Redeeming Evil

Book 2 The Ruin & Restoration Series

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Sniper Crossing

May 26th - Houston, Texas

Carlos Whitman sat on the roof of the Brown Convention Center behind his sniper rifle as the Vice-Presidential caravan pulled on to Capitol St. The big moment was almost here, and he had one task; make sure the two idiots who took the bounty to kill the President and VP didn’t escape. As a member of the Secret Service, he was perfectly positioned for this task.

He’d already spotted Kevin, the tall one in the office building. His muzzle was sticking out of a small hole cut in the window. But where was Scott, the shorter one? He was supposed to be in the hotel. He knew Scott had checked into a room on the twelfth floor, but Carlos couldn’t see anything to indicate which room.

“Hoosier and Hummingbird are approaching,” an agent said over the coms.

That was code for Vice President Michaels and his wife leaving the motorcade and approaching the convention center.

He’d spent six weeks watching Kevin and Scott from a distance, getting to know their habits and quirks. He knew their whole plan, from start to finish. It was a pretty good plan, and they’d trained well enough to hit their targets. They’d taken precautions to avoid leaving evidence and managed to evade the security sweeps so far. They could pull this off and avoid being caught.

Most importantly, they were angry enough to actually pull the trigger. Something you couldn’t train for. Too bad Scott and Kevin weren’t smart enough to realize how deep the conspiracy really went.

The fire alarm went off, exactly as expected and Carlos finally spotted the muzzle of the rifle sticking out of a twelfth-story window of the hotel.

“We’ve got a fire alarm. Going to exit strategy Alpha. Mogul is on the move,” another agent said, indicting President Towers was exiting the building.

“Hoosier and Hummingbird are pulling back,” the first voice said.

A second after the cars of the two motorcades roared to life, two shots fired almost simultaneously. If he hadn’t been trained in listening to rifle fire, Carlos might have assumed the second shot was an echo.

“Mogul is down! Repeat, Mogul is down!” an agent shouted. 1

Carlos didn’t need the earpiece to hear him. He waited for word that Hoosier was down as well.

It never came.

Instead, a window of the office building shattered, revealing Kevin’s position.

“Shooter sighted at one o’clock high,” someone called out.

“I’ve got him,” Carlos said, checking one last time for the wind. It was a long-distance shot, but not difficult for a sniper as experienced as he was.

Carlos fired half a second after the first sniper and a full second before the next two. He watched through his scope as the first shot struck the assassin’s leg, throwing his upper body forward, leaning him out the window. Carlos’ bullet struck Kevin in the chest, throwing the body back inside.

The big guy was dead before he hit the floor of the office, with both legs hanging out. He lay there half a second before gravity took over and pulled him the rest of the way out.

Carlos didn’t watch the body fall. He refocused on the hotel. The shorter man’s muzzle was already gone.

“Hoosier and Hummingbird are away.”

Carlos swore under his breath as he listened to the crackle of agents shouting over their radios. He knew where Scott was, but couldn’t fire on the hotel. No one was talking about a second shooter yet. How could he possibly explain firing on a target no one else knew about?

He’d have to go to the backup plan.

He switched his radio to a different frequency and said, “This is Eagle’s Nest. Target one is down. Target two is loose.”

“Don’t worry, Eagle’s Nest,” Jared called out. “I’ll clean it up.”

An hour later, Jared called back. “Eagle’s Nest, this is Eagle’s Claw. Target two is not on the twelfth floor.”

“You mean he got away?” Carlos asked. His heart started pounding. As much as he wanted to join Jared in the search for Scott, Carlos hadn’t been cleared to leave the rooftop yet. The hundreds of law enforcement officials who had descended on the scene meant the snipers stayed on the roof.

“He couldn’t have. No one has left the hotel yet. But he’s not on the twelfth floor.”

“I saw the muzzle myself. Target two was definitely on the twelfth floor.”

“Understood, Eagle’s Nest. But he’s not there anymore. Did he complete his mission?”

“Negative.”

Jared let loose a string of profanities.

Carlos ignored the tirade as his mind raced. What should they do? The little bug was supposed to stay put so they could squash him. Now Carlos wasn’t even sure he’d get the reward for eliminating the big guy. “Find a place to watch when the hotel is emptied. Follow him and eliminate him when possible.”

