Shuddersome ShortS

Tales of Mystery and Suspense

#70



Belinda Ferrymen previously graced us with an Hitchcockian hors d'oeuvre about jealousy and revenge called "First Draft for a Murder". This time out, she turns her mischievious mind to a union election, and a would-be boss who would be boss...by hook, crook, or bullet...

 
 

Ricochet
 

By Belinda Anne Ferrymen


TEDDY "FATMAN" FOLGER HEAVED HIMSELF FROM the back seat of his spotless Silver Cloud Rolls Royce idling before the glass doors of the union hall. The snow crunched beneath his feet as he straightened and inhaled deeply of the thin, biting January air.

He was a squat man in his late forties with an unruly mop of curly blonde hair. His nickname the result of being very nearly as wide as he was tall. It was not his rather awesome waist size that was his most commanding aspect however, but what concealed it: his blazing white clothes. They were of the finest materials available, hand tailored to his oversized proportions. His shoes alone cost him three hundred dollars.

Teddy Folger wasn't very happy this evening, and it wasn't because of his weight, nor his clothes, nor even his three hundred dollar shoes. Teddy was unhappy because of what awaited him inside the grey-brick building that sprawled so listlessly before him. He was unhappy because of a man named Lloyd Tinker.

With a muttered curse, Teddy stormed through the front doors.

By the time he worked his way through the overflowing auditorium and had bounded onto the stage, however, his hostile visage had been replaced by a toothy smile he had taken months to perfect.

The election for union president was little more than a week away and Teddy had every intention of being that president. There was only one thing standing between him and such an ascension, and that thing was his opponent. And in politics, that could mean everything. Lloyd Tinker and he were neck- and-neck in popularity and there was no sign that that was going to change decisively in eight days.

A man of the same approximate age as Teddy, but with his close cropped black hair speckled with gray and his ebony features lined and weathered, Lloyd Tinker personified the exact opposite. He was a tall, gangly man with horn rimmed glasses and a suit that bespoke anything but wealth, consisting of a frayed, tweed jacket over a simple white shirt and faded jeans.

Though, curiously enough, Tinker's inexpensive "off-the-rack" look had taken him almost as long to perfect as Teddy's rich-man's get-up.

These then were their respective images, their gimmicks, their appeal. Teddy's image promised wealth and prosperity to the entire union if he was elected, Tinker's said he was one with them and understood their needs. Their equal popularity testified to the seductiveness of both images. All of which irked Teddy no end.

"Now ladies and gentleman, Mr. Edward Folger," said the moderator and Teddy stepped up to the microphone amid tremendous applause. He jumped in quickly, before the applause had time to fully dwindle. It was good for the image to be seen having to speak over the roar of your supporters, than to leave the lingering image of a man speaking to a dead house.

"What this union needs is leadership," he began but stopped until the crowd's swell of approval had died down again. "Something that has been sadly lacking of late." Again the mindless roar of encouragement. That's how the speech would go: berate previous administrations, criticize opponent, etc. all the while careful never to commit himself. It was the same speech, with minor variants in phrase and syntax, that he always made.

When he was finished he sat down on a folding metal chair and Tinker rose. His speech, of course, followed the same formula: tell crowd why they shouldn't vote for his opponent, but never why they should vote for him.

Don't commit yourself, that was the key to good politics.

After the speeches came the debate, wherein each attacked the other's non-stance on important issues like strikes and wages and pensions. This always brought to Teddy's mind a picture of two sword fighters in a dark room, each trying to stay in the shadows while, at the same time, skewer the other.

"And I think the members of the union are pretty tired of your rhetoric, I know I am..."

"Don't you think that this is an important issue...?"

"And where were you when..."

"So how come you've never come out on either side of this...?"

Image was what was important, not words. Never words.

Afterwards they both left the stage together, surrounded by tumultuous applause.

"Good speech, Lloyd," Teddy growled back stage with all the warmth of an ice pick.

"Thanks," Tinker replied. "And good luck in the election." His smile as devoid of humour as a skull's grin.

They shook hands good naturedly, attempting to crush each other's fist to paste. When the moderator came over, clapping each on the back, they hastily stopped their silent struggle.

