This is very uncomfortable for me. I don’t really want to have this meeting, but it looks worse if I don’t. I’ve been finding this so hard to prepare for. There’s so much that could be said. A lot of lies to cover the horrible truth.
With little preamble and an underwhelming sense of occasion, the door is pushed open. I am ushered into the interview room. There, sat meekly behind the small table, is Brian, Lily’s father. He looks as bad as I feel at this moment. Old, tired, his skin is so sickly grey it almost blends into his thin hair. He’s gaunt as well. Not like the last time I saw him. A fun meal at a quaint restaurant with his wife, Rose, and my beautiful girlfriend when she was alive and with me. That was a long time ago, another life for me, and by the looks of it, for him, too.
I didn’t want this. Yet my Campaign Manager insisted that it was smart for me to sit down with the man who accused me publicly of murdering his daughter and revealed my dark truth to the world. I can’t help but glance up, noting that the camera in the ceiling is recording. That’s good. There will be a record of this. Kinnesberg is all ready to grind some PR out of this get-together.
Bile rises into my mouth, and I swallow it, trying not to choke. I suppose no bad deed goes unpunished, and this is my moment, my comeuppance. I have to look the father of my dead lover squarely in the eye and convince him I am not who he thinks I am, that I didn’t do what I actually did. I need to convince him to leave me alone and allow me to get on with my own atonement for my wrongdoing. I don’t need jail. It’s not part of my plan of how I feel I should make up for the crime I committed.
“Brian, isn’t it?” I start, sliding myself into the cheap plastic seat opposite him.
“Don’t do that!” he snaps as he fixes me with a stare that, if looks could kill, would put me six feet under. “You know who I am. You know what you did to my daughter.”
I stick to my script, my tone level and mayoral. “I’m sorry for your loss.” It’s so much more than that. I am devastated by what happened to Lily. I can never forgive myself. I’m trying to learn to live with it, but it’s not easy. For all these months, I have been able to push it down inside me and ignore the gut-wrenching horror of it all. I hate thinking about it. I don’t want to. I’ve tried so hard to move on, to put it behind me. It’s not easy, especially when I am facing down the family affected by your mistake.
“I’m sorry you’re not in prison, you piece of scum.”
“Sir, please, I think you have me confused with someone else.” Not quite as big a lie as it seems. I am different now and no longer plagued by voices. It’s only me who questions what I do, not the rest of my mind, or whatever they were. I might be on a mission to win a campaign, but I’m not quite the ambitious immortal I was. I don’t think I’m a win at all costs type anymore. I’ve got better at working with others. I’ve let go a little bit. Kinnesberg has helped with that, and I’ve found I can rely on her. She supports me, and I don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility. That’s a weight off me. I have a partner in crime. Okay, poor choice of words, especially given where I am right now.
Brian’s unblinking as he addresses me.
“No. I don’t have you confused. You were with my daughter for about a year. We welcomed you into our lives, our home. And then you cheated on Lily, and it was all over…”
“I cheated?” I splutter, then rein myself in. It’s a stupid thing to have asked. I have to be quick to cover my tracks. “Will you forgive me the interruption? I was wrongly accused of cheating by a former partner, and it is still a sore point for me. Can you understand that I don’t like being accused of something I didn’t do?”
Brian’s eyes narrow at me, but he chooses to pick up the story again.
“You cheated on her and disappeared. Six months later, you came back, and you killed her. I don’t know why, but I know it was you.”
I try not to gulp or give myself away any further. This is a man who is very serious.
“Why would anyone target your daughter?” It sounds impartial. Just about.
“You tell me.” He gives me nothing more than a hard stare. I wait. I haven’t got all day, but I want him to think I do. Time ticks past. Finally, he blinks, quick, rapid movements, and a wetness forms under his eyes. “Why did you do it, Darren? Why did you take her away from me?”
“Did your daughter upset this Darren person?”
He’s up, and his chair clatters to the floor as he lunges across the table at me. I just manage to duck out of his way, but he comes at me again. His hand swings round and catches me in the face. I go over, my own seat following me. He’s on top of me, arms swinging. Pain explodes in my chest. Then my head.
“You bastard! You fucking bastard! You killed her!” I want to lash out, but I just manage to restrain myself. I need to play my part. “I hate you. You murderer.” My cheek explodes in agony as my head tilts towards the floor. He needs this. And honestly, so do I. He’s up, and then a boot slams against my chest. Pain explodes through my body like a flower blossoming, intense in the centre, radiating out.
Out of nowhere, hands appear and pull Brian away from me. He continues to kick and strain against the burly cop. His face is red with rage and exertion. I huff and puff as I ease up. It’s hard for me. Damage has been done. It won’t last, but I’m certain the feeling will. In a strange way, it is almost cathartic. Maybe that’s what I’ve been missing all this time, someone giving me a good beating and telling me how much they loathe me for what I did. Sure, I messed myself up for a time, but I think in some way, I needed someone else to call me out.
Maybe that’s what I’ve needed all of my life. People to tell me when I have done wrong. Was that what my family was trying to do all those years ago? Teach me to be a better version of myself with their words. Do I need this more than I realised? Have I been alone for too long? Do I really need others around me?
