Chapter One: The Real Election
A hand held mirror lay dauntingly on the table in front of her. She bit her nails, reluctant to pick it up and begin the tedious task that awaited her. Abruptly, she stopped biting her nails. If she did that she'd need to manicure them. She sat perfectly still, refusing to move, hesitating to either just get it over and done with or put it off more and go watch some TV.
Eventually she decided, and a shaky hand reached out to pick up a bottle of moisturiser. She sighed and began to slowly apply it to her nut brown skin. Rosalind Frashim was not one of those girls who enjoyed putting on makeup. In fact, Rose strongly believed that no woman actually enjoyed applying the horrible lotions and potions to their skin, and anyone who told you that they enjoyed it was, in her opinion, a liar. Rose knew that makeup was really just something that you wore to make others think you looked good.
She sighed again as she finished moisturising and set down the bottle. Of course there was always an exception to that rule. It could be that you were not some superficial person seeking to make your exterior look more beautiful than the next person's, it could be that you were a journalist who was about to get fired and desperately needed a scoop and it could be that said scoop could only be gotten by dressing up ridiculously. It could be that you were Rosalind Frashim.
She looked out at the array of products that she'd bought earlier that day from the closest department store. She found them bamboozling and confusing; it had taken nearly an hour to find a foundation for her skin tone, which was a fairly dark one. Rose didn't understand why companies seemed to think that darker skinned people didn't use makeup. She didn't, but she was sure that there were other women out there who did.
She picked up the foundation and rubbed it into her skin, taking care to blend it properly. There now, she thought, looking at her reflection, this makeup stuff isn't too hard. She looked better than those women that she occasionally saw on trains, their thick, mask-like makeup peeling off their faces. She relaxed slightly as she began to apply the eyeliner. Now that she knew she could do this, those bottles didn't look quite so frustrating.
Twenty minutes later, Rose was done getting ready. She left her room and paused in the corridor to pull on some boots and a coat. Even when she was playing a role to get some information, Rose had to keep warm. She hated the cold, like cats hated dogs, and Liberty City was famed for its low temperatures. Rose left her apartment and emerged onto the street below. It was in a state of chaos- she could hear drivers honking their horns loudly, and behind her two commuters had gotten out of their vehicles and begun a screaming match.
Rose rolled her eyes at the pair as she walked past, drawing her coat more securely around her. It was their own fault for using cars in Liberty City. Rose wondered why they'd done it. Everyone knew that in Liberty you either took public transport, or you walked. Rose was doing a combination of both. She was walking to the subway station which was near her house and then she was getting on a train to the city centre, Torch. From there she'd have to walk to the building where tonight's meeting was being held, Liberty Library.
Rose smiled grimly at the thought of over fifty gang members hanging out in the city's Library. Those old books were going to be in a significant amount of danger right now. According to her informant, one Stefan Papillon, these guys had nasty tempers and they liked to take their anger out on whatever was closest to them. Rose winced at the thought of some of the oldest books in the world being torn to shreds. At least she'd be there to try and save them.
Upon entering the subway, she thought of something that always struck her as being silly. The people spilling out of the station, on their way home from work, pushed past her, looking grumpy if she in any way obstructed their clear passage. Rose found herself being shunted from side to side, thinking angrily that she was the one who had a train to get onto and that should obviously give her right of way. These people had already managed to get on and off their trains. They had reached their destinations; it was her that needed to go somewhere.
She pushed her way through the throng, ignoring the dirty glares that people were shooting her and finally managed to reach the platform. There were less people up here, and the air was flowing more clearly. Rose took a deep breath letting the air flood her lungs. She would never admit it to anyone, but she was just slightly claustrophobic, and getting through that crowd had scared her more than she'd let on.
It wasn't long till the train arrived with a whoosh of air. Again she had to deal with people, pushing to get onto the train. Thankfully, most people had already gotten home from work or gone wherever they were headed. The small crowd of people who were out now were out here because it was election night. They were the ones who were rushing to get to a voting booth before they closed. Of course, you didn't have to vote, but they were people who happened to have opinions. Rose boarded the train amongst them, smiling to herself as they checked their watches nervously. Voting, was of course, pointless.
