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The Assassination

by Martin Green
(with a few edits from Diannek, the editor)


    

A shot rang out and the president slumped over the lectern.

     “An interesting first sentence,” I said. “Did another politician shoot him?”

     “Not in this story,” said Paul. “Keep reading.”

     Paul Lerner, my friend in our Northern California retirement community, was a fiction writer at heart. He wrote a couple of columns for our senior paper and also contributed stories to online magazines with names like Clever. Sometimes he showed me a story he was working on. This was his latest piece of fiction. 

     I kept reading.

Before the shooting, the president had been addressing one of the political rallies he liked to have to stroke his ego. He went through his usual litany of subjects: he would have won the popular as well as the electoral votes if it hadn’t been for voter fraud. He was trying to drain the Washington swamp. The Republicans in Congress were incompetent. The media was full of fake news. And so on. The audience of faithful followers dutifully applauded after every line. Outside, a crowd of protesters dutifully chanted slogans.

     After the shooting, Secret Service men immediately rushed in and carried him away, and he was whisked off to the nearest hospital. It didn’t look good. Other law enforcement people quickly tackled the shooter, who put up no resistance, and carried him away in a black van. The shooter appeared to be a middle-aged white man and he didn’t shout “Allah Akbar” or anything else for that matter. In the following days, the president was reported to be in critical condition and the vice president was sworn in as acting president. He tried to act solemn while being sworn in but everybody could see the smirk.

       That was the story so far.

     “So what happens next?” I asked. “Where is the rest of it?”

     “I’m still thinking,” Paul replied. “You know the country has never been more divided. When was the last time there was some measure of unity?”

     “The last time? I don’t know. I don’t remember,” I answered.

     “After 9/11. This country doesn’t come together until there’s some catastrophic event. Then we put aside our differences and unite, at least for the time being.”

     “Is there another attack on America in your story?” I asked.

     “No. What was the last catastrophic event before 9/11?’

     “I don’t know. What?” I asked.

     “When John Kennedy was assassinated,” Paul replied. “Do you remember? The whole country was in mourning and Johnson was able to pass a whole bunch of laws, the War on Poverty, civil rights, and all that. Of course, it didn’t last because then came Vietnam,” Paul paused.

     “So, in your story, after the current president is assassinated, does the country come together?”

     “Don’t forget,” Paul continued. “He’s not dead yet. He’s just on life support. To answer your question, yes, the country does come together. Prayer services are held for him. Flowers are piled up outside the White House, a small pile. The New York Times and the Washington Post hold off on criticizing him. Even the Democrats stop. The late night comics still make jokes about his tweets.

     “What else happens?” I asked.

     “Congress holds a special session and the Republicans and Democrats actually get together to pass a revised health bill. They also pass a revised tax package. The economy picks up and unemployment goes down. The one thing that can’t get resolved is football players kneeling for the national anthem. But on one Sunday all NFL players wear black arm bands, pre-mourning bands.” Paul was on a roll now.

     “Okay. Then what? Does he ever recover, or do you let him die in peace?”

     “That’s the surprise ending.” Paul laughed. “The whole assassination thing, it turns out, was a sham. He wasn’t really shot. The blood was just ketchup. The plot was cooked up by the generals in collusion with the CIA. The supposed shooter was a Special Ops sniper and the bullet was a blank. After a month, the president makes a miraculous recovery and goes back to the White House.”

     “Really? So he was in on it?” I’m skeptical.

     “Yes, he was reluctant, but the generals told him that if people thought he was almost killed he’d get the sympathy vote and was sure to be re-elected. That convinced him.” Paul explained.  

     “That’s not a bad idea,” I said. I think Paul is nuts but I don’t say that to his face. Nobody will ever publish this, is what I’m thinking at this point. But I don’t want to hurt Paul’s feelings. Paul has been writing for a long time, perhaps too long.

     “Well, whatever you decide to write, it can’t be more far-fetched than what’s actually going on in Washington,” I add. “Go ahead, finish your story and send it in. Maybe some journal out there will like it.

     Paul is all smiles. “I’m gonna go work on it now. I’ll show you the story when I finish it.”

     Paul seems happy. That’s what matters. Old writers just need to keep writing.

 

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