It was chilly, even for a November morning, in the center of Concord, New Hampshire. The library had just opened when the man strode out of its double doors. He wore his bowler hat over his face, obscuring his features, and his dark trench coat was completely unremarkable.
He turned a corner, and his destination came into view. Uncharacteristic for a Saturday, the stone building was alight, but outdoors the American flag seemed forlorn. Only a hundred feet left until he was safe. He glanced around furtively, wondering if the man who was after him had arrived yet. He knew his chaser would stop at nothing, and he also knew that if he knew the truth his chaser would be subdued.
The governor was rifling through some papers when the man entered.
He wasn’t tall or burly, but he cast an imposing shadow silhouetted in the doorway, and the governor felt compelled to look up when he appeared. Acknowledging the governor with a slight nod, the man removed his bowler hat and strode towards the governor’s desk.
“I’m so glad we could finally meet.”
The governor searched the man’s face for any familiarity as they shook hands. “I’m . . . not sure I know who you are.”
"For this interaction, I’d like to remain nameless.” He turned and pulled up a chair to the front of the governor’s desk. “Please sit down. I have something urgent to discuss with you.”
Not about to refuse a potential voter, the governor grunted and looked at his watch. “You have five minutes.”
“Very well. Now – suppose I asked you what you think the most important quality for a successful political candidate is. What would you say?”
"Honesty," he said, without hesitation. "Voters have to believe you."
"Yes, belief is certainly important. You can say you are going to end poverty, but that means nothing without belief. But honesty?"
The governor leaned back in his chair.
“Well, in this climate I suppose it's much more important to have the illusion of honesty, and that is all about belief. Honesty isn't a requirement anymore, I'm afraid." He looked wistful. "I would say it’s about being likable, speaking the language of your constituents. It’s hard to put into words. Sort of a vibe –”
The man had a very self-satisfied look on his face as the governor rambled. “I think the word you are looking for, governor, is charisma.”
“And how, do you think, does one develop charisma? You’ve been re-elected once already; you must have some experience with this.”
The governor smiled. “I don’t know about that second re-election, but we’ll see soon enough. I think it’s a matter of trying and failing, being put into hard situations, that kind of thing.”
The man leaned forward now. “Precisely. It’s a difficult and long process. But is it possible to artificially boost charisma? Sort of a charisma switch one could flip at any moment.”
“It might be possible, yes. But it sounds very fantastical. Like a bad science fiction novel.”
“I had a similar reaction myself. But my company has been investigating this for years, ever since the election of 2008, in fact, and we have finally hit upon a so-called ‘charisma drug.’”
“And you’d like to give it to me for a few million?” The governor’s voice was distasteful.
He chuckled. “You don’t believe me, of course. I can understand that. But how do you think I was able to get into this building? I had to make it past four guards, and I never made an appointment with you.”
The governor fell silent as the man revealed a vial of blue liquid from his suit pocket.
“S-some people are very good with words, as you clearly are,” he finally said. “I don’t find that to be convincing.” Despite this, he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk, as if searching for more vials elsewhere on the man’s body.
“I didn’t think you would.” The man stood up and looked around the room, finally reaching over and picking up a TV remote from the coffee table. He aimed it at the television mounted on the far wall and pressed a button. As it flickered to life, a news reporter could be heard.
“– Up sixteen percent in the polls as of last night. One poll from Monmouth University shows Wilcox up a full twenty-one percent. Opinions on the school funding bill, which Wilcox spoke out yesterday in support of, have improved drastically as well. This is historic for the 2nd Congressional district of New Hampshire, as their seat in Congress has been red for almost a decade now.”
The governor looked back at the man. “Is he –”
“He’s been on it for almost a week.”
“No, that isn’t – I mean, look at it – it’s, it’s blue, for God’s sake, it looks made-up . . .”
“Food coloring. You wouldn’t want to misplace this, would you?”
The governor sat down, flustered. “I can’t believe –” He finally gave up trying to understand this turn of events and slumped his shoulders. “How much?”
“Oh, I’ll give it to you for free. I’ve always wanted you to keep your position, and I’m considering it an experiment for now, until I’m sure of the effects. And –” he interjected, seeing that the governor was about to speak. “To prove that I’m not trying to poison you, I’ll drink from it first.” He uncorked the vial he had been holding and poured a little into a ceramic cup sitting on the governor's desk. In an almost comical display of entitlement, he raised the cup to his lips and drank.
“I, I . . . suppose it isn’t dangerous, then.” The governor reluctantly took the vial, looking thoroughly confused. “And will you be giving me more after this?”
“I’ll come back every other day.” The man smiled and ducked out of the office, leaving the governor to try to make sense of what he had just discovered.
On the way back to his car, the man was pulled roughly behind a bush.
“Where’s the drug?” came a demanding growl.
The man was calm as ever. “I just ran out of stock; I’m so sorry about that.”
“Where is it?” He pulled out a knife.
“You should really be searching Wilcox. I gave him extra vials, you know.” The man looked defiant but kept his eyes focused on the knife in front of his face.
“Don't you think I've tried that? He's finished all of his.”
“Search me if you want. I have nothing of value.”
A pause. “I have ways of getting the formula out of you.”
The man laughed. “Formula?”
“Of course. You’re a full-time employee; you’ve got to know the formula.”
“I’m sure I have no idea what formula you are talking about. Our drug has only one simple ingredient: belief."