CARTER'S FORTRESS: WILLIAM CARTER V
Chapter 20 - By Christopher Patrick Lydon
They had sent a car for him to the airport, the same one they had regularly sent for Robert whenever he visited his constituency office. He turned his collar up against the bitterly cold November wind as he walked out to the car and climbed into the back.
Lisa had come ahead along with Alicia, setting things up at the office and arranging meetings with the Riding Association and its president. Will knew he should have felt nervous, as the Lincoln accelerated out into the street bound for the heart of downtown, but he had been through all of this before with Robert only a few short months before.
He knew the electorate process; he knew the figures involved, the faces behind this particular riding. The movers and shakers of the community. The question was, would they be as optimistic about his chances as the Party faithful back in Ottawa were?
He sat contemplating that as the car swept its way through slushy streets, splashing through the puddles, turning down Front Street and winding towards Yonge. He was getting used to the near constant travel now, it just felt strange being the one responsible for that travel.
He glanced up at the imposing black tower of the Avery-Woods building where he had worked before Avery's bid for politics. The communications firm was scaling back under its new CEO--the loss of Robert meant that the share prices in the firm had dipped. Without his strong presence it would take time for the company to find its footing again. Sad, considering how much Robert had invested in seeing his company continue to grow when other firms cut back.
The car drew up outside the constituency offices and Will stepped out, pausing to look around him then again turning his collar up against the cold and hurrying inside. This was the riding he was going to be competing for, and although he had seen it so many times over the past few months, it suddenly struck home that he was going to be responsible for it.
He licked his lips nervously, shrugging his shoulders and walking into the buzz and bustle of the campaign war room... his war room.
Brad MacKenzie, or just 'Mac' to everyone who knew him, was waiting for him. The President of the Liberal Riding Association grinned at him as he walked through the doors, a friendly clap on his shoulder and a warm gesture around him.
"How's it feel?" he asked with a smile.
"Nerve-wracking," Will admitted honestly as he looked about him at all the volunteers already hard at work on his behalf. Some faces he recognized from the last time around, but so many new ones were mixed in with them. He stopped and blinked when he recognized the Pride Association members working some of the phones.
Mac grinned at him and pointed across to where Lisa was talking into a phone, her suit jacket over the back of a chair and her desk littered with signs and posters. "Well, you have a good bunch willing to help you out; a press release went out this morning announcing your bid for the riding and so far for the Liberal nomination you are running uncontested." He chuckled and winked, "Mainly because I am not putting anyone on the card against you."
Alicia, happily smiling at him, was unpacking her stuff onto a desk just outside the office that had formerly been Robert's while he was in the constituency, and Will nodded back at her as he followed Mac around the makeshift campaign call center with its signs and posters.
He stopped and blinked. "How'd these get made so fast?" he asked incredulously, looking at the red and white signs with his name splashed over them.
"The PM ordered them made," Mac replied with a shrug. "He was adamant that he wanted you in this riding; must be flattering to know you have his support."
"Intimidating," Will replied, stopping and staring at his face looking back down at him from the wall. He had to blink to ensure that what he was looking at was real.
Mac smiled, "Lisa had a photo of you blown up. It's a good pose; took a while to get it just right but should do the trick..."
Will continued to stare at the poster a second before he realized that Mac was moving on, and he stumbled after him, still staring in awe at the sight. He had run a campaign, he knew what to expect, but it still hadn't prepared him for seeing his own image on the poster. There was something indescribable about the fear it caused in his stomach, that doubt that came with realizing he might be in over his head.
He steadied himself and caught up to Mac who waited patiently with a smile on his face. "I'd like you to meet a few of your key sponsors," Mac said, gesturing to a couple of men in business suits, a couple wearing Pride pins. "They have all made contributions to your war chest which," he gestured around him, "are being put to good use."
"T-Thank you," Will stuttered, extending and shaking hands. "Who's my campaign manager?" Will whispered in a low tone, glancing at Mac.
"Well, you leave funding to me," Mac said with a nod to the sponsors, "but the brains behind this is..." He pointed to a pair of patent leather shoes sticking out from behind a cubical partition.
Will frowned, and walked around the partition to see an all too familiar smiling face lounging in a chair and talking on a cell phone.
"Brody," Will said, as if there was any doubt.
"My little Willy's all grown up and running for parliament," Brody sniffed as he clicked off the phone and wiped away a mock tear. "Don't it just get ya...right here..." He thumped his heart twice.
Will shook his head in amazement, "Do I even want to know how you wangled this?"
"Nope, not for your virgin ears, which considering it's you is probably the only thing virginal," he grinned at Will as he fished a donut out of the box on the corner of the desk and proceeded to dunk it in his mug of Tim Horton's coffee.
"Careful," Will tossed back. "Public figure now, we can't allow me to have a bad reputation."
"Sheep in wolf's clothing," Brody chuckled as he flipped open his phone. "You sit back, look pretty and leave the hard work to us; we'll have you elected in no time."
Will smiled at his friend, "Thanks."
