Authors: Jerome Teel
|Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020|
Â© 2006 by Jerome Teel
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Permission Department, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Teel, Jerome, 1967-
The election / Jerome Teel.
Â Â Â Â p. cm.
1. Political Fiction. I.Title.
HOWARD is a registered trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Visit us on the World Wide Web:
Edited by Ramona Cramer Tucker
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.
To my wife, Jennifer,
and our three wonderful children,
Brittney, Trey, and Matthew.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to my parents, Carl and Nona Teel, who taught me I could accomplish anything I desired. Without their nurturing, instruction, and commitment to rearing three sons according to God's Word, I never would have had the determination to succeed at anything, including writing this book.
Many thanks to my brothers, Alan and Patrick, and their precious families.
Special thanks to John and Mary Kaye Woods. Their encouragement, support, and friendship are priceless. And to Todd and Rhonda Herndon, who were there when the idea for this book was born.
Special thanks also to Terry Whalin. Terry, you never gave up, and for that I will always be grateful.
And to Howard Books, thanks for taking a risk on a new authorâ¦and his dream.
Staples Center, Los Angeles
Edward Burke sat confidently in the Green Room, waiting for his cue to go on stage.
Green is an odd way of describing the room,
he thought. The walls were linen white, and the tightly woven, crushed carpet was slightly darker. Even though he would only be using the room during the Democratic National Convention, he had demanded that it be completely renovated with new furniture. After all, the vice president of the United States expected certain comforts.
Every corner of the room was filled with campaign advisors, aides, and Secret Service agents. Some hoped to ride his coattails, Ed knew. Others genuinely believed in the Democratic party's mission. Whatever their motivations, each person was essential to Ed's presidential campaignâat least that was the way he'd made them feel.
Several aides were speaking on cell phones to other campaign workers who were not fortunate enough to attend the convention. Others huddled in groups of three or four and argued over office space in the future Burke White House.
Ed ignored the bustling activity.
was the psychiatric term for his gift. Reclining on a Corinthian leather sofa against the back wall, he felt calm, confident. As he scanned the speech he would deliver, his lips moved slightly with each word. Although the text would be fed to him through teleprompters positioned on both sides of the podium, he didn't want to make any mistakes. Tonight was too important.
His anticipation of the night's events was almost agonizing. He was like a child on Christmas Eve who couldn't wait to open his presents the next morning. Ed wasn't scheduled to make his appearance for at least another hour, but he couldn't relax. He had to see what was happening on the convention floor.
Handing his speech to one of his aidesâhe didn't know her nameâhe wove his way through the crowd toward the door to the corridor.
“Mr. Vice President, where are you going?” asked Ed's campaign manager, Benjamin Tobias. The slightly balding Ben always wore a calm expression. But in spite of his outward appearanceâshort, a little thick in the middleâhe was a man who always got things done. The kind of man Ed liked.
“I've got to see what's happening, Ben,” Ed replied. “Be back in a minute.”
With that, Ed exited the Green Room into the wide, white-tiled corridor. Two Secret Service agents followed like obedient puppies. As Ed entered the hallway, he could hear the roar from the convention hall. As he drew closer, the noise grew louder. Several security guards and convention staffers loitered behind the stage but came to attention as Ed approached. He waved his hand to set them at ease and smiled broadly.
“This is exciting, isn't it?” Ed said to a female intern who appeared nervous.
“Yes, sir,” she replied, eyes downcast.
Ed brushed by her with an affectionate pat on the shoulder and climbed the eight metal steps that led to the back of the stage. He peeked through the curtains at the sea of red, white, and blue that covered the convention floor. He had been to every Democratic National Convention since 1980, but this one was different. This year he was the main attraction.
The scene was chaotic. Riotous. It looked like utter confusion. But Ed reveled in it. He inhaled deeply, as if he were smelling the fragrance of a rose, and studied the activity in the convention hall. He saw hats of different shapes, sizes, designs, and colors. He quickly decided his favorite were the straw hats with Burke for President on the bands. Campaign buttons that would one day be collectors' items covered the lapels of the conventioneers. Affixed to wooden handles, large posters with his picture were being waved by thousands of the party's faithful. So many faces he did not know, nor did he care to know.
