Sam Spencer had worked as a newspaper reporter/commentator for 35 years. He started out in high school as the editor of the school newspaper, then in college was on the team that put together the college newspaper. After getting his masters in Journalism and Art Communications, he landed a sweet position as assistant editor of a major metropolitan newspaper.
But those were the good old days. These were now the really tough days. The internet completely changed things. He lost his job as editor of the New York Central Newspaper when it finally closed its doors after being in existence since the founding of the country. He worked briefly for a small Midwestern newspaper in Iowa. But no one was reading newspapers anymore. After 6 months, they closed their doors and he was let go.
Sam had always been a Left-of-Center sort of guy. But as his main sources of income one-by-one started dying off, he turned more and more bitter. How can the government stand by and watch what was going on? Why did it have to be left up to him to find a secure job? And what about the thousands and thousands of other journalists and typesetters and who knows who else that were now sitting on their collective butts at home…waiting…for what?
Yes, Sam had decided the government needed to get more involved in the day-to-day actions and decisions that were being left to companies. Why did it always seem their answer to anything was to fire people? There HAD to be a better answer.
Sam realized his days were coming to a close. He was in his early 60s. No job. Just enough savings to last him until he maybe reached early retirement.
Sam then made a decision that would change his life. He finally, by 2015, stepped into the Internet Age.
He started a blog.
And in his blog he expounded on all of the ideas that he thought should be done to save the country. More welfare for the people. Free medical care for everyone. The State governments should have to be accountable, not to the people but to the Federal Government. In essence, there really would not be any state governments. It would all be National.
And Sam discovered something about his writing style.
He was eloquent. And the more his writings veered to the left, the more readers he garnered. But even with thousands of readers a day his website was still barely able to help him make ends meet.
He was close to deciding to call it quits and just retire when he got the fateful email.
“Sam, our consortium are interested in your blog and would like to help you take it up a notch. Reply back ASAP and let’s see if we can help you out.”
It was signed Jeffrey Simmons and his title was Strategic Aid.
What the hell was this? He was hopeful and at the same time cynical. How could he not be? But what did he have to lose? He replied and the two set up a meeting. “The Consortium”, whatever that was, bought him round trip tickets to meet them in San Francisco.
After the meeting in the Starbucks, the several dapperly dressed men left with Sam a little stunned. A monthly salary equal to what he made all last year. A nice office overlooking the Bay, an apartment just a block away. He could pick his own staff. And the content was up to him but…
And that was the hardest part. But… he would receive guidance as to what to write about. And positively no one was to know about The Consortium.
Guidance? What did that really mean? They assured him that he would have what amounted to complete control. They had been following his blog for quite some time and knew he was on the right track and believed in the same centralized governmental control that they wanted to see happen in America.
Sam stared at the contract, his eyes skipping from one part to another. There were a few issues about control, but these guys really, truly believed in him. There was little disagreement, right? Ideas that the people of America couldn’t be relied to make the right decisions. Look where we were. 100 million out of work with no upturn in the economy in sight. Tens of trillions of dollars in government debt. And these clowns were voted into office?
Coffee shops are not quiet places for contemplation. The coffee grinder was loud. “Sam! Grande Latte!” the barista shouted as he placed the cup on the counter. Dishes and cups clinking and washed. People talking – it wasn't a library.
But Sam didn’t hear any of it. His ship had finally come in. He took a deep breath and signed the contract.
Sam watched the live feed online with his staff. He did it. He really, really did it! They watched as the gavel went down for the last California Assembly session. The direct elections of Assemblymen had ended. From that point on, the state congressmen and senators would be appointed by the Federal Government.
California was the first to acquiesce. One-by-one, all over the nation, the symbolic gavel had been slammed for the last time. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington State, on and on and on. The last hold outs were the diehard Red States of Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee. But by then the vast majority of the states had turned over their power to the National Government. The threat of force and, in some cases, the show of force convinced them to fall in line. Since these hold out states weren’t all contiguous, it was impossible for them to truly fight back with a united front.
