I stand in my flat, unsure of what to do. I’ve just been offered a way out of this mayoral race, along with a new job. One that I will have earned for my efforts. It’s not what I set out for, or why I’m doing this. But it is a little tempting. It does come at a price, though. I’d have to get rid of my Campaign Manager, which previously would have been a problem. Yet things have become complicated with her since our moment in the office. It’s not her. It’s me. It is wrong and too soon after Lily. I’m still not over her death or the fact that I was responsible for it. If I’m honest, and I rarely am, I haven’t properly processed it all. I’m not ready for someone else.
My door reverberates with the second knock at it, and my attention is drawn back to who could be on the other side. My opponent, and potential new boss, Beagly, can’t be back already. Surely he doesn’t want an answer so soon. I sigh as I pull open the door and stare into the eyes of Peter Howard, the other mayoral candidate.
“Don’t you know it’s late?” I groan at him. I had been hoping for an early night, a chance to relax, before all these unexpected visitors.
“You weren’t thinking of going to bed, were you? I thought you’d have more in you than that!” His overly polished teeth gleam at me from behind his trimmed goatee. “Can I come in, Darnell?” His beady chestnut eyes glance this way and that. “Wouldn’t do for us to be seen together, not at this hour.” I consider pointing out that if that’s the case, why is he here? But I think it’s pretty obvious, and I just want it over with. I gesture, and he follows me in. I move quickly to position myself, so I stop him from seeing the two whiskey bottles and three glasses from earlier. There were two for me and one from Beagly. I don’t need Howard to realise he’s not the first person to stop by this evening. And my other caller had the good manners to bring a nice present even if he did drink half of it himself.
“Can I get you anything?”
He’s hovering near the door and chooses to swing his head back and forth. I’m relieved because I’m certain he’d want wheatgrass or something like that, and I don’t have anything healthy in here. Howard shifts and I realise this isn’t as easy for him as my last guest.
“Look, Darnell—may I call you that? Good, thanks. I thought it would be nice to pop by and congratulate you. You’re doing great. Really. The party and I are super impressed.” He gulps, his Adam’s apple dipping up and down to underscore his nerves. “And that’s the thing. You’ve earned some new admirers from all your efforts. Some people who’d really like to have your talents with us, not against us.” He’s warming now to his words. Clearly, the times he’s practised have helped him. That’s worth knowing, assuming…well, assuming I can use it to my advantage tomorrow at the big debate.
“Is that so?”
“Oh yes,” he says, a little too eager. “Think what you could do with our backing, our funding. The party has really helped me and made such a difference over the years. They’d like to offer you that opportunity, too.” He pauses, waiting for something. Finally, I give in.
“Definitely, and it goes further than this town.” He taps his foot softly as he comes to his big point. “You see, those above me have their own plans and aspirations. They are always looking at the big picture.” I stiffen, missing those days. I hate not being able to plan as far ahead as I used to. My hope is to win, but it’s nowhere close to a foregone conclusion yet. “I was selected a long time ago for this role. Of course, we never thought that it would come this soon. God rest the soul of the previous incumbent.” He looks high and crosses his chest. “But the plan was for me to always be in this battle. That’s what they’d like to offer you, a future opportunity. Work with me now, learn the ropes, and I don’t just mean for the election, but beyond that. Then, when the time is right, they’ll move you on to other experiences and develop you. Eventually, you’ll stand with the full backing of everyone involved.” I nod slowly, and Howard holds his hands up in protest. “It’s not just here I’m talking about. No one is thinking of this dead man’s shoes.” The lump in his spindly throat bounces again. “Sorry, bad turn of phrase. Lots to think about, especially with the debate so soon. But you take what I mean, yes? It could be anywhere. Somewhere bigger, better, and maybe not just mayor. We could even be talking senator.” His eyes go wide as he tries to consider the impact of his words.
“You’re okay with that?” I shift, trying to understand more about what he’s doing.
