RUNNING FOR THE GUV
Published on Shakespir by Duane L. Ostler
Copyright 2015 Duane L. Ostler
All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, copied or distributed without the express permission of the author.
Formerly published under pen name “Silas Flint”
Cover art by Udo J. Keppler, 1913.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Blake Guv was sitting in his law office. It was 3:07 in the afternoon. Light from the window danced heedlessly across his law book shelf, glinting brilliantly off the gold lettering on the spines of the books. His computer hummed merrily. A mass of legal papers were dashed impressively across his desk. Every appearance suggested that this was a very busy day.
But it wasn’t. Blake had been staring at the same fly on the wall for the last twenty minutes. (The fly had only moved two inches). The law books with their gold lettering were never used, since they were just there for show. The computer always hummed merrily when it wasn’t being pounded to death, or used at all. The legal papers on the desk were only there to impress anyone who unexpectedly might drop in, to make it look like Blake was hard at work as an attorney and had a lot to do.
In spite of appearances, this was NOT a busy day, although it was typical. It was, in fact, a ‘dead’ day. Dead in the sense that Blake had no clients, no work, and nothing to do.
“So, life’s that bad for you too, eh?” said Blake unexpectedly to the fly on the wall. “Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no money that can be earned, no way to make tomorrow’s car payment, no way to tell the wife that this isn’t going to go on forever, no way to be able to say to the kids they can have the things they’re always begging for, since there’s no money …” His voice trailed off.
Suddenly he looked sharply up at the fly. “But who am I to complain? You’ve probably got 10,000 kids. I’ve only got two.” He paused. “Pardon my insult,” he added. “You’ve probably got 10,000 maggots. I didn’t mean to insult you by calling them kids.”
“Talking to yourself again Blake?” came a sudden female voice from his telephone. Blake jumped up so fast that his chair tipped over.
“Blast it, Marilyn!” he yelled in the direction of the phone. “I wish you wouldn’t listen in to my office all the time!”
“What else is a receptionist supposed to do?” answered the phone voice, which belonged to the 61 year old receptionist stationed down the hall from his office door. “Listening to the other offices on this floor is so boring—they’re always talking about easements and custody disputes and collections. But there’s always something interesting going on in your office!”
“You mean I’m always saying something stupid to myself, since I never have any clients come in here, and never have anything to do!” cried Blake.
The phone voice sounded hurt. “I don’t think you say stupid things,” she said. “Off the wall, maybe, or insane, or ridiculous or bizarre—but never stupid!”
“Why don’t you do your job, and just answer phone calls?” yelled Blake.
“Because, just like you, I don’t have anything to do, now that Rench and Fleece law firm got their own receptionist. You and the internet geek are the only ones using me as a receptionist anymore! And it’s been five years since the internet geek had any contact with a human being!”
Which was true. The internet geek came in every morning at precisely 7:17 a.m., pounded on his unfortunate computer all day, and left at 6:02 p.m., without saying a word to anyone. If you tried to talk to him he would just grunt, look at the floor, and nervously fidget with his “I am a geek” wristband.
“Well, I don’t have contact with humans either!” said Blake grumpily. “Over and out!” He yanked out the phone cord, cutting off the conversation abruptly.
He didn’t dislike Marilyn. At least her voice came over the phone, which otherwise sat there dead as a doornail. But today he just wasn’t in the mood for commiserating chatter. In fact, he felt downright grumpy. And for good reason too.
Six months now. It was six months today from his passing of the bar exam, and setting up his law office in this building. Six months he had sat here in great expectation, waiting for his expensive ads to work, for some referrals from his few friends to come through, for new legal clients to develop somehow, for SOMETHING to happen to break up the monotony, and give him some badly needed income.
But nothing had happened. No calls. No referrals. No mail, except for bills. No clients. Nothing. Meanwhile, the bills kept mounting, and his Dad kept asking (begging actually) when Blake was going to move his family out of the tiny one bedroom condo his Dad owned and was letting them live in for free, until Blake started earning.
“Blast it!” Blake grumbled, rising from his chair and pacing to the window. “What’s a guy to do? Is there anything I haven’t tried? Is there anything I wouldn’t be willing to try?”
He stared down at the people moving along the sidewalk, four floors below. Maybe if he dropped his flower plant on one of their heads, then rushed down and offered to represent them in a case against the guy who dropped it?
Of course he knew that idea was insane—he’d obviously be suing himself! And that meant the victim wouldn’t get a dime, since all Blake had were debts, not money.
He shuffled back over to his chair and slumped down with a groan. Looking up, he suddenly found himself staring at the picture on his desk of his wife Trudy. What a trooper. She had supported him every step of the way. She kept telling him he was going to succeed, to just be patient and wait a little longer, that all would be well. She kept assuring him that his law degree was worth it, that clients would one day come pouring in, and that they would eventually have all the money they so desperately needed.
Poor girl. He had made her so used to eating noodles she was starting to develop an oriental accent.
In a sudden fit of exasperation, Blake grabbed up the newspaper on his desk and swung it wickedly at the fly. But the fly obviously had more brainpower than he did. It was long gone from its former spot on the wall before the paper even came close.
Blake looked down at the paper in his hand. In sheer depression he kept reading one of the headlines on the page over and over without comprehending it. “Last Day to File for Governor Race … Last Day to File for Governor Race … Last Day to File for Governor Race … Last Day to File for Governor Race …”
Something suddenly clicked in Blake’s slow mind. The governor’s race? You mean a bunch of governor’s were getting together for a marathon? Blake scanned through the article. Nope. It was the last day to file to be a contender in the upcoming governor election. That was all. Just another item of boring politics. Blake tossed the paper on his desk in disgust.
And then something clicked in his feeble mind. It was one of those inspirations that comes in a flash, as if by magic. At the time it seemed like an absolutely brilliant idea. But many times over the coming weeks when Blake thought back on this moment of inspiration, he was increasingly convinced it was instead one of those moments of supreme stupidity.
The “brilliant” idea began to form words in his mind. Surely governors were prominent people. And that meant someone who ran for governor would be prominent too, right? And a prominent person couldn’t possibly be without clients, could they? So if he put in a bid to run for governor, he might get some notice and a few clients, right?
Of course the idea was ludicrous. That fly on his wall had more chance of winning an election than he did. Furthermore, Blake knew nothing of politics or how to be governor. He also knew nothing of political campaigns, or even what it took to ‘file’ for the election. The truth was, he hated politics.
But what did any of that matter? As a contender for governor, he might actually get some clients! He had already tried everything else he could think of to get people to come through his door. He had joined all the men’s clubs he could find (all of which were so full of new attorneys looking for clients they did him no good at all). He had stapled his business card in every Laundromat bulletin board in town, and had even sprayed his name in graffiti on a freeway overpass. So why not run for governor?
Blake scanned quickly through the article. A smile spread slowly across his face as he saw how easy the process was. The application had to be filed by 5:00 p.m. today, in the office of the Secretary of State. The form was available online. There was no filing fee. There was nothing else to it!
Tossing the paper aside, Blake yanked his reluctant computer around and did a quick search for the application. He quickly printed off a copy and scribbled down the particulars of his name, address and phone number. Then he glanced up at the clock. It was only 25 minutes until 5:00! Making it to the Secretary of State’s office in the capital building on time would be quite a rush! But he knew he could do it. It was just down the street.
Blake grabbed up the form and headed for the door. On his way out, he tipped an imaginary hat to the fly on the wall. “Say hello to your new governor!” he chirped in mock formality.
If only he had known what was coming, instead of going to the capital building he would have hidden under his desk and balled like a baby for the rest of the afternoon.
Blake hummed merrily to himself as he switched lanes in heavy, rush-hour traffic on his drive home. He had done it! Rushing in to the Secretary of State’s office just 30 seconds before the deadline, he had tossed his application on the desk. The harried clerk who took the applications had just looked up at him with bleary eyes and said, “You, too?”
Not that she knew him. She was just referring to the other last minute filers in the room, who Blake had not noticed until that moment. There was a hobo who had somehow managed to bring an entire shopping cart full of all his worldly goods into the office with him, a short bald man with a shirt that said ‘Bert’s Used Cars,’ and a harried housewife with three babies in tow, who was obviously looking for a way to escape her family.
Standing across from the three unlikely contenders was a news photographer. “Mind if I take your photo, sir?” he asked cheerfully.
“Sure!” said Blake happily. He’d been here 10 seconds and already he had publicity! This was fantastic!
The newsman quickly shot his photo, then got his name and address, and asked him a few quick questions. Turning to leave, Blake just smiled at the other three contenders. “Running for the Guv, eh?” he said cheerfully. “Well, I hope you all win!” Then he smiled, and departed.
Now as he drove home, for the first time in weeks he felt uplifted. Hopeful. Even happy enough to smile. Surely this would bring some clients to his door! Trudy would be so proud.
A mindless driver cut in front of Blake with only an inch to spare. Blake just smiled and waved to him, calling out the window, “Have a nice day!” He was in such a good mood, nothing could get him down. That picture the news guy had taken would come out in tomorrow’s newspaper, and was sure to work wonders!
Blake began to sing. He sang nothing in particular—just fragments of popular songs he’d heard on the radio. Blake always sang fragments when he was in a good mood, which usually created a lot of instant attention. This was largely because he was one of those people who sang loudly, and was tone deaf but didn’t know it.
Drivers and passengers of all the cars around Blake’s began hastily rolling up their windows. Blake took no notice of it. Today was too grand!
Trudy was waiting for him at the door when he arrived home. Blake was so happy, he almost thought of grabbing her up and swinging her around. But something about the look on her face made him hesitate. In fact, as he drew near her, it also made him feel a distinct knot in the pit of his stomach that felt like a twisting, broken bottle.
“Have a nice day at work?” Trudy asked in a sickly sweet, sugary voice. She had a pretty little smile on her lips that twisted up at the ends.
Blake knew that sugary voice and that twisty smile. They were the voice and smile of danger. Suddenly cautious, he said tentatively, “Uh … sure.”
She held the door open for him. He entered slowly, eyeing her suspiciously. “Is something wrong, honey?” he asked softly.
“Wrong?” said Trudy, in an unusually loud tone. “Why would anything be wrong?” Her voice had risen to the shrill level of a drunken opera singer.
“Uh, no reason,” said Blake, putting his briefcase down on the couch. “It just seems like you’re a bit … tense, or something.”
Trudy’s smile broadened, as she absently picked a flower out of a vase by the door, and crushed it mercilessly. “What makes you think I’m tense?”
Blake just shrugged in reply, the knot in his stomach growing larger.
“Did you do anything unusual today?” Trudy asked suddenly.
“Unusual?” repeated Blake. He suddenly felt unaccountably hesitant to tell about his application to run for governor. But how would she have known about it? And besides, why would that be a BAD thing?
He loosened his collar, suddenly feeling rather hot. “Like what, for example?”
“Oh, just anything unusual,” said Trudy, crushing another helpless flower. “You know … like maybe running into an old enemy … ordering meatball and caramel pizza for lunch … putting in an application to run for governor …”
Blake’s face fell. She knew! But how?
“I’ll tell you how!” screamed Trudy suddenly, who could always read Blake like he was an open book. Crossing angrily to the TV, she turned it on with a jab at the knob that nearly knocked the set over.
“… and now as part of our continuing coverage of how the governor’s race is shaping up,” said a news reporter, “we take you to Tom Stale, live from the office of the Secretary of State …”
The face of a reporter appeared on the screen. It was the same photographer that had taken Blake’s picture when he turned in his application! Blake hadn’t known he worked for the TV news!
“Well,” said Stale, with barely suppressed laughter, “there were the usual number of, shall we say, ‘interesting’ last minute filers for the governor’s race today, here at the Secretary of State’s office. I took pictures of a few …”
Instantly, across the screen flashed pictures of the hobo, car salesman and harried woman Blake had seen in the office, plus a few other characters who must have come and gone before he arrived. Among these was a ballerina, a six-year-old kid with two missing front teeth, and a butcher, waving a blood-encrusted knife. Last in the line of the pictures was Blake’s face, leering out at the TV-watching world with a big, goofy smile.
“I asked each contender a few questions, after getting their name and address,” said Stale, in a voice dripping with glee, like a hawk swooping in for the kill. “One question was ’Do you have any political experience?’ And every one of them said they didn’t! Even this guy, Blake Guv, local attorney, who also admitted he couldn’t remember the name of our present governor!” The image of Stale’s laughing face disappeared as Trudy jabbed the TV again, mercifully turning it off.
Blake smiled weakly. “Well, I just couldn’t remember the guy’s name,” he said blandly. “After all, he’s not running for re-election …”
Trudy glared at him. Then, quick as a flash, her face transformed to the same sickly sweet smile, now looking more deadly than ever. “You think I’m upset because you can’t remember the governor’s name? Is that ALL you think is bothering me?”
“Well …” responded Blake, feeling a distinct urge to dash out the door and run for his life. “Is there more?”
“Is there more?!” exploded Trudy, her face transforming back into a storm cloud. “IS THERE MORE?!!! Don’t you think some of the OTHER things the reporters have been saying might be bothering me? What you just saw was mild compared to what channel two said about you!” She was growling now, her eyes shooting sparks. “They said you were obviously a candidate for the psychiatric ward! They lumped you in with all the crackpots who file at the last minute, either to get free publicity or annoy your relatives! And I think they’re right on both counts!”
“Listen, honey,” said Blake, backing away. “I was just trying to find a way to drum up some new clients …”
“Do you know how many phone calls we’ve gotten so far?” shrieked Trudy. “Half the neighborhood! Do you know what they’ve said?”
Blake didn’t have to be told. Most of his neighbors had been saying those kinds of things about him for quite awhile. The TV news report probably only confirmed their view of his mental capacity.
“Honey, it’s not that bad!” said Blake, trying to sound cheerful. “It’ll all blow over! And maybe I’ll get some clients out of it, so we can finally move out of this tiny, one-bedroom cracker box!”
“Oh, and I’m supposed to be happy about that, am I?” Trudy shrieked. “Just ignore the fact that all the reporters in the state are calling my husband an idiot! Ignore the fact that any clients he gets from this will probably be idiots too! Send my oldest daughter to her first grade class, so she can be made fun off by her classmates, because her Dad’s a known looney!”
“Hey, now!” said Blake hotly. “They didn’t do that to her at school, did they?”
