"Get the car," Adam said, handing his keys to Spencer and loosening his yellow tie, "and bring it around front."
Standing on the sidewalk of 57th Street, Adam gave a self-satisfied smile as his top aide disappeared around the corner. His speech to a group of donors throughout the state -- and a few special guests from Washington who were keeping an interested eye on the race -- had practically filled the staff area of the Regenstein Library on the campus of the University of Chicago. The content of the speech had revealed nothing new; Adam liked to keep his message as consistent as possible, only changing as current events dictated. Still, the point of the evening wasn't the words spoken ... it was how much money could be raised and how much support could be drummed up.
All the attendees were already supporters -- wealthy ones, at that -- but the speech served as a message for those supporters to take back to their constituents in the hopes of getting them to pledge their support as well. Though Adam was running for mayor of Chicago, he wasn't about to turn down support from elsewhere in the state of Illinois and other parts of the country. In American politics, support often equaled money.
Money also equaled influence, particularly when the press had been locked out and the message remained pure.
Truth to tell, politics bored the hell out of Theresa. Before, when she was alive, it had been a subject of marginal interest to her, but now she was beyond all that. Still, the campus at U of C was a good place to people-watch, and she'd seen the last of the crowd dispersing once the speech was over. Her apartment was only a block or two over, and she wandered across the quad as she examined some of the flyers that had been put up. Asking for money, of course, probably fairly big donations. If she'd been working, she'd have poked around, seen who was buying tonight.
'Adam Thurston'. It sounded made-up, like a guy on a television show. Silver spoon baby. Not a bad picture, though, even if it was a little grainy. Theresa folded up one flyer, stuck it in the pocket of her hooded sweatshirt. If nothing else, she could use it for a coaster later.
Adam looked down, glanced at his watch. His speech had run a little longer than expected; Nicole was probably asleep by now. He felt bad for that, wishing he could be home in case his wife needed anything. These days, Adam's nerves were not a result of a tight political race, but the reality and uncertainty of pending fatherhood. He'd read just about every book he could on pregnancy and what to expect, but actually experiencing that reality was night and day from the written word.
The area surrounding the library was well-lit; if nothing else, this school took security seriously. A patrol car crawled by, the officer in the driver's seat giving the mayoral candidate a wave. Adam stared skyward, squinting at the light from the lamp, barely making out the crescent moon beyond it in the sky.
Even with the lights and patrol cars, Adam still didn't know why anyone would chance walking the campus at night. He saw a young man leave the library, toting a backpack over his left shoulder. By himself, like an idiot. The politician glanced to his left, seeing a young woman, also by herself.
"Good fucking God," he muttered to himself. "Are we asking for something to bite us?"
Theresa had stopped to tie her shoe, crouching down as she re-knotted the lace, and when she straightened up again she gave her watch a look. Only seven o'clock and already dark. She kept forgetting it was November. At least she didn't need to eat tonight, and there was cash socked away in a hiding place back at her apartment. If there was one thing she hated, it was having no cushion between herself and the world.
The vampire ambled closer to the big building that housed the library, looking up at the rows of lighted windows. The electric bill there must be insane. A sharp breeze tugged at her sweatshirt, and she pulled it tighter around herself. It would be warmer inside, and she had books to read. Just a typical night in the unlife of a teenage vampire ...
Seeing the woman draw closer, Adam put his hands in his pants pockets, shaking his head. "C'mon, Spencer," he mumbled. "Any century now ..."
As dependable and hard-working as Spencer was, he had his lackadaisical moments. The night Adam caught him half-naked with a young woman in their campaign office was one such occurrence, and this was one of those too. How long did it take to bring a car around from the parking lot, anyway?
He watched the woman walk past, folding his arms over his chest. Chicago wasn't quite cold enough yet this time of year for the full-on coat, hat and gloves, but it was chilly enough for Adam to see his breath in the air and wish he had at least a light jacket. Or a car with heat.
"Evening," he said loud enough for her to hear, before adding under his breath, "to get attacked in ..."
She picked up the second thing he said, keen ears working overtime in the chilly air, and her sneaker made a gritting sound as she ground some sand beneath her foot. "You lost?" He looked like a professor type, but a professor wouldn't have been lingering around out here in this weather. The temperature had dropped nearly five degrees since the wind had picked up, which meant tonight was going to be a bastard. Thank Whoever she wasn't sleeping on a heating grate tonight.
"Or did you just lose your jacket?" Theresa pointed up at the library steps. "People will steal anything if you turn your back on it for too long. Did you try the lost and found?"
"No jacket," Adam offered a forced smile. "Waiting for my ride."
Again, Adam's hands slid into his pockets. He glanced down at the corner again, waiting for Spencer to bring the car around any minute. The politician silently cursed his regular driver, who had called in sick that night. Something about bad salmon. Bullshit, Adam thought. He probably had a hot date or just wanted to spend the night with some weed and a bag of Doritos.
