The fact that I was sitting in that musty old room was amazing in itself. Until thirty minutes prior, I did not know the space existed. Long ago I read a suspense novel by a Minnesota author who stated there were all kinds of hidey holes in the capital. This must have been one of them.
My presence in the room wasn’t really what was amazing, it was the company I found myself in. Me, a junior congressman from Minnesota’s second district, called for an “off the books,” meeting with these entrenched old fools. A senior congressman from Massachusetts, an old windbag who hadn’t set foot in her home district in decades. Some run-down part of Los Angeles. And a couple of old coots from districts south of the Mason Dixon line. All so deeply entrenched that they campaigned every two years just for appearance sake.
Even before getting elected to my seat, I studied these lifelong politicians. Knew more about them than their constituents. Not a one had voted on behalf of their constituents since their second term. Always forwarding their personal agendas.
I guess that was why I was here, in this town, to forward my own. My agenda was a bit different though. It aligned with the limited government crowd that elected me.
At the moment, the four of them stood in a tight huddle, mumbling and whispering among themselves. Finally, one of the southern congressmen looked over his shoulder at me. His bloodshot eyes scanning my six-foot length, stretched out on a padded armchair, legs crossed at the ankle. He was clearly irritated by my relaxed demeanor. I pretended not to notice him, I continued looking down at my smartphone, my thumb flipping through plane porn images on Instagram.
I watched out of my periphery as the old coot’s irritation mounted. Finally, he broke from the huddle and turned to face me, “Congressman Johnson?”
I took my time closing all open apps on my phone and locking the screen before slipping the phone into my suit coat pocket, “Yes Congressman Sumter?”
Sumter struggled with his temper, his thick tongue dancing over his saliva-soaked lips, “Can you join us over here?”
I pulled my feet under my knees and used the arms of the chair to push myself up, buttoned my coat, offered the group now watching me a smile and ran my left hand through my hair as I walked the fifteen feet to join their huddle. The congresswoman from L.A. and Sumter made room for me in their circle.
It was the congresswoman from L.A. who asks the question that was foremost in my mind, “I suppose you are wondering why we called you here.”
“It was more like a summons Congresswoman Foote.”
“Let’s drop the Congresswoman/man B.S. This is an informal meeting.”
I nodded my head as I said, “As you wish.”
“However,” the Massachusetts congressman, Shelby Clausen interrupted, “what is discussed in this room, stays in this room. Is that understood?”
“We are servants of the people,” I replied more as a jab, than a reminder.
Congressman Lloyd Perryville, the other southern congressman bristled at my comment, his face turning red, “Johnson, there is no need to be a wise ass!” His educated southern accent was as condescending as a Professor to a dim-witted pupil. Which is what Perryville was before running for congress, a law professor of some esteemed New Orleans university.
“Address me as an equal Congressman, or I am out of here.”
A scolding sidelong glance from Foote and Sumter, along with the dangerous glint in my gray blue eyes put the former law professor in his place. Perryville took a moment to compose himself before addressing me again.
“You, like so many in your party ran for congress under the fallacy of limiting government,” I started to protest, but Lloyd held up a spotted old hand to ask me to hold my comments. I obliged, “However, it seems you actually have a plan.”
He looked around the circle, meeting each of his cohort’s eyes, as if gaining strength from them. I started to notice, it smelled like old people.
“You are young, and don’t understand how things really work in this town,” Lloyd continued, “how power is distributed. Sure, some elections sway the balance back and forth, but nothing gets done unless the established members of this community go along with it.”
“You mean entrenched,” I tossed out there.
Foote and Clausen chuckle while Perryville continued his speech, “Call it what you will. But the reality is, there are no secrets among the establishment in this town. You came to town with a plan, and we know that plan.”
I fought hard to maintain my composure. Keeping cool under pressure is what allowed me to coast through Army Warrant Officer School, to finish my degree while serving two tours of duty in the Middle East. And to win a very contentious battle in a tough district. There was no way I was going to let these old battle axes rattle me.
But inside, my guts turned to icy liquid and I felt a tightening in my chest. I did have a plan, and it was no more above board than anything this group accomplished in these off the record meetings.
“My plan is to show the American people how corrupt this town is using open debate in the well of congress.”
Clausen let out a loud guffaw, while a couple of others chuckled. Foote merely smiled.
“Please,” Lloyd said, “CSPAN runs those debates all day long, and the ratings are horrible. No one who gives a shit will hear what you have to say. You have a plan that doesn’t involve any legislation or debate.”
“I don’t now what you’re talking about.”
“This town is full of people with very attentive ears, that catch bits and pieces of conversation, and are willing to share what they hear if it means gaining favor or office,” Perryville said, a sinister smirk twisting his weathered old lips.
“You need to be more careful where you and your cohort work out your plans,” Foote added.
“Nonsense, your making shit up,” I said with less force than I intended.
“Seems you and a college buddy, one who holds a PhD in biology, dreamed up a way to reduce the costs to the federal government when it comes to the sick and elderly.”
Behind my blue gray eyes my mind was reeling. Involuntary both my hands raked through my dirty blonde hair. Frantically, in my mind, I re-traced my steps, trying to remember everyplace me and David Anderson discussed our plan to release a virus.
