The iCandidate: 12th Installment
To begin with Installment 1, please click here.
The iCandidate is a unique interactive thriller about a political reality show to choose a potential President of the United States in which the reader has a key say in how the plot unfolds.
In The iCandidate, eight finalists from all walks of life face the kind of challenges they might have to deal with in the Oval Office:
• Will they use the nuclear button?
• What will they do about ISIS?
• How will they cope in a crisis?
At the end of each round the reader gets to cast an iVote to help determine who stays and who goes home. It is democracy in its purest form, free from party loyalties, donor obligations and antiquated electoral practices.
In the novel, serialized weekly on NoteStream, the eventual people’s champion goes on to challenge the political establishment in an iCampaign for the presidency climaxing in an explosive finale in Washington on November 8.
But The iCandidate has even greater aspirations to trigger a revolution in the way America selects the most powerful man or woman on the planet.
Change America one iVote at a time by choosing your iCandidate.
Join the NoteStream Book Club iCandidate: Looking For Heroes – Election 2016 and cast your in-app iVote to save your favorite iCandidates!
Watch out for the release of a second unique contemporary novel - DIVAS by Bill Wagner - this Spring.
NoteStreams are readable online but they’re even better in the free App!
The NoteStream™ app is for learning about things that interest you: from music to history, to classic literature or cocktails. NoteStreams are truly easy to read on your smartphone—so you can learn more about the world around you and start a fresh conversation.
For a list of all authors on NoteStream, click here.
Read the NoteStream below, or download the app and read it on the go!
Chapter 27 - Torture
After the iCandidates were split into groups of two, a gruff sergeant ordered Jen and Todd to follow him. He marched ahead towards a huddle of four Army tents, barking at them to hurry.
Almost running to keep up, they were shown into the first tent and found Walter Penske sitting behind a desk.
“Well, what a surprise,” Jen tried to sound excited at seeing the old man.
Todd rushed forward and shook Walter’s hand enthusiastically. “What an honor. I was just telling Jennifer how great it would be to get the opportunity to talk to you some more and benefit from your amazing experience.”
Walter brightened a little. “Well, thank you, Todd. We can absolutely do that later, but it's my job right now to introduce you to the person who's going to explain your next challenge, Lieutenant Kyle Kelly.
The officer entered through a flap in the back of the tent and behind him were three soldiers dragging a bearded man, who was tied at the hands and feet.
“We have a dilemma. We are absolutely convinced that this man knows the precise whereabouts of the Islamic State leadership in Syria.” Lt. Kelly pointed at the downcast man now sitting on a chair in the middle of the tent.
“The problem is that he won't tell us anything. We've been trying for two days and during that time we haven't allowed him to sleep. He's still not cooperating. We're running out of time. The terrorists know we have one of their top men. We need to get this man to talk. Do you give us permission to use harsh interrogation methods?”
“How harsh exactly?” Jen asked.
“Legitimate interrogation methods have failed. We want to waterboard him,” the Lieutenant said.
“But isn’t that illegal? It’s been banned by the Geneva Convention.”
“Lives are at stake.”
“So is America’s reputation.” Jen was worried about the prisoner. He looked terrified.
“It’s only as illegal as the President wants it to be. It depends on your priorities, I guess.”
“And what priorities are they?” Todd asked.
“Well you can keep the liberals in Washington happy by using feather dusters to tickle the information out of ISIS, or al Qaeda, or whoever you’re fighting. Or you can give us a very real chance to kill off these terror groups once and for all. It’s your choice.”
Todd’s phone vibrated and he discreetly checked the message.
“I don’t see that there is a choice at all,” Todd said. “This could save thousands, or even millions of American lives.”
“Shouldn’t we discuss it first? We're supposed to be a team,” Jen was insistent. “There's international law to consider.”
“I am considering it – but we have to keep Americans safe. I have no doubts.”
“I need a majority vote,” Lt. Kelly said.
“But there are only two of us.” Todd didn't want to waste any more time.
“Mr. Penske, he has a vote, too. And one more thing, if you give us the go ahead, we’re going to do the waterboarding right here in front of you. Perhaps you should bear that in mind when you vote,” the officer said stiffly.
“Let’s do it.” Todd was certain the old man would be in agreement. “If Jennifer doesn’t have the stomach for it, perhaps she can leave the room. Mr. Penske, what do you think?”
“My feeling is the same as it was when I was Vice President and the CIA had some people in Cairo they wanted to extract information from by force. I told them that it was wrong and that they couldn’t do it. That was my advice to the President then and it’s the same to you now.”
Todd looked stunned. “But...”
“I also made it known to the Station Chief over there that he made an error in asking permission from the White House. Of course we had to say no because we would be crucified if it came out that a Democratic administration was effectively torturing prisoners. But if we didn’t know about it, there wouldn’t really have been a problem, now would there?”
“But that hardly helps us now, does it?” Todd said curtly. “Jennifer, I guess it’s down to you.”
She shook her head. “I can’t agree to it. I’m sorry.”
