I never imagined I’d have to go to war.
Of course, I’d also never imagined that we’d find ourselves here, in a period of such political unrest, in the year 2020. In America. At the point that riots became the norm and and the police became so corrupt that they didn’t bother to stop what was happening. But to start a war because citizens needed a distraction from what was happening…
I’d fight, of course. Fight for the greater good. Emmett usually stood for that, even when his public perception couldn’t have hit any more rock-bottom if it tried.
We all stood for it at one time. When Emmett was still aligned with Javier. When we were all still aligned with Javier.
But I wasn’t only fighting for the greater good or for Emmett’s reputation or what he deserved, at this point. It was also for my own safety…that’s what happens to your mindset when you catch the heir to the “throne” embezzling $2.5 million from government accounts.
And Javier didn’t believe me. He thought it was all a ploy, a ploy set up by Emmett to be carried out by me and Zara and Dominick. Lisette would never steal any money, he said, forget about that amount of money, for herself.
But that’s not the whole story. That’s just the part that made the papers and the press conference.
Not to mention the line about how First Advisor Leah Moore accused the Commissioner-Elect of cooking the books without any evidence. Even the whole title of “Commissioner-Elect” is a joke, since the elections don’t matter.
The whole story starts when Javier said we’d all have a shot. We could all be commissioners one day upon his retirement – divide up the town into sections and give each of us a piece to supervise. No one was to be pushed out. No one was to accept less than a leadership role.
Yet without any notice, Lisette was secretly named the next county commissioner. Shortly afterward, I caught her red-handed.
Now I’m not terrific with numbers – but I’m terrific with reading people. And I knew she was trying to hide something when I caught her anxiously flipping through the town ledger, which faithfully sits on the desk of our treasury advisor. But it was after hours, and she’d gone home.
Lisette threatened to kill me once I’d gone to Javier with the surveillance footage that Emmett and I spent hours going through in the middle of the night.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said. “I can manage it. How do you even know if it’s true?”
“You saw it,” Emmett said. “And that’s enough for me.”
Two days later, the tape was destroyed.
My next step was to bring in an actual numbers expert – who was able to catch it – but once I took the case to our friend Dave at the local paper, the ledger was mysteriously (or not so mysteriously) replaced. Dave wanted to help – he just couldn’t.
Emmett protected me, of course – but if anyone should have been in the running to inherit the position of county commissioner, he should have been. He deserved it and spoke up for the rest of us when we couldn’t speak for ourselves.
When Javier failed to keep his word and refused to charge Lisette with embezzlement, Emmett decided to split and start his own movement – see if he could run for county commissioner on his own, with me and Zara and Dominick as his only advisors. He didn’t trust anyone else – not even the advisors who were seemingly “on the fence.”
Javier still had a large camp of advisors clamoring for his approval. There was Annette, who was useless at anything except acting as Javier’s puppet. There was Donald, who was part of the “on the fence” crowd – but nowadays there was no “on the fence.” You were either part of Javier’s camp or Emmett’s camp. Donald talked a big game, but when push came to shove, he feared Javier and continued to do his bidding. There was Tom, who seemed just too brilliant to be caught under the spell of Javier, yet he remained in the camp. And of course, there was Javier’s wife, Helene, who firmly believed that her husband did no wrong, and played a fine politician’s wife in the public eye.
They all made us out to be the “bad guys,” even when they were on the side of embezzlement and corruption. When Javier decided that the public had seen enough, he declared war.
War. As in riots in the streets war.
Javier had the police in his back pockets, so we were free to “battle” as we wished. Emmett capitalized – while we were his advisors, he needed man power. We couldn’t fight Javier’s larger and more well-funded troops with just four. But come hell or high water, we would prove that Lisette embezzled and that Javier rigged the upcoming elections so that Lisette would inherit the “throne.” That part wasn’t announced to the public yet – just to those of us who thought we would all get somewhere under Javier’s leadership. And we were going to expose that too.
The first riot was in July. Javier’s people came to our headquarters and started by lighting cars on fire – mine first, then Zara’s, and finally Emmett’s. They stole all of the identifying information in the cars before the fires started so that if they could assume our identities, they could register cars in our names – oh, and Javier paid off the DMV, too. We were all stranded and decided that while it wasn’t the safest place to stay, we couldn’t risk any one of us being alone, and decided to spend the night at our headquarters. The next morning we phoned our families and let them know we’d be staying there for a while, and we’d set up some sort of protection at their respective homes.
