Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Giant Falls

This Week’s Theme: Pick a favorite fairy tale or legend. Now briefly describe how you could update it to the modern day.

It’s been staged for maximum impact. It’s all in slow motion and I hear Freddy Mercury belting out ‘We are the champions”- like a choose-your-own-adventure music clip. They stride in as the clock strikes the quarter hour, just before the majority of employees leave their work stations for lunch. I look up and see him appear at the end of the corridor, hands cuffed tightly behind him, towering half a foot over each officer that walks beside him. The two officers look comic holding onto one his arms. A plethora of other officers ring him - looking more like munkins than Special Branch officers. There’s absolutely no ambiguity in any of this though, Joseph Fenton is a criminal, but I’ve known that for years. This moment has been ten years in the making.

He glares at me as he is escorted past me. I mouth one word to him, ‘Karma’ and there’s no ambiguity in that either. He knows exactly what I mean. It’s only now that he realises, too late, exactly who I am – the son of the man he crucified as a paedophile ten years ago, and then stole his business. It’s not really karma – this is sweet, sweet revenge.

I was fifteen when they handcuffed my father at the dinner table and took him away. He never came home again. They allowed him to be beaten to death in the remand centre, before he could even stand trial, to defend himself against the charges, to address the allegations wrongly levelled at him. I know those he shared a cell with would have charged him with being a rockspider. They would have felt justified in removing his type of filth from the face of the earth. But my father was not a paedophile. He was the most gentle and generous man, a businessman with heart, integrity, vision and compassion. Had he been a share trader they would have trumped up charges of insider trading against him. His only crime was that he owned the largest chain of childcare centres and had thwarted the hostile take over bid from Joseph Fenton’s company.

The share price plummeted after Dad’s arrest. The plunge wiped out the life investments of thousands of ordinary working families. The centres were bought out by Fenton. He discharged the parent management committees and paid bean counters to increase the profit margins where possible. Dedicated and loving centre staff, who had been part of my father’s company for years, were sacked and replaced with young girls who would work for the minimum wage. They put the fees up and then lobbied the Government, along with parent groups, to increase the amount of Government. Teddy Brown Learning and Development was born when the two companies, what was left of Dad’s and Fenton’s, merged. What had been my father’s vision of creating choice and equality for mothers and families, became a vision for huge share holder profits and enviable Director’s salaries.

A year ago Louise Major turned up on my door step. I was packing to move, behind in rent again, unemployed again and about to be evicted – again. A few hours later and she may have lost all trace of me. I knew who she was, with her shock of auburn curls barely contained beneath the head scarf, looking as though she’d stepped straight out of a film co-starring Carey Grant. She was an investigative journalist with a penchant for conspiracy theories, but she wrote well enough, was thorough enough in her research that her articles rarely went unpublished. I also knew that her family had been one of those … who had lost thousands of dollars of hard earned savings, investing in the service that kept their families afloat week to week.

Major could talk under wet concrete and didn’t register the word ‘no’. Within half an hour she’d packed me and my meagre belonging into her ancient hatch back and driven us all to her favourite café for coffee – on her!

I had nothing and then she gave me something.

I still clearly see her taking the manila folder, dog eared and coffee stained from her back pack and sliding it across the table to me. She offered me a few nights on her couch, shared with her long haired, bipolar cat, while I thought about her offer. I was homeless and jobless – there was only one thing I had to loose.

I took the folder to Mum – I needed her blessing. She had taken it all harder than she allowed anyone to believe – most of all me. The mask she wore was impervious to the stares, or the snide utterances under peoples’ breath. She belonged to a generation who remembered, even though she tried desperately to forget. It always got around that she was Ben Beanscovich’s widow – and she was forced to Brown his dirty legacy. After a time she stopped changing her name and went back to the name she’d assumed for better or worse. Mrs Beanscovich only acted the martyr now. I knew she was heart broken - not by what Dad had supposedly done, but because she doubted him - still.

