The iCandidate: 27th Installment
To begin with Installment 1, please click here.
The iCandidate is a guilty pleasure - 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 - and it keeps the authors on their toes!
In the novel, serialized weekly only 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, and really, would it be any crazier than what we've got now?
Change America one iVote at a time - and cheer on your iCandidate! Be sure to cast your in-app iVotes to save your favorite iCandidates!
NoteStreams are readable online but they’re even better in the free App!
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 82 – Capitol Hill
From the picture windows in his Capitol Hill office, the second-ranking member of the Senate looked west across from the white mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Mall.
The Washington Memorial dominated the afternoon sky and Abraham Lincoln, enduring and implacable in white marble, stared back from his throne in the distance.
To Patrick Cahill, the majestic view captured everything that was strong and permanent about the nation’s past. But for the first time in his 49 years in office, he could feel the pillars of power begin to crumble.
He’d worked long and hard to ensure that nothing moved in Washington without his say-so; Politico last year put him ahead of the President in its top ten list of the nation’s most powerful politicians.
Now, it was all in peril because of a stupid game show.
He turned back to the room, sparsely decorated with a few family photographs, to meet the glare of the Republican nemesis he’d battled his entire career.
“Something has got to be done,” he said.
After decades of bitter political rivalry, Cahill and his opposite number, Senator Randall Ainsworth, called a temporary truce after finally agreeing on one thing – The iCandidate had put the future of the republic in jeopardy.
Through four wars, Watergate, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the 2008 economic meltdown, Washington’s two elder statesmen had resolutely refused to acknowledge one another, let alone engage in a debate.
Leaning on his cane as he creaked into a chair by the unlit fire, Ainsworth, the Senate’s oldest serving member at 91, said the words he never dreamed he’d ever utter to Cahill: “You’re damned right.”
What had started out as a water cooler joke among lawmakers from both houses, had become, in the minds of senior Democrats and Republicans, the biggest threat to America’s two-party political system in the nation’s history.
Right up to the finale the previous night, The iCandidate spectacle was regarded in Washington as a Hollywood gimmick.
Even the show’s most ardent admirers said that while it was a brilliant concept, the idea of using a reality series to select a challenger in the next presidential election without the involvement of the two major parties was naïve and unrealistic.
But when the number of votes cast for the three finalists was revealed at the end of the show, the Beltway took notice. And these weren’t teenage girls and couch potato moms who voted over and over again for their talent show favorites; it was one person, one vote, just like the real thing.
Still, even that didn’t get Cahill and Ainsworth’s full attention. Rather, what really did it was the announcement made during the confetti hailstorm at the end of the show: that the winner was to get $100 million to fund the iCampaign run for the White House.
They knew all too well that hard cash, the real currency of electoral success, was the price any candidate had to pay to have a hope in hell of winning.
The moment the campaign war chest was revealed, Cahill knew he had to bury his obstinate Irish pride and make the call.
All senators, and most congressmen and women, with the exception of the rawest rookies, were allocated a hideaway office somewhere in the U.S. Capitol. Freshmen members could expect to be cloistered away somewhere in the bowels of the four-story building -- not that an outsider would have any clue who was where.
None of the so-called hideaways had numbers, and an unwritten law handed down through the decades meant that even the most voluble senators suddenly went quiet when asked about the location of the sanctuaries.
But one of the rare partisan measures agreed by everybody through the years was that the most senior of lawmakers got first dibs on the best quarters, regardless of party.
Any veteran politician with green eyes on Senator Ainsworth’s sprawling office had long given up waiting.
Built as part of the new Senate wing in the 1850s and complete with its own Constantino Brumidi fresco, Ainsworth called his suite of prime Capitol real estate Elba, because it was where he spent his time in exile during his out-of-favor years in the minority.
Ainsworth wasn’t surprised that Cahill had his private line, nor was he taken aback by the call. He’d been thinking about doing the exact same thing.
The current President may have talked a lot about change and shaking up the system, but he, like others before him, quickly learned the only way to get anything through Congress was to toe the party line once the cameras were off.
This show was quite another matter. The thought of trying to deal with a President with absolutely no party affiliations or loyalty was unthinkable. Cahill’s candidate Hillary Clinton was feeling the heat from these TV upstarts, but so was Ainsworth’s chosen Republican candidate, Donald Trump.
