The Love Market: Chapter 12

Before his next public appearance, the news broke and nearly shattered Bethany’s composure as she read through the article. Lars listened only in part as he prepared his speech, figuring the only thing that might shock him would be the depths of the deception. He could already hear the headlines of hypocrisy and turning a blind eye to a genuine issue in his own past. Once the other candidates had hold of even somewhat flimsy information, it would be blood in the water, and the sharks would have him. But it wasn’t so, and the scandals claim not marked against him. Someone, somewhere, had made a connection, and with one expose that did precisely that, Bridgett Tanning was labeled a hypocrite and a monster.

Going under the name Stardust, Cynthia Tanning was a well-known and highly-rated model in the Markets. Her star had faded years ago, about the time Bridgette started making a name in politics. Initially, no one had known the family relation, placed the near identical faces as sisters, or questioned why Stardust had been so quick to step away from the stardom of the Markets. The published interview explained the laborious process that had gone into shadowing her identity in the wake of her sister’s career. Payoffs had been made, and Cynthia made to vanish in the night, only to rear her head in the wake of a trial two years prior.

Bridgette had Cynthia taken in by the last of the family they had. She was meant to stay quiet, and any funds possibly circumvented to her would be made available, but hardly was it what the Markets pulled in. Beth muttered, half to herself, “She stabbed her cousin to death, but once they found out she used to be a real someone in the Market… I think the pay taken was how much they thought her family’s life was worth. They want to push Cynthia back in as a figure of strength against abuse in the Market and want Bridge off the campaign. I think they’d shut down the entire party if they thought they could spin it right. You’re going to have to address it tonight and perhaps consideration for a new running mate.”

“The only person I trust beyond Bridgette is you. Do you want to run for office, Beth?”

“I don’t want to manage a campaign. Do you think I want to be in the public eye trying to manage my contempt for the sleaze? Besides, I have visited the Market before, and they’ll find that out quick. They won’t care if it was a decade ago; they’ll use me to smear you.”

“I’m sticking with Bridge unless something a little more damning comes out. She did what she thought was best to not only improve her standings but help her sister. They might spin any which way, but I’m going to put her in the best light possible,” Lars made a note in his written speech. Rarely did he rely on the penned letters he brought to the podium, but it served as a good reminder for issues that weren’t present on his mind. Before they were in front of another crowd, Lars had a series of notes that went far off course from the planned points of interest, but he had to be active in light of recent news.

The evening’s crowd was only slightly less than the day before; however, the gymnasium was nearly half the size as the auditorium. Everyone was shoulder to shoulder, muttering and chattering. Even before he took the podium, Lars could feel the tension. His stomach was filled with acid and ready to burst out between his lips. Any approach to the most relevant topic wouldn’t be enough, that much he was sure. Still, he would try to smooth over the recent revelations as though it was little more than an unpaid parking ticket.

His eyes were peeled and trained on suspicious members of the crowd. Perhaps the news was enough to tip some from the edge into a chasm they could not crawl out of without violence. Regardless, Lars began, “We are in the midst of the greatest trail that our nation has ever known, and surely there will be more enemies than allies in this struggle, but we shall overcome.”

A chant of ‘Cut the Bridge’ began, and Lars had to wonder how much faith his own followers had in his selection for vice president. If they had known Beth’s mistakes in her youth, he would be out a campaign manager as well, so long as they had their say. But there was still the ever-present reality that someone out there had information on him that would sink their ship. The sooner they leaked any such information, Lars figured he could try to mend the holes it would put in the fences around his push from office.

Finally, the crowd calmed again, and he continued, “My fellow Americans, I hear what you ask, and though I admit my own shock and my own first instinct, I must also admit that truth we are ignoring in light of the facts. Bridgette Tanning is a woman I would trust with my life, and though she had never before confided in me these facts, I can only assume the reason for this was to keep the innocent involved safe. What I can say, with confidence, is that Miss Tanning would only have committed the acts she had, at that time, as an attempt to aid her sister and family. The fact it did not go to plan has little to do with her choices.”

The bone he had thrown had done little to quell the fury in the audience. Lars hardly blamed anyone for feeling deceived, but now was no time to lose one’s head. With the final push to the White House being so near, he knew this would be an issue to sink the whole campaign. Instead of waiting for the gathered citizens to quiet, he continued, “Miss Tanning is not the only one to find their past marred by the influence of the Market. She is, in many ways, a victim of our times, and we should bolster her with support as she tries to change our nation so that no others should have to bare such a burden. I, myself, carry a similar weight.”