Rose hadn't bothered voting this year, even though every year since she'd turned eighteen she'd been down there, casting her vote. She'd thought that she'd been practicing her right to have a say in the way her country was run. She'd thought she was playing a vital role in the democracy that was Conward. She'd been wrong. It had been only at the end of last year that Rose had begun to really and truly discover the way that the country worked and that was really only because she'd dug too deep on a case about a woman who'd been murdered.
That woman had been Stefan Papillon's mother-in-law. Rose had only bothered fishing into the case because his wife had died a few years previously, both in suspicious circumstances. It was through Stefan that she had stumbled across the criminal underworld that was really running the country. Many people wonder why politicians can never come through on promises, why they can never give a straight-up answer. Rose had and now she knew the answer. It was because they had no power, they had to go and check everything with the nearest gang boss.
In Liberty's case, that meant that Mayor Rick Shaw was constantly running over to Stefan's house and it had gotten Rose curious. She'd wanted to know what the hell the Mayor of Liberty City had been doing, visiting someone whom she, and everybody else for that matter, knew to be involved with the city's gangs. It turned out Stefan was not only involved with the gangs, he was leading them, and Mayor Rick Shaw was not really the Mayor of the city - except for in title - Stefan Papillon was.
Rose smiled grimly at the thought of Stefan. He was relatively young for a guy who had the fate of Liberty City resting in his hands, only thirty-four years old, but that seemed to be the way with the gangs, no one over fifty was involved in anything. Stefan said it was because they were "out of touch". He'd be mad as hell if he found out that she was going into that conference tonight, but she knew that he'd have to have her back - it was that or he'd have a very thick file of dirt on him released and find himself with a death penalty hanging over his head.
Rose smiled more genuinely this time. Stefan was probably regretting the day he'd blown his chance to kill her. It was strange, how Rose got that information about Mayor Rick Shaw. She had broken into Stefan's house and hid in the pantry. While the two men spoke to each other in the dining room, she'd tried to note down all of their conversation, but she'd had to write so fast, that eventually the scrawl of her pen had given her away. Stefan had thrown open the cupboard door and found Rose sitting there amongst his bags of flour, a stricken expression on her face.
He'd been in some freakishly happy mood though. Rose suspected he'd been high, so he'd just made her swear not to write anything stupid about him or he'd have her killed. Well, he didn't exactly say killed, he'd said "silenced". Rose had happily agreed, she knew that she'd been lucky to escape from that house with her life. She knew that refusing to not write about Stefan would have pushed her luck way too far. Still, there was nothing actually stopping her from running an article on the gang leader, nothing except the fact that she'd promised and he was actually not that bad of a guy. Hadn't he granted her mercy and let her live?
That wasn't what made her keep the agreement though. Just because she'd said that she wouldn't write an article about him, didn't mean that Rose wasn't going to find out why Mayor Shaw was asking this man for permission to filter the air of the latest tunnel that the government had built to help deal with Liberty's traffic problem. The decision to filter the tunnel was an obvious one, it wouldn't take much money out of the city's deep coffers and it would save a lot of residents from having damaged lungs. So why was the Mayor running to Stefan?
Rose hadn't previously realised the gang leader's power, but after seeing Stefan's sanctimonious little nod as he gave his blessing she realised that he was the one calling the shots, that the Mayor hadn't just been tip-toeing around Stefan- he had to answer to Stefan. Of course, Rose hadn't been caught that time or any of the other times that she spied on the Muscon born gang boss. Well, she'd been caught quite a few times, but she had information now. She had a file that she'd instructed her friend Jane to release if she happened to die. So now, not only could the gang not kill her, but they had to protect her. If Rose got into any sticky situations Stefan had told her to call him directly, not the police, him. Rose thought it was ironic how he had to protect her, even though he hated it.
She had become good friends with Stefan Papillon over the past year. Unfortunately in both of their lines of work there was no room for friendship and loyalty to other human beings. Rose knew that if not for the file, Stefan would only hesitate for a moment before he killed her and he knew that if it wasn't for the fact that she'd die if she did it that file would already be all over the media.
That said, Stefan was still useful for some things. For example, tonight he was her ticket into the election. Not the fake one that all the other journalists were attending. Not the one where they'd keep tabs on the vote count, no, Rose was going to be attending the real election and she was going to get in by pretending to be Stefan's date. That was why she'd needed the makeup. She'd met some of the women Stefan had dated in the past, and though they weren't stupid, they all pretended to be. They thought it would make him like them more. It didn't - it bored him.
