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Authors: Patrick Ness

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73. A Rush and a Push and the Day is Ours.

After so much lengthy agonizing, the final decision, the reversal of that decision, and the making of a new final decision happened almost absurdly fast.

Cora and Albert:

—So what did Jon say then?

—Nothing. I left before he had a chance.

—That’s the Cora I know and love. I think a thump on the head is the only thing that man understands.

—Precisely. Which is why I have to call his bluff.

—Uh-oh.

—It’s the only way, Albert.

—You can’t be serious.

—I’m hoping that it won’t be for real.

—You’re going to run again.

—No one else seems to want to, and
someone
has to. That’s all there is to it.

—Oh, my love, are you sure?

—That I have to run? Yes. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. I’m hoping calling his bluff will be enough.

—You want to enter the race long enough to get Thomas Banyon to withdraw?

—I want to enter the race long enough to get
Jon Noth
to withdraw.

—I’m not sure I see how that’s going to work.

—I don’t really, either. It’ll probably mean that I’ll end up as Mayor yet again. Maybe I can retire halfway through the next term this time. Appoint a successor. Or something.

—Aside from not being particularly fair to the voters—

—Don’t start. I see no other recourse. He wants a fight. That’s all there is to it. I’ve looked, and I can’t seem to find a way to avoid one.

—But dearest—

—Albert, I know. I know, I know, I know. All of it, I know. But he seems to think that he’ll either get me or the city. He’s not going to get either, and this is the only way to do that, especially since viable candidates haven’t exactly been
crawling out of the woodwork. I’m it. No one wants to run against Thomas Banyon. This is the only way. I wish it wasn’t, but there it is.

—Well, I’ll be right behind you, of course. Anything you need.

—Thanks, darling. If that smarmy little bastard wants a fight, then he’s got one.

The next morning, Cora and Max:

—You’re
what?

—Tell me another way. At least you’ll know you’ve got the Crash Advocate job for the next five years.

—But, Cora—

—Read my lips, Max. I. Don’t. Like. It. Either. But trust me, I know this man, and he’s not kidding.

—What about the retirement you so wanted?

—It’s gone now, isn’t it?

—I can’t believe this.

—Neither can I. Now, what can I help you with?

—Screw that. Just another batch of medicine for Maggerty. It all seems to be working finally.

—Good. Easily approved.

—But what about—

—I don’t want to hear it, Max. I’m not blaming you. I know you have your reasons and they’re good ones and I respect them. Such as it is, though, no one else is going to do it, and I’m the only one left standing who can beat both Thomas Banyon’s money and Jon Noth’s bile. That’s all there is to it. I’m running again. I have to. I announce on Thursday.

—That’s not much time.

—One good thing about my experience, I can do this with my eyes closed.

—You seem so angry about it, though.

—How the hell else am I supposed to be? Some crazy man from a life of mine long since forgotten shows up, and despite my best efforts and despite the fact that such a thing should be impossible at my age, he completely disrupts my life. I wanted retirement. I was thrilled to bits with it. I’ve been Mayor for twenty years. I wanted to water plants and take walks with Albert, but here I go again, now don’t I?

—Are you sure that’s—

—If you say one word about being good for the electorate or having passion for the job, I swear to God, I will break your neck.

—But—

—No. No. I’m not angry at you, Max. I’m just angry, and if you stay here, I’ll take it all out on you. More medicine for Maggerty? Great, fine, approved, done. Now, please go, or I’m not responsible for my actions.

That night, Max and Talon:

—Honey, do you remember when we talked about destiny?

—No.

—Remember? About how you plan for what you can, but that sometimes destiny comes along with its own ideas of what you’re going to do?

—No.

—It was when we talked about whether I’d run for Mayor again.

—Um, okay.

—Anyway, my point is that destiny might have come along with a different plan for me than what I’m doing now.

—You’re going to run again?

—Certain things have happened—

—Wow.

—Certain things have happened that may mean that I should get back in the race.

—Are you going to?

—I wanted to talk it over with you first.

—It’s up to
me?

—No, no, no, little pumpkin. I just wanted to talk it over with you because it affects you, too.