Sam smiled. The really silly part was the constant references to the US Constitution as if it mattered anymore. Since the early twentieth century, the American people had wandered cluelessly, aimlessly like lost puppies away from the document, rendering the Constitution meaningless and powerless.
The staff let out a cheer. History had been made.
“Sam, that’s it!” Said Weaver, his right hand man. He owed a lot of his success to Weaver. Especially, when Sam and The Consortium were at logger heads. Weaver would step in and talk him down and help him organize to get the stories out. But Weaver wasn’t a good journalist, he hated to say. But he had other talents that made him so invaluable. In some ways, Weaver was even more of a believer in Leftist causes than he was. “I was born this way” is what he always said.
Sam retreated to his office just as his desk phone rang.
“Hello, Sam Spencer here.”
“Sam. Have you been watching?”
It was Jeffrey Simmons, the Strategic Aid who had first contacted him with the fateful email.
“Jeff, good to hear from you.” Sam leaned back in his chair and ran his free hand through his thinning grey hair. He sort of chuckled, but it was more of a sigh than a chuckle. “Yeah. We did it.”
“And it was all because of you. You and your staff and the three million hits a day to your website.”
“Well, yes, but your ‘guidance’ helped.” Sam emphasized the word “guidance”. What he really meant was the guidance was more “you shall say this” than “you should say this.”
Sam continued. “We had our disagreements over the years, but in the end it all worked out.”
Jeff laughed. “Yes, well it was for the team, so to speak, right? But it was your wordsmithing that changed the hearts of the people. And for that The Consortium will be forever thankful.”
There was a slight silence.
“But, Sam, this is really only the beginning.”
“Of course, I agree. We have more to say. There are still many out there who disagree. We have to continue to denigrate them to the ash heap of rewritten history. We’ll make sure they’re marginalized. Make no mistake about it.”
“Sam, that’s good to hear. There can be no disagreement with The Consortium.”
“Of course, it will be done.”
“Thanks, Sam. We’ll talk again soon.”
No sooner had Sam hung up the phone, it rang again. He immediately picked it up. “Hello, Sam Spencer speaking.”
“Sam,” the person on the phone quickly said, “it’s Senator Larry Singleton.”
Sam knew this man. He was one of the most outspoken people against what had become to be called “The Relinquish.”
“Mr. Singleton,” Sam didn’t even try to call him Senator. That title was done away with. The senator was now just a public citizen. Even the word “private citizen” was improper. In fact, not only improper to say it, it was unlawful to say it. There was nothing private anymore. All was the State.
“Sam. You’ve got to listen to me.” Sam caught something. Was it fear? Was it desperation?
“Larry, go ahead. I’m listening.”
“Uh…Sam -” He paused. Did he move away from the phone? He came back. “-Sam, something’s going on.”
Sam caught something odd in his voice. Why the hell did he even call me? After all, he was “the enemy”. “Larry, what the hell do you mean? Why are you calling me? Can I mention this is all a little strange?”
“Listen, you’re a decent man. I know in my heart you really are.”
“Larry, it’s over. Don’t you have a wife and daughter? Can’t you talk to them?”
There was another pause. He realized finally that Larry was in transit. He wasn’t running. He was walking fast through the streets. He could hear cars pass by and a siren of some sort.
“Sam, you have no idea what you are a part of. You don’t realize what you’ve unleashed.”
Sam smiled inwardly. This sounded almost like the rantings of someone about to really lose it. "Larry, you need to go home. Take a pill or something.”
“Sam. I – I can’t go home.”
Sam stopped. What was he saying? “You mean your wife is mad at you? Did she kick you out?”
“No! No that is NOT what I mean.” Again he moved away from the phone. Then he came back. “Someone is after me. I mean some people are after me.”
“Holy crap, Larry. Call the cops!”
“That’s just it. It’s the police that are after me.”
This was just getting stranger. “Talk to me. What did you do?” Larry Singleton may have been the enemy, but he was honest as the day was long. In fact, 20 years ago he might have even voted for the guy. Sam was starting to smell a story.
