Carter's Fortress

Well here we go, Book Five.

Well as promised how ever people seem to have missed my challege....

i wanted you to CAST the book, some got it, some missed it completeely, so I offer it again, same deal four chapters twenty four hours for ten cast lists for the book.

by cast I mean if you were to make a film/movie/tv show who would you have play the characters.

Quid pro quo.

Submitted for your approval.

As usual Comments or questions direct to Feed back is welcome.


Of all the properties which belong to honorable men, not one is so highly prized as that of character.

Henry Clay


Chapter Seventeen

Will paced in the hall outside the hospital room. He was relieved to find it wasn't intensive care--that had to be good news. He glanced at Lisa who was standing cross-armed staring out of the window at the rainstorm that was falling heavily now.

They had been told to wait, that Robert had other guests at that moment. And Will found himself frustrated that he wasn't the first allowed in. It was a selfish need he had to see Robert was okay with his own two eyes. His concern and worry creased his forehead as he walked the length of the hall and returned again, under the watchful supervision of the matron nurse who eyed him suspiciously.

He heaved another sigh and glanced at his watch; they'd been waiting for nearly an hour, and Will could be putting the time to better use. The problem was that hospitals steadfastly refused cell phones and Will's laptop was still at home.

He contemplated finding out when Alicia would arrive; she was supposed to meet them there, but so far she too was frustratingly absent.

He grew even more disturbed when Robert Avery's daughter, Elizabeth, arrived looking distraught. She latched onto Will immediately and began to ask him all the same questions he himself had asked an hour ago. He relayed what he knew, guiding her over to the matron and introducing her as Robert's next of kin. The matron smiled politely and informed her a doctor would come by to ask her a few questions. Pretty routine.

But Will found himself wondering who was visiting with Avery if Libbet was there with them.

The answer was even more of a mystery as a couple of men with suits emerged from the room, one of them nodding in Will's general direction as they left. Will frowned after them and turned.

"Mister Avery will see you now," the matron indicated to Will and Lisa.

Will shook his head. "His daughter first," he said firmly.

The matron looked uncertain, but one look at the firm look on Will's face and she knew better than to argue. Will was anxious to see Robert, but Libbet was a wreck and she needed to see her father. Will was not about to take that right away from her.

She gave him a glance that said simply `thank you', as she was shown inside.

Will took a deep breath and found the vending machine with its coffee, and for a dollar he was rewarded with a reasonable facsimile of liquid Draino. He tried not to think about it as he sipped the warm liquid, finding a hard plastic chair to sit on and putting a foot up on the edge of the magazine rack.

"That was a nice thing to do," Lisa said, crossing to sit down next to him.

He glanced up at her. "I just thought about what I would be going through in her place," he said simply. "She needed this more."

Alicia hurried into the waiting room, looking breathless as she handed him his laptop in its carry case, and a couple of files. She flopped down and took several steadying breaths trying to calm herself.

Will glanced at her to make sure she was okay as he opened up the laptop and booted it up, glancing over at the matron and wondering if that `no cell phone' ban extended to wireless laptops. He wanted to fire off a couple of emails, get a grasp of what the procedure was in situations like this. He liked to be on top of things, but so far he was at a total loss.

There had been a delay in naming the new Deputy Minister of Heritage; he had retired from the civil service to run in the last general election leaving the spot vacant and it was decided Robert would be able to recommend his choice for a replacement for the top civil spot when he was settled. In the interim Will had been acting as the Deputy Minister in all capacities but name. It was a temporary measure, and Will was content to return to acting solely as the chief of staff when the Deputy Minster was named. But without that spot filled there was no one able to run the Heritage ministry.

He scratched his neck as he read over the various documents trying to figure out what their options were. He looked up at Lisa. "We're in trouble," he said simply. "I can't find anything to cover this situation."

He sighed in open frustration as he handed the computer across to her and grabbed his cell phone, walking through the halls till he found the front entrance. Flipping it open, he started to place a few calls. He knew full well it was Saturday afternoon and no one would be easily reached. That did technically mean they had until Monday to find a solution, however it also meant that there was no one about to give them the advice they needed.

Will stepped aside to allow a couple of older people through the front doors of the hospital. He nodded to them as he stood off to one side watching the storm hammer down on the parking lot. His Jeep was a short distance away, but he knew that if he tried to run for it he would be soaked in seconds.

"Hello, Prime Minister's office?" Will said into the phone as it picked up. "This is William Carter, I'm Minister Avery's chief of staff."

"Hold while I connect you." The bored sounding receptionist clicked him through into a voice mail. And Will mumbled a curse as he hung up, turning and returning to the waiting room which had become crisis central.

It was going to get very tedious if he had to run out to use the phone every five minutes so he walked over to the nurses' station and pointed to her, "I need this desk, that phone."

She looked at him dumbstruck, "I'm sorry, sir..."

"I wasn't asking," Will stated flatly, "I am telling you I am commandeering this station." He turned to Lisa, "Use this phone, rig the lap top into the other line." He glanced at Alicia, "Get the rest of our admin staff, tell them I'll pay them time and a half, just tell them to get into the office." He folded his arms and paced the length of the floor, looking up at the doors to the ward.

