Chapter 1: This Isn't Even Our Reunion!
The long lazy days of summer are fading into autumn, and schools across Ontario are preparing for the return of their students. North of Markham, on opposite sides of Highway 48, the ivy-covered buildings of Macdonald Hall and the orcharded campus of Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for young Ladies are a flurry of activity. Doting mothers weep to see their babies off for the first time, long-suffering fathers haul far more luggage than necessary, and older students move back in with a minimum of fuss.
Why, then, is a car pulling up along the Hall's tree-lined drive with two adult men and no children whatsoever?
"...resigned in response to the scandal involving misappropriation of federal funds. To fill the vacancy, the Prime Minister has advised the Governor-General to call a by-election for the riding of Oak Ridges-Markham to be he-"
Bruno Walton reached out to cut the radio off in mid-sentence.
"I was listening to that," Melvin O'Neal (better known as "Boots" to his friends) said mildly, taking his eyes off the road to reach towards the console.
Bruno batted his hand away."No, you weren't. No one can listen to boring political news while driving. Speaking of which, you just missed your turn."
Boots swung the car into an U-turn. "If you didn't distract me while I'm trying to drive, I wouldn't miss things. So why are we going back to the Hall, anyway? It's not even our reunion year."
"Oh, didn't I tell you? Chris Talbot."
"We're going back to the Hall on move-in weekend because of Chris Talbot? Bruno, that doesn't even make sense. What does Chris Talbot have to do with anything?"
Bruno shrugged. "I dunno. But he said that we should be here, and that it would be worth the trip. Hey, watch out for that kid!"
Eventually, Boots managed to find a parking space far enough out from the dorms to be a relatively kid-free zone. "Were we ever that young?" he said, shaking his head at the bewildered first-years wandering around with parents in tow.
"You, maybe. Me, I sprang into this world fully-formed and perfect in all ways." Bruno struck a pose.
Just then, Boots heard the screech of metal on metal and an dismaying crunch.
"Whoops. Sorry about that!"
Boots turned around with a feeling of impending doom.
Sidney Rampulsky waved at him with a sheepish grin and a handful of what used to be the driver's side mirror on Boots' car. "Don't worry, I have insurance."
Bruno bounded forward to give Sidney a hearty clap on the back. "Sidney! Are you here for Chris' thingamajigger too?"
"I can't believe someone sold him insurance," Boots muttered before walking back to greet Sidney. "Good to see you again."
Sidney wavered at Bruno's impact, dropping the erstwhile mirror on the grass. "It's great to see you guys too! Yeah, I got Chris' email. Do you have any idea what it's about?"
"Not a clue!" Bruno said cheerfully. "Probably some sort of art thing, knowing Chris. Maybe the Hall is adding an art gallery?"
"We were actually hoping that he'd told you what this is about," Boots interjected.
"Sorry, Boots. Can't help you there. Maybe you could ask Elmer? He knows a lot of stuff, being a Nobel prize winning professor and all."
"Stuff about science, sure. I'm not so sure that current events are his thing. Besides, I don't think I even have his phone number. Do you?"
Sidney shook his head. "No, I meant ask him. Really ask him." He pointed back over Boots' shoulder.
Boots turned. "Elmer's here too?" Yeah, that had to be him. The guy was skinny enough and had a thinner version of Elmer's red hair, but the real clincher was the Canadian Zoological Society T-shirt.
"Hey Elmer!" Bruno ran over to greet the class nerd with a whoop. "This is great! It's almost like a reunion, only it's the wrong year."
Elmer sidestepped Bruno deftly, acknowledging the greeting with a nod and a tight smile. "Technically, Bruno, a class can have a reunion in any year after graduation. It's a mere artifact of our base-10 counting system that years like ten or twenty are considered more significant than seventeen or four. Hello Sidney, Boots."
"Say, Elmer. I don't suppose you know why Chris told us all to be here? It's a little awkward, being the only ones here without kids and not knowing why."
"Well, considering the known interests and affiliations of Chris Talbot I would conjecture that whatever reason he had in mind is somehow art-related. Perhaps Macdonald Hall will be announcing a new art scholarship for the students. But I stress that this pure conjecture, and I have no certain knowledge of his motivations."
Bruno blinked. "So, what you're saying is that you don't know either?"
"Yes, Bruno." Elmer sighed. "That is exactly what I am saying."
"So what's this about you being a professor these days?" Boots asked.
"I've accepted a research position at York University-"
"You've become York turkey!"
"York University is a completely separate institution from York Acade-"
"I thought better of you, Elmer. Gobble gobble!"
"Hey, look! Isn't that your old roommate over there?"
Boots followed the line of Bruno's pointing finger to see a handsome, perfectly coiffed couple supervising the unloading of a truly impressive amount of luggage. It was indeed one George Wexford-Smyth III. Boots snorted. "That's George, all right. No one else would have servants to carry their kid's luggage from the car to the dorm."
At that moment, the woman - presumably Mrs. George Wexford-Smyth III - seemed to notice Bruno pointing at her. She said something to George, inaudible at this distance with the general din, and George turned to wave Boots over with a smile.
"Ugh, do we have to talk to George?" Bruno muttered under his breath.
Boots smiled politely at George as he hooked a hand through Bruno's arm to tug him forwards. "Be nice, Bruno. Remember, we never would have gotten that pool if it wasn't for him."
Bruno brightened visibly at the reminder and was all smiles by the time they got to George and family. "Hey, George! Good to see you again after so long." He leaned in as if to clap a friendly hand on George's shoulder, but was forestalled by a deftly deployed handshake.
"Ah, Bruno Walton, wasn't it? It was a pleasure doing business with you. And Melvin, dear boy, how good to see you again. Please allow me to introduce my lovely wife, Melissa." After handshakes all around, George distributed hand sanitizing wipes to everyone.
"Pleased to meet you, Melissa - but just call me Boots, please. Nobody calls me Melvin." Boots shot George a sharp glance.
He was, of course, disappointed. "Nonsense, Melvin," George said heartily. "I respect you far too much to do you the indignity of using that vulgar nickname. Melissa, darling - Melvin is that fellow I told you about, my old roommate. A bit risk-averse, but the world needs all types."
Melissa smiled politely. "Pleased to meet you, Bruno, Melvin."
"Any friend of George's is a friend of mine," Bruno said cheerfully, all previous reluctance forgotten. "It's good to catch up with old friends like this."
"It's Boots, not Melvin," Boots muttered halfheartedly.
An awkward silence set in.
Melissa looked around. "I take it your boy is already settled in?"
Boots strangled a groan. "No, uh, that is, we're not, uh, don't have-"
"What Boots is saying is that we're just here for the proceedings," Bruno cut in smoothly, dropping a sly wink. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Ah yes, the, uh, proceedings," George cleared his throat. "We're excited about those as well, naturally, but we're also here to see our oldest boy off to the Hall for the very first time. Passing on the family tradition, don't you know?" He glanced around briefly. "He must be settling into his room right now. I'm sure you'll remember it well, Melvin; I had a little word with the Headmaster to ensure that young George got the same room that I lived in so many years ago."
Bruno grinned. "That would be young George Wexford-Smyth IV, would it?"
George drew himself up. "It most certainly would not," he said with some asperity. "Melissa and I are a modern, enlightened couple. Our son is named George Wexford-Smyth-Bardsley-Warrington." Just as Boots drew breath to apologize for Bruno, George added, "The First."
The crowd filed into the assembly hall, packed in like sardines with entire families crammed into a space planned to hold only the student body. The stage held a mixture of faculty, local notables, and one Chris Talbot. Bruno's little cluster of alumni wedged into the back corner, peering over the heads of the crowd.
An older man with thinning ginger hair walked up to the podium and tapped the mic. "Is this thing turned on?" The words echoed through the auditorium. "Oh, good. Hello, everybody. I'm Headmaster Flynn, and I'd like to welcome you all to Macdonald Hall on this very special occasion." A spotlight focused belatedly on the podium.
Bruno nudged Boots with his elbow. "Say, isn't that the Fish sitting next to Chris? Wow, he looks ancient."
"Shh! Not during the Headmaster's speech."
