THE HUGE REMAINS by EW Farnsworth
The Cracked Bell pub had become the de facto headquarters for the Transparency Party. This was convenient for Sheriff Fatty Millhouse and the management and staff of the pub. Citizens visited throughout the days running up to the elections, and newshounds followed the primary candidates, including chiefly Sir Hudibras, the odds on favourite for the PM slot. Two tabloid writers or their spies were ever present—Crenshaw and Straight, and their competition for readers caused sensational headlines daily. Crenshaw had an inveterate hatred of tentacle creatures, whose menace was displayed on the front pages. Less fanciful because of his concern for facts, Straight’s articles kept his colleague’s dream ware in check.
Fatty was showing his girth as never before. He was on the brink of self division though this was known only to his physician, a woman whose background as a hybrid made her particularly attuned to his plight. He sat holding forth at the table at the back of the pub while he tended his perpetual pint. He had five lessons to expound like a quotidian enema in the feverish time. His round face sweated, and his eyes gyred with excitement when he launched his defence of the Transparency plank focused on political and economic equality across all genetic backgrounds. He had not foreseen that after the rain and concomitant flooding, as the waters receded, an enormous free roaming tentacle appeared on the greensward of the park not far below the octopus’s garden where Fatty had played with the resident octopod in all weathers.
Fatty was distraught at the finding, but he could do nothing to prevent Crenshaw and Straight from embellishing the find with headlines like, “Monsters Lurk in the Park” and “Proof Perfect: Tentacles Roam Among Us!” As the sheriff had been the primary investigator of the poor creature’s demise, he had the specimen transported to his own physician where, as he suspected, the tentacle was found to still be alive. Under the cover of darkness, he and a few of his associates conveyed the beast to the waterfront and watched it sink gratefully into its natural habitat. Fatty shed a tear as his own tentacle released the tip of the monster’s. When he returned to his lodging, he went into labour and fissioned. His doctor, who was attending at the time, announced that the newcomer’s green complexion indicated it was in perfect health. As for Fatty, he was ready to return to the pub the next morning as if nothing untoward had happened.
“Sheriff,” Sam Straight called out as he entered the Cracked Bell, “you are looking remarkably healthy and thin today. To what do you attribute your good health? Some among the citizenry had whispered you might have to step down on the eve of the election. I bet against the majority, and I shall be happy to collect my winnings.”
Fatty shook his moon face. “I am as you see me. I admit, the electioneering had taken its toll. But I have fully recovered now. You can print that in tomorrow’s papers though it will not be as titillating as your usual fare.”
“Will you make a comment on the strange disappearance of the giant tentacle? I assume you know it has disappeared from the clinic where you took it.”
“I have no comment. I hope it has returned to its habitation and now is recovering from the rude interruption of its existence.”
Crenshaw had come to the table. “It has probably gone to some belfry or watchtower from which it will menace the general population. It should have been taken straightaway to the fish market to be sliced up and sold with the other seafood. It’s eat or be eaten. See what my tabloid has to say about the matter tomorrow. I’m afraid you can’t avoid responsibility for the creature’s escape.”
Fatty changed the subject to a round of drinks, compliments of the Transparency Party. A new pint before him, he started his pitch on equality, and Sir Hudibras and his dame entered the turmoil to take their seats across from the sheriff.
“Don’t stand on ceremony for us, Fatty. By the bye, you are looking singularly well today. We had worried about you.”
Dame Hudibras nodded and sipped her drink. “What’s this we hear about the escape of the giant tentacle?”
“Madam, you are remarkably well informed. The creature seems to have dematerialized during the night. All I can say is I wish it and its kind well. Can we all drink to that sentiment?”
Sir Hudibras lifted his glass and drank if half empty. “What is your assessment of the political situation, Sheriff?”
“Sir, you are gaining on the opposing parties steadily. The only question is, will your numbers be sufficient on election day to win?”
“How good are the polls that give me a twenty point lead?” This query brought forth an audible guffaw from Crenshaw, who pretended to be laughing about an unrelated matter.
