Finally. Election Day arrives.
Following is installment 6 of an end-of-the-year fictional serial. About a fictional mayoral campaign. In a fictional city. With fictional characters.
Repeat: This is fiction.
- * * *
Three thousands people spilled out of Wheelock’s onto the sidewalk, all the way to the Green.
“Garvey! Garvey! Garvey!” they chanted, fists pumping. It was like a rock concert out in the chilly November night. A sense of mystical transcendence filled the air.
The chants turned into roars as Lenora emerged from the clubhouse onto the street, Colores Salud and Binyomin Basar’s rabbinical retinue at her side. They guided her to a podium on the Green. Binyomin handed Lenora a megaphone. She flipped the on switch.
“We did it!” Lenora cried. More pandemonium. “They said the machine couldn’t be beaten! They said our city had to remain in the iron grip of a corrupt, incompetent, cruel party machine. They were wrong! Liberty has triumphed…”
…What a dream it was! When her alarm awoke Lenora at 5:15 a.m., and she realized she had to hustle, she savored one last image of 3,000 celebrating supporters. Then she got to work preparing to hit the streets for 14 hours of electoral combat.
As she washed her face, then slipped on her “Garvey’s Got It!” campaign sweatshirt (she and Wheel and Colores never could come up with an official slogan they liked), Lenora weighed a different number. A number considerably smaller than 3,000. The number 25.
Twenty-five volunteers had crowded into Wheelock’s the night before for the pre-election rally. They cheered as Lenora offered a final call to the streets. They had voter lists ready. They carried home assignments for manning phones, driving voters to the polls.
Twenty-five. No, 25 people couldn’t pull 9,000 voters to the polls on their own. The campaign hadn’t identified 9,000 likely Garvey voters, anyway. Lenora never did get a straight number from Wheel of how many voters the campaign had identified. Her hunch was the number might be more like 1,000. Was even that number high? Way high?
Some questions are better left unasked.
On the other hand, 25 people can change the world. Or a city. Lenora, she of the abiding faith in the power of the individual, was sure of that. Her campaign had gotten out the message like no Republican campaign before it, not since the days before The Eternal One turned the city into a one-party toxic waste dump. So lots of people knew about her, knew about her issues. Lots of people were mad at Elbows, or at least tired of him, ready for a fresh face. Lots of people get themselves to the polls, especially more educated, independent voters. So if they could pull their 1,000 identified voters — assuming they had 1,000 identified voters — that just might put the Garvey forces over the top.
Or so the Republican camp decided.
And Lenora had learned one of the Democratic machine’s dirty secrets. It didn’t have thousands of volunteers, either. Thousands of people who owed it jobs or contracts, maybe; they were the ATMs that spit out the cash that was going to be all over town buying campaign workers today. Nevertheless, the machine counted on just a couple of trusted vote-pullers per ward, as far as she knew. Some of them were legends. Others were laggards; they prevailed not out of talent, but by simply showing up. They succeeded off the illusion created in the public mind of a fearsome, well-oiled machine that could crush any opponents who dared try to organize.
Those dozens of vote-pullers would still outnumber her troops. In the black wards, Lenora had no workers at all, just some posters with blown-up photos broadcasting her unmistakable racial identity. She wasn’t a convert to identity politics by any stretch, not philosophically anyway. As a tactic, she figured, go with what you’ve got.
In other wards, she had enough workers not to match the machine, but to wage a fair fight. Assuming Wheel was right. Assuming they knew what they were doing.
- * * *
Careful not to awaken Abby, Lenora grabbed a stale donut from the counter, picked up her keys, and headed out in the still pre-dawn dark. She savored the idea of hopping into the Hummer and steering her own path, freed from the well-meaning but overbearing escort of the Precinct 24 Men’s Moped Militia. The campaign had been fun. All the same, Lenora looked forward to resuming civilian life, banker’s hours, without a security detail.