“Oh my god, Darnell. Are you okay?” And then she’s there. The woman I’ve come to depend on. Kinnesberg has her hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t think I deserved that.” I totally did. The uniformed cop is already pushing Brian out of the room, a caution being spoken in a heavy baritone. Peter Foley, the detective who has been overseeing the case, is forcing his way past them. His girth makes it hard for him to slide by, but he manages it, his shirt further rucking up as he does.
“Mr Till, I am so sorry. I never suspected that man could be violent. We had no indication in his behaviour. I can only apologise. You can be sure he will be dealt with under the full force of the law.”
I raise a hand to stop him.
“Can you bring him back, please?”
“Darnell, you don’t need to…” I shrug Kinnesberg off, but immediately she moves closer to me. Foley looks concerned, fat fingers pulling at his already open collar.
Reluctantly he shrugs.
“Lopez, bring the prisoner back in.”
They reappear, the cop’s arms clasped tightly around Brian’s. Lily’s father is practically being held up by the officer. All of his anger is gone. He’s a shadow of himself again. My heart breaks for him. I can’t imagine what he has been through, and I’m ashamed that it’s all my fault. I can’t have him carted off to jail. Yes, I need him out of my life, but that would be the wrong way to do it. I don’t think I could live with myself if that was the outcome of this meeting. I’ve got what I need. There’s a tape of Brian looking unhinged while I was perfectly reasonable. He hit me, and I never touched him. He looks more like a madman than he did before this. There’s enough doubt there in Foley and Lopez’s minds not to pay his words any attention. Anything Brian says won’t be taken seriously. Should anyone come to the cops in the future, they will discount any suggestion I am my old self. I look into the grieving father’s eyes as I speak slowly,
“I cannot imagine your pain.” I can. He’s mourning for someone very special, and, in my own way, so have I been. “But what I can tell you is that I am not the person that caused that. I do not know who took your daughter away from you, but will you allow me to help you on that quest?” He says nothing. “Detective Foley, would you do me a favour and let this man go?”
“I must advise against that. This man attacked you. I cannot in good conscience…”
I hold up my hand to halt his words.
“Do you know what I’m doing at the moment, detective?”
“Mr Till,” he huffs. “I am well aware of your part in the electoral campaign.” His look tells me that he’s only on the case because of that.
“And do you really want to piss off your future boss?”
“That’s debatable,” Foley mutters, but shuts up as he glances over my shoulder. I can only assume that’s Kinnesberg doing her job again.
“What do you think I’ll do to the force if you don’t help me out when I’m making a reasonable request?”
The detective nods slowly, one hand trying to stuff his shirt back into his trousers.
“Lopez, see that this gentleman is escorted out of the premises with nothing but a warning.” The beefy cop starts to turn away, then stops as Brian pulls against him.
“Why?” he utters at me. I stare into his eyes, trying to convey something honest, a simple thought.
“You have suffered a terrible loss, have you not? What sort of person would I be if I didn’t try to help you?”
He looks at me for a long time, then eases his arms away from Lopez. I’m not sure he believes I am not the person he is looking for, but I think he also sees something more in me.
Outside, I breathe in the fresh air. It feels good, different. A little bit like how I feel after all that.
“Are you okay?” There’s concern in Kinnesberg’s words. I hadn’t expected that, especially not after how many problems Brian has caused us. I’ve become the centre of the media’s attention since his accusation. I’ve taken more column inches than the collapse of my rival’s marriage. It’s cost me, and we’ve got a hell of a lot more work to do now.
“How do I look?” I feel genuinely good and uplifted. Like my soul is lighter. I can’t change what I did and how it’s affected others. But I’ve also just faced my past. I’ve lied to the face of someone I indirectly hurt, and I’m still here to tell the tale. I’m safer than I was before. I’ve got some bruises to show for it, but now I feel like I can start moving forward properly. I can go back to my work on this city. To do what I think Lily would approve of. I try not to wince as Kinnesberg’s hand finds one of the many sore spots on my upper body. It’s one, I think, from my fall.
“Why did you do that? I would have pressed charges.”
“Have you ever heard the phrase, don’t kick a dog when it’s down?” She stares at me, seeing more than I think she expected. “What?” I ask, intrigued.
“It’s just every time I think I’ve got you figured out, you throw me a curve ball.” She beams and pulls me closer to her. I smile. It feels good. I think I’ve learnt a lot about myself today. They say no man is an island, and I think it’s the same for us immortals. Maybe I need others more than I realised. That includes Kinnesberg. Plus, maybe, those I haven’t seen in a very long time. I’m not sure how to start, and certainly, I have more pressing matters at hand right at this moment, but it may well be that I need to reach out to others more in the future, friends and family.
For now, though, I can just enjoy having Kinnesberg at my side. I grin as she slides her hand down my arm and grips my fingers. I welcome the touch and return the smile, pleased to have her with me. “You know that,” she adds, “we have got so much work to do to get you elected.”
Yes, we have. But at least one problem is dealt with.