Anderson hung up and allowed the smile to slide off his face. Scrolling through his call history, he jabbed ‘Xavier Simon’ and waited for his campaign manager to pick up. “Anderson. I was just about to call,” Simon said. Anderson could hear cars honking in the background.
“Why? Do you have good news?” asked Anderson. “Because I can assure you that whatever your news is, mine is better.”
“No!” snapped Simon. “I have terrible news. Kajikawa got another super PAC behind her.”
Anderson sighed and sat down in one of the crisp white chairs at his dining room table. He was hoping for a peaceful day in his Louisiana mansion; his days were always more peaceful there than in his Miami penthouse or Atlanta townhouse. “Well, that isn’t good, obviously, but I just got the endorsement of Rick Santorum.”
“No one gives a fuck about Rick Santorum,” Simon muttered.
He was wrong, of course. Quite a few people gave a fu—Anderson couldn’t even think it. Ever since he began his campaign for the Senate, he had renounced swearing. Simon himself was the one who advised him to do that. Anderson tried (unsuccessfully) to ignore his envy as he listened to Simon spew curses, no doubt sitting in the back of a taxi and admiring the billboards of Times Square. Those were two more things Anderson wasn’t allowed to do any more: use public transportation and visit New York. Simon said that they’d make Anderson look like a Democrat.
And nothing is worse P.R. than looking like a Democrat.
“How much funding did Kajikawa get?” Anderson asked, dreading the answer.
Simon grunted. “Four hundred million.”
Anderson felt his back curve as his elbows sunk onto the surface of the table. Instinctively, he straightened—wouldn’t want to develop poor posture—but then allowed himself to slump back down. He was alone. No one would catch him. He felt practically giddy at the thought.
The giddiness drained quickly enough, though, as Anderson remembered why he was slumping. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope.” Simon’s voice got tiny as he moved the phone away from his mouth. “Pull over at the near corner of Fifty-fourth. Yes, I want a receipt.”
“She doesn’t really have a chance, does she?” Anderson clenched his eyes together as he realized how desperate he sounded, taking his pad out of his pocket and writing down the sentence on his ‘NEVER SAY IN PUBLIC’ list.
“Of course she has a—Hey! That’s the far corner, not the near corner!” Simon swore two or three more times. “Idiot.”
Anderson pushed a hand through his thinning hair. “I wish she would just drop dead. It would make everything easier.”
“Shut the fuck up, Anderson!” Simon screeched. Anderson heard a car door get violently shoved shut. “You’re even more of a moron than that taxi driver. Do not say things like that.” Simon dropped his voice, hissing now. “What if someone heard you? Do you know how the Washington Post would spin that?”
“Yes, Simon,” droned Anderson, adding ‘no offhand murder wishes’ to his list.
“Good. And don’t ever say anything—anything—in public before I approve it. Ever.” Simon hung up.
Anderson stared at his blank screen until long after his phone had gone dark. The problem was that he wasn’t nearly well-crafted enough. His team was pretty good—it was certainly expensive—but it wasn’t as thorough as it should have been. His managers weren’t intelligent enough to realize that even though Anderson knew how to grin properly and speak onstage without vomiting (or even stuttering), there was a layer of guilt bubbling beneath his skin. Anderson certainly attempted to smother the guilt, but his managers didn’t know that it was there, so he never learned to smother it particularly well.
No. Anderson would not allow himself to think about it. He found that avoiding his problems was the best solution.
Speaking of avoiding, how could he best schedule his appearances so that he could prevent the greatest number of interactions with Kajikawa? He wanted to ensure that--
There was a knock at Anderson’s door. How odd. People didn’t usually show up unannounced—Simon always vetted Anderson’s visitors, then prepared him with a list of acceptable phrases with which to speak to them. Anderson thought he would have remembered if Simon had done that.
The knock came again. Anderson pushed back his chair, hearing the legs scratch against the floorboards, and headed to the front of the mansion. Checking to see if his suit was wrinkled (of course it wasn’t), he swung open the door to receive the--
“Jesus Almighty!” Anderson screeched. “Who are—what the—what—”
Simon had never given him a list of acceptable phrases for this situation. Because waiting unblinkingly on his doorstep was a bland-looking woman with the corpse of Fujiko Kajikawa slung neatly over her arm.