Headmaster Flynn - once Coach Flynn - continued. "This year marks Macdonald Hall's one-hundredth anniversary since founding, and we have some special plans to commemorate it. First of all, the alumni fund has endowed a full tuition need-based scholarship to enable promising boys from less fortunate backgrounds to achieve their full potential."
Another whisper, not from Bruno this time. "It is fallacious to impart any particular significance to the one-hundredth anniversary of something. If humans had evolved with fewer digits, sixty-four would be considered a large round number."
"Shh! Not during the speech."
"Next, we will be hosting a series of academic, artistic, and athletic competitions throughout the year to showcase the talents of our boys and of young people throughout Ontario." Headmaster Flynn pointed at the crowd and winked. "Of course, I'm counting on you guys to come through and show everyone just how great the Hall is.
"Finally, you are all invited to come to our centennial celebration proper on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In addition to the usual festivities, we will be unveiling a new statue to stand opposite the one of Sir John A. Macdonald that graces our campus. We have commissioned nationally-known artist and Macdonald Hall alumnus, Chris Talbot, to create our sculpture."
"So that's why Chris wanted everyone here!"
This time, Boots was too busy applauding to shush anyone. Chris stood up and took a quick bow, sitting down just as the laggard spotlight managed to focus on him.
"With this new statue, Macdonald Hall commemorates a shining example of perseverance, compassion, academic excellence, and infinite patience - the longest-tenured Headmaster that Macdonald Hall has ever had, William R. Sturgeon!"
An easy chuckle spread across the audience when Boots blurted out, "It's the Fish!"
Up on stage, the Fish levered himself to his feet with the assistance of a cane on his left and his wife Mildred on the right. Headmaster Flynn offered the older man a stabilizing hand as he yielded the podium.
"Thank you, Alex," the Fish said. "I am deeply touched by this gesture. For well over thirty years, Macdonald Hall was my life, and it was only with great reluctance that I stepped down at last. But now, I am honored that the Hall wants to keep me around for the next three hundred years." He paused, catching his breath.
"I'd like to thank Headmaster Flynn and the Board of Directors for this honor - but it is not in statues and memorials that true accomplishment is found. Whatever greatness accrued to Macdonald Hall during my tenure was not my doing, but yours." He looked out across the audience. "All of yours.
"I could not have served as long as I did without the love and support of my wife, Mildred. And a school is nothing with its staff; we have been fortunate to attract some of the finest educators in Canada to teach here. The support staff from the kitchen to the office have always gone beyond mere performance of duty to make the Hall a home away from home to our boys.
"And there is where the true credit lies: our boys. Macdonald Hall could not have become the school that it is - the finest academic institution in all Ontario - without the dedication of our students. I see many familiar faces out there in the audience now, and I see a new generation of greatness coming to the Hall now. You, the students, are the heart and soul of Macdonald Hall. It is your passion, your hopes and dreams and ambitions, your diligence and your spirit that make Macdonald Hall the school that it is. Never forget that."
The applause spread beyond just Chris' contemporaries throughout the auditorium as students and parents - many alumni themselves - joined in. The Fish made his way back to his seat as Headmaster Flynn stepped back up. He let the applause run to its natural stop before speaking.
"Thank you for everything, William." His voice was rough. "You've been a role model to me as a Headmaster; you have no idea how many times I asked myself 'What would Headmaster Sturgeon do in this situation?' I'm not the only one who wants to say a few words about Macdonald Hall, though. Allow me to introduce the mayor of Chutney."
The applause was merely polite as the mayor stepped up. Her speech was similarly bland, focusing on the friendly relation between the town and the school, with only a few mind-numbing digressions on how much the Hall benefited Chutney's economy. Boots elbowed Bruno when it ended.
"Time to wake up," Boots hissed. "The boring part is over."
Sure enough, Headmaster Flynn was stepping up again. "Our next speaker is an old colleague and rival of Mr. Sturgeon and myself: Tom Hartley, the former Headmaster of York Academy."
"That York turkey!"
"Shh, Bruno, he's only here to show a little respect for the Fish now that they're both retired."
Tom Hartley was an older man with perfect hair. "Thank you for that introduction, Al. As Headmaster of York Academy, I got to know Macdonald Hall pretty well through our longstanding rivalry. Over the years, I grew to appreciate how Macdonald Hall improved the quality of education and athletics throughout the region by providing such challenging competition; York Academy would not have been driven to excel as we did without Macdonald Hall constantly nipping at our heels."
Hartley half-turned to address the Fish directly, keeping a carefully photogenic 3/4 profile to the audience. "William, over the past several years I've come to miss our little late night phone calls after games. Flynn here just wasn't up to your level of wit. I'd always felt that I had to race to keep up with you." He paused, looking over the older man and his cane. "Of course, keeping up with you isn't much of a challenge now that you're rockin' the Jack Layton look with that cane."
Hartley cleared his throat. "Finally, I wanted to take this opportunity to let everyone know that I've decided to run for MP on the Conservative slate here in Oak Ridges-Markham. Remember, a vote for Tom Hartley is a vote for Canada."
Bruno's voice echoed across the silent auditorium. "What a jerk!"
Chapter 2: A York Turkey In Ottawa?
"We can't just let a York turkey like Hartley represent our riding - Macdonald Hall's riding - in Parliament!"
Bruno paced back and forth across the tiny apartment kitchen that he shared with Boots.
"What can you do about it?" Boots pointed out reasonably. "I'm not planning to vote for him, but this riding has voted Conservative for the past few elections. I'm not even a member of any political party, and neither are you."
"That can change!"
"Bruno, you can't afford to join a party; you still owe me for your share of last month's rent."
"I'll figure something out; I always do."
Boots sighed. It was true. He gave it one last try.
"Bruno, even if you do decide to volunteer campaigning for one of the other parties, the Conservatives won here by a landslide last election. One man isn't going to make much of a difference there."
Bruno stopped pacing and turned to face Boots with a wide grin. "Then I'll just have to make sure that he isn't the Conservative candidate, won't I?"
"Bruno? Melvin?" George Wexford-Smyth III stared. "What are you doing here?"
With a weak smile, Boots held out a box of chocolates. "Uh, candygram?"
Bruno grinned. "That's what we told the security guard, anyway. Help yourself to the chocolate, though!"
George held up a hand. "Thank you, but I'll pass. I never eat mass-market chocolate; I have a very delicate digestion. You haven't answered the question yet, though. What are you two doing in my private opera box? In the middle of La Boheme?"
"Oh, is that what this is?" Bruno plunked himself into the seat next to George. "Wow, these are comfy. We're here because we wanted to talk to you! I have this great idea."
"You couldn't have called me?"
"Your secretary wouldn't put me through."
Boots cleared his throat. "The point is, Bruno wanted to ask you something."
"Oh yeah, I did. George, have you ever thought about going into politics?"
"Never," George said with a faint smile. "The political life is vulgar. My family has always preferred to protect our business interests by investing in political influence, not by running for public office. Why do you ask?"
"It's Hartley," Boots blurted out. "We don't want him in Parliament."
"Because he's a York turkey," Bruno explained. "And because he was a real jerk towards the Fish. You remember, you were there."
"Ah, yes." George leaned back in his chair. "Back at our beloved alma mater. That was a rather ill-considered speech of his, wasn't it?"
"You might even say it was vulgar?" Boots offered.
"So it was, so it was. But what, my dear Melvin-"
"-my dear Melvin, Bruno, what do you expect me to do about it? I cannot control the votes of hoi polloi, more's the pity."
Bruno jumped in. "But you do invest in political influence, right? You just said so. And we were thinking that maybe you could use some of that influence, talk to the right people, and convince the Conservative Party not to nominate him? If he wasn't even on the ballot, then nobody would vote for him!"
George steepled his fingers. "You do have a point there. The Wexford-Smyths have always been fairly well-connected within the various conservative parties; I even have a passing acquaintance with the Prime Minister. But-" He arched his patrician eyebrows. "I can hardly suggest that the party not run a viable candidate. Are you even a member of the Conservative party, Bruno?"
"Wha-? Me? No!" Bruno spluttered.