“Not yet, but they will!” replied Trudy hotly. Then in another sudden mood transformation that only Trudy could manage, she suddenly came over and put her hands on Blake’s shoulders in an unexpected display of compassion. “Honey, why did you do it? You don’t know anything about politics, and you DON’T need the type of cutthroat publicity this race will bring. It’s only a matter of time before your attorney ads start bringing in clients. We can stand it in this little place until then. Why do you always have to try and rush things?”
“I do NOT always try to rush things!” cried Blake.
“Oh?” said Trudy, raising an eyebrow. “Like the night you proposed to me, you wanted to get married the next Tuesday! And like when you tried to get the school to move Kendle up to second grade just because she did well in a math test! And like—“
“Those are bad examples,” grumbled Blake. “Look, I know this might look bad at the moment, but I promise, it’ll finally bring in the clients I’ve been waiting for! And if I happen to have found a way to get some free publicity and get clients quicker, what’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong with that?” repeated Trudy, in the obvious tone of an accusation rather than a question. “What’s wrong with that?” She repeated shrilly while heading back over to the TV and jabbing it on again. “I’ll show you what’s wrong with that! Look!!”
A reporter was interviewing a political science professor. “So, what do you think of today’s last minute candidates?” the reporter asked.
“They’re obviously not capable of being governor,” replied the professor. “They’re probably just satisfying personal ego needs, or trying to drum up publicity. Like that lawyer fellow—Guv was his name, wasn’t it?” The professor chuckled. “He probably thought running for governor was a brilliant idea, since his name would stick in people’s minds and they’d call him and give him their legal work. Which of course no good client would do, since they can see he wouldn’t need to resort to such tactics if he was a capable attorney …”
Trudy jabbed the TV again, mercifully turning it off once more. Blake opened his mouth to offer another lame excuse that he knew wouldn’t work, when the phone rang. “You can answer it!” screeched Trudy, snatching up the phone and handing it to him. “It’ll be for you, about running for governor. Another neighbor, no doubt.”
With mounting dread, Blake took the phone. “Hello?” he said tentatively.
“Blake, my man!” came the deep voice on the other end. Blake recognized it instantly as his neighbor across the street, Clive Vulcburger, who had a pest exterminating business. Clive hated his guts—ever since Blake turned down his offer to kill the roaches in his Dad’s one bedroom condo. Blake had said he’d smash them himself with his law books.
“Hello, Clive,” said Blake with a sigh. “Look, I told you before, we don’t need any bugs or pests killed over here. I’ll get rid of them myself.”
Clive guffawed so violently, it sounded like he was choking on the other end of the phone. “Get rid of them?” he chortled. “From what you did today, you’ve just invited more! Pests are always attracted by their own kind, you know.”
“Now, see here!” said Blake hotly.
“Maybe after you get elected, you can create a new agency, to protect your little, annoying friends,” said Clive gleefully. “You could fund the agency with a special ‘bug tax,’ every time someone kills a spider or steps on an ant!” Clive’s laughter was so raucous that when Blake angrily switched off the phone, he could still hear it, echoing all the way from Clive’s house across the street.
The dangerous twist had returned to the corners of Trudy’s mouth. “Let me guess,” she said with mock politeness. “That was from one of your supporting voters, offering to insure you against catching some infectious disease you might pick up by kissing strange babies.”
Before Blake could respond, his six-year-old daughter Kendle trounced into the room. She immediately gave Blake a hug, then looked up at him with big eyes and said, “You’re going to be the best governor in the whole world! Even Alice’s Dad said so!”
Blake blinked in surprise. Alice was one of Kendle’s little friends, who lived close by. “See that?” he said, looking over at Trudy accusingly. “Not everyone thinks I’m a nut because of what I did!”
Trudy’s twisty smile did not disappear. Rather than answer him, she leaned over and asked Kendle, “So what did Alice’s father say about Daddy?” she asked.
“Just that he’s got the biggest head of anyone he’s ever known!” cried Kendle, clearly oblivious to what Alice’s Dad had meant by the statement. “He also used a word to describe Daddy that I don’t know. But it sounds like it means he’s more of a winner than anyone!”
“What word was that, sweetie?” asked Trudy, with a knowing glance at Blake that made him feel hot under the collar once more.
“Let’s see if I can remember it right,” said Kendle, screwing up her face with the effort. “I was going to ask Daddy what it meant. Oh, now I remember!” She looked up at Blake with her big, blue eyes, and said simply, “Daddy—what’s a moron?”
Things did not improve as the night wore on. After a series of highly questionable phone calls from “friends” and neighbors, Blake angrily took the phone off the hook. However, people coming to the door were not as easily dealt with. They came in a constant stream all evening long, and since Trudy’s anger had turned to the stony silence and refusal to budge out of her seat that Blake knew only too well, he was left to talk to each unsolicited visitor himself.
A neighbor from down the street—a psychiatrist—came to congratulate Blake, and to leave one of his business cards in case he wanted to make an appointment. Joe Blaggard, the local garbage truck driver who lived two doors down, said he would keep his eye out for any discarded signs previously used by election losers, that Blake could remake and use in his campaign. And old Mrs. Hump from the next block brought over a box full of campaign pins for him to use. They were from the presidential election of 1956, and all of them said “I like Ike.” She had creatively taped a “Bl” in front of “Ike” on each pin, but had obviously overlooked the “a” in Blake’s name. No amount of explaining could convince her that his name was “Blake,” rather than “Blike.”
And then, just to spite him, Trudy turned on the 10:00 o’clock news right before it was time to go to bed. After the usual opening stories of typical reports on murders, robberies and bloodshed, the news turned to the governor’s race, and the “interesting characters”—as the reporter called them—who had filed to run for governor that day. Blake put his hands over his ears, trying to drown out the report, but Trudy just turned up the volume.
“…Thank you Bob, for that interesting report on the ballerina who was among those entering the race for governor today. And I agree, her recent rash of bunions on her feet makes her future career as a ballerina very questionable, although I’m still not clear why she thinks it’s the perfect qualification to become governor.”
“And now, we turn to John Casey our reporter in the field, who will tell us what he’s learned about another of today’s aspirant’s to the governor’s chair. This is the young, unknown attorney, Blake Guv, who was the last to file today, turning in his application a mere 30 seconds before the deadline.”
Blake’s heart froze in terror at the mention of his name. The corners of Trudy’s mouth started to twitch spasmodically, and her eyes took on that glowering look one gets in anticipation of seeing a monster eat an innocent victim in a horror movie.
The scene on the TV switched to show a smiling reporter, who obviously had been the lucky one to draw Blake’s name to report about. Blake’s heart leaped into his throat as he noticed the reporter was standing in front of “Mrs. Flootie’s Cuties,” the old pre-school which Blake had attended when he was only four!
“Blake Guv has a very interesting past,” began the reporter in a husky voice that showed he had either done a lot of laughing that day, or was contracting laryngitis. “He first showed his tendency for leadership here at this local pre-school. Apparently, he gave parts of his lunch to his fellow pre-schoolers in exchange for their designating him ‘King of the Playground.’ They then let him stand on top of the Humpty Dumpty wall where he could pretend to rule them all while they ignored him completely as they played.”
Trudy looked over at him with large, accusing eyes. That was one she’d never heard before!
“In high school,” continued the reporter, “Blake was twice elected to the unofficial position of class Geek, in an informal high school newspaper poll that the principal tried without success to stop. And in law school, his fellow students said Blake was popular in every class he attended, since everyone knew that with him as the low scoring ‘anchorman’ in the class, they were one person better off in the bell-curve grading system.”
Blake catapulted from his chair, reaching to turn off the TV. Trudy let him do it, then after he had returned to his seat she promptly turned it on again with the remote control.
The picture on the screen was now split, showing both the lead reporter in the studio and the reporter who had been telling about Blake in front of “ Mrs. Flootie’s Cuties.” Both of them looked like they were struggling to keep serious looks on their faces. “Did I hear you correctly?” asked the lead reporter. “Did you say that Blake Guv has been in solo practice as an attorney for six months, but hasn’t had a single client?”
“That is correct,” said the reporter, still standing in front of “Mrs. Flootie’s Cuties” pre-school. “Rench and Fleece law firm, who also occupy a suite of offices in his building, report that he comes in twice a week to beg for clients, or a job.”
“That’s a lie!” cried Blake vehemently in his living room. “I never go in there more than once a week!” The curves at the ends of Trudy’s mouth twitched dangerously, but she didn’t say anything.
“Thank you, John, for that very interesting report on Blake Guv,” said the lead reporter, as the image of the field reporter disappeared just as he started to laugh hysterically. “And now for the most unusual twist in our story of the governor’s race. It has just been announced that an anonymous donor has created a trust fund to be used as the campaign fund for one of today’s last minute filers! Five million dollars has already been placed in the fund! A random drawing will be held tomorrow, in which the lucky recipient will be chosen. It is presumed that with this fund, they will be able to contend on an equal footing with the traditional republican and democrat nominees for the governor’s seat! Who will get the money? The ballerina? The hobo? The six-year-old? Or Blake Guv, failed attorney?”
“Five million dollars!” cried Blake in shock, ignoring the jibe about his being a ‘failed’ attorney. “Wow!” His eyes were bulging bigger than dinner plates.
The lead reporter was turning to the weatherman. “I wonder who would waste—er, I mean give—such a large amount of money to a pointless cause like that?”
The weatherman was unsuccessful at controlling the smirk on his face. Then in the usual banter of all weathermen intended to liven up their dull subject he said, “He’d have spent it better if he’d just piled his money up on the south side of town where there’s going to be a lightning storm tonight. One strike by lightning, and it would make an impressive bonfire—”
Blake jabbed the TV, turning it off. The dollar signs had disappeared from his eyes at this newest insult. Besides, with his luck, he knew there was no way he would win the five million dollars.
This time, Trudy didn’t turn the TV back on. She knew there’d be no more reports of Blake’s governor filing, so the need to have it on to irritate him was past.
“The gall of those reporters!” cried Blake. “Making fun of me like that! How dare they! I have a mind to sue them for libel!”
“Congratulations!” cried Trudy, standing up abruptly. “You’ll finally have your first client and first case—a loser client and a case that will certainly flop. And after you pay yourself I’m sure we’ll be fabulously wealthy!” She trounced off to bed without another word, slamming the bedroom door behind her. Blake distinctly heard the lock on the door click into place.
He sighed, then stood up and headed for the closet to get a blanket. It looked like it would be another night on the sofa. And that meant another night with little sleep, since the springs that crept out of it at odd angles made it distinctly uncomfortable to sleep on …
Breakfast was conducted with such stony silence the next morning, it felt like the waiting room of the IRS. “Look, honey,” said Blake at one point, trying to soften things up, “I’m sure everything will quickly blow over. You know how short-lived most news stories are!”
She didn’t answer, but merely turned and flipping on the tiny TV she kept on the kitchen counter. It showed a laughing morning show host with several guests. There were three larger than life pictures behind them—Blake, the ballerina and the six year old with two missing front teeth. It was obvious they were speculating on who of the three would make the best governor. One of the guests was laughing so hard he started to gag.
Blake quickly switched off the set before the paramedics arrived to revive the guest. “I’m sure it’ll all blow over by tomorrow morning,” he said in a weak voice that wouldn’t even convince himself. She answered by slapping a burnt piece of toast on his plate with the jelly side down.
After that, there was nothing to do but go to the office. As he walked from the parking lot to his office building, he could sense every eye of every person on the street staring at him. Where yesterday his face had attracted no attention from anyone, today he was an instant celebrity!
But his celebrity status was not of the positive kind. A few of the onlookers pointed, while others started to giggle. One street bum—who obviously hadn’t had a bath in months since no one dared get near him—yelled out that he intended to vote for Blake, so he could “clean up the government.” It was obvious he had no idea what ‘cleaning up’ even meant.
Blake was grateful to finally duck into the lobby of his building and dash into the elevator. When he reached his floor he was grateful to see that Marilyn wasn’t at her desk to offer any comments about his run for governor (which was not surprising, since she usually spent half her time at the coffee machine). Blake quickly went into his office and closed the door.
But once he was there, he found that he had no more to do than any other morning in the last six months. He still had no clients, and no amount of staring at the phone would make it ring and give him one. In spite of all the publicity he was getting, no one seemed to want to hire him to represent them. It looked like joining the governor’s race to gain clients hadn’t worked very well after all.
Slowly the clock rolled around to 10:00 a.m. It was the appointed hour for the five million dollars in campaign funds to be given to one of the last minute contenders for governor. With a mounting sense of dread, Blake turned on the tiny, ancient TV he kept in his office, which had a screen that was perpetually so snowy it looked like there was an unending blizzard on every show that came on. Blake usually turned it on only to watch soap operas in fits of total boredom.
Naturally, Blake knew he could have gone in person to the drawing. Indeed, barely identified among the other snowy objects on his tiny TV, he could see the ballerina, mom with three kids, hobo, butcher, six-year-old, and used car salesman who had also entered the governor’s race at the last moment, just like him. Each was supremely hopeful of receiving the five million dollars, although what they actually planned to do with the money probably had little to do with politics.
Blake grumbled under his breath, after taking a bite of a donut he was eating. “Look at the greedy vultures,” he mumbled, gazing accusingly at the other contenders. “They had to be there in person, just to accept the loot if they got it! You wouldn’t catch ME doing that, or sitting around watching like a hawk to see if I got it!” He stared harder at the screen, then adjusted the dials to try and get a better picture.
“I’ll bet you want to get that money as much as they do!” came a sudden voice out of Blake’s phone, causing him to jump and nearly tip out of his chair.
“Blast it, Marilyn!” cried Blake. “You’re not paid to eavesdrop on me, you know!”
She giggled. “Actually I am!” she chortled. “Mr. Black, the building owner, found out that I can hear you when you talk to yourself, and wanted me to listen to see if you said anything about paying your office rent. You’re two months behind, you know.”
Blake ran his hand through his hair. “He’ll get paid,” Blake said grumpily. “If I can ever talk my Dad into giving me another loan.”
“Well, how about this five million dollars?” asked the receptionist. “If you get it, you can pay the rent easily. Your office will be your campaign headquarters, which is a legitimate campaign expense!”
"I won't get it," said Blake firmly, almost as much to convince himself as her. The truth was, the springs sticking out of the couch hadn't been the only reason he'd lain awake for much of the previous night. The existence of the five million dollars had come as a horrible shock. What if he actually got it? With all the public scrutiny of how he would use it, there was no way he could do anything other than waste it running for the governorship --and he hated politics! As he saw it, politics was just a stream of senseless wrangling about silly fluff by people who liked to hear themselves talk. THAT's why he hadn't known the name of the current governor. He didn't want to know! He didn't want to get trapped into a political race he'd had no interest in to begin with, other than to get clients which hadn't materialized anyway.
