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The Candidate: Part 1

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By Conor MatthewsPublished 2 months ago 13 min read
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The Candidate: Part 1
Photo by Mockup Free on Unsplash

The Candidate: 1

The last four months of Gabrielle's presidential campaign have been rough. She knew it would be, but it was still difficult. The attack ads went after her voting record, old views that haven't aged well, and the fact her birth name was originally Gabriella Garcia. For her, the white-washing allegations hurt the most, mostly because she was only doing what she had learned to do by America since she was a little girl. It wasn't her fault poles approved of the name change during the primaries. Yet she still felt the same unease of being on the outskirts of acceptance. As a congresswoman, she was used to having to prove herself, but to be shamed for doing what she was expected, what her opponents expected of minorities, that was disrespectful.

"Maybe it was a good thing," Gabrielle's campaign manager, Markus Fletcher, often mused, "that you didn't take your husband's name". Gabrielle tried not to laugh too hard, to spare her husband Mr. Wong's feelings.

The only part of the campaign that was harder than growing a thick skin was the public. That's THE public. The terrifyingly inept average person. The type so uninformed that don't even have opinions to disagree with you on. The majority of the population who don't want to talk about the economy or tariffs, but rather what the president will do about potholes of 5th street, or those rowdy kids skateboarding on the weekends; they should be in school! These are the kingmakers of America.

Gabrielle was out within seconds of hitting her hotel bed, snoring away four months of travelling by bus, mind numbing town hall meetings, and photo-ops at diabetes inducing ice-cream parlors. She could hear Markus in her dreams, reminding her;

"Rocky-Road plays well to voters. It's familiar, but not boring. It's flavorful, but not gluttonous."

As Gabrielle search the dreamscape labyrinth of sky high ice-cream mountains, bottomless pothole pits, and her opponent, Theo "Teddy" Potts, skateboarding around her, mockingly calling her Señora Wong, a rumbling of bangs and shouts stirred her awake.

Gabrielle, initially delirious with exhaustion, pulled from deep sleep, stumbled across the dark room, barely making out the last words from an unfamiliar voice in the hotel corridor.

"I need to speak to Gabriella! Gabriella! Gabri - -"

The voice suddenly became muddled, smothered, though still struggling, fading away, dragged off, judging by the stomping steps marching, by hotel security. Gabrielle reached out and pulled the door open, but feel against it as it was wrenched back from her. She turned in time to avoid a bang on the forehead, but still swore in fright. A hissing hush on the other side of the door was followed immediately by knocking. Gabriella pushed herself onto her feet and opened the door, slowly this time, ready for another snap, finding Markus, flanked by Jim, Gabrielle's personal bodyguard.

"Gabby, I - -"

"What happened?"

Markus paused, reminding himself who he was speaking to. People act differently when you could be the next president. Even if it's unlikely, there's a calculating hesitation people approach you with, like positioning pieces in chess. Markus was prone to these considerations. He could position himself very well in the White House if he played the game.

"Nothing to worry about. Just a drunk on the wrong floor." Markus placated, chuckling and smiling.

Gabrielle knew he was lying, but despite the noise, the pain from the door, and the growing self-reassurance she did hear her name being called, she wearily nodded and closed the door, returning to bed. She was that exhausted and worn down she couldn't be bothered. Tonight was the first time in years she would be asleep before one in the morning.

There was little time in the morning to ask about the disturbance. As always, breakfast was an unpaid volunteer rushing up to Gabrielle boarding the tour bus, nervously handing her a large oak milk latte, a takeout tray of scrambled eggs, bacon, slabs of thick, syrup drenched pancakes, and a local newspaper to get a sense for the folks she'll be pandering to today. Groggy from the early start, Gabrielle choked down the starchy meal, popping strong heartburn tablets to ease the ungraceful burbs. The coffee didn't help.

In between the briefings with Markus, covering do's and don'ts's along their stops today, Gabrielle tries asking about the previous night, only for Markus to rebuff her attempts, first with a casual nonchalance, then with frustrated patience, and finally with passive aggressive silence. The campaign is an endurance test for everyone, not just the candidates.