George spread his hands. "Then I'm afraid that I cannot help you; there is no possibility that the Conservatives will nominate you in his stead."
"I think Bruno has someone else in mind, actually." Boots helped himself to a chocolate.
Boots kicked Bruno's ankle. Discreetly.
"Oh, right. I do! I absolutely do. It was... uh..."
George raised his eyebrows.
Boots swallowed the chocolate. "A member in good standing of the Conservative Party of Canada. Someone with personal ties to the Oak-Ridges Markham riding. A respectable family man...?"
Bruno stared at him blankly.
"...who is right here in this opera box?"
"Definitely!" Bruno jumped in. "You know that Chutney and Stouffville will go nuts over a Macdonald Hall man, George, plus you've got a ton of business connections in Markham, right?" He stared deeply into George's eyes, reaching out to clasp his shoulder. "George Wexford-Smyth, we wa-"
"George Wexford-Smyth III, we want you to be our next MP."
George was so bowled over that it took him until intermission to remember to disinfect his shoulder where Bruno had touched it.
Bruno was pacing again - this time, across the living room and intermittently blocking Boot's view of the television.
"What if George can't pull it off?"
Boots craned his neck to the side to see around Bruno. "Then he can't pull it off and Hartley gets the nomination. It's not that big a deal."
"Not that big a deal? You heard what that turkey said about the Fish! And it was kind of tacky to bring a dead guy into it," Bruno added as an afterthought.
"Yes, Hartley is an obnoxious jerk with no class. Yes, he doesn't deserve the nomination. But when you get right down to it, a jackass is still an improvement over the previous MP - which is the entire reason why the seat is vacant right now, remember? We survived a criminal, we can survive Hartley if we have to."
Bruno continued pacing. "How can you just sit there watching TV when the fate of our riding is on the line?" he demanded.
"Because there's nothing I can do to change the outcome at this point, and because I really like Flashpoint?"
"It's all reruns from last season anyway; you already know what happens. But that's beside the point! Don't you realize how precarious our situation is? Our hopes for the future hang on George being able to persuade the Conservatives to nominate him instead. And George isn't exactly the most personable guy, you know."
Boots grimaced at the memory of financial charts on the walls and disinfectant stinging his nose. "Yes, I know; I had to live with him, remember? But the Prime Minister isn't exactly the most personable guy either, and look where it got him."
"Maybe they can bond over being unpopular," Bruno grumbled.
"He did it!" Bruno whooped, hanging up the phone. "George Wexford-Smyth is now going to be the Conservative Party candidate for the riding of Oak Ridges-Markham. That York turkey Hartley is out of the running!"
Boots looked up from his laptop. "Good. I don't suppose that now that it's settled, you'll get around to paying me back for the rent?"
Bruno barreled onward as if he hadn't heard. "The Prime Minister is coming here for the official announcement this weekend. I volunteered you to arrange the rally and press conference and stuff, so we've got a busy few days ahead of us."
"You what? And just what are you going to do for your contribution to this event, Bruno?"
"Oh, I'm the creative genius who's going to manage the campaign," Bruno said blithely. "Your job is to arrange for a venue, recruiting, decorations, press coverage, catering, publicity, leaflets... am I forgetting anything?"
Carefully, Boots set his laptop aside before chucking a throw pillow at Bruno's head. "As the person actually arranging this event, my first act is to delegate half of that stuff to you."
A spaceman answered the door.
Boots stared. "I, uh, I think I must have gotten the wrong studio. I'm sorry to have disturbed you. Could you tell me which studio Chris Talbot is in?"
The spaceman pushed back the faceplate of his helmet, revealing a rather sweaty Chris Talbot. "Don't you recognize me, Boots? Oh, wait... it's the helmet, isn't it? I've been welding."
"The helmet, the gauntlets, the... I don't even know what you're wearing on your chest."
"It's just safety gear. Come on in; no reason to stand out there in the hall."
The studio was a converted industrial space, with brick walls and exposed ductwork far overhead. Nearly every square foot of horizontal surface was occupied by some project or other, in varying stages of completion. The place of honor was occupied by what looked like a life-size 3-D stick figure wearing realistic copper shoes.
"So what brings you here? Are you looking for a sneak preview of the new statue? It doesn't look like much yet." Chris gestured at the stick figure, apparently made of metal rods.
"Huh, is that it? It looks... odd. But no, that's not why I'm here. I was actually wondering if you could whip up a few posters for us like you did back in school. Political stuff - George is running for Parliament as a Tory."
Chris let out a long, slow exhale. "Business, eh? Well, give me a second to get out of this gear and I'll write up a quote for you."
Boots found himself a vacant bench to sit on as Chris removed his welding suit. Then Chris beckoned him over to a desk in the corner set up as a rough office.
"Okay, graphic design work, probably just two colors, right?"
"Are we talking signage, buttons, bumper stickers, graphics for a webpage, the full package, or what?"
"Uh... I think we'll eventually need the full package, but for now we need mostly posters and a header to put on flyers."
"What sort of dimensions are we talking about? How far away do you want it legible from?"
A jarring half-hour of questions later - "Do you want a photo on the posters? If so, will you provide or should I make arrangements for a photo session?" - Boots was wrung dry. Final exams at university had been less thorough.
"All right, for just the posters and the flyer that'll be around $3000, counting the surcharge for a rush job, particularly when I'm already booked. To add on everything else that we discussed, that's going to be closer to $10,000."
Boots just stared.
"Uh, that's a lot of money. I was hoping you could just whip something up on the side for free, like you did in school."
Chris snorted. "If you want free posters like I made in school, go ask a schoolboy. This is my job, Boots; it's how I pay the bills. Besides, it's not like you have to pay out of pocket; George can just draw on the substantial Tory war chest to pay for everything." He paused. "Actually, now that I think of it... add another thousand. Just because I don't like their stance on funding for the arts and it gives me the heebie-jeebies to strengthen the Conservative government."
Boots grimaced. "Actually, it kind of is coming out of pocket, at least for now. George's candidacy isn't official yet; Bruno and I are just putting some stuff in place before the big announcement. I can probably get reimbursed afterwards, though."
Chris shook his head slowly. "I should have known this was one of Bruno's crazy schemes. Look, you need to get in touch with the federal party and let them do all the planning and paying for things. They have the money, and they have the experience. Trying to do it all yourselves can't end well."
Boots gave it one last try. "Are you sure you can't cut us a discount for old times' sake?"
"Not for a Tory."
In the kitchen of Miss Scrimmage's, the Baking Club was hard at work preparing for the Prime Minister's luncheon. A young Chinese student was stirring a bowl of cupcake batter, while her older brunette partner searched through the pantry for more ingredients.
"I think the batter's just about ready," the Chinese girl said. "What are you looking for anyway? We've already added all the ingredients in the recipe."
"Oh, it's just a tradition here at the Baking Club to add our own special creative touch to every recipe we make," the brunette said airily. "Have you seen the horseradish anywhere?"
"No, I think we used it all up last week. But why do we want to add an extra kick to all of our dishes? I think that these cupcakes would turn out really well if we just followed the recipe without any changes."
The brunette shrugged. "It's a tradition," she repeated, and reached for the black pepper.
The sun was bright and clear on Saturday, the wind brisk but not too chilly. It was a beautiful day for a political event. Headmaster Flynn had vetoed holding the luncheon on Macdonald Hall property on the grounds that the school was apolitical, but the Chutney Community Theatre was more than happy to offer their space for a nominal fee. Boots' chequebook was still hurting.
The room was full of local members of the Conservative Party, members of the press, the Prime Minister's RCMP security force, and various students who had wheedled extra credit from their teachers for observing the political process in action. Cameras flashed as the dignitaries settled in at the head table.
At some unspoken signal, a parade of girls streamed out of the back room to serve the food. Boots' eyes narrowed. "Bruno," he hissed, "You didn't arrange for Scrim-catering, did you?"
Bruno beamed at the proceedings with paternal pride. "Of course I did. It's a great way to show local female support for George and his campaign, and the girls have never let us down yet."
"Never let us down? Do you not remember all the times you wanted to murder Cathy? Like when she stole your pop cans? Or when she invited herself to join the football team? Or when she set booby traps in the orchard and didn't tell us?"