"Good points raised by both, I thought," he grinned, oblivious. Teddy and Tinker glared at him as if he were some particularly unique species of cockroach. "Good luck in the election next week." He then moved on leaving the two rivals to stare uncomfortably at one another in silence.

After a moment, Lloyd Tinker found an excuse to exit the back way, so he wouldn't have to leave with Teddy. That suited Teddy fine.

He needed time to think.

"How do you feel the campaign is going, Mr. Folger?", "How do you feel about the balanced popularity between yourself and Mr. Tinker?", "Do you plan any dramatic changes in your strategy?". Teddy grunted, startled. Reporters were clustered outside the main doors like flies around a carcass. This wasn't surprising though, the union election results could have far reaching impact, all across the country.

Teddy growled a "No comment," as he squeezed through the mass of bodies and into the sanctity of his waiting Rolls.

"Get us out of here, Jerry," he told the driver. The driver nodded and pulled away from the curve, leaving the press to stare in dismay at the car's rapidly dissipating exhaust.

After a few moments of silence, the driver looked into his rear-view mirror at the back seat's sole occupant. Teddy scowled absently at the upholstery.

"Something wrong, Mr. Folger?"

It took a few moments for the question to penetrate Teddy's skull, then he looked up at the two reflected eyes staring at him. "What's the matter with you? Got nothing better to do than stick your nose into other people's business? Keep your eyes on the road and shut up!"

"Uh, yes sir." The driver hastily complied.

~~~

It took the Rolls all of fifteen minutes to arrive at Teddy's campaign head-quarters, situated in a penthouse apartment atop one of the city's posher hotels.

"Hey, Jerry," Teddy said as he was halfway out of the car, "I've been under a lot of strain lately, so, y'know, I say things..."

"Don't worry about it, Mr. Folger," Jerry grinned, "I understand, and you still got my vote."

Teddy gave the driver one of his most engaging smiles, then he got out. It wouldn't do for Jerry to bear a grudge over a little lost temper. The last thing he needed was a loss of credibility from yelling at the help.

In the penthouse he was met by his campaign manager, a weasely little man named Alex Prouver who looked every bit the thug he was.

"Hey, 'Fatman'. How was the speech?"

"Forget that, what's going on here?" Teddy glanced around the room at the various people rushing around, making phone calls, writing up slogans for flyers and, generally, making as much noise as possible.

"We've been making phone calls, checking out the undecided to see if maybe anybody was swayed by your speech tonight," he said. "We've also been listening to the t.v. and radio reports to see what they thought of it, so we'll know what strategy to work on."

"And?"

"Well, everybody seems to feel that you made a great speech, raised some good points, etc., and-"

"What about Tinker?"

Prouver hesitated a minute before speaking. "Um, well, like most people seem to think he did pretty good tonight, too."

"What about the Gazette?" Teddy growled.

"Have a heart, 'Fatman', the paper won't be out till morning."

"Mr. Folger." A young, fresh-faced kid stepped up beside Teddy. "I'd like your opinion on-"

"What's the matter with you? Go hassle someone else!"

The young man recoiled as if from a blow, then quietly walked away while Prouver stared critically at Teddy. Then he took the big man's arm and led him into his office, closing the door behind him.

"What's the matter with you? Why you blowing up at the staff?" he demanded.

Teddy glowered at him. "We're only about a week away from the election and Tinker and I are still even, what the hell do you want me to do?"

"So, don't lose it, 'Fatman'. Ticking off the help is very uncool. It just might cost you the election. You're right that you and Tinker are even, but what that means is you can't afford any screw ups, no matter how minor."

"So, Mr. High-and-Mighty campaign manager, what do you suggest? We gotta do something about that four-eyed sonofabitch."

"I guess, all things considered, it'd be better for you if he just wasn't in the running. Period." Prouver grinned.

"Damn straight, I...What are you suggesting?" He eyed his campaign manager carefully.

"Just that we arrange for Mr. Lloyd Tinker to have a little accident."

There was a long moment of silence before Teddy next spoke.

"Are you crazy? We burn Tinker and the cops'll be all over us."

"I'm not saying we use one of our boys to do it, 'Fatman'. I'm saying we import someone. I mean, sure, it'll cost a little more, but ain't no way the cops can trace it to us."

"You know how we can get this done?" Teddy almost whispered.

Prouver grinned his most weasely grin. "I got friends, 'Fatman', you'll see."