The sound of the TV cut off his dark thoughts. “Well folks, here we are,” said a snowy reporter, “to see who among our unique group of contenders will win the five million dollars in campaign money.” The reporter was standing in front of the other contenders and a crowd of curious onlookers who had come to see who would walk away with the loot. Blake could see one paunchy, sandy-haired fellow among the spectators who seemed to be jumping up and down and darting around as if he needed to go to the bathroom.
“The name of each contender has been written on a piece of paper and placed in this hat,” said the reporter, holding up a battered old felt hat that had clearly seen better days. “I will now draw out the name of the lucky winner, who will contend with Nick Banter, the democrat nominee for governor, and James Blooey, the republican nominee.” The reporter stuck his hand into the hat and rummaged around. He had obviously been instructed to take his time as much as possible, to increase the anticipation of everyone watching. He was doing a good job of it. Blake could see the other contenders straining forward, their eyes bulging, as if they had each just swallowed an onion.
Finally, with a flourish, the reporter pulled a piece of paper from the hat. He held it up and said, “The winner of the five million dollars is—” he paused briefly for further dramatic effect, then announced loudly, “—Blake Guv!”
Each of the other contenders frowned and grimaced in disgust, while there was a smattering of applause from the crowd. The reporter looked around curiously for the winner, surprised that he wasn’t there. “Mr. Guv?” he asked. “Are you here? Has anyone seen him? He needs to collect his prize!”
Everyone else looked around too, but Blake was obviously nowhere in sight. But if they had been magically transported to his office, they would have seen Blake Guv stretched out on the floor where he had fallen in a dead faint, his half eaten donut lying squashed under his left ear.
For the next fifteen minutes, Marilyn made repeated calls to Blake’s office, yelling “Blake? Where are you? What’s going on? Are you still alive?” Of course she knew he was in there. Where else would he be? He had no clients, and never went to court. She finally decided that even though she was supposed to NEVER leave her phones (except to go to the coffee machine), she had better enter his office using her master key, to see why he wasn’t responding. She was starting to think that with all the excitement over the announcement, he may have accidently fallen out the window.
She found him exactly as he’d fallen on the floor, the donut still squashed under his ear. He had a funny look of horror on his face, as if he had just swallowed a pickle soaked in prune juice. “Blake!” she said, prodding him gently with her foot. His head bobbed back and forth on the donut, squashing it flatter.
Suddenly there was a man at the door. “Is he dead?” he asked, looking at Blake lying on the floor.
“I don’t think so,” said the receptionist, giving Blake another shove with her foot, not as gently this time.
“Must’ve fainted out of excitement,” said the man. He strode over and grabbed Blake by the shoulders, then shook him roughly like a rag doll. Blake’s head bobbed up and down on the floor like a ping pong ball. Then the man slapped him across the face.
That did the trick. Blake blinked his eyes, then sat up with a start. “What happened?” he said groggily.
“You must’ve passed out,” said the man, taking a seat in one of Blake’s lumpy office chairs. “I just helped you wake up.”
Blake gingerly felt his face, which was still stinging from where he had been slapped. “By hitting me in the face?” he asked accusingly.
“Don’t bother to thank me,” said the man. He suddenly grabbed Blake’s hand and pumped it up and down in greeting. “The name’s Merv Nokshus. I’m your new campaign manager.”
“Wow!” said the receptionist, her eyes shining in admiration. “How’d you get a campaign manager so fast, Blake? You barely got the money a few minutes ago!”
“I never saw this guy before in my life!” said Blake grumpily as he stood up. He was still gingerly feeling his stinging face, wondering if the slap had left a mark. There was a bit of donut sticking out of his ear.
“ I’m not so sure of that,” said Merv confidently, shifting his fat frame to get more comfortable in the uncomfortable chair. “I’ll bet you HAVE seen me. I was on the TV, near the other contenders!”
Blake looked closer at Merv. He had to admit the guy did look somewhat familiar. Then he remembered. This was the sandy haired, paunchy dude who’d been bouncing around like he needed to go to the bathroom. How on earth had he gotten here this fast? And what was he doing here anyway?
As if he had read Blake’s mind, Merv said, “I came along with the money.” He pulled a check out of his pocket and handing it to Blake. “The donor knew whoever got it would need some professional help, so he arranged for ME! With me behind you, the election’s in the bag! Better start planning your inaugural ball.”
Blake refused to take the check, and frowned at Merv and the receptionist. “For your information,” he said as he tried to remove donut frosting from his ear, “In spite of my lack of funds, I have no intention of accepting money that can only be wasted on a pointless, loosing campaign. And I will NOT be having an inaugural ball! I am NOT running for governor! I hate politics and want nothing to do with this! I only entered the race to get clients, nothing more.”
The receptionist gasped. “You’re turning down five million dollars?”
“No!” said Blake sharply. “It’s not money I could really use anyway. I’m turning down the run to be governor. My wife Trudy was right. I don’t know anything about politics. In fact, like I said, I HATE politics! If I run I’ll just make a fool of myself. And since the money would have to be used exclusively for the campaign, it’s pointless for me to accept it.”
Merv was unphased. He pulled a variety of campaign documents out of his briefcase. “Correction,” he said without looking up. “While I’ll agree you probably can easily make a fool of yourself, you ARE running for governor. If you don’t believe me, your wife will tell you. She’ll be calling you any second.”
“Calling!” cried the receptionist, suddenly remembering her job. “I’ve got to get back to the phones!” She dashed out the door.
“Now listen hear!” said Blake hotly to Merv. “I told you I am NOT running for governor, and nothing you or my wife or anybody else says about it will make any difference. Besides, my wife doesn’t know you and furthermore doesn’t want me to run—she told me so last night! And there’s no reason she would be calling me!”
Merv just looked up at him and smiled blandly, then pointed at the phone. As if it had taken his cue, it suddenly rang.
“Hello?” said Blake tentatively into the phone.
“Is Merv there yet?” It was Trudy’s voice.
“Yes,” said Blake slowly, in surprise. “How did you know about him?”
“He called right after you won the money, while he was going to your office,” said Trudy. “Isn’t it wonderful that you got it?”
“Wonderful?!” cried Blake. “Yesterday you told me I was a fool for entering the race! And now it’s wonderful?”
“It’s like Merv explained to me,” said Trudy. “This is your chance to serve—to help the people in this state. There’s so much good you can do as governor!”
Blake’s head was spinning. Had his wife gone mad? What had happened to her desire to bite his head off, only yesterday?
“Trudy, look,” said Blake, trying to sound calm and reasonable, “you were right last night. This governor’s race is not for me. I don’t know anything about politics, and the publicity I’ll get from this will probably all be bad. I haven’t gotten a single client all morning! There’s obviously no way I can win the election against the established party nominees. And there’s no point accepting the money if I’m not going to run. And since I’m not getting any clients from all this nonsense, there’s no sense staying in the race.”
“I can see you haven’t given Merv a chance to fill you in,” said Trudy confidently. “He convinced me that an underdog like you is EXACTLY what the people in this state are looking for. A new face—new ideas—a real break from the same old party politics we always see every election. You’re a natural! Of course you can win! And I fully expect you will!”
“Are you crazy?” screeched Blake, his calmness and coolness starting to shatter. “I have about as much chance against Bantor and Blooey as a gnat picking a fight with a vulture! I don’t care what you or Merv say, I am NOT running for governor. Five million dollars is nice, but in order to take it I have to run and make a total fool of myself. And in spite of what anybody says, there’s absolutely no way I can win! I don’t know anything about politics—and what’s more, I don’t WANT TO KNOW!”
Trudy’s voice suddenly took on the firm tone Blake was all too familiar with. “Blake, you WILL run for governor, if you want to eat at THIS HOUSE any time in the next year. Or have your clothes washed. Or have me clean up your messes. You CAN win this race. And then you can do good things for the people of this state. So, you’re going to do it, UNDERSTAND?”
“No, I don’t understand!” cried Blake stupidly. “This thing has gone far enough. I’m going to withdraw from the election, no matter what you say! And THAT’S FINAL!”
Blake hung up the phone with a bang. Angrily, he looked over at Merv. “And that goes for you too!” he yelled.
Merv just smiled, then held out some papers. “You have to sign this, to release use of your photo for the ads I’m going to start creating. And here’s another one about my services and how much I’ll be paid from the two million. Oh, and don’t forget this one—it’s a request to the city to set up a political rally in Liberty Park.”
Blake just stared at Merv, then said slowly, “What on earth makes you think I will EVER sign any of those papers?”
Merv just smiled. “Your stomach,” he said simply.
The next week was one of the worst of Blake’s life. His once anonymous existence was magically transformed into a constant stream of public exposures that both amazed and embarrassed him. On the day after he got the money, Blake appeared at the Dent Your Dentures Rest Home for the Elderly (“Old people go to the polls in droves!” Merv told him happily), the Gossamer Gossiper’s Women’s Club (“Women voters will love you, because of that helpless, blank stare you’re always displaying”) and Flunkem Elementary School (“The kids will tell their parents to vote for you!”)
And then there were the billboard ads that Merv had lost no time in setting up. In one of them a smiling Blake was displayed, and through the aid of trick photography he was holding a skunk in each hand, each one holding their tails up in warning. The caption read, ‘Blake Guv for Governor: he knows how to handle other politicians!’
“Are you nuts!?” Blake had screamed at Merv the next day in his office. “Now everyone in the state legislature will hate me for portraying them as skunks!”
“But the common people will love it, and they’re the ones that elect you,” said Merv confidently. “We’re creating the image of you as the common man, a person everyone can relate to.”
“But I’m NOT a common man!” cried Blake. “I’m a lawyer, remember?”
“True,” said Merv with a grimace. “I’m trying to downplay the attorney image. We have to find ways to make you look common and average. Do you pick at scabs, bite your nails, or pull out unwanted whiskers with tweezers?”
“What does any of that have to do with anything?” cried Blake.
“Everything!” answered Merv. “Men will love it, because it will show you’re just like them. Women will love it, because it will arouse their instinct of seeing you as a helpless little boy that does stupid things they have to correct. It’s a sure winner!”
“I absolutely refuse for you to portray me picking at scabs!” cried Blake.
“No matter,” said Merv with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’ve already got a new ad worked up, based on something your wife told me. It should work pretty well.”
With a mounting feeling of dread, Blake asked, “What is it? What are you going to do?”
Merv just gave him a sly smile and said discreetly, “You’ll see.” Then in an obvious effort to change the subject, he pulled a small tube out of his pocket. It looked like lip gloss. “Here, you should use this before going to the meeting I scheduled for you this afternoon.”
“What is it?” asked Blake with a frown as he took the tube.
“It’s a special kind of lip balm that protects you from picking up germs when your lips come in contact with other people. I’m taking you to the ‘New Mother’s and their Babies’ gathering today.”
Bad as the skunk ads were, they were mild compared to the ongoing public appearances Merv was constantly lining up for Blake. He had him appear at men’s groups, women’s sewing circles, university protest groups, church bazaars, and even a meeting of the garbage handler’s convention. In every case, Merv himself did all the talking, portraying Blake as a common, average guy who understood the people’s problems. Blake was just supposed to smile, nod his head in agreement, shake hands and kiss babies.
“I don’t think I can keep this up,” said Blake after a particularly grueling meeting with the state’s arm wrestling club. Every time Blake had shaken a member’s hand, it had turned into an arm wrestle. Blake had set a new record, losing over 100 such matches in a row. Now as Merv drove him back to his office, he was rubbing his arm, trying to get some feeling back into it.
“You’re doing great,” said Merv confidently. “Just keep quiet and let me do the talking, and you’ll come out on top at every one of these meetings.”
Blake frowned. “That’s another thing,” he said hotly. “Why do YOU have to do all the talking? Isn’t it ME the people are supposed to elect?”
“True,” agreed Merv. “But your wife warned me about your tendency to say stupid things without thinking, that get you into trouble.”
“When have I ever done that?” demanded Blake angrily.
“Well, let me see …” said Merv, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Your wife mentioned when you first met her parents, you told her mother she’d used too much make-up and it made her face look like a skull. And then there’s the time you told one of your university professors a picture he had painted looked like someone threw up on a piece of canvas. And then there was—”
“Ok, ok!” said Blake. “I get the picture. But I’m going to have to say something sometime, aren’t I? I can’t get elected just by standing around kissing babies and letting you talk!”
Merv smiled at him blandly. “That is EXACTLY what I hope to accomplish!”
Before Blake could answer, he glanced up and was astounded to see his picture on a huge billboard nearby. It was obviously one of the new ads Merv had created in his ongoing effort to portray Blake as an average man. It showed a smiling Blake, and with the aid of trick photography he was pulling a hefty dose of wax out of his ear with a Q-tip. The caption read, “I’ll do everything I can, to hear you better!”
“Just what is the point of that silly ad?” demanded Blake hotly.
“Just more of the ‘common man’ approach,” said Merv with a pleased smile. “I’ve already received several positive comments on it, mostly from women who were reminded to buy Q-tips for their husbands.”
“But I don’t get that much wax in my ears!” cried Blake. “Not nearly as much as you show in that ad!”
“That reminds me,” said Merv, pulling a packet of Q-tips out of his pocket. “Your wife asked me to give you this. Maybe you’ve got more than you think.”
Blake took the packet grumblingly. “I still don’t approve of any of this. I don’t want to be governor! All I wanted was clients. I finally had two potential clients call me yesterday—but they’re both nuts! One of them thinks he’s the reincarnation of King George the Third, and wants to hire me to sue the United States to get his colonies back! The other thinks he’s a bunny rabbit turned into a man, and wants me to sue the humane society for not feeding him enough carrots!”
“Tough luck, old man,” said Merv in a voice that showed he felt no sympathy for him at all. Then he pulled another object from his pocket. It was small and sleek, and on its side it said ‘Nose Hair Trimmer.’ Since they were momentarily stopped at a traffic light, Merv held it up to Blake’s nostril. “Yep,” he said in satisfaction. “Looks like it’s just the right size.”
“Right size?” said Blake, horror starting to form in the pit of his stomach.
“It’s for my new ad,” said Merv with a proud smile. “It’ll show you using this to clear out your nose hairs. The caption will read, ‘I make sure I can smell trouble in government, before it happens!”