“Look, I don’t necessarily agree with much Donald Trump says, but he’s right on waterboarding.” Todd was getting desperate.
“Oh! Trump says it’s okay, so we’re fine.”
“He’s winning the GOP nomination at this point. The American people like what they’re hearing. He says ISIS are going around chopping off people’s heads and doing mass drownings in cages and we’re saying we can’t waterboard.
We’re not killing anybody. It’s just water. This is ridiculous - I’m pretty sure we will be voted off if we don’t step up.” Todd sounded really worried.
“You don’t know that. Americans believe in fair treatment.”
“We also believe in making tough decisions when we have to. Evil won on 9/11 – we can’t let that happen again. I’m begging you, Jennifer.
Jen looked from Todd to the prisoner. She hated to be rushed.
“I’m going to have to ask you for a decision ma’am,” the officer said.
“Dammit! Okay, but do we have to see it?”
“I am afraid that’s part of the deal,” Lt. Kelly told them.
The prisoner, who had been staring balefully at the ground until then, suddenly looked up.
“I am just a local merchant," he said in broken English. "I have nothing to do with terrorism. There has been a terrible mistake. I came across from Tunisia to bring food and grain. I have children, a wife. Please don’t hurt me!”
Any further appeals were silenced as one of the soldiers cuffed the prisoner across the head. Jen looked rattled.
“I think you should start,” Todd gave the order.
“If you’re sure?” Lt. Kelly looked at Jen.
“She’s sure,” said Todd.
The soldiers picked up the prisoner and put him on the desk, which wasn’t a desk at all, but a reclining board. The guards tied the man down using three straps and draped a towel over his face before setting the bed so that his feet were raised. One guard leaned down to pick up a hose and turned on the tap.
As the water started pouring onto his head, the man began convulsing and spluttering.
Jen couldn't bear it any longer. “Stop. This isn’t right."
“They can’t stop now,” Todd sounded frustrated.
“We must,” Lt. Kelly said. “If anyone of you asks us to stop at any time then that's what we must do. Are you sure?”
Jen nodded. “I’m sorry Todd, but this is torture.”
The board with the man still bound on it was wheeled right out of the tent and the soldiers departed.
Todd turned to Jen. “Why did you stop it? America doesn’t want to see weak, easily spooked leaders. They wants us to show strength and they wants results. I can’t believe that just happened.”
“It didn’t feel right to me. We don’t even know if that guy knew anything.”
“I guess we’re never going to find out now.”
Jennifer exited the tent, relieved to leave the confined space and all its horrors.
Taking a deep breath of fresh air she found a place to sit down, and a few soldiers sauntered over to talk. She started to feel better.
Chapter 28 – First Date
Zia hadn’t expected Ayesha to call and was surprised at how nervous he felt as he walked through Harvard Square to meet her. He had a couple of days off so he’d booked a cross-country flight just to see her – not that he’d tell her that.
Ayesha was waiting in the relative calm inside the campus gates looking out like a caged bird. She was having second thoughts. Whatever possessed her to call this man? He was a complete stranger. Her mother would have a heart attack if she knew her daughter had behaved so brazenly.
Standing up from a bench, she was about to flee back to the safety of her dorm when she saw him walking towards her. He was dressed in a blue Nike jacket and jeans, and looked a little like some of the younger professors she saw around campus, only he was much better looking. He walked like he hadn’t a care in the world.
Zia stopped in front of the wrought iron gates, looking at her through the black bars. He’d seen her start to walk away.
“So, I just posted bail; we won’t need to break you out of here after all.” His lips were turned up in the beginnings of a smile. “You’re free to leave,” he said more gently.
And then she smiled, too. He didn’t look dangerous. Her mother still wouldn’t have approved.
Now she remembered; he had the kind face. Taking a deep breath she stepped outside the gates and onto the pavement beyond. “Hello,” she said shyly.
She was just as intriguing as he remembered. She had a way of holding her head forward and looking up at him, seeking his eyes in a way few western girls ever would.
For a moment, neither knew what to say. In the end, it was Zia who broke the silence. “So where are the hotspots in this little town of yours?”
She looked blankly at him. Perhaps he hadn’t really seen her at all.
“Favorite restaurant or cafe?”
“I don’t have one,” she answered quietly.
“Okay, well where do you go when…” And then it dawned on him.
“Have you been out in Boston since you’ve been here?
She shook her head.
“Have you been out in Cambridge?”
Another small shake of the head. “I’m quite happy in there,” she said, looking back at the campus.
He was about to make another joke but stopped himself. This was a big deal for her. “Alright then, well, as it happens, I have a favorite place from my days at school here. How about a walk first?”
“Okay,” she nodded, relieved.
They walked through the leafy streets, passing restaurants and boutiques, making small talk, before rounding a corner into a cobbled courtyard. Ayesha stayed close to the buildings. She seemed to glide, he noticed, her posture so straight and perfect. Yet she kept her arms folded in front of her, guarded; she was protecting herself.
“Do you like hot chocolate?”
