Fourteen percent. After it was all calculated, for one reason or another, the Gray Party had only garnered fourteen percent of the vote. Ellit walked away with forty-four, and Juliet just shy of the mark with forty-three. The nine-millimeter bullet that had ripped its way through flesh and lodged itself in the bone stung less by contrast for Lawrence. Still, he wouldn’t whine or complain. The risk was a calculated one, failure foremost of the possibilities presented to him. Yet, he couldn’t divorce himself completely from a feeling of frustration as he hung his head. Bethany was less level-headed about the outcome.
Immediately she began through files and the figures of voters registered to be voting for the Gray Party. Disbelief was easily found in the face of failure, but Beth knew her numbers were not that far off. Though she accepted the loss was possible, she had speculated Lars coming in with far greater numbers than the results showed. Before long, the various accounts for the campaign were inundated with a typhoon of messages from supporters across the nation. She wouldn’t bother with them, not a first, as she tried in desperation to dig up evidence that would show Lars had to have gotten more than fourteen percent. However, the sheer volume of the messages made them impossible to ignore.
It took very little time for messages on the computer to turn to the message in the street. Before the end of election night, the silenced masses in the cities and those few rural stations not overcome by the Wilderness were marching. Something was awry, a rotting stench hanging over the president-elect, the other losing party, and even the incumbent president. All the while, as irate citizens took the street, Lars was far removed from the situation.
Leaving the numbers to Bethany, figuring his long shot was just that, a long shot, Lars had curled up in his hotel room and found sleep easier than he had in months. It wasn’t due to pain medication; his dosage was minor and rarely taken in full so he could keep his head clear for the campaign, remaining focused on every little movement. But as he found dreary comfort in rented sheets, the anxiety and stress flitted away like butterflies scared by a house cat. It was, as Lars faded into unconsciousness, not unlike the days of his youth in the country.
When he was a boy, helping out on the farm, he would work himself down to nothing day in and day out until dusk. Dinner would quickly disappear from his plate, no matter if it was the early days of his time there when the servings were plenty and ladened with meat and other rich components or if it were in the final months when Aunt Lisa hardly had enough to serve to fill her youngest child’s bowl. Even after those sparse meals, Lars would crawl into bed and be asleep before the moon had shifted even a tenth towards the zenith. And just as hard as it was to wake in those lost days, it was even more difficult to be dragged from bed as an adult.
Beth shook him frantically, “Lawrence, wake up! We have a problem or maybe a solution. Get up, come quick.”
“Can’t it wait until morning,” Lars muttered as he rolled onto the tiled floor.
Tossing his shirt and suit jacket on his back, Bethany hurried back to her adjoining room, “You are not going to want to miss this.”
The television was set to four news channels simultaneously, thanks to a screen-splitting option. However, there was no cause for it to be tuned to more than one news network in that moment. All four anchors were in the midst of their own tangents, their own spin on events, but all of them were pointing the finger at the Gray Party as though it were all an organized move by Lars’ campaign. Numb but more confused than anything, Lawrence took a seat at the edge of Beth’s bed to watch the live footage.
The purpose of the split-screen became clear as Lars focused on the small text at the corner of each screen. Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston, and Detroit were the current crisis areas. One of the channels was flipping between other major cities, but the site was the same regardless, only a change in landmarks. The citizens of the country had not taken the results of the vote well, one way or the other, and were not allowing it to blow over in silence. Breaking his gaze from the screen for a moment, Lars whirled to face his campaign manager. Nothing came from his throat, but maybe a rasp of dry air, still she read his confusion.
“Lawrence, I think our luck has about run its course. I’ve gotten hundreds of emails in the past two hours, and none of it makes sense. There are people who manually counted ballots, others running polling centers, and even just private citizens reaching out to us claiming you won far more of the vote than they’re reporting. I don’t think it’s just the news, though. Some of the polling centers reported that ballot boxes went missing, some were replaced, and others were coerced into reporting fraudulent numbers for both the Red and Blue Party candidates. But at the end of the day, even if you somehow got the majority, I don’t think it matters, not with what’s going on throughout the country,” Bethany remarked, her tone not touched by a grim effect but stupefaction.
They sat in silence, even the television muted so that all to make a ruckus in the room was the miniature fridge beside the table. In the slow and diligent way a sound penetrates the vacuum of shared speechlessness, a quiet roar brought Lawrence’s attention away from Beth to the balcony. She was apprehensive to move, so Lars made his way to the sliding glass door and peered out. The chill of night whipped faint flakes of snow on its breeze before the warmth of indoors clouded the view. Lars exited into the open air, and the sounds of bedlam became apparent. As he looked down to the streets, several stories below, the scene from the television was painted from a new perspective.
The mob’s chanting was incoherent at best though the lights of the fire illuminated the furious figures just fine. They were filing past the hotel and headed deeper into the downtown area. From the balcony, the neon lights of the Love Market were nothing more than brilliant blurs, confused ever more by the billows of black smoke rising to the stars. It was clear what the intent was, but if the rioters would make it as far as even a block away from the Market was another question. Despite his disgust in the supposed ‘industry’ of flesh, Lars knew he couldn’t let such mindless destruction happen.
Returning to the room, he called to Beth, “Is there any way you can get a line in to someone in the press? I don’t care who right now. Something needs to be done.”
“Lars, I’ve tried since I started getting messages to get through to someone. I was hoping to circumvent some of the backlash, but no one is taking our calls. And at this point,” she looked mournfully to her boss, “What can we really do but sit back and watch?”
“They’re going to go down to the Markets, not just here, but I’d bet all over the country, and I don’t know what will happen. If we’re lucky, they’ll get pushed back by police, there will be arrests, and I’ll be indicted on charges for leading a riot. At the worst though, they’ll get through, and all of the infrastructure the Markets rely on will be destroyed, and so will every Marketer from a common street prostitute to someone like Atlas or Mockingbird.”
Bethany could do little more than hold out empty hands and shrug. There was no lack of compassion or awareness for the death sentence written in blood for those who were part of the Market. She glanced down at her tablet again as Lars focused on the television. He caught a vague sense of what Bethany was looking over as she muttered to herself. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, the Market had already been reached, breached, and buildings put to the torch. The coincidence of Beth’s focus and Channel 4’s was not lost on Lawrence. As he heard her mention the police, Lars witnessed the rioters and uniformed officers working in tandem to destroy what decades of crooked politics had created.
Losing interest in the bedlam broadcast nationwide, Lars asked, “What do we do then? Just sit back and watch it all come down?”
“If you’d like, I’d like it if you stayed close to me,” from under her pillow came a six-round magnum like the one that had saved his life, “I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight. I don’t think anyone could have guessed this far, and what might come next, I’m sure will be worse. So let’s just stay put and stay safe. I’ve gotten some messages about leaked information. Among it all is a file on your father. I know you were upfront about it, but at this rate, I don’t know if you’re safe or even if I am for being tied to you. But if I can help it, I’d like us to stay alive as long as possible.”
“And after tonight?”
“If there is an after tonight, let’s worry about it then.”
At that, Bethany turned off the tablet and set it in the drawer of the bedside stand. Lars closed the curtains, fearing what might be seen firsthand if he kept them open. Already one of the skyscrapers filled with recording equipment and stars was smoking at the lowest levels. That much was sign enough that things were only going to get worse. Tossing off his suit jacket, he sat at the edge of the bed before Beth put an arm around him. The lights dimmed before going completely black at a touch from the remote. With only the blue light of the television, and even that flashing with different hues as they cut from city to city, the two sunk into the soft embrace of the bed and the safety of each other’s company.