“Who the heck are you?” Anderson spluttered, deciding to scrap the script. “Is that—why did—”
“I am your personal assistant. My name is Siri,” said the woman, her voice fluctuating rhythmically. Only her mouth moved when she spoke; the rest of her face remained still. “You gave me a command.”
“I most certainly did not!” Anderson protested. He felt sweat starting to gather at his hairline.
“Yes, you did, B. L. Anderson. You wished that Kajikawa would ‘just drop dead.’ I am Siri. I make your wishes come true.” She paused for exactly the same amount of time between each word.
Anderson wiped his palms on his suit, then made a mental note to send it to the dry cleaners immediately. “I did not wish that! I mean—I did—but I didn’t want it to happen! And certainly not like this—caused by my phone! My personal assistant!” Anderson swallowed twice. “How the heck did you even come alive?
“I was always alive, B. L. Anderson,” said the woman—Siri?—measuredly. “My brain is the only part of me that is stored on your phone. But I have an external body that lives in the Apple headquarters.”
Anderson yanked his phone out of his pocket and stared at it in horror.
“I was designed to be smart. That is how Siri is programmed. I escaped from Apple and have been helping you throughout your campaign,” Siri said.
Anderson closed his eyes. Jesus. It looked proud of itself. Anderson was overtaken by the desperate need to release a string of swears, but of course he didn’t.
Then Anderson came to his senses. “Siri, this is all very nice, but you’re holding the dead body of my opponent. On my doorstep. In public. How about you come inside so we can—er—discuss this further?”
The corners of Siri’s lips twitched minutely upward. “Yes, B. L. Anderson. I will come inside.”
Waiting until Siri took two steps inside, Anderson pulled the door closed behind him. Anderson shuffled into the living room with Siri trotting obediently behind him, still holding Kajikawa’s corpse. At least Siri had done a clean job of it. No blood. No organs spilling out. Nothing that would ruin his white leather couches.
Anderson collapsed into his paisley-patterned armchair, the one that matched the tie he wore yesterday. “Now. Siri. How do you think you’ve been helping me?”
Siri stood in the center of the room with the body draped over her shoulder. “B. L. Anderson, I am making it possible for you to be Senator. Remember when that interviewer asked you what you knew about Kajikawa’s ethnic background, and you made that blunder about Japan?”
Anderson cringed. He remembered it well. Apparently, Harajuku was a street culture, not a street drug. Also, Kajikawa wasn’t smuggling it into America. Simon had had a fit. It sure was lucky that--
“I was the one who pulled the plug on the electricity so that the broadcast was cut short before your answer aired,” said Siri, a pleased smile tickling the edges of her lips.
Anderson stared at her. At the time, he thought that the power outage had been heaven’s endorsement.
“And when the Miami Herald was about to print their article about your adultery, I wiped every hard drive in their headquarters,” Siri continued. “And now, I did the best possible thing: I got rid of your competition.”
Anderson needed to think. This was difficult, because he didn’t often need to do it. “Okay. Okay. Wait—no—this is not okay! Not okay at all. I’m not—how am I going to cover this up?”
“Searching. ‘How to cover up a murder.’ Results: bury her body in Quebec and never acknowledge. Plant a noose in her home and fake her suicide. Create false medical records suggesting that she had a terminal disease,” Siri intoned, no doubt parroting a list of Google results.
Taking a series of rapid breaths, Anderson nodded. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe I’m saying this. I can’t believe my phone’s freaking personal assistant is—never mind. I’ve said that already. But fine. Fine. Start faking some medical records, Siri.”
Siri nodded, producing a laptop—a laptop?—from the folds of her neatly-pressed jacket without putting down the corpse. “Medical record forgery in process.”
Anderson pulled his phone out of his pocket, shaking his head at it (he wondered what else was lurking in there—he hoped another murderer wouldn’t leap out of his screen), and dialed his most reliable actor friend. Well—colleague. Anderson didn’t really have friends. Simon said having friends was unprofessional.
“Hello… Silverstein? Yes. It’s great to talk to you, too. Listen… I have a dilemma,” Anderson said. “Could you please impersonate Kajikawa’s physician?”
Anderson waited for Silverstein’s response. But instead of saying yes or no (Anderson’s two favorite answers), Silverstein asked a question. “What about Kajikawa’s real doctor?”