It wasn't until mid-afternoon, after a morning full of diners, schools, and meeting Mayor Whatever and Governor Whocares, that Gabriella got a chance alone with Jim. Dinner was scheduled late to squeeze in a visit to a sawmill just outside Governor Whocares' family ranch, one with strong union ties, but still swinging. She needed them to handicap Theo in this state. The mill was out in the sticks, literally, as the adolescent trees began to stretch and swell, replacing their fallen timber kin, giving the appearance of an emaciated woodland made of giant toothpicks. The roads to the mill were narrow and mostly dried dirt, with twisting turns as you ascended into the hills. There was no way to get the bus up, so the campaign team was to split up into hired cars. Originally, Markus was to join Gabrielle and Jim, who would be driving, but a campaign staffer was caught taking hits off his pipe, meaning a car was short a driver. Gabrielle got into the passenger seat, turning in time to notice Jim, before entering, was called away by Markus. They were too far away to overhear, even as Gabrielle cracked the door open, but from the animated point in her direction, before Markus forced a smile once he noticed her watching them, she knew it must have been a warning to not discuss last night.

The drive to the mill was slow and dull. The procession of cars, as if at a funeral, stretched and crawled. Jim was not on for talking much, being a silent, intimidating bulk of a man. Rumors surrounded his past. His resume was pretty sparse after high school, yet he had no criminal record, so everyone had bets going, ranging from heavy turned informant, speak-easy doorman, a black-ops marine sent to [REDACTED] to [REDACTED], and even the old gay porn cliché. Either way, you got the impression it was best no one knew. Gabrielle felt guilty at times; while her husband was at home with their daughters, she was often unable to not stare longingly at those wide, sprawling hands, and those heavy, thick, hairy arms. But enough of her curiosity was peaked to keep her focus on last night.

"Jim?"

"Yes!" Jim replied obediently. He had been waiting.

"What happened last night outside my room?"

Jim watched the road ahead carefully. Gabrielle waited, knowing he heard her and had enough respect to not act otherwise.

"Mr. Fletcher - -"

"Markus."

Jim nodded, correcting his over-formality.

"Markus, yes. Markus doesn't want to concern you, especially since it was handled."

A fleeting smirk gave away Jim's pride in his work. Jim's knuckles did look a little stained.

Gabrielle paused, telling herself not to speak again until Jim, uncomfortable with the disapproving silence, continued.

"You have a lot on your mind, Ma'am. Myself and the others take our assignments very serious."

"Then you should be able to give me a security report on what happened… or would you like to make it to the part heads, since I am their candidate."

Gabrielle may have been a foot shorter than him, but Jim had the same hesitating consideration everyone else did. He was, after all, along with the others on the campaign, hired security, not secret service. A bad review is one thing, but from a presidential hopeful…

Jim took his tome around the bend in the road, inhaling and sighing deeply as he prepared himself.

"As I said, Ma'am, it was handled, but… if you must know, it was just some crazy."

"A Theo supporter?"

Theo had a knack for whipping his base into a frenzy. Gone were the days of heated debate and coding language. Theo, a sluggish oaf of a man, yet a successful media tycoon profiting from decades of sensationalism and public hysteria, had a gift for saying the most deranged and baseless claims with such vigor that it was hard not to get swept up in the rabble. What his base lacked in political literacy, they made up in passion. Maddeningly incoherent passion. In reality, Theo has nothing to offer of substance, but that was his appeal. He was a blank canvas and opportunist. He feigned ignorance when called out. He had no morals, so of course he was supported by those with the worst kinds of morals. And they were emboldened by him. Hardly a week went by without new of assaults on trans kids, or books being burned, all in the name of the "Culture War". Finally, here was a candidate that was telling the angry, the bitter, the lost that their feelings were justifiable, and that they were right on the source of their troubles. Gabrielle was all too familiar with the death threats by emails and slurs online. So it's not a bad guess to think it was a Theo supporter just trying to scare her last night.

Amazingly, Jim pouted and shook his head in mild surprise, thinking the same.

"No. At least, he's been saying no."

"…What do you mean by that? Has he tried this before?"

Gabrielle watched Jim scrupulously, witnessing his stoicism crack a little. His eyes widened, and his head slowly pulled back, as though chastising himself. Jim huffed and nodded.

"About a few weeks into the campaign. Markus was told about some guy repeatedly calling, wanting to speak to you. People call all the time for you. Journalists, voters, prank callers. This guy seemed like one of the wackadoos. You've got a few, from what I've heard. You've got three guys and a woman all claiming to be your father."

Jim laughed, but his smile dropped as he glanced to Gabrielle.

"Your father's still in care, right?"

"We got him a live-in nurse, yeah. So this guy's been calling this whole time? For what? What, is he in love or something?"

"No, it's… it's weird. He keeps calling and Markus is told because the folks managing the lines keep blocking his number, but he just gets a new one. Burners, I'd imagine. He's clever, I'll give him that. Nearly got to you one time."

"Really?"

"Oh yeah! He donated fifty grand! He must have thought he'd get through that way."

