9 June 2023
THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD
By Kevin Burnett
Matthews Announces his Withdrawal from Re-election; Can We Be Vigilant in the Campaign to Come?
With five months to go until the Republican primaries, President Leopold Matthews has announced earlier this week that his campaign for re-election has come to an end. Citing his intense duties as President and opposition from the GOP, he has come to the conclusion that finishing his last year in office successfully is of greater benefit to the American people than attempting to gain their support for a second term. ‘I understand that I am not a well-liked man. I have made more mistakes than won victories, and that is my burden to bear. I did not take up this office to be well-liked, but for the good of my country. If I have truly failed, it would be against my better judgement to inflict my service on you for another term.’
Controversially, he has vowed to offer his support to popular Democratic candidate Kamala Harris. ‘I must answer to my conscience: it is because I am a dyed-in-the-wool Republican that I must support Ms Harris. Mr Cruise may have won the nomination, but should he win the election, it will be the death knell of the Republican Party.’
At his campaign rally, Cruise responded with remarkable grace. ‘I would like to thank Mr Matthews,’ he said, ‘for finally recognising his faults. Now that he has stepped aside for his rightful successor, we will take back this country from the valley of fear he has dragged us through. We will make it right. Trust in me: the world we make today, we will return to tomorrow.’
Speaking with Michael Suzuki again, it is no surprise that these words resonate with him. ‘But you weren’t thinking of tomorrow when you went through with their plan, were you?’ I ask him.
‘No,’ he admits, ‘“tomorrow” didn’t exist. I focused on the moment Irons was going to pay for his crimes because that was my sole purpose. I confiscated the guns from the Secret Service because that was the only way I’d have access to a gun within a hundred feet of the man. I stood in the crowd with the gun tucked under my jumper, knowing Nate was nearby and Blair was somewhere in the crowd. There was no signal. There are certain points in history that will always happen, will always have happened; the only signal is the “moment” just before – that’s the world, taking in breath to beckon it.’ He looks away, transfixed on a point faraway. ‘Or, that’s what Blair used to say. I don’t want to say it was “destiny”, but there was no escape.’
From the day Michael volunteered, Mike Iron’s fate has been sealed. From the moment Irons lay bleeding on the stage, fingers twitching as the crowd erupted, so had Michael’s. Only as the Scottish police commanded him to place the firearm on the ground, did he realise that there was no immunity for punishing evil men.
As they pulled him away, handcuffed, all he could do was find Nate stood amidst the mass panic. His eyes were empty and unfeeling. He did not reach out. ‘I didn’t know what I was expecting,’ Michael says. ‘Obviously, when you kill someone, you pay the price. I knew I was making a sacrifice, but I was blind to what that meant. It was only when I saw him that it hit me: I wasn’t some ‘chosen one’. A new, impressionable recruit, encouraged to volunteer, with a fellow companion at home to call the shots? I was expendable. To think they went on and on about showing the President the consequences of his actions, and they set me up to take them alone.’
The Knitwear Society showed Michael more love than he had ever known, and they had left him for dust. When the agents in the interrogation room offered him a deal – all the information he had, for a new identity and total witness protection – he hesitated for only a moment. He had given them everything, they had betrayed him, but he still had a choice: ask for Blair’s forgiveness, or let the agents tell him who he was without her.
He told them everything. He gave them every name he knew of his former companions, he detailed everything he remembered. He sang like a bird, but if the Knitwear Society faced consequences, they would not say. He doubted it; someone claiming to be from the still functioning society had contacted him in the last year, requesting his tentative service. It was for this reason that, when I offered him the story, he accepted on the grounds that he could give their real names. If he rats them all out, he believes – Nathanael Doane, Blair Wright and the rest of them – they will no longer see him as an option. It will get him off their rope.
Two lives were irrevocably changed by the George Square attack. Careful diplomacy saved many more. The American people wanted blood for their fallen leader. As they called for war with the United Kingdom, Leopold Matthews was inaugurated in one moment and, in the next, in a conference call with Prime Minister May, the First Minister Sturgeon and the Acting Director of the FBI. However he felt about the assassination, war was an unthinkable path to take. ‘The murderer has been caught already’, Matthews assured them, ‘and he has confessed to everything. He wasn’t involved with any terrorist cell we have ever known, but we won’t pursue reparations from the United Kingdom for this.’ As much as the British leaders demanded to try him in their courts, the Acting Director told them that the issue was as good as solved. While they would not allow him to return to rot in a British prison, nor would he remain on American soil.
‘We’re rehabilitating him,’ the Acting Director said, ‘but none of this can reach the media. The people are looking for a person or group to blame, and they’ll find one if we don’t impose a blackout.’ It was with the fear of rioting and violence that they vowed to hide the truth from the rest of the world, and all to prevent a needless war.
It is at this moment, after months in Michael’s company, that I must consider the weight of his anonymity to the rest of the world. Of the assassinator, all that remains is footage of a young man, holding a gun and wearing a jumper, hands raised as the crowd breaks like a tide. It is terrifying: in the wake of the death he caused, all that stood in the way of immeasurable violence between nations was his identity.
For such high stakes, the price seems so small. For such a dangerous mission, the plan seems too convenient. The absence of hard evidence, without technology involved, means there is too much room for supposition. I have no doubt that the man before me murdered President Irons, and that his name is Michael Suzuki, but through a student society that unifies itself through knitwear? It is so preposterous that I question my own faith in it. And yet, I wonder if a more predictable story would have been less effort to conjure.
I put my notepad down on the table, and place my pen beside it. ‘You have got to be bull****ting me.’
Michael smirks, and I think he is going to laugh at me. ‘So now you think I’m lying? You didn’t ask for a “plausible” story; you asked for my story, and I gave it.’
‘No,’ I say, ‘you’re right’.
‘If all you want to do is write think pieces about how unsuitable some ageing actor is to the presidency, you don’t need me to do that.’ He folds his arms. It is cold in March where we are, and snow falls outside the window. He refuses to wear a jumper.
President Leopold Matthews may describe Cruise as the death knell of the Republican Party, but his declared support for Kamala Harris prophesies the death of his political career come January 21st, 2025. For all his efforts to undo the damage inflicted by Hoope and Irons, his policies could be undone in a moment if he cannot be there to safeguard them.
We cannot make the same mistake. Matthews will leave, and when he does, the seat in the Oval Office will be left either to an experienced, competent President, or a second despot bought by churches of gold. This is no longer a question of affiliations. It is not for love of the Democrats, or the possibility of a woman president, that you must back their nominee – it is for love of your freedom.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
© 2017 Kevin Burnett, ‘Burnit Write’