“Will do,” Jared said. “Eagle’s Claw out.”

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Flight of the Hoosier

May 26th – Houston, Texas

Vice President Spencer Michaels and his wife Penny exited the caravan of SUV’s and approached the Brown Convention Center. President Towers was already inside, upstaging him once more. NASA was clearly the domain of the Vice President. It was Michaels who’d booked the Space Expo to promote all the advances space travel had already brought to the world. It was Michaels who had worked with NASA to promote all the advances a colony on Mars could bring. Not just to those brave enough to go there, but to those who stayed on Earth. Yet if you listened to Towers, it was all his idea.

A fire alarm blared from the convention center.

“Mr. Vice President, we have a situation,” one of the agents around him said. “We need to get you back to the motorcade.”

Spencer followed as he asked, “Can we circle the block a few times until they get it cleared up?” He’d seen these minor security issues quickly resolved in the past. He didn’t want to miss this speech over a faulty fire alarm.

*BANG*

A gunshot rang out. The echo made it sound like two guns had gone off almost simultaneously.

Spencer grabbed his wife and shoved her into the waiting SUV as the Secret Service agents tried to do the same to him. His heart was racing as they were speeding away from the convention center.

“What is going on?” Spencer asked, trying to control his breathing.

“Hoosier and Hummingbird are away,” Agent Janson said from the front passenger seat. He turned back to face Spencer. “Whatever is happening, our first priority is to make sure you are safe. I’ll let you know as soon as I have an update.”

Spencer sat back as the convoy sped along the streets of downtown Houston on their way back to Ellington Field. The lack of information didn’t do anything for his racing heart. He couldn’t help thinking about Dallas, another Texas town, which had claimed the blood of President Kennedy.

Penny squeezed his hand, trying to reassure him. It drove all thoughts of multiple shooters and conspiracies out of his mind. She was safe. He was safe. That’s what mattered most.

As they pulled onto the tarmac, Spencer was finally breathing normally, his heart returned to its typical pace.

Janson turned around to look at Michaels, his face pale. “I’ve just received confirmation. President Towers was shot.”

Spencer swallowed hard as his pulse climbed back up. Texas was not a safe place for Presidents. First JFK, now Towers. 2

“He’s dead, Mr. President.”

Penny and Spencer both gasped. Twin emotions rushed through Spencer’s mind at this news. He was horrified to hear that Towers had been assassinated. At the same time, he was nearly crushed under the weight of responsibility, realizing he was now the leader of the free world. He focused on the former and tried to ignore the latter. His actions right now didn’t need to be presidential. They were personal.

“I need to make a phone call,” Spencer said.

“To whom?”

“Michela Towers.”

“It would be better coming from me,” Penny said, gripping his hand again. Tears were already rolling down her face.

Spencer nodded. “Of course.” He focused on long deep breaths.

Agent Janson handed Penny the phone.

“Michela, are you sitting down?” Penny said. Her voice cracked, unable to contain the emotions she must be feeling. She paused for the reply and said, “Daniel is …” She swallowed hard before adding, “Dead.”

Everyone in the car heard the cry of anguish from the other end of the line. There was a long pause before Penny said, “No, I didn’t see it.” Tears poured out now, unrestrained. She ignored them as she spoke. Every sentence was punctuated by a pause. “Yes, we’re both safe. I just wanted you to hear it from a friend. I imagine it’s on every channel now. Yes, I’m sure we’re headed back to D.C. Okay, we’ll see you in a few hours.” She hung up and turned to Spencer. “We are headed back to D.C., right?”

“Yes,” Spencer replied as he wiped away a few tears of his own.

They all piled out of the car, and Spencer groaned inside as he looked up at the plane. He’d flown in on Air Force Two. He would be flying out on Air Force One.

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Maria’s Wrath

May 26th - Houston, Texas

Maria Croix searched room 1243 again while she waited for a forensics team to confirm her findings. The room was immaculately clean. As if housekeeping had come in just before the shooting. She’d have to check with the staff to see when someone last cleaned this room.

An hour went by, and still, no forensics team arrived. Maria was about to call it in again when the head of the Secret Service entered the room.

“Hello, Maria,” Director Janson said. “I heard you think you have evidence of a second shooter.”