Bruno waved it off. "That was Cathy. The girls of Scrimmage's in general have never let us down."
"Scrim-food, Bruno. We're going to be eating Scrim-food and drinking Scrim-juice and serving Scrim-food to the Prime Minister."
But the luncheon went off without a hitch. George and the Prime Minister sat together and made small talk in front of the cameras. They ate the Scrim-food with no observable ill effects. Amazingly, the usually dour Prime Minister even cracked a small smile.
As the girls wheeled out the dessert carts, Boots relaxed back into his seat. "That... actually wasn't bad at all. You were right, Bruno; the girls pulled it off. Heck, we pulled it off! We organized an entire luncheon complete with press coverage, and on short notice."
"I knew we could do it." Bruno leaned over to grab a serving of Scrim-cake off the dessert cart. "We always succeed when the chips are down. Say, is that-"
A sneeze ripped through the hall.
Instantly, George responded to defend the respiratory health of all present. He whipped out a spray bottle of disinfectant and doused the offending nose. Which happened to belong to the Prime Minister.
"-is that black pepper?"
The RCMP responded with alacrity, wrestling the assailant to the ground. Cameras flashed as the assembled press captured the moment.
With an utter lack of facial expression, the Prime Minister dabbed at his face with a napkin, wiping the disinfectant from his eyes. Slowly, he rose to his feet, not even looking at George.
The hall fell silent.
"First, I would like to thank the young ladies of Miss Scrimmage's for the meal."
Boots traded a nervous glance with Bruno. George was still pinned down by the RCMP. That couldn't be a good sign.
"Second, I am pleased to announce the Conservative Party of Canada's candidate for the riding of Oak Ridges-Markham, Tom Hartley!"
Chapter 3: If You Want a Job Done Right, You Have To Do It Yourself!
"'The girls of Scrimmage's have never let us down,' he says," Boots snarled.
Bruno thudded on to the couch and kicked his shoes off. "Okay, so I made a mistake. I figured that they would have stopped doing that since Cathy graduated. I mean, it's been decades!"
"Cathy." Boots allowed himself to join Bruno on the couch, staring at the darkened screen of the turned-off television.
A long pause.
Boots sighed. "So it's what, three years of Hartley until the next general election?"
Bruno took a deep breath. "We can't give up now, Boots."
"Why not? It's not like Hartley's going to be able to do anything as a backbencher. Besides, we can't do anything about it; he's got the Conservative nomination, and this riding has voted Conservative for the past two elections. Last time wasn't even close."
"It's the principle of the thing. We can't just sit back and let that jerk parachute to victory on the Prime Minister's coattails. The honor of Oak Ridges-Markham is at stake here!"
"Oak Ridges-Markham doesn't have any honor to be at stake, Bruno. It's just an arbitrary political unit; nobody thinks of themselves as an Oak Ridges-Markhamite. I bet you didn't even know the name of the riding until Hartley started talking it up."
"Irrelevant." Bruno waved off all objections. "Even if I didn't know it, I am a die-hard Oak Ridges-Markhamite now and always was. We need to pull together to defeat Hartley."
"Because that plan worked out so well last time. Only now, Hartley as the Conservative candidate has more resources to draw on than before."
"My mistake was in relaying on George," Bruno said serenely. "And on Scrimmage's. Clearly, if you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself! And I will run against Hartley myself."
Boots shook his head. "You and what party?"
Bruno pointed at Boots. "Campaign manager! How did the last election turn out?"
"Uh... the Conservatives won a majority government. You know this, if you weren't hiding under a rock."
"No, no. This riding, I mean."
"Oh!" Boots drummed his fingertips on the armrest for a moment, thinking. "Uh... the Conservatives squeaked out a majority of the vote, I think? The Liberals were second, in the high 20s. Then the NDP in the high teens. I don't remember how the Greens did, but I guess they probably got around 5%, like they always do."
"So what you're saying is that the Conservatives beat everyone else put together?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Darn it. But wait, the whole misappropriation of federal funds scandal has got to work against them this time, right?"
"Probably. I mean, considering that it's the reason why we're having a by-election right now since the previous MP resigned in disgrace..."
"So if everyone else worked together against the Conservatives, we still have a chance to beat Hartley?"
"I guess you could look at it that way, Bruno, but that's not how elections work. It's first past the post."
"That's not how they worked last time, but it's how they're going to work this time. I, Bruno Walton, and going to run as the Liberal-NDP candidate!"
Boots got up and headed for the fridge. He was going to need a drink to deal with this.
"Dear Mister... Hey, Boots!"
"Who's the Liberal Party Leader?"
"They haven't chosen one yet. The interim leader is Bob Rae."
Bruno made a face. "Bob Rae? Ew, my mom is still bitter about Rae Days. Okay, 'To whom it may concern' it is."
Boots came over to look over Bruno's shoulder at the laptop. "Are you seriously writing Bob Rae to ask if you can be the Liberal candidate?"
Bruno drew himself up. "I most certainly am not! I am writing 'To whom it may concern' to generously volunteer my services as the joint Liberal-NDP candidate. Then I'm going to write the NDP party leader, whoever he or she is. That's a good point you make, though. Do you think I should specify that I don't want any endorsements from Bob Rae? He's not very popular in Ontario."
Boots shook his head and walked away again. "Write whatever you want; I'm pretty sure it won't make any difference."
Bruno walked into the apartment beaming, waving envelopes in the air. "We've got their responses, Boots!"
Boots looked up from the television. "What are you talking about?"
"The parties, Boots. I'm running for Parliament, remember?"
Boots winced. "Oh, that."
Bruno tsked. "Where's your civic spirit?" He tore the envelopes open and started reading. "Dear Mr. Walton, the Liberal Party of Canada thanks you for your concern. Your vote is important to us, and we thank you for your support of our candidate in Oak Ridges-Markham..." His voice trailed off. "They sent me a form letter, Boots! A form letter! They didn't even mention my candidacy."
"Maybe you could open the other letter?" Boots said.
Bruno picked up the other letter. "Dear Mr. Walton, the New Democratic Party thanks you for your concern. We are dedicated to serving the people of Canada, and we assure you that we will not compromise our core principles for the sake of political expediency. The NDP is rapidly growing in power, and with this momentum we are confident that we can effect real, positive change. Rest assured, the NDP has no intention of merging with the Liberal..." his voice trailed off again. "They sent me another form letter, Boots. They sent me the wrong form letter! This one is all about how the NDP is not planning to merge with the Liberals. It's like they didn't even read my letter!"
"They probably read the bit where you talked about running as a joint Liberal-NDP candidate to beat the Tories," Boots offered.
"But that was totally different! I wasn't suggesting that the parties merge, just that they both support me."
Boots turned off the television. "Bruno, they get a ton of mail every day. That's why they have form letters in the first place. Some overworked office clerk has to read all the mail and match letters to canned responses. They probably just read far enough that they thought the had figured out what your issue was and then stuffed the envelope."
Bruno crumpled up the letters and tossed them into the trash. He joined Boots on the couch with a sullen thud. "Fine. Their loss, if they want to field losing candidates instead of someone like me. I bet the smaller parties pay more attention to their mail, right? And they'd be grateful to have someone like me as a candidate. Campaign manager, find me a complete list of federal political parties. I'm going to be rewriting my letter. They want form letters? I'll give them form letters."
Boots hesitated. "You sure you want all of the parties? Even the-"
"Except the Conservatives, of course. And the Liberals and the NDP, because they already turned me down. Everyone else!"
"And get the old gang together to help out. I want lots of letters, letters from everyone else recommending me for MP too. They'll take me seriously if they know that I already have votes in hand."
Boots was the last one to the letter-writing party at his own apartment, because he had to stop for take-out.
He slid down next to Chris Talbot and set the Chinese take-out in the middle of the table. "What are you doing here, Chris?" he whispered. "I thought you didn't want to get involved in the politics."
Chris whispered back, "Nah, I just don't do art for free any more. And I don't want to help the Conservatives. But this stuff is fine. I can't stay too late, though; have to get back to work on the statue of the Fish."
