Gabriel’s Trumpet by Cora Tate

“She’ll be fine, Joe. Our team has done everything we needed to do to ensure Mrs. Winston will win throughout the South. We haven’t done much in Alabama and North Carolina, but you said that isn’t many votes. We control a lot of the Midwest, too, except Oklahoma and Minnesota. The only question marks are Iowa and Nebraska.”

“So that’s what, two hundred, fifty votes in the EC, and she needs two-seventy.”

“You’re the Chief Strategist. Don’t you expect her to get New York and California? What about Illinois and Colorado? Illinois would be enough all by itself. Don’t worry. She’s in.”

Later, Joseph Benson repeated to Harriet Winston what Carl Delamere had told him.

“What if I don’t get Illinois and Colorado?” she asked.

“Doesn’t matter. You’ve still got California and New York, plus Oregon and Washington and maybe Maryland, and our team has most of the South and a lot of the Midwest under control.”

“How?”

“Maybe I should let you talk to Carl Delamere,” Joe Benson said.

“Who’s that?”

“He’s your Computer Systems Administrator.”

“Can he explain what they’re doing?”

“He can, but it might be better if you didn’t know.”

“I’d feel better if I knew they really had a way of making sure I’d get elected.”

“Oh, they do, Mrs. Winston, they do.”

***

At Harriet Winston’s insistence, Joseph Benson set up a meeting between her and Carl Delamere. In that meeting, Carl explained exactly how his team would guarantee she would win the states she needed to become President. “Jeez, Ms. Winston,” he said finally, “we’ve got it covered. Just relax.”

Harriet Winston gave Carl a withering look that felt like icicles. He tried to force a smile and said, “You’ll see, Ma’am. It’ll work great.”

“What if it doesn’t work?”

“It can’t not work. It’s got to work. Just flipping a few votes in Indiana and Ohio—and maybe Massachusetts—will be plenty to move you into the White House.”

Carl Delamere felt almost as confident as he sounded. He had recruited a top team of computer geeks to game the direct recording electronic voting systems, and they had succeeded in accessing and getting some level of control of the systems in fourteen states plus several swing counties in five other states. According to the numbers the strategists said they needed, Carl’s DRE team would have no trouble delivering an election-night victory to Harriet Winston.

Whether that would translate into a White House job for the next four years, Carl wasn’t sure. A reputation as the Computer Systems Adminstrator for a successful Presidential campaign would guarantee good job offers, though, if he needed them. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to work for a Winston administration for the next four years, but he hadn’t given the matter much thought. Carl Delamere wanted to win the election for his boss both because Carl liked to do any job well and because he wanted to enhance his résumé. He kept his focus on winning and would think about his future after tomorrow’s voting and tomorrow night’s counting.

***

After checking in with each of the twenty computer jocks he had stationed in twenty state capitals, Carl stepped into the office next to his to compare notes with his immediate boss, Stella Hansen. He told her about his conversation with the candidate and added, “I wasn’t trying to go over your head or anything.”

“No, I know. Joe set that up. He told me all about it.”

They went on to discuss the day’s accomplishments and plans for the morrow.

“What time are you coming in?” Stella asked, as she closed her briefcase.

“I s’pose four-thirty or five. I wasn’t sure I’d get to sleep at all tonight, so any sleep’s a bonus.”

“It’s only eight-thirty now. If you hurry, you can get six or seven hours.”

Carl bid Stella good-night, then returned to his office and deleted all emails to and from each of his twenty field agents and then over-wrote the disk sectors they had occupied. That done, he took the elevator downstairs and went out for a hurried dinner before returning to his desk. After looking at maps and spreadsheets for ninety minutes, Carl gave amazed thanks that he might get to sleep by midnight.

As he rode a taxi to the apartments the campaign had rented for several of their employees, Carl thought about what they needed the next day. Essentially, that boiled down to Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. If all three of those went for Mrs. Winston, she’d win the election. The first two were easy, his people had them under control. What Joe Benson called “the HumInt people” kept assuring the candidate that they had Ohio fixed for her, but Carl had one of his geeks in Ohio just in case. Nothing to worry about, Carl thought, as he slipped into the land of dreams.

A dream about becoming Secretary of Commerce left Carl Delamere feeling good when he woke four hours later. He checked his ‘phone and his emails, then hurriedly dressed and caught a cab to Cadman Plaza. On his way to his office, he saw Jennifer Levertov’s light on and stuck his head in her doorway. “You been here all night?” he asked.

