Disclaimer: This is fan fiction just for fun. I have no claims.
Cyrus Cornwall wipes away a bead of perspiration and mutters about the weather. It is just short of seven in the morning and he can tell it will be another miserably hot day. Even this early game of nine holes will leave him drenched with sweat. Cyrus spots his approaching foe and notes that although they are the same age, the morning heat and humidity isn't bothering his fitter opponent.
"Good morning, Will." Cyrus says as he extends his hand.
"Good morning…Cyrus." Will Girardi responds as they shake hands. He has met Cornwall a couple of times at joint appearances during the mayoral campaign, but they are essentially strangers to each other. Will adds, "Thank you for the invitation."
"Have you played at the Clayton Country Club before?"
"I've been a guest a few times, but the membership fee has always been beyond my resources."
Cyrus smiles. "Arcadia's mayor gets an honorary membership."
Will chuckles. "Another incentive to win. Are you an avid golfer?"
"Hate the game. I'm good at it, but I find it boring."
"Then why do you play?"
"I realized early on that half of my business deals would be made on the golf course. It was the same for my father…and grandfather, now that I think of it."
"And is our meeting this morning in the nature of a business deal?"
"Don't sound so suspicious, Will. I'm not here to bribe you into throwing the election. Although, considering what this campaign will cost me, that might be the cheaper option. No, I just thought it might be wise for the two of us to meet and speak sensibly away from our so-called campaign experts."
Through gritted teeth Will responds, "Them…!"
"I see you are as appalled by these political guns-for-hire as I am."
"People I trust tell me their expertise is necessary, but their win at all costs attitude seems unethical. I realize they have their own resumes to think of, so winning is as important to them as us, still…"
Will nods. "And yet, after I sift through all of the garbage they spew, I find useful information that helps me make decisions. This politics thing is such a strange new field for me."
"Me too. It's the last thing I thought I would be doing with my life. In fact, my usual business practices have put me at a disadvantage. Being in real estate development, I've worked hard to keep my name obscure so that land prices don't get inflated when I begin a negotiation. Now I'm paying for that, especially since I'm up against well known town hero, Chief Will Girardi."
"Ex-chief. And…my people tell me I have a 30 percent lead in the polls."
"Mine say 28, but I get your point. I've got a long way to go to catch up, which means I'll be outspending you three-to-one."
"It must be nice to be rich."
"It has its' usefulness. Unfortunately my 'experts' have no faith in my message. Your large lead worries them, and they have suggested we go dirty."
"Endless negative advertising with a focus on distorting and shredding your record as police chief. One 'genius' even suggested I go after your family. I fired him on the spot."
"Good. Who did he suggest going after?"
"Your daughter Joan. Her also being a town hero is a big plus to your side, and the suggestion was to go after her mental health history. You know, the whole talking to God thing."
"That was because she was feverish from Lyme disease!"
"Easy Will, remember I fired the guy who suggested that. In fact, why don't we agree here and now that family is off limits?"
"I'm relieved as I have skeletons in the closet in that area. I'm wrapping up my third bitter divorce, and I have two grown sons who despise me. Another topic for banning – Ryan Hunter?"
"Gladly, but…are you sure? Before Joan convinced me Ryan was evil, he had me fooled into thinking he was a friend. Frequent reminders of my gullibility would harm my campaign."
Cyrus sighs. "This isn't well known, but I was briefly in business with Ryan. Shortly after he arrived in Arcadia, Ryan came to me with an ambitious business proposal. We would buy land around Mercer Creek, dam it and create a new lake. Not only would there be a new recreational resource, complete with luxury housing, but the dam would have supplied Arcadia with pollution free electricity."
"Sound like there was a lot of great potential in that project, except for Ryan's involvement. Since it obviously didn't happen, what went wrong?"
"The bane of modern existence – environmentalists. Our Green Party opponent, Norman Naylor, discovered an unknown subspecies of flower that grows only in the Mercer Creek Valley. A federal court order banned all development in the area which pleased Naylor, who is a fanatic that can't be reasoned with. Meanwhile, Arcadia still gets its' electricity from coal burning power plants, and we have the highest utility rates in the state."
"Did that end your association with Ryan?"
"Yes, thank God. Will, he had everyone fooled. The sooner we put the Ryan Hunter story behind us, the better."