“Not really. I tried it for the first time from the vending machine on campus the other day.” She grimaced.
“That doesn’t count. Come on, in here.”
He opened the door to the rich aroma of melting chocolate. “I used to live in this place when I studied here. They have the best hand made truffles, but my favorite is their hot chocolate. Try one.”
Zia led Ayesha to a small table in a pretty alcove at the back of the shop. She chose the corner seat and gratefully slid into it, pushing her chair even further back, as if to melt into the wall.
“I’ll be right back. Don’t disappear on me.” She watched as he walked to the bar and ordered their drinks. He joked easily with the cashier who laughed and fluttered her eyelashes at him, yet he seemed oblivious to her flirting. Ayesha liked that.
With his back to her, she noticed his hair curled at the nape of his neck. Then he turned around and smiled at her from across the shop. That’s when she felt something different deep inside.
“Try it, tell me what you think,” he said, placing a white bowl in front of her filled with thick dark chocolate, a heart carved into the swirly cream on top. “Will the niqab get in your way?”
“No, I’ve got this.” She pulled the silk up a little and took her first sip. Her eyes widened. “It’s good,” she whispered. “Very good.”
They spoke of their families and growing up, her in Pakistan and him in America.
“I would not have guessed you were Pakistani, you look western,” she said.
“Well my mother was European, and my father is a Pashtun.”
“But you were born here? Went to school here?”
“Yep. I pledged my allegiance to the United States of America every day in school.”
“You really are all American.” She sat very still in her seat, her eyes occasionally flitting around the cafe, taking in the boisterous exchanges between friends and families as they slouched happily on couches, leaned across tables to grab sugar, or a crumpled magazine. She felt comfortable, and for the first time, at home in her new surroundings.
“I wouldn’t say all American. I may not have grown up in Pakistan, but my father and grandmother never let me forget who I am and where I come from.” Zia wanted Ayesha to understand that he was, first and foremost, a Pakistani.
“My father’s very involved in improving relations with Pakistan and America. That’s why he’s involved in sponsoring students, like those two boys. That’s my father’s dream, his life’s work. A story for another time though.” Zia paused. He didn’t want to bore her. “Tell me why you came here.”
“I didn’t want to peel shrimp for the rest of my life.”
“Fair enough.” He reached across the table. He wanted to see her face.
“Why are you staring?”
“I’m just imagining what you look like.”
She glanced down, her long lashes almost grazing her cheeks.
“Would you like another hot chocolate, Ayesha?” he asked gently.
“If it’s not too much trouble, I would like that,” she smiled.
Where Is She?
Much later, alone in his hotel room, and after walking her back to campus, Zia stood by the window. He could see the tower at Harvard, and the tip of the west building. He knew she was somewhere inside one of those rooms, and he tried to imagine what she was doing.
Chapter 29 - Boundaries
In another Army tent, a similar scenario played out in front of two more iCandidates. But Jacqueline Toscane told Gillian and Tom that she didn’t harbor any doubts.
“These people are avowed enemies of the United States. Do you think they'd be worried about political correctness if the roles were reversed? Waterboard him, deprive him of sleep, force him to listen to rap music for 24-hours..
Do what you need to do to get the terrorist to tell us where the ISIS butchers are hiding. We catch them and we could end all the bloodshed. To decide anything else, in my opinion, could be fatal for your hopes in this contest.”
Gillian, still feeling shaky, had no doubts either.
“Thank you, Jacqueline, but there’s no way I'm going to agree to this kind of barbaric behavior. We aren't terrorists, we're Americans. If there are no boundaries then we're all down there in the jungle, fighting it out.
I lost my husband over here and the thought of him being tortured is abhorrent to me. If I say yes, then that’s just the same as endorsing the Taliban to do the same to my husband. So my answer is a very definite no.” Gillian sounded strong, but she was struggling to hold it together.
Tom squeezed her hand and nodded his agreement. “I cry like a baby when I get my back waxed; I wouldn’t stand two seconds of water torture. I’d be giving up any hiding place faster than you can say Waziristan, whether I knew it or not.
I totally understand what Jacqueline said and I get that a leader must sometimes make tough decisions for the greater good. If I could be sure this gentleman wouldn’t be somehow scarred by what you want to do to him I would think it worth giving it a go.”
Tom looked across at the humble Tunisian, head bowed and dressed in the traditional white Jebba with Sirouel pants and a silk sash around his waist. He lowered his voice: “I once had to ban the city treasurer from Rayville’s candy store because he kept trying to pretend his gangrenous leg had nothing to do with his diabetes, so I know what it’s like to be unpopular in power.
But I can’t help wondering what would happen if this man really doesn’t have a clue about Islamic State’s leadership. Do you just keep waterboarding him until he drowns?”
Tom’s mind was made up. “For that reason, although I am a little conflicted, I'm going to agree with Gillian and say no.”
The soldiers withdrew and Jacqueline, disappointed that her advice was ignored, snipped: “Good luck with the results show. I won’t be holding my breath.”