At this, silence became the only thing to fill the room. All eyes were on Lars, and every mouth was firmly shut. One of the less reputable citizens near the front looked at him with a keen eye that said he might just know everything about the situation. Lars couldn’t let the moment pass, “Believe it or not, at a young age, I was separated from my family. A terrible car accident resulted in myself and my mother being hospitalized. She passed, the wounds too great, but I came through and was taken by my uncle to live on his farm. My father and younger brother were nowhere to be found when I came out of the coma. In recent weeks I discovered the truth of their whereabouts and what became of them.”

“Peter Burdress is not a man many people know, and those who know him would likely rather not. My father, despite his hand in my birth, is why we must stand against the Market. I’ve been handed a short list and collection of his work. I will not go into detail about his actions or career short of mentioning my younger brother. You’d better know Nolan for his name in the Market, Juno Sparks,” Lawrence paused then, allowing the public to reel at the thought.

Keeping his head down, unable to face the problem with the bravery he thought he held, Lars continued, “Nolan, Juno, was groomed by my father for a federally run program that served as a private Market for politicians and those with influence. I’m not proud of my father. Nolan was not his first and likely not the last child he trafficked and made into an object. I pity my brother, not only for his recent passing but for all that must have happened while in the hands of people we should have been able to trust. So before you judge Miss Tanning for her attempts to help a loved one who faced death or the Market as options, look to me first and see that I too have my tie to Market and my reason for opposing it.”

Like disarming a bomb, the terror did not come from clipping the indicated wires or the notion that it wouldn’t take, but from the act of starting. Lawrence looked up from his notes, a smeared mess of panic-induced scribbles that were hardly legible, to see a hopeful sight. The gymnasium was not slowly thinning of occupance but remained congested with onlookers whose pitying eyes may have just witnessed the expiration of a stillborn cub of an endangered species. As he searched the crowd, Lars caught sight of one of the few suspicious audience members. The man looked back in disgust before pushing out through a fire exit.

With the elephant in the room given the limelight, Lars cleared his throat and plunged into what little time he had with notes from his prepared speech. Though the audience was never quite as boisterous as they had been when criticizing his running mate, Lars was happy to find that not a single person lost interest or began to chatter. A play at transparency was a risk. The numbers would show later if it had been worthwhile or if the assembled citizenry only gave him the time of day because it was too late to flee.

No one waited for Lars backstage, and for once, the absents of anyone felt wrong to him. Though Beth didn’t always come astride him the moment he was behind the curtain, the fact she wasn’t there after all that had been said pulled on Lars’ heart. It was unthinkable that she might bail on the campaign just as everything looked smooth in the waters ahead, but there might have been a backlash to his speech already. If only snippets and clips of his remarks were broadcast across the nation, he might wake tomorrow to find all the world thinking he sold his brother into bondage with his father’s help and was the cause of his mother’s demise.

The empty corridor leading from the gymnasium to the parking lot may have only been a couple of yards long, but with all the uncertain thoughts bouncing around his head, it felt like a twenty-mile hike through three feet of snow. Lars wished someone would accost him at every junction. To even be put on the spot and demanded details of the crash, his mother’s death, or how he’d come by the information he had would be a blessing. Anything that could take away the doubt building in his breast over Beth and even Bridgette’s commitment to the cause. As he stepped out in the dry, chill evening air, Lars’ heart nearly stopped at the sight of Beth and the look of concern painting her features into a pale mask.

“Lawrence, I only need to ask you one thing. With the debate coming up, the vote just within reach, why did you tell the world your father prostituted your younger brother?”

Rare as it was for him, Lars poured himself a glass of scotch as they went down the highway, “I kept it from you. Is that what bothers you? I didn’t know about it myself for years. Recently, someone in that organization threatened to leak the information publicly. I decided with Bridge being outed the way she was, I had to be proactive. Don’t tell me Bill and Julie will jump on me about this; I already know. This is our chance, though. If you think I should downplay it, I’ll do it. I trust your opinion, but I couldn’t tell you upfront. So you tell me, what do you think we should do?”

“Projections from major news outlets are saying this was Rubicon,” Beth kept tapping away at the tablet until reaching one of the sites considered ‘less reputable’ before turning the screen to face Lars, “However, throughout the nation, we have people demanding ‘Justice for Nolan.’ If that’s any indication, you might have made the smartest move. But we’ll play it close to the collar now. No risky moves without discussing them first.”

“That I can do.”

“You need to search for a new running mate in the meantime.”


With a shuttering breath, Beth answered, “Bridgette is in critical condition. They’re saying it was a suicide attempt. They found no note, but even if she recovers, she won’t be fit for the role. I’m sorry.”

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