“Sir, polls can be bought. This is still a capitalist country.”
Dame Hudibras’ nose went into the air. “I surely hope we shall avoid any imputation of impropriety.”
“Yes, well, of course. We would not think about trying to buy the election. I must admit, though, the offers I have received for backing down have been most generous. It seems we are eating several other parties’ lunches, so to speak. If we should withdraw before election day, we could pocket a tidy sum while having made our points sufficiently well to have portions become part of our opposition parties’ platforms—all except for the plank about the tentacle creatures, who still appear to be a stumbling block all around.”
Fatty looked at his glass and asked the inevitable question. “Just how much have you been offered to stand down?”
Dame Hudibras answered, “He has been offered twenty million pounds in an offshore account of his choosing and ten thousand gold ounce coins.”
Fatty whistled. “That is a tempting offer, but your integrity would be jeopardized by taking it. What are you going to do?”
Sir Hudibras stuck his chin out. “I shall not make any move that would jeopardize my reputation or my wife’s future. It’s not a matter of money, but principle. I formed the platform of the new party, and we now have fifteen percent of the voters on our side. Millions of others may still join us. I hardly care about the damage I am doing to the extant parties. Our messages are permeating the air waves. I have gone ‘all in’ as the Americans would phrase our position. So there.” The waitress came with a pitcher to top off the pints.
“You are an honest bloke, Sir Hudibras. That’s what I like about you. If I were in your place, I could not resist the gold.”
Fatty gestured for the waitress to move to another table with her pitcher. “How did you receive word about the bribes, Sir?”
The MP drew an unsigned letter from his pocket and let Fatty read for himself.
After perusing the missive, Fatty said, “This is stuff and nonsense. I bet one of the more unscrupulous newshounds wrote it to see what you would do. Crenshaw, is this your scurrilous work? I see the purple of your prose in every line.”
The hack writer blushed but did not deny the accusation. “Well, Sir Hudibras, is it yes, or no?”
Fatty stood above the reporter and placed his palm on the man’s shoulder as if conducting an arrest.
“Please don’t arrest me, Sheriff. I did not write the letter. You know I don’t have the kind of money it alludes to. If I did, I would not be a scribbler scrounging out a daily living.”
Fatty loosened his grip on the man’s shoulder and sat back down behind his glass. “Whoever did write the letter will not have satisfaction. Sir Hudibras is incorruptible. Isn’t that so, Dame Hudibras?”
“That’s why I love him so, Sheriff. We may be poor as church mice, but we are honest to the bone.”
Crenshaw’s eyes went wide. “That’s my headline for tomorrow: ‘Honest to the Bone!’”
Fatty said, “You can print that without further elaboration. Yet as unvarnished truth, will your editors go along?”
“You have a point there. I will have to fight for anything that does not sell papers.”
The assemblage milled through the public house until closing time that evening. Just before last call, the polling numbers came in at 22%, and the Hudibras couple departed happy. The last to leave was the sheriff, who was troubled by the unsigned letter. As the chief law enforcer of Picklock Lane, he felt duty bound to ferret out the truth.
All night, Fatty made the rounds of his snitches to inquire about the author of the letter. All indications were that a book maker named Giles Handby was behind the epistle as he had bet heavily on a rival competitor to Sir Hudibras. Therefore, the sheriff visited Handby last and conducted an intensive interview.
“Giles Handby, I will not apologize for awakening you before daylight, because of the gravity of the matter I have to discuss with you.”
“Sheriff, I know my rights. You are trespassing, and I can sue you for more than you even thought you would earn in your lifetime.”
“I understand your threat, and I shall raise your bid considerably. If you write a letter to a candidate for the PM position, you will go to jail for twenty years and face a fine as large as the judge adjudicates.” He handed the bookie the unsigned letter so he could read it.
Handby read the letter and laughed out loud. “So you think I wrote the letter.”
