“Darnell Till, thank you once again for joining us.” I grin and nod as the studio lights dim. A subtle tune plays in the background, and Jade Jones shuffles her papers before whispering, “Seriously, that was great. I know I have to be impartial, but I really am rooting for you.”
“What can I say to that?” I beam, delighted to have had this air time. Once again, Kinnesberg has outdone herself. A personal interview on the town’s biggest news show, with them going easy on me, is quite a turnaround in fortunes. I had been concerned that Lily’s father’s outburst at the debate would sink my campaign. Being accused of murder is not exactly the way to win votes in a mayoral race. Yet, somehow, my Campaign Manager turned it around. The footage of Brian’s unprovoked attack on me at the police station went viral after being leaked. I wonder who might have been behind that and then smile to myself, enjoying the fact it wasn’t me for a change.
No one suspects me. I’ve been working my arse off campaigning, speaking to voters, discussing issues, making pledges, and even kissing babies. Slowly, it’s working. I’ve pulled past Howard, his campaign, and the support of his party, rocked by his infidelity. Of course, I can’t present a perfect family picture to the world, but Kinnesberg has been encouraging me to play up to that, make the point I’ve no ties, nothing that would distract me from the top job. Not only does it put the boot in against Howard, but it contrasts me against Beagly. Kinnesberg has certainly been spinning plenty of plates lately. My whole image seems to have taken a step up. People love me, and it’s all thanks to her. She is a hell of a find. I would not have been able to come this far and recovered from the issues of my past without her.
“Promise me something?” Jones moves in as the studio lights come up, and someone yells clear.
“Anything.” I beam, knowing I’ll give her nothing. She’s simply a pawn in my efforts. I might be a different god than I was, but I still recognise those who are around to help move my cause forward. I certainly won’t be doing anything to satisfy that hungry look in her eyes.
“If–when–you win this contest, give me the exclusive. I’d love to get the inside scoop.” Her tongue flicks out and moistens her dark lips. It would be vaguely tempting if I hadn’t sworn off women.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I lie. Anything like that will all be decided by Kinnesberg. I assume she’s staying with me after I win. I’m sure she’d make a grand Chief of Staff. She will certainly have earned it. She’s out now, cajoling the help. Making everyone canvass harder, talk with more passion, and do more to get me elected. There’s plenty going on, and it’s all because of her.
She really is wonderful, and things have never been so good between us. It’s almost like the unpleasantness of being accused of killing someone dealt with that awkward moment between Kinnesberg and me a few weeks ago. We’re closer than I ever expected, and it feels good. Right. Like we were always destined to be like this.
I rise and start to slip the microphone off my suit. Immediately there’s a TV lackey at my side, doing it for me. I don’t resist. It’s their job to worry about this stuff, not mine. I just have to focus on myself because it’s working. I’m gaining on the boozy Beagly. I’m not there yet, but sessions with Jones will really help my cause. How short a week in politics can be.
Right now, everything is going my way. I smile to myself as I tell Jones we have to do this again sometime and head towards the exit. I push out into the daylight and wonder where my babysitter is. By which, I mean the intern Kinnesberg appointed to make sure I get to my next appointment on time. I’m not irresponsible, it’s not like I’m going to take the afternoon off, but she says she feels better having someone do the running around for me while she’s otherwise engaged. I look left and right, but I can’t spot my curly-haired companion. In fact, I find myself in a deserted alleyway behind the studio and realise there’s not even a car here. Have I come out the wrong side of the building? Or has there been a change of plan, and I wasn’t informed?
I am wondering how easy it would be to get rid of an intern without damaging a squeaky-clean reputation, when a shadow looms. I turn and find myself face to face with Calvin, the well-dressed but still casual-looking mobster who helped me bring in finances from his dodgy friends.
“I need to speak with you.”
“It’s good to see you, friend,” I bluff, scanning this way and that.
“The others have sent me.” That gets my attention. I look at him, and suddenly realise that my car isn’t coming.
“What is it?”
“They…” he shifts a foot, stares at it. “They want me to remind you of their investment.”
“Right?” I nod slowly.
“And what you promised them. Support, looking the other way.”
“Weren’t they just backing their favourite candidate?” I glance around, wishing there was someone around. Any witness that might deter him from taking this further.
“You know why they gave you money.” He leans in, eyebrows hitching high. “And you should realise what they’ll do if you don’t deliver.”
“What does it look like I’m doing, Calvin? Sitting on my backside?” He holds his hands up, more like an apology than a defence.
“Look, some of the guys are saying you’re making different plans. That what you talk about it’s not right for them.” He scratches at his head. “You see, this ain’t my idea, okay?” By which he means there’s no need for me to share his dirty secret with anyone. He’s getting it from both sides. “Just remember who helped get you this far.”
He pats me on the shoulder, and I sigh. I don’t mean to, but it slips out. I really have got into bed with some annoying characters. He stiffens as I snap, “Don’t you think I’m working really hard to deliver on their investment? Tell them they’ll get a return on their investment. I promised, didn’t I?” My jaw sets tight as I scowl at him. I was expecting this moment, even though I’m not happy it’s come. I’ve been able to plan for it, anticipate them and their demands. And I know how I’m going to deal with them.
Truth be told, I suppose I should have known better than to deal with these guys, but I needed help. It was vital to bring those guys on board so I could get Kinnesberg, and now that I’ve got her, I need to keep her. I’m not sure how she feels, but after everything that’s happened, I need her by my side. Maybe I need to find a way to tell her that. In my usual roundabout way. “Are you still here?” I fire at Calvin.
He glares at me, his eyebrows knitted tightly together. Maybe I’ve made an enemy today. It doesn’t matter. I can handle it. Right now, I need to find my assistant and get on with the business of winning this race. Because I will, I can feel it. Once again, I can anticipate what comes next, the twists and turns. It’s the most powerful I’ve felt in a long time, and it’s so good. I can see myself winning, getting these jokers off my back in an honest way—well, as good as I get—then doing good for this city. Nothing can stop me now.
I turn towards the street, and my eyes meet someone else’s. I stare at a figure I wasn’t expecting to see, and she shifts, too. It’s uncomfortable, but I can deal with this too. If she knows or even suspects, I can turn this to my advantage.
I’m starting to feel like I’m unstoppable again.