Bruno was lecturing. "So we need you to write letters - separate letters - to all of the parties on this list saying that they should support my candidacy. It's too bad that none of us are actually party members, but this will have to do."
Elmer Drimsdale cleared his throat. "Actually, Bruno, I'm a member of the Green Party. Have been for years."
Bruno brightened. "You are? That's great, you should definitely mention that in your letter to the Greens. Anyone else?"
Everyone shook their heads.
Sidney Rampulsky raised his hand.
Bruno looked at him.
"Uh, you can just jump in and talk, Sidney. We're not in school anymore."
"Oh, sorry." Sidney grinned sheepishly. "Um, I just wanted to know if we have to write the Bloc Québécois in French. Because my French isn't very good, but I could text my wife for help."
"You have a wife, Sidney?" Boots tried to keep the incredulity out of his voice, but he could see it reflected around the table.
"Yeah, she's great!" Sidney beamed. "She's an EMT, I met her in an ambulance..."
A wave of laughter went around the table.
"I should have known!"
"That's our Butterfingers Rampulsky!"
Bruno opened up the envelope and stared at the letter. "Hey, Boots?"
"How's your French?"
"I think this one must be from the Bloc Quebecois. But I'm not quite sure what they're saying."
Boots sighed and reached over to grab the letter.
Je vous remercie pour votre lettre de demande. Elle nous a bien fait rigoler ici au bureau aujourd'hui.
Ce cas illustre l'état lamentable de l'éducation en Ontario de nos jours. C'est difficile de comprendre comment vous avez pu atteindre l’âge adulte sans se rendre compte que le Bloc Québécois se dédie uniquement à Québec. Il y a une raison pour laquelle on ne s’appelle pas le « Bloc ontarien » .
En bref, la réponse est non. Non, vous ne pourrez pas se présenter comme candidat du Bloc pour Oak Ridges-Markham. Non, espèce d’imbécile, le Bloc n'aura jamais des candidats hors du Québec.
He grimaced. Bruno would flip out if he translated the whole thing. "Uh... It says they don't run candidates outside of Quebec. Nothing personal against you."
Boots went through the mail. It was easier to do it himself than weather Bruno's emotional roller-coaster at ever new envelope.
"Another rejection," he called out. "The Christian Heritage Party feels that you don't represent their values."
Bruno slumped on the couch. "Anything else?"
"Uh, looks like someone wants to offer you a new credit card. And Canadian Tire is running a 20% off sale on rugs."
Bruno sank even lower into the cushions. "Wake me up when there's good news. Or when dinner is ready."
The doorbell rang. It was Elmer.
"Come on in; have you eaten yet?"
Elmer shook his head. "No, no. I just drove straight here. I wanted to show you this in person." He held up an envelope.
"Another rejection?" Bruno said morosely from the couch.
"Not... not exactly."
Bruno perked up. "They want me? I'm a real candidate now?"
"Not... not exactly." Elmer shoved the letter at Boots. "Here, you read it."
Boots unfolded the letter. "Dear Mister Drimsdale... We are delighted by your interest in the Oak Ridges-Markham by-election. Although your friend is ineligible for the Green Party candidacy by the terms of our party charter, would you be interested in running for the seat yourself? Your background in education as a professor at York University and your history of protecting the welfare of rare and endangered species are well-known. The added cachet of a Nobel... Elmer, they want you to run!"
Elmer nodded. "So you see why I wanted to bring it here in person! It's not an acceptance of Bruno, but it's not exactly a rejection either. At least, not a rejection of a Macdonald Hall man running against Hartley, and that's the point, right?"
Slowly, Bruno levered himself up out of the couch, a fey expression on his face. He walked over to Elmer and put a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"Elmer," he said.
Elmer blinked at him.
"Elmer. It's good to see that we're making progress. Clearly, having an actual party member send the letter is a key element to success."
Elmer and Boots exchanged confused glances.
"Write them back and decline the nomination. Boots and I will join the Green Party and then write another letter. Thank you for showing me the way."
Boots stared. "Are you crazy, Bruno? Look, I know you got your hopes up about becoming a Member of Parliament, but the important thing is to stop Tom Hartley, and Elmer can do that just as well as you can."
Bruno shook his head. "Look at the letter again. See there?" He pointed out a phrase.
"Professor at York University... Bruno, you can't be serious!"
Bruno said mournfully, "Our former friend Elmer is now a York turkey. We can't support him in the election. Elmer, you'll just have to decline."
Elmer raised his eyebrows. "I should have known. Too bad for you that I don't have to do what you say." He plucked the letter out of Boots' hands and folded it neatly. Then he rummaged in his wallet and pulled out a laminated card, yellowing with age.
Boots stared. "Is that really...?"
"You laminated it?"
"Yes. I wanted it to last."
It was the contract excusing Elmer from all of Bruno's schemes, signed by Bruno himself back when they were in school together.
Bruno read it, gritted his teeth, and stomped off to the kitchen.
Boots lowered his voice. "You said that you should have known, Elmer?"
Elmer said quietly, "Why do you think I accepted a position at York? It was the one university in all Canada where I knew Bruno Walton would never set foot."
After showing Elmer to the door, Boots turned around with a heavy sigh. "Bruno?" he asked quietly.
He headed back to the kitchen to find Bruno at the table, staring morosely into a chocolate milk.
Boots pulled up a chair next to him. "That was kind of harsh on Elmer," he said carefully. "I mean, York University is about as connected to York Academy as it is to New York City. And it's not like Elmer has ever been less than respectful towards the Fish; he's a Macdonald Hall man like us."
Bruno took a slow drink from the chocolate milk. "Is he gone?"
Boots nodded, then realized Bruno wasn't looking at him. "Yeah. He went home."
Bruno exhaled sharply. "I... it's not Elmer personally, I guess. It's just that I really did want to be an MP."
"Yeah, I think so. At first it was just a way to stop Hartley, but I kept thinking about it and I think that I really could do a good job. I'm not good at sitting at a desk pushing paper - but I'm really good at persuading people, inspiring them."
"There's more to being an MP than making speeches, Bruno. There's still a lot of desk work, and you're usually expected to vote the way your party wants."
Bruno shook his head. "I know that it's not just campaigning, but you know that I'm good with people one on one too, not just speechifying. I could get to know people, bring problems to light, and every once in a while just maybe influence party policy? I don't know, I guess I was just kidding myself."
Boots thought about it. Bruno was good at persuading people, all too true. And he was passionate about every cause he embraced. Not necessarily sensible, but passionate. "You really had your heart set on it, didn't you?"
Bruno nodded, the usual energy gone from his motions. "Yeah. And seeing Elmer get offered a nomination on a platter just... I thought he was my friend!"
Boots took a deep breath and put a comforting arm across Bruno's shoulders. "If you really do want to represent us in Parliament, Bruno, then I'm with you all the way. Come on, let's look up the requirements for running as an independent."
Bruno turned to look at Boots. "You really think that will work?"
"Honestly? Probably not this time," Boots admitted, squeezing Bruno's shoulder. "But it's a start. It'll lay the groundwork for the next general election if you keep working at it between now and then. And there have been plenty of independent MPs elected before."
Bruno was quiet for a long pause. "I was kind of a dick to Elmer, wasn't I?"
"Yeah, you were. But he's a friend; he'll forgive you."
"Darn it, I'm going to have to apologize to him, aren't I?" Bruno sighed melodramatically.
Boots relaxed. Melodramatic Bruno was back-to-normal Bruno. "Probably. Come on, let's grab a laptop and look up Elections Canada."
The names stared up at Boots from the paper. Taro Tsujimoto, G. Gavin Gunhold... "Bruno!"
"There's no need to yell, Boots; I'm right here." Bruno had that infuriating serene smile on again.
Boots took a deep breath. "Bruno," he began again. "You can't just put fake names on your nomination paperwork. Election fraud is serious business."
Bruno looked injured. "What fake names? I assure you, every one of these ladies and gentlemen wholeheartedly supports-"
"Bruno. You used G. Gavin Gunhold. I remember that name. You could go to jail, Bruno!"
"Okay, so that one was an honest mis-"
"Bruno. If you get convicted of election fraud, they won't let you run again for years. Were you serious about wanting the seat or weren't you?"