"Excuse me," the nurse spluttered. "Sir, I will call security..."

"Thank you," Will stated wagging a finger at her thoughtfully, "Tell them to send two guards and that we're closing this ward." He turned to her confused expression, "If you don't there are going to be a dozen news crews in here clamoring to see the minister. I think under the circumstances that would be undesirable..." He looked at her again and barked, "Today!"

She jumped at his roar and hurried away as Will shook his head, picking up another phone and dialing through to the PMO again. Again he frustratingly met with a voice mail and hung up and resumed his pacing. His mind worked over various strategies on what he could do to minimize the chaos this situation would cause.

He felt a light hand touch his shoulder and he turned to look at Libbet standing uncertainly behind him. He gave her a sympathetic look and touched her arm. "Are you okay?" he asked in concern.

She nodded at him, looking sadly behind her towards the rooms, "He wants to see you."

Will remained a second, giving her a look of compassion before he started off towards the hospital room. He walked through the sterile halls and safety glass windows looking over hospital beds with their patients asleep in them, or watching television.

There was an air of quiet, morbid silence that echoed with the sounds of respirators and the rhythmic beeping of heart monitors. He felt intensely aware of his own fragile mortality, wondering how long it would be until he was hooked up to a machine that beeped and trilled... watching for a jagged line to go flat...

His first thought when he saw Robert was how pale the man looked, how weak. This was a man that had, in his prime, shaken the very core of Canadian industry and embodied innovation. Now he looked as pale as a ghost, his breathing laboured.

However there was no mistaking the sparkle in his eyes when he glanced up at Will, "How do I look?"

"You look like shit," Will replied truthfully.

"An honest man, even at the end," Avery chuckled. "Every once in a while it's good to lie."

"Not my style." Will stuck his hands into his pockets as he stood beside the bed, "I'd ask how you are, but I think I can see for myself."

Avery chuckled, "Still a little life left in me, William. I'm sorry to cut your vacation short, I'll try to be more considerate next time."

Will snorted, "Unlikely, you always pick the most melodramatic ways of getting attention." He folded his arms as he smiled in concern, "I just want you to know we're taking care of everything so you don't have to worry, just get back on your feet when you're ready."

Avery smiled at him, "I knew you would, that's why I hired you; you're a man that gets things done... you'll make a damn fine politician some day."

Will shrugged, "I don't know about that, I kind of like my current job, it has a lot of rewards..." He nodded down, "I get to work for a great man..."

"You...can't..." Robert coughed weakly, "You can't live in my shadow forever, William."

"I'm still learning from the master," Will said firmly, blinking back his tears as he looked away. He knew he was supposed to be strong, but this man had believed in him when no one else had, this man had sculpted him into the man he was.

"You're still too... young..." Robert said heavily. "But he who does not believe there is wisdom in youth is himself a fool..."

Will nodded looking back down at Robert. "It's not so bad," he said as he picked up the chart. "According to this you'll be right as rain in a few days..."

"Now you are lying..." Robert coughed out a laugh, "and badly too. Sit down, and tell me more."

Will inclined his head, "Well, you haven't met my beautiful wife..."

Robert grinned, "I think I did once, wasn't "she" dating my daughter..."

Will's face fell slightly as he glanced towards the window, remembering the kiss and the sense of betrayal that was running through him.

"Something's happened," Robert said quietly growing serious.

"We shouldn't be talking about me," Will said turning back to his old mentor.

"It beats talking about me right now," Robert fired back as he shifted a little in his bed. "Tell me all about it, help take an old man's mind off of his own problems." Robert was his usual hungry self, eager for information, and Will sighed a little as he sat down again, resting his arms on the arms of the chair and putting his feet up on the other one.

"You sure you want to hear this?" Will asked as he sighed, looking at Robert's eager eyes.

"I'm an old man in a hospital bed, I don't have much of a life so might as well live vicariously through you."

Will shrugged again, "You remember I told you about Andrew?"

"The lawyer that was your first boyfriend?" Robert asked, trying to remember.

"Yes," Will said, thinking back on that relationship for the hundredth time that day. "Well, he was at the cabin; my friend Brody invited him."

"Hmmm," Robert mused, "sounds like a set up. What happened?"

"He kissed me," Will replied.

"Did Marc see?" Robert coughed a little and affixed his eyes on Will's face.

"No," Will replied.

"Okay, but you feel guilty for kissing this Andrew?"

"Yes," Will replied in all honesty. "It was like I was screaming in my own head that it was wrong, yet I was kissing him..."

"What were you thinking when you were kissing him?" Robert pressed eagerly.

"Honestly?" Will sighed, "I was thinking about how much what I was doing was going to hurt Marc."

Robert chuckled as he settled back onto his pillows, "So you were being kissed by a man and all you could think about was Marc. What does that tell you?"

"That I feel guilty?" Will asked dumbly.