Blake and Trudy were at home, watching a special show on TV about the election. Trudy was smiling, Blake was frowning, and the kids were screaming in delight and pointing at the screen every time a picture of ‘Daddy’ came up. Since both of his kids were under 7, they were completely oblivious to what was really going on. Which was just as well, Blake thought with some relief.
“Do we have to watch this silly show?” asked Blake, clearly annoyed. He had been forced to do election stuff every day all week, looking forward to when he could get home and be away from it for awhile. Of course, even his home wasn’t a total escape. He still had to put up with the taunts from Clive Vulcburger across the street every time he got out of the car. Just this afternoon he’d called over to ask if Blake wanted an extermination job on any bugs in his nose hairs. Blake had ignored him, and sprinted to his front door. His sprinting speed was definitely improving.
Blake reached for the remote, to change the channel.
“Forget it, buster!” said Trudy firmly, snatching up the remote and holding it out of his reach. “They promised to release the first opinion poll on this show, about how the three contenders are doing. Merv thinks you’ll be over 20%, and rising. We’ll see as soon as the commercial break is over.”
“Over 20%!” cried Blake in disbelief. “Merv must be nuts if he thinks I’m doing that well!” Blake frowned. That blasted Merv! The creep had practically taken over his life. Trudy seemed to believe every word the fat guy said, while completely ignoring her own husband. And worst of all, she actually still believed Blake could become governor.
Blake knew otherwise, of course. He saw his chances as less than that of a roach trying to race across the floor of a tap dancing school. After all, what good would even an impossible 20% opinion rating do? He obviously couldn't win with a margin like that!
Of course, he had to admit the trust fund money had paid his office rent as his campaign headquarters, and the election had at least given him something to do besides talk to flies on his wall while Marilyn listened. Unfortunately though, he still hadn’t gotten any new clients in spite of all the publicity. The whole thing was an obvious waste.
“Wasn’t that an interesting report on Nick Banter?” said Trudy. “All those yachts and cars and houses he owns! He’s not a common man at all—not like you. I’ll bet he’s completely out of touch with the people.”
“Maybe,” said Blake with a shrug. “I was thinking of voting for him though. He seems like a nice guy.”
Trudy gaped at him in horror. “You are NOT going to vote for that awful man!” she fairly screamed.
“Well, I think he’s better than James Blooey,” said Blake. “And who else is there?”
“YOU!” cried Trudy. “You’re clearly the best choice! Why would you even THINK of voting for anyone else?”
“If I vote for me, I’ll just be throwing my vote away,” said Blake. “Independent parties never win big elections like this.”
Trudy shook her head in amazement. “Honey, haven’t you caught the vision of all this yet? Don’t you want to help people? Don’t you want to serve your country? Don’t you see that you’ve got the most to offer, and the best understanding of what people are feeling and what they want and need?”
“I guess it’d be o.k. to serve,” said Blake, rubbing his chin, obviously never having even considered the idea of service before. “But it’s never going to happen. Besides, I’m clearly not the best man for the job. I don’t know anything about being governor. I have no experience. Banter on the other hand has been Lieutenant Governor for the last four years. He knows what’s going on.”
Trudy shook her head sadly. “You don’t elect people just because you think they know what’s going on!” she cried. “You elect someone who is honest and understands the people’s needs, and has the best vision of how to help them. You elect people who care, not people who just want the job to gain power, or as another feather in their cap!”
“I have no vision of how to help the people of this state,” said Blake. “I can’t even help myself! I can’t even get any clients, in spite of all the publicity!”
Trudy looked at him critically. “Are you still hung up over the clients? Don’t you understand yet that there’s more at stake here? This is a job you were MEANT to do! You clearly have something to offer!” There was pleading in her eyes.
Blake didn’t know how to respond. What did she expect of him, anyway? How could even a governor be any good at his job if he didn’t want it and didn’t know how to do it? Finally he just shrugged. Before Trudy could say anything else, the commercials ended, and the show resumed—this time with a report about him!
“And now,” said the announcer with an indulgent chuckle, “we will briefly highlight the third candidate in this election, Blake Guv. I’m afraid there isn’t nearly as much to say about him, though. He was born in Springvale in an average family. He got average to poor grades in school, didn’t distinguish himself in sports or in any other way, and was at the bottom of his law school class. He lives in a tiny one bedroom condo on the west side of town, a few miles from the state capital. He has a wife and two children, aged four and six. And last of all, he drives an average Toyota with a dent in the side, going chiefly to his simple law office every day.” The announcer laughed again. “In every respect, he ranks from poor to average. Although some of his neighbors think he DOES have an exceptional skill at annoying people!”
Blake was red in the face in embarrassment, and was surprised to see Trudy looking at him in triumph. “There!” she cried, obviously choosing to ignore the snide remark about the neighbors. “You see! That PROVES you’re the best man for the job!”
“What does?” said Blake, completely mystified.
“You’re average!” she cried. “As average as they come! And who would be better than an average man to help the average man?”
Blake just shrugged again. Sometimes there was just no arguing with her.
The announcer was talking again. "And now, folks, as we promised, here are the results of our opinion poll." An electronically generated chart magically appeared next to the announcer, showing the results of the poll. Blake sucked in his breath in surprise. This was NOT what he had expected at all! "Folks, as you can see, the democratic nominee, Nick Banter, currently has 42% of the vote. Close behind him is the republican nominee, James Blooey at 39%. But surprise, surprise, Blake Guv has 19% of the vote! Can you believe it? Must've been all those skunk and nose hair trimmer ads people love."
Trudy’s scream was so piercing it nearly knocked Blake out of his chair. “Isn’t that fantastic! It’s just like Merv said! The common man ads are paying off! If you can just pick up a few more voters from each party, you’ll make it!”
Blake just stared at the TV screen with glazed eyes. This was impossible! How could there be that many deluded people out there, that would actually be crazy enough to vote for him? Were the people in this state that stupid? He suddenly closed his eyes, trying to compose himself. "It's NOT going to happen!" he said to himself. "It's NOT going to happen. It's NOT going to happen. I've only got 19% of the vote--I'm nowhere near winning!" He opened his eyes and smiled at Trudy weakly. The only way to keep his composure was to convince himself he was going to fail and lose. That for him was the only victory.
Strangely, knowing he was sure to lose provided an odd sense of comfort. As long as he believed he was destined to fail, winning the election and becoming governor wasn’t something he had to worry about. What he DID have to worry about were all the stupid campaign things Merv was forcing him to do each day. Most of the time these days he walked around feeling like the moron all the neighbors thought he was.
The announcer had started talking again. “We also have an unexpected surprise for you tonight. Mr. Banter and Mr. Blooey have agreed to a special, televised debate this coming Saturday—and they have extended an invitation for Mr. Guv to join them! Won’t that be grand, to see all three of them together?”
Trudy screamed piercingly again, in happy excitement. “Fantastic!” she cried. “Now you can really prove what I’ve been saying. This will convince everyone you’re an average guy, and therefore the best man for the job—as long as you don’t say anything too stupid in the debate. Don’t you think so, Blake?”
There was no response. Turning, she saw that Blake had fainted, sloshing the can of soda he had been drinking all down the front of his shirt.
The three days leading up to the debate were a time of intense horror for Blake. The truth was, he had a tremendous fear of appearing on live television to millions of viewers. The sheer number of people who would be gaping at him and listening to every word he said tended to make him shake so bad he couldn’t hold an empty teacup without spilling some on himself. But naturally, both Trudy and Merv didn’t care less about his phobia, simply dismissing it as a teensy bit of stage fright.
Every morning he awoke with a feeling of dread, highlighted by Trudy’s cheerful whistling during breakfast and her daily ritual of urging him to not say anything too stupid at the debate. On his way out to his car, Clive Vulcburger was always waiting, a wicked smile on his face, and a barbed put-down on his tongue. “Hey, Blake!” he called the first morning, “gonna give Banter and Blooey nose hair trimmers at the debate and show them how to use them? I’m sure you get plenty of practice with a nose like yours!” Then he would laugh in a maniacal way until he started to gag.
Once Blake was at his office, things were no better. Merv was always there waiting for him, telling him he had half a dozen public appearances lined up. As always, Merv did all the talking (to avoid Blake saying something stupid) while Blake just stood around and smiled in a goofy way and kissed babies. He’d kissed so many of them that his lips were starting to chap. Meanwhile, he had to listen to Merv tell everyone he met how Blake was going to smash Banter and Blooey at the debate.
Before sending Blake home for dinner, Merv always spent half an hour giving Blake a pep talk and instruction session, describing in detail how to handle the upcoming debate and all the possible questions that could be raised without looking too much like a fool. His final instruction was always the same—”… and above all else, don’t say anything stupid.” It was clear that if Merv could have handled the debate himself somehow, he would have arranged to do so.
Back at home, it was more of the same. In between sharing exciting gossip about how people were supposedly saying he was going to win the election, Trudy would take over the coaching were Merv had left off. The only difference was that she would tell him not to say anything stupid every ten minutes.
Finally, the night of the debate arrived. Blake walked around like a zombie all day, hardly hearing what anyone said and narrowly avoiding half a dozen road accidents. As the night approached, he became increasingly petrified. In fact it took nearly four hours of constant effort from Merv and Trudy before they finally succeeded at bringing a shaking Blake to the TV studio. Once there, he simply sat on a chair moaning, holding his head in his hands while rocking gently back and forth. “No,” he moaned over and over. “No, I won’t do it! I refuse.”
“Buck up, there fella,” said Merv, giving Blake a friendly slug on the arm that nearly sent his skinny frame sprawling. “You’ll do fine—as long as you don’t say anything stupid.”
“That’s right,” agreed Trudy. “Just remember all the coaching Merv and I have given you—and remember to not say anything stupid.”
“No,” said Blake, still moaning and rocking. “I won’t do it. I refuse. No one can make me go out there.”
The producer of the TV show came into the room. “Is he ready yet?” he asked in disgust. “The other candidates are out there raring to go, the studio audience is in place, and the show starts in two minutes. When is he going to stop burbling like a baby?”
“Just give us another minute with him,” said Trudy. The producer shrugged, then sauntered out of the room shaking his head.
“O.k., Blake,” she said firmly. “This is it! You’d better get out there and do your duty, or don’t expect any dinner from me for the next five years! And you can iron your own shirts too, from now on! And wash your own stinky socks! And clean your own half of the house! And—”
“She’s right,” said Merv, taking Blake by the shoulders and lifting him bodily from his chair. “You’ve got to go out and do your duty! Do it for country! Do it for your children! Do it for your stomach, and for clean socks!” He gave Blake a shove toward the studio door. Blake stumbled forward, terror written all over his face, looking for all the world like a frightened bunny rabbit. He looked back at them with pleading in his eyes. All he received in return were stony stares filled with venom, that told him life would hardly be worth living if he didn’t go out there, and NOW.
As he opened the door with a trembling hand, both Merv and Trudy chirped up with one final instruction. “Remember!” they both shouted at once, in near perfect unison. “Don’t say anything stupid!”
“Well, hello folks, and welcome to our first televised debate between our state’s gubernatorial candidates. My name is John Slickface, and I’ll be the debate moderator tonight!” Slickface proudly ran his hand through his hair, and glanced in a dashing manner toward the cameras. It was obvious he had achieved his news reporter status due to his looks, irrespective of mental talent. He was chosen as the debate moderator since a poll had shown that women voters were more likely than men to watch this particular debate.
“On my right,” continued Slickface, “is Nick Banter, the democratic nominee for the office, and on my left is James Blooey, the republican nominee. And on my far right is a newcomer and special guest, Blake Guv, who is challenging both of these gentlemen while running independent of any party. As you know, he received five million dollars in campaign money from an anonymous donor—money which he has certainly made use of, in many creative ways.” Slickface chuckled. “I especially like the ad with the nose hair trimmer. I’ve heard that sales of such trimmers has tripled since that ad came out.”
There was polite applause from the audience to acknowledge Blake’s presence. He stared out at the cameras, his eyes bulging like a bullfrog’s, fear written plainly all over his white face.
His opponents however, had an entirely different appearance. Both were salivating at the prospect of finally putting this neophyte in his place—and knocking him out of the polls and out of the race forever! It was obvious they could hardly wait to start tearing into him.
“Now,” said Slickface, “to get started today, I’m going to ask some questions of each of our contenders. I’ll start with Mr. Guv. Surely you are aware of the difficult economy and unemployment situation in the country today. Please tell us, Mr. Guv, what you would do if elected to help the bad employment situation in this state. You have sixty seconds.”
Blake just stared back at him as if a brussel sprout had suddenly grown out of his ear. “Huh?” he said stupidly, making both Trudy and Merv groan from where they were watching on the sidelines.
“Let me repeat the question,” said the announcer, while both Banter and Blooey looked on with glee to see their opponent handling things so poorly. “Mr. Guv, please tell us what you would do if elected to help the bad employment situation in this state. You have sixty seconds.”
Blake just stared at the cameras and the studio audience with glazed eyes. Merv’s carefully coached response for this precise question—a vague and typical statement that he would make every endeavor to increase jobs and improve wages—had completely fled from his feeble mind. The seconds ticked by while both Blooey and Banter tried their best to not look too happy over how poorly Blake was doing.
And then suddenly he blurted. As Trudy knew only too well, Blake was an exceptional blurter. That was what the make-up/skull statement to her mother had been—a blurt without thinking. And true to form, Blake did it again.
“I’d get rid of ‘at-will’ employment, and make sure that every worker in the state could create his own employment contract.”
Merv clapped his hands over his face in horror, while Trudy’s appearance resembled the most recent typhoon to devastate the east coast. Meanwhile, it was now the announcer’s turn to look stupidly at Blake. “Pardon me, but I’m afraid I don’t quite understand your response. Would you please explain what you mean?”
“Well,” began Blake slowly, trying to find words to articulate one of the bizarre ideas he’d had bouncing around in his head for a long time, “I’ve noticed that a lot of workers these days are being fired. They can’t do anything to protect their jobs, because in this state employment is ‘at will’—meaning, an employee can be fired at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’d change that, and make it so every employee would create his own employment contract with his boss for a certain length of time, and all hirings and firings would have to be according to the contract. Then every worker in the state would have a contract to protect them, and couldn’t be fired as long as they lived up to their contract!”
