The man was even bigger in life that he had been on television. He looked as though he had been stuffed into a cheap suit a size too small. A sheen of sweat was visible on his face despite the air conditioning, as though barking into a phone were hard labour.
“I don’t care how you do it,” he said into the receiver. “Just get it done. It’s an election year and every dollar counts. I don’t want any excuses.” Moore abruptly slammed the receiver into its cradle and stood up to meet the two teenagers who had just wandered into his office. “I don’t believe we’ve met. What can I do for you kids?”
“Hello, Councilor. I’m Devlin and this is my friend Skye. We represent Teens for Right Choices, and we’ve seen what you’ve done in the city budget debates. We just wanted to congratulate you on all your hard work, and we were wondering if we could get a picture with you.”
Moore smiled broadly and puffed out his chest. “Well, why didn’t you say so? I have a lunch with the mayor, but I can give you a minute or two. I’m always glad to help the youth of our fine city.” He strode around the desk and held out his hand for Devlin to shake.
Devlin took the man’s hand and the two of them were instantly launched into the homeless shelter where Devlin had spent many nights over the past few weeks. The councilor was dressed in torn jeans and a dirty t-shirt that looked like he had worn them for weeks. “I want you to feel what it’s like to be homeless,” said Devlin. “The loneliness, the misery, the hunger.”
“Where am I?” asked Moore. “What’s going on? How did I get here?”
Devlin was puzzled. Whenever he had influenced someone, even when he had gone deep like he had here, the person had never been aware. It was always more like a dream or a memory, but Moore seemed fully conscious. He would have to push harder. “This is what it’s like to be without a home, and now you want to take even this meagre shelter away. And for what? To score a few political points? To make a few rich people a bit richer? You should be ashamed of yourself. How can you call yourself a servant of the people?”
“Look kid,” said Moore. “I don’t know how you’re doing this, but your little show isn’t going to make me change my mind. If these people really wanted to, they could get a job and take care of themselves. There’s no excuse for laziness.”
Devlin shifted the scene to Skye’s bedroom. It was the night her mother died and the argument could be heard in the next room. He pointed to the girl curled up on the bed trying to shut out the noise. “And what about her? Is she supposed to get a job and take care of herself?”
The councilor was sweating even more than before. “Everyone has a hard luck story. So she came from a broken home. That doesn’t mean she can’t tough it out. My father used to beat me all the time and look at me! I’m going to be the next mayor of this crummy town.”
When the girl got up to go to the bathroom, they followed her. “What about kindness and mercy? Are those words not in your vocabulary?”
When the gunshot rang out, Moore grabbed his chest and cried out in pain, “…stop…my heart…pacemaker…”
Skye did not run into her mother’s room as she had before. She went up to Devlin and pulled on his arm. “You have to stop,” she said. “You’re killing him.”
Devlin let go of Moore’s hand and they were back in the councilor’s office. Skye was pulling him away and saying, “We have to help him.”
The man had turned a deathly shade of pale. He collapsed on the floor and moaned, “Please. Call an ambulance. I don’t want to die.”
Devlin felt a moment of panic as he saw the man lying there struggling to breathe. He had never considered that his ability could be lethal. He had thought that at worst he might change someone’s personality or erase their memory. But as he saw Moore slowly crawling across the carpet, the thought crossed his mind that if he only waited, his problem would be solved.
“Please,” begged Skye. “We have to do something. I don’t want another death on my hands.”
When Devlin looked into those pleading eyes, he knew she was right. He grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the door. Moore’s secretary was still there typing away at her computer. “There’s something wrong with the councilor,” he said. “I think it’s his heart. You better call an ambulance.”
She stood up and rushed into the office. “Councillor Moore! Is everything all right. The children said…oh my!”
“He’ll be fine,” he said to Skye. Devlin didn’t wait around. He walked quickly to the elevator and took it back down to the lobby. As the two of them walked out on to the sidewalk, they could already hear the siren of the approaching ambulance. They walked a few blocks to a park and sat down on the bench there. Skye was still visibly upset from their visit to the councilor. Devlin took her hand and said, “It’s not your fault your mother died. She was obviously in a lot of pain, but what she did was wrong. It hurt you and that is the last thing a mother should do to her child.”
“But I can’t help feeling that I could have done something to stop her,” she sobbed. “Maybe if I hadn’t been so much trouble…”
“No, stop blaming yourself,” said Devlin. “Remember there were good times as well.” He took her back in her own memory to a time when she was nine or ten, and she was playing in a park not so different from the one they were in now. Her mother and father were there laughing and holding hands. She had forgotten that day in the park even though it had always been one of her happiest memories. Devlin brought her back to the present and let her wipe the tears away from her eyes. “Now the only question is where are we going to get enough money to eat?”
Skye held up a man’s wallet and offered it to Devlin.
“What’s this?” he asked. He opened up the wallet and checked the ID. It belonged to councilor Moore. “You stole his wallet?”
“I can’t say I approve of that sort of behaviour, but I’m going to let it slide this one time. Due to extenuating circumstances.” He took the money and stuffed it in his pocket before wiping down the wallet and tossing it in the trash. “It seems dinner is on Mr. Moore tonight. I know a great Chinese place not far from here. Why don’t we go see a movie and then grab a bite to eat.”
Later that evening, they went back to the hotel to spend the night. There had been almost three hundred dollars in the wallet. It was enough to last them several days if they were careful. It didn’t solve the big problem of what they were going to do next, but at least they would have a few days of relative comfort.
He sat on the bed watching the television while Skye picked through the leftovers. The news came on, and he was about to change the channel, but the first story was about Moore. It seemed as though the city council had taken advantage of his absence and called an emergency session to push through the budget. They said all city services would resume normal operations by Monday.
Devlin switched the channel. It seems as though he had accomplished what he had set out to do after all. In a few days, he could drop Skye off at the woman’s shelter and she could get the help she needed. He had helped her as much as he could, but she still had a long road ahead of her.
There was nothing to watch on the television, so Devlin decided to take a shower. As he fished through his bag for his toiletries, an envelope fell out. He had never seen it before, so he held it up to show Skye. “Did you put this in my bag?”
She was engrossed in a game show on the television and the cold sweet and sour pork, but she looked up long enough to shake her head.
It was an invitation with his name on the outside. When he opened it up, his eyes went wide. He had guessed it was true, but now he had proof. There were other people like him and they wanted to meet. He would finally get some answers. All he had to do was wait a few more days.