Robert sighed, "That you are in love with Marc. You know, William, it's natural to meet people you are attracted to in your life--even people you used to be intimate with and for whom you still have feelings. But you need to look at how you feel for them and weigh it against how you feel for the one you are with. It's not a hard concept. You will know who you love and that is the one you have to choose."

Will nodded, "You're right."

"I'm always right," Robert replied as he closed his eyes for a moment.

Will smiled to himself as he glanced over at Robert looking so peaceful, and started when the droning beep of the heart monitor was replaced by a single long and bitter tone.

Chapter Eighteen

The snow drifted down from the dark sky, the first few flakes settling on Will's shoulders as he stood beside Libbet Avery watching them as they laid her father to rest. He stood impassively, staring in blank shell-shock at the urn before them that was about to be buried alongside that of Robert's beloved wife, Katherine.

The Avery estates outside of Toronto were packed with mourners, officials from the financial world and political worlds gathered together to pay their respects. The Prime Minister of Canada along with most of his cabinet were present, a few ambassadors, senators and some foreign dignitaries.

Will felt a hand touch the small of his back reassuringly. Marc was standing behind him, and as always the young man found a way to convey his own feelings of sympathy, and Will closed his eyes and swallowed back on his emotions.

He adjusted the heavy greatcoat on his shoulders, trying his hardest to follow what the priest was saying, but his mind was scattered. Robert had been such an important force in his life, a guiding hand that had steered him when he felt rudderless... even in those last few precious moments he had given Will advice.

Unbidden, the tears slipped from his eyes, rolling down his cheeks as he reached up to brush them away. Real men didn't cry, real men had a stiff upper lip, were strong for the people who were relying on him. He would have a lot to do, and he had no idea where to begin. He was at a loss and there was no hand on his shoulder guiding him.

He swallowed again as the pastor turned and beckoned for him to step up to the podium. Of all the people Robert could have chosen, his wishes were for Will to deliver his eulogy, before industrialists and statesmen, employees and family. Will steadied his emotions as he walked around to the podium in the light dusting of snow that was now steadily falling.

He stared at the simple black urn that was all that remained of Robert and turned away again, the emotions of the moment catching up to him as he steadied himself.

"Tyrone and Libbet," he glanced at the survivors of the Avery family, the brother and sister standing together united in their own grief, "distinguished guests, Mister Prime Minister, Reverend Dean..." He swallowed and steadied himself again.

"We all have suffered a great loss in the passing of a great man. We will miss his tempered guidance, his strong spirit and the enduring hope that he brought to people. We are saying good-bye here today to a man that brought change to the present in the hopes of a better tomorrow. And though he now belongs to the past, I wish it weren't so..."

He clutched the side of the podium and took a long breath, "He often said his greatest gifts were his two children, Tyrone and Elizabeth Avery, who he felt were his greatest treasures, his brightest hopes and his fondest dreams. Canada grieves with you and your families today."

"And on this snow-filled day in the middle of November we are laying to rest a true Canadian success story. A man born to poverty on Grafton Street to a hero of World War Two and a librarian. Robert Avery was raised playing in the streets of one of Canada's poorest neighborhoods, reading books and dreaming of a future where he wasn't held back by the color of his skin, but accepted for the blood that ran through his veins... Canadian blood."

"It was there that he met and married the woman who remained by his side until her own passing, the woman whose side, now, we return him to."

"Robert Avery worked hard, turning a small firm into a giant in the telecommunications industry, branching out into manufacturing, public relations, and the media. He once told me he used to stare up at the stars and dream that his name would be amongst them. Currently, Avery-Woods has a multimillion-dollar communications satellite orbiting the earth providing services to people around the globe. I'd say he accomplished his dream."

Will straightened up, "When, at last, he was called to serve his country as a politician, he stepped forward. And although it was only for the briefest of times, he served with dedication, duty and honour. They say dying in office is the ultimate dedication to duty. I say that it is a true shame that he could not complete the work that he started, and I know that would be his dearest wish, to see the principles of equality he fought for his entire life continue to be fought for by his friends and colleagues."

Will took a deep breath and swallowed, "I'd like to end on a quote Robert used at the recent Remembrance Day ceremony, and one that I think applies directly to how we all feel for him. "No one's death comes to pass without making some impression, and those close to the deceased inherit part of the liberated soul and become richer in their humaneness." Good-bye Robert, Mister Avery..."


Will lifted his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he walked through the reception being held in the old house. Strangely, the house felt empty even though it was filled with people. And Will, who had been there so many times in the recent years realized that he had always come with the expectation of seeing his old mentor.

The long nights of talking in the book-lined study about work, or the many myriad of parties held there for various different businessmen and potential clients--all of them had been overseen by a rolling, boisterous laugh and an indomitable presence that was uniquely Robert.

Will blew out another sigh as he shook another set of hands he barely recognized, accepting praise on a fine speech and condolences over the loss of his mentor. He inclined his head to them and excused himself, trying to find Libbet or Tyrone to make sure they were okay, see if they needed him for anything.

Lisa caught his eye while holding little Aiden on the upper landing of the main hall; she flashed him a sympathetic smile as she continued to talk with the new President of Avery-Woods, Samuel Jordan.