She took her time in reading the evidence that Major had come up with … and the proposition. An hour later she got up, filled the kettle and put it on the gas.
“This is frivolous,” she finally said, after the tea had steeped for the proper amount of time and she’d poured us both a cup. “What’s done is done. You can move your stuff back in here until you get up on your feet again.”

The next morning I retrieved the folder from her plastic step bin and went to sleep on Major’s hairy, manic depressive lounge. And I became Jack Smith, newly arrived personal assistant from New York City. I perfected the accent in two weeks, while the real Jack Smith lay two suburbs over in a coma. Major swore it wasn’t identity theft – she sweet talked me and my conscious with promises that we were merely borrowing. It was a necessary means to an end.

Major set me up with a motel room in the city. With all the necessary paperwork organised, I walked into Jack Smith’s job in Teddy Brown Development and Learning. Sooner than I expected I began the climb up the corporate ladder. I knew that it could be nothing less than Fenton’s own personal assistant for Major’s plan and my own teenage yearnings to see the light of day. I made my self indispensable to Fenton, even though I wasn’t officially assigned to him. But that was just one part of it.

We began the process of acquiring small lots of shares in the company, until our combined slush fund ran out. I suggested Jillian, Fenton’s daughter. As a chip off the old block, she’d fallen as far from the block as possible. Where Fenton was bombastic and over bearinging, Jillian had a quiet groundedness about her. I got the impression that she was just biding her time and that she could hold her own, even in the old man’s shadow. It was a risk that I was willing to make.

I invited her to dinner and I laid out the contents of Major’s folder for a second time. She could have done many things, but I didn’t expect her to bury her head in her hands and sob. I’d expected a wild backlash, an apology … I fantasised about her hugging me wildly and immediately throwing her support behind me.
“I tried to pretend that I didn’t know,” she said, from somewhere within her hands. “I wanted to be glad that it was them and not me.”
“He never touched you?”
She shook her head and looked across the table to where I sat, the guilt of knowing flowing down her cheeks.
“He only likes little boys, but still ….”

With Jillian’s recently matured trust fund, we set about buying up small lots of shares again, until we almost reached critical mass … a controlling share in Teddy Brown Development and Learning. By then I had ingratiated myself into one Fenton’s personal assistant roles.

Jillian downloaded everything she’d found over the years, some from Fenton’s ghost drives, as ripples started to spread outwards through the share market that there was a new player for Teddy Brown. We’d been discrete … a shelf company in the Cayman Islands. And that in itself must have put the wind up Fenton. You can’t bribe, or undermine on moral grounds a faceless entity. As I bought up his long black that morning, I’d assured him that it was nothing to worry about and he’d smiled, as if my word meant anything.
“Thank you Jack,” he’d said and taken a long sip from the steaming hot Gloria Jean’s cup. “I think today will be a good day.”

He always swore that he could literally ‘smell out’ a competitor; he prided himself on this ability. ‘That’s how I got rich’, he’d joked to me one afternoon when he’d invited me to share single malt with him after the posting of record quarterly results. ‘That and knowing every man’s weakness. That way you can grind their bones to make your bread.’ That afternoon, with the warm whisky coursing through my veins I’d been tempted to add ‘like Ben Beanscovich’s’ but I didn’t trust my nerve.

How the police got involved I’m not sure. With the controlling interest in our hands, the photographic and internet tracking proof of Fenton’s online activities, the stage was set.

I mouth one word to him, ‘Karma’ and there’s no ambiguity. Jillian squeezes me hand. Fenton knows exactly what I mean. It’s only now that he realises, too late, exactly who I am – the son of Ben Beanscovich who he murdered ten years ago, with his own secret network of paedophiles … and I have his daughter Jillian beside me. She’s singing the same tune as me. Jillian pushes through and spits in her fathers eye. She is ready to be resurrected, as her father falls on his own sword.

The press miss all of this. They’re downstairs baying like hunting hounds … seeking blood. Fenton is escorted out through the front doors. There are no short cuts to protect him. The interpersonal play is left to Major to report – this alone is hers. We’ve promised her that.