The DNC and Los Angeles had spared no expense in preparing for this August convention. It had cost $100 million. But Ed thought that was a small price to pay with all the world watching. Everything had to be perfect. A Jumbotron had been installed above the stage. Red, white, and blue bunting was draped from the walls. As he peered through the curtains, Ed saw the vertical signs with the names of all fifty states scattered throughout the crowd. The signs were used to section off the convention floor, and this year the delegation from Tennessee, his home state, commanded the area immediately in front of the stage.
Satellite hookups from every major television network consumed the corporate skyboxes that lined the upper rim of the hall. The news anchors sat with their backs to the convention stage, bright lights in their faces, and talked into television cameras three feet away. Ed knew they were attempting to predict the content of his speech. Most were not even close on their predictions. But a fewâthose chosen by Ed's campaign to receive the skinny on Ed's speechâwould be reasonably accurate.
Immediately below the media skyboxes was the section reserved for the Democratic party dignitaries. Ed scanned the crowd and was pleased to see that every seat was occupied. He would receive a report later from one of his aides, telling him who was actually in attendance, but he wanted to see for himself. Those who failed to attend the convention,
convention, would be reminded of that failure. Ed also saw his wife, Millie, sitting on the front row in the middle of the upper section. Ed and Millie had worked their entire lives for the presidency.
As the roll call of states began, Ed stepped away from the curtain and headed back toward the Green Room. Soon he would garner enough votes to receive the nomination for president. Some last-minute preparations were needed before he appeared at the podium for his acceptance speech.
The crowd inside the Green Room glanced up at his return but quickly focused their attention on a television against the back wall as the delegates' votes were counted. Ed watched, too, and listened as a representative from each state announced the delegation's vote. A chill ran along his spine as representative after representative repeated a phrase he had longed for years to hear.
“Mr. Chairman, I am pleased and honored to announce that we cast all our votes for the next president of the United States, Edward Burke.”
The roll call continued until Ed's vote tally neared the total needed to win the nomination. With less than ten votes needed to secure the nomination, the Michigan delegation yielded its turn to the delegation from Tennessee. A robust, gray-haired man, who served as the chairman of the Tennessee delegation, strode to a microphone. He paused to allow all the news networks an opportunity to focus their cameras on him before beginning to speak.
“Mr. Chairman,” he began. His voice boomed through the sound system with a slightly exaggerated Southern drawl. “The great state of Tennessee is proud to cast all its votes for its native son, Edward Burke.”
The horde in the Staples Center erupted into thunderous celebration. Balloons trapped near the ceiling by large nylon nets were released and fell like huge red, white, and blue raindrops. Confetti and streamers cluttered the airspace. Ear-damaging music burst from the mountains of speakers on both sides of the stage.
“Mr. Vice President!” screamed a female aide with a two-way radio in her hand.
Ed could barely hear her above the celebration in the Green Room but liked her determination.
“Mr. Vice President!” she screamed again. “It's time to go.”
Ed took one last look in a mirror near the door to make sure his patriotic red tie was straight. This time when he left the room, he had a larger escort. From the top of his black hair to the bottom of his patent-leather shoes, Ed looked presidentialâand he knew it. He buttoned the top two buttons of his navy blue suit as he walked briskly toward the ever-escalating roar. The sound drew him much the way the sirens' song lured mariners of Greek mythology to their destruction. His pace quickened, causing his entourage to scramble to keep up. He bolted up the same steps he had tiptoed up earlier and was ready to burst onto the stage when a familiar voice stopped him.
“Not yet, Ed,” the voice said calmly. It was Ben. “Just another moment.”
The entire convention was scripted down to the very second. Ed's campaign staff knew exactly when the maximum amount of the American population would be watching the convention on CNN or NBC or FOX. Everything had to go according to the script. Everything.