Will glanced down, loosening his tie as he turned away, heading for the study that had been Robert's sanctum. He needed to stop; stop playing the dutiful aide; stop trying to make sure everyone else was all right. He needed to breathe and that was the only place he could be certain wouldn't be crowded by people. Once the heavy oak door was closed he shivered with loss and leaned heavily on a bookcase.

The room smelled of books, a smell that Will could identify with Robert. In a strange way the house didn't feel so empty there, it was as if this was where Robert chose to be, a sense of presence that steadied Will and gave him the strength he needed... a gentle hand on his shoulder to steer him.

"You feel him, too," Libbet said, startling Will as he glanced over to where she was sitting behind Robert's desk looking so small in that large chair.

He hadn't seen her when he had come in, and he felt embarrassed as he stood up and wiped his eyes dry again. "I'm sorry, I can go..."

Libbet had one of Robert's cigars in her hands fingering it delicately as she looked about her at the room. "I was always so scared to come in here as a little girl, it was always so forbidden. It's strange, but since..." she sighed, "I still think he is going to come through that door at any moment and tell me I am not supposed to be in here..."

Will nodded, "I can understand that. It's funny--I keep expecting him to materialize behind me, give me some words of advice on how to deal with all of this."

She looked up at him, "He'd say you were handling things just fine."

"Thanks," Will said with a nod. "I should get back out to the guests..."

"Will," she said looking over at him from behind the desk, "I am sure he would say thank you as well."

"I know," Will said sadly as he turned and rejoined the reception.


"Mister Carter." The voice stopped Will as he walked across the library towards the French doors and the terrace beyond. He was looking to get some air, but that was cut short by the man blocking his path.

Will looked at the Canadian Prime Minister and stopped. "Yes, Prime Minister?" he said turning to accept the man's pre-offered hand. He felt the strong grip and a pair of heavy eyes studying his face.

"You gave a good speech out there today," the PM said nodding to the windows and the gardens beyond.

"Thank you," Will replied. "I was just expressing what we all felt."

"Indeed," the PM said, placing a hand on Will's arm and guiding him towards the two men Will recognized from the hospital the other day. "Let me introduce you to a couple of people. This is Claude Robichaud, the Federal Liberal Caucus Chair, and this is Tom Redding, the Ontario Caucus Chair."

Will bowed his head to each of them, "Gentlemen." He glanced at the PM questioningly.

"You were Robert's campaign manager, weren't you?" Redding asked, accepting a glass of scotch that a caterer extended to him.

Will politely refused a drink and nodded, "I was his chief of staff as well."

"Oui," Robichaud interrupted in his heavy Acadian accent, "Monseiur Avery spoke very highly of you."

Will nodded. "Thank you," he said, a little uncertain of where this was leading.

"I wanted to ask you," Redding said, glancing at the PM, "what your plans are now."

Will honestly hadn't thought about it; he had been consumed by the funeral arrangements and such and he hadn't even considered that with Robert gone he was out of a job. "I.. well," Will said thoughtfully, "I was thinking of sticking with the Ministry until such times as the new Minister of Heritage is selected and then... I'm really not sure."

"Dedication to duty," Redding said more for the PM's benefit than for Will's. "Have you applied to any other ministries? There are a few in need of a talented individual."

Will shook his head, "I don't know if I would be happy working for another minister. I might retake my old position at Avery-Woods; at least there I can have a bit of control over what I am doing."

"Ambitious, too," the PM responded to Redding, and Will got the decided impression he was being interviewed for something.

"What's going on?" he asked, folding his arms and raising an eyebrow.

"Robert Avery nominated you to replace him as the Liberal candidate in his riding," Redding said matter-of-factly. "He firmly believed you have what the riding is looking for."

"Which is?" Will said, realizing he was in trouble.

"It's a vital seat," the PM said softly, glancing around. "Without it we are a second term minority government with the rest of the house vote split up by three parties; we will have to broker a deal with either the NDP or the Bloc parties to get anything passed. With that seat squarely liberal in the upcoming by-election... we'd retain control."

"You didn't answer my question," Will said firmly.

"The riding is primarily a minority-based vote," Redding said, "which was why Robert was able to do as well as he did. We need...another...minority candidate there to guarantee victory."

Will crossed his arms, "Meaning you need me because I am gay."

"It's more than that," the PM soothed. "The constituents know your face, they recognize your name. You are familiar with their issues and concerns... out of all our potential choices you are the best chance we have of winning."

Will looked at the three men looking at him and he glanced up and out of the window to where the memorial stone lay. Not even a day in the ground and the wolves were fighting over the scraps he left behind.

"I'll have to think about it," Will said firmly. "Now if you'll excuse me I have things to attend to."


The three men watched him walk away as the PM turned to his two advisors, "What are your thoughts?"

"Intelligent, ambitious and definitely a skilled speech writer," Redding said. "He's got looks, too, which will help, especially with the Church Street residents."

The PM nodded, "Looks a bit like..." he snapped his fingers.

"James Dean," Redding supplied, "Rebel Without a Cause."

