"I have it all planned out," Emma said.
"You have what all planned out?" I asked, with a cold chill running down my back. This was either about the baby or the wedding, and I didn’t know which I was more afraid of.
"Going to Las Vegas for the debate," she said.
"Why would we go to Las Vegas for the debate?" I asked.
"You haven’t heard? We’re all going. The campaign needs young, fresh faces for the audience. Aunt Joan talked to the Vietnamese Ambassador, and he’s letting us use his private jet."
"You are not serious."
"I am. Apparently they didn’t like some of the side deals in the Pacific trade deal, and this is their way of thanking the former Senator for flip-flopping on it. The only problem is that they can’t actually serve pho on the plane; they’re worried about liability issues because of turbulence."
"I hate Las Vegas," I said. "It’s too hot and too dry and I have a dust allergy and I don’t like the sounds that the slot machines make."
"Poor you," Emma said. "We’re leaving Monday afternoon. And I have a surprise for you."
"What’s that?" I asked.
"We’re not going back on the private jet. I talked to Aunt Joan and she’s okay with us staying a couple of days in Vegas if we get all our post-debate memes out in plenty of time. Do you know what that means?"
"I need to pack extra sunscreen and allergy pills?" I said.
"It means we get to see Britney. She’s doing concerts there starting Wednesday night. Isn’t that exciting?"
I paused for a brief moment, because Emma was clearly excited about this, and because I didn’t want her to think I was an idiot. And then, somewhere deep in the dark recesses of my lizard brain, a lonely synapse fired.
"She’s the one who did the Hit Me Baby, One More Time song, right?" I asked.
"Yes, Justin. That Britney Spears. My musical icon since I first knew what music was. She sang that song. And we’re going to hear her in concert! Isn’t that great?"
"It’s great," I said.
"More convincingly, please," she said.
"It’s so awesome," I said. "I’m so pleased that we’re going."
"It’s okay," she said. "You have the whole weekend to work on the enthusiasm for this one."
*
I can’t say enough good things about the food on the Vietnamese Embassy’s private jet. Rice noodles. Fish sauce. Even if they didn’t serve any pho, it was delectable and I finally understood why JFK sent in the advisors. And the Thai Embassy, not to be outdone, hired a limo to take us straight from baggage claim to the Wynn. We had a brief staff meeting in the conference room, where Aunt Joan went over the strategy for the post-debate (specifically, insist that the former Secretary won the debate, no matter what anyone else said or thought) and then we went downstairs to hit the buffet. (Highly recommended for vegetarian appetites, especially the white truffle mashed potatoes.) Emma wanted to go out and see Cirque de Soleil, but I reminded her that tomorrow was a long day and we should try to get to bed early.
We went up to our room and I checked my e-mail while Emma looked at her laptop. I was looking at a set of pictures my mom had sent of a Sanders event that she’d gone to in someplace called Charter Oak, Iowa, but I was disappointed to find out that it didn’t have an actual Charter Oak.
"Did you send me a spreadsheet about Super-PAC fundraising in the Phillipines?" Emma asked me.
"I don’t know what you’re talking about," I said, looking at a photo of my mom carrying a "Ba$h the Billionaire$" sign in front of a Quik Stop in rural Iowa.
"And there’s another one here about Taiwan. I don’t understand why all of this stuff is here. Unless…"
"Unless what?" I asked.
"Oh my God," she said. "I let your Aunt Joan borrow my laptop to do her presentation, since hers didn’t have an HDMI jack. She must have taken mine, which means that I must have hers."
"You need to call her so you can give it back," I said. "She was going to be briefing the former Secretary on Pacific Rim issues later tonight; she may need it."
Emma picked up her phone. "I’m sorry to call so late," she said, "but I think I have your laptop. Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am. I’ll bring it right up."
"She’s not mad, is she?" I asked.
"I don’t think so," she said, "but you better come with, just in case. She said to hurry."
*
We took the elevator all the way to the top floor of the Wynn, and turned right. The Secret Service agent who was guarding the door gave us a quick once-over, and then waved us back to the door of the Presidential Suite. "Just wait there," he said. "She’ll come out in a second."
"Wow, do you think we’ll get to meet the former Secretary?" Emma asked. "I mean, you’ve already met her, of course, but I haven’t."
Before I could say anything, we heard muffled shouting from inside the room.
"You have got to be kidding me," the voice said. "This is outrageous."
"Oh, no," Emma said. She started to shrink inside herself, and clutched Aunt Joan’s laptop. "We’re not in trouble, are we?"
The voice started getting louder and shriller. "What do you mean, NCIS Los Angeles is already over! It’s just now ten o’clock!"
"Uh-oh," I said. "Maybe we should move away from the door."
"I am NOT an IDIOT," the voice said. "I know how time zones work. Just push the buttons on the computer box and make the show come up. And don’t tell me it’s not compatible with the hotel system, because they were able to get The Good Wife to come up for me in Iowa that time."
I could hear what I thought was Aunt Joan’s voice, appealing for calm, but the other voice wasn’t having any of it.
"I have a DEBATE TOMORROW," it screamed. "I need to relax, and watching NCIS Los Angeles is the only fun thing I get to do anymore! So GET IT ON THE TELEVISION."
I glanced over at Emma, who looked as though she was getting ready to laugh. I shook my head. "Don’t," I said, as softly as I could.
But she couldn’t. She let loose a tiny little giggle, and somehow it landed in a quiet moment.
"IS SOMEONE OUT THERE?" the voice bellowed. "There had better not be anyone out there listening, so help me God. I CANNOT STAND the Secret Service, bunch of militaristic goons."
Aunt Joan opened the door. "Give me that," she said to Emma, who meekly handed over her laptop. "I’m keeping yours; I’m going to try to get her show on there and sync it up with her TV. Neither of you say a word about this."
"Okay," Emma said.
"That was a word," Aunt Joan said. "Not one word. Got it?"
We both nodded, and Aunt Joan slammed the door shut, and I think I got a quick glimpse of the former Secretary throwing an ice bucket across the room but I’m not sure about that and it would be wrong of me to speculate. Emma and I hustled down the hall to the elevator, and had the decency to wait until it shut to collapse into laughter.
"Did you hear that?" she said. "I can’t believe she would throw a fit like that! Over a TV show?"
"She’s always been like that," I said. "If you can believe my Mom, anyway."
"How is she going to get through the debate?" Emma asked. "If she throws a fit like that on stage, it’ll be the end."
"She doesn’t," I said. "She never has. She waits until it’s time, and then… well. But she’ll be fine for the debate. Aunt Joan says that she’s got something up her sleeve."
*
So there I was, in the audience, the night that Bernie Sanders told the former Secretary that he was sick and tired of reading about her damn e-mails. Right after the former Secretary walked over and gave Sanders a hug, my phone vibrated for a new text. It was from Aunt Joan. Told you so, it read.
And then another one: Remember, not a word about last night.
I deleted both messages and went back to watching the debate. I could relax now. The primary campaign was over. All that was left was defeating the true enemy.
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