Monday, July 2, 2018

The Sunshine City Chronicles, The Freshman- Part 10: When A Word Means So Much More


June 8, 2018,
11:16 local time,
Tom Kirkman Square,
Kirkland, Montreal, Quebec

“Thank you everyone for joining me today for this special ceremony honouring a very special man,” said Quebec Premier Justin Trudeau, waving his arms as he spoke in his usual exuberant style. “Most of you may know Tom Kirkman as the President of North America, but I know him as a longtime and most cherished friend. We met when we both studied at McGill University, and since then our bond has been unbreakable. Tom, you are like a brother to me, so you couldn't imagine my joy to see you get elected as President.”

As the gathered audience- mostly press, staffers and members of Trudeau's Liberal Party- applauded in appreciation, all Kirkman could do was nod his head and smile in appreciation of their gesture, which helped elevate his spirits after the previous night.

“This is why,” continued Trudeau, now speaking with a triumphant tone. “I am most honoured and humbled to name this square, known for its architectural masterpiece, 'Tom Kirkman Square'.”

The audience cheered and clapped as Trudeau took down the drapery from the monument that would be central to the square, a statue of Kirkman as well as a plaque commemorating his years of public service. Trudeau and Kirkman then both hugged and exchanged words of platitude towards each other before stepping forward to their respective podiums.

“You know Justin,” said Kirkman, turning to look one last time at his statue, “I can't tell you how many times I look at sculptures of me and they get it so completely wrong, so I am happy that, finally, your people have got it right.”

Trudeau and the audience laughed, though Trudeau mostly just played along, feeling Kirkman's comment was a backhanded compliment. Kirkman did win Quebec by 32 percentage points and still enjoyed a continent-wide approval rating of 83%, near his Presidential average.

“Turning serious for a moment here,” continued Kirkman, “I too am most honoured and humbled to count you as a friend, Justin. I thank you for your kind words and all the help and support you have showed me throughout the years...and, who knows, maybe in 2025, I will be honouring you as President of North America.”

The crowd was whipped into a frenzy by that remark, letting out loud boisterous cheers that visibly humbled Trudeau. He had often said the Presidency was never in his sights, believing he was too polarizing a figure to win a majority of votes across the Union. Of course, a lot could change in eight years...

“I have to say,” continued Kirkman, “that today truly is a humbling day for me. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever think I would be honoured as I am today, an honour that is especially special considering that I was born and raised here, in Kirkland. I used to come to this park many times as a kid, so to know that this park has been named after me is truly and specially a great honour. May this park have many more great years ahead of it.”

Applause followed Kirkman's remarks for several minutes before proceedings were opened up to questioning. Several mundane questions came from the reporters that allowed Kirkman and Trudeau to play up their camaraderie but offered very little of substance- until Electronic Arts crime reporter April O'Neil posed her question.

“President Kirkman,” said O'Neil as Kirkman beamed a smile at her.
“Yes Ms. O'Neil,” said Kirkman, dialing up his charm.
“A few days ago, a man by the name of Martin Coleman was found dead in Sunshine City,” said O'Neil, getting right to business. “As I understand, you and Martin were also college friends, just like you and Justin, so I'm wondering if you have any comment on Martin's death.”

Kirkman hesitated before answering, doing his best to retain his composure.

“I do offer my condolences to the Coleman family,” said Kirkman, smiling often as he struggled to rein in his emotions. “What happened to him is a very terrible and heartless tragedy, and whomever poisoned him we hope will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I spare no recompense in condemning this tragedy and our government is prepared to help the Coleman family in any way that we can. I personally haven't spoken to Martin in over 25 years but he was a childhood friend, so I'm saddened by the news. I hope he gets the justice he deserves.”

Kirkman then stepped away from the podium and sent Seth Wright, his press secretary, to end the gathering immediately, catching Trudeau off guard. Kirkman didn't even bother to acknowledge Trudeau as he exited the stage and gathered with his handlers, where he looked very cross.

“How in the world did April O'Neil know about Martin Coleman?” said Kirkman, angrily lashing out at his staff.
“It was in the Sunshine City press,” said Wright. “Other news agencies did pick it up.”
“...but none of them knew I had a connection to him,” said Kirkman. “So why April would ask me about his death is a mystery to me.”
“Sir,” said Shore. “I do find it interesting that O'Neil simply asked you about his death and you said he was poisoned. The police didn't say anything about Coleman's cause of death in their report to me.”

Silence befell the group while Kirkman's face filled with rage.

