Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

October Surprise

Summary: Molly and Shane listen to the mayoral debate.

Though the volume was usually turned down so low it was barely audible over the sounds of cooking, but tonight Molly had moved the radio to a central location and turned it up so they wouldn’t miss anything. The mayoral debate was happening across town in the Rose Theatre, and KELF was broadcasting it live to anyone who couldn’t make it. Business was slow enough that listening didn’t get in the way of their work, so Clifton was fine with having it on.

“Do you think she’ll win?” Shane asked as she placed her last order on the pass-through. A waitress appeared as if conjured and whisked it away.

“She has it locked up.” Molly turned and rested her hips against the edge of the prep table. “Why? You have doubts?”

Shane shrugged. “The Dugans have a lot of money and influence. They’re not going to give up that seat willingly, and they wouldn’t have brought in Tobias Collins if they didn’t believe he could get the job done. He has supporters. You’ve seen the same signs I have.”

“Yeah. Ten Collins’ signs and thirty Hood-Colby signs.”

“I’m just saying that there’s a chance he could pull the rug out from under her. Haven’t you ever heard of the October surprise?”

“I try to ignore politics.” Another order came up and Molly took the slip. She turned her back to Shane and began preparing it. “What’s an October surprise?”

“It’s a big news story or a revelation that can upset the election. Like in ’08 when the economy tanked. McCain never recovered from that and Obama stepped in to win the whole thing.”

“So you’re saying the economic downturn was a campaign maneuver?”

“No, I’m saying it was… like a natural disaster that one campaign handled better than the other.”

Molly shrugged. “It’s still a win. The other side made a mistake, you didn’t, so you make the extra goal and get carried off the field.”

“Well, whatever happens, I’m just saying we can’t get Patricia Hood-Colby fitted for the hat just yet.”

Molly twisted and raised an eyebrow at her. “What hat?”

“The mayor hat.”

“Really. What does it look like?”

“It’s a purple top hat with a big red sunflower on the band.”

Molly laughed. “Well, if anyone can pull it off…” She focused on her cooking for a few minutes as they continued to listen to the debate. Kate Price was the moderator on behalf of the island’s newspaper, and she presented her next question to Patricia’s opponent, Tobias Collins.

“Mr. Collins, there has been a lot of speculation about your arrival into the race. Some people claim that you’re only serving as a figurehead for the Dugan family. How do you respond to these allegations?”

Collins was six-seven and carried himself like an SUV, and his voice seemed to fill the room even when filtered through a radio speakers. “I’m glad you asked me that, Kate. It’s true that I was brought here by my dear friends, the Dugans, and it was their hope that I would take the seat vacated by their kin. But any implication of impropriety is simply false. To claim so is to imply I could win any election I wanted, and I’m not the President of the United States.”

Patricia said, “The right money in the right places can buy you a lot of things, Mr. Collins. The Dugan family might not be able to get you into the White House, but they can certainly get you a mayor’s seat in December Harbor, Washington. Those are the allegations, sir.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hood-Colby, for clarifying the issue. I came to this island on behalf of my friends because they thought I could serve this town well. And upon arriving, I found a beautiful town full of gracious and friendly people. I’ve only been here six months and yet I feel like this is my home. I’ve grown to love this island, and I’ve become truly passionate about it’s future. That’s why, for the last four weeks until the election, my campaign is cutting ties with the Dugan family.”

Molly turned to look at the radio and then glared at Shane.

Shane shook her head. “I did not jinx anything.”

“That’s a bold statement, Mr. Collins,” Patricia said. “One that perhaps would have carried more weight at the beginning of the campaign than it does now, in the home stretch.”

“I do admit this is more of a good faith gesture than actual hardship. But surely even you, as humble as you are, Mrs. Hood-Colby, can’t claim we’re on equal footing. I’ve been playing catch-up with you since I entered the race and I daresay I’m only now coming within arm’s reach of your poll numbers. Cutting myself off from the Dugans now is definitely putting myself at a disadvantage.”

Patricia said, “That’s the kind of disadvantage I would like, to be honest.”

Some laughter was heard from the audience, but Collins’ laugh overpowered them all. “You have a point. But I wanted this last stretch of the election to be about the truth. Since I’ve been here, you have been running on the prospect that you’re two different things. You’re a breath of fresh air, but you’re also a remnant of the outgoing administration. Regardless of how I came into the race, I am the only outsider choice here. For the past handful of years, the Dugans have bequeathed their office to a family member of their choosing. When I look at you, Mrs. Hood-Colby, I see a unique continuation of that history.”

Molly whispered, “That bastard. He turned it around on her. Now everything she’s been saying about the Dugans legacy can apply to her.”

“Patricia, would you like to make a rebuttal?”

“Yes, Kate. Thank you.” There was a pause before Patricia said, “But there’s no need for one. People on this island know me, and they know the differences I will bring to the table. If they’ve listened tonight, and if they’ve paid attention to my campaign at all, they’ll know that I’m offering them something besides more of the same.”

“There’s your October surprise,” Molly muttered.

Shane said, “Yeah. What a douchy move.”