"Liberal without a caucus." The PM chuckled, glancing at Robichaud, "It's your call, Claude."

"He needs convincing," Robichaud said thoughtfully. "We ran a background check as soon as Robert suggested him, he's clean. Strong school and work record, no indiscretions in his love life..." He chuckled at that, "All things considered, he's a bloody saint."

"A boy scout; good," the PM said decisively. "I want him on the card for that election, do whatever you have to do, just win me that last seat."

Chapter Nineteen

There was stunned silence in the house when he told them. As usual, Brody's home had been overrun by all and sundry after the abortive vacation. Most of them still had time off and that meant they had little else to do but be there.

Will had been uncertain on how to broach the subject with his friends, and had been quiet since getting back from Toronto, sitting at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, his hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and staring vacantly out of the window.

Everyone in the house seemed to want to give him space, respecting the fact that he had been hit hard by the loss of a man Will had looked upon like a father. But that didn't trouble Will. He missed Robert intensely, but it was time, as the old man was wont to say, to get on with things.

He got up as Brody began to cook, moving out of the way of the mad Frenchman who had begun to bang pots and pans about preparing one of his culinary conquests--this time chicken had been selected for preparation.

Will retreated down to his computer in the basement. Putting his feet up on the edge of his desk he put some music on and tried to clear his head of all the conflicting emotions that had cluttered up his thinking. What did he want? Did he want to run for politics?

Robert's words "You can't live in my shadow forever..." rang in his ears as he sat staring blankly at his computer.

He glanced up as Andrew walked down the stairs. He got about halfway before he sat down facing Will across the basement. "Are you going to be okay?" he asked in concern.

"I will be," Will replied, wishing it was Marc instead who had come down. He suddenly found himself desiring the unconditional love that Marc offered to him, that light hand on the small of his back just to let him know he wasn't alone, "Is Marc upstairs?"

"He is," Andrew said, the light of hope in his eyes dimming a little realizing Will didn't want to turn to him. He stood up pushing his hair back from his eyes, "Should I go get him?"

Will looked up at Andrew standing there in the stairwell looking down at him, and he smiled at him, "You know I love you right? You're like a big brother to me; even when we were together, you always looked out for me."

Andrew smiled at him faintly, "I know, and you know how much I love you; if there is anything I can do to make you feel better..."

"You're already doing it," Will said, resting in his chair. "Thanks."

He knew that he would eventually have to talk to his friends, try to seek their advice in an effort to reach a decision, but he wanted to do so in his own way. It was like getting up before a crowd of people with only minutes to prepare a speech--devastating if done wrong.

Andrew just nodded to him as he went back upstairs, and moments later Marc was poking his head down quizzically, "'Sup?" he asked, coming down the stairs to take Andrew's place.

Will shifted in his seat to look over at the young man who had come to mean so much to him. "I wanted to talk to you first...before the others."

"Sounds serious," Marc said, tilting back his ball cap out of his eyes.

"It is," Will admitted folding his arms and glancing away. "I've been asked to run for office."

"Mister Avery's?" Marc asked, blinking a few times in surprise.

"The party desperately need the seat, and they think the combination of my familiarity with the voters and my..." he trailed off wondering again how to word it.

"Your what?" Marc asked, looking concerned.

"The fact that I am gay, in a primarily minority and gay riding will give them their best chance at winning," Will finished.

"Oh," Marc said with a puzzled look. "Are you going to accept?"

"I don't know," Will admitted.

Marc shrugged, "What's stopping you?"

Will thought about it. "I don't know," he had to admit. "I just never saw myself as a politician."

"You're intelligent," Marc said standing up and coming across to the desk, "dedicated and loyal to a fault... you'd be perfect for it except for the fact you're a lousy liar..."


"The problem solved itself," Hackett said, sitting across from Gravano in the businessman's office.

"How?" Gravano demanded angrily. He hadn't appreciated the changes that had been made in his construction schedule--forcing the concert site to be constructed first had forced Gravano to spend more money than he had planned and budgeted. He didn't like additional expenses--they were bad for business.

Hackett tossed the newspaper down on the desk and the headline was enough for Gravano to crack a smile. "This is a joke," he said picking it up. "You can't be serious..."

Hackett smiled smugly, "It looks like God was on our side this time."

Gravano glanced up at the ceiling of his office, mouthing a silent thank you as he looked back at Hackett. "Who's replacing him?" he tapped the photograph of Robert Avery.

"The young Secretary of State for multiculturalism, Jeremy Thorpe." Hackett smiled broadly, "He's young and not very ideal choice for us."

"It's not the minister I am worried about," Gravano said firmly, "it's that damn Carter."

"Thorpe is naming his own chief of staff; our dear Mister Carter is regrettably unemployed and will no longer cause us problems." Hackett's smile set as he contemplated taking a drink after the meeting to celebrate the end of yet another promising career.

Gravano nodded, thoughtfully tapping an envelope of photographs his private investigator had dug up for him. It seemed such a waste to have paid so much for something he would never use. He made to toss them away, but hesitated, instead pulling open a drawer and tossing them into that instead. You never knew when they would come in handy.

