The Alphabet Challenge: “C” Story No. 1 of 3 — “Candidate”

This is the third round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For these submissions, it’s the letter “C”.

Readers have until the publication of the next story (about two weeks) to vote for their favorite story in each round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on the voting rank.

For each letter, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.

Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.

Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “C” as submitted by its author.

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Candidate

Copyright 2020 — (Perry Broxson)

(2,945 words – approx. reading time: about 11 minutes based on 265 WPM)

This is a story about a student council presidential election. Two young candidates are running for Class President of Aaron Burr Middle School, home of the Duelers – named for the man that shot his political rival, Alexander Hamilton, dead with a flintlock pistol.

The two candidates are Gooch Caruso and Loretta Fairchild.

First, Gooch: One of a dozen child psychiatrists – long since dismissed – wrote this in his file: The overbearing love of his mother has made the boy thoroughly unlovable.

It could be argued that Gooch was a victim of affluence and opulence and not a little larceny. His father, Sal “Ice Pick” Caruso was a boorish multi-millionaire. He owned a Waste Management business in Newark, New Jersey. It’s wasn’t a profitable business by any means. In reality, the business was a shell for a family mafia syndicate.

Gooch’s mother, Teresa, was a former beauty queen. In 1999, she placed third in the Miss Trenton Pageant. Years later, Gooch, an eleven-pound baby, would wreck her body and win her heart. From the moment she saw his bloody, bellowing face, she was smitten. She showered her son with kisses and gifts and trills of approbation. There was absolutely nothing she would not do for her son.

Gooch was not his Christian name. His actual name was Octavius Pericles Caruso – a name carefully crafted by his mother, a dilettante of Roman history. To Teresa’s chagrin, it was all undone the day her brother-in-law, Tommy “The Sausage” Caruso, commented on the child’s 17,000-dollar crib. “Jesus Christ, Teresa,” he exclaimed, “you’re gonna turn that kid into a Gucci.” Gucci, in the parlance of Newark cosa nostra, means flashy, lavish, and not a little douchey.

“Goochy, goochy, goo-goo,” the big uncle purred, tickling the kid’s chins with his sausage-sized finger. The entire Italian family laughed and affirmed the name. From that day forward, Octavius Pericles Caruso was known simply as Gooch.

Gooch, now a fifteen-year-old eighth-grader, was by any standard, a rotten kid. It’s not hyperbole to say that Gooch was bigger, stronger, ruder, richer, and dumber than the entire student body of Aaron Burr Middle School.

Loretta Fairchild was the antithesis of Gooch. She was kind, caring, compassionate, and cute as a button. She wore white taffeta dresses and pink ribbons in her golden locks. But Loretta’s life was not all taffeta and ribbons. She’d gone through a trying year. She’d lost her mother in a traffic accident. A drunk garbage truck driver ran a light and killed her instantly. Loretta was being raised her father, a man that always seemed to be gone, always distracted, always off doing whatever adults did.

It was her father, however, that suggested that she run for class president. Said it might “take her mind off things.” She resented his blithe comment at first, then decided he might just be right.

***

“Here’s da tang,” Gooch Caruso said to Loretta Fairchild in the school hallway, “my old man wants I should run for dis tang . . . dis President tang. Wants I should win; to show, you know, that I got leadershit skills. So’s if he gets wacked, I can take over the family biz.”

Loretta rolled the dial on her locker lock as he talked. She popped it open and retrieved two books: The Art of War and The Prince. She then pressed the Audio Record function on her smartphone and said, “So, Gooch, just what is it that you are asking me?”

“Not askin’,” Gooch said directly into the phone. “Tellin’. Tellin’ you how to run dis race . . . run it so’s you lose.”

Loretta stood on the tips of her black buckled shoes and said, “I don’t take orders from” – she pushed Stop Record on her phone. “From dummies . . . big dummies like you.” She pushed record and continued. “Are you threatening me, Mr. Caruso?”

“No way,” Gooch said, into the phone. He snatched her phone and killed it. “But it would be a shame if something happened to your stupid poodle-dog.” He tugged a pearl-cased smartphone from his jean pocket and showed a photo of Loretta’s pet, Fiona.”