The old man had pulled the strings so deftly to get the billionaire in pole position he wasn’t going to lose control now.
Needing A Stop
With all the key figures in the nation’s political boiler room now present in the clubby, green-carpeted, third-floor hideaway office divided by a heavy door and a narrow corridor from the Senate Chamber, Cahill was keen to get going.
The meeting was called to order.
His aristocratic features silhouetted in the picture window, the Democrat scion banged his cane on the wooden floor.
“We have to stop this dangerous and humiliating farce that has somehow tricked millions of Americans into drooling like demented sheep in a tidal wave of opportunism and false hope.”
A murmur of approval rumbled around the table. Few congressional colleagues – and certainly no Republicans – had been invited inside the Bear of the Senate’s inner sanctum before.
“Too much is at stake to allow this cancer to destroy the very foundations this city is built upon,” he continued. He poured an ample measure of neat Bushmills into a glass and gestured to his audience to do the same. There was no ice and certainly no mixers, and although the sun was setting over the Capitol, Cahill made no move to turn on any lights.
To the left of Cahill at the secret meeting were fellow Democrat heavyweights Jed Rawlston and Peter Fulbright from the Senate and Cahill’s son-in-law Daniel Grey, who, at 47, was by far the youngest in the room.
Ainsworth was accompanied by his Senate protégé, Tom Beattie, and two congressmen, Gerald Sumpter and Ed Masonic. Ainsworth sat stock still in his chair with his eyes closed, looking like he was dead until the whiskey bottle was handed around and he reached out his glass.
Leaning against an intricately carved antique bookcase at the back of the room was White House Chief-of-Staff, David Platt.
Out of Time
“I’m afraid we’ve been relatively slow off the mark in this situation, a fair amount of damage to the system has already been caused. So this is no longer a time for talking, that opportunity has passed us by. It is a time for action. To that end,” Cahill added with a flourish, “I have asked one of my oldest colleagues in Washington to come and speak with us.”
Chapter 83 – The Spy
Cahill paused for effect. “Walter, please come on out.”
The familiar figure of Walter Penske shambled in, still wearing his tux from the previous night. He shook hands with Cahill and Ainsworth and pointedly ignored the others, barely concealing the disdain in his red-rimmed eyes. He sat down next to Ainsworth as Cahill continued.
“Walter believes, as I do, that this whole iCandidate thing has gone too far and he has agreed to help in every way possible to eliminate this cancer before it can do any more damage. Isn’t that right, Walter?”
“It is Paddy,” he said, pouring a glass of whiskey. “When I signed on as a judge I never, not for one moment, believed they would seriously attempt to put these people on a par with real politicians. It’s an absolute travesty that they’re wasting so much money on this. It’s the reason this country’s in such a mess.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Vice President, why did you agree to be a part of the show in the first place?” Grey was the only one bold enough to ask what the others were thinking. “It seemed a strange decision for a statesman of your stature.”
“Believe me, I was going to turn them down. I had no desire to deal with amateurs at this stage in my career.” Penske nodded at Cahill. “But my friend Paddy here asked if I wouldn’t mind keeping a closer eye on things for him.”
“Walter’s agreed to stay on with the so-called iCampaign as a senior advisor and strategist and will consequently be closely involved with their candidates,” Cahill said. “I will, of course, be speaking to him on a regular basis.”
“Can I ask a question?” Platt spoke up from the back of the room.
“Of course, David.”
“Do you know where all this money is coming from? We’re talking about $100 million and there are very definite rules about campaign funds.”
“I don’t know,” Walter said, begrudgingly. “The candidates didn’t even know about the $100 million until last night. I thought they were going to get some tin pot campaign team and that was that.”
“Without the money the iCandidate would have gradually just faded away,” Platt said. “But that’s not going to happen now. That’s why I think we need to challenge the source of this money. They lose the money and they lose any kind of hope of being a factor in the election.
“Can I ask the President’s position on this?” Ainsworth opened his eyes, but didn’t turn around to look at Platt.
“He still isn’t taking it seriously. He actually seems to like the Conwright woman. I had to virtually hold him down to prevent him accepting an invitation to make a surprise appearance in the finale.”
“That would have been madness,” Cahill said.
“So, he doesn’t know you are here, then,” Ainsworth interjected.