Bruno sighed. "Okay, okay. I'll take Gunhold off."
"And the others?"
"Even the Macdonald Hall students? They really did sign, you know."
"If they're not old enough to vote, then you can't use their signatures."
Bruno looked over his signature sheets mournfully. "Back to going door-to-door, then."
Boots grabbed his jacket. "I'll go with you. How many do we need to make up?"
"Only about... 40 or 50?"
"Out of 100?"
Chapter 4: A Technicolor Fish
"Campaign manager, report!"
Boots snickered. "Aye aye, sir. Your paperwork has been filed, and you are now officially an independent candidate for the riding of Oak Ridges-Markham."
Bruno strutted around the living room, hooking his thumbs into imaginary lapels. "Excellent! So how am I doing in the polls?"
"We don't have polls, Bruno. It's just you and me, and professional polling costs money that we don't have."
"So look up the public polls. You know, the ones they always talk about on the news. And that reminds me, we need to schedule a fundraiser for this sort of thing."
Boots popped open his laptop and googled around. "Let's see... Three Hundred Eight has projections for Oak Ridges-Markham. Well. The good news is, you were right about the corruption scandal hurting the Conservatives. Hartley is polling at only 41% of the vote, down from the 51% that his predecessor got in the general election."
"What's the bad news?"
"He's still in the lead and you're not even on the map. The Liberals are next at 32%, then the NDP at 19%. Even Elmer has 8%, but I think the only people who even know that you're running are the ones who signed your nomination paperwork. That's less than a tenth of a percent."
Bruno was not discouraged. "We knew this was going to be an uphill battle. All we need is more publicity. Okay, publicity and money. Fortunately, I am a master of publicity stunts and know just how to get us some publicity for free!"
Boots groaned. "Please tell me that we're not planning something illegal?"
Bruno sniffed haughtily. "Please, Boots. I'm a public servant now; my conduct must be above suspicion. But think; what minor celebrity do we know who might just be willing to lend a hand?"
"Welcome to television station CHUT, broadcasting out of Chutney, Ontario. We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you an exclusive interview with Cathy Burton, star quarterback of the Toronto Argonauts. Welcome, Cathy."
Cathy smiled and leaned back in her chair, obviously comfortable in the spotlight. "Thanks, Myron. It's great to be back here in Chutney again."
"That's right, Cathy. You went to Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Young Ladies just down the road, didn't you?"
"I certainly did, Myron. I have many fond memories of my years at Scrimmage's - hello, girls! - and all the things we did together. In fact, that's where I got my start at football. Or rather, across the road at Macdonald Hall. And that brings me to why I'm giving this interview today."
"Really, Cathy? Tell the folks of Chutney what's on your mind."
Cathy put on her best smile and looked straight at the camera. "My first season playing on a boy's team was with the Macdonald Hall Warriors; even though our victories were eventually vacated, that winning season gave me the confidence I needed to realize that I could compete effectively against boys - and later, men. It set me on the path to become the first female quarterback in the CFL. And now, one of my old Warriors teammates is running for Parliament as an independent candidate right here in Oak Ridges-Chutney, where we played together. I'm here to endorse Bruno Walton for Parliament."
Myron's surprise was unaffected. "Politics, Cathy? I thought you were here to talk about sports!" He pulled out a stack of notecards and flipped frantically through them, tossing discarded ones aside. "I didn't prep questions for this!"
Cathy's smile became decidedly more sharklike. "Why do you think I didn't warn you, Myron? It's much more fun this way." She turned back to the camera. "In the beginning, Bruno didn't think I could do the job. But once I proved myself, he had my back 100% - and I mean 'had my back' literally; he played offensive line." She chuckled. "It's like they say. 'If you can play, you can play.' I could throw, I could run, and Bruno and the Warriors let me prove it to the world. That reminds me - one sec."
She held up a finger to the camera and whipped out a cell phone. "Hey Diane, I'm doing the interview now. Remind me afterward to get in touch with the You Can Play people about doing a spot. Thanks!"
Myron had recovered his composure and leaned forward. "Cathy, you're endorsing Bruno Walton because of the role he played during your time together on the Macdonald Hall Warriors. But what about his fellow Macdonald Hall alumnus Elmer Drimsdale? Did you know that he's running for Parliament too, as the Green Party candidate?"
Cathy's eyes widened. "He is? Oh that's neat! Yeah, Elmer is a great guy too. I mean, he's not an athletic type so he was never a teammate; he's always been more the genius intellectual. But he let me borrow his name that first season so I could play as him. I never would have been able to play with the Warriors at all if not for his cooperation. Wow, Bruno and Elmer both running for Parliament at the same time! Macdonald Hall is going to take over!"
Myron cleared his throat. "Maybe I didn't make it clear enough. Elmer Drimsdale are both running for the same seat in Parliament. They're running against each other."
Cathy shrugged. "So it's a win-win situation."
"That blabbermouth Myron! Cathy wouldn't have mentioned Elmer if he hadn't opened up his big fat mouth," Bruno said savagely as he turned the TV off.
"Her endorsement is still good for us," Boots said mildly. "Remember, we're starting at the bottom so any publicity is good publicity. If the media picks up on the 'old school friends running against each other' angle, it's still good for both us and Elmer - and bad for the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP, all of whom are much more dangerous competition than Elmer."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right." Bruno allowed himself to be placated. "So how much did our fundraiser take in?"
"If by 'fundraiser' you mean passing the hat among our friends, the take is right here." Boots upended a paper bag across the kitchen. A flurry of bills, coins, and miscellaneous other small objects spilled out.
A half-hour of sorting and counting later, he sighed. "Okay, I think I've counted it all. Ready for the numbers, Bruno?"
Bruno popped a butterscotch in his mouth. "Shoot."
"We have $1951.69, 600 of which you still owe me for rent-"
Bruno covered the money with one hand. "No can do, Boots. This money was donated to the campaign in good faith. It would be inappropriate to use it for personal expenses. That would be embezzlement, and my campaign is too honorable for that."
Boots groaned. "Fine. The campaign has $1951.69. And enough candy for a busload of small children at Halloween. And a battery-operated novelty personal massager. And $12.52 American. And Wilbur Hackenschleimer's entire stash of Canadian Tire money, which comes to $2140. And Argonauts tickets from Cathy. And an offer of more catering services from Scrimmage's Baking Club."
"So we have over $4000?"
"No, we have under $2000. We need to buy TV spots and radio ads and billboards and stuff, not power tools. Radio stations don't accept Canadian Tire money. They probably don't accept Argonauts tickets either, though that's at least worth a try."
"...a pair of tickets to see the Argonauts game for our seventh caller, brought to you by the Bruno Walton for Parliament campaign. Vote for Bruno, the local man who looks out for local interests..."
Chris Talbot's studio was much the same as before, only this time Chris wasn't wearing welding gear and the sculpture in the middle now looked like a life-size stick figure wearing realistic copper shoes and trousers, instead of just copper shoes.
Chris held up one hand in warning. "Before you start, guys, I'm still not doing art for free."
That was enough for Boots. He turned towards the door. "Come on, Bruno. Let's stop pestering Chris. The man needs to make a living just like you or I do." In retrospect, his error was in including Bruno's easy come, easy go lifestyle in the comparison.
Bruno was unmoved, turning his intense gaze on Chris. "But you're willing to cut us a deal for old times' sake, right?"
Cautiously, Chris nodded. "I suppose that I could, yeah. But I have a deadline to meet on the statue, so I'm not going to have enough time to do a large project. Besides, you probably couldn't afford my rates even with the discount."
Boots tugged at Bruno's arm. "Come on, Bruno. We can't spend the money on Chris; we need it all for advertising. Heck, we really need more money than we have for advertising. Just let it go; we'll make do with Photoshop."
Bruno only smiled and pulled out a fat wad of bills and slapped it on the table in front of Chris. "Just give me as much as you can for this."
Boots blanched as he recognized the vivid colors. "Bruno, that's-"
"-Canadian Tire money," Chris Talbot finished. "It this some sort of a joke?"
