“You saved my life.”
Angela could still hear the words, panting and tremulous, all these years later. It had been true, of course. That it had been her job was beside the point to Nicholas, then and in all the years since. He had kept her in his orbit, even though the car’s plunge had ruined her left arm and made her an inefficient bodyguard.
A confidante. The one trusted person in his entire life. When lovers palled, when allies turned, she remained at his side. She knew, as one so close must know, that he was frequently wrong, frequently undeserving of either love or loyalty, but she remained all the same, bound to him by the unconscious worship he poured upon her and…
Her own vanity, if she had to name it.
Who could easily set aside the hero’s mantle, when it was so fervently pressed? She had been tempted, more than once, but each time, at the moment she could have severed the ties, he would look at her and she would see the boy she had dragged onto the bank of the canal, and she would hesitate. And so often, at those moments, he would say something like, “What would I do without you, my life-saver?” and renew the bond.
She looked at him now, and saw barely a glimmer of that half-drowned child. Greying at the temples, lined about the eyes, he crackled with enthusiasm that had nothing of a child in it, no wholesome innocence. He looked back at her, and the smile he gave her was entirely modern as well. “Thank you, Angela,” he said, and even as he spoke, a trace of what she had been seeking came to the surface. “Without you, I would never have gotten here.”
Was that also true? He certainly believed it. If he had stayed in the wreck, drowned with his parents, he clearly would not have come to this current zenith. He would never have been able to weave the schemes which would lurch into motion tomorrow, whatever the election results.
Nicholas looked to his other side, to the flunky of his PR man. Flunky was looking at Nicholas, something like awe in his eyes, one hand pressed to the headset he wore. He held up a finger, nodding to whatever was being said in his ear, then he pointed to the gap between the curtains.
Angela watched the man as he backed away, bowing, as if in the presence of royalty. So many of them were like that. She fell in behind Nicholas as he strode out onto the platform.
The cheering washed across them. Angela grimaced, wading through the adulation, until she reached her place on the platform, just behind the podium, on Nicholas’s right. The place of absolute trust, where she had stood both figuratively and literally for decades. She raised her hand to adjust the party pin on her lapel.
Nicholas stood at the podium, on the platform which made him seem as tall as those behind him. The rest of the party leaders were lined up on her left, variously cadaverous or beefy, all revelling in the worship of the mob. Angela scanned that mob, the only impassive face in that line, apparently immune to the adoration which poured upon them as the prime supporters of Nicholas.
She felt it. She felt it in her very core.
She paused in the scan, looking at the far edge of the playing field which had been converted to an auditorium, at a point where the stands met the back of those thronging the turf. She pressed the button on the microphone behind her party badge. “All eyes on Echo Eleven,” she said.
A chorus of voices spoke in her ear, all confirming the command. The snipers on the light towers would be swinging their guns that way. The slender, athletic types would be winding their way between the cheering civilians. The wide men in front of the stage would be tensing to throw themselves into the line of fire. She let go of the button, and moved her hand toward her own well-concealed weapon.
Angela was Nicholas’s life-saver. His hero. The reason he had been able make any impression upon the world. All that he was, she bore the responsibility.
Her first bullet threw his face into his worshippers. She put one more into the small of his back, hoping it would wreck organs rather than catch on his spine, then she set to work mowing down the leaders of the party. There was only Jones at the far end left when the snipers finally found their target.
She felt the bullets passing through her, finishing the job that the accident had made such a poor start on. She felt the pain of a dozen wounds, but it was on the distant surface as her mind retreated from light. What she did not feel was regret. Nicholas had draped her in the robes of a hero, and belatedly, although perhaps not too late, she had earned them.