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The next morning, Sophie was awoken abruptly by the uncontrollable buzzing of her phone by her bedside. Vibrating heavily onto the wooden table, she shot up and gasped, hitting it with her hand in annoyance before pulling it over from its charger to her side. She groaned and rubbed her eyes of sleep, squinting uncomfortably to try and read the bright screen. A shot of discomfort struck through as she observed, in addition to messages from Millie and Micky, a number of missed phone calls from an unknown number and a voicemail.

She glanced her texts, they both happened to be talking about the same thing and had been sent late last night, with Sophie having crashed out to sleep relatively early. “FULTON’S WON!” Micky’s message proclaimed in a triumphant tone, whilst Millie’s bemoaned: “Fulton’s got in ☹ x”. Sophie tutted with a neutral and seemingly disinterested reaction, and then turned to the voicemail. Her heart started thumping anxiously as she dialled it and pressed play:

“You have 1 new message”- The automated operator voice announced.

“Hello there, is this Sophie Scott?” A posh young voice suddenly pronounced. “This is Cecil Harwood calling from William Parker-Fulton’s office. If you could give us a call back when you receive this message thank you very much” and then ended abruptly. Sophie’s face froze in horror and confusion. Unsettled, she then immediately dialled the receiving number, and again waited nervously, sitting up in bed as the ringing sound played into her ear.

“Hello?”- The same voice then suddenly spoke. “Is this Sophie?” he asked. “Hi, yes this is me. Sorry I missed your call” she said softly in a tired office. “Can I help you?” She asked. “Hello, my name is Cecil Harwood, I am the aide of newly elected Mayor of Sunderland William Parker-Fulton, we’re just setting up in our office today. However, the Mayor has asked me to extend you an invitation to meet with him at City Hall. We heard recently about your heroics throughout the city in saving some young men, and we’d really like to get know you as part of our anti-crime initiative.”

“Really?” Sophie asked with surprise. “Well… okay, when do you need to see me?” she asked with a tint of excitement yet unsurety. “Preferably around eleven if it is possible”. He said coldly, without a hint of friendliness in his overtly formal voice. “Okay, I’ve got work in the evening so I should be able to fit it in” She replied. “Great, we shall see you then, goodbye!” and then he ended the call abruptly. Sophie then sat for a moment contemplating what to do, before scrambling to message Millie.

“Millie…” she typed in fear. “I was asleep, sorry. You’ll never believe this. Fulton’s office called me. They want to meet with me… x”

A few moments passed, before Millie then shot back. “You’re kidding right?” she replied seemingly in surprise. “

“No, it’s real x” Sophie replied.

“I’m in the library now. Let me jump outside and call you x” she then typed back, and then within the scope of several minutes Sophie’s phone was ringing again. “Hi Sophie, what did they say? What’s going on?” she asked in an extremely concerned voice as Sophie picked up the phone again. “This lad called Cecil called. Said they’re impressed by my heroics and want to get to know me”- Sophie relied, again beset with an uncomfortable mix of worry and excitement.

“Are you serious? I mean you are serious, but it’s so hard to believe. Are you going to do it? When are they going to see you?” she asked, the wind fluttering in the background. “Yeah, I think so…and it’s at eleven” Sophie said with unsurety “don’t like him, but I don’t see why not… they said this afternoon” she added. “Oh my gosh I don’t see what you can gain from meeting with that bigot, yes he’s mayor but as I have always made clear to you, he’s fake, pretentious and extremely untrustworthy. I can’t choose for you, but honestly I don’t recommend it” she urged.

“Yeah, I get it…” Sophie replied doubtfully. “I’ll be careful…” she added. “Honestly, I can’t recommend you don’t enough, but anyway I’m over in Durham I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll catch you at the weekend, right?” Millie replied. “Okay, ta ra now!” Sophie added, and then the call ended. She then groaned and stared at the wall, feeling aggravated, before dragging herself up to shower, get ready and eventually trundle downstairs.

“Have yer heard? Fulton won. I’m owa the Moon!” Eddie proclaimed in a more lifeful than usual voice as soon as she entered the kitchen, begrudgingly preparing breakfast. “Oh, I’ve more than heard…” she groaned in response in a sarcastic tone, declining to tell him about her invitation. “Anyhow, yer going out today? Make sure you get me cans in before work cheers” he then asked, drawing no response from her. After eating, she then darted out quickly and hopped on the bus to town, still beset by a lingering doubt, nervousness yet underlining enthusiasm. “Should I be doing this?” she muttered to herself in her head as she sat on the bus, reflecting on what Millie told her, but of course she had not told Micky yet, who would undoubtedly support her in doing it.

