Olivia arrived home just in time for dinner, which Terry had ordered from Bark Barbecue.
Half an hour later they were sitting in the dining room with a plate filled with ribs and baked potatoes and bowls of Caesar salad that Terry claimed was his only culinary capability.
“So we met with everybody today and figured out an action plan. You can look it over when you get a chance.” Terry said to Olivia.
“Are you happy with it?”
Both Terry and Shawna nodded.
“Well, then I guess we’re good to go. I will confirm it with the Senator and get you a time and place to meet.”
The Senator in question was Virgil Roman, who was chairman of the communications committee and far and away best target they could have picked. Olivia believed every bit as strongly as her grandson that a fire needed to be lit in Washington. So why not light it under the biggest tree?
Shawna got to repeat her life story another time for Olivia, who marvelled at Shawna’s determination. “You know it’s never been easy for a woman in this country. You have to fight tooth and nail for everything you get, and then you have to fight even harder to hold onto it.”
“I’ve always been pretty scrappy. So that doesn’t scare me. But I’d be lying if I told you I was a bit frightened of getting caught.”
“Well, if you are as talented as Terry says you are, I don’t think you need to worry about much. Besides, I don’t believe there’s a jury anywhere that would convict us of anything.”
“Well, let’s hope you’re right.”
What Shawna then found out was that Olivia had already been to Washington and taken her old friend Virgil out to dinner. She knew that Virgil was not going to run for the Senate again and really liked the idea of going out with a bang. And this project suited him to a T on both the political and personal levels.
“The other thing that should allay your fears is that Jackson has already done some research on possible outcomes.” Terry said. “He figures that as long as we stay anonymous, nobody will come after us. Because the real target would be the Senator and what happened to him”
Shawna was floored. “You people have that much power?”
Olivia just smiled. “To quote the great Garth Brooks, ‘I’ve got friends in low places.’”
After hearing that Shawna found the little nagging voice in her head go silent. And for the first time since this whole thing started she actually felt relaxed.
Three days later, Shawna and Terry drove to the Charles River Country Club, in West Boston, where Senator Roman had agreed to be videoed for the AI construct that they would produce. Before they entered the building, they both activated small digital cameras that hung on silver chains around their necks. This would allow them to video the entire setup process, which is something the Senator insisted on.
Senator Roman was a fit sixty-four years old. He reminded Terry of the golfer Jack Nicklaus, especially with his Lacoste shirt and dark slacks.
Senator Roman had reserved a private meeting room. He instructed his security people to stay outside while he did the interview. Terry and Shawna and their gear were both thoroughly searched and then allowed to enter the room. Introductions were made and hands were shook.
As per the plan, the Senator changed into a suit jacket, white shirt and tie. Shawna set up a small set of lights and had the Senator sit in a chair at the table. On the wall behind him, Terry hung a green screen.
“Thank you for doing this, Senator.” Terry said. “If this works out it will make your job of getting AI legislation passed that much easier.”
“I hear you son. You know I knew your folks. Met them at a fundraiser that Olivia threw for me back when I was goin’ for my third term.”
“Oh yeah. I miss them a lot, sir.”
“They were good people, so you should be proud of them. You should also know that when my term is over next year, I’ll be settlin’ down in Plymouth. Found a nice house right in your neighbourhood. So I might show up for dinner some nights.”
Terry just smiled because he knew that the Senator and Olivia were much more than just old friends.
Once Shawna had the camera locked in place. She dug into her bag and pulled out two sheets of paper.
“Senator, I’d like you to read each short paragraph. Then speak it back to me looking at the camera. There are about two dozen short paragraphs. We’ll do a couple of different takes of each section. Just take them a little different each time.”
Gotcha.” The senator was no stranger to speaking from a script. He knew exactly what to do and exactly how to do it. “And that’s all you want me to do?”
“Yes sir. The paragraphs give us all the various lip movements, and the sound recording will allow us to emulate your voice.”
“Goddamn, that’s pretty scary.”
“Yes, sir, it is.” Terry said. “That’s why we’re doing this. When we’re finished you won’t be able to tell it wasn’t you.”
“And you’re stickin’ to the script Jack and I worked out, right?”
“Yes sir. We’re just thrilled that you agreed to be part of this.”
“Well, something’s gotta happen. Maybe this will break the goddam log jam.”
“We hope so too, sir.”
They spent the better part of the next hour doing the lines, in both passive and aggressive voices. The Senator amazed them with his ability to look at the lines and play them back with ease and uncanny accuracy, and a good range of inflection.