Javier knew no bounds – truthfully, he never did, and I just couldn’t bring myself to face that fact. I was too caught up in the dream of moving from First Advisor to a Commissioner – with the hope that I could “make it all better.”
“Leah, people don’t change,” my mother said when I was explaining my career aspirations.
But I couldn’t believe that. I kept up the fight. The next three days were free from any sort of attacks. We recruited a few new people, but Emmett was understandably weary of their allegiances. We required them to stay over at the headquarters with us and punch in on a time clock. They had a curfew and designated times that they could come, go, and even use their phones.
Three days following the car fires, Lisette showed up. I was sleeping, but the commotion woke me up.
“Emmett, please, you know I was always in your corner,” Lisette shouted. “You needed the help. You weren’t going to get yourself past Javier. Don’t you know I would have helped you? It sure seemed like no one else was stepping up.”
“How could I trust you when you went right back to kissing Javier’s ass once he swore he’d have you elected?” Emmett shouted back. “You did the deed, Lisette. Don’t even try to show me that you didn’t.”
The next thing I knew I felt a firm grip on my arm.
“Leah, honey, we have to move,” Zara whispered loudly. “You’re not safe. None of us are safe, but you really aren’t safe. She’s either going to come for you or blackmail you to join their side.”
“I could NEVER!” I shot up at this point.
“Shhh!” Zara grabbed my arm and we hustled out the back door, closing it with care to insure that Lisette didn’t hear us leave.
“Where are we going?” I asked, out of breath.
“As far as we can run,” Zara said. “She has a gun. Presumably meant to kill you.”
From the front room I heard,”What are you talking about, Lisette?” Emmett continued to shout. “I have all the help I need right here.”
“You KNOW what I mean!” Lisette bellowed. And then there was a pause. “If she thinks she can get away with defaming me–”
“She didn’t defame you,” Emmett said. “Somehow the tape grew legs and walked out of the office. I’m sure that’s how it happened. I’m sure Javier didn’t have a clue that you ran off with – what was it? – $2.5 million. What did he do, sneak in here in the middle of the night with some IT guy he paid off?”
Zara and I looked at each other and nodded. We pushed the door open.
“Javier knew it all along, didn’t he?” I shouted as the door slammed shut.
“Zara, get her out of here!” Emmett shouted over me.
“We couldn’t leave you here,” Zara said.
“And she says I have no help,” Emmett said, pointing at Lisette. He tried to hide his pride, but the worry for our safety clearly came first.
“So, why did you do it, Lisette?” I demanded. “How did it go, ‘steal the money and I’ll make you commissioner? It will be our little secret’?”
“Put your hands where I can see them!” Lisette shouted as she took the pistol out of her back pocket and held it over her head with two hands.
I put my hands over my head as time slowed to a crawl.
I never imagined that trying to change the world would end like this.
And then I heard them. Dominick came running with the new recruits behind him…
“Just WHAT do you think you’re doing?” I knew that voice anywhere. Javier, alone, burst through the door behind me and before I could think, I was on my hands and knees.
“Don’t you touch her, you jerk!” Dominick shouted over the brawling taking place between the new recruits and Lisette.
“You all think you got away with something,” Javier said as he breathed heavily. I’d only recently heard this voice come out of him – it wasn’t always this way. “You think you’re going to make it all better. I have news for you young idealists. Nothing is going to get better.”
I get to my feet. “You’re wrong, Javier.”
“Leah, don’t you know by now?” he answered. “I’m never wrong. Everything has gone as I predicted. I knew I didn’t want Emmett holding office with me so I created a situation that I knew would make him run out the door. I knew Lisette would go for the deal I offered her. And none of you are going to talk, because none of you ever do. You know you’ll lose your opportunity.”
“That’s what you think,” Emmett interrupted as he held up a voice recorder. “And we’re going to make sure this one stays put.” With that, he opened our wall safe and threw the recorder inside, locking the safe door with his foot.
“That proves NOTHING!” Javier shouted. “What are your minions going to do about it, Emmett? Expose me?”
“Maybe we will and maybe we won’t,” Emmett answered. “I think Leah has Dave on speed dial. She can get him over here in two seconds. What a press conference that’ll be!”
“You can’t do that, Emmett,” Javier whispered. “That’s against the law.”
“So is lighting cars on fire,” Emmett said. “Get away from here, Javier. Take Listless Lisette with you. Don’t come back. But wait. You won’t. Because you know that we know.”