“No, and neither does Hillary, but I think it’s important for us to work together on this.”
“Thank you, David,” Cahill said. It was almost dark now and long shadows stretched across the office. “Nothing can be left to chance this time. I don’t need to remind you,” Cahill, stood up to indicate the meeting was over, “that this gathering didn’t happen. From now on, everyone should speak directly to either Randall or myself, either by phone or in person. No emails,” he added, ushering them out of the darkness into the harshly lit Capitol corridor, “And keep Hillary and Donald out of this.”
Chapter 84 - $100 Million Challenge
To get to the U.S. District Court downtown in Los Angeles by 10:00 a.m., Mason was up at four to make the 68-mile drive into Nebraska to catch the first flight out of Kearney Regional Airport on his way to Los Angeles.
In spite of the hullabaloo the night before, there was a very real chance that Grace Conwright’s iCampaign could be over before it began. A judge agreed on extremely short notice to hear a case brought by attorneys hired by Cahill, which challenged the legality of The iCandidate’s $100 million election fund.
With Federal Election Commission rules only allowing for individuals to donate $2,500, they wanted to know where all this money was coming from - particularly as there was no iCan Party structure until after the show’s finale.
There was also no sign of anyone connected to the iCampaign taking advantage of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling, which allowed corporations, unions, and individuals to make unlimited donations to Super Political Action Committees – outside groups set up to campaign for their favored candidates. While Grace had no backing from any Super PAC, several were set up by Cahill’s supporters specifically to knock her down.
Kristoff had left immediately after Grace’s speech to be back in L.A. with Desmond in time to prepare, but Mason had to handle the media presence before making the trek.
Desmond had known there would be questions. He just wasn’t expecting to explain the new party’s financial structure to a judge.
After navigating the L.A. rush hour and security checks inside the North Hill Street building, Mason arrived sweaty and breathless just before 10:00 a.m. to find the others already in the courtroom. Once again, the place was overrun with media, and Tom, in his new capacity as iCampaign Press Secretary had flown back with Kristoff and was fending off questions from all sides.
“All will become clear, ladies and gentlemen,” he shouted over the questions. “But first we have to let the attorneys do their thing.”
“Could this be the end of the line?” called out a reporter from the Los Angeles Times. “What do you say to reports this morning claiming there could even be arrests if that $100 million turns out to have been raised illegally?”
“I would say that’s ridiculous,” Tom replied, straightening his skirt. “You have to give the iCampaign a little credit. It’s not as if nobody had thought about this. Who would have thought that the President would manage to raise most of his donations for the last election in $5 amounts over the Internet? These are changing times, my friends. Interesting times.”
With that, Tom ducked into a side room to confer with Mason, leaving the media to stew outside. The hearing had begun.
Chapter 85 – Love, Lies & Suspicion
Zia saw his father’s name on his phone and knew it was the call he was dreading.
“So, you’ve finished it then?” Tariq was daring him to deny it.
“Of course father.” He couldn’t tell the truth. Not now. Not with so much happening.
“Good. For you to be seen with a Pakistani woman would be madness. You understand that don’t you, son?”
“I do, father.” Zia wouldn’t have time to see Ayesha until it was all over. He would deal with his father then.
There was another more pressing issue he had to bring to his attention. “You know the two boys you brought over to Harvard from Pakistan?”
“Ayesha heard them speaking in Urdu. She said it sounded suspicious.”
The other end of the line went silent. “I thought you weren’t seeing that girl.”
“This was before.”
“So, what did she say about Bilal and Salman?”
“Only that they were talking about following orders and it sounded like they were involved in something bad. That’s not true, right? You’ve always said this is about bringing peace to the world and making things right.”
“Of course they’re not involved in anything bad. They’re kids.” Tariq was indignant.
Do Your Job
“See what I mean about this girl turning your head. I’ve brought dozens of students over from Pakistan and now you’re questioning me?”
Zia wanted to be convinced. “Just as long as I know we’re doing this for the right reasons. I was born in America but I still love Pakistan and America equally. You were born in Pakistan, so do you love both countries equally, too?”
Tariq just laughed. “Your blood is Pakistani, no matter your birth country.”
“But do you love America?” Zia persisted.
“Of course.” He paused. “How many times do I have to tell you? Just be sure to do your job Zia, and I’ll take care of everything else.”