(Part II of a fanfiction/political commentary project)
This was not how John Quail expected to end his workday. He was sitting in a fairly small plane on the way to Palm Beach, where the President of the United States and his staff had asked for a meeting. It had started three days earlier, when Quail and some of his fellow agents prepared a report on the Reaper to the White House. Everything they suspected about the killer, including his use of the Death Note, was in the report...except for one omission. Quail decided to leave out the fact that the cause of death was up to the writer, with the default outcome being a heart attack. Instead, he wrote that a heart attack was the only one the Death Note could kill someone. Those who remembered his recent briefing about the Reaper might contradict the report, but this particular presidential administration didn't seem to be interested in any sort of research.
Nobody yet knew that Quail himself was the Reaper, except for his wife Jennifer, who shared his conviction that the Death Note needed to be used to ensure the safety and future of their daughter as well as the rest of America's most vulnerable citizens. Leaving the full capacity of the notebook out of the report gave him an option of going after a target without the death being seen as an act of the Reaper. After what the media was calling the "Health Care Massacre," (which struck him as a decent name for the legislation itself), any heart attack suffered by a prominent figure would likely be attributed to the Reaper. That could yet be useful, but he was also exploring the possibility of trying to influence public policy without having to call upon his murderous alter ego.
Several hours before the had boarded the plane, he was informed by his superior that the President's staff had reviewed the report and asked for a meeting with the Bureau's foremost authority on the Reaper. When Quail volunteered to take a walk over to the White House, he was told he was actually supposed to meet the President at Mar-a-Lago, his estate and private club in Florida. The timing was interesting as the White House had been swarmed with scandal during the past few days, even by the standards of the current administration. The sudden firing of Bureau Director James Comey had made the atmosphere at work even more chaotic, quickly taking the public's attention away from the Reaper, who had yet to strike following the deaths in Congress. The media had lost some interest as well, other than the occasional speculative report on who might be the next to die. Quail hadn't decided yet, but took the coverage under advisement.
In the initial hysteria following the Health Care Massacre, one constant point of discussion was whether Trump would be the next victim. Quail wasn't as sold on the idea as many of the more outspoken liberal commentators. He found the man's public persona as off-putting as anyone else, but the question of succession was an issue. The loss of the President would promote the Vice-President, then the Speaker of the House, then the President of the Senate, followed by the various cabinet officials. None of these people struck him as ideal occupants of the Oval Office and he would probably have to wipe out about two dozen people before he got an acceptable outcome. Such a thing was possible, but Quail was growing less enthusiastic about using the Death Note's power.
He remained haunted by the night Dominic had showed up at his condo, having figured out the truth simply from the drawing he left at the bottom of his letter to the New York Times. Quail cursed himself for his foolishness. How could he have forgotten that he used to decorate his notes with that same insignia during training? He had sent Dominic to his death and hadn't slept well since. A decent man like his fellow agent was not the kind of target he had imagined when he decided to take the Death Note out of that drawer. It was easy to rationalize the decision as necessary for the greater good, but that did little to soothe his guilt. Not helping matters was the notepad found in Dominic's car by the police, on which he had drawn the insignia himself. When news of the suicide broke, several of his agents had asked Quail if he believed Dominic himself was the Reaper and had killed himself out of guilt. Despite how easy it would have been to pin the blame for the murders on a dead man, he declined to do so, instead speculating (correctly) that he had gotten too close to the truth and had been removed before he had a chance to share whatever he had learned about the case.
When the plane landed in Palm Beach, Quail found a group of men in suits waiting for him inside the airport. Most appeared to be Secret Service agents, but he recognized one as Trump's son-in-law.
"Nice to meet you, Agent Quail. I'm Jared."
"First time seeing it, huh?"
Quail nodded and his host continued. "Most of the senior staff is here. Everyone was very interested to hear what you had to say. We'll be meeting in the main dining hall."
The dining hall was surrounded by gold pillars as chandeliers glimmered overhead. Quail had been to the White House before but it looked quaint compared to this. Was he on his way to meet a President or an Emperor? Finally he was led to a table full of people he had seen on the news countless times. President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, the president's daughter Ivanka, and the White House adviser Reince Priebus.
"What do you think of Mar-a-Lago?" Trump asked as Quail and Jared took their seats. "Isn't it the most beautiful place you've ever seen? Everyone's saying it's terrific."
"It's overwhelming, sir."
"I guess it would be if I were in your shoes. I'm used to it by now, I'm very rich. Anyway, we read your report on the Reaper. Very fascinating stuff. Very fascinating. Do you know where I could get one of these death notebooks? Could I get one? Seems like a useful thing for a President to have, don't you think? Some people in the media would suddenly be off the air. I'm just kidding, of course. But maybe I'm not."
Quail was momentarily disoriented by the flurry of disjointed words he had just heard. He felt someone's hand gently resting on his arm.
"Agent Quail, do you believe we are in danger?" Ivanka asked.
"Well, I need to be honest with you, Mrs. Trump."
"Anyone in the public eye is potentially in danger. If our theory is accurate, all the Reaper needs is a name. He's been quiet since the Health Care Massacre but the description of his motives he gave in the letter to the Times suggests that he may act again at some point."