She got off the bus and walked across the town. Mirroring her mood, the sky was overcast, murky and unclear. There was neither sun nor rain, blinding sunlight or dark shadows. Passing by her work place the Dun Cow, she eventually came to an open public square paved with a smooth sandstone. It was empty and void of life, with litter swirling around it in the wind. It bore a number of large metal posts which resembled the masts of ships. A large metal strip run through the middle of the space with various names engraved on it, which on a closer glance detailed ships once built in Sunderland. In the corner, a number of fountains sprouted out of the ground and glossed in a number of bright colours from shining lights beneath.

Across the road from the square stood an immense towering building. Unlike the ornate and admirable baroque designs depicted in the nearby Dun Cow, an accompanying pub titled “The Peacock” and the city’s Empire Theatre, this towering structure heralded the appearance of two giant boxes, coated almost entirely in class windows. It was sparkling new and imposing, yet unremarkable and bland, as if it were an empty shell. Sophie glanced at it, before pressing the button on the traffic lights and anxiously waiting to cross the road, as various cars and vehicles roared passed.

On the other side of the road, the square and its metal strip continued right up towards the entrance of the building. To the right down below it the gulfing valley of the River Wear was visible, with two large iron span bridges perched over the top of it like half crescent moons, one double the size of the area. Sophie took some reflection at the scene before quickly pushing past its towering glass doors. She moved into a central large foyer which covered all storeys of the building. The pathway upwards was dizzy and consistent, sloped with various walkways and a zig-zag staircase. Unlike the outside, it was filled with well-dressed people dashing from place to place in a busy manner. She looked around in confusion, before homing in on a small reception desk at the corner of the room.

“Excuse me…” Sophie cleared her throat and said nervously to a small woman with dark hair and glasses sat behind the counter. “Hello, how can I help you today?” she responded in an almost robotic voice. “I have an appointment today with the Mayor, my name is Sophie Scott, they told me to come” she replied uncomfortably. “Oh yes I had that written down today on the schedule. Hang on a moment let me get Cecil down for you now” the woman suddenly replied in a more authentic voice, before quickly dialling into a phone behind her desk.

“Hello Cecil, I’ve got Sophie Scott here to meet the mayor, if you could come when you’re ready… Okay thanks” the woman said in a friendly voice over the phone. “If you can just take a seat over there thank you and they’ll be with you shortly” the woman then replied to Sophie back in a more routinized voice, pointing towards a seating area nearby and subsequently dismissing her. “Okay thanks” Sophie uttered before slowly sitting down, sitting upwards and straight with discomfort.

She waited and waited, it felt like an extraordinarily long time. The clock soon run past 11am, the scheduled time. The building was filled with the sounds of business activity, yet it was simultaneously quiet and void of life, the only sounds being the ringing of phones, the walking of footsteps and the opening and closing of doors. Then suddenly, Sophie jumped in surprise as a well-spoken voice seemed to appear from nowhere and prounce: “Hello, is it Sophie?” she looked upwards to see peering down on her a relatively tall young man with well groomed hair and an expensive suit.

“Yes, that’s me” she replied nervously. “Cecil” he remarked in a somewhat friendly voice, placing his hand down towards her. She got up and grasped it softly and the two began walking, with Cecil moving ahead. “Mr. Fulton is expecting you. I believe you’ve met him before right?” he asked looking back, attempting to superficially make conversation. “Yeah, I work at the Dun Cow and he hosted his event there last week” she replied, feeling bitten by the awkwardness. “Wonderful, he’s very much looking forwards to seeing you” he said unconvincingly as the two entered a lift. Cecil pushed the top button and it began to shoot up rapidly. “The mayor’s office is on the top floor” he said.

The lift came to an abrupt stop and Cecil walked out, with Sophie following nervously. As she walked out, she glanced out of the giant glass windows coating the exterior of the building to her right-hand side, revealing a view of the accompanying square the city sitting below. She then followed him anxiously until they reached a wooden furnished door, with a bronze notice pasted above it reading: “Mayor’s Office”. Cecil knocked on it lightly as they approached and a mumbled voice softly beckoned from the inside said “Come in!”. Cecil then proceeded to open the door and held it open for Sophie. As she walked past him, he then commented “There you go, enjoy!” before proceeding to disappear from the scene.

The office was small, with a neatly vacuumed blue carpet, a varnished black desk of an expensive variety. There were some papers and documents scattered upon it, neatly disorganized as if they had just been placed there, accompanied with an unusual and perhaps comedic wooden carving of a puppet boy wearing an Alpine hat. To the back sat a bookcase laced with elaborate and old titles, two of which were written by “Augustine of Hippo” but Sophie could not make out the title. Behind the desk of course, in an elegant black leather chair, was perched Fulton, dressed in a deep blue suit, who reacted instantly on seeing her. “Well hello there!” he beckoned, getting up and grabbing her hand forcefully. “How are you today? We meet again, so lovely to see you!” he said charmingly. “Please take a seat” he then said, pointing to a far less appealing blue lined chair perched opposite his desk, which sat her below his height. “Sophie Scott… Sophie Scott…” he pondered thoughtfully. “I’ve been hearing a lot about you lately; how wonderful it is to have people like you in our city! Would you care for a drink Sophie? I have tea, coffee, even whisky!” he winked.

