The Love Market: Chapter 13

The final debate was the circus act that Lars and Beth had feared it would be, and with Bridgette in the hospital and the open slot for vice-president beneath Lawrence such a hot topic, it was made all the worse. To his chagrin, Lawrence found that neither the Red nor Blue parties wanted to attack his admission to his father’s crimes and his late brother’s fame. Instead, they targeted those words he put little importance into as he spoke so freely at the town hall meeting. It was not a gaff but the type of slip-up a bipartisan system, one united in backrooms if not in the foreground, would put all their weight on.
Lawrence was on second, not third, this evening. Though it wasn’t uncommon for them to shift order, the blatant change had only one specific purpose. Where they would rather be able to cut off the feed across the nation if Lars made mention of a less-than-popular talking point, his situation in the middle made his arguments a target for Bill just behind him. To his team, it seemed as though Juliet was being positioned to take the brunt of his blows while Bill would ignore her and parade Lars’ failures before the audience.
As Representative Gutierra finished explaining how her twelve-point plan to redistribute the wealth without radically increasing taxes was the best strategy to address the nation’s issues, Lawrence constructed his statements anew. He might have promised Bethany not to be so brash on the fly, but he had his reasons. Juliet was harping endlessly on the Markets and how they would resolve the issues of poverty and homelessness by a two percent income tax increase for Marketers while purchases of private sets for home or business would see a twenty-five percent sales tax increase. By the time Lars was called on, he knew the Market was the last thing he need mention. Anyone swayed by tax policy over the massive industry had likely never bothered with a word he had said on the subject.
The hard cam fixed on his podium, but Lawrence looked beyond at the crowd, meeting gazes of human beings present and now the empty black lens. He folded over his prepared notes and began with a grim cast to his face, “Where some of our fellow Americans see weakness in a failure to reign down on our foes the totality of our arsenal, I see military experts with mind enough to spare us a global death and accept the pain of one loss.”
“I have made my statements on the Love Markets quite clear. I won’t bore you with potential policy or the victims of this vicious system. No, today, I’d like to remark on that topic so many fear to touch. War, nuclear war, the annihilation of life on this planet, and the threat of nuclear winter. Right now, across several countries, engaging in various levels of combat, and experiencing just as varied results, our brothers, sisters, cousins, and children even, are at war. In some conflicts, it is merely a defense to protect against further harm to allies and neutral parties. For others, we are the invading and dominating force making life less than bearable. Yet, for nearly every situation, we serve to further aggravate other world powers into nuclear war.
“I don’t have to tell you, any of you, how terrible the results of nuclear war would be. We have not had a bomb dropped on an occupied nation since the second world war, and though the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki play second to the horrors of the Nazis, we must not forget the tole of nuclear energy. Nor should we overlook the reality of such a battle. One bomb dropped would be devastation. A retaliatory strike would cripple two nations. Were we to go beyond, and every world leader give a knee-jerk reaction to launch, we might be fortunate to all parish in fallout. For those who wouldn’t, we already face a dreaded unending winter due to climate manipulation. The onset of nuclear winter would be the slow, painful death of not only our species but a wide gamut over the earth. So come election day, ask yourselves not only of the Markets and their influence on society but what a nation that holds one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world should do when faced with nuclear conflict.”
At that, no one applauded or cried out fervently for the cause. Almost every member of the audience was silent as the grave, almost unsure if what they heard was hopeful or the relinquishing of such desires to overcome. Finally, as Bill Ellit was given a turn to speak, things began returning to normal. Lars didn’t even pay a moment’s attention to Ellit as he carried on about the worth of our military men or the free market, choosing the Love Markets to be its most vital component. Instead, he watched the disinterested faces, so many of which in the audience had yet to turn to the stage right to focus on Bill. They stared at Lars, almost as though he had stated that he was not of this earth and was an alien delegate meant to meet humanity’s finest.
Before Lawrence could realize it, the event was coming to a close, and the other candidates were taking a step away from their podiums to give the audience a slight bow. Decorum indicated Lars should do the same, but he could hardly get his mind to work. He stared searchingly at the crowd who gave the lightest of applause for the candidate on either side of the aisle. Though the world was waiting on him to take his bow and begin the train to the back side of the stage, Lars leaned forward. His microphone wasn’t supposed to be live, but after moving his lips a moment, someone at the controls flipped his on over the main speakers.
