Thursday, July 23, 2009

No. 3: The Born Loser X

Chapter 1
Brutus Thornapple sat at a workbench in his basement. The radio softly played a Mozart composition. Brutus like Mozart because it could be simultaneously cheerful and depressing depending on the piece. He softly hummed along. His wife, Gladys, was in the kitchen, either eating, making something to eat or getting ready to make something to eat. He wasn’t sure but figured it was one of those. Brutus was currently working on a scale model city. It was a hobby he had picked up a few years ago and had so far created three. Brutus had created a history for all of his cities and these little towns were more of a pride and joy to him than his own family right now.

Brutus was born 45 years ago and had barely been out of the town he was born in. He blended into the background all through elementary school, junior high and high school. In college, Brutus started coming out of his shell and began dating and having fun. He lived off-campus in a house with six other guys and there was a party just about every night. When Brutus graduated he was able to obtain a job at Dickens, Jarndyce & Veeblefester, a company that was considered up-and-coming in the world of tea cozies. Brutus had a chance to make his mark in the world.

Five years into his career at DJ&V, Brutus met Gladys Gargle. Gladys was an attractive, tall, yet slightly husky young woman with long blond hair. They dated for nearly three years before Brutus worked up the courage to propose. By then, DJ&V had been restructured and Rancid Veeblefester became the new CEO and renamed the company The Veeblefester Corporation. Brutus had risen in the ranks enough to become Veeblefester’s number three man but it was there his promotions stalled.

A couple years after Brutus and Gladys married, their son, Wilberforce, was born. Wilberforce was Gladys’ pride and joy but Brutus didn’t feel right being a father. It wasn’t until Wilberforce was around four that Brutus started acting more like a dad than a father. And even though they were finally a family, Brutus wasn’t happy. Money was a problem and even though Brutus made good money with Veeblefester, there was never enough. It was true that money can’t buy happiness but it can put up a decent down payment.

“Brutus?” Gladys’ shrill voice pierced the quiet coolness of the basement as she yelled down from the kitchen. “Would spaghetti be okay for dinner?”

Brutus sighed. “Yes,” he reached over and turned off the radio.

“Why don’t you go ahead and tell Wilberforce that dinner will be ready soon. You two can go get cleaned up.”

“Mm-hmm,” Brutus mumbled and scooted his stool away from the workbench. He took one last look at his city and slowly made his way up the stairs to the kitchen.

Rancid Veeblefester has lived in the Baymont Hotel for six months, ever since his wife, Lividea, had thrown him out of their house of 25 years. At the time a pre-nup never even entered his mind but now he wished he’d consulted a lawyer before going through with the wedding. But he was young and impetuous at the time and was willing to take a chance and until last year, it had been a decent mistake. Currently, Veeblefester had the best lawyers working around the clock to either make divorcing him impossible and costly or not make it worth her while.

He stood up and looked out of the window and into the city of Cleveland. He had worked too long and hard and had grown too accustomed to his lifestyle to hand it over to some second-rate whore. Thoughts were racing through his mind and then his lips curled into a smile. “Dead women can’t file divorce papers…” he whispered.

Then he went to work on figuring out how to do it.

Chapter 2
Veeblefester called Brutus into his office shortly after ten. “Thornapple,” Veeblefester began, “you’ve worked here a long time, moving up in the ranks despite your lack of intelligence, mediocre work and basic stupidity.”

Brutus seemed hurt but in his mind, admitted that it was true. “I’m sorry, chief. In my defense I do try as hard as I can.”

Veeblefester exhaled slowly but audibly. “Unfortunately, yes. You do. But I’m going to offer you the position of executive vice president.”

“Sir, I don’t understand. First you berate me then you offer me a promotion. What’s going on?”

“Well Thornapple, I’m going to make you a serious offer. Job security, all the money you could want and a chance to do something good in the world. I want you to kill my wife.”

Brutus was not taken aback nor was he scared to curious. He took it in and dissected it. “Lividea?” Brutus made sure.


“I’m still confused, chief. Last I knew you and Lividea were happily married.”

