They always find me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my profession. But it’d be nice to have an occasional drink in peace. Disguises don’t help. My skin is brown this time, my eyes grey like my hair. Still, he knows me.
He sits on the next barstool, orders a beer.
I ignore him. Stare at the telly.
“I—” he begins.
“Don’t care,” I say.
“—have a request.”
I sip my Scotch. “Everyone does.”
“You know why I’m here.”
I glance at him. He’s aged. More lines on his face, eyes ringed with shadows that can’t be explained by years.
“I told you the last dozen times. I don’t like politics.”
“Yeah,” he sighs. “Look where that got us.”
The bar crowd roars, and I turn back to the game. The home team’s star player has scored. Again. He’s on a roll, that one. Three spectacular years since he and I made our deal. Four left to him, plus a show-stopping exit. A literal killer goal. He’ll go out on top.
Me? I got a hundred thou and twenty-seven years in payment. It’s a living.
“Did you hear what I said?” the Potential asks. His voice grates.
“Everything’s changed,” he insists. “Haven’t you been paying attention?”
His urgency plucks my interest. I twist. Look him up and down. He needs a shave. Is that the same suit as last time I saw him? The same tie? His salt-and-pepper hair might be longer. Not sure.
“You look like hell,” I say.
He shrugs. “Rough year.”
I sip. “What do you want?”
He glances around, leans closer. “I want to unseat the incumbent.”
I snort. Shake my head. “I’m no assassin.”
“I didn’t say kill him,” he hisses. “There are other ways.”
I squint. “You want to take his place.”
He leans back, tucks in his chin. He didn’t expect blunt, I guess. That’s his problem. Subtle’s not my jam. Potential takes a pull from his beer. Rubs his jaw. Nods.
His face contorts. “Why?” he repeats.
A huff explodes between his lips. “Because I’m the better man for the job.”
“Bullshit. You want power.”
For a moment, I think he will hit me. Big mistake, that. He realizes. Changes his mind.
“I’m a damn sight better than what we’ve got now.”
I stare at him until he looks away, fidgets with the napkin beneath his bottle, looks back.
“So, what? Your clientele is always pure of heart?”
He’s got me there. Yon soccer player left a trail of offspring everywhere. Pretty sure they’ll never see a dime of his money. This fine establishment’s owner cheated on her taxes before and after I helped her land the bar in exchange for fifteen years and free drinks forever. Sam, the bartender, watered down orders on a regular basis. I helped him beat a fraud rap, and took five years and a vow to never dilute my fifty-seven-year-old Laphroaig.
I want to ask Potential what changes he’ll make. What he’ll do different. Instead, I peer inside. See for myself. Shudder.
Better man, my ass. Potential’s every bit as greedy, self-centered and indulgent as the current Big Cheese. Plots and schemes run as thick here as I’m sure they do in Head Honcho. I dunno, never met that guy. In the smarts department, though, this Potential’s got it going on. Clever ideas. Plans that could work. Projects to benefit others, despite his kickbacks. A campaign to unify, rather than divide.
I’m impressed. He’s no more a savior than any other politician, but on a scale of light to dark, he’s a paler shade of grey.
“Won’t be cheap,” I say at last.
I sigh, sip, glance at the telly before I turn back. “Five mil advance, to start.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“What else?” he asks.
I purse my lips. “You’re fifty-five? Sixty?”
“Fifty-seven next Tuesday.”
I nod. “I’ll give you eight years in office, and two years to enjoy the afterglow. The rest are mine.”
“Ten—” He sputters, blanching . “That’s not enough! My family—”
This is why I don’t like politicians. They’re all about the take, not so great on the give. I slug the last of my Laphroig, push the glass across the bar. Stand.
“Wait.” His voice quavers. “Will it be a good run?”
My lip curls. “I’m your palm-reader now?”
He swallows, bar lights gleaming off sweat on his brow. “Okay.”
I hold out my hand. He stares at it, looks back to my face. “No contract?”
“Don’t need one.”
“How do I know you’ll keep your word?”
I turn toward the door.
“Wait!” he hisses, lurches to his feet. “How does this work?”
“Transfer the funds. Run for office.”
“What about at the end? Do you find me, or what?”
“Don’t worry about that. Just make the best of your ten years. And don’t forget the money.”
He shifts his weight. “What if I do?”
I smile. “Then your time’s up sooner.”
Potential draws a breath, blows it out. Nods.
I extend my hand again. He looks at it like it might bite.
He takes it, lifts his eyes to mine. I clamp down over his fingers, shake once, leech thirty-one years onto my own tally. His skin blanches for a heartbeat. Feels like hours. Always does.
Then it’s done. His color returns. Most of it, anyway. He stands on shaking legs. “That’s it?”
He releases my hand and I give a little salute. “See you, Mr. President.”
He frowns. Turns. Leaves. Passes a woman on her way in.
She looks around. Sees me. Starts my way.
I roll my eyes. One drink. No interruptions. Is that too much to ask?
The new Potential comes close. Hesitates. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” she says. “I heard you could—”
The bartender laughs. “Another Scotch, Abby?”
I sigh. Sit. “Pour it, Sam.”