“You can’t be serious!” cried Blooey in derision. “You expect common, unskilled people to form complex employment contracts? They’ll be worse off—they’ll be forced to accept whatever contract their boss wants to force down their throats!”
“I’d create a state ombudsman’s office to help employees in creating their contracts,” responded Blake, again without thinking. “The state wouldn’t create the contract, but would act as a mediator in helping the parties reach common ground in a fair way.”
“That’s what unions are for, for crying out loud!” cried Bantor. “Your plan would kill all the unions, and all the good they’ve done! What kind of nut are you?”
“I’m not talking about unionized workers,” said Blake. “They don’t need this protection anyway—their union creates their contract. Besides, they’re in a minority. Most workers in this state are not in a union. They feel powerless to protect their jobs. This would give them that power.”
Both Blooey and Banter were talking at once, completely ignoring Slickface who was vainly trying to bring calmness back to the proceedings. “You’d turn employment law in this state on its head!” cried Banter. “It’s total madness! You’d have to increase taxes just to fund the new ombudsman’s office, to help all those workers in forming their contracts!” said Blooey.
The gesticulations by Slickface were getting wilder, but were doing no good. "What about the federal self-employment tax?" said Bantor. "That's right," said Blooey. "Under your silly plan, everyone in the state will be self-employed--and then they'll suddenly have to pay an extra 7% self-employment tax under federal law! They're gonna love that!"
Blake just looked at them with glazed eyes. He knew they were probably right. He had done it. The first thing out of his mouth had been something stupid, just like Merv and Trudy had feared. He had killed their hopes. He had lost the race. He was done for.
He suddenly smiled. What a dope he’d been! Why hadn’t he seen this before? The best way to achieve what HE wanted—which was NOT to become governor—was to do exactly what he had just done! Why hadn’t he thought of this before? And why had he been so worried about this debate? It was the perfect tool to accomplish his goal. All he had to do was keep saying stupid things, and he was guaranteed to lose! Halleluiah!
Slickface had finally regained control of the floor. “Well, Mr. Guv, that was certainly an interesting and creative idea. You’ve heard the objections from your worthy opponents. Do you have any comments about their concerns? Or do you want to retract your position?”
Blake’s smile grew broader. “Nope. I’d do exactly what I said. I don’t believe their concerns are valid, after all. And as for the extra self-employment tax, I’d have the state pay it for each worker, so the individual worker would never have to pay it. Then of course, I’d urge Congress in Washington to get rid of the extra self-employment tax for independent contractors, so it would go away.”
A new round of guffaws and incredulous outbursts spewed out of Banter and Blooey.
“You’re going to have a massive increase in state taxes, just to pay a federal tax?!” cried Blooey. “Are you nuts?!”
“You think you can influence congress to do anything?” barked Banter. “You’re off your gourd!”
Blake just smiled. This debate was suddenly going his way—and he loved it!
The silence while Blake drove home with Trudy and Merv was stonier than a granite rock quarry. To Blake’s repeated questions of, “Well, how did I do?” they each just looked at him, their eyes communicating what their mouths didn’t—that they’d be thrilled if Blake could suddenly be eaten alive by a million angry maggots.
When they arrived at the house, it was like a funeral march going up the front steps and into the living room. (Uncharacteristically, Clive Vulcburger wasn’t on his front porch to yell his usual insult) They all knew what would happen once they were inside. Merv would turn on the TV, and public reaction to the debate would be displayed for all to see—and the race they had worked so hard on would be totally and officially terminated.
Once inside, Merv flipped on the TV, then flopped his heavy bulk into a nearby armchair. Trudy sat angrily on the couch, giving Blake a look of sheer venom that dared him to come anywhere near her. He discreetly retreated to the footstool at the other end of the room.
“… a most unusual debate,” the announcer was saying. “Blake Guv surprised everyone with a unique and somewhat bizarre employment idea that was soundly criticized by his two experienced opponents. But the most surprising thing about this story is not what happened on the debate floor. It’s what has been happening afterward. We’ll now show you what we mean …”
The scene on the TV shifted to a reporter on a street corner interviewing a paunchy man with frizzy red hair. “Sir, what did you think of this evening’s debate?”
“It was great!” said the man with sufficient enthusiasm to make his belly wobble up and down. “I’m definitely switching my vote from Bantor to Guv! What a great idea! Empower the employees! What a great idea!”
The scene on the TV switched to a supermarket, where a reporter was holding a microphone toward a woman holding a baby. The poor reporter had to keep moving the mike, since the baby constantly was trying to grab it and slobber on it.
“I loved what Blake Guv had to say,” said the woman. “Finally we have a candidate that isn’t rich, and really knows what it feels like to struggle with your bills every month. And what a great idea about giving regular employees a say in how to keep their jobs. I’m switching my vote to Guv.”
Half a dozen similar comments from other citizens around the state followed. Finally, the reporter in the newsroom returned to the screen. "Well, there you have it, folks. It's happening like that all over the state. Preliminary polls show Blake Guv with an incredible surge to 59% of the popular vote at present, and both of his contenders have dropped so far they'll have hangovers in the morning. And everyone, everywhere is saying the same thing about Blake Guv--what a great idea! A little bizarre maybe, but still great! He really cares about the common man!"
Trudy and Merv looked at each other in amazement, smiles beginning to stretch across their faces. Then they looked back at Blake, who sat with glazed, horror-filled eyes on the footstool. His trembling mouth could only form two words. “Oh, no!”
Trudy walked into the bedroom after answering the telephone for the hundredth time that night. “That was the mayor on the phone,” she said happily to the air, since there was no one else visible in the room. “He wanted to commend you on a tremendous debate victory tonight! He also said he’s going to switch his vote to you!”
“I thought he never voted anything but republican,” came Blake’s voice from where he was hiding under the bed. “It’s worked well for him so far—why switch now?”
Trudy ignored the comment. “Earlier you had a call from the incumbent governor. Remember him? He’s the guy whose name you couldn’t remember, who isn’t running for re-election. He said he was very impressed by the debate, and if he wasn’t so publicly committed to his party, he’d vote for you!”
“Well, at least he’s honest about being unprincipled and wishy-washy,” came the response from under the bed. “If everyone else would just mindlessly vote for their party like that, I’d be safe!”
Trudy came over to the edge of the bed and knelt on the floor. Reaching underneath she grasped something invisible and pulled firmly. In a second, Blake’s head appeared (she had him by the ears).
“Honey, haven’t you caught the vision of this election yet?” she said, looking down intensely into his pain-filled eyes. “The people of this state want YOU! They like you! They see you as a common guy who understands them, and isn’t off boating in his yacht every other weekend. They even seem to amazingly like your stupid ideas!”
“I changed my mind about the employment contract thing,” responded Blake. “I decided ‘at-will’ employment isn’t so bad after all. That way if I ever WERE elected, I could quit without breaking my contract!”
Trudy just stared at him for a moment. Then she suddenly dropped his head with a loud, hollow thump. “You’re impossible, you know that?” She stood up as the phone rang again. “If it weren’t for Merv and I, you’d be going to pieces in this election! WE’RE the ones making it happen, IN SPITE of you! And you’re not even grateful for all we’ve done for you!”
“Very true!” agreed Blake happily. “So why don’t I drop out of the race, and you too can run against each other, as write-ins.”
Trudy just smirked at him. “No way!” she said firmly. “You’re the idiot who started this whole thing, so now you’re the idiot who’s got to stick with it whether you like it or not. It was your choice to run, so Merv and I are going to make sure and FORCE you to honor that choice!”
“Thanks,” said Blake ungratefully, his head disappearing once more beneath the bed. “So if I get elected, the people will get a guy who hates politics but is controlled and forced by his wife and campaign manager. I’m sure that’s just what the public had in mind for their governor.”
There was no answer since Trudy had gone out to pick up the phone. And from the squeals of happy delight Blake could hear from her voice, the call was apparently from another high-level supporter. Blake stuck his fingers in his ears to drown out her happiness, and closed his eyes. “Why, oh why did I EVER submit that silly application to run for governor?” he moaned to himself.
In response, a spider dropped from where it had been residing under the bed, and landed on his forehead. Then it ran rapidly down his head and arm, and onto the floor.
“I hope it bites me,” said Blake gloomily. “Maybe it’ll have enough venom to send me to the hospital. THAT’LL put an end to the election!”
No such luck. The spider merely crawled up the bed skirt, but did not head back toward his home under the box springs, right above Blake’s head. His bad breath had made living there impossible, even for an insensitive spider.
Just like Blake, the spider sincerely wished the election would end, so that life could go back to normal!
James Blooey was sitting in his office on the top floor of the trade building, looking out over capital city. Blooey never grew weary of looking out of these windows. The view was spectacular. It gave him a sense of power, as if he was somehow in control of the two million people running around like ants in the streets and other office buildings far below him.
It was the same feeling of power he was hoping to achieve by becoming governor.
The phone on Blooey’s desk buzzed. He pressed a button, and said, “Yes?”
“Mr. Jamison has the report you requested,” said his secretary’s voice.
“Good!” said Blooey with a slight smile. “Bring it right in, will you?”
Blooey turned from the windows to face the interior of his office. Since he was a founding partner of the law firm ‘Blooey and Blarney,’ his office was naturally decorated to match the firm’s image—from his $10,000 solid oak desk to the plush $150 per square foot carpet that made walking across the floor feel like you were bouncing on a thick mattress. Blooey’s secretary was now bouncing her way toward him. Since his office was not small, it took her awhile to do it, too.
Blooey snatched the report out of his secretary’s hand. “Hold on, Mrs. Fletcher,” he said, stopping her from bouncing a retreat back toward her desk in the outer office. “If this report says what I think it will, there’s something I’ll need you to do.”
She waited expectantly while Blooey read quickly through the three pages of the report. A happily wicked smile spread slowly across his face, a smile that grew broader and broader with every word he read.
Finally he put the report down with a chortled laugh. “Just as I suspected!” he cried. “Our vaunted, worthless opponent, Blake Guv has a tremendous weakness! A weakness that most of his adoring supporters don’t even realize exists! And it is a weakness,” he said with a dreamy look in his eye, “that I now intend to exploit to the fullest.”
He turned to his secretary. “Mrs. Fletcher, please contact Blake Guv on the telephone and invite him to meet me here at 1:00 o’clock today. Make sure not to speak to that silly campaign manager of his—you MUST extend the invitation just to Mr. Guv himself, and no one else. Please tell him our meeting is NOT about the governor’s race—has nothing to do with it in fact. Rather, I would like to meet with him to discuss a certain ‘business proposition’ I have in mind …” The gleeful, wicked smile on Blooey’s face was growing broader. “If I can just get him alone, I can end his election bid for once and for all, here and now, TODAY!”
“Yes, sir,” said Mrs. Fletcher, bouncing her way back across the carpet towards her office. “I’ll arrange it right away.” And as she closed the door on her boss, she could hear his gleefully evil laughter behind her, making shivers run down her spine.
Blake Guv was in a state of shock. James Blooey, co-founder of the biggest, richest law firm in the city, had just invited him to his office—to talk about a business proposition! Blake was mindful, of course, that Blooey was also the Republican contender for governor who Blake was running against. But Blooey’s secretary had assured him that the meeting had nothing to do with the governor’s race at all! Finally, someone big was beginning to see that he, Blake Guv, might have something to offer other than ‘stupid’ or ‘bizarre’ ideas that the public somehow liked in spite of everything.
“Marilyn,” Blake said in a dreamy voice, passing her desk on his way to the elevator. “When Merv gets back from that meeting he’s setting up, tell him he can just wait in my office. I won’t be long.”
“Where are you going?” Marilyn asked curiously. Lately Merv had so completely run Blake’s life that seeing him go off on his own raised instant gossipy questions to her mind.
His eyes still looking dreamy (even for HIM). Blake responded simply, “To see James Blooey.” Then he disappeared in the elevator and was gone.
Marilyn stared after him in shock. Was he mad? She shook her head suddenly. She had long ago learned the answer to THAT question. Anyone that would sit all day talking to flies in his office had a bit of mental rearranging that he needed to do.
Nevertheless, in the past few weeks Marilyn had become an ardent ‘Guv for Guv’ supporter. She loved the idea of having an employment contract so she couldn’t be easily fired from her pointless job.
But even more importantly, she had recently been given a new and secret job (with a contract of course)—to spy on Blake Guv! A job that had been extended to her by none other than Blake’s own campaign manager! She quickly snatched up the phone and started to dial. “Merv?” she cried breathlessly when the voice came on the other end of the line. “You were right—they’ve made their move. He’s headed to Blooey’s office right now!”
There was a scurried “Thank you!” on the other end before the line went dead. As Marilyn put the phone down, she pulled her new spying contract out of her drawer. She scanned quickly down the paragraphs, looking for something in particular. When she found it she smiled happily.
She’d just earned a $50 bonus!
Blake traveled the short distance to Blooey’s office in a dream. What was the ‘business proposition’ that Blooey had in mind? Did it involve legal work? Would Blake finally have something to do other than talk to flies on his wall, or take orders from Merv about the election? Hope was building slowly in his heart like indigestion after Thanksgiving dinner.
Upon stepping off the elevator and into Blooey’s outer office, Blake’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Wow!” he said stupidly, staring at the elaborate, expensive surroundings in awe. “This is amazing!”
On seeing him, the secretary immediately dialed her boss in the inner office. “Mr. Blooey?” she said into her phone. “Blake Guv is here to see you.”
“Wow!” said Blake admiring the 500 gallon fish tank covering one wall. The tank was full of piranhas.
“Good!” boomed Blooey on his end of the phone. “What’s he doing?”
“Just standing here looking around, like he’s never seen an office before.”
“Wow!” said Blake, admiring the $6,000 window coverings.
“He probably hasn’t,” said Blooey. “Bring him in, will you?”
“Sure thing, Mr. Blooey,” said the secretary.
She came over to stand in front of Blake. He seemed unable to see her. “Wow!” he said, admiring the painted ceiling that resembled the one in the Sistine Chapel.
“Mr. Blooey will see you now,” she said simply. Since Blake was still too awestruck to move, she took his hand and led him to the door. Together they strode into Blooey’s office, bouncing their way across the thick, springy carpet toward his desk at the far end, next to the window with the spectacular view.
“Wow!” said Blake at everything in the office. His eyes were now so big, they looked like two pieces of soggy Cheerio cereal that have swollen to ten times their normal size.
“Mr. Guv,” said Blooey, taking Blake’s hand and pumping it up and down. “I would like to congratulate you on a well-run campaign. You’re doing a remarkable job.”