She grabbed the phone and studied the photo, hoping it was fake. “That’s Fiona, my dog. Who’s that holding her . . . is that a woman wearing a Donald Trump mask?”

“That’s for me to know,” Gooch said, trading phones with her.

“Okay, now,” she said, showing her screen. “I’m not recording. Who’s got Fiona, and how do I get her back?”

Gooch pooched out his lip and crossed his eyes. “If I weren’t such a dummy, I might be able to help yas.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “Sorry about the name-calling. Out of bounds. You’re obviously not dumb. You’ve got me right where you want me. What do I have to do to get Fiona back? Drop out of the race?”

Gooch grinned, his oily face displaying inflamed crops of acne. “You’re gonna stay in da race,” he said. “You’re gonna wear your white dress and pink ribbons, and you’re gonna stand at the podium and debate me dis Friday. Capiche?”

Loretta’s face puzzled. “But I’m smarter than you, Gooch. I’ll destroy you in a debate. How does that make any sense?”

Gooch twisted the filaments of his wispy mustache. “Because I got a list of the debate questions, that’s why,” he said. He showed a short list of bulleted questions on his phone. “My cousin Neckbeard hacked the school’s server. Seems Principal Perroni uses his mommy’s name as a password. What a mook.”

“I don’t get it,” Loretta said.

He pressed his damp finger to her forehead and said, “Of course you don’t. Everybody knows girls’ brains are smallah dan boys’ brains. Me? I got great big brains – big like a dinosaur’s brains.”

She shoved his hand away. “That explains their mass extinction.”

His face soured. “The mouth on you,” he said. He brandished the back of his hand. “Somebody oughta” –

“Oughta what?” she said, flipping her phone’s video to ON.

He mugged for the camera. “Fuggetaboutit,” he said.

***

Friday came. Over the PA system, Principal Perroni announced that all students were to assemble in the gymnasium. “Attention, all Duelers, it’s voting day!”

After the typical flail, students settled onto metal bleachers. Principal Perroni stood in the center circle of the basketball court where the school’s logo was painted. It was a depiction of the two bewigged dandies, Burr and Hamilton, standing back-to-back, gripping dueling pistols. Reflective of this combative imagery, was Loretta Fairchild and Gooch Caruso – behind respective podiums.

“May I have your attention?” Perroni said. “Today is a big day for Aaron Burr Middle School – home of the Duelers! It’s Voting Daaaaay!”

There was a smattering of applause. Middle schoolers occupy that peculiar age between giggly and jaded. “Please, let’s give a warm welcome to the parents that have decorated the gym with bunting and have provided snacks.” Perroni pointed to a section in the bleachers where a mob of gaudily dressed and bejeweled people sat. “Special shout-out to Caruso Waste Management Corporation for providing ricotta cannolis and pepperoni pies. Give it up for the Caruso clan!”

The large family of large people stood and received generous applause from the starving student body. Loretta looked up at the intimidating family. There must be forty of them, she calculated. First, second, third cousins – cousins, like turtles, all the way down. At breakfast, she’d asked her father if he could attend, knowing that his work was demanding. Mr. Fairchild was vague, saying only, “I might surprise you.”

Perroni flapped his hand at the debaters that flanked him. “I’m going to ask these esteemed candidates three questions. You, Duelers, will decide who has provided the best response. You will vote with your voice. Please, feel free to whistle, whoop, clap, shout, and stamp your feet when you feel that the candidate’s answer resonates. Let not this process be lost on you, Duelers, that this is democracy at its purest. Now . . . let’s get after it!”

The two candidates crossed the gym floor and met in the middle, Gooch standing on Hamilton, Loretta standing on Burr.

“Shake hands and come out fighting,” Perroni called, rousing the crowd.

Gooch reached down and grasped the girl’s small hand in his big sweaty mitt. He bent and whispered as kids cheered. “You’ll wanna stick to this script, doll-face.” He pushed a fold of paper into her palm. He then turned and pointed to the section of bleachers where his family sat. At that moment, his mother, Teresa, pulled a poodle out from her stylish trench coat.

Loretta stood poleaxed. Her eyes teared, and her lips trembled as she muttered the name Fiona.