"I'm completely serious!" Bruno protested. "Look, Wilbur donated all his saved-up Canadian Tire money to the campaign. The campaign might not have much use for housewares or tires and stuff, but-" He gestured around the studio, full of all kinds of works in progress. "-but I'm pretty sure that you could use the power tools for your work. I mean, Boots told me that you were even welding the other day."
Chris looked around the studio before turning back to Bruno. "Well, yes, but-"
Bruno cut him off. "-for old times' sake?"
"Remember what Hartley said about the Fish."
Chris sighed. "I know I'm going to regret this, but all right."
Boots checked Three Hundred Eight again. "Well, it looks like Cathy's little show helped both Elmer and us. The Greens are up to 13%, which is really good for them. Elmer's strategy of appealing to the Anything But Conservative crowd by pointing out that it's too late to stop the Tories from getting a majority so they might as well follow their heart is paying off; seems like there are a lot of folks with Green sympathies who usually vote strategically. And we are finally on the board; we're polling at around 5%, which is enough that Three Hundred Eight has actually bothered to mention you by name."
Bruno pumped a fist. "Yes! Even the Blabbermouth couldn't stop Cathy from getting the word out!"
"And Hartley is down to 36. Not yet in real danger from even the Liberals, but that's a lot of negative momentum he's building." Boots looked over at Bruno. "Are you still interested in stopping Hartley, or is it just a side-effect of wanting to win it yourself at this point."
Bruno paused for a moment, thinking about it. "Yes. I still want to stop Hartley, and I want to win it myself too. Can't I want both?"
Boots chuckled. "I don't think that wanting it all has ever stopped you before, so no reason why it should now. I've bought us some advertising, and Chris will be providing at least some posters. What else, though? We need a lot more help to make it up to first past the post."
"Don't worry," Bruno said confidently. "I have another plan."
"-breaking news. A surprise visit from a foreign diplomat at the Bruno Walton for Parliament rally in Stouffville. Malbonian Foreign Minister Diaz took a day off from his state visit to Ottawa to fly down to Stouffville and endorse Walton. Here's Janice Adams at the scene. Over to you, Janice."
The view cut away to a crowded mid-sized hall decked in purple ribbons and balloons. Up at the podium, and elderly man spoke in faintly accented English. "Even when he was but a child, Bruno Walton has always shown a strong awareness of international politics. Had he only earned the RCMP Bravery Medal, it would have been impressive enough. Had he only earned the OPP Youth Award, it would have been impressive enough. Had he only earned the highest Malbonian honor granted to a foreign national, it would have been impressive enough. But young Walton did not dwell on the honors being granted him; no, his thought was to make my son and myself confortable in a foreign land after a harrowing experience. He even went so far as to secure a Malbonian flag for us."
The reporter on the scene (presumably Janice Adams) cut in, Minister Diaz's voice being muted to let her comment. "As you can see, the unexpected appearance of Minister Diaz has created quite a stir here in Stouffville. People are flocking in to see him - and to find out what makes Bruno Walton so special."
Her voice faded out again and Minister Diaz's faded back in. "-be proud of these young men, Bruno and his friend who rescued my son, and that telescope boy Drimsdale who alerted them to the emergenc- What's that? Oh, when you are my age everyone will seem young to you too."
The camera cut to Janice and a middle-aged woman. "Yes, Minister Diaz is certainly making life in Stouffville more exciting than usual. I have here Theresa Armstrong of Stouffville. Theresa, what do you think of the Minister's unexpected appearance?"
Theresa blinked at the camera. "Oh, it's all terribly exciting. This whole election has been, really. I mean, how often do you have an independent candidate running? Or a Nobel Prize winner? And it's so interesting, the way the two of them went to school together right down the road. I feel like it's really putting out tiny little town on the map."
"And there you have it, folks. One little by-election is playing out as drama on the national scale."
"-scandalbroth? Conservative candidate Tom Hartley alleges inappropriate foreign influence in the unexpectedly close Oak Ridges-Markham campaign. He suggests that Malbonian influence-peddling is unfairly turning the election against him, and calls two of his opponents - Green candidate Elmer Drimsdale and Independent Bruno Walton - 'puppets with Malbonian hands up their puppetholes.'"
"Wow, Hartley is a jerk. And an idiot." Boots chuckled.
"Huh? What now?" Bruno looked up from the stack of "please vote for me" letters he was signing.
"You remember that puppet comment he made about Malbonia? The media is all over it. Free publicity for us, and he's taking some heat for being vulgar and insensitive to foreign affairs."
Bruno grinned. "Sometimes there's justice in this world. So what's the damage?"
"Hang on, hang on..." Boots fiddled with his laptop. "Hartley's down 6 points to 30. The pundits are talking about how a formerly safe Conservative seat is now up for grabs. Liberals are next at 27, so they actually have a shot at beating him. Next- wow, that's interesting."
"Oh, Elmer's managed to pull ahead of the NDP candidate. That's pretty much unheard of around here. He's doing really well for a Green."
Bruno sighed. "I suppose I'm happy for him, but I still wish I was the one doing better."
"Don't worry, you are. It looks like you picked up another 5% or so from the incident. Bruno, you're actually in the double-digits now. For an independent, that's pretty amazing."
Thanksgiving weekend rolled around, and Bruno and Boots were back at Macdonald Hall to see the unveiling of Chris Talbot's statue of the Fish. Boots spotted two worrisome things as he pulled into the parking lot; media vans and Elmer Drimsdale. He nudged Bruno with his elbow. "Media's here; you've got to be on your best behavior."
Bruno peered out the window. "Wow, there's a lot of them. I was expecting only CHUT."
"It's a slow year for elections, and this one suddenly got interesting to the national media when the Conservatives imploded. You ready for it?"
Bruno grinned. "Yeah, let's do this thing." He got out of the car and headed straight for Elmer, who was being interviewed by someone from the Sun.
"Hey Elmer, good to see you here." Bruno clapped Elmer on the shoulder away from the camera and gave him a hearty handshake. Cameras flashed. He glanced over at the cameras briefly, then turned back to Elmer. "What do you say we call it a truce while we're here? Today should be about Macdonald Hall, not about politics."
Elmer's expression slowly broke into a smile. "It's a deal, Bruno. May the best man win."
The reporter shoved a microphone between the two of them. "Mr. Drimsdale, Mr. Walton! The people want to know what you two have to say about Puppetgate."
Bruno turned towards the cameras, smiling, his hand still on Elmer's shoulder. "What I have to say? It's a beautiful day for a fall barbecue, wouldn't you agree, Elmer?"
After a moment, Elmer nodded. "Yes, I concur. It's a fine weekend to be at Macdonald Hall." With that, both candidates turned and walked away from the press.
Several grilling stations were dotted around campus, and students were milling around in front of them all, enjoying the break from their usual schedule. One group had even struck up an impromptu frisbee game. Headmaster Flynn was manning the grill right in front of the covered statue. He beckoned the alumni over with a wave. "I'm glad you boys could make it. Talbot's around here somewhere, I'm not sure where. Mr. Sturgeon will be here in a minute for the actual ceremony; he's just resting up a bit right now."
Boots jogged over with the candidates in tow. "Hey, coach. Is Mr. Sturgeon doing all right? I notice that he's been walking with a cane lately."
"Is it his ingrown toenail acting up again?" Bruno interjected.
Flynn shook his head. "No, I think it's just age, not an ingrown toenail. He's been suffering from arthritis for a few years now and I think it's finally catching up with him. But don't worry; he's in fine shape for his age."
"Headmaster," Elmer said earnestly, "I happen to know that there's a clinical trial of an experimental arthritis treatment going on at McGill. Do you think Mr. Sturgeon would mind if I suggested it?"
Flynn shook his head. "I'm not the one you should be asking. Here, could one of you take over grilling duties for me? I gotta go keep the kids in hand."
"No problem." Bruno accepted the spatula as Flynn dashed off to subdue youthful high spirits. He flourished it like a sword as the grill sizzled. "I am a master of meat, a sultan of sausages."
"More like a braggart of bratwurst." Boots said with a grin. "Say, did you get a look at the statue after Chris finished it?" He looked up at the thing, still shrouded under its cover. Though only life-size, it towered over the scene atop its marble pedestal.