"Agreed. Hey, I like this one-on-one way of deciding things. If I ran these options by my campaign staff, they would be arguing the ramifications for weeks. What next…debates? My people say I should push for plenty."
"Probably good advice…for you. I know you have experience with public speaking, but I don't. I'm use to small, private negotiations like this. In public I can barely manage a well rehearsed speech, but a debate…? I'd probably make a fool of myself."
"So no debates?"
Cyrus sighs. "I suppose, to keep the press off of my back, I should participate in a couple."
"Okay then, two debates – say, one in September and one in October?"
"Sounds acceptable. Just another one of the ordeals I have to endure for the campaign. It turns out, I'm a lousy candidate. I've never been a 'people person', and even though I believe I have good ideas, I'm ineffective in conveying them to the voters."
Will nods. "I get that. Even when I can get voters to listen to me, their eyes quickly glaze over. You can tell they're dismissing you as just another politician. I'm hoping that as the election gets closer, people will finally start to listen."
"Yes, it's hard to get people excited about a local election when the primary is in February and the election is in November, especially when they are distracted by the presidential race. Since the primary, I feel like I've been wasting my efforts trying to gain voter attention. I have a surprising amount of free time on my hands."
Will responds, "At least you have your company to keep you busy."
"And you picked up that part time job doing background checks for Homeland Security."
"How...do you know that?"
"The same way I know you just returned from a family reunion in Baltimore. I have a spy in your camp." (A look of outrage begins on Will's face, but Cyrus adds…) "And you have one in mine."
Will grins sheepishly. "Politics…I often wonder why I'm doing this."
"I imagine because local party leaders have urged you for years to run for office."
"That's part of the reason, but mostly it's because I now have a 13 month old daughter and my wife was concerned about me remaining a cop at this stage of our lives."
"But you miss it?"
"I do, but I'm hoping once I'm mayor, I'll grow to like that job. My greatest fear is that once I'm in office, I'll hate it and be stuck there with no options. It gives me nightmares. But in the meantime, the Homeland Security job helps me feel connected to my old life. But what about you, Cyrus? What motivated a very private, very successful businessman to run for office?"
Cyrus Cornwall hesitates, staring off into the distance. Will can tell he is forming a surprisingly heavy response to a light question…
"I admire you, Will. The press refers to you as a hero, and I agree. I'm the third generation head of my family's company, and I grew up in the midst of this city's cesspool of corruption. I remember the bitter stories my grandfather use to tell, and in my early training, I saw first hand my father having to knuckle under to the corrupt ess-oh-bees who ran Arcadia. It was disgusting and humiliating the way they treated this city's business leaders, especially in the area of real estate development. When I took over the company, I began focusing on projects outside the Arcadia area. Oh sure, I would occasionally encounter a politico with his hand out, but it was nothing like what routinely went on in this town. When you brought down the last mayor and his corrupt cronies, I cheered and threw a party."
Will smiles. "Glad to do it."
"In normal times Will, I not only wouldn't be running against you, I would have supported your campaign with a large check and my vote."
"You said: 'In normal times'. What's not normal about these times…?" (Cyrus looks away and Will feels a cold chill.) "You're campaign slogan: 'The experienced business leader Arcadia needs in hard times', it never made sense to me. The economy is booming and strong…isn't it?"
Cyrus grimly replies, "You know that I deal in malls, office buildings, vacation resorts and luxury housing, right? Quietly and as quickly as I can, I've been divesting myself of all of my holdings. A piece of advice, if you want to save the equity you've built up in your home, sell your house now."
Will gulps as he hears these words. Before deciding to run, he and Helen carefully discussed their finances, especially about if he lost and had trouble finding another job. The equity in their home was their last stand fallback plan…
"How bad is it?"
"The bubble is about to burst, Will. I've watched with alarm as unregulated greed has begun to treat mortgages as just another commodity to be bought and sold like pork bellies or oil futures. All of this wild buying and selling has inflated real estate values far beyond their true worth. It's all a house of cards, Will. I'm not the only one who has noticed and tried to speak reason, but there's just too much damn money to be made – so the madness continues, but not for much longer. I can see the cracks forming, and soon the dam will break."
Ignoring the mix of metaphors, Will asks, "How bad…?"