Meekly, in a pale imitation of his typical speaking voice, Lars asked, “Please, if all of you could, keep my former running partner in your prayers or at least hope for her speedy recovery. Regardless of politics, she is a good person who doesn’t deserve to pass at such a young age.”
Still, Lars didn’t bow but stepped away from the podium and fell in step behind Gutierra, with Bill not far behind. Behind the stage, the other two candidates were less kind than at their last meeting. The look in Bill’s eyes said just how mortified he was to be mentioned in the same breath as Lawrence, while Juliet seemed not to want any association with either man then. It wasn’t as though Lars expected comradery among the candidates he looked to best, but the sudden change was too glaring to ignore. There were words he’d like to have exchanged with them, but before he could think of how to phrase a single one of his statements, Bill was pulled away by a press secretary, and Juliet, away with one of the biggest stars of the Market, Beth came for him.
Though she was a woman of great composure, even she slipped now and then into a bluntness that belied her better nature. Her expression was that of a cobra ready to strike a kangaroo mouse that was too stupid to move away from the viper’s den. Lawrence wasn’t going to evade her and, like the most foolish of the mice, came right before the forked tongue of the snake. Beth was going to keep professional, her tone was that of a school teacher with an arrant student, but she came no further than calling Lars down by name before the situation went sideways.
Standing at the door, Bethany had just entered had been a security officer; however, he either was a plant or given just the right incentive to be the agent opposite his career. His pistol was drawn, and as Beth came in range, he had leveled it at the two. Lawrence, catching sight of the blocky black semi-automatic, pulled Bethany into his arms. As though dancing with a partner unfamiliar with the steps, he whirled her around and dipped as low as he could before collapsing on top of her. Three shots were heard, two expended from the first semi-automatic, the third from a slick silver magnum.
A graying stagehand meandered down from the curtains to the floor of the backstage area. He didn’t bother to check the man he fired on. Even in his advancing years, his aim was clearly as accurate as it ever had been, taking the security worker with one bullet through the throat. The assailant had been of poorer aim and unprepared to be caught before the act was through. One shot had gone wide and blown apart a coffee urn, scattering scolding hot fluid everywhere, yet the second had hit the mark.
There was a splatter of blood across the snow-white cheeks of the campaign manager of almost the same hue as her lipstick. She lay on the floor where more blood was pooling, her tailored navy blue suit jacket and skirt becoming little more than sponges for the gore. Her eyes were fixed to the ceiling, staring past the man who had just taken her in his arms like her father once did and spun her about as though she were but a paper crane to let flow down the stream. Lawrence looked at her gravely before clutching the space opened up just above his elbow.
Tears were streaming slowly in single file fashion from her amber eyes as the realization of what just occurred struck Beth. Lars tried for a moment to offer his good hand and help her to her feet but was pulled away by two of the event staff, one of which had the wall-mounted first aid kit down. Bethany sat on her own before noting the man she had just stepped past as though he were any other security officer. It was more of a shock than the sound of the rounds being fired that someone so unassuming could have attempted to take a life, let alone of a man that was no more threat to him than a grasshopper.
The older man, having slid his revolver back into a holster under his coat, offered Beth his hand, “I’m sorry, miss. I only just saw him. I don’t think these old hands could have moved quick enough to stop it.”
“Thank you,” she muttered, looking over to Lawrence, who lay against the stairs as one of the stagehands tied a tourniquet above the wound. The other was phoning for an ambulance. With any luck, Lars would need a transfusion for the blood lost but would recover. How

the campaign might do in light of this attack was another question. If Bridgette were still active, Beth might have counted on her to give a statement on the attack. It would be no challenge to frame those in support of the Markets as the ones behind the hit, but Bethany felt there might be more.
She came before Lars as he tilted himself up, still shaking but nothing more than that pain clouding his thoughts. Completely removed from the reality that faced him, he asked, “Are you alright, Bethany?”
“Of course. Lars, we’re going to figure out who wanted you dead. Before election day, I promise you, we will know.”

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