Bruno smirked. "Well, not in good lighting conditions. But let's just say that I felt bad about the Sir John A. Macdonald statue being the only one that gets dressed up around here."
Boots blanched. "Bruno, you didn't! You're a candidate now!" He darted over to the statue and raised a corner of the covering to peek underneath. It was hard to see, but the statue appeared to be wearing some sort of red robe.
Bruno was laughing. "No, I'm just kidding. This time it really wasn't me. I did come over last night and sneak a peek, but I swear it was like that when I got here." He shrugged. "Probably some of the boys did it."
Boots shook his head. "I just hope that they don't assume you were behind it anyway. Hey, it's the Fish!"
Retired Headmaster William R. Sturgeon was hobbling over to the statue with the help of his wife, Mildred, and a cane in one hand. Sidney Rampulsky was trailing behind them, carrying folding chairs.
"Just set up the chairs over there by the statue, Sidney dear." Mildred Sturgeon gestured Sidney forward. "Thank you so much for offering to help out; William and I really appreciate it, don't we, William?"
The Fish dredged up a cool smile. "Thank you, Mr. Rampulsky." As he eased himself down on one of the chairs he whispered, "Really, Mildred. I'm just old, not crippled. I would have been perfectly capable of carrying chairs over here for us."
"Of course you would, dear," Mildred soothed. "But it's gracious of you to let the boys feel like they're being helpful."
Bruno flipped burgers and rotated hot dogs. "Got any requests, Mr. Sturgeon? Coach Flynn left me in charge here while-"
"That's Headmaster Flynn, Walton," the Fish said quietly. "Alex passed the coaching duties on when he became Headmaster. And I'll have a cheeseburger, thank you."
"Sorry, sorry. Headmaster Flynn. Anything for you, Mrs. Stur-"
A stray frisbee was heading toward the group at the grill.
"It's going to hit the-"
"I'll save you, Mr. Sturgeon!" With that, Sidney Rampulsky leapt gazelle-like into the air to catch the frisbee, showing off the skill that had made him Cathy's favorite receiver back when they were in school. Sadly, Sidney's grace did not translate through to the landing. He stumbled, lurching into Bruno who in turn fell into the grill with a shout.
Hot coals spilled out across the ground at the base of the statues, hamburger patties and hot dogs landing directly on the coals in a sizzle of grease. As the meat caught fire, flames began to flicker at the bottom of the statue's concealing shroud.
Boots rushed over to help the Fish and Mildred away from the fire.
"Augh! My hair is burning!"
Thinking quickly, Elmer rushed in to dump his Coke over Bruno's head.
"My statue!" howled Chris Talbot.
"My bathrobe!" shouted the Fish as the statue's covering burned away enough to reveal familiar red silk.
Slowly, a hush spread across campus as everyone turned to watch the statue, gradually being unveiled as its covering burned away. Chris Talbot's artistry was revealed in the intricate, lifelike contours depicting the Fish in his prime. As the fire died down, it became evident that the impromptu heat-treatment had imbued the meticulously sculpted copper with rainbow hues of peacock, magenta, and aquamarine.
"It's like a technicolor Fish," Boots breathed reverently.
Chapter 5: A Historic Day
"It's not good, Bruno," Boots said quietly.
"The polls." Boots gestured at the screen. "That whole incident at Macdonald Hall... the media is spinning it as you knocking over the grill and setting things on fire."
"Well, technically, yeah - but only because Butterfingers Rampulsky knocked me over first."
Boots shrugged. "You're a celebrity now; Sidney isn't. But between that and the photos of Elmer dumping Coke over your head, we've taken a beating. The pundits are seeing you as a joke candidate again, not a Cinderella story."
Bruno sighed, running his fingers through his (now somewhat shorter) hair. "All right, how bad is it?"
"We're back down to only 4% again. The major parties have pretty much held steady, maybe losing ground a little. Elmer is the big winner here; he's being talked up as the hero who saved your life, a cool head in a crisis, etc. He's actually running neck and neck with the Liberals now at 25%, just 4 points behind Hartley at 29%."
Bruno was silent for a long minute. "We're not going to win this one, are we?"
"Not with the election only a week away, no," Boots agreed.
Bruno went to the refrigerator and pulled out a beer, tossing another to Boots. "Drink up. And put on some music. We're throwing a wake for my campaign."
After a moment's thought, Boots pulled up some Great Big Sea and then set the laptop carefully aside. "It was a lot of fun while it lasted," he offered, popping the top on his beer.
"Yeah, it was. Remember George getting tackled?" Bruno forced a chuckle and thudded down on the couch next to Boots.
"By the RCMP. I saved some of the pictures." Boots took a drink. "I can't believe you convinced Chris to get paid in Canadian Tire money."
Bruno grinned. "What can I say, I'm a smooth-talking man." He took a long drink from his beer. "Boots?"
"You said that Elmer is down by only 4 points from Hartley, right?"
The lights shone down, hot and uncomfortable. Bruno fidgeted with his tie, but stopped at a sharp glance from Boots offstage. He inhaled deeply, then smiled. "I suppose you're all wondering why I asked you here today," he said to the media.
"First of all, I'd like to thank all of you who have supported this campaign. Every single one of who you signed my nomination, attended a rally, or donated a penny. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Together, we accomplished far more than anyone thought realistic at the beginning of this race.
"But the time has come to admit that we're not going pull it off this time around. For me to withdraw from this race." Bruno took a deep breath.
"I encourage you all to consider voting for Elmer Drimsdale. He's a heck of a man; I've known him since we were kids together at Macdonald Hall. You all already know that he's a genius; what you might not know is that his heart is in the right place too. He's always looking out for what's best for us all; for Macdonald Hall, for Canada, and for all the world." He blinked hard, eyes glittering suspiciously.
"So... that's it. Thank you for everything; it was one heck of ride while it lasted. And please vote for Elmer, because I think he'll work hard to do a good job. I wish you all the best."
Bruno strode offstage quickly, ignoring shouted questions from the press. Boots put an arm around his shoulders and guided him towards the back exit.
"Thanks." Bruno wiped at his face. "At least it'll be good to get out of the spotlight for a while," he ventured.
"I know you're disappointed," Boots said quietly. "But I think this was the right thing to do, and you can always run again at the next general election. It'll go easier now that you've built up some name recognition."
Bruno shook his head. "Not against Elmer; he's still a friend, and I wasn't lying when I said I think he'll do a good job - he will do a good job, won't he? Tell me that this wasn't for nothing, that he can beat Hartley."
Boots was quiet for a long moment. "I really don't know, Bruno. It'll be close either way."
The atmosphere at Elmer's campaign headquarters was tense but hopeful. Bags of party goods were at hand, but no one was confident enough to open them. Bruno, like many other staffers, had clenched his hands into fists while waiting for the results to come in. The sole spot of serenity was Elmer, occasionally typing something into his computer.
The television flipped back to election coverage and someone unmuted the sound. "-and the results are in from Elections Canada. Boy, this was a close one! The winner, by a margin of only 65 votes, is ...Elmer Drimsdale of the Green Party. This is a historic day, folks. Elmer makes the second Green Party member ever elected to Parliament, and the first who was not the party lead-"
"YES!" Bruno's roar ripped through the room, overtaking the gentler cheers. Soon, confetti was everywhere as the entire campaign staff celebrated.
Boots stretched lengthwise one the couch. Maybe everything would finally get back to normal; no more elections, no more drama, and... okay, Bruno owing him rent money was still pretty normal.
The phone rang.
Boots reached out a long arm to pick it up. "Hello? Who? The CBC?" He covered the receiver with one hand. "Bruno, it's for you!"
Bruno bounded in and grabbed the phone. "Hello? Yeah, it's me. You want me to what? Really? Neat! How much? It's a deal!"
He hung up the phone, grinning from ear to ear. "Hey Boots, I'm going to be able to pay you back for the rent after all!"
"Good, but what was that all about, Bruno?"
"That was the CBC. They were so impressed by my campaign that they want me to host a new TV show. It's sort of like Hockey Night In Canada, only about politics instead of hockey!"
Boots lay back with a groan. Everything was back to normal, all right.