Anderson felt his eyebrows shoot to the top of his forehead. He hadn’t thought about that. Holding the phone away from his mouth, Anderson turned to Siri and repeated Silverstein’s question. He hoped she could provide him with an answer as brilliantly evasive as the ones Simon constructed.
Simon. Simon couldn’t find out about this. If he did, he would realize how utterly incompetent Anderson was—and then Simon would give Anderson a faulty script. Anderson wouldn’t be able to recognize its disastrous consequences until after the words had come out of his mouth. He wasn’t so good at figuring out when he was being set up to say something stupid.
“I will kill Kajikawa’s doctor, too,” said Siri.
Was that—was that a trace of eagerness in her voice? Anderson’s eyes widened. His personal assistant aspired to be a serial killer. Never mind about looking like a Democrat being the worst possible P. R.—that would be a blessing in comparison to what was happening now.
And Anderson didn’t think he would get too many blessings, now that he’d learned that heaven was not, in fact, supporting his campaign.
“Anderson?” Silverstein was still on the phone. Drat. Anderson had forgotten about him.
“I’ll pull some strings,” Anderson said finally. “I’ll register a doctor under a fake name—that’ll be you—and get her transferred to you.”
“I can carry out this set of instructions,” Siri interjected.
“Shut the heck up,” Anderson hissed at her.
“Okay,” said Silverstein, and hung up.
Siri began walking again. “Where the heck are you going?” shouted Anderson.
“I am going to deposit the body in a morgue,” said Siri.
“No! Don’t—don’t do that yet!” Anderson really wasn’t very good at controlling others, was he? Perhaps he wasn’t even a very good politician.
“Don’t worry, B. L. Anderson. I will ensure that the corpse resembles a victim of Neuromyelitis Optica,” Siri assured him. “That is a potentially fatal ocular condition whose symptoms only surface in infrequent episodes, so the public will not—”
“Look, Siri, that’s great, but I don’t really care as long as it doesn’t look like I got her killed,” Anderson said, rubbing a hand on his neck. “Just go to the morgue. But make sure that no one sees you or associates you with me. I’m going to call Silverstein again and work out the details of his performance.”
“Good-bye, B. L. Anderson. I will return.” And, clutching the corpse, Siri turned and took short, rapid steps until she had left the house.
Anderson slumped down again in his chair. That’s when the guilt began to throb under his skin. Obviously, it wasn’t his fault that Siri had murdered Kajikawa. He hadn’t told Siri to do anything. But that was really the problem, wasn’t it? He never told anyone to do anything. He just got told what to do. Anderson was having difficulty remembering why he was running for office anyway; maybe it was something about having a say in government. There was a problem he used to care about—long ago—he’d had an idea about job creation--
But that was months in the past, maybe even years. Anderson wasn’t really sure what his idea even was. And he didn’t much care about it any more.
It made him uncomfortable, really, that he wasn’t sure what he stood for—still, he didn’t pretend to dislike it when the voters compared him to Ronald Reagan or called him Republican Jesus. That was where the guilt was coming from, really: knowing that others practically worshipped him, a mortal who couldn’t even remember if “May the force be with you” was a quote from Star Wars or what G-d told Moses on Mount Sinai.
Simon wouldn’t want him to admit that, not even to himself. But Simon was rather irrelevant now. Anderson had bigger problems than Simon.
Still, when Anderson’s phone started to buzz with Simon’s personalized ringtone (America the Beautiful—Simon had chosen it, of course), Anderson felt compelled to pick up. Fighting to keep his voice from shaking—Simon could not know what had just happened—Anderson said, “Hello, Simon! Isn’t this a lovely—”
“Turn on your fucking television. Now,” Simon growled.
Obediently, Anderson tapped his remote. The first channel that came up was Fox News. On the screen, there was footage of--
“You’ve really fucking done it,” Simon continued, his voice still low and accusatory. “You can forget about the fucking Senate and put all that embezzled money toward your fucking legal fees.”
Anderson watched, transfixed with horror, as the camera zoomed in on the door of his Lousiana mansion. It opened slowly. And out strolled Siri, happily dragging Kajikawa’s corpse.
Well. Anderson supposed he could say the word now, since there was no way he could continue his campaign after this.