The Cafe Noir’s small, mahogany confines smelled of tobacco smoke and leather, cigarette ash and java beans, a small gaggle of hipsters lounging about the counter at the front of the store, chatting with the staff whilst the old men, with their fat hands and wrinkled foreheads, puffed their fragrant belicoso’s and cursed the politicians of the day.
“Fuck that. Shelly Barnes is a dumb cunt. Total criminal.”
Clair Andretti, who stood before the bookshelves which lined the far left wall of the establishment, turned to the speaker. He was a fat, bald Italian with meaty jaws, piggish eyes hid behind over-sized panama shades, slacks, dress shoes and a windbreaker underneath which he wore a shirt that read: Get in the fast-Layne.
The Italian’s compatriot, a swarthy, younger man, athletic, trendy, dressed in expensive designer wear, opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by Clair.
“I take it you’re a Layne Supporter?”
The man’s question was intoned humorously but she knew well enough that in all humor there was some tracing of truth.
“Why so defensive?”
“I’d tell you but it’d be easier to show you.”
The man leaned slightly forwards, removing his huge sunglasses and turning his face to expose a ghoulish purple bruise which covered the whole of his left eye. The skin was so swollen that the Italian could barely open the lid.
“Yikes. What happened? Run into some Aiken Layne protesters?
The man nodded sadly.
“This whole city is losing it’s goddamned mind.”
Chase and Beach watched from two tables away, Beach sipping his latte nervously, Chase puffing on a cigar as he plyed eyes to a recently downloaded platformer, oblivious to the scene unfolding before him.
Clair moved elegantly to her friend’s table, plucked up one of the empty chairs, turned it around and sat down facing the elderly, swole-eyed Italian.
“I read an article today about the protests, apparently they’ve become so regular and violent that the Layne Campaign is considering pushing back his next rally.”
“Yeah I heard about that,” the sharp dressed man replied, “Was gonna take place in Derby Park. Nice place.”
The Italian shook his head.
“It was a nice place until those loud mouthed cretins took it over.”
Jonas Beach turned fully around in his chair, spilling some coffee on the table, little tar spots pooling about like blood under the moon and him cursing under his breath. He dabbed the spill and then bashfully raised his voice.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Don’t you read the news, kid?” The Italian inquired, smiling as he fiddled with his large, gold wedding band.
“Um… no, not really.”
“Well, you outta. Oh look, they’re on the news, Layne too.”
Chase and Clair snapped instantly to attention, the former turning to his wide-eyed friend with a mocking tone.
“Look, it’s your boyfriend.”
Jonas’ brows leapt up to the top of his forehead as his eyes flew from coffee cup to his friend’s features.
“Layne is your boyfriend?”
Clair sighed heavily, rolling her eyes and then closing them before responding flatly.
“No, you dolt. He’s joking. Layne’s my boss. I hadn’t told you yet but his campaign just got a big contribution from Lynder Partridge, so they’re planning on expanding and were looking for graphic designers. I figured I could fill the role so I showed them portfolio and they hired me on the spot.”
“O-oh. Well congrats… looks like we’ve got even more to celebrate.”
“Thanks. Now shut up, I’m trying to listen.”
All present heads suddenly pivoted to the huge HD plasma screen TV where it hung from the back left wall about the book shelves and the keno machine. It was a local news station.
“Good afternoon, this is Damien Bao with VNN bringing you the latest in breaking news. Only thirty minutes ago Mr. Layne announced he would be holding a press conference from his campaign headquarters at Bessner Avenue. Let’s go over to Abebi Asante who’s currently on-scene outside of his campaign headquarters were he’s staged a impromptu press conference.”
The screen split with Bao to the left and a elderly black woman with bleached blonde hair appearing to the right. Behind the black reporter a raucous crowd bustled and roared angrily, signs held high and them reading: End the Pain, End Aiken Layne! Or, Layne Stands for Hate, Not The Working Man! As well as, IMMIGRANTS ARE PEOPLE TOO! and the deplorably uninspired, Layne = Fascism.
“Thanks Damien, I’m here in Center Park Square, as you can see the protesters are thick-packed behind me and very angry. As I’m sure everyone remembers, earlier in the month, shortly after announcing his candidacy for Mayor, conservative writer and founder of Exo Armaments, Aiken Layne made some very disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants, calling them, ‘Criminal intruders.’ A statement which, as one might expect, has gotten quite a lot of people angry-”
Clair shook her head with exasperation.