"Hard to say. A lot depends on how the politicans react and how quickly, but it's too late to prevent. It won't be as bad as the Great Depression, but it will be the worst recession of our lifetimes, and real estate will be hit especially hard. Figure a 30 percent drop in value…"
"Thirty percent!" Will gasps. (They only bought the Euclid Avenue house five years ago. A 30 percent drop in value would more than wipeout their equity.) "How soon?"
"That part is tricky. If it times out after the election, you'll win Will, and you'll have to deal with a city in crisis. If the bubble bursts before the election, and I think it will, then my message will seem wisely prophetic and the victory should be mine. You see Will, this is why I'm running against you. With my business experience, I truly believe I'm better equipped to guide Arcadia through the coming storm. It will be rough, and I'll have to make the hard decisions that will deny me any chance of re-election, but I'm willing to take the hit to save my hometown."
Will goes silent as they reach the first tee. Cyrus takes his shot, and it turns out he is as good as he says. Will realizes Cyrus has gotten everything he wanted in their little negotiation, so as he lines up his shot he pauses…
"How do I know you're not making all of this up just to psyche me out?"
"You don't, but what would be the point? My message is already out there, and if the coming economic crisis is delayed, I'll lose. I can live with that. 'Mayor' is not a title I ever wanted, but what about you, Will? Do you want to preside over a city whose future is endless budget cuts, lay-offs, long unemployment lines and soup kitchens? Maybe we should both quit the race and see if Norman Naylor has a 'green' solution to an economic meltdown."
Will takes his shot and as he watches his ball sail down the fairway, he wonders if he will be one of those standing in a long unemployment line…
X X X X X
Helen Girardi sighs with pleasure as the hot shower helps work out the kinks in her right shoulder. It has been seven months since she was shot - seven months since her 'miracle' recovery. At least that's what the doctors call it. Despite the bullet's heavy damage to tissue and bone, there wasn't the tiniest bit of nerve damage. As a result, Helen is back painting portraits at high fees, and she is assured that she has an astounding 95 percent restoration of her shoulder's use. What Helen hasn't shared with her family is that her right shoulder is now her 'weak' shoulder. Normally right-handed, Helen now uses her left hand as much as possible so that she can extend her painting time before the achiness forces her to stop. Helen has discussed the problem with her doctors, but they can offer no encouragement. Physical therapy has taken her as far as it can, and she may have to face arthritis in the shoulder in the coming years. (Funny how TV shows regularly show their heroes being shot and fully recovered by the next epsiode. No one mentions potential arthritis from a gunshot.)
Helen reluctantly turns off the pulsating stream of hot, steamy water and steps out of the shower. As she grabs a towel, Helen does notice that her shoulder feels much better. She has an ointment she will apply that smells awful, but provides the heat needed to prevent the shoulder from stiffening up. Fortunately the smell fades quickly, which is good because she has a lot to do today. As she towels off, Helen catches a glimpse of herself in the full length mirror. For the most part she is not displeased by what she sees, even though she has recently turned 48. Ever since Eleanor was born, she and Will have been on a health kick with careful diets, regular exercise and even tai chi to keep limber. And now that she is offically in menopause, with no worries about another late-in-life child, Will has been...frisky. Helen smiles as she remembers her and Will last night, and the quickie this morning before he left for golf.
As Helen applies the ointment, she glares at the surprisingly small scar on her shoulder. Considering that the wound nearly cost her life, you would think it would be bigger - but to Helen, the dratted thing is huge and ugly. It has caused a major revision in her wardrobe so as to hide the scar - an inconvenience during hot summer days. There are a couple of planned campaign stops this evening for 4th of July celebrations, and she is expected to play the part of the dutiful, smiling candidate's wife. Once again Helen feels a regret about talking Will into trying for the mayor's office, but it is too late to back out now. At least the campaign is going well, and Will seems a shoo-in for the office. Once he has secured the high paying job, she will be able to cut back on her portrait work.
Of course Helen realizes that even though her local fame as a portrait artist began with the painting she did of Ryan Hunter, the unusually high demand for her work has a lot to do with Will's run for mayor. Many seek her out because of her reputation for great portrait work, but many more are hoping the 5,000 dollar fee she charges will gain them some favor with the city's next mayor. Too bad for them, she never discusses with Will who buys her work. Once people begin to realize all their money is buying them is an excellent painting, no doubt the unending demand for her work will go back to a more normal level.