Sophie was lost for words and struggled to find her response. “Oh I’m okay thanks… “she shrugged off in an empty voice “So this is about saving that lad Matthew, right?” she asked nervously, finding a glimmer of confidence. “Indeed Sophie, as Cecil should have made you aware, the news of your heroism has certainly made its way around town. As I’ve said before, I’m vowing to be tough on crime and its causes and it is truly an honour to have someone as thoughtful as yourself who went out of their way, when they didn’t have to, and rescue that boy. I’m impressed!” he added. “I was wondering of course if you could tell me a bit about yourself. I want to know more about you, I want to know this town!” he said with a pulse of excitement. “Let’s hear from you!” he said, holding his hands towards her.

“Okay… well I live on Thorney Close with me dad… he doesn’t do a lot as he’s very down, but he did vote for you” she said hesitantly. “I work at the Dun Cow as you know, I went to Sandhill View School a couple of years before that. Most of my time revolves around work and helping him” she said, as if she was struggling to answer the question. “Well, isn’t that fascinating?” he remarked in an interesting yet unconvincing voice. “Derek of course gave us your phone number if you were wondering, but I’m so eager to know how did you come to end up saving that boy? It’s a pretty well… uncouth place you went and found him in, not where you’d want to be at night, I’m so eager to hear…” he asked again, stroking back his bizarrely styled blonde hair.

Sophie stopped for a moment, feeling a hesitancy thumping inside of her contemplating as to whether it was the right thing to tell the truth. Sophie of course was never a liar in any aspect of her life, but she mulled on whether telling this man the truth was the right thing to do. Conflicting words thumped back and forth in her mind, including Millie’s constant deriding of Fulton against Micky and her father’s awe of him. Would he believe her story? Would it help her cause? She then decided to at least share with him some of it and the words spurted out of her month. “Okay… we seen in the Echo, we knew one of the lads who’d gone missing… and also heard strange rumours that it was linked to drugs…” she began very slowly and cautiously.

Fulton looked at her with an intrigued face. “Drugs you say?” he asked seemingly feigning surprise. “Yes, a strange new drug called Lava, apparently its linked to some gang n Southwick, just over the river from here. A friend said these missing young men were missing to it, and they’d disappeared around this location. So… I felt strongly about this and so I want to find and save Matthew, the last one who vanished. We went there and discovered there was a hidden base in an abandoned mineshaft where they were keeping him and these drugs there”- she then stopped, breathing heavily.

“Well this is astonishing, but very concerning” Fulton replied, do you have any specific idea who might be responsible, you said gangs in Southwick…” he then probed. “Yes, if you must know he’s called Tony Radcliff. We heard that by rumour, then we seen him at the scene when we rescued Matthew” she said in a straight voice, seemingly coming to the conclusion that saying could help her cause. “Oh I see…” Fulton said in a contemplating voice. “That is very helpful information… Hopefully something can be done about it. Once again, thank you” he added. Sophie, feeling calmer, then took a deep breath.

“That was the first thing, now of course is the second” he then continued eagerly, crossing his leg and swinging the chair to the other side. “On tomorrow afternoon at Mowbray Park we’re hosting a celebration of Sunderland Party! Also of course to celebrate my victory! I want to get as many people there as possible! The popular local band the Cheesy Chips are even going to play there, despite our political differences. However, Sophie, I need you to be there…” he then said in a quieter and more serious voice. “We heard from our police sources that there might be trouble related to what you told us, especially because it’s a big event. Being someone as heroic, brave and initiative taking as yourself, I need you around to keep watch as a makeshift security of sorts. Can you do that for me?” He then asked, his eyes glancing into hers.

Sophie felt discomfort strike through her again. “Yeah… of course” she said with a tint of doubt. “I’ll be there” she smiled unconvincingly. “Excellent! Sophie you are a star!” he then proclaimed. “Okay then, it was an honour having you here today in City Hall. I do apologize there hasn’t been much time, it is my first full day after all and I’m still finding my feet. But Sophie, do keep up the good work! You have Cecil’s number and we shall see you tomorrow!” he said eagerly, ushering Sophie as quickly out of the room as she entered. She walked back across the hallway, entered the lift and exited the building afterwards.

Thinking deeply about the meeting, she crossed back over the road and through the city square to get on with the rest of her day. As she walked, Fulton sat in his office schematically. A knock then sounded on his room door, and Cecil quickly opened the door again. “She’s gone?” he asked blankly. “Yes, she just left and headed out…Thank you Cecil. It was certainly an insightful meeting, and now I have everything I need to know. So, if I may, please excuse me I have a few important phone calls to make…” he said in a more sinister voice, smiling in an uncanny way as Cecil nodded and left the room…