Adam sighed, getting impatient again. "He ... should be here by now."
"He's probably sneaking a smoke," the vampire said idly, hitching a thumb over her shoulder. "They allowed smoking near the library last year, but then changed the rule after a bunch of people complained about having to walk through it on the way in. If you get enough whiners together about anything, its like a voting bloc of stupidity."
She edged closer, studying him. He looked younger than his picture, younger but maybe more tired. "But then I'm sure you knew that," she added with a half-smile. "I saw you on TV, Mr. Thurston. How's the campaign going?"
Adam smirked, thinking how he needed the voting bloc of stupidity. Well, maybe not stupidity, but if he succeeded in convincing the electorate that voting for the other guy would make them less safe, he had the election in the bag. In elections, the truth was far less important than the framing of the message. The more people who bought the message, the more votes a candidate got -- regardless of whether or not he or she planned to actually follow through once in office.
"Depends on who you ask," he snarked. "Look at the polls, listen to the people, I'm gonna run away with this thing. Read the paper or watch TV, and you'd think the other guy was the greatest thing since sliced bread ... as if sliced bread is all that great."
He scoffed, shaking his head and checking his watch again. What the fuck, Spencer?
"Liberal elites don't like it when you act confrontational ... even if your target's technically dead already."
"Yeah, I saw that you're throwing in with these ... Fellowship dudes, whatever that is," Theresa said mildly, wondering if this guy was for real. Politicians were like actors, playing a role as long as the cameras were around. "If you get into office, what happens next with that?"
She wondered if it was personal for him. Since the Revelation, a lot of the people who were anti-vampire held such beliefs because they'd lost someone and hated the fact that such beings were now walking around in the open. Then again, maybe it was just expedience. "It's kinda risky, siding with a fringe element like that, isn't it? People might take you for a radical separatist."
Adam regarded the woman with a raised eyebrow, folding his arms over his chest. He felt his pulse quicken, forgetting for a moment the fact that Spencer had yet to come by in the car to pick him up. Now, Adam had a new thing to gripe at his top aide about. Spencer was supposed to keep an eye on the media, so he could alert Adam whenever something potentially damaging came up.
A supposed report about his connection to the Fellowship certainly qualified.
"And where did you hear that little nugget?" he asked, cocking his head to the side. He kept his voice calm on purpose, hoping to convey that it wasn't true. "So I know who to sue for libel or slander."
"I pay attention, I hear things. Rumors around the campfire, you might say. You're a big deal these days, Mr. Thurston, it makes people talk. Some of it's reliable, some of it isn't. You seem like the kind of guy who believes in personal freedom, whether you're alive or dead. Everybody has a right to eat, don't you think?"
She wondered if he'd be the sort to be a client of hers. You found that sort of thing in the weirdest places, and the suit-and-tie crowd was the most susceptible. She'd seen pictures of his wife in the papers, a real looker. But a wedding ring didn't mean much if you really wanted some strange. It was something worth pondering. It could be very worthwhile to have a guy like this in her ... back pocket.
"I haven't insulted you, have I?" Playing earnest now. "It's just, y'know, things get blown out of proportion."
Adam chuckled, shaking his head. "Nah," he said, waving his hand dismissively. "I'd have to find a new line of work if every little accusation insulted me."
He considered the girl's words for a minute, letting them stew in his mind. Everybody has a right to eat, don't you think? On the surface, a legitimate argument, but what about the fact that a vampire's diet consisted of humans? What happened if that edict directly resulted in the loss of human life? Sure, there was that synthetic drink, and the fact that some humans allowed vampires to drink from them, but still ... where did one draw the line?
If Adam had his way, vampires would have no rights in this country.
"Personal freedom's all well and good," he countered, glancing over his shoulder at the corner again, "so long as it doesn't put anyone in danger. Once it becomes a threat, freedom needs to be controlled."
"So you're going to take people's guns away too?" Theresa shot back, stepping closer to take a seat on one of the benches where students ate their lunches. "Handgun deaths are way up, if you take the statistics seriously. Can Chicago expect a city-wide confiscation of their personal protection if you get into office, since that sort of freedom endangers people just as much as any bloodsucker?"
Adam arched an eyebrow. "A handgun by itself isn't dangerous. A vampire by itself is."
This was new territory for Adam, but he actually didn't mind it. This sounded like something that might come up in a debate in the near future, so he figured that, if nothing else, he could use this as practice for such an occasion. He had to admit, if only to himself, that the girl made strong, valid points. He vehemently disagreed with her, but he had to at least give her credit for making a good point.
"See, in order for a gun to be dangerous, it needs someone who either doesn't know how to handle it or means to use it for violent purposes." Adam was on a roll, he thought. "There are plenty of law-abiding Americans who use their guns for noble efforts like protection or recreational uses like hunting. Should we punish them because of the criminals?