“No,” the campaign’s Deputy Digital Director said, “I just beat you.”

“Anything new?”

“No. Nothing at all since last night. You?”

“Nope. Looks like we’re solid, ready to roll,” Carl said, as he continued to his own office.

No alarm bells sounded as many polling stations in New England opened. No dramatic announcements appeared on any of the television screens and computer monitors scattered throughout the campaign headquarters. Half an hour later, a trickle of exit polls began to appear—that mostly seemed to favor Daniel Drumbf over Harriet Winston, but that didn’t worry anyone much. It was too early for the polls to mean anything, and there weren’t many Electoral College votes at stake yet.

The one concern was Massachusetts, once results began to be tallied and reported on the television networks. The first exit polls favored Mr. Drumbf three to two, but the vote tallies favored Mrs. Winston six to five. An hour later, the exit polls favored Mr. Drumbf four to three, but the vote tallies favored Mrs. Winston ten to nine. Just as those figures hit the screen, Carl’s beeper sounded. He glanced at it, turned down the speakers, and went to his secure telephone.

Geordie Wilson, Carl’s man in Massachusetts, sounded upset. “We’re not the only ones with after-market software on these systems, Mr. Delamere. Somebody else has something running on both the state and county systems.”

“And?”

“It’s weird. I searched last night and didn’t find anything. I even ran a simulation, a few hundred votes, and everything worked just like it was s’posed to.”

“So what’s going on?”

“Well, that’s what’s so weird,” Geordie said. “This other software doesn’t do anything at all—it just sits there dormant until our software flips a vote, then it flips two the other way.”

“Can you disable it?” Carl asked, silently giving thanks Geordie was hundreds of miles away, because the man had an annoying habit of jiggling his legs up and down when he spoke.

“At the moment, I’m just trying to extract a copy, so I can look at the code,” Geordie replied. “I don’t know if I can reverse-engineer it fast enough to do anything in time. In the meantime, I think I’d better disable ours, ’cause it’s costing us votes.”

Carl didn’t like the sound of that but agreed. “Get back to me, as soon as you have anything to report,” he said.

“Will do, boss,” Geordie replied, and hung up.

Bob Johnson rang from Pennsylvania the instant Carl set down the handset—with exactly the same description but better news. “I disabled ours immediately, so we only lost a hundred votes,” Johnson said. “I’ve found their program and extracted a copy. I’m running some software to help me de-compile it now. I’m hoping I can reverse-engineer it in time to do us some good. I’ll ‘phone you as soon as I’ve got something.” After a brief pause, Bob said, “I’m generating some plausible code now. I’ll be in touch soon.” Without waiting for a reply, Bob Johnson disconnected and left Carl wondering which of his field geeks he’d hear from next.

***

The Computer Systems Administrator didn’t have long to wait, with a call from Joe Ridley in Indiana less than two minutes later telling the same story. Carl Delamere steeled himself for seventeen more calls and felt at least somewhat relieved when the only additional one came from Jim Butterfield in Pennsylvania reporting a similar situation.

At 11:30, Carl had an intern order steak and eggs from a cafe down the block and went to refresh his coffee. Bob Johnson called back with good news, while Carl ate brunch.

“I’ve got a good candidate for the source code,” Johnson said. “I’m looking at how we can either exploit it, by-pass it, or shut it down.”

“Send me your source code,” Carl ordered.

“Roger, Mr. Delamere. It’ll be on its way as soon as I hang up,” which he did and it was.

Carl immediately sent copies of the code to Geordie, Joe, and Jim for their comments and suggestions. Geordie suggested changes to two subroutines, and Carl sent those suggestions to Bob Johnson. Johnson concurred and said he thought he’d have counter-measures available within two hours and would send them as soon as he could.

By half past three, with a little more than four hours of voting left in the Eastern states, Carl felt worried. At 3:55 he received an email from a secure address in Belize. The message contained no significant message, but Carl began running anti-virus scans on the attached executable file. He had just clicked “Scan”, when his secure ‘phone rang.

When Carl answered, Bob Johnson said, “I just sent you an executable that will disable the other software.” Carl thanked him and obtained the necessary keys to verify the authenticity of the file. Once he verified that the file was indeed the one Johnson had sent, he sent copies to Geordie, Joe, and Jim from a different secure address in Belize.

