The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear

BOOK: The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear
12.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Also by Stuart Stevens

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Copyright © 2016 by Stuart Stevens

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Limited, Toronto.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Stevens, Stuart, author.

Title: The innocent have nothing to fear : a novel / Stuart Stevens.

Description: First edition. | New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

2015049144 |
9780451493194 (hardcover) |
9780451493200 (ebook)

: Political fiction. |
/ Humorous. |
/ Political. |
/ Satire.

56 2016 |
record available at​2015049144

ebook ISBN 9780451493200

Cover design by Oliver Munday



For Bill Janklow,

one of the great ones who always made me laugh

A week is a long time in politics.



The climate control system that would have kept the electronics at an even sixty-five degrees should have been replaced months ago, but dollars were tight at the network, like everywhere, and it had fallen on the in-house mechanics to keep it going. Which might have worked—they were great mechanics—if they hadn't been on a work slowdown to protest the wage decreases that the network was trying to negotiate. With ad revenues down almost forty percent, everybody was taking a beating, even the on-air, big-name talent.

Dan Huang, the senior video operator, pressed the large red
button on the digital Sony deck before the president entered the Oval Office. The crew was still fussing with the lights and the exact camera angle, but Huang didn't want to take any chances. When Nixon had resigned, the tape operator had bootlegged ten minutes of footage of Nixon ranting about how Kissinger had plotted against him before his resignation speech and had made a cool $100,000, or so everyone said, selling it to Kissinger world to keep it quiet. Dan Huang's $38-an-hour salary plus benefits had shrunk to $25 and a whole lot fewer benefits in the eighteen months since the world went crazy, and he liked the sound of $100,000. He was sure the market would come back, and with the Dow at around 9,500, a bargain wasn't hard to come by. Huang particularly liked the looks of Micro-Com, one of dozens of companies that had sprung up after the government finally broke up Google. A thirty-one-year-old Vietnamese guy, whose father was a distant cousin of Huang's, owned it. Most importantly, the kid was American born, so even with the most extreme anti-immigration measures floating around, he was safe. Not even Governor Armstrong George of Colorado, the fire-breather who was talking about running in a primary against the president, had plans to send back the children of naturalized citizens. Not yet, anyway.

“Can you believe that crap?” Eddie Sanchez nudged Dan and pointed out through the small porthole in the production truck toward Pennsylvania Avenue. They were parked across from the Corcoran Museum, just to the side of the White House. Through the large security fence, often compared to the one that Armstrong George wanted to build along the U.S.-Mexican border, they could see a glimpse of Lafayette Park, which was teeming with demonstrators. It had been like this almost every day since the surprise right-wing coup in China had seized control of the Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong stock exchanges. That was like a 100-on-the-Richter-scale undersea earthquake creating a tsunami that washed across the international economic system.

The U.S. did better than most countries until the Chinese government called in the billions the U.S. owed China. That sent the market down another twenty percent, and some in Congress started to demand that the U.S. retaliate in any and every way possible, from slapping a fifty percent tariff on everything made in China to military action. The president did what he could, holding events with Silicon Valley tech workers whose jobs would be lost if iPhones shot up in price. He called up the crazies in the Republican Party who were talking about military action against China's crazies. When
The Wall Street Journal
uncovered that his vice president had sold stocks based on information from intelligence briefings, the president demanded his resignation. “No special deals,” he thundered. Then he reached out to the governor of Vermont, Hilda Smith, a squeaky-clean Republican of the old school, definitely not one of the crazies, for his new vice president. But none of it really helped. The markets kept going down, unemployment up, and it was all one perfect nightmare.

“Sí, señor,”
said Dan Huang, chuckling. “Stick with me. I'll vouch for your work permit.”

“Work permit, my ass,” Sanchez muttered. “My daddy came over from Havana in '61. That's like the goddamn

“Sí, señor,”
Huang repeated.

“Fuck you,” Sanchez said, without anger. The two spent a lot of time together in the small truck.

“Hey,” Huang said. “El Big Guy.”

On their monitor they saw the president of the United States entering the Oval Office with his longtime chief political consultant, a woman named Emily Lazar.

“What are you down for?” Sanchez asked.

“Reelect,” Huang answered. “Good odds.”

There was an office pool on what the president was going to announce. The odds were three and a half to one that he resigned, one to three that he announced for reelection.

“Reelect? Are you out of your mind?”

“Sí, señor.”

“Fuck you. Look at that fat ass.”

Inside the Oval Office, the president was arguing with Emily Lazar about where he was going to sit. He wanted to give the address from the edge of the desk. When he had first run for Congress, a million years ago, he had shot all his spots on the edge of a desk, looking straight at the camera. That was when he was a young real estate developer with a salesman's charm. And more than a hundred pounds lighter. In the one thousand four days he'd been in office, the president had gained a hundred and three pounds, an average of three-quarters of a pound per week. Someone had figured out that if he kept up this rate, he'd be pushing four-seventy-five at the start of his second term.

