I can feel the eyes on me, watching and expecting. That’s the one thing about trying to become mayor. I hadn’t anticipated what it would feel like to attend so many public events. You’d think as a god, standing in front of people, their gaze upon me, would be something I’m used to. Yet, I’ve never been that sort of immortal. I’ve always worked in the shadows, been behind the action. Being in the limelight is something I’m still getting used to, especially as I get back to my tricky ways. I’ve missed some obvious moves by my political opponents recently, including their late-night visits.
It’s the stares of my two rivals in the race to run the city that weigh on me most tonight. Against the glare of the television cameras, the expectant murmur of the gathered audience, and the final prepping of the production team, I know they are waiting for me to make my move. Each has offered me something special in return for my support. More than being the guy trying to fix a broken city. It comes with conditions, though. First, I have to give up on my ambition to trick everyone into putting me in charge. The second is ditching the woman who has helped me attract their attention.
I take a long blink, the image of the bright lights still present behind my lids, then I look out into the crowd and find my campaign manager, Laura Kinnesberg. She’s front and centre amongst, watching, waiting. She doesn’t know anything about the temptations I have been offered. I can let someone else lead the town and support them before taking over when the time is right. Alternatively, I can move on to something else, somewhere else, with the support of a party that wants me to succeed.
Honestly, and I never could, or would, say this out loud, but both offers caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect to turn heads in the way I have. I wanted to win and felt confident I could strike a blow against the big teams, but I just did not anticipate manoeuvres like this. Maybe it’s because of my inexperience in these matters. Perhaps it is a sign that my recovery still has a long way to go.
Of course, it could also be because, deep down, I don’t want to be quite the same god again. I no longer want to be the obsessed planner who will step over anyone to get what he wants. Who lets his doubts and criticism manifest themselves into voices that do more harm than good as they did that horrible night when I killed the woman I loved.
I pull at my tie, trying to force some level of calm into myself. Now is not the time to reflect. I remind myself that I got into this for the challenge and to do something I thought Lily would be proud of me for. It felt right, trying to help others in a way that helped me. It’s not exactly my standard way of working, but it felt like something I should try, like I owed it to my deceased lover. I don’t know if that was right or not, but here I am, about ready to announce my decision and share with the city what comes next for me.
Our moderator enters the room, all prim and proper. She’s one of the better local journalists, although that’s not saying much. Heads turn and people elbow their neighbour. The assembled crowd is ready for the fight, and now that the referee is here, the fur can really fly. That’s what they’ve come here to see. They wanted a show. Yes, some of them want to hear about our policies and are looking to make a decision. Others want to enjoy the spectacle. Well, it’s time to give them that.
Those in charge have a few words with the circus master, and then she takes her seat before us. A red light blinks to life just in front of her.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this crucial debate in the race to city hall. My name is Janni Jones, and I’ll be overseeing proceedings this evening.” Other red lights pop on and off around the room as the cameras take in the crowd and crucially, the candidates. I feel heat rising in my cheeks and wish I didn’t have to keep wearing this monkey suit. It feels so restrictive and so very mortal. But then I guess that’s what I’m trying to convince them I am.
Jones continues, her tones crisp and clipped. She knows this is a big night for her, as much as for the three of us in front of the lecterns. “In an interesting turn of events, one of our candidates has requested to speak with everyone before we start.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see both Beagly and Howard shift and stare at me. They are waiting for me to quit and join them. Neither knows the other has been in contact with me. “I have spoken with his rivals, and they have consented to this most unusual request.” Jones is making a point. She didn’t organise this and doesn’t quite know what was going on, but she understands this is going to be good. “I shall pass over to Darnell Till, who has something he’d like to say.”
Whispers are traded as every eye in the room turns to me. I take a deep breath and can’t bring myself to look directly at Kinnesberg, although I know she’s mouthing something at me. I don’t turn away from the camera pointing at me. I can just about see my tiny reflection in its lens. It looks so small, almost insignificant. Yet I know I’m not that to my people, not those who work for me, those who have volunteered, nor anyone who has pledged their support. I exhale.
