Frank’s ambition dwarfs his integrity and everybody knows it, but him.
Frank waited to be introduced by Beatrice, the bookshop owner.
Everything about him screamed loud. Bouffant orange hair, piano key teeth, hairy hands and orangutan arms. His tie matched his hair, his shoes were dressed in crocodile. He was tall. He was wide. He was sweating.
That moisture surprised me. By all other measures, Frank was a powerful man, on a mission, full of confidence. His trailing minions appeared toy like. Crisp, clean and smartly dressed. Barely a smile among them.
Something was wrong with Frank. He was grinding his teeth, and regularly clutched his stomach and moaned. Not in good health but needing to perform and not about to back down.
Frank and I go way back. Same small town. This one. We went into the armed forces straight out of college. He was the geeky last-to-be-called man, while I was the full commando. He served his time in supply. I was on patrol, hunting subversives, surviving by the skin of my teeth.
Yet here he was pushing an autobiography of his time in the military. I’d read it and didn’t recognise that Frank. It was embellished beyond belief. I understood it to be the cornerstone of his push for local Member of Parliament in the upcoming election.
‘Good evening, everyone,’ said Beatrice. ‘I am delighted to introduce tonight, an admirable man. One of our own, but so much bigger than us all. Hope you have read this book, it is just remarkable,’ she gushed. ‘He’ll have my vote this November. Hands together please, and welcome Frank Fraker.”
As Frank strode to the microphone, I sensed a latecomer drop into the seat beside me. It was Joe Honest, a wet-behind-the ears newspaper cadet with the local paper. I was reporting for the Herald out of the city, hardened, cynical and prepared to take Frank down. I noticed Frank’s first assistant, Jane Icare in our row. Interesting. I’d pin her down for quotes later.
‘Hello, friends,’ said Frank in his loudest, bonhomie voice. Pompous, bombastic and beaming. ‘How kind of you all to come out on this wet, cold night. I am grateful for your support.’
‘Came in out of the rain, Frank,’ called someone.
‘Tell us about that near miss IED, Frank,’ taunted another.
This was not a subtle crowd. Most understood the real Frank Fraker. I saw confusion on the faces of the few who were there to celebrate the hero of the autobiography, proud to be in the midst of the great man. Frank had his work cut out for him. I settled in to watch the show.
‘Some of you know me. I’ve lived most of my life in the neighbourhood, except for college, then army service. I’ve returned home to serve in this community and hope for your vote, as Beatrice has kindly promised.’
He smiled down at us, like Jesus himself.
‘As with all of my success, this book has been a team effort. My old friend, Jonathan helped. That’s him over there, dressed in navy.’ He waved vaguely at one of the suit guys. ‘My campaign team is here tonight, and if I run out of time to talk to you individually, please approach one of them.
‘The book speaks for itself, you know. Beatrice asked if I could read a selection aloud, but I don’t read. That’s why you folks bought the book because you read. However, I am happy to sign a few copies, slap a few backs and pose for your socials. I, …’.
Here Frank paused and groaned, grabbing his small paunch. He closed his eyes for a second, and bit down hard on whatever was in his mouth.
‘He has kidney stones,’ whispered Jane. I turned to see her grinning face. ‘You know what he’s chewing on? A kidney stone, coated in thick sugar like a gobstopper. It gives him something to bear down on when in pain. It psychologically convinces him that he’s already passed the blasted thing. He also thinks it makes him sound posh. A plum in his mouth. Idiot.’
‘Where’d he get the stone?’ asked Joe.
‘One of his numbnuts,’ she said.
‘I am one of you, which is why I’m running on a platform of “of the people and for the people”, Frank said.
‘Tell em how you were never picked for teams, Frank,’ yelled someone.
‘And how you cheated off Valerie Spark during finals,’ said another.
‘How your hair is a wig, your teeth veneers, how the novel was ghost-written by a playwright, your socials are manned by your court jesters, full of emojis and little substance,’ I added.
‘My autobiography, Stephen. It is a book of facts, not fiction,’ said Frank. ‘Ignore him friends, a member of the freaking press, purveyor of half-truths and fake news.’
‘His groupies represent all that he lacks’, continued Jane. ‘Ivy league, athletes, authors, an ex-marine. Frank is an empty vessel, a vampire. He’ll drain them of their usefulness, then bring in fresh meat. Happened to me.’
‘I am the sun, the moon and the air that you breathe. I will promise everything, give nothing and take all that you have to give,’ said Frank.
Wow, that’s honest, I thought. No, that’s in my head. It’s hot in here.
Frank walked down the aisle toward the signing table, using a handkerchief to wipe his forehead. A sprightly man in his 80s jumped toward him, grabbed Frank’s hand and began to speak excitedly. Surprised, Frank pushed him and the old man fell backward, landing hard.
For a moment, the audience was stunned into silence. Frank rushed to help, concern writ across his face.
‘Call for an ambulance. This man has suffered an attack,’ he called.
‘Well played, Frank,’ whispered Jane.
‘There’s my headline’, said Joe. “Fraker Attack! Candidate assaults 80-year old man at book signing.”
‘You’re catching on, buddy,’ I said to Joe. “You’re a fast learner.’ [979 words]