She watched helplessly as Gooch’s mother stroked the poodle with her long red nails.

Principal Perroni, impatient, escorted Loretta back to her podium. “First question,” he broadcasted. “Many students complain about the ‘mystery meat’ served in the lunchroom. What would you do to improve the menu? Loretta Fairchild . . . your response.”

Loretta looked at the paper, then to her pet, then back at the paper. She read stiltedly. “Children are starving in Africa. Eat ya slop and quit ya bitchin’.”

Boos and hisses rained down on her. She tried on a smile, but it was battered away by the fusillade of hate.

“Interesting take, Miss Fairchild,” Perroni said. “Mr. Caruso. Your response.”

“Yeah,” Gooch said, making out with the mic. “You see this spread here?” He pointed to the three banquet tables creaking with pizzas and cannolis. “My Uncle Saucy runs a catering joint. He threw dis together today. He can do it every day. . . for every lunch. Not a problem.”

The Duelers roared their approval. The gym shook with enthusiasm. Uncle Saucy stood and took a short bow.

“Next question,” Perroni said. “Mr. Caruso, we have a few students that identify as transgender. How would you resolve the restroom situation?”

Having practiced his stage-craft in the mirror, Gooch hesitated, hand-combed his oily hair, and scrunched his face to simulate thinking. “You know me, I don’t got no beef with my trans sistahs and brothahs. I say, if you’re not sure where you wanna do your business, do it in Principal Perroni’s john. It’s clean and private and always stocked with two-ply toilet paper. Am I right?”

The crowd erupted. They stood, they stomped, then finally, they sat.

Loretta looked at the answer that Gooch had penned. She opted for silence.

“Miss Fairchild,” Perroni prompted. “Your reply, please.”

She shook her head, hoping to skip the question.

Perroni admonished: “The agreed-upon protocols require that all questions receive replies.”

She looked at her classmates, then to her poodle, then to the paper. She repeated the motions until it became untenable. Her eyes landed on the written response. “They can . . .” she said, halting. “The trannies can piss up a rope.” The crowd growled. “And shit in their shoes,” she ended.” An avalanche of condemnation rolled over her. As it did, she closed her eyes and thought of Fiona.

“Profanity,” Perroni declared, “is impermissible. I can assure you that you are not winning votes with your vulgarity, Miss Fairchild.”

Her ivory white face turned crimson. “I’m sorry. More than you know . . . so sorry.”

“Very well,” Perroni continued, “last question. Who is your hero?”

“I’ll take that,” Gooch said, pointing to his family. “No doubt, it’s my dear muttah, Teresa Caruso. I love you, Mammina.”

The entire Caruso family rose as one, clapping their fat hands and howling their adoration. Gooch’s mother melted, too weak-kneed to stand.

“Miss Fairchild,” Perroni said. “your hero?”

“Like superhero?” she asked, stalling, not wanting to read the prescribed answer.

Perroni walked over to her, put his hand over her mic, and said confidentially: “This isn’t your best day, Loretta. I don’t know what exactly is happening, but this is your last, best chance to win some fans. Don’t blow it.”

Loretta smiled politely and looked down at the paper. “Ohhhggg,” she groaned. The words written there were: Hitler, Stalin, and Harvey Weinstein. Additionally, there was a rambling paragraph on why Springsteen and Bon Jovi, Jersey’s native sons, were sorely overrated.

She put her forehead on the podium.

“Miss Fairchild,” Perroni said, “do you wish to concede the election to Candidate Caruso?”

She lifted her head to say yes, but something caught her eye. There was movement up high, above the top tier of bleachers, in the crossbeams of the gym’s ceiling. A man, she saw. A man in a green outfit. A tactical suit. She knew this because her father dressed in this costume on odd occasions. In fact, he was wearing one that very morning. On green-suit day, he would be extra nice. Spend time with her. Make her chocolate chip pancakes, ask her about boys, her classes, and her dreams. She didn’t know much about his job – something to do with government – but she knew that at times, it could be dangerous.

“Daddy?” she said, without realizing it.

It was her father. He was standing on a riveted beam, above and behind the audience. He peeked out from behind his cover, shook his head, then pressed his gloved finger to his lips.