Maria’s shock lasted only a few seconds before she recovered enough to say, “That’s right.” She took another breath before she could add, “There’s evidence that the glass has been removed here, and then replaced.”

Janson walked over to the window where Maria indicated and ran his fingers over the glass. “How long have you been in this room?” He stared at the window while he spoke.

“About an hour and a half.”

“And in all that time,” he said, cutting off the rest of her reply, “have you found anything besides a repaired window to suggest there might be a second shooter?”

“No. That’s why I need the forensics team. I’m sure this is the same pair who burned down Senator Balls’ home and attacked him on the street. I have evidence they were hired to assassinate the President today. They’ve always worked as a team. They must have been working together here too.” She got the distinct impression she was being blown off. Since when did they ignore a lead, any lead, no matter how thin?

“Let me clarify,” Janson said slowly. “Is there any evidence in this room of a second shooter beyond this poor repair job?”

“No,” Maria huffed. “But my analysis suggests this was done by the same two guys who …”

“Maria, this isn’t a day for analysis and suppositions. The President of the United States is dead. The man who killed him is dead. I don’t need you drumming up ghosts or conspiracy theories about a second shooter.”

“Then send up a forensics team so we can know for sure.”

Janson breathed deeply and let it out slowly before he said, “Have you been enjoying your time at the Joint Terrorism Task Force?”

Alarm bells went off in her head. Thanks to a brief interview with the CIA, she knew what was coming. The President was dead because she’d failed. Why would the Secret Service want her back?

“Yes,” Maria said slowly.

“Perhaps they reward theories and suppositions, but the Secret Service just failed in its main task for the first time since JFK. This isn’t a time to stick your neck out.” He paused and looked around the room. “If I call a forensics team into the hotel, with the press watching every move we make, they’re going to go wild with theories about why we would be investigating the hotel. Do you want to explain to them why we need to search this room for fingerprints?”

“Just tell them you found the shooter’s hotel room.”

Janson shook his head. “That’s not going to work. He’s dead. Why would we need to find his fingerprints in a hotel room when we have his body in the morgue and the gun he used to shoot the President? Everyone wants this to be a lone gunman. Any hint of evidence of another story will only fuel the flames of conspiracy theorists. Now, if you have any concrete evidence, I’ll get that forensics team up here. If not, I don’t want to hear another word of this.”

Maria’s mind raced, trying to come up with something, anything, that would convince Janson to get a forensic team to collect prints and search for DNA, given the Director’s stringent requirements. Since when did the Secret Service care what the media thought of them?

“Look, I know I’m right. Can’t you just do the search? Just in case?”

Janson shook his head. “I’m not going to open this any wider than I have to. And just in case you’re thinking of floating your email to the press, warning me about this a few days ago, I think you should know I discussed the matter with President Towers.”

“I don’t care about playing politics,” Maria said, her voice rising. “I don’t care about who I told what in the past. I care about making sure justice is done. I don’t understand why you aren’t interested in the same thing.”

Janson’s nostril’s flared as he crossed the room. He opened the door and stood in the doorway as he said, “You’re treading on thin ice, Maria! Enjoy your time at the JTTF, because you’re never returning to your duties at the White House!” He slammed the door behind him.

Maria took five minutes to compose herself. She carefully thought through every word Janson said. He’d refused to let her bring in a forensics team, but he hadn’t forbidden her from investigating on her own. She headed down to the lobby and asked for the hotel manager.

“What can I do for you?” a middle-aged woman asked as she came to the front desk.

Maria flashed her badge as she said, “I need everything you have on the man staying in room 1243. Also, I need to know everyone who entered that room in the last forty-eight hours.”

“Of course.”

She paused a moment before another thought occurred to her. “I also need the repair log for that room.”

“I’m working on it now.”

Ten minutes later she had a log of every time a keycard was used to open that door, as well as video surveillance of the hallway. She was disappointed to find they didn’t keep copies of the driver’s licenses used to check into the hotel. As she flipped through the material, she noticed the room was paid for using something called CoolBitX Technology. Based on the records, it must be some new kind of credit card.

On a hunch, she asked, “Are there any other rooms that were paid for in the last week using this CoolBitX thing?”