“Wow!” was all that Blake managed, staring at a $10,000 original painting on one of the walls that looked like a kindergartner had sploshed paints all over it by accident.
“Have a seat, Mr. Guv,” said Blooey, gesturing toward one of the plush armchairs that faced his desk. The minute Blake sank into it, he felt as if he were being enwrapped in pure silk and velvet. “Wow!” he said appreciatively.
“Let’s cut straight to the point,” said Blooey. “I have learned that somehow, the fine law firms in this state have overlooked your amazing talents. For some unaccountable reason that I simply cannot fathom, no one has offered you a job with a firm. This has driven you to go out on your own in solo practice, which I’m sure has been very difficult.”
“Wow!” was all Blake said, admiring Blooey’s $5,000 bookshelf full of impressive hard-bound legal volumes with strange names that no one ever bothered to read.
“Well, I am prepared to remedy that problem!” said Blooey, coming around his desk with a smile. “How would you like to work for Blooey and Blarney? I can get you set up in your own office today, one floor below this office, with an amazing view of the city just like this. You can handle a good chunk of our corporate work.”
Blake sprang out of his chair as if stung by a bee. He could hardly believe what he was hearing. At last! Someone appreciated his talents, and was offering him a REAL job in a REAL office! It was unthinkable—yet here it was, staring him in the face.
He looked at Mr. Blooey, a huge, grateful smile written all over his face. He was unable to speak, he was so happy. Blooey returned his gaze, tensely waiting for the answer he suspected was coming. Blake was just about to scream out ‘YES!’ at the top of his wimpy lungs when suddenly the doors to Mr. Blooey’s office burst open.
“STOP!” shrieked Merv in a shrill voice, sprinting in a bouncy way across the thick carpet. “Don’t do it! Don’t take that job!”
Blooey’s face fell. “What job?” he accused Merv. “How do you know what we were talking about?”
“Wasn’t there a job offer?” demanded Merv hotly, frowning at Blooey. To the uncomfortable silence that followed, Merv merely replied, “I thought so!”
Before anyone could do anything else, Merv grabbed Blake’s hand and yanked him toward the door. “Come on!” he yelled. “There’s nothing here you want!”
“There isn’t?” screeched Blake in a pitiable voice that sounded like a little boy whose ice cream has just fallen on the pavement.
“That’s right. You wouldn’t want a job working HERE, where you’d be forgotten or ignored by next week, and would probably end up working in the mail room by next month.”
“Now see here,” cried Blooey. “There’s no cause for making false accusations of that kind! If I want to hire this boy because of his creative mind, his natural talent, and his fantastic ability at practicing law, what’s that to you?”
“He doesn’t have any of those qualities,” replied Merv without hesitation. “You know as well as I do that he’s a lousy attorney. In fact, there’s only one qualification he has that means anything right now—he’s an average, dopey guy the people like, and it just so happens he’s going to be the next governor!” Then Merv slammed the door before Blooey could say anything else.
“C’mon!” cried Merv, yanking Blake toward the elevators. “Let’s get you out of here before anything else happens.”
There was pleading in Blake’s trembling eyes. “You mean, I can’t have the job?” he asked in a pitiful voice that sounded like he was on the verge of tears.
“NO!” yelled Merv. “He was just trying to get you out of his way in this election. He doesn’t believe you have any lawyerly talent at all. It wasn’t a real job! It was just a sham!”
“Who cares?” yelled Blake in a strangled voice. “At least it’s a job!”
Merv just looked at him and rolled his eyes. Then he yanked him into the elevator and jabbed at the buttons.
“How could you?” demanded Trudy for the 100th time. “Nearly accepting a job from that awful man! How could you.”
“Well, I—” began Blake.
“Didn’t you see he was just trying to get you out of the election?” demanded Trudy. “That’s so obvious, a two year old would see it!”
“Well, I—” said Blake.
“Honestly, you can’t be trusted for a minute! If Merv and I are going to get you elected, it looks like we’re going to have to babysit you every minute of every day!”
“Well, I—” offered Blake.
“I just don’t know how you could do it!” cried Trudy, throwing up her arms in dismay. “The instant you received in invitation from that awful man, you MUST have known what the purpose was! How could you have gone there thinking anything else?”
“Well, I—started Blake.
“I just don’t know what we’re going to do with you!” she cried in dismay. “It’s still three weeks ‘till the election, and somehow we’ve got to keep you from ruining everything during that time! You’re sure making it hard on us!”
“Well, I—mumbled Blake.
“We’ll just have to keep watch on you every minute! One of us will have to guard you every second. We’ll have to watch you like you were a pre-schooler!”
At that precise moment, there was a crash from the other room. Racing to the door, Trudy and Blake were dismayed to see that four-year-old Adam had pushed a lamp from the table, which now lay in broken fragments at the feet of the lamp table.
“You see?” said Trudy, gesticulating at Blake. “You’re just like him! We’re going to have to watch you every second!”
“Well, I—said Blake.
Adam just started to laugh.
Nick Banter was sitting in his private office, in his sky rise building looking out over capital city. As Lieutenant Governor he had an office in the capital building, but he tried to avoid it whenever possible. There were always too many people around, wanting things. He preferred to retire to his private sky rise office which was furnished tastefully with items worth more than most people’s houses. Fortunately for he and Blooey, there was another tall building blocking the view between their respective sky rises, so they couldn’t see each other and feel obligated to wave insincerely to each other from their plush offices.
Just like Blooey, Banter simply never tired of the spectacular view of the millions of people running around like ants in the streets far below him. Naturally he viewed them as insignificant little vermin. Nonetheless, they were the people he intended to control as governor—the people he HAD to control! However, this silly upstart Blake Guv was making it difficult to accomplish that goal.
Banter frowned. Even thinking the name “Blake Guv” made him feel like smashing things. Banter’s hand started to tremble with so much anger that the $50 wine glass he was holding started to spew its contents all over his $1,000 suit. Then in a fit of stupid rage he threw it at his bookcase, where it shattered into a thousand pieces.
Half an hour ago, his rival, James Blooey, had called to ‘chat.’ Much as the two men loathed each other, they now had a common enemy. Blooey told of his failed effort to recruit Blake to his law firm, which had been thwarted by Blake’s campaign manager, Merv Nockshus. The lousy guy had spoiled everything. Unlike Blake, Merv seemed to have some understanding of reality, which of course made him very dangerous. Too bad the creep had aligned himself with Blake rather than joining Banter’s multi-million dollar business organization. Banter could have put his obvious talent to use on something better than trying to get a loser elected governor.
A cruel smile suddenly played across Banter’s face. Well, Nick Banter could be dangerous too. And what he was planning to do now should take care of Merv for once and all.
The phone on Banter’s desk buzzed. He pressed a button, and said, “Yes?”
“Mr. Phillips has the report you requested,” said his secretary’s voice.
“Good!” said Banter with a slight smile. “Bring it right in, will you?”
Bantor’s secretary entered and bounced her way toward her boss (his carpet was as thick as Blooey’s), ignoring the broken wine glass and stain on the floor since it was something she saw fairly often. As soon as she was close enough, Banter snatched the report out of her hand. “Hold on, Mrs. Grant,” he said, stopping her from bouncing a retreat back toward her desk in the outer office. “If this report says what I think it will, there’s something I’ll need you to do.”
She waited expectantly while Banter read quickly through the report. A happy, wicked smile suddenly appeared on his face, a smile that grew broader and broader with every word he read.
He put the report down with a chortled, evil laugh. “Just as I suspected!” he cried. “Merv Nockshus is not all he has pretended to be.” He suddenly looked up at Mrs. Grant, but it was obvious he was not really seeing her. With a cruel smile he suddenly said, “Too bad he has to be destroyed.” Banter crushed the report mercilessly in his hands. Then he barked at his secretary, “Are the usual mass of reporters downstairs waiting for a statement from their future governor?”
“Yes, Mr. Banter,” she answered.
“Send one of them up, please,” he said with a wicked smile. “Just one, and it doesn’t matter who it is. It’ll only take one to bring Mr. Nockshus’ true character to light …” As Mrs. Grant retreated toward her office, Banter started to chuckle in the cruel way that always made her spine tingle in fascinated horror at what was about to happen. “By tomorrow,” muttered Banter maliciously, “Merv Nockshus will be ruined and Blake Guv will be out of the race!”
Blake was exhausted as he drove home that evening. He’d spent the whole afternoon at a campaign booth Merv had set up along the trail of a local marathon. Merv had forced him to jog alongside each runner as they came along, shaking their hands and asking for their vote. After the first hundred runners Blake’s breath had started to come in raged gasps. After the second hundred runners Blake had collapsed in a heap along the side of the trail, and several marathoners had been forced to decrease their chances of victory by carrying his comatose frame to his car.
As he pulled his Toyota into his driveway, Blake saw his neighbor, Clive Vulcburger, waiting for him. And this time Blake knew he didn’t have the strength to sprint to his door before Clive could finish his jibe.
“Hey, Blake!” yelled Clive in a voice dripping with glee at his newest snide comment, “if you haven’t picked your cabinet yet, I know some guys who can help you—as soon as they finish serving their time!” Clive’s raucous laughter rolled across the street like an unwelcome wave of cold water while Blake limped as fast as he could to the front door.
“At last!” cried Blake as he slammed the door shut. “Peace at last, after a horrible day! I can just relax in a chair, have a bite to eat, and—”
Trudy was standing in front of him, and it was obvious that she had been crying.
“Whatever it is, I didn’t mean it!” he cried in self-defense, throwing up his hands in a futile attempt to block her words.
“It wasn’t anything YOU did,” she replied in a voice so meek that Blake was taken by surprise. She turned and slumped dejectedly in a chair.
“Honey, what is it?” asked Blake, his manly sense of compassion rising above his common sense at the sight of his wife being so unhappy. Her lips started to quiver, and Blake braced himself for more crying—when the phone suddenly rang.
“Hello?” he said into the receiver.
“I can explain everything,” said the voice of Merv on the other end. “I’ll be at your house in five minutes.” There was a click on the other end of the line.
“Explain what?” said Blake, completely mystified.
“Explain?” said Trudy sharply, rising up with fire in her eyes. Her transformation from heartbreak to anger was so fast it made Blake’s head swim. He backed away in his usual defensive stance. “Was that Merv, offering to explain? Well, there’s no way he can explain his way out of this one!”
Blake stared at his wife, completely baffled. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Without a word, Trudy turned and jabbed on the TV. A news report was on—and this time it was about Merv!
“Yes, it seems almost unbelievable,” said the announcer, with barely restrained glee at being able to announce something shady to his viewers, “but it’s true. Merv Nockshus did NOT come automatically to whoever won the donated election funds as he frequently claimed. The donor of the money, who still wishes to remain anonymous, has confirmed that he never heard of Merv Nockshus until he was announced as Blake Guv’s campaign manager. He then assumed Guv had hired Merv himself.”
“No, folks, the sad truth,” said the announcer in a voice that was anything but sad, “is that Merv Nockshus was an unemployed recent college graduate with a degree in advertising who couldn’t find a job—until he palmed himself off on the unsuspecting Blake Guv as a campaign manager! Now it remains to be seen whether, in light of this revelation, Mr. Guv will keep Nockshus on his campaign staff.”
Trudy flicked off the TV while Blake stared at her, clearly appalled. “Merv tricked me?” he said stupidly, his slow mind still not quite grasping what the news report had said. “He lied to me?”
“Yes,” said Trudy, the tears welling up in her eyes again. “He lied to both of us! And we believed him!”
Blake began to pace the floor, not quite sure what to make of all this. On the one hand it was wonderful news, since it gave him the perfect excuse to get rid of Merv and his constant campaigning, thereby guaranteeing he would lose the election. But on the other hand, it was disturbing to think that everything Merv had told them was a lie.
And the most disturbing lie of all was Merv’s claim that Blake had what it took to become governor. Even though Blake resented Merv for saying it, he had to admit it had been flattering to think someone actually believed he was capable of doing something for once.
The doorbell rang. “That’ll be him,” said Blake, walking slowly to the door.
“Maybe you shouldn’t let him in,” said Trudy suddenly. “Make him stand out there in the cold.”
Blake just looked at her. “No, I don’t think I could do that,” he said finally. “He may be a worthless, no-good slimeball, but I still need to treat him with respect.”
He opened the door. To his surprise, Merv didn’t bounce his fat frame into the room talking a mile a minute as usual, but dejectedly shuffled inside, his face downcast, and his eyes staring at the floor. “It’s all true,” he said in a muffled voice. “I didn’t come with the money. I couldn’t find a job anywhere. I took advantage of you both. It’s true. You have every right to be angry with me, and give me the sack.”
“But why, Merv, why?” asked Trudy, pleading in her voice. “We trusted you. We believed you. Why did you do it?”
Merv just shrugged. “It’s hard to say,” he said slowly. “It’s just one of those ideas that comes in a flash, and you just act on it by impulse. I saw Blake’s image on the news the night he entered the race, and heard all those mean things they were saying about him and about the others who had entered at the last minute. And something rose up within me and screamed that it was all wrong—that it wasn’t fair for the press to vilify a man before he had a chance to prove himself. Blake and the other late entrants were as capable of being governor as Blooey or Bantor or anyone! Why should they be treated as less capable? Why did everyone just automatically assume they were crazy, and unfit for the job? And then the idea came—that I should become the campaign manager of the person who won the money, and convince them and the world that the news reporters were WRONG, and that they deserved to win! And at the same time I could prove that a loser like me could do something worthwhile too!”
“Well,” said Blake dryly, “I’m at least glad that you ended up with me instead of the ballerina. Even if she was the person obviously more capable of being governor.”
Trudy and Merv both turned angrily on Blake so fast, it felt like old times. “That’s not true!” they both cried in unison. Then Trudy said, “Merv may be a lier, but he told the truth when he said you’d make a good governor! He was dead right about that. And there’s still loads of people out there who believe in you, and who want to see you elected!”
“Hey, now wait a minute,” said Blake, holding up his hands. “How come suddenly I’m the one who’s being blamed, even though Merv was the one who did wrong here? Anyway, if he lied about coming with the money, what he said about me having the capacity to be governor is a lie too!”