So tonight, Rose had to dress up and go to that conference, that election; because it was the real one and Rose needed a scoop desperately. It was really all Stefan's fault that she was about to lose her job anyway - she'd been wasting all of her time investigating him and his gang and had forgotten to write an article for months - so it was fitting that he would be the one to help her out with this. If he didn't...well, he was going to have to deal with that death penalty, because Rose was fairly sure that if Stefan didn't help her tonight she was going to die.
The train doors slid open for about the sixth time and Rose realised that it was her stop. She had arrived in Torch. Gulping nervously, she scrambled to get off the now-empty train. For a second she wondered where everyone had gone, but then she saw them in front of her, heading up the stairs of the station. She'd been lost in thought and hadn't noticed everyone else getting off. She shook her head, determined not to let anymore lapses of concentration occur. It was just not safe tonight, not when little mistakes could cost her life.
She left the subway station breathing deeply, trying to soothe herself, trying to calm herself down. She was going to need to be calm if she was going to manage to fool the security guards outside the library. They'd no doubt ask her who she was, who she was with and some other questions. She was nearing the library now, and her black boots clacked along the pavement, making her feel slightly self conscious. She looked at the two goons that Stefan had hired to guard the place tonight and breathed a whistling sigh of relief. They were typical bouncers, big and thick-looking.
"Hi," she said, flashing the nearest guard a smile. He said nothing, not a muscle in his face moved. He just pretended she hadn't said anything. Rose shrugged and began to walk past with what she thought was a nonchalant swagger.
Immediately the giant security guy threw out an arm to impede her progress. "Excuse me?" she said looking up at him disdainfully. Rose had always been a good actress.
"I'm sorry, miss, but there's some event going on here tonight. A lot of guys in black suits. The library's not open tonight, come back another time," the other security guard said. He sounded sympathetic, but there was no way he was going to let a civilian through into that library.
Rose laughed, the tinkling laugh of a high society lady, "Oh don't be ridiculous!" she said, reaching out and playfully shoving the nearest guard, he barely moved or reacted to her touch. Rose thought that he might not have felt it at all. "I'm a part of the event. My boyfriend's running it," she added the last part proudly, acting every bit the infatuated girl.
She waited breathless. There was nothing more she could do. If they decided to get her story checked and called Stefan, it would be an absolute disaster. Slowly the arm barring her way fell down. She didn't let out the breath she'd been holding, instead she turned to the security guard and flashed him a million dollar smile. She only let out her breath once she was in the middle of the library's large foyer.
Breathing more easily now, Rose put on a pair of sunglasses and slipped into the library itself, she was fairly sure that with her makeup on no-one but Stefan would be able to recognise her, but the sunglasses were a precaution she felt she had to take. The library was in a state of chaos. She looked around for Stefan. She had to make sure that he hadn't brought some other vapid girl along with him as that would clearly blow her cover.
She spotted him across the room, alone, and she decided that she was going to have to tell him. Stefan would have to know so that he could cover for her the rest of the evening. As much as she hated to make him angry, it would have to be done. She made a beeline for him and spoke, "Hey."
"Hey yourself," Stefan smiled silkily and Rose realised with a shock that he was trying to flirt with her.
Alarmed, she lifted her sunglasses for a moment, "It's me," she told him flatly.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he'd dropped the sultry tone for an angry one and Rose winced. Stefan's anger had a bite to it. The thirty-four year old gang boss was shaking with anger; his large hands twisting round and round each other, as though to stop himself from reaching out and shaking her. Rose gulped; it was at times like this that she realised just exactly why she didn't like to mess with men like Stefan. They could crush her just by sitting on her.
Rose was tiny, even with her boots on. Stefan towered over her and when he was shaking with rage he was just a very scary sight. "What the hell Rose...If you weren't a girl..." he seethed.
Rose shook her head, her sense of self returning, "You can't be a gangster and a gentleman Stefan, decide which one you want to be," she returned, her voice laden with sarcasm.
"Shut up," he growled, unimpressed with her wit. "What the hell, Rose? What the fucking hell is wrong with you, huh? What the hell are you doing here?"
"I'm going to lose my job, Stefan. I need an article. Don't worry, it's not about you and it won't mention names or locations. I'm just going to write about you guys being a secret society that really holds the power cards. I need this," she told him.