Ben placed his right hand on Ed's shoulder. “Almost.” He stared at the synchronized watch on his left wrist and started the countdown. “Three, two, one. Now, Ed. Now,” Ben said at the precise second in the script for Ed's appearance. Ben patted Ed on the shoulder, and Ed resumed his march toward the nomination.
The exultation on the convention floor was reaching its climax when Ed finally appeared on stage. The delegates greeted him like he was a conquering hero returning from battle. Ed waved triumphantly to the crowd with both hands and pointed to a few people on the floor, pretending to recognize them. He tried in vain to clap along with the musicâbut knew he was off beatâand embraced everyone on the platform as he made his way toward the podium to deliver his speech.
The nomination was really nothing more than a formality following the Super Tuesday primaries. The other candidates were out of issues and out of money. Ed had outspent all of them by a cumulative ten-to-one margin. It was impossible for anyone to compete with a vice president who had $50 million in his war chest before the campaign began. There had been ample time for Ed's team to prepare the perfect acceptance speech.
At just the right instant in the script, Ed moved to the podium and motioned with both arms for the crowd to quiet down. Silence quickly descended. Ed smiled. It was as if his audience anticipated the very voice of God. And right now Ed felt close to delivering just that.
Ed began his eloquent speech, prepared by a team of the best writers money could buy. The speech touched on affirmative action, immigration, health care, and the rights of women. Ed talked about saving social security and improving schools. He reached out to the minority voters with his promise of increased urban revitalization. He even highlighted four different people in the audience and explained how their lives were better because of programs implemented by the current Democratic administration. Resounding cheers greeted practically every phrase Ed uttered. His speech was interrupted more times for ovations than any other acceptance speech in the history of the Democratic National Convention.
“Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America,” Ed shouted into the microphone as he completed his speech.
He stepped away from the podium and again raised his arms in triumph. The celebration resumed, and the crowd roared with approval, chanting his name for five minutes after the speech ended. On cue, his wife, Millie, moved onto the stage. The two stood proudly, arm in arm, waving to the thousands of supporters they did not know, packed into the Staples Center.
This was their coronation, and nothing was going to stand in their way to the White House.
Hyatt Regency hotel, Miami
The presidential suite had been converted into a makeshift war room. Economic data, poll results, and campaign-contribution reports cluttered every table as Shepard Taylor, the chief campaign strategist for the top Republican candidate, pored over the latest polling data from California.
Just two weeks earlier, in late July, Mackenzie FosterâMac to his friendsâstood on a stage in Philadelphia and accepted the Republican nomination to challenge Vice President Edward Burke in November. Shep knew he'd never forget the climax of that night. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced in all his years in politics, and he was certain the ultimate victory would be theirs. But Ed Burke would be a formidable opponent, and Shep searched through the campaign data for any glimmer of hope. He had known Mac a long timeâhad served as Mac's chief of staff during his current tenure as Senate majority leader. Now Shep was heading up Mac's bid for the presidency.
But the march through the primaries had been considerably more difficult for Mac Foster than for Vice President Burke. Mac's campaign funds had been substantially depleted by the time he'd reached the Republican National Convention in July. Pollsters had begun pitting Mac against Ed Burke as soon as it was clear that each man would clinch his respective party's nomination. Shep knew that the results hadn't looked promising for Mac from the very first poll, and he trailed by 10 percentage points even before the Democratic National Convention. With the momentum the vice president would receive from the convention, it was naive to think that Mac could win California's fifty-four electoral votes. So Shep, Mac, and the rest of the campaign team had decided to focus instead on Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, and Texas.
The war room in Miami this warm August night was far from the jubilation in Los Angeles. Mac had asked for it to be that way. The Hyatt would be their headquarters for a few days as Mac campaigned in Florida.
Since it was late, most of the campaign staff had retired for the night. Only Mac and his top two advisors still remained. Following completion of the vice president's speech, they all looked despondent.
“Where is he getting all his money?” asked Jack Bennett, Mac's running mate from Texas. He rubbed his tired eyes under his glasses and fretfully scratched his head through his white hair. Shep could see that the eldest member of the group was exhausted and frustrated.