“That’s where you’re wrong!” cried Merv. “You CAN be governor, in spite of me! I’ve always known it. That’s why I was glad you got the money instead of the ballerina or the housewife with three screaming kids—because from the moment I met you, I knew you were the best for the job. There was something about you that made me believe in you, even though you’ve tried so hard to deny it, and to hide it. You’ve got what it takes! You can do this thing! You owe it to the people of this state to become their political leader—whether you give me the sack or not! You should go on and do it without me. Because if you turn away from it now, you’ll be turning your back on your destiny!”
It sounded like the same old Merv, roaring back to life. But Blake had seen his opportunity, and wasn’t about to let it slip through his fingers. “Merv, you’re fired,” he said without any preliminary. Then he laughed in a giddy way, spreading his arms wide in a needless gesture of joy and said shrilly, “And now that I’m rid of you, I can run this campaign the way I want to! And that means that tomorrow, I’m going to go out and tell the press that I’ve changed my mind about running for governor, and—”
“You know,” said Trudy to Merv, completely ignoring Blake’s rantings, “this could be a real plus for Blake. It will show the people that he’s kind and forgiving, in letting you stay on.”
“That’s not a bad angle!” said Merv, excitement rising in his voice. He sat down on the couch, thinking hard. “Now, how’s the best way to go about it?” he mumbled. “We need to make it look like I’m a bad person, but not too horrible or people will question Blake’s sanity for retaining me.”
“Hey, didn’t you two hear me?” cried Blake. “You’re fired. F-I-R-E-D! You’re no longer my campaign manager! You’re off the job. Caput. Terminated. Done for. Gone!”
“I’ll make a full confession to the press,” said Merv, his old animated self coming back strong. “After all, we saw how effective that was for Bill Clinton! Then I’ll describe how Blake frankly forgave me, and insisted that I stay on as his campaign manager in spite my telling him he should fire me.”
Blake was starting to jump up and down in front of them like a little kid having a tantrum. “Have your ears plugged up with wax?” he cried. “I did fire you! IT’S ME, remember—the guy who’s running for governor! The guy who’s supposed to be in charge of this whole campaign!”
“The confession’s a good idea,” said Trudy, continuing to ignore Blake. “It highlights Blake’s compassionate and forgiving nature when people admit their mistakes. It shows he believes what he’s been saying, that everyone deserves a chance, even if they mess up!”
“DON’T YOU PEOPLE HEAR ME?” cried Blake at the top of his lungs. “YOU’RE FIRED, MERV!”
“Sorry, old man,” said Merv, pulling a paper from his pocket and handing it to Blake. “Read it and weep.” Then he started ranting on again about his confession and how to turn this whole episode into political advantage for Blake.
Blake opened the paper and was dumfounded to find that it was Merv’s employment contract, that both of them had signed on his first day. And the wording clearly prevented him from firing Merv, no matter what he did WITHOUT TRUDY’S CONSENT!
Blake stared at the two of them, his eyes wide, completely appalled. And then the horrible realization came to him that his own employment-contract idea was being used against him! Merv wasn’t an at-will employee, and couldn’t be fired! And that meant Blake was still just as trapped in this campaign as ever. In fact, the way they were talking, it looked like he was in even deeper now.
Throwing up his hands, he turned and headed for the front door. “I’m going over to Clive Vulcburger’s house!” he yelled. “At least over there, when I say I’ll be no good as governor, he’ll believe me!
“That’s right, folks, this is it!” said Slickface, the news announcer. “This is the final debate between the candidates for governor before next Tuesday’s general election. This will be our last chance to hear the men who are aspiring to the highest office in our state. And the question on everyone’s mind tonight is simply this: will Blake Guv be able to pull it off again and win the public’s heart as he did in the last debate? Will he keep his campaign momentum rolling—the same momentum that has propelled him to lead in the polls over his democrat and republican rivals, that stood him through the controversy over his campaign manager Merv Nockshus, and that propels him toward the highest office in the state in spite of his complete lack of political experience!”
In the back room behind the stage where the debate was to be held, Blake stood quivering against the wall. Memories of his successful prior debate had completely deserted him. Also gone were all his prior ideas about undermining the election by spewing off anything that popped into his head. All he could think of now was the prediction that four million people would be watching tonight’s debate. Four million viewers, each staring at his face. The mere thought had him shaking like a leaf.
Standing in front of Blake—and not leaving him enough room to dart past and get out the door—were Trudy and Merv. “This is it, old man!” said Merv confidently. “We’ve come the distance. Get out there and knock ‘em dead. But just remember not to say anything stupid.”
“That’s right, dear,” said Trudy. “Tonight’s YOUR night! Go out and show the people the type of man I know you are. Just remember not to say anything stupid.”
“I feel sick,” was all that Blake could say in reply.
The producer of the show came in, disgust clearly written in his eyes when he looked at Blake. “Is he still shivering like a wet gopher?” he demanded. “This debate is supposed to start in two minutes! And he’d better be out there! We’re expecting the highest ratings from this debate of any show all year, and he’d better not mess it up for my viewers!”
“Don’t worry, he’ll be right out,” said Merv reassuringly. The producer left, shaking his head in disgust.
Merv took Blake by the shoulders and spun him around to face the door. “Just don’t say anything stupid! And get going!”
“NO!” cried Blake in horror. “I won’t do it!”
“You will if you ever want to eat any of MY dinners again!” said Trudy with ice in her voice. She helped Merv shove him toward the door. And as he stumbled through it, he distinctly heard both of them cry in unison, “And remember—don’t say anything stupid!”
The instant Blake appeared on the stage, there was a spontaneous cheer from the studio audience. More than half of them stood up and clapped as he bumbled over to the podium that had been set up for him. Flanking him on either side of the stage were Banter and Blooey. Neither of them had joined in the cheering or the clapping, and were obviously annoyed that the majority of the studio audience were his supporters. Indeed, both wore frowns on their faces, and it was clear that their goal tonight would not be to say a bad word about each other. Their only goal was to destroy Blake Guv!
And well they needed to. As the press had reported for the last two weeks, votes for Blake were on the rise. His compassionate forgiving of Merv Nockshus had rebounded in his favor, giving him higher ratings than ever for his kindness. Meanwhile his independent contractor idea was still wildly popular. For awhile Blooey and Banter had tried to accommodate Blake’s ideas, to even kind of agree with his bizarre employment concept in order to win the votes of those who supported it. The effort backfired, being easily identified by the voting public as just another example of typical politician double talk and wishy-washy position shifting, just to win votes.
Perceiving their error, Banter and Blooey had then switched back to attacks on Blake from every angle they could think of. They pointed out that he had been fined by the police for writing his name in graffiti on a freeway overpass to try to get clients. They pointed out that in high school and college he had been a social outcast, hardly proving himself capable of leading his contemporaries. And they had somehow found out that he had failed to pay taxes last year, and was therefore in their words ‘an irresponsible tax dodger.’ What they didn’t mention of course was that he hadn’t paid because he hadn’t earned any income.
But none of it worked. The harder Banter and Blooey tried to vilify Blake, the more people loved him. Maybe it was because he made no defense of himself when these attacks were raised against him, including the taxes. Maybe it was because women voters felt sorry for his ear wax and nose hair problems, and thought of him as a little boy that needed help. Or maybe it was because—in spite of Merv and Trudy’s best efforts—he had let it slip to the press more than once that he might pull out of the race. He then became the innocent martyr who had been so unfairly beaten up by a cruel and unkind Banter and Blooey that many angry voters wanted to storm their houses and belt them in the nose.
Clearly, tonight was anyone’s night. It was the night for Blooey and Banter to shred Blake Guv into tiny pieces, and restore this election to the simple republican/democrat battle it was supposed to have been all along. It was the night for Merv and Trudy to be vindicated for their unflagging faith in Blake, in spite of all his efforts to submarine what they were doing for him. It was the night for the TV producer to make more money on advertising than he had made all year so far. And most of all, it was the last night for Blake Guv to find a way to ruin his chances for election, so he wouldn’t have to be governor.
“Thank you, studio audience, for that spontaneous round of applause for Mr. Guv,” said Slickface, the debate moderator. “It’s just one more sign to all you viewers out there of the unusually high esteem this man has come to hold in the eyes of the public.”
Banter and Blooey glared at the announcer for his obvious, and far from subtle way of showing that he, too, intended to vote for Blake on election day.
“And now, to start the debate tonight,” said Slickface, “I thought we would do things a little differently. I thought we would invite Mr. Banter and then Mr. Blooey to ask anything they would like of either of their opponents, and then get their response. Go ahead Mr. Banter.”
In spite of all their political experience, Banter and Blooey just stared back in shock. They had been convinced the mediator would give Blake the first shot in the debate. Now they had been given the thing they wanted most—a chance to directly attack Blake Guv from the very start! Neither of them could stifle a look of sheer, cruel glee at what was about to happen.
“Mr. Guv,” said Banter with obvious pleasure. “I could talk to you about your political views tonight, and indeed, I’m sure we’ll get to that soon. Or I could talk about your cock-eyed employment contract notions that are sure to bankrupt the state if you are elected. But the question I wanted to ask is a little different. It has to do with something rather disturbing that I have heard about you in the last few days—something that has troubled me so much it has made it hard for me to sleep nights!” Banter did indeed have bags under his eyes from not being able to sleep, but it was obvious that wasn’t because of any concern over Blake Guv. He lay awake all night trying to think of ways to get rid of him!
But the sleepless nights appear to have paid off in the form of a new accusation against Blake, one that was intended to turn the public against him. Everyone in the audience leaned forward expectantly, wondering just what dirt Banter had dug up on Blake now!
“It has sadly come to my attention,” Banter continued in a voice that wasn’t sad at all, “that many nights every week—most nights recently—yells and screams are heard by your neighbors coming from your house, as you and your wife ‘discuss’ things.” With an effort, Banter tried with everything in him to sound compassionate, as if he really cared about Blake. The unaccustomed exertion made him sweat profusely. “Are you having a few marital problems, my friend?” he asked pleasantly.
In the back room, Trudy turned white in shock and anger. Merv slapped his hand over his face, then had to grab Trudy to keep her from charging onto the stage to physically attack Banter. Meanwhile, Blake just stared back at him, appalled.
But the political pundits caught the insidious drift of the question instantly. It was near genius! The highest proportion of Blake’s popularity was based on his appeal to women! If he could be portrayed as a wife abuser, his popularity would drop like a rock. And even the suggestion that fights between Blake and his wife were going on was enough by itself to make some viewers start to wonder about him. It was a perfectly timed attack on Blake’s character. If he denied it, he would be playing the part of the typical, denying husband, thereby alienating many women voters. If he admitted it, he would ruin himself. The question was perfect!
At Blake’s speechlessness, the announcer decided to step in and help out his candidate by filling the void. “A very interesting question,” he said blandly. “I’m sure it’s not a typical question by any means, being rather a personal matter between Mr. Guv and his wife …”
Blake had finally found his voice. His face was redder than a beet. It was obvious he was about to blurt again and say something stupid.
“You’ve been eavesdropping around my house?!” cried Blake in disbelief.
“Well,” stammered Banter, a bit discomfited. “I haven’t personally, but reports have come to me from your neighbors that—”
“You’ve been calling up my neighbors?!” cried Blake, his face growing redder. “Trying to find out if there’s something wrong in my marriage!!”
“Well,” Banter mumbled, starting to turn red himself. Things weren’t quite turning out as they were supposed to.
For a minute it looked like Blake was going to go over and punch Banter in the nose. Then he blurted, in classic Guv fashion. “Sure, my wife and I fight!” he cried. “What couple doesn’t?! We don’t always see eye to eye. Sometimes I’m right. Usually I’m not. BUT WHAT BUSINESS IS THAT OF YOURS?”
“Well …” said Banter, trying not to smile. Blake’s admission of marital discord and fighting was all he wanted. His goal had been achieved! A wife abuser would never be elected governor.
Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t fully taken into account Blake’s amazing blurting capability.
Blake was spluttering now, spewing the poor announcer with saliva. “I can’t believe such a question!” he cried. He gesticulated with his hands, as if he were attacking invisible mosquitoes in the air. Then he blurted, “Tell me what type of vacuum cleaner your wife has!”
Banter gaped back in surprise. “My vacuum cleaner?” he guffawed. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“We’ve got an Electrolux!” shouted Blake. “Last night Trudy and I had a few words because she said it was 20 years old and it was time to get a new one, and I said something stupid about how it must have a bit more life in it. But then I vacuumed the floor, just to see how much life it had, which wasn’t much. When was the last time you vacuumed your floor, Mr. Banter?”
Banter laughed gleefully. He had done it! He had gotten Blake so angry he was speaking nonsense, letting the world see how unreasonable and stupid he was! This was perfect!
However, if Banter had glanced over at his wife sitting in the audience, he would have realized that his reasoning was a bit off.
“I don’t vacuum at my house,” he said. The frown on his wife’s face in the audience deepened.
“Oh, you let your wife do it all, eh?” said Blake.
“Well, no, we have a maid …” said Banter lamely, realizing too late he had been trapped into confessing his millionaire status, which was one of the things that made him unpopular with many voters.
“How about you, Mr. Blooey?” said Blake, turning on the republican unexpectedly. “When was the last time you vacuumed at your house?”
Blooey sensed more danger in the question than Banter had, especially when he noticed that most of the women in the audience were frowning at him. He gulped in terror as he realized why. Admission he didn’t help his wife around the house would kill any chance of women voting for him. “Well, let’s see …” he said stalling for time. Then he suddenly smiled. What was he worried about? Who would know if his answer was the truth? He could say anything and get away with it.
“I help my wife around the house all the time,” he lied happily. “I helped her just yesterday, with the dishes!” Banter glared at Blooey for pretending he actually did such things rather than have his maid do them.
Neither Banter or Blooey had yet bothered to look at their wives, both sitting in the front row. If Blooey had done so, he would have noticed with some trepidation that her eyes were starting to spark.
Unexpectedly, to everyone’s surprise, Blake turned to where Mrs. Blooey was sitting in the audience. “Is that true, Mrs. Blooey?” Cameramen wildly fought to turn their cameras around, to catch her response. Caught completely off guard, Mrs. Blooey’s sparking eyes vanished, and her lack of talent for public lying (unlike her husband) became obvious. “No,” she said simply. “Our maid does that.” Then she put her hand over her mouth in horror.
Banter smiled in half crazed relief. He was back in the race, now that Blooey’s wife had just labeled him as a vote-seeking liar to four million people.
Blake suddenly switched gears without warning. “I went to my little girl’s first grade play yesterday too,” said Blake, still red in the face. “They did the billy goats gruff, and she was a billy goat. Do you go to plays or other stuff your kids are involved in, Mr. Banter?”