—Like what you said before about having less time and all these commitments?

—Yes. I hope that I’ll be able to control some of the time I’ll have to spend doing campaign stuff.

—Isn’t that what Mayor Cora said before?

—Yes, so we’ll see if she’s as good as her word.

—Do you think she will be?

—Why? Are you worried about not seeing me?

—Well, yeah, but I’ll be okay if it’s not forever.

—Believe me, it won’t be forever.

—But what about your new job?

—I’ll keep doing it until the election, then after that, the job exists. It doesn’t only have to be me that does it. The Crash will always have someone in their corner.

—But I thought you liked doing it.

—I do, but sometimes destiny demands things of you and you have to take it.

—Oh.

—So what do you think, darling? Can you put up with me working long hours for a few months? I promise on my heart that I’ll make plenty of time for you anyway, and afterwards, if I win—

—You’ll win.

—If I
win, then I’ll just throw my weight around and make my own hours.

—I think you’re going to win.

—Nothing’s guaranteed, Talon. Remember, I didn’t think I would even run.

—But you said that we should still plan and dream anyway, didn’t you?

—Yes, I did—

—Then I’m planning and dreaming that you’ll win.

—Thank you, honey. What should you never forget?

—That you love me.

—Correct, sweetheart.

—I love you, too, Daddy.

—Don’t forget
that,
either.

—I won’t.

And finally, later that same night, Max and Cora.

—I’m in.

—Are you sure?

—As I’m ever going to be.

—I didn’t do this to force your hand, you know.

—Yes, I know.

—It’s going to be tough.

—I’m prepared.

—Oh, Max. Max, I just—

—I know. I’ll call you in the morning.

And that was the proverbial that.

74. Banyon Enterprises.

Archie sat outside Thomas’ office, kept waiting again. His hair was rumpled and mussed, the shocking whiteness of it made more so by its unchecked roller-coaster swoops. His
clothes were only clean because of Jules’ insistence on dressing him every morning. The assistant now lived in Archie’s home, having moved there when it became clear Archie was unwilling to take care of himself in all but the most basic sense. Archie allowed himself to be dressed and fed, but he couldn’t stand the thought of being bathed by someone so young and efficient, even though Jules had done it before when Archie had been laid up with a broken hip a few years back. It all seemed so much more pointless now. Maybe that was it.

Jules, at least, kept the company running, though quite how was beyond Archie. He suspected that Jules used his name rather more often than Archie might have liked to keep things moving, signing memos and so forth, issuing proclamations to the Board and press releases to the papers, transferring money around so it looked like business was being done. It would only work for a while. The Board would have to be faced sooner or later, but for now it was fine. Whatever happened was fine, really. Jules could appoint himself Chairman for all it mattered now.

Archie slipped another small yellow pill out of his pocket, a tranquilizer Jules had gotten for him but which only pushed away the torment temporarily. He popped it in his mouth, swallowing it without water. He wondered why he had been kept alive this long, and now, when his pain was at its most acute, he would have to
stay
alive to get his answers. A cosmic bad joke, of which Archie Banyon was at last the punchline.

Thomas opened his office door and motioned Archie inside.

—Sorry to keep you waiting. Busy with the campaign and all. You understand.

—Is there any word?

—None yet.

—There
must
be. It’s been almost three weeks.

—I know, but—

—How can you not have found anything?

—Let me speak. He’s Rumour. They’ve got a close-knit community. Trust me, I’ve had other reasons to find that out this week. I suspect he’s being sheltered.

—Who would shelter a murderer? The Rumour Underground is supposed to be a myth, a
benevolent
myth.

—Maybe, maybe not. You can’t trust them. You know that.

—He has to be out there somewhere.

—He is. I’ll find him. Trust me.

—I’ve trusted you for this long and you’ve given me nothing.

—I realize you’re upset, so I’ll overlook that.

—I’m sorry, but what of Luther’s body? What if he’s not dead? What if he’s just injured and this Peter, this horrible bastard is keeping him alive for some insidious purpose?

