“Laura Kinnesberg?” The brunette doesn’t even break her stride, her heels striking harder against the sidewalk as she answers.
“Yes, it’s me. No, you can’t have a selfie, and I certainly am not stopping to add up how many fingers you have on each hand.”
“Why not?” I’m coy, not showing how cocky I’m feeling. But then, why shouldn’t I be cocky? Everything is coming together nicely. I’m now Darnell Till, an official Springfield resident for many years. Plenty of people would say they know me. There are even photographs on the internet, including a few that show me in a poor light. Small mistakes that make me look less than perfect. Human, if you will.
This woman trying to skedaddle away from me before I’ve had a chance to speak with her knows about mistakes. I catch up quickly, Kinnesberg’s tight pantsuit making it difficult for her to move at speed across the uneven pavement that runs along the town’s commercial district. “Didn’t you hear me?”
She bristles. “Look, just because someone’s life is all over the internet, doesn’t mean you know them. Okay?” Kinnesberg tries to slip away from me, dodging around a couple of suited figures walking in the opposite direction.
“What’s the hurry?” I call after her. She stops, her shoulders rising and falling with intent. Her posture is almost perfect. It speaks of the good stock and her upbringing. Slowly, she turns and glares at me.
“Not that it has anything to do with you, but I have a job interview.”
“Why go to that when I want to offer you a role with me?”
“Yes, yes, yes. Haha.” Her perfectly preened eyebrows dip low before she chortles a little too loudly at me. “What’s the job? Butt inspector? Or do you need someone to help your kid with their abacus? Be original now. I’ve heard them all.”
I respond with my own look of derision, a small amount of confidence ebbing through my features. I know she’s right for me. I just need her to realise that too.
“What would you say if I told you I needed you to help me win a vote?”
“Do you seriously think I’m interested in politics?” She smarts, the scars of her recent failure obvious.
“Do you give up that easily? Maybe I’ve made a mistake.” Nothing like it. I just need to bait the hook correctly.
“Easy! Easy? Don’t you know your history? Don’t you know who I am?” I nod, half a smile pulling at my lips. Kinnesberg is famous the nation over and beyond. Some say that her failure to become a senator is not just a shame on her, but her whole family, perhaps even the nation. It is an embarrassment for so many. She comes from such privilege and a long line of successful politicians, but she had not just failed a few times in her ambitions, she had failed catastrophically. It was an embarrassment to so many, and that is why she is perfect for me. Laura Kinnesberg has something to prove.
“Aren’t you someone who knows a lot about campaigning and winning votes?”
“I also know a lot about losing support.” Her shoulders drop, and I get a glimpse of the person behind the perfect makeup. It’s not half as attractive.
“Aren’t you being a bit hard on yourself? Weren’t you ahead before that unfortunate incident?” I can see a tear forming at the edge of her left eye. It’s painful for her to talk about this, but I’m not surprised.
For the first time in her numerous attempts, Kinnesburg had been ahead in the polls. Not just that, she had been way out in front. Then one media event had cost her everything she had worked so hard for. She had been at a school, emphasising how little her opponent cared about supporting education. Her words passionately underscored how dedicated she was to the little ones and their future. Then a journalist had stepped forward with a simple maths problem for Kinnesberg. She had frozen, knocked off her stride by the curveball. She hadn’t been expecting anything like it. Her head full of words, she had been slow to switch gears, to engage the numeracy side of her brain. The pause had cost her. Students started to snigger, and more eyes had turned on her. In a panic, Kinnesberg had grabbed at an answer. It was the best she could do in the circumstances, but it had been wrong. The once upon a time finance worker had fluffed a straightforward sum in front of everyone, including the media. Quickly, she was mocked from one side of the country to the others, and the video was watched repeatedly. It was shown on the news and talk shows. The comedy circuits had used it mercilessly. Kinnesberg was berated online, while her gaff became a meme and was repurposed into several gifs.
She might have been able to weather the storm if not for her own public relations team. Just as the sting was coming out of the media storm, one of her comms people was pushing points for her when the same journalist struck again. It was considered an even simpler calculation, and, once again, the answer was wrong. The circus restarted, despite the man pointing out it wasn’t his job to crunch numbers. Once more, the nation’s focus bore down on the would-be-senator.