As we sit down, over curry and beer that night Major smiles at me.
“You never suspected,” she says.
“It’s the perfect cover. Special branch and all of that.”
“But surely …”
“Louise,” I say, using her first name because I know she will shut up and pay me the attention I’m due. “Did you never ask yourself, just how you came by all that information in the first place, all those pictures in that manila folder?”
And she just stares back at me.

If you can pick the fairy tale and the matching elements ... please comment! I'm fearing I've taken obtusement (If that's even a word) to a whole new level!

get the Fiction Friday codeabout Fiction Friday
Technorati tags: ,


Annie said...

Ahh Jack and the bean stalk.. you know you shouldn't kill the golden goose.!
kept me going, on my seat with anticipation.... love the local news wound in too ( or pehaps that wasn't meant?)

Rebecca said...

It took me a moment to make the connection, but I think it's just right. Any more and it's too clearly a retelling: as it is, it's its own story. Nice job.

Paul said...

OK, the manila folder is the magic beans (since "Jack's" mother throws them away and tells him not to bother), and that would make the journalist the bean seller?

I think Jillian is the golden goose?

Tight read though. And you got my second favourite coffee in there (long black - favourite is a flat white!)

Chefdruck said...

So Jack's bean stalk is the corporate ladder... nicely done. I love the image of the press as baying hounds.

Smiler said...

I don't remember the details of those fairy tales well enough to compare, but I can say it's a good story!

Wild Iris said...

Nicely done, Jodi. I put mine up today. Better late than never!

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Well this is very interesting ... my blog comments are NOT being sent through via email!! Hmmmm??? Thanks everyone for stopping in to comment.

Wild Iris ... will catch up on your story tomorrow - its bed time here, but count me in for stopping in for a good read ... and yes better late than never (though I always go to say 'better late than pregnant' after the Golden Girls episode where Blanche says that ... scarred for life from that show.)

Smiler ... I only remember the details of this particular one because the little girl I was nanny for made me tell it to her every night for three months! Having finally pulled the cork out of my genie bottle of creativity for this one ... can suddenly think up many more.

Chefdruck ... you got it! It was allegory of the coporate ladder for beanstalk that sparked the rest of the story ... it was the only thing that I could think of for a bean stalk - other than an elevator ... and that wasn't terribly inspiring!

Paul ... big ticks and you can go to the head of the class. I wasn't sure if Jillian was the golden goose (though she did come through with the goods when needed) or if she was the singing harp ... who sang foul of her father rather than of Jack?

Rebecca ... thanks for the encouragement not to make the connections clearer. I like the idea that its a story that stands on its own merits. My partner says it has the makings of a novella - so much to cram into under 2000 words. Who knows?

Annie ... oh is my utter despising of Eddie Grove and the triumph of his downfall so obvious??? It wasn't consciously meant, but when you're talking about the whole daycare thing its hard for him not to creep in as the baddie somewhere - even in insinuation! And thinly veiled company - after all we all know what the logo of ABC Learning is.

Doctor_Norf said...

Hi Jodi;

It's nice to speak, Paul says such lovely things about you. And thanks for your encouragement on my story as well. These things can only get better with time right?

I really, really enjoyed yours. I'm curious about Jillian's character, the final scene where she renounces her father sounds quite symbolic and I wonder is it also from Jack & the Beanstalk or something else.

Great stuff in any case and hope to speak again soon.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Hi Dr Norf,
I'm glad to know that Paul says lovely things about me ... as there are probably lots of other things that he could say about me!

I'm not sure if its quite from Jack and the Bean Stalk at the end. I kind of remembered that when Jack stole the harp, in his final trip up the stalk, that the harp began to scream, thus giving away Jack away ... and the pursuit that followed.

So I couldn't make up my mind if Jillian was the golden goose or if she was the harp (because she's both the cash cow and the whistle blower?) It's a shame that she didn't spit on him outside in front of the media pack.

I'm glad you enjoyed the story and look forward to the opportunity of reading much more of your fiction in the future.