Another order came up, and they put aside political talk to focus on their work. Forty-five minutes later, Clifton came into the kitchen and knocked on the side of the counter. “Molly, Shane. You two mind sticking around a little late tonight? We have a special party coming in that might push us past closing.”

Molly said, “I don’t know. My girlfriend doesn’t like it when I work late.”

“She sounds like a bitch,” Shane said. “You should dump her and date me instead.”

“I’ll just screw around with you.”

Clifton whistled. “Is that a yes?”

“Sorry, Clif. How big is the party?”

“They think around ten to fifteen.”

“Whoa. Sure. If you’re willing to pay us to be here, we’ll be here.”

He waved his thanks and ducked back out to the main room.

An hour later the dining room was mostly empty when the ‘special party’ arrived. Molly was at the kitchen door to get a look at who it was and, when she recognized the guest of honor, she motioned Shane over. “Look who we’re cooking for.”

Shane pressed against Molly’s side and looked out. She didn’t recognize most of the people, but a tall brunette was being led across the room to a large table by the window. She was tall and olive-skinned, wearing a black dress suit over a jade-green blouse. The woman tugging her along was shorter and dark blonde, also dressed to the nines. Considering where they had come from, it wasn’t surprising that they were so dressed up.

“That’s Patricia Hood-Colby and her wife.”

Molly nodded. “Looks like we’re the post-debate dinner destination for the Hood-Colby entourage.”

Two waitresses had stayed to take the orders, which Molly and Shane attacked with military precision. Clifton came back to help out. When they were down to only three orders left, Clifton told Molly she could take a quick smoke break if she wanted. She agreed and finished her current order before she went into the alley through the back entrance. She had just lit up when she heard a quiet, sharp intake of breath.

The alley behind Gail’s led to Joe Lack’s Pizza and also contained an exterior staircase that led to the private apartment above the restaurant. Late at night, when the shadows were deep enough, the occasional adventurous couple would try to steal a few romantic moments in the darkness. Molly held her cigarette by her side and stepped forward.

“Hey. Come on, get out of there.”

“Shit. Sorry.” A lone woman emerged from the shadows. From the way she was wiping her face, Molly realized the woman had been crying. “I didn’t think anyone would come back here.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine. Just a little, um. Overwhelmed. That’s all.”

The streetlights were angled so that there was only a slender triangle of light in the alley, and the woman was standing just outside of the glow. Despite being an obscure blur of shadows, Molly recognized the voice. She had just listened to it on the radio.

“Why are you out here by yourself? You have a room full of supporters…”

“Yeah. They’re why I’m out here alone. Tonight was bad. It was bad, and I feel like shit, and I just needed to get it out and I didn’t want any of them see me.” She sighed heavily. “They’re all counting on me. They’ve put ten months of their lives into this campaign, and they’re wearing buttons with my name on it, and if I fail… what can I say to them? Sorry? Better luck next time? And my wife… my dear, sweet wife who told me to take this leap. I took her with me. I jumped out of an airplane with her and now I’m just hoping that we have a parachute. How can I let her see that I’m worried? How can I let anyone see that I’m scared to death we’re going to fail?”

Molly took a drag off her cigarette. “Well… they know. They know how scared you are. You’re only human. They’re waiting for you to come to them and say… ‘Hey. I need your help and your support.'” She scuffed her shoe on the ground. “No one expects you to do it alone. Lean on them. It’s what they’re there for.”

Patricia was quiet for a long moment and then nodded. “You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right.” She smiled. “Go on. You’re the woman of the hour. They’re probably waiting for you.”

“Yeah. And… hey. Can this just be between us? I don’t want to see some gossip piece about my breakdown in the paper?”

“The paper? Lady, I can’t see your face. I have no idea who you are.”

Patricia chuckled. “Right. Thanks.”

She started to walk back toward the boardwalk, but Molly stopped her. “Hey. When you get back in there, get the Ice Orca. It’s made of brownies and vanilla ice cream covered in hot fudge. It’s big enough for two. Share it with your wife and tell the waitress Molly says it’s on her. It isn’t consolation for a bad night… it’s a premature victory snack.”

“Thank you, Molly.”

Molly said, “You don’t have to win for your supporters. I know, I’m one of them. All you have to do is fight against the people who have had a stranglehold on this town for as long as I’ve been alive. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve done that job already. You’ve shown that they’re not a foregone conclusion. No matter what happens a month from now, you’ve won.”

Patricia stared at her, now in the light but backlit so that she was still faceless. “Thank you, Molly.”

Molly lifted her cigarette in a quick salute. “You’re welcome, Madame Mayor.”

“Let us pray.” Patricia waved and turned to leave, the light finally shining on her face. Molly had to admit the candidate was beautiful. She finished her cigarette and went back inside to relieve Clifton.

“Charge me for an Ice Orca. Patricia Hood-Colby is going to order one for dessert and I told her it was on me.”

Clifton agreed and went out to get the dessert from the freezer. Shane whistled as she put a dish on the pass-through. “Pricey gift.”

Molly shrugged and smiled. “You know me. I’m happy to do my part for the campaign.” She winked at Shane and finished the meal Clifton had been preparing.

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