“We all have our place. This is ideal for me. There are whispers you could be destined for something more. Would you like that? Helping to run the country? And from there, it’s not a far step into… well, you know, don’t you?” He points upwards in a wholly futile gesture.
It’s my turn to swallow heavily. I knew I was doing well, but surely not that much. I can’t have seriously conned one of the big political parties in America that I could be running the whole country in the future. I’m not functioning at any sort of level of trickery that I believe would allow me to achieve that.
I’d be lying if I admitted that what Howard is offering isn’t tempting. It is something with a future. It doesn’t have to be Springfield I fix, does it? This was all about tricking people. I’m doing that. Apparently, I could do more on an even bigger scale. Yet this is where Amelia is. She’s the reason I got into this. I wanted to save this city for her. Shouldn’t I see the mayoral race through for her? For me?
“You’re interested, aren’t you? I would be.” Howard leers at me, and it’s almost enough to put me off his offer. “Why go for this when you could have more? You could have more support, more help, more opportunities.”
“And for all that, I have to stop running against you, right?” I lean back a little. I want to walk, but I can’t move away from covering the evidence of my first meeting. It’s silly, but I don’t want Howard to know.
“Well, a bit more than that. You have to come over to my side publicly. Somewhere it will have maximum impact.”
“Like at the debate?” I hazard.
“Exactly.” He plants his fist into his open palm. “Think about the blow it would be to Beagly if all your supporters joined me on that day. We’d really make him have cause for thought, wouldn’t we?”
I can’t resist.
“What about my people?”
“Oh, plenty of them can come too. We’ll do a proper rationalisation of staff with you. Some will help now, others in the future, elsewhere maybe. Although there is one person we already know we don’t need.”
“You don’t say?” I hitch up my eyebrows at him, mock horror being mistaken for sincerity.
“Kinnesberg isn’t someone we can make use of. It’s amazing you’ve come this far with her.” Ire rises up my throat. I know things have been difficult between us recently, after that awkward moment in the conference room, but I owe her a lot.
“And what if I want her at my side?”
“It’s a deal-breaker. That’s the offer. Drop Kinnesberg and announce you’re joining me at the debate. Help me win. Then the world is your oyster.” There’s eagerness in his tone. I’m pretty certain he believes it’s the only way he’s going to come out on top. I hope for his sake it is. Or do I? He’s dangled a pretty big carrot in front of me. How far could I really take this show?
I feel tiredness sweep over me. I was hoping for a peaceful night, a chance to listen to my records, enjoy a drink, and sleep. That’s all gone, replaced by uncertainty. I have so much more to think about now, but I can’t help but yawn. Howard takes it as a hint. “Look, it’s a lot to think about, and it is late. We shouldn’t meet again or have any other contact. It’s not right. But the offer is there until the debate. Just stand up at the start, tell everyone you’re joining me, and we’ll take it from there.”
He sticks his hand out, but I let it hang there. I’m not willing to commit anything to him. Not right now. It felt okay to lead Beagly on, but now my head is spinning with confusion.
“I think my way forward is obvious to me.” It’s as clear as muck. Howard wipes his hand on the back of his trousers and places an infuriating grin on his face.
“I look forward to working with you. Just carry on as you are now, though. Don’t make a move just yet.” He flashes his teeth at me. “It will be all the more impactful when it does happen. No, no, don’t bother, I’ll see myself out.”
He does, and I finally feel like I can breathe again.
What the hell do I do now? I’ve been courted by my enemies. It’s not why I got into this, but they both offer interesting prospects. Could I be so much more? Am I out of my depth? Can I really drop Kinnesberg? Most importantly, can I leave this city for someone else to fix? It was meant to be my redemption. Something for Lily, to honour her. I wanted to make a change for Amelia, who showed me kindness in a moment of need. My head is buzzing with so many thoughts. My stomach is knotted, and I’m not sure another whiskey is going to help it. I’m not sure what will help me. I’m uncertain about what to do, and it’s a very strange feeling for me. I just don’t know what is best for me.