“I’ve lived in this city all of my life.” It’s a strong lie to get started. “Since I was a young man, I’ve loved this place. You’ve all heard my story, right?” I’m starting to feel my confidence push up my throat, and I take a second to find Amelia, my unwavering supporter. The girl who started this all for me. She dips her red hair up and down in approval. It was she who opened my eyes to the city’s faults and problems. She made me realise it needed a second chance as much as I did. That’s why I’ve been doing what I’m doing. “But do you really know what this means to me?”
“Hell yes,” someone screams from the audience, and my eyes flick across the room. It’s not professional, but I’m a little taken aback. It’s like the spell of my own words is broken, and now I see the crowd, the many different faces, those keen to hear what I have to say. There’s intrigue and curiosity. Then there are those who want to hear from their preferred candidate, and to them, I’m just making up the numbers.
Then I see him. The old man who has been at every one of my public appearances. He is always there in the background, oh so familiar, yet not. He never speaks and doesn’t show any sign of whether he’s supporting me or just enjoying a day out. I’ve convinced myself that he’s just someone with plenty of spare time on his hands or perhaps he likes the underdog. Either way, I shouldn’t be concerned with him now.
“What would you say if I turned to you and told you that my rivals didn’t want me in this race?” There’s a mumble, some people shocked to hear me talk this way. Others want me to get to the point. “Would I work for a drunk?” I gesture at a very sober Howard. “Or a pure party robot?” This time I wave at Beagly. “Or did I get that the wrong way around?” There’s a murmur now. To some, I’m being funny. Others think I’m offensive. I don’t care. “What would you say if I was offered something bigger and better, or easier, but had to leave those who supported me behind?” Now I find Kinnesberg. She’s like a statue, staring unblinkingly ahead of her. Now she won’t meet my eyes.
“Darnell for mayor!”
“Just give up!”
“Get on with it!”
Are some of the remarks I hear through the shouts.
“Well, I would give those offers no thought.” In truth, I have mulled it over for a very long time. More than I expected to. “I want to be your mayor.” That was pure deceit. I don’t want to be their mayor, but I believe I need to see this through. I’m convinced I’m here for a reason, to help Amelia, to honour Lily, to fix myself, and no one is going to stand in my way. “And no one can stop me.” There are two people who are going to try very hard, even more so now. But they will have to do it properly by winning votes because I’m not going anywhere.
There’s a pause, and then everyone realises I’ve finished, and there’s a roar from the audience. Some want me to shut up, but many have been taken by my words. They are more intrigued by me than they were before.
“Is that it, Mr Till?” Jones eyes me suspiciously. I nod, and she lets her shoulders slump sadly. There’s nothing that’s going to go viral in my words. No chance for her to advance her career. “Then shall we get to the questions?” Her focus is on the camera. “We have a number of queries submitted beforehand, as well as members of the audience who wish to ask questions directly. Let’s begin.”
The pace of the debate moves along steadily. Whatever people thought of me at the start, I do myself plenty of favours as I respond. I even manage to gain a winning smile from Kinnesberg. No doubt we’ll be picking over my opening statement later, but for now, it’s shown her, and many others, my commitment. It also deeply annoyed my opponents. Beagly is angry, his lips tight, cheeks flushed, and not just because of the booze. Howard is rattled, and as much as he tries, without landing the winning blow of attracting me, he seems to have little else to offer.
I’ve just finished a carefully spun lie about my fiscal plans, balancing what I want to do with what I can be dishonest about, when it happens. There is a commotion. Burley men in black appear, and suddenly they are grabbing hold of a blonde woman I haven’t seen before. She’s resisting, struggling against the hired muscle.
“Can’t we go easy, please?” I demand as Jones tries to regain some order. It doesn’t last as the woman tears herself from the security detail and rushes down the hall towards the stage.
“Why won’t you see me? Why?” she screams at us. In that moment, I’m certain she’s looking right at me. “I am pregnant with your child!”