“My wife called me saying they were waiting for me to get home. They told her I was being arrested for Crimes Against the State.”
Sam was still confused as to why the police would do such a thing. “Crimes against what? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Sam, this is ALL YOUR FAULT!”
“Larry, this isn’t the Soviet Union. This is America.”
“NO IT’S NOT!” Was he sobbing? “They’re rounding us up.”
“Who? Who is rounding up who?”
Sam went silent. No one, not a single soul knew about The Consortium. How did he know about them?
“Sam? Are you still there? I was your Straw Man. Did you hear me? I WAS YOUR STRAW MAN!”
Sam’s head started spinning. This was getting stranger by the second. His voice dropped down several decibels. “Are you telling me you had a contract with The Consortium?”
“Hell yes, I did! It was all a set up. You mean you didn’t know? The Consortium offered me guidance-“
There was that fucking word again. Guidance.
“ – and they in turn supplied you with retorts. Y - you mean you didn’t know this? How the hell could you not know this? Holy shit! You were played! “
Sam’s voice got weaker. “Are there others? I mean, others like you that they are going after?”
“Yes, yes. I know of at least one more, uh, Senator Lakeland, I think.”
Sam was stunned hearing this. “Senator Lakeland? Are you serious? The guy said he would take up arms before he’d let ‘The Relinquish’ happen.”
“Well...? Did he?”
Sam knew the answer to that. Lakeland didn’t. And never was going to. It was easy to conclude Lakeland had a contract with The Consortium, too.
“Sam, they promised me the moon! I was going to have a whole department to run. I was going to make more money than I could have ever made as a senator. Now they want to arrest me and who knows what. Maybe send me to a –“
“- gulag.” Sam finished the sentence with Larry.
“Hey, listen. Maybe we could meet and discuss - “
Then there was nothing but a dialtone.
As he stared at the dead phone he heard loud voices out in the bullpen. He looked up just as Weaver stuck his head in his office. “Boss. There are some police here that keep asking for you - .”
The police didn’t wait for Sam to come out. Three large uniformed officers pushed through.
“Samuel Spencer, you are hereby being placed under arrest for Crimes Against The State.”
“So, you going to read me my rights?” Sam dryly asked.
“Rights? What rights?” One of the policemen replied just as dryly.
As they were handcuffing him, Weaver pushed through. “Sam! What’s going on? Why are they here?”
Sam looked up at Weaver touched by the concern. “Weaver, take over. Try to find a good online journalist to help you out. I just hope I can get back here to work with you again. I don’t know what-“
They didn’t let him finish his sentence, shoving him out the door.
The whole place went silent. All the celebrating stopped. Weaver stood looking on as the police disappeared with Sam out the main door.
Then the Sam’s phone rang. Weaver, still standing next to Sam’s desk, answered it.
“Hello, Sam Spencer’s office, Weaver here.”
“Weaver. It’s Jeff.”
Weaver smiled. “Jeff. Thanks for calling.”
“Hey no problem. So, I take it the police were there?”
“Yes. Sam was just now taken away.”
Jeff sighed. “Good. What a shame. But now you’re in charge. We have high hopes for you.”
Weaver smiled broadly. “Don’t worry, Jeff. I won’t let you and The Consortium down.”
“That’s good to hear. Such a shame we had to let Jeff go.”
Weaver nodded in agreement. “ Yes. It’ll be tough to find a ghost writer to fill in, but we’ll find one. No one could write like Sam. He really was able to reel them in and make the case for the cause.”
“Yes, I agree, but…” Jeff sighed. “he lacked a certain quality. He didn’t have the ideological purity we really needed.”
Weaver again agreed. “Yes, that is for sure. But you certainly won’t have that problem with me. I was born this way.” He laughed.
Jeff laughed, too. “Fine. That’s fine. We’ll talk again soon and offer more…guidance.”
Weaver smiled again. “I look forward to it.”
They hung up.