Unless, of course, she ended today ahead of Mayor Elbows…
She pressed the door opener on her key chain, took the parking ticket off the windshield. (She was used to the tickets by now.) She was about to open the door, when a battered green 1988 Subaru sedan, its dragging muffler clanking against the asphalt road, pulled up alongside her.
The driver leaned toward the driver window. Bugs Fletcher. Not the first person Lenora expected to run into. Wasn’t 5:45 a.m. his bedtime?
Bugs cranked open the window. His eyes were wild, yet friendlier than usual. Inviting. Seductive, almost.
“Good morning, Sister,” Bugs said. “Come on in my limousine. We’re running late.”
“I have to check on my pulling operation…”
“I hate to break the news to you, Sister. But outside of Precinct 24, where your militia is already piling people into cars, there is no pulling operation for the campaign of Republican mayoral candidate Mizz Le-NOR-a GAR-vey.”
Lenora shrugged off the news. Almost. Bugs Fletcher is a wack job, she reminded herself. Why start believing him now?
“I am not,” Lenora informed Bugs as she cleared a sprawl of yellowed flyers from the passenger seat, squeezed in and closed the passenger door, “your ‘sister.’”
- * * *
BUGS HIT THE gas, jerked the Subaru forward, jammed the brakes for a sudden stop at the corner.
“Is your seat belt buckled?” he asked, aware that it wasn’t.
Any other day Lenora would have protested. Today She decided to pick her fights. She surrendered to the misguided consumer lobby and clicked on her belt.
Bugs drove as jauntily and unpredictably as he walked. Lenora exhaled in relief when he finally parked outside a windowless brick building in Greenwood, one of the city’s black neighborhoods. Lenora realized she’d never been in this part of town before.
“The Nelson Man-DEL-a School,” Bugs announced. “I’ll bet this is your first visit.”
Lenora scowled, said nothing.
“The building won’t open to voters until 6 a.m. All the schools are closed for election day, so all the administrators and teachers who owe their jobs to Mayor Elbows can go out and work for him. But our ride has arrived.”
Bugs exited the car, walked over to Lenora’s side, opened her door and bowed, chauffeur-style.
“After you, Madame Mayor.”
No way was Lenora going to smile. Not at 5:55 a.m. Certainly not for Bugs Fletcher.
They walked over to a Ford minivan with the engine running. The front passenger door was open. Lenora saw a husky man bend inside, then straighten himself, issue some kind of order, and walk purposefully away.
Seconds later Bugs ushered Lenora inside the same door. She squeezed into the van, sat in one of the rows of seats. Eight or so young men filled the rest of the seats. They looked grumpy, barely awake, as they devoured their Egg McMuffins. They wore baggy jeans, hip-hop T-shirts. On their laps were white envelopes.
The driver was an older man with a shaved head. “OK, I gave each of you your first envelope,” he said. “Open it. And watch that mess! You’re getting Mickey D’s all over my van.”
Bugs slipped his lanky frame into the back row, next to someone Lenora quickly sized up as his nephew. “This sister is coming along for the ride,” Bugs said. The other passengers ignored her, opened their envelopes, stared at the words written on papers inside.
“The… ah… How you say this?” One of the young men spoke up. The driver turned around to walk back to help him pronounce the words. Bugs waved him off and leaned forward.
“That says The-AH-suh-phus, brother. Theosophus Brown. Say it.”
“The AH suh pus Brown.”
Lenora shot a quizzical glance Bugs’ way. Bugs nodded slightly as if to say: Wait. You’ll understand soon enough.
The driver started up the van. He drove to another school Lenora had never seen. It was 6 o’clock now. The young men piled out, Lenora and Bugs following behind.
They walked up to a table where several people sat. Poll workers. Checking off names of voters.
“The AHS pus Brown,” recited one of the riders. The first woman behind the table repeated the name aloud. She and the poll workers checked their lists, crossed it off. The young man went in to vote, as did the others, once they recited their “names.”
The routine repeated itself at seven other schools. Each time the young men had different names to learn. Each time they were waved in to vote, no questions asked.