"All right, Hackett, it looks like we can go back to the old schedule; it's up to you to see that I am reimbursed for this... inconvenience." He smiled around the word. "I feel like celebrating," he stood up and walked around his desk. "Would you care to join me in a drink?"

"I have a toast in mind," Hackett said, standing to join Gravano over at the small bar. "To shooting stars, they burn brightly..."

"But eventually fall," Gravano finished, draining his glass.


Alicia refilled his coffee mug as he blearily rubbed his eyes. He looked up from his desk at her gratefully. She didn't say anything, simply set the coffee pot aside and began to straighten the files on his desk, packing some of them away into cardboard boxes along with some of his possessions.

She was efficient, selecting binders and setting aside those that he wouldn't need, keeping herself busy waiting for him to say something to her.

He rubbed his temples, wondering what there was to say to her. He was moving out of his office to make way for the new chief of staff to the new minister. But she was his assistant, and with his unemployment, there was hers as well. A fact she no doubt expected, but she was waiting for him to say something.

He stared at her keeping busy and wondered what he would say? His friends had been shocked into silence when he had revealed what he had been asked to do, an uncomfortable silence that came with news they didn't quite know how to take. The fact that Will himself didn't quite know how to take the request that he consider running may have been the cause of that, but it didn't help him in reaching a decision.

"Alicia," Will began taking off his glasses and setting them on the desk beside his mug.

She turned to him, her eyes brimming with tears as she had her arms around him. "You're the best boss I've ever had..." she said quietly as she clung onto him.

He smiled at her warmly. "I'm the only boss you've ever had," he pointed out. "But seriously, I..."

"I hope I'm not interrupting," a smooth voice said from the doorway, and Will looked up at the man standing awkwardly in the doorway.

He was in his early thirties, a glint in his eye and a firm smile on his face. Will stood up, Alicia still clinging to her embrace as he stuck out his hand to the charismatic man, "Minister Thorpe."

"William Carter," the Minister said enthusiastically. "There's a lot of buzz going around about you, glad I got a chance to meet you before you left."

"Had to stay and make sure you are settled in," Will replied disengaging his secretary's arms from about his neck. She sniffled again and sank into his recently vacated chair.

"Is she...?" the minister asked in concern.

"It's been a bit emotional around here," Will said as he guided the minister out into the main floor of the ministry. "Robert's office was over here..." he winced at his own faux pas, "I am sorry, your office now."

Thorpe nodded as he tapped Will's shoulder, "I understand, it's always hard in situations like this." He led the way into the office and took a look around him, pausing with his hands on his hips looking satisfied, "I think this should do perfectly; I take it you've been closing out all of Robert's effects?"

Will nodded. "It's ready for you today," Will said, feeling again the sense of loss as he looked about him. Life didn't stop because someone died, it still ground on, mercilessly.

"Speaking of vacancies," Thorpe said as he turned to Will. "Rumour has it you're considering filling Robert's riding seat."

"Thinking," Will admitted. "I haven't decided yet."

Thorpe gave him an appraising look, "If what people say about you is true, the Liberal Party couldn't have picked a better candidate. I look forward to seeing you at the next Caucus meeting."

"I haven't said yes yet," Will responded quietly.

"No?" Thorpe said. "Feeling too much like you're stepping into the old man's shoes?" Will realized Thorpe was adept at reading situations and people, something that no doubt helped him in his career.

"Something like that," Will admitted.

"Just look at it this way: who would the old man want stepping into his shoes, someone he trusted or some stranger?" Thorpe smiled as he tried the chair behind the desk, "Besides, do you have any better offers at the moment?" Thorpe looked up at Will expectantly.

Will frowned as he stared at the presumptuous politician, folding his arms firmly against his chest. "I'll think on it," he repeated.

"Not too long, the PM only pulls out an offer like that for a short time; you'd best say yes before he changes his mind."

Will sighed and turned from the room, returning to his own office where he grabbed his great coat down from the rack behind the door. Donning a heavy scarf, he pointed to the boxes. "Can you run those out to my house later?" he asked Alicia.

She looked up at her boss and nodded. "What do you want me to do with this?" she held up a bundle of envelopes.

"What are they?" Will asked, picking up his briefcase.

"Mail addressed to Robert Avery personally," she said. "I found it in the inbox."

Will contemplated it and sighed. "I'd best take it all," he said, stuffing the bundle into his briefcase and snapping the clasps shut. He paused to look at her, "Hey, chin up. You know you're not going to be unemployed for long."

"I don't want to work for just anyone," she said resolutely, getting up herself and walking out past him to her desk to get her coat.

Will sighed as he looked at her, and up at Lisa who, having seen them get ready to leave, was herself donning her coat and crossing to join them. Both of them looked depressed and he glanced at his watch and up at them both.

"Ok, I give up," he said with a dramatic sigh. "You both win. I'll do it."

Lisa broke out into a broad smile and gave him a hug. "I knew you would," she said proudly.

Alicia grinned, "Does this mean I'm not fired?"

Will sighed as he glanced over at Thorpe who was nodding from the doorway to Avery's office, "I guess I should call the Prime Minister."