"No. Get out," came the flat reply and his hand immediately came up to gesture to the door.
"No, please..." she wailed.
He sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair, "What the hell did you tell the guards Rosie? How did you get in?"
She stared at the floor, "I told them I was your girlfriend...so I hope you haven't brought a date along," she tried to sound playful, but it was difficult with her eyes fixated on a patch of dust on a piece of green carpet.
He sighed deeply through his nose, "You're not going to budge, are you?" he asked, and she shook her head. "Fine," he linked his arm through hers and began to steer her to the top of the room. Rose assumed his spot was on one of the balconies above, going with the natural assumption that the higher up in the room you were the more power you had. Instead he led her out into the middle of the floor, muttering in her ear as he did so, "There's going to be a bit of a debate tonight," he said.
She quirked one eyebrow at him, "I didn't know that the gangs of Liberty City were into parliamentary debate," she whispered, leaning forward to adjust his tie as she did so. They looked like a happy couple with him whispering some flirtatious comment in her ear and her replying by coyly adjusting his tie; no one would guess that they were actually talking about the way that things were going down tonight.
He shrugged, as if to say, "Well now you know we do" and then spoke again, "Look, whatever you do, don't look surprised when they mention T.I.P. I haven't got time to explain now. All you have to know is that I'm working hard to get rid of that stupid project." She nodded. She knew that Stefan was one of the good guys, and she trusted him.
He grabbed her hand and led her over to a velvet seat. Again her eyebrow went up. Surely this was a bit plush, even for Stefan? She said nothing though, just sank into the cushy seat and made herself comfortable. She looked around the room, noticing that a lot of the others were taking their seats now too. A furtive glance at the big clock on the left hand side of the room told her that it was now exactly seven o'clock. Perhaps that was when parliament begun for the gangs?
Once everyone was seated, Stefan stood up and grabbed a microphone that was lying on a small pedestal next to where he sat. It was a parliament of sorts, but a laid back one. "Friends," Stefan greeted the crowd lazily, "You know why you are here today. You have a decision to make. Have I served you well, or do you want Brendan," here he nodded to one of the men sitting near Rose. She looked at him for a second and then her attention flickered back to Stefan, "To take over for me."
Here he paused once more and looked around the room, his impressive blue gaze sweeping in nearly everyone. Rose just smirked at him when he looked at her. She supposed Stefan was trying to be charismatic, but his warm blue eyes weren't going to make her melt like butter. He cleared his throat and began to speak once more, "You know what the key issues this year are...Well, I should probably say issue. I know that crime, petty crime, is really not something to be worried about. If you all wanted to smoke crack, I'd let you. If you'd all wanted to be robbers, I'd let you. I draw the line at violence and you know that. I will deal with you swiftly if you hurt someone for no good reason, it's just drawing attention to ourselves and we are not your typical thugs."
Rose smirked again. He most certainly had that one right. Rose didn't know any other thugs who wore Armani suits and had a degree in scientific engineering like Stefan did. "The other issue, the more pressing issue is T.I.P. Now, you all know where I stand here. I refuse to let this happen. The Ionospheric Project is a terrible thing, it's a horrible thing and we cannot and will not allow it to happen."
Rose's ears pricked up. She could sense that this was important and from the trembling rage in Stefan's voice, that this Ionospheric Project was something bad. "Look," he said, spreading his hands out wide. "All I know is that man wasn't meant to create earthquakes by interfering with the Ionosphere. That stuff's up to God and Mother Nature, not us. And what, may I ask, is this technology going to be used for? I have my suspicions, friends, that this is nothing more than an attempt to get rid of pockets of the world's people. Unwanted pockets that Brendan over there and his cronies up in Conward House, want to get rid of. This cannot be allowed and it's up to us to stop them from practicing some sickly, modern form of eugenics."
Rose couldn't help it; she shuddered, but recovered herself quickly. Stefan was returning to his seat, he appeared to have said what he'd wanted to say. Now, it was Brendan's turn. Rose couldn't help herself; she leaned forward and under the pretence of kissing his cheek managed to say, "Eugenics?"
He too managed to get out one word before they had to focus their attention on Brendan, "Later."