“Just a moment, let me check.” She typed and clicked for a minute before grabbing a paper off the printer and handing it to her. “It looks like there have been twelve rooms booked in the last week using this particular payment method. Three of them are still checked into the hotel.”

She smiled. “Thank you.” Her smile fell as she noted none of the names were the same. Another dead end.

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Scott in the Wind

May 26th - Houston, Texas

Scott Knox endured the three-hour wait after the Secret Service searched the hotel before they allowed people to depart. He spent the time debating over and over in his mind about whether to stash the rifle in the ceiling or try to sneak it out.

If he left it there, it might eventually be found, leading them to search for its owner. On the other hand, if they caught him with it on the way out, they would definitely arrest him.

He kept checking out his window as he paced in his room. The majority of the police presence remained around the office building where his best friend had fallen to his death. Kevin’s death was Scott’s fault. He’d shot out the window keeping Kevin concealed. After that, it was no problem for the snipers to find and kill Kevin. Scott only wanted to scare him off, stop him from making a big mistake. He’d fired one second too late.

He flipped through the news channels while he waited. Victor Barton was on CNN, interviewing some guy with a beard.

“That’s not what I’m saying, Professor,” Victor said.

“Then what are you saying?” the bearded man asked.

“According to your study, published six months ago,” Barton said, “Americans prefer to believe in a single-shooter theory, rather than accept a larger conspiracy could successfully assassinate the President and remain unknown to the general public.”

“That report is based on the JFK assassination,” the bearded man said. “It has no bearing on today’s events.”

Scott flipped over to The Blaze, which had recently risen in prominence as the top cable news channel. They filled the void created after Fox News was purchased by Disney, which started its meteoric fall. James Jones was featured on the screen sitting at the small table instead of the enormous desk he expected.

“What surprises me the most about this situation is the total lack of riots around the country,” Jones said.

“That’s not surprising at all,” Patty Parker shot back as the camera switched to her. She was one of the last to leave Fox News before it became another left-wing media source. “People on the right aren’t usually prone to violence.”

“So you’re saying people on the left are?” Jones shot back.

“Well, it fits their ideology,” Geoffrey Berk said. “They want a central power to rule over their lives, which means they believe their point of view should be enforced through the use of force.”

“Whoa there!” Jones shouted. “That’s quite a bold declaration.”

“To be clear,” Berk said, leaning towards Jones, “I’m not saying everyone on the left is willing to riot or pick up a gun to enforce their world view. I’m saying the left, in general, favors a larger, more controlling government, with fewer individual rights. When you take that to the extreme, as some people do, it leads people to believe others shouldn’t have the right to disagree with them.”

“You’re missing the point,” Jones said. “After the Superbowl, there are often riots in the cities of both teams, especially when those teams come from liberal cities. So where are the riots of celebration?”

“What do they have to celebrate?” Parker asked. “They didn’t get a Democrat in the White House. Instead, they’re about to get a hard-core Christian who believes more strongly in individual liberty than Towers.”

Scott changed the channel again, barely noticing he’d turned to Al Jazeera. Clifton Dozer sat at a traditional anchorman’s desk with a silhouette of a man holding a large assault rifle in the background.

“It doesn’t really matter who this assassin is, whether he turns out to be a Republican or a Democrat.” Dozer was worked into a near frenzy as he spat out the words. “The fact that this man had the desire to kill his leader shows the corruption of Western society. The fact that he was able to acquire the gun, and the training needed to use it, without being noticed by the authorities shows that the American government is corrupt and ready to fall. Mark my words, America won’t last more than …”

Scott turned the TV off and went back to pacing. That only lasted five minutes before he needed a distraction. He logged on to his virtual private network before visiting the site where the video streams had been automatically uploaded.

He’d used a VPN for nearly everything since he was fifteen. After his father questioned him about certain videos he’d watched, Scott needed to know his online life was actually private. Now that he was uploading incriminating videos and posting them on the dark web, digital privacy was so much more important. If anyone were monitoring his online activity, they’d see his location as New York City.

The feed from the scope of Kevin’s rifle clearly showed the headshot. He uploaded it to the dark website where they’d taken this crazy contract to kill the President and VP. This job had cost Kevin’s life. The least Scott could do was collect the $10 million bounty they were owed for assassinating President Towers. If he’d taken out Michaels at the same time, it would have meant an additional $20 million. It was blood money, he knew, but it was still money.

