By Mark W. Meier
The First Horseman
You spent weeks on damage control. You’d appear on cable news shows, and they’d play video of you saying you’d run for president. Then they’d all ask the same question in one form or another: “Was that a mistake, or did you change your mind?”
Politicians seldom answer questions. A skilled craftsman will phrase a response that’s deliberately vague without addressing the issue, but make it seem like they’d said something.
“A run for president would be premature at this time. I’m not ruling out a run in the future, but for the time being I have other priorities.”
The whole situation worked to your advantage. Newsrooms featured you, your name, your ambitions. Name recognition went through the roof. When you ran for governor you were very well positioned.
Enemies fought you. Politics is dirty, but I fought dirtier than anyone. Of course I kept a genteel exterior. If anyone discovered my true nature, Leo Jeffrey would be useless.
Even with everyone knowing you, what you stood for and against, the incumbent governor nearly beat you. An affable fool can make lots of friends, and he had. All you needed was one more vote than him.
You made it.
Three separate recounts put your margin of victory at less than a hundred votes. Three weeks after the election the governor conceded in a brief online statement.
Maybe you’d learned to follow my directions. Maybe.
That winter a troubling flu-like illness broke out. A dozen people in the same city were quarantined. Four died. Nobody noticed except a few regional news outlets. After all, flu deaths were common.
A few other cases were scattered statewide, but vicious cold and near-record snowfall pushed illness away from mass awareness.
Fundraising the next summer was simple. Millions of dollars found their way into your campaign coffers. At first nobody noticed. But as winter approached again a couple of national media probed your finances. By Christmas they were close to uncovering what only you and I knew – most of your money came from illegal sources.
Then the disease hit with a vengeance.
Thousands flooded hospitals across the state. Hundreds swamped funeral homes. Grieving families covered the front pages of publications across the nation. Only one New York paper broke the trend with a headline on page five. “Who Owns Wilson?” The story implied foreign organizations with unfriendly connections. Few paid attention to your finances when the flu-like sickness killed tens of thousands from Newark to Portland.
While winter didn’t have an iron grip on the whole country, the illness terrorized colder northern cities and clogged hospitals. The CDC shut down interstate travel in the northern half of the United States.
On camera, you were sympathetic. Privately, you laughed.
“Oh, Leo, how did you do it?”
I sipped an expensive cognac in your office. “Trade secret. Now we have work to do.” I didn’t bring up your missing tree. Neither did you. I smiled to myself.
“Work? Can’t we celebrate for a while?”
I gave you ten minutes. My enemies never slept, and you could block some of their strategies if we kept working. This epidemic provided too many opportunities to pass up.
“I want you to invest your entire personal fortune in a research center on the verge of discovering a cure.” I plucked the bottle of liquor from your cabinet and refilled your glass – and mine.
“A cure?” You scoffed. “Why? Didn’t you want this chaos?” You’d turned deliciously heartless. “Find the cure and the people will be forever grateful, as will their families. Pour all your money into that and you’ll be a hero.”
You sipped while thinking. “All my money? Every cent?”
Idiot. “No. Just your above-board personal accounts. Nobody knows about Libya. Using that won’t benefit you at all.”
“Caymans? Switzerland? China?” Your eyes widened.
“And Russia. Every cent others can connect to you.” I tossed back my last bits of cognac.
“That’s fifty million dollars.”
I smiled. “The federal government will buy enough vaccine to inoculate every man, woman, and child in America. Canada has millions of cases, and it’ll crop up in Europe and Asia for hundreds of millions more. Your cut will be pennies per dose, but the overall take will be pushing a billion dollars. You’ll more than make up your investment.”
You made a call right after I left. “Josh, it’s Bob. I want you to sell everything. There’s a research company I want you to buy, and put everything else into funding their search for a cure for this epidemic.”
You were mocked for twenty-three days. By the thirtieth day the scope of your investment sank in and you were called a philanthropist. When a cure was announced six weeks later, you were vilified as a money grubbing opportunist.
Headlines screamed, “Governor Wilson Cashes In!” Attention like that can’t be purchased. A press release detailing how seventy percent of your profit would be handed over to not-for-profit organizations satisfied most reporters. You were loved by most of the nation for backing a little-known laboratory using your money to find the cure, despite the media’s continued attacks.
You told skeptics, “If the lab had failed I’d have been penniless.”
You were nominated for a Nobel Prize, but my Brothers had other plans for it.
A few people dug deeper and found the groups receiving your donations were political action committees. Some of the critics accepted payoffs.
The rest vanished.
When your personal fortune climbed above a hundred million, you again showed signs of rebellion at our arrangement, but I put my foot down again. You fumed, but followed my advice.
“There’s a festival in a town thirty miles away.” I placed a map on your desk with the town circled. “You should be in that parade. Thousands will line the streets, and those could tip the balance in your presidential run.”
An avaricious smile crossed your face. “Presidential run. I like the sound of that.”
“The effect will be even more pronounced if you’re actually walking the route and shaking hands.”
You grimaced. “I don’t like touching people like that. They’ll have ice cream residue, beer splatter, cotton candy – it makes them sticky.”
Humanity in general was repulsive. “Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do what you have to.”
After a disgusted nod you put your people into action. Calls were made and paperwork filed. Governor Bob Wilson could be accommodated.
The first part of the parade went well. You refrained from using wet wipes in view of the cheering crowds. Every couple of blocks you ran to your car to wash your hands on an endless supply of wet, soapy towels carefully hidden from spectators.
Then Phyllis Renstan appeared, decked out in Bob Wilson regalia. She had pledged her loyalty to my enemy, so I couldn’t touch her. You were under no such prohibition. She drew you like a moth to flame.
You couldn’t resist the photographic opportunity. The “BW” baseball cap itself was worth breaking the rhythm of your parade progress. The homemade “We Love Bob!” t-shirt – honey for the bear trap.
You stepped through the crowd, greeting people along the way, and up an incline to where she jumped for joy under a massive oak. Photographers closed in.
Phyllis gave you a hug and introduced herself, her husband, three children, and five grandchildren. “You saved us all from the flu!” She went on to explain how her family had been hit hard, and the prognosis had been that of the ten infected, eight would die. The cure you’d discovered had saved most of her family.
Your smile never wavered as you greeted each in turn. I watched, trying to “push” your handlers into taking you away from her. These kinds of meetings were dangerous. You had a presidency to win, and one woman pledged to Him could derail my plans.
Finally a member of your protection detail pulled you away. As you retreated Phyllis yelled, “I’ll be praying for you, Bob!”
That was the last thing I needed. You turned to wave, happy with a true supporter, but inwardly sneering at her belief. My people – and my Brothers – did everything we could do stomp that recording out of the media. Only one local report managed to air the pledge despite our efforts.
That night, as if Phyllis had sparked a trend, dozens prayed for you. The next night word had spread through their contacts and hundreds more joined in.Then thousands.
My control was slipping.
If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.