At 2:30 a.m., the black sedan pulled up to the gate on Pennsylvania Avenue. Martin marveled how short a distance it was from the street to the threshold of world power. As he stepped from the car into the damp autumn night, he sensed a foreboding, underscored by the increased security presence.
He was ushered inside and brought to one of the West Wing's inner chambers. Even before his undergraduate days at Harvard, Martin was recognized for his ability to uncover the solution that lay hidden in plain sight. As chief consultant to the president's re-election campaign, he braced himself for what would warrant his summoning in the dead of night.
"Something's happened," the president's chief of staff said, entering, followed by a pack of campaign advisers. Shutting the door, he sequestered Martin. "At approximately 11 o'clock this evening, the president died."
"At 10:30, the president returned to the Oval Office to make fundraising phone calls. He was discovered at his desk. The receiver at his ear. Still warm."
"That's terrible." Martin searched their faces.
"Rough numbers," the Chief asked, "what does this do to our chances?"
"What effect is a dead candidate going to have?"
"You're asking for a cross-impact analysis of the president's death?"
"Precisely. It's a delicate situation. This could crater the whole thing."
"Historically, it would not be the first time a dead man got elected to office," interjected an aide.
"But, what happens when it gets out?"
"We've told no one."
"Without a clear understanding of the facts, it would cause chaos."
"It's going to get out."
"We feel that with a combination of choreographed movements and computer generated video, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to prevent it from coming to light."
"Given the technology available," one adviser asked, "how long can we keep this up?"
"I'd say three to four months."
"That's not bad."
"Are you serious?" Martin railed.
"That'll put us well past November. Give us time to find a better story."
"Something macho and gallant."
"If we could delay until winter, I'd prefer skiing accident."
"You're all looking at this the wrong way!" Martin interjected, silencing the room. "You have to say that he's dead."
"It would do irreparable damage to the president's standing."
A flicker of light twinkled behind the chief of staff's eyes. "Wait a minute. Young Martin may be on to something. If we can turn a perceived liability into an asset, go 'Art of War' on this puppy..."
"What do you mean?"
"Think about it. What changes whether our candidate is alive or dead? We still run on the same platform, the same vision for the future. Plus, it's inconceivable the other side's advertising could go negative on a dead guy."
"They'll probably come up with a dead guy of their own."
The chief of staff patted Martin on the shoulder. "Go home and get some rest."
As he was ushered to the door, Martin took one last glance at the group, freshly united in their task.
"What do you think? Leak it?"
"Just spit-balling, but is it worth exploring the idea of him coming back? You know, three days later?"
"That demographic doesn't usually vote for us anyways."
The door closed and Martin found himself in the same hallway he had been led down three minutes earlier. The Marine sentry's clean shaven cheek reflected the light like polished steel. Martin felt the stubble that had grown importunately through the night upon his own chin, and walked down the hall.