The president had once been a strikingly handsome man who radiated an intense energy of perpetual motion. He had been elected with a promise that he would “end the anguish caused by low wages and stagnant incomes.” Now the once-vital figure had slowed to a ponderous waddle.

At the moment, it was up to Emily Lazar to explain to him that sitting behind the desk would result in a more pleasing angle. “This is great stuff,” Dan Huang chuckled, turning up the volume of the microphones. They could hear the consultant, a woman in her early fifties, whispering to the network pool producer.

“He looks like Moby goddamn Dick washed up on that desk,” she said, looking into the monitor that showed the president perched on the edge.

“Hey, he wants to do it in boxers, we'll shoot it.” Jimmy Kovacks was sixty-four and had shot more than a half-dozen presidents.

“Can't you do something with the lighting?” Emily Lazar pleaded. “Bring down the key, maybe?” She was from North Carolina and had a pleasing drawl. It contrasted with her look, which was New York designer all the way. She was a formidable sight: almost six feet tall and always in a skirt that showed miles of legs. At UNC she had played basketball.

“Emily,” Kovacks growled, “you got to be kidding me. Tell you what—we could kill all the lights and shoot it in the dark. That would help. But mass that size still glows.”

“You're a big help.” She sighed.

“I'm not in the help business.
in the help business. I'm in the news business.”

“You guys, you just love this, don't you? Country falling apart, but it's a hell of a story.” She said it without rancor. They knew each other well.

“Yeah,” Kovacks agreed, “I particularly liked it when my shares in the profit-sharing plan fell seventy-six percent. That was a hell of a story. I hated the idea of retiring anyway.”

“We going to run through this or what?” the president asked. He had been quietly staring into a blank space, like a survivor of a long and brutal battle.

“Mr. President,” Emily said, moving across the Oval Office, all legs and heels, “I'm thinking it would look more presidential if you sat behind the desk.”

“You used to hate that. You said I looked like an insurance salesman.”

“This is different,” she cooed, leaning over to straighten his tie. Everyone knew they had been sleeping together for years.

“Why is it different?” he asked, but there was no fight in his voice. He stood up in front of the desk, facing the camera in a full-body shot.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Eddie Sanchez whistled in the control van. “He's bigger than this truck.”

It was a full-on body shot, an angle that was rarely seen these days, as the White House did everything it could to hide the president behind condominium-sized podiums. The president turned and waddled to the high-backed chair behind his desk. His suit was wrinkled and there were dark spots of sweat on his massive back.

“Flop sweat,” Dan Huang noted. “Sweated right through his suit.”

“And you still like reelect? This guy is a train wreck.”

“I liked the odds,” Huang said, wondering if he had made the wrong bet. This fellow did look pretty bad. “Hey,” he said. “Say he doesn't run, you want some action on Armstrong George against the ice queen vice president?”

“Are you kidding me? Armstrong George will goddamn kill that woman. Hilda Smith? An appointed vice president from Vermont? She's gonna beat the fire-breather of the Rockies? Hell, I'll take that action, you bet.”

“Just kidding,” Huang assured him, backing away quickly. Sanchez was probably right. What kind of chance would Hilda Smith have against a guy like Governor Armstrong George?

“Look at that slob,” Sanchez hooted, tapping on the monitor. “He swallowed the air hose. He's going to explode.”

They both laughed. They knew that Jimmy Kovacks was trying to make the president look as bad as possible. He held him personally responsible for ruining his plans to take early retirement and move lock, stock, and barrel to his place in the Poconos. Now his pension plan was in the tank and his house in Queens was worth less than what he had paid for it thirty years earlier. If you could even find anybody who wanted to buy it. With all the anti-immigration fever sweeping the country, Queens, which had more Hispanics and Asians than what Armstrong George called “real Americans,” was losing population every week. The only government agency that had its budget tripled even during the worst of the financial collapse was Immigration and Naturalization. And as if their green-uniformed sweeps weren't bad enough, there was the threat of the roving “Americans for America” gangs that liked to descend on neighborhoods, making what they called “citizens' arrests.”

“My fellow Americans,” the president began, “these are difficult days in our nation's history. Never before have we needed leadership as we do today. That's why I have decided that I must ask for your continued support. I intend to run for reelection as president of the United States—”

“Yes!” Huang shouted. “Thank you, baby!”

The president stopped his rehearsal and looked down mournfully at the speech draft in front of him. He slowly put it into a drawer and focused on the draft he knew he had to give.

“You ready?” Emily Lazar asked gently. “We have time for one run-through.”

He nodded and began the speech where he had broken off. “It is clear that our country needs new leadership like rarely before in our nation's history. Therefore, I have determined not to seek or accept the nomination of my party for president of the United States. I will not run for reelection in the upcoming election.”

“Son of a bitch,” Huang muttered, wiping sweat off his forehead. It must have been ninety-five degrees inside the control truck.

“I have done my best in a difficult time,” the president said.

“What about my stock!” Sanchez shouted at the monitor. “You fat moron! I was vested at seventy-eight! It's six now! Six!”

BOOK: The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear
12.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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