"If his goal was to kill our health care bill, it worked." Priebus said. "The Senate is terrified of this guy. They won't even discuss the issue in public, let alone vote on the bill. I guess we're stuck with Obamacare for a while. My question, do you have any leads on who it is?"
"I bet it's Obama," Trump interrupted. "It makes sense. Everyone's saying that. He spies on me, you know. He watches me through the microwave. He thinks I don't know he's doing it, but I do."
"Well, I don't personally believe it's a politician," Quail replied. "I suspect it's an ordinary citizen who is fed up."
An unfamiliar voice rang out. "Some globalist Jew cuck, I bet." Quail turned to see a pale, disheveled man at the next table, slumped forward and holding an open bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand.
"Don't mind him," Jared said.
"So all we know about this person is that they are a Democrat?" Pence asked.
"I'm not quite ready to make assumptions about party registration," Quail answered. "It could be a Democrat, or it could just be someone concerned about the survival of those who are vulnerable."
Pence arched his eyebrow and clearly did not miss the jab embedded in that comment. It seemed to go right over Trump's head as he spoke again. "Why would someone like that go after the Health Care bill? It's a great plan. It covers everyone. Everyone says it's terrific."
Trump noticed the awkward silence at the table. "It does cover everyone, doesn't it?"
"Everyone who needs to be covered is covered, sir," Pence said, as if he were talking to a toddler.
"So is this how we're going to run the country now?" Priebus asked. "Our whole legislative process at the mercy of some serial killer with a magic notebook? It's ridiculous. There's got to be something we can do."
"I do have a suggestion," Quail said. This was the key moment he had been waiting for. "It might help to start something new, something that would help people. People who aren't rich, I mean. Something that the Reaper would be hesitant to disrupt by killing anyone else.'
"Any ideas?" Jared asked.
"There are a few ways you could go with this, but my first thought was the contaminated water in Flint."
"I've...um, seen the map, Mr. President."
"Okay," Trump said. "Just let me know if you want one."
Pence spoke up again. "There is work going on to fix the issues in Flint, Agent Quail. Congress allocated some resources to the issue shortly before the massacre."
"The people there have still been without drinkable water for three years now," Quail said. "Anyway, it's just my idea. You all will decide, of course."
"Hey, do you want to be FBI Director?" Trump suddenly asked. "We need a new FBI Director. You seem pretty smart and you haven't said anything about Russia."
"That's nice of you to offer, sir, but I would...uh, prefer to focus on this investigation. That might be hard with so much extra responsibility."
The waiter came to take everyone's order and Quail learned it was Seafood Night at the club. After being assured by the President multiple times that it was the best seafood in the world, he ordered a lobster which couldn't meet such high expectations. It wasn't bad, but he had been to Maine and there was no comparison. He didn't dare say so, but then again he wouldn't have been able to get a word in either way. Trump dominated the conversation with recaps of his Election Night victory as the others at the table showed remarkable patience. After the meal, Quail bid farewell to the group and was led to the suite where he would be spending the night.
If he lingered a little longer, he might have noticed Pence leaning over towards Priebus and commenting, "That man knows more about this than he's letting on."
One week later, Quail gently lowered himself into his bed back at the condo. The baby was finally asleep and it wouldn't take much for him to pass out, but first he wanted to check a few news websites on his phone. Jennifer was next to him reading a paperback with a couple embracing on the cover.
"Any luck?" she asked without looking over.
"No," Quail said. "I guess my suggestion about Flint went in one ear and out the other."
"Should we break out the Death Note? You could write another letter demanding that they do something or else the whole administration dies."
"That's risky," he replied. "If the Reaper started pushing for cleaning up Flint so soon after I suggested it at Mar-a-Lago, they might put two and two together. Well, not Trump but one of the others. Still, there might be another way."
"What's the plan?" she said with a wicked grin. She had a special hatred for Trump and the rest of the Republicans and was clearly enjoying this whole thing much more than her husband.
"Well, the public believes that the Reaper can only kill by inducing heart attack. That gives me some control over the narrative."
He reached over to his nightstand and grabbed the Death Note. As Jennifer leaned over to see, he wrote the name of Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, who had been remarkably callous about the whole incident. For the cause of death, Quail wrote "contaminated tap water."
"There's some poetic justice," Jennifer said.
Quail nodded. "Not only that, doing it this way means the story isn't about the Reaper. It keeps the focus where it belongs...on the water."
Jennifer was the first to wake up the next day as the baby began crying out for milk. He woke up shortly after and reached for the remote control. The morning news programs did not disappoint. The crawling text at the bottom of the screen read "Breaking News: Governor Rick Snyder dies from poisoned water."
"If you're just joining us, Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan was found dead late last night. Early coroner's reports identify highly contaminated tap water as the cause of death. This issue was previously thought to be confined only to the city of Flint but is now apparently affecting Lansing as well. Moments ago, President Donald Trump announced that his administration would immediately begin working with Michigan officials to contain the contamination before it spreads farther."
"Now that's more like it," Quail said quietly. All it had taken was the death of a rich white guy to get things moving.
He would keep that in mind.