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Barack Obama and Joe Biden as action heroes? Believe it.
The former President of the United States and his veep have been carefully transformed in Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery, a noir thriller by Andrew Shaffer (The Day of the Donald) which brings one of the internet’s many bromantic memes to the page. In this story, which mixes genuine suspense and noirish elements with buddy comedy, Obama and Biden re-team to unravel a mystery that leads them to the sinister core of the opioid epidemic.
If the plot sounds a little serious, that’s because it’s meant to: While readers are sure to get a kick out of the codenames and inside jokes used playfully throughout, Hope Never Dies is an intriguing saga that doesn’t sacrifice momentum for winks and nods. But of course, for Obama-Biden fans wishing for a reunion, this is a book that’ll deliver in spades. Essentially, it delivers exactly as its retro cover (above) promises.
Hope Never Dies will publish on July 10. Until then, EW can exclusively preview the book’s first two chapters, which you can read below. Pre-order here.
Excerpt from Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer
The night this all started, I was in a black Irish mood.
And that was before I learned my friend was dead.
I was sitting at my computer, and I’d stumbled across one of those so-called paparazzi videos. It opened with a wide shot of Cape Town’s fabled Table Mountain. The camera panned down to the white-capped waves in the harbor. An impossibly long speedboat entered the frame, cutting through the surf like a buttered bullet. A parasailor trailed behind the boat, high in the sky, tethered to the stern by a thin rope. The camera zoomed in on the daredevil’s face, and I saw that my old friend Barack Obama was having the time of his life.
Unencumbered by his dead-weight loser vice president, 44 was on the vacation to end all vacations. Windsurfing on Richard Branson’s private island. Kayaking with Justin Trudeau. BASE jumping in Hong Kong with Bradley Cooper. Barack wasn’t simply tempting the fates—he was daring them. And why not? If he could survive eight long years as the first black US president, he could survive anything.
Not that I was worried about him.
I was done getting all worked up over Barack Obama.
I forced myself to look away from the computer. I turned to face the dartboard on the back wall of my office. It was an old Christmas gift from my daughter. I’d kept it in storage for many years, but now I finally had some free time on my hands.
Maybe too much free time.
“One call,” I said to my faithful companion, Champ. “Is that too much to ask?”
The dog glanced up with indifference. He’d heard it all before.
“Just one phone call,” I said.
With a snap of the wrist, I sent the dart sailing across the room. It hit its mark, right between Bradley Cooper’s piercing blue eyes.
“Eight years.” I plucked the darts from the shredded magazine cover taped to the board. “And not even a gosh-darned postcard.”
Barack even had the gall to tell People magazine that we still went golfing together on occasion. To save face, I repeated the lie. The truth was, there hadn’t been any golf outings. No late-night texting. Not even a friendly poke on Facebook.
I watched the skies for smoke signals; I read the New York Times, dissecting headlines, looking for clues he might have left me. Nothing. Sometimes late at night, after Jill was sound asleep, I scrolled through the old text messages Barack and I had exchanged a lifetime ago. It was an exercise in futility. If I kept picking at the wound, it was never going to heal.
In the darkness outside my office window, I glimpsed a tiny flickering light.
I turned off my desk lamp to get a better look, and there it was again: a pinprick of orange light, like a firefly . . . or a cigarette.
A prowler? Maybe.
Only one way to find out.
“Let’s go, Champ.”
The dog’s ears perked up. I spun the dial on the small closet safe. There were two things inside: my Medal of Freedom . . . and my SIG Sauer pistol. The bean shooter was a gift I’d bought for myself, in spite of Jill’s objections. “Aren’t your shotguns enough?” she’d asked. “What on earth could you need a handgun for?”
For times like this, Jill.
I slipped the pistol into the waistband at the small of my back, then tucked my polo shirt over it.
I called to my wife, “I’m letting Champ out.” She didn’t answer back. I could hear the TV playing in our bedroom. Law and Order. I should have been watching with her. Instead I opened the back door.
As soon as I did, Champ raced across the lawn and tore off into the woods. The motion light over the back porch should have kicked on, but the bulb was burnt out.
