Chapter One Hundred and Twenty Six: The Battle Begins

“Ready?” Charlie asked Webster as they stood outside of City Hall on Monday.

“I had to deal with the Noble Knights of the Last Order for the past two days. I'm ready for anything.” Webster replied.

“I'm gonna go sit in the audience. Good luck!” Belle kissed Charlie on the cheek and rushed to the gallery.

“Are you two dating?” Webster asked innocently.

“NO.” Charlie replied.

“Okaaay…” Webster didn't look convinced. “Come on. Let's go.”

The pair walked up the steps towards destiny.

Belle scooted in and sat in the gallery just as Demon, Andrew Haiter and Judge Constance Dougherty walked in and took their positions. Behind Charlie in the wings were about sixty of the signatories Charlie had gotten together. Everything was ready to go.

Of course, first there was the swearing in. Then the Businesses and Commerce Act was read. Finally, Judge Constance got to the point.

“We're here today to discuss the possible establishment of a Chamber of Commerce in Pleasantville.” Constance started proceedings. “As per the Businesses and Commerce Act, in order to establish a Chamber of Commerce within a City Council there needs to be a proven demand for it, as evidenced by the gathering of 100 signatures of business owners within the City Council limits. For Pleasantville City Council, this extends to Oaksville, Fallsville, Greensville and Treesville. Charles Thurlow Begly, as the one who has initiated this discussion, do you have the required signatures?”

Charlie gulped, shaking. “Yes Your Honour. I also have the required verifications for each signature.”

“Good, that will save us some time.” Constance took the paperwork and looked through it. Satisfied, she nodded. “Mr. Jones, are you happy that all of these signatures are legitimate?”

Demon took the paperwork and leafed through it. “I'm satisfied.” He said.

Constance took the paperwork back, and gave it to Haiter. He too leafed through it, and agreed that it was legitimate, although he didn't look pleased doing it.

“I now need a member of the public to legitimize these. Can I please have a volunteer?” Constance turned to the audience, which was pretty large considering. A young man raised his hand, and went through all the paperwork. It took him a while, but he finally agreed that everything was in order.

“Excellent. It will be noted in the records.” Constance took the paperwork back and put it in a special envelope. Charlie tried not to yawn. This was already taking forever!

“As per regulations, we require the backing of at least six government officials, three of which must come from Pleasantville City Council.” She continued. “You have three from Brisvegas, along with Councillor Judith Jofery, Councillor Peter Masters and Mayor Arnold Jones.” Constance shuffled through her papers. “Do we have any objections to this undertaking?”

“I do.”

Everyone froze. The Inspector of Police for Pleasantville, Andrew Haiter, had arisen.

“We have a solid police force, which have taken care of business disputes for nearly two hundred years.” He said silkily. “We do not need to add more red tape and more bureaucracy to hinder citizens trying to start their own businesses or continuing to do business in Pleasantville.”

Demon looked livid. Charlie grimaced, but he'd known that there was always a chance something like this would happen. Only he'd expected it from Demon, not from Haiter.

“A response from you, Mr. Begly?” Constance asked.

“The businesses of Pleasantville, and the consumers of Pleasantville deserve to have dedicated protections against corruption, poor practices and bad service. They also deserve to have help navigating the hardships that come with starting their own businesses, and recourse when unfair practices stop them from achieving their dreams.” Charlie started his rebuttal. “The Pleasantville Police are a fine outfit,” (Belle snorted) “And they should not be wasted on civil business issues, when they could be better serving our community.”

Belle grinned. That had been a solid rebuttal, and the only contribution she'd made was reading it over for grammar!

“That may be true, but creating more channels creates more opportunity for corruption. Plus, a Chamber of Commerce is run by business owners with a Councillor overseeing. Honestly, I think that makes it MORE likely that something is going to go wrong.” Haiter replied coolly.

Charlie groaned. Webster looked through his papers, trying to find a rebuttal.

“I'll allow a recess for two hours to organise a rebuttal. Dismissed.” Constance got up and walked away. Charlie felt angry as the crowds around him dispersed.

“I don't know what we're supposed to do. I never expected HAITER of all people to turn on us.” Webster groaned.

“He doesn't want to lose power in Pleasantville. As of now, everything goes through him. Of course he doesn't want to lose that.” Charlie gritted his teeth.

Belle rushed over. “Are you okay?” She asked.

“No. I can't believe we're gonna be stopped before we get started!” Charlie slammed the table with his fist.

“Especially by a police force that is known for their corruption!” Belle snapped.

Then she felt her eye twitch.

“Charlie…what are you planning now?” She asked as she saw him turn his frown upside-down.

“No WAY can I turn Dingbat in! First of all, he's DEAD and can't defend himself, and secondly if I implicate him in pulling strings to get Demon in as Mayor I can kiss my job goodbye and say hello to a nice cushy GAOL CELL.” Judith cried over the phone.

“Judith PLEASE, Pleasantville needs you!” Charlie cried.

“I'm sorry, I can't, and neither can Marion.” Judith hung up.

“Well that was a bust. Shame we don't know anyone else!” Belle sighed.

“But we do.” Charlie was determined. “We know your grand-parents. And you have an hour and a half to help me.”

“WHAT?!” Belle cried.

“I hate him. We are totally not best friends anymore.” Belle grumbled.

Pinned just inside her shirt was a police camera (Webster being a big-city lawyer always had a few on hand for various occasions), and she was sitting at Bill Restaurant.

“So, you want to talk to us at last.” Harold and Lady showed up.

“Be grateful I'm giving you the time of day.” Belle snapped.

“No need to be rude.” Lady frowned at her grand-daughter.

“Why on earth should I give up my nice, cushy job at the Council?” Belle dived straight in.

“But you wouldn't my dear, you'd still keep your job. You'd just have a few extra duties is all.” Harold pointed out.

“Like what? Killing children?” Belle snapped.

“Not KILLING children at all, just creating a future market for our wares.” Lady pointed out.

“And career progression?” Belle asked.

“Oh, the possibilities are ENDLESS! You could move anywhere!” Harold gushed.

“Like?” Belle pushed.

“Well, not only is there a pathway through the Council, but through the police force too! Andrew Haiter has actually been a member of the Haunted Maze Troupe since before he became Inspector!” Harold pointed out. “That's how he GOT the position in the first place!”

“I'll consider what you've said. Thanks!” Belle got up and bolted from the restaurant.

“Are you guys gonna order?” Bill asked as the two elderly Troupers looked bemused..

“Sure. The food here is great!” Lady grabbed a menu.

“WHAT IS YOUR ISSUE?!” Demon growled at Andrew Haiter, who lit himself a cigarette.

“I am the highest ranking lieutenant of the Hidden Maze Troupe.” Haiter smiled. “Do you really think we would simply knuckle down under you?”

Demon gritted his teeth.

“We knew if we backed you, you would rely on us. It was just sheer luck that Dingbat got himself murdered.” Haiter continued. “And you played your part perfectly. After you, I'm the most powerful entity in this city.”

“I can change that.” Demon snapped.

“And lose the backing of the Troupe?” Haiter snorted. “Given that the only reason you're in charge right now is because of the Death Valley Gang and the Mobsters of Misneach, you shouldn't be making threats. You need power behind you, otherwise you're nothing.”

Haiter walked up to Demon, and stood almost nose-to-nose with him. “I mean, you DID have the police force, but we swiped that from right underneath your nose.”

Haiter finished his cigarette. “Remember who is REALLY in charge here.”

He walked off smugly, leaving Demon to stew in his anger.

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