"A vampire, on the other hand, needs no weapon, because it is one."
"But what you're talking about is intention, the intention to do harm," Theresa said patiently. "Does a human crackhead care about anything beyond the next hit, or how they're going to get the money for a few rocks to smoke? I've seen guys who would sell their baby sisters for enough cash to fill a crack pipe. Are they better than vampires just because they have heartbeats?"
She was actually kind of enjoying this, and if she'd been at all civic-minded she might have considered offering this guy some pointers. As it was, is was just a way to kill some time. "By targeting a specific group because of a few bad apples, its kind of like saying 'they all look alike', isn't it?"
"A few bad apples," Adam repeated. "You're defending those monsters because of a few bad apples?"
The candidate shook his head, pinching his nose. One thing he would have to work on before the debate ... keeping his cool in the face of an argument he vehemently disagreed with. As it was, he was having a hard time biting his tongue on this one. Again, the woman was making legitimate points on the surface, but ... Adam really hard a hard time seeing things outside of his own ideology.
"The entire ..." he waved his hand, trying to find the right word, "species, race, whatever the hell you want to call those things is a bad apple. A bad, dangerous, threat to mankind bad apple."
Now that was insulting. Theresa knew what she was, but she had never done anything to anyone who didn't ask for it. Or offer her money. Whore or not, there were worse things out there than her.
"I'm a monster?" she asked, and she was showing him her teeth now, because why not? "That's not very nice. It's not very progressive, either. You don't even know me. Then again, you're a Republican, your kind isn't exactly known for befriending the unwashed masses."
Saying a Republican wasn't progressive ... yeah, that was a good one. Adam probably would've laughed, had he not been staring at those fangs. Suddenly, the car entered the candidate's mind again. Come on, Spencer ... if this bitch bites me and I bleed out, I will haunt you for the rest of your life. I'll freak you out so bad you'll never be able to sleep with anyone ever again, no matter how much you impress them with your political connections.
"Vampires are monsters," he managed to say, glancing over his shoulder again. "It's a fact."
Hearing the sound of a car approaching, Adam sighed. About Goddamn time ... Only, once Adam looked over his shoulder again, he saw nothing more than another patrol car roll by. Frustration began turning into anger.
"You could say the same thing about politicians," the vampire replied easily, crossing one sneakered foot over the other. "The difference between me and your little Hitler wanna-be buddies is, I have an excuse. What's theirs?" A pause while she looked him over, the critical eye of someone who knew men better than she'd like.
"For that matter, what's yours?"
Arms still folded over his chest, Adam squinted at the young girl. She didn't really look like a vampire; then again, that was part of the danger, wasn't it? These creatures looked just like humans, even if they were a little on the pale side, and they could walk around amongst the masses without so much as a hint of suspicion -- until it was too late.
The only thing worse than a threat was a hidden threat.
"Someone's got to protect the people," he countered. "Someone has to make sure people know how to protect themselves and make sure you and your kind don't eat the whole lot of us into extinction. And unless there's some superhero out there whose only mission in life is to wipe you off the face of the Earth, then it's up to people like me and those ... Hitler wannabes, as you so eloquently put it."
Theresa giggled, a high-pitched, girlish sound in the silence from the quad beyond them. "Man, you can't even protect humans from themselves, much less us." She seldom lumped herself in with other vampires, seeing herself as 'apart' even from what could be considered her own kind, but if this dude insisted, then fine. "Leave the warm-bloods to their own devices, and they'd wipe one another out in a heartbeat. Vampires didn't invent the atom bomb or automatic weapons."
She hopped up from the bench, small and deceptively youthful in her sweatshirt and jeans. But her eyes were those of a much older person, someone who had seen a lot and was going to see a lot more before it was over. "You're just as blood-thirsty and destructive as we are, you just pretend better."
Adam smiled when he heard a car pull up behind him, knowing it was Spencer simply by the sound of the car slowing to a stop immediately behind him. About damn time, you lame-ass, he thought, chuckling to himself as stuffing his hands in his pockets and shrugging his shoulders.
"You do what you have to," he said, turning on his heels and pulling open the rear door on the left side of the car and starting to climb in. He stopped with his left leg still on the sidewalk, giving the girl one last glare. "Sometimes, the ends justify the means.
"Besides ... at least I still have a pulse."
"You're saying that like it's a good thing," Theresa said with an eyeroll. God, what a douche. He'd probably get elected, too. Because humans were morons.
The vampire watched the car pull away from the library building, made a note to get in touch with Finn if she could. She might not be much for solidarity, but that guy was going to be trouble. She trotted across the bricks of the courtyard, disappeared down the stairs on the other side of the quad. Homeward bound.