Brody waved him off, and Will smiled walking across to... the name on the door had been changed, and he stood a moment staring at it. William Carter. He cocked his head and walked in, setting his briefcase down and sweeping off the great coat and hanging it on the hook behind the door.
Alicia was already there with a mug of coffee and a couple of sheets of computer printout numbers. "The results of the last election, and the current polls," she said in explanation, pointing to the various sheets with a pen. "We expect a lower voter turnout, but that's natural in a by-election." She smiled, "However, Brody was rather quick to get the gay community on your side." She turned a bit and looked out at the volunteers, "You're the only gay candidate in a mostly gay and ethnic riding..."
"Who am I running against?" Will asked cautiously.
"The Conservative candidate, Kelly Siseau. Her figures are here... she was dead last in the last election results. The NDP candidate is the only real contender. Edward Prout was the incumbent before Robert knocked him out of his seat, and he's going to be pushing to get it back. He's got the old and experienced card, you have the young up-and-coming stuff going for you." She gave Will a square look, "We've got the fact that he lost the last election and the fact that the voters want change running in our favour."
"Thanks," Will said, adjusting the chair as he began to unpack his briefcase.
"You have a meeting with some constituents over at the Church Street Community Center, and then a press conference on the TTC; Lisa's working on things for you to say. But you are already familiar with the issues..."
Will nodded; he'd been through this before, he had the advantage, he just needed to remember that it was him now who would be front and center delivering the speeches and posing for the camera.
He loosened his tie and reached for a pen.
"You're not planning to go like that are you?" Alicia asked in concern.
Will stopped and blinked, "Like what?"
She gave him a frustrated sigh, "You're supposed to be gay, you can't go looking all geek sheik."
"Right..." Will said cautiously.
"Give me your credit card," she said, sounding insistent as she held out her hand for it.
"Why?" Will said, already tugging his wallet out of his pocket and fishing out his Visa.
"I'm doing what any good personal assistant does," she smiled happily as she took it. "Make her boss look good. Hugo Boss here I come..."
"Don't you dare..." he warned.
She smiled at him sweetly and gestured to a couple of the Pride Center volunteers, gestured back at him, and held up his Visa card. There were a few cheers before they were all gone.
Will rolled his eyes; typical. He went back to unpacking his briefcase, stopping as he pulled out the envelopes that were what remained of Avery's mail. He sighed and set about opening them to sort out where they belonged.
The first few were letters from constituents discussing issues they were facing. Will read them each carefully, making notes and passing them on to Brody, who in turn made sure each of them were called.
Will picked up the manila envelope that was hand-addressed. Will stared at it a moment and tore it open, pulling out the contents. He stared at the pages a moment, noting the Conservative Party letterhead, and he immediately stopped scanning it to read it in more detail.
It was a letter from the Shadow Minister of Heritage to the Leader of the opposition telling him there was nothing in the recent stories about the Heritage Exhibition Center worth pursuing. Will read the cover memo three times to be certain he had read it right. Nothing worth pursuing? Even Will knew there was, and he was a part of the party responsible for it.
He turned the page, flipping open the proposal from Grevano Construction. It broke down the expenses of the construction project in detail--there were penned-in notes showing actual costs as opposed to what was being requested. The penned numbers were substantially lower.
He moved on to a bankbook tucked into the back. Flipping it open he read off the name of the shadow minister; thumbing through the pages he stopped stock still--that explained where at least some of the money went. It really wasn't much to go on, but it was a start.
Will sat with the documents in his hands and looked thoughtful. That at least explained why the shadow minister had refused to comment on the project overspending, especially considering some of it was going directly into his pocket.
The question was, what did he do with it? So far all it was was a few shreds of evidence that hinted at embezzlement. However, it would be enough to get an audit done of Grevano's books and if the bank numbers on the transfers to the shadow minister could be proven to have come from Grevano's accounts...
He scooped up the phone and placed a call through to the Ministry of Heritage. It was answered immediately by the new minister. "Will, how are you?" Thorpe asked in a jovial tone.
"Well," Will replied. "Listen, Minister.."
"Jeremy, Will; you're one of the boys now or you soon will be, you can lose the formality." Thorpe sounded amused.
"Jeremy," Will corrected. "I'm looking at a couple of disturbing documents that hint at Grevano embezzling money from the Heritage Exhibition."
There was a pause on the line, and Will could hear Thorpe closing the door to his office. "You have proof?" Thorpe asked in a low tone.
"I have some proof," Will admitted. "It's not much..."
"Still, it's a start, right?" Thorpe sounded excited, "Sit on it for now; I'll do some digging this end and see what I can get you. If we put our heads together we can probably figure this mess out."
"Has something happened?" Will asked cautiously.
"Public Works sent me a memo this morning rejecting Robert's proposals to open the Exhibition Center early; if we can get to the bottom of this we might be able to salvage something from this situation." Thorpe sounded relieved, "Thanks for sharing this, Will."
"Well, it affects you, not me," Will said quietly.
"You're not even elected and already you're doing me a favour. I'll remember this one, Will. Thanks."
"No problem," Will said hanging up the phone and slipping the 'evidence' back into its envelope and tucking it back into his briefcase.