Gabrielle sat enraptured, thinking, like Jim, how smart it was. Large donors get personal thank you calls. They were straight forward affairs, lasting about a few minutes with thanks, idle chit-chat, and then a reminder to vote in November. Gabrielle didn't recall any strange donors. Boring, but not strange.

"What happened?" Gabrielle prodded. "How come I didn't take the call?"

"He was caught. Donors are called up first and then patch through to you. I guess if you call enough time, you're bound to be remembered, even by your voice. They patched Markus and I through. He wasn't too pleased, so he goes off on all this wacky stuff."

"Like what?"

"Nah! You're not going to believe me."

"Jim!"

Jim took a beat, partially to go around another turn, partially to glance in the rearview mirror at the car directly behind them, driven by Markus.

"He said he was from the future."

"…What?"

Jim shook his head, chuckling, bemused.

"Yeah! From the distant year of 2032, huh! He starts going on about how it's important he talks to you, and how the fate of the world depends on it. My younger brother, before he went, rest his soul, he used to love that crap. Superheroes and Trek Wars stuff."

Gabrielle cracked a smile, a little relieved. Seeing Jim open up a little helped.

"So what? He thinks I'm the messiah?"

Jim let out a bark of laughter.

"If only! Hell of an endorsement! No… no, it got real creepy, real fast. He said he can prove he's from the future. Started naming dates and saying where we were scheduled to stop, do photo-ops with who, what hotels we'd be in. You should have seen Markus. I didn't know it at the time, but whoever this guy was turned out to be right on the money. Markus blew up, threatening everything. Hacking, doxing, harassment. Hung up and rescheduled as much as he could."

"You don't think he was serious, do you?"

"About the dates? Yeah, he was. Go them right."

"No, I mean… about being from the future."

"Oh, no! No… no… but… he shouldn't have known what he knew."

"And that was him in the hall last night?"

"By the looks of things. Sure sounded like him. Didn't expect me to be standing outside for the first watch, I bet."

"Is that what Markus said to you before we took off? I saw you two talking."

Jim shifted uncomfortably, glancing down the side of the hall, watching the tail of the convoy slinking up the end. He cleared his throat and snorted back a wad, swallowing it. Gabrielle waited until it was clear he wasn't going to answer; not without her scorning him.

"Jim."

"The guy mentioned something. Probably not serious, but it spooked Markus enough for him to tell me to stick to you today. Really, it's nothing."

"Then tell me."

"He said… he said you end up in the hospital because of an accident at the mill."

Gabrielle stared, slightly open-mouther, before she wildly looks around, flustered.

"Jesus Christ! What are we doing here!"

"Markus said we're to go ahead."

"That could be a bomb threat or he's a shooter!"

"Markus has extra security waiting at the mill, he told party officials, and he let the local chief know."

"He told everyone but me!"

"He didn't want to worry you. These are rust belt folks. No offence, but you can't afford to cancel on them. You need these people to think you aren't going to take their jobs."

"Oh why! Because people like me steal jobs!"

"No, because you're a leftist tree-hugger. Don't flatter yourself. There's a lot to hate about you."

Jim flashed a wry smile, but as they were pulling into the car park of the mill, overlooking a wide, deforested expanse, he could see Gabrielle was still not reassured; her eyes rocked. He parked the car and placed a heavy hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, snapping her to him, a little startled. A crew of reporters, photographers, and journalists who had been waiting were readying themselves. Jim lowered his eyes, meeting Gabrielle's.

"It was just a weirdo. It didn't mean anything. You're going to go in there, you're going to be great, you're going to be presidential, and, most importantly, you're not going to tell Markus what I said because it's my job on the line."

Gabrielle laughed, bit more at herself than Jim. She was embarrassed. It wasn't entirely unwarranted, though. Tensions were mounting in political discourse. There was an unabashed, unashamed candidate calling people traitors, degenerates, and communists because of how they look, think, or live. Death threats to health clinics, gay bars, and grade schools were not the norm. So yes, Gabrielle knew fully well how serious a threat could be.

But she felt silly, remembering this was a time-traveler. It wouldn't have been hard to have guessed future campaign stops. After all, journalists had already made comments about how similar her tour was to Barack Obama's 2008 run. Gabrielle's passable impression was enough to side-step those remarks. Gabrielle thanked Jim, who returned to his tight-lipped, stoic expression, putting on his sunglasses and adjusting his concealed gun holster.

Gabrielle took a deep inhale, whistled a sigh, and then opened the door, instantly smiling and waving to the media quickly approaching.

#HI

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About the Creator

Conor Matthews

Writer. Opinions are my own. https://ko-fi.com/conormatthews

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