Within an hour the Senator was shaking their hands and wishing them God’s speed.
As they were packing up their gear, Shawna said. “Your family must have a lot of power. Getting a Senator to participate in something like this is no small feat.”
“I think he did this partially because he liked Gram. But also, if we pull this off, it’s gonna be the biggest crown jewel in his legacy and he knows that too. Hell, we might even get a whole chapter in his book.”
As they packed up, Shawna, who had been a loner pretty much all her life, finally felt as if she was part of something. It was a strange new feeling. But it wasn’t even remotely unpleasant.
The next two weeks were a blur, as they worked to assemble the AI rendition of the Senator’s pronouncement. Shawna worked on digitizing and synching the Senator’s voice to the narrative that he himself had written. Terry drove to the Senator’s home in North Reading and photographed his study, which is where they would set the piece. Finally after thirteen days and almost as many nights they had what Shawna declared to be a fine cut.
They transferred it to an M-Peg file and sat down to watch the fruits of their labour.
The Senator’s AI generated image was sitting at his desk in his North Boston home.
“Good evening. As many of you already know
I will be retiring at the end of my current term
in office. But what you may not know is that I
will retire a multimillionaire. The insider
information that I have been privy to as a
result of the various committee positions
I have held over the years has enabled me
to make a number of highly lucrative stock trades.
These insider trades have allowed me
to amass a fortune of more than sixty-three
million. I am baring my soul because
I can no longer live with the guilt.
I would much rather face the legal
consequences than carry this secret
through my retirement. Thank you.”
When it was over Shawna and Terry looked at each other, and realized they were now swimming in the deep end of the pool. When they were finished, they drove up to Boston to show it to the Senator.
“My God, you kids are really something.” If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was the real thing.”
“Yes sir.”, Terry said. We’re quite happy with it. But, in truth, it was mostly Shawna’s effort that made it happen.”
“Well, this ought to really shake things up.”
“Yes sir. That’s the whole idea. And by the way, we are putting together the short piece on the making of this video. I’ll bring that to you once it’s finished.”
On the drive back down to Plymouth, they talked a lot about what they would do next. Terry’s thinking had changed somewhat. He was willing was to let this play out and see who gets interested in working with them. He was convinced that America was a true ‘Everybody loves a winner’ country and he felt that there would be more than enough opportunity coming their way once people found out what they had done.
But Shawna stuck to her guns. She was convinced that their identities needed to be kept totally secret. She was also convinced that with the state America was in today, nothing good could come of anyone knowing that they were participating in a hoax of this magnitude.
Terry thought about it for quite a while. He played through every negative scenario he could envision. And at the end of that little intellectual exercise, he came to realize that Shawna was absolutely right.
So over the next couple days, they finished the ‘How it was made’ video, disguising their voices and blurring their faces. They drove it on up to Boston and dropped it off with the Senator, who looked at it three or four times, then just smiled and thanked them for doing it.
“Just so you know, sir.” Terry said, “We have disguised our identities on the video for a reason. Shawna was concerned, and I agree, that while there wouldn’t be any legal issues, there might be any number of people who would be angered by our participation in it.”
“I can understand that, son. The worst it could possibly get in that regard is for you to have to testify before whatever committee is appointed to investigate this. I’m confident it won’t come to that. But these are crazy times and the people who control Congress right now are the craziest of them all.”
That evening, they met up with Shawna’s parents Gary and Denise, at a place called Monument in Charlestown. Shawna told Terry it was their favourite place to eat on the rare occasions when they ate out. A lot of the dinner conversation had to do with sports. Because Boston was one of America’s great sports meccas. Fortunately for Terry, his dad was a bit of a sports lover and took Terry to see the Red Sox and the Celtics quite often. Terry was not a fan. But like any resident of the Greater Boston area, he followed the ups and downs of all the major league teams and managed to fake a half-decent conversation with Gary. All Shawna’s mom wanted to be sure of was that her daughter was okay. Shawna assured her that she was taking good care of herself.
Later that night, as they were driving back to Plymouth, Shawna said. “I think they felt like I was auditioning you.”
“So were you?” Terry asked. It was the first time the notion of anything romantic between them was in the air.
“I don’t know. But if I was, I’m pretty sure you passed.”
They rolled along quietly for several miles. Even though the notion of a romance was cryptic at best they both started to realize that maybe there was something there.