Thorpe smiled and nodded as he returned to his office.

Chapter Twenty

They had sent a car for him to the airport, the same one they had regularly sent for Robert whenever he visited his constituency office. He turned his collar up against the bitterly cold November wind as he walked out to the car and climbed into the back.

Lisa had come ahead along with Alicia, setting things up at the office and arranging meetings with the Riding Association and its president. Will knew he should have felt nervous, as the Lincoln accelerated out into the street bound for the heart of downtown, but he had been through all of this before with Robert only a few short months before.

He knew the electorate process; he knew the figures involved, the faces behind this particular riding. The movers and shakers of the community. The question was, would they be as optimistic about his chances as the Party faithful back in Ottawa were?

He sat contemplating that as the car swept its way through slushy streets, splashing through the puddles, turning down Front Street and winding towards Yonge. He was getting used to the near constant travel now, it just felt strange being the one responsible for that travel.

He glanced up at the imposing black tower of the Avery-Woods building where he had worked before Avery's bid for politics. The communications firm was scaling back under its new CEO--the loss of Robert meant that the share prices in the firm had dipped. Without his strong presence it would take time for the company to find its footing again. Sad, considering how much Robert had invested in seeing his company continue to grow when other firms cut back.

The car drew up outside the constituency offices and Will stepped out, pausing to look around him then again turning his collar up against the cold and hurrying inside. This was the riding he was going to be competing for, and although he had seen it so many times over the past few months, it suddenly struck home that he was going to be responsible for it.

He licked his lips nervously, shrugging his shoulders and walking into the buzz and bustle of the campaign war room... his war room.

Brad MacKenzie, or just `Mac' to everyone who knew him, was waiting for him. The President of the Liberal Riding Association grinned at him as he walked through the doors, a friendly clap on his shoulder and a warm gesture around him.

"How's it feel?" he asked with a smile.

"Nerve-wracking," Will admitted honestly as he looked about him at all the volunteers already hard at work on his behalf. Some faces he recognized from the last time around, but so many new ones were mixed in with them. He stopped and blinked when he recognized the Pride Association members working some of the phones.

Mac grinned at him and pointed across to where Lisa was talking into a phone, her suit jacket over the back of a chair and her desk littered with signs and posters. "Well, you have a good bunch willing to help you out; a press release went out this morning announcing your bid for the riding and so far for the Liberal nomination you are running uncontested." He chuckled and winked, "Mainly because I am not putting anyone on the card against you."

Alicia, happily smiling at him, was unpacking her stuff onto a desk just outside the office that had formerly been Robert's while he was in the constituency, and Will nodded back at her as he followed Mac around the makeshift campaign call center with its signs and posters.

He stopped and blinked. "How'd these get made so fast?" he asked incredulously, looking at the red and white signs with his name splashed over them.

"The PM ordered them made," Mac replied with a shrug. "He was adamant that he wanted you in this riding; must be flattering to know you have his support."

"Intimidating," Will replied, stopping and staring at his face looking back down at him from the wall. He had to blink to ensure that what he was looking at was real.

Mac smiled, "Lisa had a photo of you blown up. It's a good pose; took a while to get it just right but should do the trick..."

Will continued to stare at the poster a second before he realized that Mac was moving on, and he stumbled after him, still staring in awe at the sight. He had run a campaign, he knew what to expect, but it still hadn't prepared him for seeing his own image on the poster. There was something indescribable about the fear it caused in his stomach, that doubt that came with realizing he might be in over his head.

He steadied himself and caught up to Mac who waited patiently with a smile on his face. "I'd like you to meet a few of your key sponsors," Mac said, gesturing to a couple of men in business suits, a couple wearing Pride pins. "They have all made contributions to your war chest which," he gestured around him, "are being put to good use."

"T-Thank you," Will stuttered, extending and shaking hands. "Who's my campaign manager?" Will whispered in a low tone, glancing at Mac.

"Well, you leave funding to me," Mac said with a nod to the sponsors, "but the brains behind this is..." He pointed to a pair of patent leather shoes sticking out from behind a cubical partition.

Will frowned, and walked around the partition to see an all too familiar smiling face lounging in a chair and talking on a cell phone.

"Brody," Will said, as if there was any doubt.

"My little Willy's all grown up and running for parliament," Brody sniffed as he clicked off the phone and wiped away a mock tear. "Don't it just get ya...right here..." He thumped his heart twice.

Will shook his head in amazement, "Do I even want to know how you wangled this?"

"Nope, not for your virgin ears, which considering it's you is probably the only thing virginal," he grinned at Will as he fished a donut out of the box on the corner of the desk and proceeded to dunk it in his mug of Tim Horton's coffee.

"Careful," Will tossed back. "Public figure now, we can't allow me to have a bad reputation."

"Sheep in wolf's clothing," Brody chuckled as he flipped open his phone. "You sit back, look pretty and leave the hard work to us; we'll have you elected in no time."

Will smiled at his friend, "Thanks."