By the time people in the eastern states had begun stopping to vote on their way home from work, Bob’s program was running on computers and networks in nineteen states. At half past five, Carl’s beeper again sent him to his secure ‘phone. Bob said, “Carl, they’ve updated their damned program, and it’s up and running again. I’m working on another fix, but I doubt I’ll have it done in time to help here. I’ll do it anyway—maybe it’ll help further west.”

“Doing the same thing as before?”

“Exactly, but apparently with new code.”

“Have you—”

“Yeah, I’ve shut ours down here. You’ll prob’ly need to contact the other states.”

“Yep. Thanks, Bob,” Carl said and set the handset on its cradle. He picked it up without taking his hand off, because it rang immediately. Geordie verified what Carl had expected, and Carl agreed that Geordie had done the right thing by shutting their own program down again. As before, calls from Joe and Jim followed with similar exchanges. Worse, calls from Georgia and Florida informed Carl that the rival software had appeared in those states as well.

Carl Delamere began to feel worried. They needed Florida. He wondered briefly if Mrs. Winston could win this election on her own merits, or at least on her own campaign. At seven-thirty he felt a little better, when Bob rang to say he had isolated and de-compiled the rival program and had begun writing a cure. Carl’s relief didn’t last long, because Joe Benson stuck his head through the doorway and said, “What the hell’s going on?”

Carl explained briefly and told Joe they would probably have something in place to counter the rival program soon.

“That won’t help with Florida,” Joe said, “or any other eastern states, but it might help with Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kansas.”

“Will those be enough?”

“Probably. She’s won most of the Northeast on her own—well, I guess it was on her own.” Joe looked questioningly at the Computer Systems Administrator.

“We did have some effect in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Indiana,” Carl said, “but prob’ly not much.”

“Well, anyway, she’d doing OK up here. It’s the rest of the country I’m worried about.”

“You and me both.”

Quarter to nine brought the welcome news of a revised program from Bob Johnson. By the time Carl had disseminated the new program to the rest of his DRE team, voting had ended in the Central Standard Time zone. In the remaining states, Harriet Winston was pretty much on her own.

Carl Delamere woke with a start to realize he had dozed off in his chair. He checked the time—nearly eleven—and then refreshed his screen to see the latest returns. The numbers offered some reassurance: Mrs. Winston had swept the Northeast—from Maine to Minnesota, from New Jersey to Illinois—without the DRE teams’ help and had won Arkansas as expected. Carl scanned a handful of news sites and saw that exit polls looked good in California and Hawaii, again without help from the DRE teams. If those two held, the race was going to be decided by Oregon and Washington.

Still tired and worried that he might nod off again, Carl roused himself to walk into the big strategy room, where most of the campaign staff had gathered. The mood, although tense, seemed mostly upbeat. Both Oregon, especially, and Washington tended to favor Mrs. Winston’s party, so her staff thought the situation looked pretty good. The main source of concern was exit polls from Oregon, which had the two candidates in a dead heat—a surprise and disappointment to Mrs. Winston’s staff.

The surprise and disappointment grew as Oregon results showed Daniel Drumbf edging ahead. Harriet Winston continued to lead in Washington, but, even with Hawaii, that wouldn’t be enough. About two o’clock Wednesday morning, Mrs. Winston and her husband left their posh apartment and joined the staff gathered before the big screens in the strategy room. The screens’ contents gave no cause for joy: with ninety-nine per cent of the vote counted, Drumbf had 269,161 to Mrs. Winston’s 266,771.

Watching the screen, the candidate said, “What the hell is this Pacific Green Party, and how did they get a hundred thousand votes?”

Charlie Gabriel, one of the campaign’s statistics wonks, made the mistake of trying to answer. “Eighty per cent of your primary opponents’ supporters refused to vote for you or Drumbf. Half of them voted for this Pacific Green outfit.” He was escorted out of the room for his pains.

Rising nausea made Carl Delamere turn and sprint for the men’s room, as the phrase “President Drumbf” flashed through his mind.


Educated as a scientist, graduated as a mathematician, but a full-time professional entertainer most of her adult life, Cora’s repeated attempts to escape the entertainment industry brought work as a librarian, physics teacher, syndicated newspaper columnist, and city planner.  Cora lives, reads, writes, and struggles to learn dzongkha in Bhutan.

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