—Don’t let your mind get carried away. You won’t be surprised that I’ve had to deal with this sort of thing before in running the country club. Crimes usually end up being exactly what they appear. The banal motive is always the most likely, and the boring explanation is always true. Luther is almost certainly dead. As hard as that is to swallow, imagining bizarre horror-movie scenarios isn’t going to help you.

—Do you have any leads at all?

—No.

—No?

—Luther isn’t the only person who’s disappeared lately. I’ve only got so much manpower, and right now, it’s split down the middle.

—Well, unsplit it then.

—I won’t. I’ll find Peter Wickham for you, and I’ll find what I’m looking for as well. You’re not thinking rationally now, and I can understand that. But remember,
you
came to
me.
I’m willing to help you, and I’m as good as my word. I’m not out of line in asking you to trust me to make my own decisions and use my own judgments.

Archie sighed.

—I apologize. It’s just—

—I know.

—I’ve been—

—I know, but you have my word that I’ll do what you ask.

—You’ll tell me as soon as you find anything?

—The second I know anything,
you

ll
know.

—Thank you.

—You’re welcome.

There was a heavy pause. Here it comes, thought Archie.

—Now. You know Max Latham has re-entered the race?

—Saw it in today’s paper.

—He doesn’t stand a chance, you know.

—Others might disagree. I state no opinion, Thomas, but others might disagree.

—I know that. I can beat him. I
will
beat him.

—He’s got Cora Larsson on his side.

—And you, too, if I remember correctly.

—Yet to be decided.

—I can beat Max Latham, no matter what the circumstances.

—But?

—But those circumstances could be made a bit easier.

—You want me to withdraw my support?

—Support is irrelevant. I can’t stop your thoughts or your mouth. It wouldn’t be my place to ask. It
would
be advantageous if you withdrew your help.

—My help.

—Your money. Your contacts. How embarrassing if your
friends and benefactors were forced to choose between Max Latham and your own son. I would hate to see that happen. I’m only thinking for your sake.

—Are you now?

—Do what you choose. I’m only stating the possibility of removing potentially awkward situations which would also have the effect of making my campaign for Mayor that much easier. It doesn’t matter to me if you do it or not. I’m merely saying.

—You’re merely saying.

—Yes.

Archie looked down at his hands. Old now, wrinkled and spotted with time. Even two months ago, the skin had been tighter, the grip firmer, more imposing. Two months ago. When he had played tennis three times a week with Luther. If this was Thomas’ price for finding Luther’s murderer, after all that had happened, it didn’t seem quite so high after all. His real son was dead. What else mattered?

—I see your point, Thomas. Wouldn’t want to cause any awkwardness, strain any sympathies between father and son. Bad for business, difficult for friends. And all in the best interests of family.

—Yes, the best interests of family.

—I’ll withdraw my help from Max Latham. —Very generous of you, Father.

The last word floated in the air, unable to find an accurate footing anywhere in the room.

75. Listen.

The week was steadfastly refusing to get any less baffling for Jarvis. Things weren’t going well in the parish, and he couldn’t
quite trace where he had lost his influence. It seemed to spring from the Brandon Beach sermon, but if that was true, if reaction to it was the reason his parishioners had disappeared from his office, if that was the reason attention at his sermons (rather than attendance, which stayed steady out of decades of familial guilt and habit) had seemed to drop off to nothing, then
that
particular truth was just a little too awful to bear just now. Because if reaction to what Jarvis considered an essential and strongly believed set of tenets was that disinterested, even adversarial, then, well, there really wasn’t any point at all, was there?

He did his best to avoid self-pity, but he was also sure he wasn’t imagining things. The after-sermon fellowship, the hand-shaking at the door to the sanctuary, the enthusiasm on the charity committees had all noticeably waned to the point where he had asked some of his friends in the church – trusty old Mrs Bellingham; Matthew Badham, the church organist; even Stella Maritain, the staunchly unbelieving church janitor – if something was amiss, something he had failed to notice, some action of his that had set things so strangely, had made things so chilly and formal. No one knew or at least professed to knowing. Jarvis tried to convince himself that everything, human behavior especially, waxed and waned. This was just a cooling trend, maybe without a reason at all, and if he waited it out, things would warm up again.

BOOK: The Crash of Hennington
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