“Bullshit,” the Italian barked, glaring angrily at the television screen.
“What is?” Jonas asked, utterly perplexed.
“Layne only said that about illegal immigrants. The gall of these talking heads…”
Jonas opened his mouth to question the old man but Clair shushed him briskly, the whole of her attention focused on the developing story.
“-Despite these protestations, Mr. Layne still plans to speak – here he is now!”
The camera panned quickly away from the reporter and the protesters to a podium which had been positioned in the middle of the tightly framed park and zoomed upon a tall, powerfully built man with silvery hair. The man emerged from behind the massive wooden podium to applause so raucous that it completely drowned out the protesters. The silver haired man smiled, a simultaneously dangerous and disarming gesture and then quickly waved and ascended the stairs. He spoke into a expensive microphone headset, so ergonomic and slender that one could barely see it at all.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, truly. I’m so honored to see this kind of turn out despite the circumstances. If there’s one thing I know about my fellow citizens it’s that they won’t let these rabblerousers, these communists, stop us from spreading our message of liberty!”
The crowd went wild. Aiken Layne smiled again, nodding as much to himself as to the crowd and then pressed on, gesticulating forcefully in a manner more befitting of a sergeant prepping his men for battle than that of a suit and tie politician.
“You’ve heard all kinds of things about me – and I’ve gotta say this for those of you who haven’t met me before, as I see so many beautiful new faces – but all kinds of spurious accusations. The most vile kind of slander. I tell ya folks, they say I’m a tough guy but it’s been rough. I’ve been called damn near every name in the book: Nazi, fascist, RINO, warmonger, sexist, racist… the list just goes on and on. I don’t think these people – the media spin doctors, the socialist academics, the corporate interest groups and lobbyists, and last and least my opponent, Julie Marcel! – even know what the hell these words actually mean. They just say them, over and over again, as if that’s a refutation. 24/7. It’s suggestive, isn’t it folks? This tactic. Insults are something to be resorted to by the desperate, by those who don’t have an argument. It shouldn’t be one’s first response. It really shouldn’t folks.”
“You hear a lot of talk about being, “Presidential,” but you never hear talk about being, ‘Mayorial.’ Well, maybe that’s something we should be talking about because you’re faced with a choice, an important one, this upcoming election. A choice between me and Ms. Marcel. This is the part of the speech where my opponent’s supporters would say something like, ‘And that’s a choice between the cancer and it’s cure.’ Let me be clear folks, if Julian Marcel is the cure then I am happy to be as cancerous as necessary.”
The crowd laughed at which point Aiken shook his head, a kind of righteous fury suddenly overtaking him.
“That’s not a joke. I’m quite serious. This city is sick. Deathly so. This is a city where serial rapists and pedophiles are smacked on the wrist with milksop six month rehabilitation programs before being released back onto the streets to rape and terrorize once again. This is a city where murder runs rampant – I mean we have the highest number of violent crime in the nation, bar none. If this city was a nation we’d be the murder capitol of the world! But things weren’t always this way. Indeed, only ten years ago we were one of the safest and most prosperous cities in the nation – in the world even! So the obvious question then, what changed? I’ll tell you, my friends, it was leadership, the leadership changed. The Dems took over, both the mayoral office and the White House. In partnership with the Oval Office they have created the largest and most expensive immigration program in the history of this country. We’ve taken hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of migrants – and that’s the key word, ‘migrant,’ not, ‘refugee,’ despite what the media might tell you. They’re economic migrants, folks. They’re not running from anything other than their horrible, third world reality. Now I wanna focus on this for a while and I wanna focus on this issue because it’s the main thing my detractors zoom in on. When I say things like, ‘A nation either has borders or it does not. If it does not then in what way is it a nation?’ or, ‘It is necessary to the welfare of the country that we work towards unified cultural strictures – not forcing anything on anyone but simple demanding consistency and that those principled number among us speak up and out and do so often and hold fast to their traditions no matter which Hollywood stars this might enrage,’ And for this I’m lambasted as, a racist hatemonger. I mean, it boggles belief folks, and the reason I’m talking about all of this isn’t because it’s irritated me, which it admittedly has – no, it’s because this isn’t really about me, this is all about you. You, the layman, the working man and women, the repairman and the nursing student, the car mechanic and the freelance writer, are the one’s who are most adversely affected by this. First they take away your business opportunities by raising taxes, driving out industry, then throwing open the gates and flooding our magnificent city with more migrants than we can possibly handle. Next the migrants don’t integrate but rather self segregate, ghettoizing and demanding that we adopt their customs and their ways. And then, when you, the common working man, whose ancestors gave up their very lives and the lives of their sons for you to build the life you want, say – no, I’ve had enough, I won’t put up with this, I don’t want your Middle Eastern customs forced upon my children or my place of business or my women – well then you’re a disgusting bigot who must be silenced. They’re trying to take everything from us, these academics and kleptocrats, one because of ideology, the other due to greed. Your wealth, your safety, your culture, your freedom of speech, all are under threat. All. So if you are looking for someone who will protect your interests, your heritage, your rights, your freedoms then we need to stand up, all of us, every god damned one. We’ve stood up to tyrants before, whether it was the British Crown or the Axis Alliance, and we’ve beat them all down into sludge. And we can do it again, all we need is to harness the will, the drive, the spirit of our nation. So I say unto you, my fellow countrymen, stand, stand with me and together we will fight these foreign parasites and carnival barkers, the so-called, ‘political class’ and drive them back into the fetid abyss from whence they came!”