The file transfer took all of fifteen minutes, and the Litecoin was deposited in his cryptocurrency wallet in less than an hour. He was now a multimillionaire.

Somehow it left a sour taste in his mouth rather than the rejoicing he’d hoped for.

When the last of the police cars finally left the front of the hotel, Scott climbed up on the bed and pulled his rifle out of the ceiling where he’d hidden it. He disassembled it and hid the components in different places in his luggage.

The phone rang as he was hiding the bolt in an outside pocket of his carry-on. Startled by the noise, he dropped the bolt. The rest of his rifle pieces had already been distributed among his luggage.

When his heart started beating again, he picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“Mr. Steinberg?”

He almost said no. Then he remembered that was the fake name he’d used to book the room. “Yes.”

“The police have finished their search. Guests are free to leave now.”

“Thank you.” Scott hung up the phone and took a couple of breaths. He was halfway out the door before realizing he’d forgotten the bolt. Scott stuffed it in a pocket and headed for the elevator. As long as they didn’t search everyone leaving, he would be fine.

He was surprised to be the only one in the elevator and decided maybe they were all waiting in the lobby, where there would be a long line of people exiting.

No such line existed. No one was searching through luggage on the way out. There wasn’t even an officer stationed in the lobby. He was free!

He got in his rented truck and was on I-10 West within minutes. Just as he was starting to feel safe, he noticed a blue car which he remembered following him out of the hotel parking lot. It was four cars back and one lane over, but it was definitely there.

Scott exited to I-45 North. That route would take him an extra hour to get home, but what did time matter now?

The car followed.

He got on I-610 West.

So did the blue car.

He supposed several people might have taken this specific route out of downtown Houston, and maybe the car wasn’t actually following him. When the blue car followed him back onto I-10 West, he panicked and took the first exit.

The blue car was two cars back now, not even bothering to pretend he wasn’t following.

Scott turned off into the first business center he passed and began weaving around the buildings as fast as he could manage. He lost his tail for a moment, but the blue car reappeared around the next corner, in front of him.

Scott slammed on the gas, driving straight at the blue car.

The stranger swerved out of the way, almost hitting a light pole, giving Scott an excellent view of his pursuer.

Scott sped away, intentionally turning the wrong way onto a one-way frontage road. He took the first turn and found himself in a cemetery. He drove through the graveyard slowly, to avoid attracting attention, and came out the other side.

He felt safe for a few minutes until he spotted the blue car on the next major street. “They’ve got a GPS on my truck!”

He cut the corner tight, sending his front wheel up the bumper and onto the hood of the little blue car with a satisfying crunch before he sped off, without bothering to see whether he was still being followed.

If they had a tracker on him, it wouldn’t matter how far he went. Eventually, they’d find him again. He weaved his way into a subdivision, driving as fast as he could without attracting attention. The fastest way to get caught was to show everyone around you that you were trying to avoid being caught.

No helicopter appeared. At first, Scott was grateful. He wasn’t going to show up on the TV in some drawn-out car chase where the driver tried to evade the cops, ignoring the chopper overhead tracking their every movement. No helicopter meant no one else was coming, and no news coverage.

Feeling confident, he headed for the major roads, trying to find the freeway once more. He drove for several minutes as thoughts of the chase rattled around in his head. A helicopter would have meant the man chasing him had backup. Backup would imply local law enforcement and due process.

But if law enforcement knew who he was, they would have arrested him at the hotel. Someone let him get away from the hotel, knowing they could find him again when he was away from prying eyes where they could eliminate him quietly.

Did someone place a bounty on my head? Scott thought.

The idea disturbed him. The more he thought about it, the more upsetting the idea became. If they’d taken a bounty on him, they weren’t worried about due process. If they caught up to him, there wouldn’t be a chance to plead his case before a judge.

He got back off the main roads and into a random neighborhood. He passed several streets before he found what he was looking for. Today was trash day on this block, and all the cans were out. He parked the truck in a random empty driveway and quickly got out, dragging his luggage behind him. When the homeowner arrived, they’d surely call to have the vehicle towed, and the rental agency would get it back.