"Hi," Brendan greeted the crowds with a friendly smile, which lit up his hazel eyes. He seemed fairly relaxed, but then, so had Stefan and Rose could see how tense he was right now. Brendan ruffled his hair nervously. He was young, younger than Stefan, maybe twenty seven. Rose marvelled at how a man only a few years older than her could possibly wield so much power.
"Well, you've heard what he's got to say, now hear what I've got to say," He looked around the room, "I agree with him, about T.I.P. I know I'm opposing my party's wishes, but on this issue I'm crossing the floor. They've said they'll kick me out if I do it, but I don't want this evil program to ever come into being," I stared at him in shock. No wonder he'd seemed relaxed, he wasn't arguing about anything, he was just telling everyone that he wasn't going to be leader anymore, "So I guess I'm a member of the other team now."
He crossed the floor and Rose was strongly reminded of various parliamentary votes in which MP's crossed the floor, only it seemed that if you crossed the floor here there was no going back. Stefan waved a hand and a chair was pulled up right next to her for Brendan, he flashed a bright smile at her as he sat and she grinned back before turning back to the floor to see what was going on.
"Well, since Brendan hasn't got the guts to tell it like it is, I'm going to have to. I'm Nicole Stevenson, Vice President of the Roaming Tigress gang and I've got something to tell you all," she looked down at the table before swiftly looking up again, "This world is an overpopulated mess. There are people who don't do anything, don't serve any purpose," here Rose heard an angry hiss coming from the men on either side of her, they both looked at each other in surprise, "What I'm saying here is that the world ain't got enough resources to feed everyone, to clothe everyone and to provide sufficient energy to have everyone housed with nice, clean water supplies. Sometimes you gotta be cruel to be kind and putting these poverty stricken people out of their misery is one of those times."
Rose felt her mouth open in disbelief. Cruel to be kind? They were talking about killing people here. She could feel the blond man who had crossed to their side shift uncomfortably in his seat. No doubt he was feeling embarrassed about what his former party was suggesting. Then she remembered that she'd promised Stefan not to look surprised. She shut her mouth and turned to him, he was shooting her a warning look as he got up to refute what the "Roaming Tigress" gang had said.
"Look, I don't know about you, but to me, killing people is just wrong. There is no justification for it. Miss Stevenson can use the "it's for their own good" line however much she likes, but in the end it all boils down to this. T.I.P. is selfish. It's not about being cruel to be kind, it's about eliminating these people from the world so that we can use the remaining resources. It's all about being able to sustain this selfish lifestyle that we have here in Liberty City, and in all of Conward. Nicole would have us preserve this lifestyle of luxury at all costs. She'd have us preserve it even if it meant killing off billions of people and making it look like an accident."
Rose looked at Stefan proudly. Hadn't she said he was one of the good guys? He was just speaking with passion, standing there and speaking, but there was something in his eyes. They had become cold and hard, and he was glaring around at everyone as though daring them to contradict him. "So, now, you vote, my friends, and god willing you'll make the right decision." With that, he took his seat.
"T.I.P.?" Rose managed to get out of the corner of her mouth. "There's a lot you haven't been telling me, Stefan." She fixed him with her piercing brown eyes and her tone was anything but playful.
"I'm trying to stop it. I would have told you if it came to be and I would have told you to shout it from the rooftops. To write about it in that little magazine of yours and encourage all your friends to write about it in theirs. You would have been killed for doing it, but it would have been worth it," he returned, looking sincere.
Rose replied with mock hurt playing across her features, "Gee, thanks Stefan, it's good to know that you value my life that highly. And that little magazine you're talking about is The Liberty City Times."
He stood up and shrugged, "I do value your life, it's just that sacrificing it to save a couple of billion lives would be worth it, you know?" she nodded silently, brooding on what she had just heard, "Look, Rose, I'm going to go vote now. Try not to snoop around or anything, I don't want any of these guys to kill you...just yet." And then he was gone.
Rose was alone now, well almost alone. Brendan was still sitting in the seat next to her. Eager to be alone, Rose turned to him and spoke, "Don't you need to go and vote too?"
He looked at her for a second, then, "No. You only vote if you belong to a gang. I just got kicked out of mine and I haven't been accepted into another yet."
Rose had to stifle a laugh at Brendan's using the word "gang". She knew this was a very grave hour for him and she didn't want to seem rude, but it was still funny that Brendan - who looked more like a male model than a gangster - could be a member of a gang, "I thought you were a part of Stefan's gang now?"
