Clair Andretti awoke at the crack of dawn, dressed hurriedly and took the bus to campaign headquarters. The bus rumbled along with an uneven clomping, moving more like some great drunken beast than a properly operational transportation was filled with immigrants as usual, all dark eyes and brown eyes and self congression. They eyed Clair dubiously, as if they believed at any moment this short, pale skinned immaculately dressed creature would leap at them, fangs bared, fists clenched. The old man who sat beside her lowered his paper and looked out the window, speaking as if he were addressing some entity beyond human ken, flying beside the lumbering vehicle.
“I noticed some paint under your fingernails.”
Clair reflexively looked down to her hands, indeed he was right. Though she had showered and scrubbed her hands vigorously some caked on flecks of acrylic still remained.
“You an artist or a renovator?”
The man nodded to himself as if that was an affirmation extending far beyond the meaning of the words themselves. Then he spoke again, still without looking to Clair where she sat beside him, typing furiously away on her tiny thousand dollar laptop.
“How old are you?”
“You’re awfully curious. Haven’t you heard about the cat and it’s curiosity?”
“I’m going to guess your twenty five, perhaps slightly older.”
“Pretty sharp – I’m twenty six.”
“Last week a woman precisely your age was raped by eastern migrants on this very bus-line.”
Clair felt an icy pang of dread slither down her spine, not just from the disturbing news but also from the man’s stilted voice and emotional detachment.
“I didn’t hear about that on the news.”
“They didn’t feature it on the news. Not a single channel.”
“Whoa… that’s terrible… since you seem keen on the news maybe this will interest you,”
Clair clicked a few times on her keyboard, squinting down at the laptop screen before continuing.
“Two days ago a drug house in the Charnel was raided by SWAT after a young man named Jimmy Garner, whom had been reported missing for over a month, stumbled, half-dressed, into VPD headquarters. Mr. Garner reported that he was being held prisoner by sex traffickers and had been saved by a tall man wearing a chrysanthemum jacket. When SWAT stormed the house they found the owners as well as the purported kidnappers. The kidnappers, two men and woman, had been savagely beaten to death. Upon the woman’s torso were carved the words, Filth.”
Clair shook her head after she’d finished reading.
“It sounds like something out of an old pulp novel…”
“Have they identified the killer?”
“Not as yet. According to Garner he was, ‘a tall man with a blue ball cap and a jacket emblazoned with a chrysanthemum symbol.’ Garner also stated that the man didn’t speak a word either before or after his release. Sounds like a wacko to me.”
The stranger beside Clair nodded faintly, as if he were filing something important away within some specialized confines of his mind.
The bus rolled to a stopped and Clair rose and made to leave, then paused and turned to the mysterious man, who gazed still out the window.
“I never did get your name.”
The stranger said nothing.
Clair shook her head, muttering, “Weirdo,” under her breath and then left out through the mechanized hissing of the bus’ low slung double doors. The bus departed and traveled four blocks before stopping again at Partridge Gallery. The stranger followed two of the migrants out of the bus, a black duffle bag slung over his left shoulder and a deep, inner focus resonating from opaque yellow eyes.
The migrants were Sudanese, young and loud. Crassly shouting in their foreign tongue as they went careening along the narrow cement walkway. They laughed at a trendy youth, flipping his hat from his head. The boy leapt back with a terrified expression, no more than fifteen years of age. Then they moved on, gesticulating rudely at a scantily clad gaggle of women waiting for a cab.
The stranger knelt and plucked the ballcap up from off the ash and gum stained cement, handing it to the quivering lad without expression. The boy nodded his thanks, took the hat and ran.
The stranger surveyed the pulsing world around him, the high gleaming spires of tireless industry, the whirring invocation rubber on pavement, darkening clouds and the malefic cry of sirens, harbinger of some obscure tragedy. On the ground was a dead bird, sun bleached carcass heaving in grotesque undulations. Ants piling from it’s innards. The stranger gazed into the dead beast’s sightless sockets where one eyes likewise resided and then moved on. A singular purpose overtaking his the totality of his being.
The migrants had grown bored of jeering at the whores and trudged briskly up the steps of the Partridge Museum’s massive marble entrance way. The stranger watched them pass within the rotating glass doors and then surveyed the facade. It was more like some olden lord’s keep than anything classically resembling a museum, all cold steel, glistening chrome and jet-black onyx paneling. The man passed within the spinning doors as the sky darkened, massive clouds uncoiling themselves from that misted atmosphere like great and fabled serpents hellbent on Life’s consumption.
The lobby was a mirror image of the facade, beyond it the foyer and beyond that the gallery proper, mordant paintings lining every polished wall. The picture-room’s construction was curiously avant-garde; a great out-bent U at the end of which, on both sides, a stairway and above it an upper landing.
The stranger traced the walls with measured footfalls, keeping well out of sight of the dark skinned ruffians who ignored the masterworks surrounding and pranced up the high, chalcedony steps, vanishing quickly from sight. The stranger’s eyes swept the room, left to right, noting the lack of cameras within the semicircular vestibule.
Fists frosted white with fury as the high red lights gleamed off the golden chrysanthemum sigil which adorned the stranger’s white leather jacket.
When Clair finally reached the office meeting room she found Layne waiting for her, a stack of papers laid out before him, designer glasses perched upon the end of his long, share nose.
“Good lord, how on earth do you stay so punctual?”
“Ha. Well, take a seat, I’m just going over your mock-ups for the new flyers. I must say I’m impressed.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Oh knock of the, sir, stuff. Just call me Aiken.”
“Whatever you say, Sir Aiken.”
They laughed, sharing smiles, as Clair drew up beside him and settled into one of the rickety metal folding chairs haphazardly positioned about the creaking plywood table.
“On a serious note, I saw you on TV yesterday… how are you holding up?”
“You know the damnedest part about the whole fiasco wasn’t the fact that my life was under threat… it was the look in their eyes. The eyes of my fellow countrymen. Hatred. Pure hatred.”
“But there’s something else isn’t there, something else bothering you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You’ve been mobbed by Unity protesters before, you know they hate you. Last time they stormed one of your rallies I asked you how you felt – remember what you said?”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“You said, ‘I feel like I should have ordered my supporters to beat the ever-living daylights outta the little shits.”
“That does sound like something I’d say doesn’t it, haha.”
“So, what’s got your goat Mr. Mayor?”
“I’m not the mayor just yet.”
He fiddled with his wedding ring, averting his gaze from Clair and her lavish campaign drawings.
“Oh, I see. It’s your wife.”
“Let’s talk about something else.”
“Let’s not talk at all.”
Aiken turned to the woman with a look of both relief and surprise shinning in his narrow, gray eyes.
“I should have called you after…”
Clair placed her hand upon his leg and slide it up to his crotch, caressing his hardness as a small gasp of pleasure emanated from his mouth.
“Shut up and fuck me.”