Principal Perroni was happy to end on a high note. “So, your hero is your father. Very well, that will conclude the debate portion,” he said. “Now, Duelers, we’ll do our civic duty and vote our collective conscious.” Perroni cupped his to his ear and called: “Let’s hear it for Mr. Gooch Caruso!”

The applause started somewhat anemic, then Gooch punched his palm and rotated his fist, indicating swift and certain retaliation. The applause picked up, peaked, then settled into a smattering of claps that emanated from his large family.

“Not bad; I’d rate it a 7 on the applause meter,” Perroni commented. “Now, let’s give it up for Miss Loretta Fairchild.”

Some of her friends clapped: Judy, Francine, and of course, Bella. But that was it. Many kids looked to one another, unsure, too frightened to smash their hands together.

Loretta was unconcerned. She had seen her father in the rafters, hadn’t she? That was the story here . . . not some stupid student election. She rubbed her blue eyes and looked again. Her father was gone.

“It’s a mandate,” Perroni declared. “Mr. Gooch Caruso is the newly elected President of Aaron Burr Middle School. Congratulations, Mr. Caruso.”

All forty members of the Caruso family chanted: “Gooch, Gooch, Gooch,” for a full two minutes. Their joy unbridled, the family filed out of their seats, bounded down the bleachers, and bled onto the gym floor, where they encircled their coronated son.

Loretta stood on her mark, on the poorly painted image of Aaron Burr, her eyes lifted, scanning the crisscrossed ironworks of the gym’s ceiling.

“Daddy,” she mouthed.

He emerged from behind a beam, as did another man in green. And another. And a dozen, two dozen, three dozen more. Her father flashed a sign. Then, in perfect synchronicity, all the green men jumped.

Loretta clapped her hands to her eyes, then quickly peeked through her fingers. They were attached to cables. The wires whirred as the green men rappelled.

There was confusion on the floor and chaos in the stands. Then her father, her hero, took the microphone from Principal Perroni.

“This is a raid on the Caruso crime family,” he said with his calm, commanding voice. “Everyone stay seated. We’ll have this garbage cleaned up in no time.”

Seventy Special Agents made short work of the arrest, marching the Caruso clan out of the back door, in cuffs, to the awaiting unmarked vans. Only Gooch remained, standing on the face of fated Hamilton.

“Honey,” Agent Fairchild said to his stunned daughter. “Were you looking for this?”

“Fiona!” she cried, snapping out of her fugue, taking the dog from her father. The poodle squirmed in her arms, licked her face, and whined with delight.

“Daddy,” she said, “I had no idea what you do . . . you just do it, every day, and never complain, and, and, and it’s dangerous. You’re a crimefighter. A hero. My hero.”

Gooch overheard the conversation. “This is a witch hunt. You feds have been hounding my family for years. It ain’t gonna stick . . . we got lawyers . . . we own judges . . . and we’ll own you, before it’s over.” Gooch poked at Agent Fairchild’s badge and snarled.

Loretta rocked her leg back, then swung it forward. Her black buckled shoe collided with Gooch’s newly-descended testicles. He dropped, doubled, grabbed his groin, then pitched over onto the gym floor, spread-eagle upon the portrait of Hamilton.

“Is it true,” Principal Perroni asked Loretta. “Did Gooch kidnap your dog and extort you?”

“Yes,” she said. “He took Fiona. Yes, he made me say those horrible, horrible things.”

Principal Perroni looked down at Gooch, who was rolling, writhing, and crying. For a full second, Loretta thought he was going to give Gooch the hard part of his heel, but the man breathed through his anger and did his job.

“Attention,” he said, addressing the student body. “Thank you for remaining in your seats, for remaining calm. What you are witnessing is yet another civic function of first world governments. This, Mighty Duelers, is justice.

“Furthermore, I’d like to announce that Mr. Gooch Caruso’s candidacy has been suspended and his victory annulled . . . for actions too reprehensible to repeat.

“I give to you, the students of Aaron Burr Middle School,” – he lifted Loretta’s hand like a prizefighter – “Miss Loretta Fairchild . . . your new class president!”

The End

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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