"Stefan's gang?" he laughed and raised his eyebrows, "They call themselves the Protectors. Yeah, not all of us have lame names like 'Roaming Tigress'" he laughed again, "And no, I'm not a part of his gang. I may be in the future but as of yet...I haven't received an invite or been inducted," his voice was a cool drawl, but Rose could see the hurt in his eyes and it sent stabs of pity through her heart.
"Well, you made the right choice. That T.I.P. thing is horrible," she said, trying to comfort and soothe him.
"Hmm, it depends on the way you look at it. It was the right choice for people in the developing world who would've been affected by T.I.P., sure. But for me...I haven't got a friend in the world anymore. That party was my life and soul...," he looked up at her for a second and smiled tightly. It seemed to be more of a tired smile than a happy one, "I'm sure I'll make new friends though."
He said it with so little conviction, with so much misery scrawled across his features that Rose couldn't help herself from blurting the words, even though she didn't really want to. "You've already got a new friend." By this, of course she meant herself.
Brendan looked up and smiled more genuinely this time, "For real?" Rose nodded. Why the hell would she say it otherwise? "Thanks, that's nice of you. I just didn't think that you being Stefan's girlfriend and all..."
Shit, Rose thought, she'd completely forgotten her cover. "Why would Stefan mind us being friends?"
"Well, you should know, but you've got a pretty possessive boyfriend."
Stefan was possessive? Rose just couldn't get her head around the idea of Stefan caring who she made friends with. "Oh, yeah, I guess he is," Rose tried for an airy laugh and failed. She was sure she just came off looking like she was laughing at nothing, noticing Brendan's small frown she kept on talking in an attempt to distract him, "Don't worry about Stefan though...I'll take care of him."
"Don't worry about Stefan?" He gave her that same amused look he'd given her when she'd said "Stefan's gang". "Don't worry about the most powerful man in Liberty City? He could kill me if I did something he didn't like."
Rose shrugged. "I don't think he'd kill you for being friends with me." It was true he wouldn't, but Rose wasn't sure how she could explain that Stefan wouldn't be possessive about her without saying that she wasn't his girlfriend.
Brendan's mood seemed to shift though, he grinned, "Alrighty then. I trust you," Rose smiled in relief. That had just been way too awkward and she was happy he'd dropped it.
"So, do you have a phone number?" he asked with another smile, "If we're going to be friends, I need to be able to contact you," he explained, blushing.
"Yeah. Gimme a minute." She dug inside her bag and handed him her phone. "Add yourself to my contacts," she said after pressing a few buttons to unlock the keypad. She then held out a hand for his phone, which he handed over without a word. Rose knew that getting involved with gang members was dangerous, but she couldn't help it. She really did like Brendan, he seemed like a nice, funny guy and he didn't have another friend in the world. Rose felt obliged to look out for him.
Stefan got back just as Rose handed Brendan's phone back to him. He shot the younger man a glare but then turned to Rose, his blue eyes dancing with amusement. "What have you been doing?" he whispered to her as he sat down.
"Nothing," Rose returned, shortly and he laughed as if to say he highly doubted that story.
Then all of a sudden his amused look left him, "Remember that we don't have much room in our hearts for friendship," he said gravely.
"I know, but he's not one of you anymore," Rose reminded him. He just nodded absently.
"So what happens now?" Rose asked.
"We wait for the votes to be tallied. Now be quiet. I never talk to my girlfriends this much," Stefan hissed at her and Rose noticed that people were indeed looking at them weirdly. Rose did her best to cover her irritation at Stefan's attitude to his girlfriends, pretending to be snubbed and hurt by his lack of attention. She was going to have to have a word with her friend about this as soon as the conference ended.
Not knowing how long she was going to have to wait and not game enough to ask, Rose had nothing better to do than twiddle her thumbs. Occasionally she'd glance up and catch Brendan's eye and they'd both flash each other a friendly smile. Both of them were slight outcasts here, non-members of a powerful secret society. In this way, over an hour passed and then she caught Stefan nodding from the corner of her eye. Something was happening.