It was an old one, I guess.
Old bulbs were meant to burn out.
The moon was full enough to light up the backyard. Our 7,000-square-foot lake house sat on four acres of property. Late at night, it was possible to imagine you were all alone in the world.
Tonight, however, I wasn’t alone.
Ahead in the woods was that pinprick of light.
And now I smelled tobacco, a familiar brand.
Don’t get your hopes up, I told myself. “Hope” is just a four-letter word.
I crossed the yard, walking to the spot where Champ had disappeared into the trees. At the edge of the clearing, I spied a vertically challenged man in a dark gray suit and matching tie. He had short, spiky hair, like he’d recently been discharged from the Marines and was letting it grow out. An earpiece wire disappeared into his collar. Secret Service.
My heart was beating faster than a dog licking a dish.
My own security detail had been dismissed several weeks earlier. Vice presidents were granted six months of protection following their time in office and not a day more unless there were extenuating circumstances.
“Nice night for a walk,” I said.
Secret Service nodded toward the woods, showing me the way. I ducked under a low-hanging branch and kept walking. The heavy foliage overhead diffused the moonlight. I had to tread carefully to avoid the underbrush. The smell of burning tobacco grew stronger. I called for Champ.
In response, I heard flint striking metal. A lighter, close by.
I swiveled around. There. To my left, by the big oak. Ten paces away. A man crouched low, scratching Champ behind the ears. German shepherds don’t take to strangers, but this man was no stranger.
He rose to his feet, a slim figure in his black hand-tailored suit. His white dress shirt was unbuttoned at the neck. He took a long drag off his cigarette and exhaled smoke with leisure.
Barack Obama was never in a hurry.
I offered a handshake. Barack turned it into a fist bump. It was a greeting I’d never been able to master, but I gave it my best shot.
Barack smirked. Just like old times.
“Thought you quit smoking,” I said.
He took another long drag off his cigarette. “I did.”
I wiped my brow. It had been an unusually hot and humid summer. In the past couple of years, I’d become more sensitive to temperature extremes. I was either too hot or too cold. Never comfortable.
“It’s been a while,” he said.
“Has it?” I asked, tracing a circle in the dirt with my foot.
“You keeping busy?”
“I’ve been laying tile in the master bath.”
Barack laughed. “If I’d known Jill was putting you to work, I’d have dropped by sooner. Michelle wants granite countertops, and I don’t even know where to start.”
“I’m sure Bradley Cooper could help.”
“You saw those pictures, huh?”
“Everybody saw them.”
“Well, you know me. Laying low was never my style.”
I grunted a response.
He put out his cigarette on a tree. “I’m sure Jill’s waiting, so I’ll get right to the point.” He returned the extinguished butt to his pack of Marlboros. Even when he was smoking, he was still a Boy Scout. “There’s been an incident I think you should know about.”
Of course. Now it all made sense. Barack wasn’t here to rekindle our friendship. He was here on business.
“An incident,” I repeated.
“Does the name Finn Donnelly ring any bells?”
Of course it did. Anybody who rode the Wilmington to DC line knew Finn Donnelly. “He’s an Amtrak conductor,” I said. “The finest one I know.”
“He was hit by a train this morning. I’m sorry, Joe.”
The news struck me in the chest like an open-field tackle. I tried to speak, but the words caught in my throat. Barack said something else, but I’d stopped hearing him.
There was a time I’d seen Finn every day. Back when I was commuting to and from the Senate. We’d traveled thousands of miles together. After I became vice president, riding Amtrak was too challenging—too many Secret Service agents and security protocols. I’d only seen Finn once since the election, in passing. I’d spent the last few weeks thinking I ought to reach out to him, maybe try to catch up, but now . . .
Barack put a hand on shoulder, steadying me. “I had a hunch you knew him. I wanted to tell you myself, before you heard from somewhere else.”
He told me everything the Wilmington PD had learned about the accident. Finn hadn’t reported for work in the morning, and by the time a replacement conductor was found, the 7:46 a.m. Acela was a half hour behind schedule. While rounding a corner on the way out of town, the engineer spotted somebody lying on the tracks. At the speed the train was going, there was no safe way to avoid a collision.