Lenora was confused. Until Bugs whispered an explanation into her ear: “Theosophus Brown died two months ago. He’s still on the voter lists. All these names you’re going to hear this morning belong to the recently departed.”
In between one of the stops, Lenora asked the ghost of Theosophus Brown whom he voted for.
“Elbows,” he said matter-of-factly. “Each time.”
“Why?” He didn’t understand the question.
“Does Elbows have an opponent?” Lenora asked, her heart already sinking.
“I heard someone running against Elbows this time. Some black lady. Heard she’s all gay and shit. Saw her picture in Greenwood a couple of times, up on some empty houses. ‘Til the reverend paid us to put up Elbows’ posters over them. Easiest hundred I ever made. Rev said we were doing ‘community service.’ He said five-oh would even be happy we were doing it. “
- * * *
IT WAS THE first nap Lenora had taken in months. Two long hours. Uninterrupted.
Somehow, after the ride-along with Raps’ nephew, she didn’t have the heart to show her face around town. She almost wished she could be a believer for a day; at least she could pray for a miracle. Instead she mixed herself a bourbon, then another, then drifted off…
The clock said 7:30 p.m.. The polls were closing at 8. She had to present herself somewhere. So she went outside — this time no one was blocking her way to the Hummer — and headed for the one island where she believed she could find solace: Precinct 24.
Sure enough, precinct headquarters — the yeshiva where Rabbi Binyomin Basar and his retinue taught when they weren’t busy rounding up votes or escorting Libertarian lesbians to campaign appearances — was a beehive. Binyomin’s forelocks flew as he ran from table to table, checking voter lists, asking volunteers if they’d called the handful of “ones” and “twos” — sympathetic voters they’d identified in pre-election canvassing — who hadn’t shown up yet. Like a traffic cop he pointed drivers out the door in various directions, waved in others reporting from the field.
It took five minutes before he noticed Lenora standing amid the chaos, still and lost.
He broke into his grin. He knew the medicine she needed.
“What a turnout! We might hit 200 percent of our estimate. Lenora Garvey, you are an inspiration to the voters of the 24th Precinct!”
“Thank you, Binyomin. What’s your feel for the other 29 precincts?”
He stopped, kicked the floor, weighed his words. “Such a busy day,” he said. “We haven’t had a chance to look into anyone else’s neighborhood but our own.”
The answer was clear enough. The affirmation came an hour later, as the Garvey campaign’s 25 core volunteers gathered once more at Wheelock’s to take in the returns. A few brought their kids, who tussled over the puck at the Rack ‘n’ Roll Bowl. Bourbons all around; Binyomin’s gang passed around the Slivovitz.
The phone rang. Wheel answered, offered a perfunctory “OK, thanks,” then hung up, scribbled on a pad.
“Well?” Lenora asked, hoping for a sign — Wheel’s willingness to divulge numbers, perhaps.
“Still only partial returns, Lenora. Nothing definitive,” Wheel said. “Let’s give it a few more minutes. A few more rings.”
Colores came up to Lenora, put her right arm around her shoulders. In her left hand was a speech. In English.
Just then the phone rang again. Wheel answered, offered another thanks, hung up, and called Lenora over.
“Time to read the speech.”
“Did we come close to the 9,000, Wheel?”
“We won Precinct 24! By, uh, a landslide…”
“How many votes is a landslide?”
Wheel consulted his pad, crossed out a number, wrote out an equation.
“Lenora, that’s out of 644 cast. You got 68.9 percent of the vote!”
“In Precinct 24?”
“In Precinct 24.”
Wheel was grinning. “I believe it was 1953 the last time we won Precinct 24.”
Wheel didn’t offer any other numbers. Lenora didn’t ask for any.
Click here for the final installment, Inauguration Day
Feel free to comment or offer alternative plot twists below.
GOP Finds Mayoral Candidate
Garvey Finds An Issue
Rendezvous For Destiny
A 3-Alarm Protest
Dinner With Elbows