The crowd erupted into furious applause, cheers flying out and up and filling the ambit of the city wide. Fierce gesticulation and wild-eyed adoration likening the crowd more to some fanatical congression of war then any mere poli-lay assembly.
Suddenly, the police barricade was breached and the protesters stormed the rally grounds, swarming from behind trees and blue-garbed bodies like locusts emerging from dark and sand-bound slumber. A chant issued from that gregarious band’s lips.
Hey hey, ho ho, fascist pigs have got to go, hey hey, ho ho!
Bulky men in dark suits with earpieces quickly ascended the dais, forming a protective semi circle round the mayoral candidate who glared out wrathfully at the activists
“You see how they scurry in to silence us! These people who declare themselves guardians of our society and all that such a declaration entails! These people who keep telling us they want more, ‘discussion.’ But now is not the time for discussion, now is the time for swift, decisive and aggressive action!”
Suddenly a punch was thrown and the entire scene erupted into violence as protesters and Layne loyalists clashed in a wild tangle of flailing fists, shouts, broken teeth and blood. A small detachment of the more foolhardy members of that disruptive band broke off and attempted to overtake the dais but were quickly neutralized with militaristic decisiveness by Layne’s security detail.
The Italian shook his head sadly.
“This goddamned city is losing it’s mind.”
Clair nodded, though truthfully she felt nothing, it was just another trumped up happening, a wonderfully packaged bundle of color and noise, passing away as quickly as it happened. By next week, she mused, the riot would be completely forgotten, passing into the void-well of collective consciousness with a lapsed synaptic whimper.
Chase cut into the settling gloom with characteristic nonchalance.
“So… back to our celebration.”
“You didn’t seem particularly interested in celebrating before. You were more interested in your little puzzle game.”
“It’s not a puzzle game, it’s an action platformer. Get it right, Clair.”
“Sheesh. Why are you always so fucking grim? You know what, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. Now is not the time for ruminating on civil unrest – now is the time for celebration! After all, we’re the Universities cream of the crop.”
“As far as Lynder Partridge is concerned,” Jonas chimed in meekly.
“Lynder Partridge’s opinion means more to me than all of the professors at Vandem U combined.”
Chase shook his head, turning to the Italian and his well dressed compatriot with an affectation of defeatism.
“You see what I have to put up with? These two are utterly incapable of having fun.”
The Italian shrugged, “Maybe that’s a good thing. Most other youngsters I see don’t do nothing else.”
“You’re not helping – now, I propose a toast!”
Chase leapt up suddenly with nervous energy, his paper latte cup held with monarchical distinction as if it were some bejeweled chalice being proffered to an olden lord of high distinction. Clair’s stoicism instantly melted away. She’d always found Chase’s affectatious, playful manner charming, his boundless vitality invigorating and his good natured cheer infectious.
Reluctantly, Clair picked up her own cup with Jonas following suit with a shy expression, as if he was ashamed of such irregular behavior. However, even his timidity was wiped away by Chase’s infectious grin and mirthful intonation.
“To the future, to success, to us!”
They clacked their plastic lids together and then chugged the remnants of their cups with Chase finishing first, Clair second and Jonas third, coughing and hacking half his java up through his nose.