Of course, once lightning had struck more than once, people started sniffing around. Kinnesberg’s election accounts were examined and scrutinised. Suddenly, innocent lunches and drink meetings were construed as something more. Doubt was cast over everything the woman had done. She lost the trust of everyone involved in her campaign, and the polls swung against her. They say a week is a long time in politics, but Kinnesberg didn’t even last that.
“Losing is losing, however, close you might have come.” I sense a fatherly tone in those words, the disappointment coming through clearly as she bats her eyes. I imagine many of her relatives had had similar thoughts on the matter. I get it. Drama with the family can be some of the hardest to cope with.
“So it’s all behind you now?”
“I am done with politics.”
“And you are okay with that?”
She stiffens, the conflict clear on her face. “It’s for the best.” She recites the words, but it’s clear to me they are not her own.
“You’ll throw all the experience you’ve gained in the bin?”
“It’s where it belongs. I’m going back to what I know, what I was good at. It’s not serving your country, making a difference, but it’s a living. I can pay my bills, and make my family proud.” The words just about are on her lips, but she doesn’t speak them.
“But it’s not what you want to do?” She doesn’t answer, just turns away from me and moves off again. I follow, calling, “Have you considered a different approach?”
“Just leave me alone. I told you I have an interview.”
“Why not have one with me?”
“I think I’ve told you enough already.”
“Aren’t interviews a two-way process?” She slows and looks at me. She really stares, and I think she’s seeing me for the first time. “Will you hear me out?”
“I really don’t think you want me fronting any sort of campaign.” She scowls, a little crease forming over the bridge of her nose.
“Who said front?” Her eyelashes go to maximum speed as she tries to process what I’m saying. I strike. “Did I mention I’m running for mayor?”
“For which party?” I shake my head slowly, and her eyes go wide. “You’re an independent? Are you crazy?” I can see her mind whirling, panic filling it on my behalf. “Do you know how much work it will take to outmuscle the Democrats and Republicans? Where are you in the ratings?” She pulls her phone out of her little handbag and taps at it, her movements hidden underneath the long nails she’s had added. “You’re not on here.”
“Why do you think I need some help?”
“You’re not even registered! The election is in fifteen weeks. If you’re not on the poll, then what else haven’t you organised? Have you got staff, flyers, volunteers to share your message?” I shake my head slowly. “Oh, my god.” She stares at me, incredulity on her face. “How…I mean…what…”
“Are you up for a challenge?” Her eyelashes flutter again.
“A challenge? You’ve got so little time and sooooo much to do. To even get you a decent level of votes would take a monumental amount of work. It would be a miracle if you actually won.”
“And what would that say to others if you could achieve it?”
She starts. She hadn’t thought of it that way. I represent redemption. If she could take an independent from unknown to a winner in less than four months, imagine what she might do with another crack at her own career. “Do we have a deal?” I stick out my hand, and she regards it suspiciously.
“What exactly is it you want from me?”
“What do you think I want my campaign manager to do?” I’d like to be honest with her, but that’s not how I work. I need her to figure it out herself. I need her fully on board with what’s to come. It will make my life so much easier further down the line if she commits wholeheartedly to this. If she truly believes that I’m offering her a second chance. Which, okay, I sort of am. Maybe this opportunity for her is just all part of the scam. It could be, though, that I am thinking of others. I was trying to make a difference in someone’s life by incorporating a little bit of my dead ex into how I work. Or, maybe, it’s just handy having someone with her record of failure on my team, just in case.
“Well,” she’s suddenly focused, determined. “Someone organising a campaign at this stage of the game, and with so little done, would need to move quickly. They’d have to get you on the register, organise canvassing, ensure you have clear policies that resonate with the majority of the voting population, and organise photo ops. There is a hell of a lot to do. How confident are you?”
She grins. “You know, you answer pretty much every question with another one. It’s very political of you.”
“Didn’t I tell you I want to become mayor?”
Her smile spreads. “Spoken like a true politician. You know, I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do when I don’t go to this interview.”
“Why not tell your family you’ve got a better offer?”
Kinnesberg breathes a sigh and relaxes.
“I am going to get in so much trouble working for you. You better pay well.”
That is my next problem.