.
“Handsomely,” said Callahan, leaning back on the metal service cart. “But I will have more. You will appoint me in an advisory capacity for as long as you remain in power, with a hefty paycheck at the end of every month. And after that, you will grant me an honorary position in one of your companies for just long enough that no one’s surprised when I retire with a very healthy retirement package.”
Silva hadn’t gotten to where he was by bowing to threats. “No.”
With a smile, nonthreatening and light, Callahan leaned forward. “But I know everything, Diego. Everything. The companies, the affairs, the money. All of it. It would be very dangerous indeed to grant me my freedom. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer and all that.”
“And is that what you are: my enemy?”
“I don’t have to be,” said Callahan, leaning back again. “I don’t even particularly want to be. I am simply a man with a price, as we all are. I know what I want, and I will have it. I know you can understand that.”
Silva considered this, put his anger to one side. He was angry. Furious. But he couldn’t afford to be, and he knew it. He hadn’t gotten this far by bowing to threats. But he also hadn’t gotten this far by acting on impulse. He as much as anyone knew that prices needed to be paid.
“No,” he said again. But not quite as firmly, allowing room for persuasion, for negotiation. He wasn’t convinced yet that Callahan had what it took to follow through on his threats.
“I told you when we met that they call me the kingmaker,” Callahan said, quite calmly. “And thirty minutes from now, the door of this plane will open and you will greet the world as the president-elect of the United States. I am the kingmaker.”
Silva said nothing. There was no dispute to what Callahan said.
“But I can also be the kingbreaker,” continued Callahan. “With all I know, I could destroy what I have created.”
“And destroy yourself at the same time,” Silva pointed out. “You’d never work again if you leaked information about me.”
“True,” Callahan said. He didn’t seem disturbed by this. “But who has more to lose here? This is a small price to pay, Diego, and you know it.”
It was. However much Callahan might want, it would be a mere grain of sand in comparison to all Silva had. And perhaps the man did have a point. Given all that he knew, it would be foolish to release Callahan back into the wild. And he might prove useful. Finally, Silva nodded.
“On one condition,” he said.
Callahan raised an eyebrow.
“You never call me ‘Diego’ again.”
“As you wish, Mr. President,” said Callahan, smiling.
Half an hour later, the plane touched down at Ronald Reagan International Airport. There was shuffling as everyone gathered their belongings. The campaign staff was ushered toward the rear of the plane, while Silva, his children, his wife, and Callahan prepared themselves by the front door. Outside, Silva knew, waited the world’s press, and his chosen vice president. Jane Reynolds had opted to stay in DC in preparation for the victory party she knew would come. Tall, and attractive in an intimidating way, she was a three-term senator from Ohio and the reason Silva had clinched the swing state so early in the game. She was also his legitimation. “Reynolds” was a name held in great esteem in political circles. As Callahan had joked when he had introduced them, it wouldn’t be a senate without a Reynolds in it.
But Jane would be the first Reynolds to make it to the cabinet. Silva had been dubious about the choice at first. She had been Callahan’s choice, obviously. But as it turned out, having a woman on side had only bolstered his votes. And having a serious politician on side hadn’t hurt either. Surprisingly, he found over time that he actually liked the woman. He didn’t want to fuck her, which was relatively unusual for him. What was more unusual was that he took the time to interact with a woman he didn’t want to fuck. But Jane had proven to be a firm and solid ally. And perhaps, though he’d never have used the word outside of a political speech, a friend.
Callahan stood one step behind him to his right. Two steps behind him to his left stood Min-Seo. The children were arrayed behind his wife. Callahan looked to Silva for permission. Silva took a good, deep breath. He set his shoulders, checked his tie one more time, and then nodded. He wasn’t nervous. He’d never been nervous in public. It wasn’t his style. Callahan nodded to the staff member by the door, and Silva painted on his campaign smile for the last time.
The door opened, and he was blinded by the photographic lights and flashbulbs. But he remembered to keep his eyes wide open. If he didn’t, the shots would be useless in the morning’s press. He took a large step, clearing the threshold of the plane, and then stopped. His smile was no longer painted on; it was genuine as he raised his hand and waved to the crowds threatening to burst out from behind the control barriers. Below him, Vice President-Elect Jane Reynolds waited, a small oasis of perfect calm in the middle of the roaring, cheering, waving crowd. Silva felt her eyes on him, and he maintained eye contact as he slowly began to walk down the red-carpeted stairs.
He was home, and he felt it. And in those few seconds it took to reach the tarmac, he was determined that he’d never leave Washington again. They’d have to drag him away kicking and screaming from this, the center of the world. The steps leveled out, but the red carpet continued, leading him to his running mate.
“Madame Vice President,” he said, extending his hand to Reynolds.
“Mr. President,” she responded, shaking his hand.
The crowds roared, helicopters buzzed overhead, and fireworks exploded from somewhere, flashing in the sky. Silva smiled. Little Diego had made it. And little Diego was about to pull off the greatest coup in political history. A camera flashed, and President-Elect Silva grinned a bit wider.
About the Author
Perhaps you wouldn’t characterize the Finance Manager of your local automobile dealership as an Amazon best-selling author—until you get to know T.T. Michael. He has worked for the past decade at a Toyota Dealership in Illinois, but he is in the driver’s seat as the writer of, Fire War, a political thriller set in the year 2076. See what happens when the United States, Canada, and Mexico all join forces to make one super country. See more about him and his book Fire War at www.ttmichael.com