Brody waved him off, and Will smiled walking across to... the name on the door had been changed, and he stood a moment staring at it. William Carter. He cocked his head and walked in, setting his briefcase down and sweeping off the great coat and hanging it on the hook behind the door.

Alicia was already there with a mug of coffee and a couple of sheets of computer printout numbers. "The results of the last election, and the current polls," she said in explanation, pointing to the various sheets with a pen. "We expect a lower voter turnout, but that's natural in a by-election." She smiled, "However, Brody was rather quick to get the gay community on your side." She turned a bit and looked out at the volunteers, "You're the only gay candidate in a mostly gay and ethnic riding..."

"Who am I running against?" Will asked cautiously.

"The Conservative candidate, Kelly Siseau. Her figures are here... she was dead last in the last election results. The NDP candidate is the only real contender. Edward Prout was the incumbent before Robert knocked him out of his seat, and he's going to be pushing to get it back. He's got the old and experienced card, you have the young up-and-coming stuff going for you." She gave Will a square look, "We've got the fact that he lost the last election and the fact that the voters want change running in our favour."

"Thanks," Will said, adjusting the chair as he began to unpack his briefcase.

"You have a meeting with some constituents over at the Church Street Community Center, and then a press conference on the TTC; Lisa's working on things for you to say. But you are already familiar with the issues..."

Will nodded; he'd been through this before, he had the advantage, he just needed to remember that it was him now who would be front and center delivering the speeches and posing for the camera.

He loosened his tie and reached for a pen.

"You're not planning to go like that are you?" Alicia asked in concern.

Will stopped and blinked, "Like what?"

She gave him a frustrated sigh, "You're supposed to be gay, you can't go looking all geek sheik."

"Right..." Will said cautiously.

"Give me your credit card," she said, sounding insistent as she held out her hand for it.

"Why?" Will said, already tugging his wallet out of his pocket and fishing out his Visa.

"I'm doing what any good personal assistant does," she smiled happily as she took it. "Make her boss look good. Hugo Boss here I come..."

"Don't you dare..." he warned.

She smiled at him sweetly and gestured to a couple of the Pride Center volunteers, gestured back at him, and held up his Visa card. There were a few cheers before they were all gone.

Will rolled his eyes; typical. He went back to unpacking his briefcase, stopping as he pulled out the envelopes that were what remained of Avery's mail. He sighed and set about opening them to sort out where they belonged.

The first few were letters from constituents discussing issues they were facing. Will read them each carefully, making notes and passing them on to Brody, who in turn made sure each of them were called.

Will picked up the manila envelope that was hand-addressed. Will stared at it a moment and tore it open, pulling out the contents. He stared at the pages a moment, noting the Conservative Party letterhead, and he immediately stopped scanning it to read it in more detail.

It was a letter from the Shadow Minister of Heritage to the Leader of the opposition telling him there was nothing in the recent stories about the Heritage Exhibition Center worth pursuing. Will read the cover memo three times to be certain he had read it right. Nothing worth pursuing? Even Will knew there was, and he was a part of the party responsible for it.

He turned the page, flipping open the proposal from Grevano Construction. It broke down the expenses of the construction project in detail--there were penned-in notes showing actual costs as opposed to what was being requested. The penned numbers were substantially lower.

He moved on to a bankbook tucked into the back. Flipping it open he read off the name of the shadow minister; thumbing through the pages he stopped stock still--that explained where at least some of the money went. It really wasn't much to go on, but it was a start.

Will sat with the documents in his hands and looked thoughtful. That at least explained why the shadow minister had refused to comment on the project overspending, especially considering some of it was going directly into his pocket.

The question was, what did he do with it? So far all it was was a few shreds of evidence that hinted at embezzlement. However, it would be enough to get an audit done of Grevano's books and if the bank numbers on the transfers to the shadow minister could be proven to have come from Grevano's accounts...

He scooped up the phone and placed a call through to the Ministry of Heritage. It was answered immediately by the new minister. "Will, how are you?" Thorpe asked in a jovial tone.

"Well," Will replied. "Listen, Minister.."

"Jeremy, Will; you're one of the boys now or you soon will be, you can lose the formality." Thorpe sounded amused.

"Jeremy," Will corrected. "I'm looking at a couple of disturbing documents that hint at Grevano embezzling money from the Heritage Exhibition."

There was a pause on the line, and Will could hear Thorpe closing the door to his office. "You have proof?" Thorpe asked in a low tone.

"I have some proof," Will admitted. "It's not much..."

"Still, it's a start, right?" Thorpe sounded excited, "Sit on it for now; I'll do some digging this end and see what I can get you. If we put our heads together we can probably figure this mess out."

"Has something happened?" Will asked cautiously.

"Public Works sent me a memo this morning rejecting Robert's proposals to open the Exhibition Center early; if we can get to the bottom of this we might be able to salvage something from this situation." Thorpe sounded relieved, "Thanks for sharing this, Will."

"Well, it affects you, not me," Will said quietly.

"You're not even elected and already you're doing me a favour. I'll remember this one, Will. Thanks."

"No problem," Will said hanging up the phone and slipping the `evidence' back into its envelope and tucking it back into his briefcase.