He couldn’t be sure whether the tracker was on his truck or on one of the many items he’d brought with him. That was okay. He didn’t need any of it. He had $10 million waiting for him if he could just get home.

Unsure how much information they had on him, he wasn’t about to make it easy for them to collect more evidence. He opened his large suitcase and began depositing two or three items in each can he passed. He just hoped he had enough time to disappear before they sent someone else to find him.

It took two blocks of walking, but he successfully spread his belongings out among the cans before the sanitation engineers arrived to collect them. He even smashed his laptop and put most of it in one can with the cracked hard drive in two others. He had nothing left but his wallet and the clothes on his back. And $10 million worth of Litecoin if he could make it back to his apartment.

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Seven’s First Salvo

May 26th – Atlanta, Georgia

Gary Sanders stormed into his office, slamming the door behind him. President Towers was dead, but Michaels had survived. From what he saw on the news, the second shooter had backed out at the last minute, and the backup plan failed too.

He logged into his secure email and found one message waiting.

Crow’s nest missed the window of opportunity. Punk 1 eliminated. Punk 2 is currently in the wind. Eagle’s claw is in pursuit.
- Eagle’s Nest

Gary pounded on his desk in frustration. “How could they screw this up!”

“Because you hired amateurs.”

Gary leaped out of his seat and turned around. Edwin Torres stood there with an evil grin on his face. He was Gary’s subordinate on the Shadow Council. 3 Edwin was also the man they would task with eliminating Gary if the council decided he’d failed too often.

“Are you here to kill me?” Gary asked, his voice shaking.

Edwin laughed. “Not today, old friend.”

“Do you bring a message from the council?”

Edwin shook his head. “I haven’t heard from them yet. Perhaps they are waiting to see if we can fix this before it gets worse. So how are we going to fix it?”

“We? This is my problem.”

“I know,” Edwin said, frowning, “but I want to make sure you’re not going to put the blame on me.”

“I would never think of pointing the finger at a member of the council. That’s suicide.”

“Only if you did it publicly.”

Gary considered that a moment. Everything he did was public, even if the public didn’t always know where it was coming from. He shook his head. “Do you really think One would accept any explanations I offered which somehow paint this as your fault? I’m the one who made the promise. If I was foolish enough to trust you with it, and you failed, it would still be my fault.”

“As long as we’re on the same page there. What are you going to do to fix it?”

“I’ve already got a plan B in place, but it will take careful timing.”

“Care to fill me in?” Edwin asked.

“I have a team in the Philippines with powerful social media bots. Whatever I tell them to say becomes headline news, guaranteed.”

“Media bots?” Edwin asked incredulously. “How is a smear campaign filled with fake news going to get Michaels out of the White House?”

Gary scowled at him. “It’s not a smear campaign. I need the blogosphere to point the finger at someone else as the mastermind behind the assassination.”

“Who?”

“Baldwin.”

“Are you sure you want to use Baldwin?” Edwin asked. “We’ve invested a lot of resources to get him where he is.”

Sanders shook his head. “I know that. Think of it as a queen sacrifice in chess. This won’t work unless we throw a big enough player to the wolves. It has to be someone with motive and enough proficiency in the dark arts to avoid being detected by us. Baldwin fits the bill on both counts. He knew the stakes when he asked to be dealt into the game.”

Edwin studied him for a long, tense moment. Gary wondered if he was thinking of killing him without authorization. It wasn’t unheard of in cases like this. Edwin’s proficiency level was almost a match for his own, which meant any direct attack would only result in a battle that couldn’t be won before building security came in. Yet the length of time it took Edwin to reply was just about long enough to mull all that over in his head.

“So you’re committing an evil act, hoping to redeem yourself with the council. I hope you’ve got more than blog traffic and social media posts to go after a target as big as Baldwin. Especially after he came to us for help.”

Gary let his most sinister smile fill his face. “That’s precisely why this will work. And yes, I have more than fake news and fake Facebook accounts to make this accusation stick.”

Edwin nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Which country is supposedly meddling this time?”

Gary laughed. “Those Russian bots that messed with the 2016 election 4 are three generations behind mine. No one will ever be able to tell the difference between my babies and a real grassroots conspiracy theory.”

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