Slipping on a robe, Helen enters the bedroom and automatically checks on the playpen where Eleanor is busy playing with her collection of shiny toys. One of the constants in Eleanor's life is her facination with bright, reflective items. Helen is careful not to wear her diamonds when Eleanor is around because she knows her tiny daughter would never stop crying until she had her greedy hands on them. This has been a rare good day with Eleanor (despite the rest of the family, Helen resists the 'E.T.' nickname Joan placed on her sister). Some things fascinate Eleanor, and for some reason her mother's portrait work is one of them. She happily watches for hours as Helen creates a portrait of another person, but curiously, she has no interest in any other type of painting. Helen has begun to worry about her youngest daughter and her peculiar ways. Although 13 months old, Eleanor seems to have a smaller than usual vocabulary - at least compared to her siblings at this age. It's not that Eleanor seems...challenged, she just doesn't seem to have much interest in talking to others.
"Hey sweetie, are you being good for Mommy?"
Eleanor briefly glances up at her mother and then returns to her toys. She only seems to want to interact with others when she wants something. Helen looks at her daughter's assortment of toys and gasps when she spots the latest item. Just before her shower Helen looked for something to amuse Eleanor so that she could enjoy her time with the hot water undisturbed. Unable to find anything new that was shiny, she grabbed an old Rubik's Cube from the junk drawer. It is one of those minature ones that Helen used to carry on her key chain, but it works the same as the full sized ones. Helen briefly showed Eleanor how the toy works and then took her shower. All of the colors on the cube were thoroughly mixed, but now the puzzle has been solved - all of the sides have one color only! Is it possible for a 13 month old child to correctly work the cube? Certainly Luke couldn't have done such a thing at this age, but maybe Annie...
"Eleanor, how did you do this?" Helen asks as she picks up the cube.
E.T. glares at her mother and holds out her hand demanding the toy back. E.T. has a highly developed sense of ownership, and once an item is hers, it is her forever - even if she has no real interest in it. Helen quickly rotates the color lines in a random pattern and hands the cube back to her daughter. E.T. looks annoyed and rapidly works the cube again until all of the sides are back to one color.
"Eleanor...you're smart - a little anal, but smart!"
E.T. igores her mother's comment, carefully places the cube off to the side, and resumes playing with a silver bell. She has no interest in the opinions of others.
Helen continues smiling as she anticipates being able to tell Will the good news about their youngest. At least this news is something she can share with her husband, unlike Eleanor's last accomplishment. Back in late May while attending her nephew Simon's funeral, his ghost appeared to say his farewells. Of course she and Joan saw him, but surprisingly, Eleanor was also able to interact with her cousin's ghost. No, Will is definitely not ready to hear that kind of news. Helen wonders if this type of spiritual interaction is a sign God also has special plans for Eleanor...?
"Want juice." E.T. announces, fully expecting her wishes to be obeyed.
"Okay sweetie, as soon as Mommy gets dressed."
E.T. sighs but doesn't make a fuss. She is learning her servants are an inefficient bunch and there are frequent, unwarranted delays in obedience. She will try to be patient since the Mommy-servant spent the morning amusing her. The thing she does with paint - creating people - confirms E.T.'s view of the world. People are objects that are made, and only she is a real person.
The phone rings... "Hello? Oh, good afternoon Dr. Teller. Yes, I finished your wife's portrait and I will deliver it..."
"Eleanor, shh...I'm on the phone. Sorry Dr. Teller, I was interrupted by my little girl. Yes the painting turned out..."
"Turned out well."
"No, I'm sorry I won't be able to attend..."
"Want juice now!"
"Your party - the campaign, you see..."
"E.T., shut up!"
To Helen's surprise, Eleanor obeys. Her baby daughter turns away, arms folded and angry, but there is no outbreak of tears. Maybe she's too stunned at being yelled at to react?
"Thank you for understanding, Dr. Teller. I'll see you in a couple of hours."
Helen hangs up the phone and stares in amazement at her still silent daughter. Helen can almost see waves of pure rage rising from her child, but E.T. continues to obey. Helen experiences a sudden revealation. Unlike with her other children, this special daughter of hers will require a very firm hand in her upbringing. In the years to come, she may even have to...(gulp) spank E.T. when the occasion demands - something she never did with her other kids. But if E.T. is to ever have a chance of learning right from wrong, of behaving normally, she will need a consistent, disciplined approach that spells out the consequences of her life choices. Another piece of news to share with Will and the rest of the family...
To Be Continued.