“Of course,” said Bantor confidently.
“When was the last time?”
“Well,” said Bantor slowly, searching his memory. A sense of panic seized him as he tried in vain to remember. Hadn’t there been a football game recently, of his son Tom? But he’d had to miss it, because of a political rally. He was about to lie and say he went anyway, but then chanced to look at his wife. He gulped. From the way her brows were furrowed, it was clear she wouldn’t back him up if it wasn’t the honest truth. And Blake might just turn and ask her …
Fortunately for Banter, Blake turned to Blooey. “How about you, Mr. Blooey?” he asked. “When was the last time you went to one of your kid’s school things?
“Well …” said Blooey, noncommittally, looking over in angry panic at his wife. He saw that she was fanning herself to keep from fainting, the full realization of what she had done to her husband’s political career starting to sink in.
Before Blooey could answer, Blake suddenly sat down on his chair, his hands shaking. “I apologize,” he blurted. “I shouldn’t have asked you personal questions like that. You can do things in your family however you want. I just lost my head when you insinuated there’s something wrong between me and my wife and family, BECAUSE THERE’S NOT! I spout off sometimes, and I shouldn’t, and she has to put up with a lot, but usually we get along just fine. And believe me, there’s nobody in the world I’d rather be with. I’ll happily give up this whole governor thing without batting an eyelash, if that will be good for Trudy.”
From behind the stage, Trudy put her hands to her eyes in a vain attempt to stop a sudden gush of tears. “Silly, deluded man,” she mumbled. “He had to go and say something stupid … and wonderful.”
Merv just smiled. Blake’s blurts had done it again! He had it made now. There was no way he could lose.
It was midnight. Trudy bounced happily into the bedroom carrying a chocolate cake that had just been delivered to their door. “That was the ladies auxiliary,” she chirped happily, as she set the cake on the floor next to half a dozen others that had been delivered earlier. “They saw the debate and spontaneously made this chocolate cake for you!”
“You should have told them I’m allergic to chocolate,” came Blake’s voice from under the bed. “Or better yet, that I break out in hives if I even SEE chocolate.”
Trudy was humming happily. “Do you know we’ve received half a dozen calls tonight from people offering to give us their vacuum cleaners! Four Electroluxes, two Hoovers and a weird brand I never heard of before.
Blake’s head popped out from under the bed. “Did you accept any of them? That would save us quite a bit of money, you know.”
Trudy came over to the bed smiling. She knelt down, took Blake by the ears, and kissed his forehead. “Thanks for what you said in the debate, honey.”
“For admitting we fight?” yelped Blake. “It was the stupidest thing I ever said!”
“I’m glad you blurted and said something stupid,” said Trudy happily. “That made all the difference in the world—especially to me!”
Before she could say more, the phone and the doorbell rang at the same time. “That’s probably another cake at the door—but I’m sure they can wait a minute,” she said as she darted across to the phone. Picking up the receiver, she said, “Hello? Yes, he’s here. Who is calling please?”
Blake grumbled under his breath. Merv and Trudy always made sure to screen all his calls, to prevent him from telling anyone in the outside world he intended to resign from the race.
“You are! Really?” cried Trudy happily, making Blake stare at her in curiosity. “Of course you can talk to him!” She then came over and handed the phone to Blake. She was smiling so broadly, her mouth looked like a half eaten donut.
“Who is it?” asked Blake with a mounting feeling of dread. For Trudy to hand him the phone was rare, and could only mean the call was something good about the election—which was likely to make his skin crawl all the more.
“Oh, no one in particular!” chirped Trudy happily. The doorbell rang again, causing her to jump up and sprint for the door. “Oops! I forgot there was someone out there!”
Blake tentatively put the phone to his ear as she disappeared down the hall. “Hello?” he said softly, almost hoping the person on the other end wouldn’t hear him.
“Blake Guv!” boomed a man’s voice in his ear, nearly deafening him. “Congratulations on a marvelous victory in tonight’s debate! I am SO glad things are turning out as I’d hoped!”
Blake frowned. That voice sounded familiar somehow. But for some reason, he couldn’t quite place who it was …
“Who is this?” he asked sharply.
“The governor, of course!” said the booming voice. Blake’s frown deepened as his feeble mind tried to cut through his normal fog of mental confusion. “The governor?” he blurted stupidly. “But everyone tells me I’M going to be the next governor.”
“And right they are!” laughed the governor’s voice. “I’m the current governor—the fellow whose name you can’t remember, according to all the news accounts.”
“Wow!” said Blake in surprise. “It’s very nice for you to call, governor … uh … governor …” With a feeling of panic, Blake realized he STILL couldn’t remember what the man’s name was.
The governor’s laughter only intensified. “Don’t worry about my name,” he said cheerfully. “It’s not important, since YOUR name is the one for people to remember now. Which is just the way I and the anonymous donor of your campaign funds wanted it!”
“Anonymous donor?” said Blake stupidly, spraying his unfortunate phone with saliva. “You know who the crazy person was who made this whole mistake happen?”
“Sure do,” replied the governor, completely unruffled by Blake having called the donor crazy. Then his voice took on a more serious tone. “When I saw the contenders in this year’s race, I figured that even a ballerina would be a better choice for the people of this state. So naturally I had to do something. And since campaigns cost money—”
“It was YOU!!” blurted Blake in sudden, horrifying realization. “YOU are the anonymous donor! YOU are the one that made my life miserable! YOU are the one to blame for this whole, insane, idiotic mess!”
“Now, now, I never admitted it was me,” said the governor, laughing happily again. Apparently he lacked the capacity to be insulted by what Blake had said—showing that he was a true politician indeed. “At any rate, I just wanted to congratulate you, and to say that I look forward to meeting you on inauguration day!”
By now Blake was spluttering so badly that nothing he was trying to say made any sense. The governor’s laughter intensified, while he chortled, “Good-bye, and see you later—GOVERNOR!!” Then the phone went dead.
Blake was still spluttering as Trudy brought in a new cake. It had raw potato peelings squished in with a mixture of chocolate and strawberry frosting. “This is from the Vegetarian’s League!” she said cheerfully, plopping the cake down on the floor next to the others. Then she beamed down at him. “So, what did the governor have to say? Isn’t it fantastic that HE was the anonymous donor that made all this possible?!”
Blake’s spluttering intensified, as he sprayed the nearby cakes with more saliva. Trudy took no notice of it. “Did you know you that after what you said on the air tonight, you are now loved by every woman voter in the state? Your poll rating has soared to over 79%!”
Blake’s head quickly disappeared back under the bed. Finding his voice at last, he grumbled emphatically, “I’m going to officially withdraw from the race first thing tomorrow morning. It’s time to put a stop to this nonsense.”
Trudy just smiled happily. “Merv predicted you’d say that. He’s got a plan to stop you, too.”
“Nothing’s going to stop me!” said Blake firmly. “You’d have to handcuff me to the bed to do it.”
Trudy’s smile broadened in sudden understanding. “So THAT’S why Merv said he had to go get something from a policeman friend of his!”
It was the evening of election day. A crowd of happy, chanting supporters holding banners surrounded Blake’s little condo. News trucks with cameras on their roofs were there too. A throng of curious onlookers stood behind the trucks, held back by a cordon of police. Thousands were waiting in expectation for a glimpse of their new governor.
Inside Blake’s tiny condo, Merv and Trudy had been gleefully watching the election returns as they were reported on TV. So far it had been a landslide. The votes for Banter and Blooey were so embarrassingly low, they clearly wouldn’t be showing their faces in public for quite some time. And although not all of the returns were in yet, there was no longer any doubt in anyone’s mind who the next governor of the state would be.
Noticeably absent from the living room was Blake Guv. To find him, one would have to go into the bedroom where a ring of cakes, cookies, goodies and other delectable edibles surrounded the floor around the bed. But not one of them had a bite taken out of them. And Blake himself was still not visible—except for one of his ankles which was attached to the bedpost by a shiny, new set of handcuffs.
The people had spoken. The contract between them and their new governor had been consummated—a contract that could not be broken. Blake finally had the client he wanted—in the form of all the people of his state.
All threats by Blake to turn his acceptance speech into a resignation speech had been dealt with. Trudy simply promised to never prepare food or wash his stinky clothes for him again as long as he lived if he did so.
He was trapped. Hooked. Sunk. Done for.
There was only one hope left. A hand suddenly darted out from under the bed, and snagged a handful of cookies. “Maybe if I eat all of this stuff I’ll get sick, and won’t be able to go out and speak at all,” mumbled Blake to the spider who was still grumpily residing on the side of the box springs, waiting for Blake to leave his home.
“Are you talking to a fly in the room?” came a sudden voice from the bedroom telephone. It was Marilyn’s voice, Blake’s office receptionist! Blake was so startled he tried to rise up off the floor, stupidly forgetting he was still under the bed. He soundly smacked his head against the box springs with a hollow sound.
“Blast it, Marilyn!” he called out. “Why on earth are you listening on my bedroom telephone?”
“Merv arranged the connection,” replied Marilyn. “And I’m just starting work at my new job.”
“Starting work?” said Blake stupidly. “New job? I don’t get it.”
“Haven’t you heard?” asked Marilyn gleefully. “I’m going to be the secretary for the new state governor! The flies and I will be listening to everything you say in your new office on Capitol Hill!”
Blake just groaned, then stuffed his mouth full of cookies.
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OTHER BOOKS BY DUANE L. OSTLER:
Shortly before Christmas the tiny town of Afton is shocked when everyone is sued by a man claiming to be Santa Claus. His lawsuit is for wrongfully ‘firing’ him from his delivery job, since he can only come to people who believe. With less than two weeks until Christmas, will Santa’s lawsuit convince them to change their minds?
Miss Lydia Fairbanks is the newest teacher at Inner City Junior High School, the deadliest school in the state. While the school principal believes she won’t last a day, Miss Fairbanks quickly surprises everyone by not only surviving in the midst of her killer students, but actually thriving in the classroom. But even someone as weak and small as Miss Fairbanks can harbor secrets from the past …
On a dark night in a lonely park in LA, crazy old Pete saves a teenager named Kelly from a suicidal encounter with a street gang. While Kelly initially resists Pete’s kindness, he is gradually drawn into the life and service of his unusual mentor—a lifestyle of total concentration on others, and forgetting of himself. But even Crazy Pete has secrets, and one day, with a shock, the boy learns the terrible history of Pete’s past that turned him into the saint he has become.
Kate’s journal begins with a very simple entry. “I like pizza and ice cream and going on dates and watching funny movies. I like to swim and text on my phone and go skiing in the winter. Oh, and there’s one more thing you should know about me. I just killed my baby.” Join Kate as she struggles with the aftermath of having an abortion, and the nightmare she never dreamed would follow.
Blake Drywater has a new wizard science teacher, who promptly turns Blake’s class into roaches and earthworms. But Blake soon learns there is more than science going on in his classroom. An evil wizard is seeking a powerful potion his teacher has made. And when Blake is given the potion soon thereafter, he finds himself facing problems far harder than any science exam! Book 1 of ‘The Stewards of Light’ series.
Blake Drywater and his fellow unfortunate students at Millard Fillmore Middle School once more find themselves facing an unexpected creature in one of their classes. Because of a sudden ‘neck disorder’ suffered by their math teacher, Blake and his classmates receive a chilling substitute. His name is Mr. Coagulate, who has a strange fascination with blood and dreams. Book 2 of ‘The Stewards of Light’ series.
Flo and Mo are not ordinary babies. Although they are only fourteen months old, they can use a computer, trick any mindless adult they want, and help their goofy detective father solve baffling crimes. Then a mysterious girl comes to their father, claiming that her grandmother has disappeared. Will the babies’ superior brains be able to solve the mystery and save their bumbling parents?
Inventor Uncle Ned has discovered that clouds are alive and can be transformed into common objects. He gives his nephew Talmage a cloud turned into a pen, with the assignment to see what it says and does. However, Talmage soon learns that THIS cloud is nothing but trouble since it insults everyone they meet! And since no one believes pens can talk, they think Talmage is the one saying the insults!
This book explains how the Ninth Amendment is the key to understanding rights in the United States. The founders created the Ninth Amendment to protect unlisted natural law rights as they were understood in their day. This amendment was never intended to allow future generations to create new rights. Rather, it was to safeguard the morality and natural rights of the founding generation.
Judicial activism in the U.S. occurs when a few Supreme Court judges decide public policy issues, which normally deal with rights. However, it would be better for the people to decide such issues through their elected representatives. This book proposes a way to remove judicial activism, by returning to an original view of the founding fathers that preferred legislative oversight of rights issues.
American society is obsessed with sex. This obsession has led to extreme results that would be considered appalling by prior generations, such as: rampant premarital sex which increases AIDS while decreasing trust and commitment between partners; gays/lesbians elevating sex to such an extreme it has become their god; and abortions in which innocent unborns are yanked out piece by piece.
A false world is like an apple full of worms. It appears juicy and attractive on the outside, but is in fact disgusting on the inside. This book discusses a number of false worlds masquerading as truth but which are in fact false to their core. Included are the false worlds of politics, international relations, law, sexual confusion (premarital sex, abortion and gayness), entertainment and pride.
Stupidity. What is it? Is it just something we see our neighbors and members of the opposite political party do? Or is it something more? Why does it seem to be so universal? Are there fundamentals of stupidity that can be recognized? These are the questions discussed in this book. It presents six fundamentals of stupidity that lead to the stupid choices that we see all around us. Included among these are the belief that there are no moral values, that God does not exist, and that it is acceptable to become addicted and to treat others badly and be proud. In the end we see that the only sure way to avoid the fundamentals of stupidity is through the saving power of Jesus Christ.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Duane L. Ostler was raised in Southern Idaho, where the wind never stops. He has lived in Australia, Mexico, Brazil, China, the big Island of Hawaii, and—most foreign of all—New Jersey. He has driven an ice cream truck, sold auto parts, been a tax collector, and struggled to find clients as a solo practitioner attorney. He has also obtained a PhD in legal history. He and his wife have five children and two cats.
Blake Guv is a starving young attorney fresh out of law school, desperately trying to get new clients. As a last hopeless gamble to obtain some publicity and a few clients, he foolishly enters the race for Governor of his state as an independent candidate. But then a series of unexpected events shove him to the front of the race, and Blake is forced to start taking the campaign seriously. However, that is the last thing in the world Blake wants--since he hates politics with a passion!