After I resigned from the military, I thought a master’s degree would give me the leg up I need to excel in life. David and I met while trying to pick up the same strawberry blonde in some Dinkytown college bar. The plan started as a joke. Something we boasted about while drinking beer and chasing skirts my last year in college.
I told David how crappy the funding was for the military. How it seemed that all the government’s money was going to take care of the old, the sick, the lazy. We decided that our multi-theater military campaigns would be so much more successful if the old and sick just went away. We also lamented about how the military didn’t wage war anymore because congress didn’t have the guts to declare war.
Then, one day David came to me and stated he had a solution to our problems. He had designed a virus that looked a lot like an animal virus. Once released in the human population, it would spread like wildfire. Most would recover, but those with underlying health conditions, and the elderly would not fare well.
He estimated that in this country alone, it would eliminate several million government dependents.
I was horrified…at first. Then I was horrified at my acceptance of the idea. I reasoned that since all that I had left was a sickly mother, an epidemic would have little effect on me. It was for the greater good after all.
“What if it turns out to be worse? It’s not like you can test it.”
“Actually, I did test it.”
“You know that ‘humanitarian’ trip I took to that little island in the Pacific?”
“Ninety-seven percent of the population recovered. Hell, I barely showed symptoms.”
“Jesus David, are you fucking crazy?”
“I had to know it worked.”
Horrifying moment number three, I spent three days thinking about what David had done, and what he was proposing. Horrifying moment number four, I accepted what he did, and came up with a plan to make the most out of what he proposed.
“I run for congress,” I told him while we sipped really expensive whisky on the dock of his parent’s palatial estate on Lake Minnetonka. “I will run for the second district. That talk show guy is not going to try again after getting whooped by the liberal business owner. I think with my military background, my good looks, and education, I could win this. Campaign a little right of center. I’d have a shot.”
“What do you know about running for office?” David asked, then added, “…and what good looks?”
“Raise money, make promises. What more is there to it?”
“What is one flyover congressman going to do when an epidemic sweeps across the country?”
“Make as much noise as possible. Be the voice of reason. Get people thinking. Blame the old guard for all of Americas problems. It worked for Newt Gingrich.”
And there I stood, in a huddled with some of the most influential members of congress to live. And they might just rat me and David out.
“Are you going to turn me in?”
All four congressmen laughed, then Foote said, “We would have done that without this little get together if that was the case.”
“What we want is to be a part of your little plan,” said Clausen.
“How so?” I asked, scanning their faces.
“We want that oaf in office out! This could be our chance. Everything else has failed to this point. With the economy sailing along with no signs of slowing, there is no way we can beat him come next election.”
“You realize this virus will wipe out a big chuck of your constituency?”
“Not big enough for us to worry. The senior vote is split, and most of those on disability don’t vote at all. We can weather any storm if it means getting that outsider out of the Whitehouse.”
“What do you want from me?” I asked, resigning myself to the fact that I just entered into a Devils agreement with the old guard.
“Where did you plan to release the virus?” Foote asked.
“One of the major metropolitan areas.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sumter interjected. “You would have the CDC and the rest of the Federal government breathing down you necks within weeks…a month at best.”
“No major epidemic in the last fifty years has started here in this country. Someone will figure out it was created, then start hunting. How many people have the level of skill and knowledge your old classmate has?”
Again, without thinking, I combed my hair with both hands, then unbutton my suit coat and shoved them deep in my pockets. These old geezers are right.
“Have your buddy release it in China. Some obscure province. They are the source of the last ten or so pandemics. They can be the source of this one.”
“How can you be sure it reaches our shores.”
“We have more people studying abroad then here at home these days,” Foote scoffed. “These young folks are all about enlightenment, travel, seeing the world. They will easily bring it home, and because they don’t know the meaning of the word no, they will be the single leading source of its spread.”
“Especially if most young people will suffer such minor symptoms,” added Perryville.
I thought about it, pacing away from the huddle for several minutes, then I returned.
“Aren’t you worried you might be a victim. This isn’t the youngest huddle I have been a part of,” I said with as much respect as I could muster.
“Once the ball gets rolling, we can isolate ourselves enough to not have concern. There are plenty of minions to keep us supplied with the necessity if life,” Clausen said smugly.
* * * * *
That meeting was just over eleven months ago. Presently I sit on a deck, sipping expensive whiskey looking out over Lake Minnetonka. I am a pandemic survivor. After all, I am young, fit, and healthy.
At least much younger than those old fools who convinced me and David to release the virus in China. They were right, it did find its ways to the shores of America. They were also right in the fact that no one suspects its source as man-made. However, they were wrong about how well they could isolate themselves from harm.
I knew running for congress would have no impact on public policy. Not being just one little insignificant voice from flyover country. However, being a member of congress gave me something I would not otherwise have. Access to some of the oldest elected officials in the country.
As the infection winds down, America fared well. Over ninety eight percent of those infected recovered. The recovery rate for members of congress is not so good.
Yes, David released the virus in some unknown province in China, but that was not the only release. David infected me, and through me, and some other well planted patriots, we managed to infect almost the entirety of congress.
Foote and Clausen died withing weeks of the first reported cases in D.C. Perryville died in his home a couple months later, and Sumter the following week in a D.C. hospital. Somehow, he got a respirator when others in that same hospital waited longer than him. No matter, his went to someone else soon enough.
I may not be the loudest voice in this town, but the way things are going, there will not be many old voices left.
Then, maybe I can make a difference.