“Why didn’t he move?” I asked.
“Could be he suffered a heart attack, or some other medical emergency. The state medical examiner couldn’t tell, based on the condition of the body. They’re running some blood samples. It’s going to take time before we know more.”
It was unbelievable. Preposterous. I’d known Finn better than most of my fellow committee members on Capitol Hill. I knew his favorite singer was Michael Jackson—even after all the hoopla, Finn stuck by his man. I knew he was a Patriots fan—through all the hoopla with them as well. I also knew Finn had a wife, and a little girl, Grace. Finn had been a decade younger than me, and close to retirement age (or what used to pass for retirement age). His girl wasn’t so little now. She was probably just starting college.
And now her father was dead.
“The police found something,” Barack said, holding out a piece of paper.
It was a full-page black-and-white printout of an online map, with a familiar address punched into the search bar. The cold steel in my waistband sent a shiver up my spine. The house I shared with my wife was identified by a little dot in the center of the page.
“Where did they find this?”
“He had a desk on the train. Wilmington PD thought maybe the guy was stalking you. They reached out to Secret Service, who explained you were not their problem anymore.”
“Not their problem,” I said with a chortle.
“In about as many words.”
“So, what, they fob it off on the FBI?”
Barack nodded. “And the FBI said it sounded like a Secret Service problem. After another back-and-forth, someone who used to work in the presidential detail reached me through one of my current agents. They thought I might have your number, I guess. I said I’d let you know myself, to see what you wanted to do. If anything.”
That was the world we lived in now. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for anything anymore. Not even inside the highest levels of government.
Especially inside the highest levels of government.
“You could have called.”
Barack shrugged. “It was a nice night for a drive.”
“You also could have rung the doorbell.”
“I was thinking about it,” he said.
“Well, let us know you’re coming next time, and we’ll have a cold beer waiting.”
I refolded the map and tried to give it back.
“That’s a copy. Keep it.”
I glanced back at the master bedroom window, where the TV was flickering. The thought that Finn would ever stalk me was beyond ludicrous. Still . . . “Is there any indication Finn was part of . . . something larger?”
Barack shook his head. “Not ISIL, if that’s what you’re asking. The Service ran him through all the databases. Not a single red flag. No recent weapons purchases.”
“Are there any reporters on this thing?”
“The accident—yes. The rest of the story—no. The police are sitting on the case until they hear from Steve.”
“You passed him at the edge of the woods.”
“Secret Service,” I said. “Friendly guy.”
Barack shrugged. “He gets the job done.”
Champ trotted to my side. I scratched him behind the ears. “Who else knows about the map?”
“An engineer turned it in to the cops, so it’s passed through a couple of hands,” Barack said. “There’s a lieutenant working as the point person. Her detectives have started legwork on the case already. Plus two or three guys in the Service know. Too many people to make this thing disappear, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
That is what I had been thinking, and Barack could see it on my face.
“What about his family?” I asked.
“They’re planning the funeral. We’ve left them in the dark about everything.”
“Let’s keep it that way, at least for now,” I said. “I’m not asking for a cover-up. Just a little discretion. They don’t need this. Let them make their peace first.”
“If we hint that there’s a national security interest at stake here, we can stop it from spilling into the papers. At least until after the funeral. In the meantime . . . ”
“You should look into getting some private security. I just walked right up to your house. Your backyard motion light was out, too.” He tossed a lightbulb to me. “You really ought to replace this with a compact fluorescent or an LED. They cost more up front but pay for themselves after just a few years.”
“Thanks,” I said.
I turned back to my house, then paused. The old bulb was, of course, from the motion light on the back porch. Of that much I was sure.
However, the socket was more than twelve feet above the porch. You couldn’t reach it without a ladder. “Wait, how did you . . . ”
I glanced over my shoulder, but no one was there. Barack had disappeared back into the inky darkness, same as he’d come, leaving nothing behind but the stale smell of smoke.