Stefan stood and grabbed his microphone once more, "Friends, the vote has been tallied. You have made your decision and it is final. Whatever the result of this election is, it must be respected by all factions. I will happily relinquish power if I have been voted out of office. If I haven't though, I will fight tooth and nail to represent you to the best of my ability. Let the results be read." And he sank back into his seat again.
Rose watched carefully as a shrunken looking man walked to the centre of the space. This man was possibly the oldest person in the room he was definitely over fifty, maybe nearing sixty. Rose made a mental note to ask Stefan exactly what his role was later.
He stood still for a second and then opened his mouth to speak, "The votes are in and I, as supervisor of the vote, assure you that they were counted correctly and fairly and checked several times." He had a less polished accent than anyone who had spoken so far and Rose was inclined to believe that if he was a gang member he was a very lowly one. "The result is this: For Liberty City the Protectors will remain in charge, but all around the country, the vote has shifted in favour of Emelie Chauce and her Advancement Party."
Rose nearly choked. They held national elections? Well, she guessed she knew the title of her article. Uncanny Parallels between Secret Society and American Parliamentary System. It was a bit of a mouthful, but Rose thought that it captured the essence of what she wanted to say. It was a subtle hint that one was based on the other, that the Parliaments were actually copycats of the gangs. Rose knew that most readers would think it was the exact opposite way, but maybe a few of the more discerning ones would be able to discern the truth in her words.
She didn't get much time to muse over her article though. "Shit," Stefan said. She looked up in surprise and found Stefan's eyes. He'd just won the election hadn't he? Shouldn't he be celebrating instead of swearing?
"What?" she asked, completely forgetting that she was supposed to be pretending to be his girlfriend, forgetting that she was supposed to be in the know.
"I could ask you the same thing...Who exactly are you? I know that you're a very nice person called Rose, but I also know that you're full of it and you're not his girlfriend," Brendan told her in an accusatory tone. Rose kneaded her forehead. She knew that she hadn't been too good at playing her role, but she'd thought that it had been good enough to prevent anyone from asking questions.
"She's a journalist," said Stefan, his voice quiet. There was a weary sound to it that had Rose worried. It sounded like he was giving up, but giving up on what?
Rose sighed, thinking that she was sure to be in for it now, but to her surprise, Brendan laughed, "You brought a journalist? Well, isn't that perfect! Isn't a journalist exactly what we need now?" Rose found herself shrinking away from him, his laugh had been slightly maniacal and his hazel eyes were alight with a strange glow.
Stefan too seemed wary of him. "We shall talk about this somewhere more private, if you please Mr. Reynolds," he told his former opponent imperiously.
"Will I be involved in this later, though? If I don't talk now, will I ever have my opportunity to talk?" Brendan asked with an air of defiance.
"Yes, you will. You two are both going to be coming with me now. I need your help." With this, Stefan grabbed Rose's hand and got up. Motioning for Brendan to follow them, he tugged Rose along to the foyer and then to the exit. Rose passed the security guards who had let her in before and noticed the way that Stefan glared at them. He was clearly unhappy with the way they'd slipped up and let her in. He said nothing though, and just continued to walk with long strides till he reached a small, bomb of a car.
Rose looked at him questioningly. "What?" he sounded defensive, "It would be too obvious for me to have the best car out of all the gang. Makes my car an easy target."
Rose nodded as he opened the passenger side door for her. Again with the chivalry. Rose was pretty sure that if gentlemen did exist in the latter 21st century then they did so in the form of gang members. Brendan climbed into the back of the car as Stefan got into the driver's seat. "Buckle your seatbelts," he told them. Rose rolled her eyes as she fastened her seatbelt. Why follow that law when he'd broken all the rest of them?
When he started up the ignition and began to drive, Rose knew why. She could feel the air whipping into her face as the small car sped up the road and swerved sharply to the right. She hadn't thought a car this old would even have the ability to go this fast. Stefan chuckled, "I got the engine replaced. This thing's got the power of a Porsche; it only looks mediocre."
After that, all conversation was at an end; the wind was too strong for Rose to say anything. Her words would just have been shoved straight back into her mouth. She did try, several times, to wind up the window to stop the cold gusts of air, but it was jammed and eventually she gave up and waited, silent and shivering, for them to arrive at their destination.
A.N I would like to thank ClandestineMadness and CovertLeader for beta-ing this story and you for reading. Now you know you want to review and tell me what you think, don't you?