~~~

"This is the gentleman?" asked the swarthy faced character, seated across the table from Teddy as he eyed the photograph of Lloyd Tinker.

"Yeah. I want him hit," he growled, throwing back his beer like it was soda.

"Not so loud, if you please," the other muttered, glancing furtively around the dark, smoke filled tavern, eyeing its other patrons carefully. "It is truly disheartening, but even here we must be careful as to who hears what of our conversation."

Teddy nodded his understanding.

"I believe I can help you. I can get a man for you as early as two weeks from now, maybe three."

"No way. I need it done before Friday."

"Friday?" The man chuckled without mirth. "My dear sir, this is not like ordering a pizza. A contract must be put out and then accepted."

"So?"

"So that takes time. Time to find the right, ah, professional. Time to verify the legitimacy of your offer and of his credentials-"

"The legitimacy of my...Didn't Alex Prouver square this with you?" Teddy growled.

"Please, sir, no names." Again he looked around the bar. "I'm sure of your validity, of course, but whomever picks up the contract will want to be assured, as well. After all, he won't even know who you are."

"How come?"

"The whole point of a middle man such as myself is to make sure that both participants in this arrangement are ignorant of each other and, therefore, in no danger of being," he shuddered, "fingered. You really should have made arrangements in advance if you had a deadline."

"We're talking about a lousy hit, not a freaking vacation in Miami," Teddy snapped.

"Ah, would that the Sunshine State were so popular. To put it frankly, we live in a hateful, vindictive age. The supply, that is me and mine, are struggling to keep up with the demand -- gentlemen such as yourself. Of course, if your need is grave, well, perhaps I can pull a few strings." He grinned. "But it'll cost you extra."

Teddy narrowed his eyes.

"Well?" asked the man after a moment. "Do I, uh, initiate the process?"

Teddy hesitated, knowing it would have to come out of his pockets, not the campaign fund. And knowing that, if he became president, petty cash problems would be a thing of the past. "Yeah," he said. "I mean, he'd probably have done it to me if I hadn't thought of it first, right?"

The man smiled a polite, nocommittal smile.

~~~

Teddy "Fatman" Folger stood with Lloyd Tinker before a packed auditorium, preparing to deliver their final speeches before the union membership voted on who would lead it through the new millennium.

Teddy was not pleased. It was Friday. In a few short hours the election would be decided and his "ace in the hole" was, so far, a no-show.

Tinker was still alive and well and as popular as ever.

They met in the center of the stage to shake hands like civilized men prior to going at each other like rabid beasts.

Tinker looked as if he had swallowed something decidedly unpleasant.

"What's your problem?" Teddy demanded of his opponent as they met, away from their respective microphones. The "Fatman" knew that his own expression was something close to a mirror of Tinker's.

"None of your damn business."

Whatever it was, he knew it couldn't have been as bad -- as disappointing -- as the problem that concerned him. Namelly, why wasn't Tinker attending this meeting in a pine box?

Teddy stepped before his microphone, cleared his throat and was suddenly interrupted by the crack of a rifle.

Lloyd Tinker spun around, like some macabre ballerina. He clutched at his chest, then he pitched forward, hitting the floor with a sickening thud.

Teddy gawked, then almost grinned, but he caught himself in time and turned his expression into one of feigned shock.

Shock that became very real as something hit him hard in the chest like a fist. Distantly, Teddy could hear the echo of a second shot. His vision went blurry and his knees were no longer able to support him... His last thoughts were remembering his comment to the man in the bar, about how Tinker would've done the same thing if he had thought of it...

As Teddy "Fatman" Folger joined his one time political adversary on the floor, the hit-man -- crouched in the rafters high above the auditorium -- checked off two of the names on his list.

Then he turned around and quickly melted back into the shadows.

To himself, he wondered who would bother to put out contracts on both candidates in an election. Whoever he -- or they -- were, the hit-man hoped that they had gotten their money's worth.
 


The End


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Ricochet is copyright by the Author. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)