“That’s right. And I know your motive—greed. You thought by responding favourably to the letter, Sir Hudibras would be subject to blackmail.”
“All right, Sheriff. I’ll play along with your charade. I’m guessing you are Sir Hudibras’ proxy, and your answer for him is yes, you’ll take the offered bribe.”
“Get dressed, Mr. Handby, as we’re going to see where the truth lies right now.”
“So you’re going to add kidnapping to unlawful entry, are you?”
“Just get dressed. I will not have it said I have done anything improper, and I suspect that is what you will say if we don’t get the situation clarified this night.”
It was not a long walk from the apartment of Giles Handby to the waterfront where Fatty had released the huge tentacle. The two men sat on a bench by the water for a while as if they were there to observe the sunrise. After a quarter of an hour, the sun peeked over the edge of the horizon. An enormous tentacle snapped around Mr. Handby making flight impossible.
“Good Grief! Help. This monster is going to crush me.”
“I think I can help you, Mr. Handby, but you must tell the truth. If you hesitate or lie, I will let the creature take you home to his underwater palace and feed you to its young.”
As if the thing understood what Fatty was saying, it lifted the bookie’s body and drew it slowly toward the water as the man shrieked so loud the gulls and curlews mocked his protestations.
“All right. I’ll tell. I’ll tell you everything. Just stop this tentacle from what it’s doing.”
Fatty held up his hand, and the creature stopped for a moment.
“You had better talk fast, or I’ll let the creature take you below the surface.”
Handby was now fully alert to the threat. “Crenshaw put me up to the trick. He made bets on the opposition to the Transparency Party just as I did. We planned to triple our investment within three days, maximum.”
“And there was no money and no gold, really.”
“There was nothing but the idea of bribery. If the PM showed any inclination to take the bribe, we had him in our clutches. So that’s the whole story. Will you set me free now?”
“You are going to accompany me to my office at the back of the Cracked Bell to write a statement spelling out what you have just confessed. If you hesitate to write the statement or make any changes in your story, I shall bring you back here and let the monster take you deep.”
Fatty gestured and the tentacle released the bookie. It rapidly retracted its suckers and slipped back beneath the water’s surface.
Fatty watched the bookie write his statement as both ate scones with tea. Giles Handby was happy to sign his confession. Then Fatty told him he could go.
It was now daylight, and the usual crowd began to assemble. Crenshaw and Straight brought the sheriff copies of their respective morning tabloids.
Fatty invited the two to have crumpets and tea. While they ate, he told them the story of Giles Handby’s confession.
Straight said, “Fatty, this time I think you’re positively barking mad.”
Crenshaw was looking guilty and halfway standing as if he had to go to the loo.
“Before you leave, Crenshaw, I would like to show you my bona fides.” He showed Crenshaw only the familiar signature as he handed the letter to Straight. Crenshaw raced to the back hallway and into the loo.
“Do I have permission to print this confession?” Straight asked.
“As long as you print it tomorrow and you don’t divulge your source, yes.”
Sam Straight was off like a shot to his tabloid editor. Crenshaw came out of the loo looking wan and sickly. He too ran off to see his editor. Fatty ate the rest of the crumpets feeling accomplished.
Rumours on Picklock Lane flew faster than the tabloids’ news cycle. Sir Hudibras showed up at noon to hear the full story from his sheriff, who warned the candidate that he would see a reckoning in the next day’s yellow press.
Sir Hudibras and his dame arrived early with copies of the tabloids. The Transparency Party was now at 24% approval, but at the expense of the opposition parties. Crenshaw, it happened, had visited his friend Giles Handby, and the two were cooking up more lies. They might have levelled accusations of all kinds except Handby’s letter had pre-empted them.
Handby was on the brink of accusing the sheriff of extorting the confession, but the sheriff rose to his full height and put his broad hand on the bookie’s shoulder. Unseen by Crenshaw, Fatty’s tentacle had crept up Handby’s neck and settled behind his ear. The man shuddered in terror and stood down, aware that he and the sheriff were a moment’s decision.