Shelly Reuben’s new novel is about … well, we’ll let you find out for yourself as we weekly serialize the chapters. If you miss one, get back up to speed with our article archive. Now, welcome to:
Parking Space: A Love Story!
By Shelly Reuben
Chapter 12 - Upping the Ante
After Mrs. Abbot essentially called Hector Van Hooft crazy – “the Division of Human Services will direct you to the appropriate mental health professional” – he snorted in disgust and slammed down the telephone receiver. Then he pursed and un-pursed his lips, snorted again (like a horse), and walked to his living room window, forgetting for a moment that his apartment faced the back of the building and not the street.
He punched a clenched fist against his windowsill, grimaced at the pain, strode to his desk, and jammed a finger into the start key on his computer. He waited impatiently for the screen to light up.
For the next half hour, Hector researched names, job descriptions, and biographies. He scribbled notes and contact information on a legal pad, and by the time he was finished, he had written down three names and underlined them in red ink.
The first name on his list was City Councilman Richard Fix.
Fix was 39 years old and just over five feet, two inches tall. He had dark brown skin, a large mouth, small eyes, tiny little feet, and in public always wore a bowtie with a three piece suit. He never played racial politics, and his public speaking manner was conciliatory rather than confrontational. If you had asked him how he would like to be remembered by posterity, he would reply, “As everybody’s best friend.” He had been a public defender for eight years before becoming a city councilman. He also served on several corporate boards, including the board of directors for his children’s private school.
His wife, Carmella, was a homemaker who occasionally worked as a substitute teacher. She also was very short.
Rumor had it that he had married her for her height.
Richard Fix wanted to be governor of the state, and maybe someday, president of the United States – an ambition that was not outside the realm of possibility. His critics were undecided as to whether he was a gifted manipulator with a Napoleonic complex, a puppet being controlled by back-office politicians, or a dreamer wearing rose-colored blinders. But both sides agreed that when he supported free medical care, free school lunches, free college tuition, and interest-free mortgages, he believed that the money going to pay for such programs came courtesy of his personal generosity and not out of tax payer pockets.
Since he cared that he was perceived by others (and himself) as a champion of the popular cause, concepts such as national debt, inflation, or a balanced budget had no meaning for him.
Hector Van Hooft did not care if Richard Fix saw himself as a great statesman, inaugurator of a new New Deal or the messiah. He just wanted a credulous politician to take up his (Hector’s) cause.
The second name on Van Hooft’s list was Cadogan McClure.
Cadogan, a documentary film-maker and activist, was as mean as he was fat. All of his features – hook nose, slit eyes, and crooked mouth – were puckered together in the middle of his face as if by the drawstring on a laundry bag. He had a jowly chin, no neck, and mustard colored hair over which he always wore a dandruff flecked black cap with the word “Anarchist!” stitched in red across the brim.
As an adolescent, Cadogan had been blubbery, unkempt, and hostile, with a slightly nasal, high pitched, sing-song voice that could achieve an epic whine when he went into a harangue. To some, his voice was that of an orator capable of rousing the populace; to others, it was like the sibilant hiss of an angry tea kettle.
Senior year in high school, his classmates voted him “most likely to reinstate the Inquisition.” Veronica Carabatsos, his next-door neighbor, once caught him peering through a telescope into her bathroom window (he was not punished), and as an adult, she assiduously followed his career path in the newspapers. When asked about him by a journalist who knew of their childhood relationship, Veronica said, “Cadogan is an envious, big fat pig who hates successful people and will do whatever he can to destroy them. He cares nothing about human suffering, and all of his social protests stem from the fact that he couldn’t get a girl to go with him to the junior prom.”
Among the targets on Cadogan’s hit-list were: capitalism, except for the $50 million that he made from his movies…national borders (they should all be abolished, other than the electrified fence surrounding his 12,000 square foot mansion on 20 acres in Abelard, New York)…mandatory collection of DNA from convicted killers (the State has no right to violate the privacy of homicidal maniacs)…the death penalty (abolish, of course)…ferrets (one bit his nose during a protest against puppy mills he had staged at a pet store that had never done business with a puppy mill)...and voter registration (non-citizens, sex-offenders, and incarcerated prisoners should be allowed to vote).
Hector Van Hooft was certain that he could enlist Cadogan McClure in his parking space cause.
He also thought that Jimmy Christmas, the last name he had underlined in red on his list, could be drawn to his side.
Hector knew that in a city of 725,000 people, all of whom were looking for parking spaces at the same time, getting television news coverage for his plight would be difficult, and that his only chance for success was to attract the interest of someone young and hungry.
Enter Jimmy Christmas.
As an intern at one of The Big City’s four television news stations, Jimmy had the responsibility of researching potential features, scouting locations, conducting pre-show interviews, and writing stories that would interest viewers on both local and national levels.
He was a clean-cut, all-American kid with an appealing Midwestern face, cautiously optimistic green eyes, and a copper colored flop of hair that lent him an appealing air of vulnerability. Not only had he once been an Eagle Scout, he also held open doors for women, saluted the flag, and would appeal to completely different demographics than those being addressed by City Councilman Richard Fix and documentarian Cadogan McClure.
And he was completely unknown.
The last paragraph in Jimmy Christmas’s Internet biography stated that his professional goal as a TV journalist was to “bring interesting and unusual stories to the American people.”
Hector Van Hooft underlined the intern’s name three more times in red and said aloud to his empty apartment, “You will do well, Mr. Christmas. Yes. Very well indeed.”
Then he reached for the phone.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2021.