Aaron!” he said, angrily pointing at Shore, who didn't flinch. “Who's side are you on?”
“The truth,” said Shore, unrelenting. “Mr. President, with all due respect, if you've got something to hide the rest of us need to know about it.”
“No,” said Kirkman, angrily waving his hands. “No...I have nothing to hide...dismiss this preposterous notion that I killed Martin Coleman or had anything to do with it. I am the President...I am not going to risk my career by committing a murder.”
“There will be people,” said Wright matter-of-factly, “who will think because you have Presidential immunity that you can do whatever you want, bolstered by the fact you don't have to contest another election.”
“I get an eight-year-term,” said Kirkman, turning his death glare to Wright, “that, yes, upon completion I cannot run again...but, at any moment, I face the threat of a recall election, which can be summoned only if 3% of the North American population requests it via a signed petition. Considering I'm not yet in Year 7.5, it would be ridiculous to even assume I would do something to risk triggering an election, let alone doing it anyway, because once I'm finished my term I can be prosecuted...my immunity runs out.”

Kirkman threw up his hands and let out a heavy sigh.

By Jove,” he said, “why do I even have to remind any of you of this?”

Kirkman's overzealous remonstrance seemed enough to placate his fellow staff, including Shore who, despite still having his doubts, thought Kirkman had to have been innocent if he made such a show of defensiveness.

“Now,” said Kirkman, hoping to get the conversation back on track, “April O'Neil.”
“I'm not sure why you are so worried about her sir,” said Wright. “She's just doing her job.”
“I need to know her source,” said Kirkman. “If it's one of you clowns you better fess up now.”
“Sir,” said Shore, “I'm not sure she's committed any crime. She just asked a question...your answer is what troubles me.”

Kirkman threw his hands on hips and turned to Shore.

“...and why is that, Aaron?” said Kirkman.

“Because,” said Shore without skipping a beat, “April simply asked for your opinion on his death, noting that you two were former friends. That's information anyone could have gathered, at least if they looked up your old high school and perhaps asked for a yearbook. However, you revealed a cause of death that no one knew about before and confirmed that he was, in fact, murdered, something April didn't say. You certainly sound like you know more about this case than someone who says they weren't involved.

“So...tell me what it is. Were you involved in Martin Coleman's death or did you simply let slip some classified information?”

Kirkman looked at Shore and patted him on the shoulder.

“That's why I like you,” he said with a broad smile, his angry mood relieved. “You always know the right political answer.”

Kirkman then looked for O'Neil amongst the throng of reporters still gathered and invited her over.

“April, April, April,” said Kirkman, extending his hand to shake O'Neil's hand. “I was a little curt with you earlier so I hope you will accept my deepest apologies.”
“Of course I do,” said O'Neil, confused as she shook Kirkman's hand. “Though I didn't think you were curt at all...just odd.”
“Listen,” he said, “I have something I need you to hear...you can print this.”

As O'Neil took out her phone the rest of Kirkman's staff looked on, puzzled at what was happening.

“This is not going to look good on me,” said Kirkman, forcing a restrained smile that didn't go unnoticed by O'Neil, “but I accidentally let slip confidential information...a friend of mine from Montreal told me about Martin's death, so I read about it online and contacted the police department there and they told me he was murdered and that he was poisoned.” Kirkman then forced some uncomfortable laughs in as he continued. “Though I had completely forgotten I wasn't supposed to mention that...it was just so bizarre a case that...that...um...that detail...it just sticks with you. So I let it slip, so I apologize.”

O'Neil smiled as she put away her phone and again shook the President's hand, thanking him for his comments. As she walked away, she sensed there was a lot more to the story than the President was letting on. She found it odd that the President would read a police report about what appeared to be a rudimentary murder in a faraway town, considering that Coleman wasn't a close friend of his, or so he claimed. Even still, she continued to think, Kirkman wouldn't likely know anything more than the public did, especially considering he didn't need to know anything more about his death- nothing about Coleman's death suggested it was a national emergency.

Then, O'Neil realized, Kirkman himself was forthcoming with the information that he supposedly let slip- she didn't ask him anything that would spur him to reveal the manner of Coleman's death. O'Neil conceded it's not proof that Kirkman didn't get his info from a police report and let slip that information, but O'Neil further thought that if Kirkman was tasked with keeping a secret, he wouldn't be so quick to reveal that information, and he wouldn't reveal it without provocation.

Either he's just really cavalier about police reports or...

The more she thought about it, the more O'Neil thought the unthinkable and believed that Kirkman had a role in Coleman's death. What role that is, she didn't know- but she did realize what her next move would be: a trip to Sunshine City.