“Things are not always what they seem, Thornapple. It hasn’t been long since the love fell out of our marriage but needless to say, it’s over and is coming to an end. I’ve been using lawyers to keep Lividea at bay but only they can do so much. The next step is this,” Veeblefester explained.

“But why me? I’m not exactly the killer type.”

“The mere fact you are still standing here sort of says otherwise,” Veeblefester said. “I also chose you because you have the most to gain and the least to lose.”

“But I have a wife and a kid to think about…”

“I’ve met your wife and seen your son, Thornapple. Most to gain. Least to lose.”

While at dinner, Brutus thought about Veeblefester’s offer. They had gone over it and determined how it would work and happen and then Veeblefester gave Brutus 24 hours to make his decision. Brutus ate in silence while Gladys and Wilberforce dominated the conversation.

“So how was school today, Wilberforce?” Gladys asked between taking two bites of mashed potatoes.

“It was fine. Hurricane Hattie called the teacher a name and was sent to the principal’s office. But it was a word that no one had heard before so we all spent the rest of the day saying it. The teacher about had a stroke,” Wilberforce laughed.

“Wilberforce,” Gladys chided, “you need to treat teachers with respect. It’s hard work what they do.”

“Sorry, Mom.”

“And Brutus, how was work?” she asked.

“Oh, same old stuff,” Brutus lied. “However, ol’ Veeblefester did offer me the position of executive vice president.”

“Really? Oh, Brutus, that’s wonderful!” Gladys exclaimed.

“He gave me 24 hours to decide whether or not I want the position. If I take it, we’ll be set for life…but I would have to do unscrupulous things to keep it.”

“Like what? Transfer money to an illegal account? Bulldoze a rainforest? Close down a nursing home?”

“Kind of the last two,” Brutus said.

“I say take it, Brutus. You can grow a conscious later. Short of physically killing anyone, you should take the position. You deserve it,” Gladys said.

Brutus sighed, still wondering what he should do.

That night, Brutus wandered the house thinking of the pros and cons. Any con he could think of, Veeblefester had already put to rest. He continued to pace and finally ended up in the basement where his model city was.

The next day, Brutus confidently marched into Veeblefester’s office and accepted the executive VP position and the hit on Lividea Veeblefester.

Chapter 3
The most expensive thing Rancid Veeblefester ever spent on his wife was their home. After that the next most expensive thing was her funeral. Veeblefester did a masterful job of mourning and was able to convey convincingly that despite the divorce proceedings, he still loved Lividea with all of his heart.

The police, after their initial suspicions, ruled the killing as a botched robbery and a coincidence. Brutus was made executive vice president of The Veeblefester Corporation and things were looking great. The first three months were wonderful and Brutus and Gladys rekindled their marriage.

Veeblefester never returned to his house—he wasn’t sure why. He stayed at the hotel and brooded. His life became filled with work until he woke up one morning and could barely move due to a dizzy spell. He lied in bed for almost an hour, terrified to move. Finally, he attempted to pull himself up and reached for anything he could use to steady himself.

The longer he stood the better his balance got and he walked over to the phone. He dialed and waited. “Hello, Thornapple? Can you come to the hotel and pick me up? I don’t feel well and don’t trust myself to drive.”

Veeblefester felt a lot better when he and Brutus arrived at the office. “Thornapple?”

“Yes, chief?” Brutus answered.

“How have you been doing these last couple of months?” Brutus seemed stunned at Veeblefester’s actual attempt at niceties.

“It’s been good. We’ve started paying off some debts and we took a short family vacation—Washington, D.C.—started buying brand name soda pop and in two months Gladys and I are going on our second honeymoon. To England!” Brutus seemed practically giddy.

“That’s nice, Thornapple,” Veeblefester said. “That’s nice.”

Veeblefester’s dizzy spells got worse. The day before Brutus’ vacation, Brutus found Veeblefester laying slumped on the floor of his office.

“Chief? What’s wrong?” Brutus cried.

“I…Can you take me home, Thornapple?” Veeblefester looked up at Brutus’ face but only saw a blurred visage instead.

Veeblefester couldn’t sleep. His left arm was numb and tingling. He didn’t need a doctor to tell him what was going on. Veeblefester shuffled his way to the desk in his hotel room.

He got out a piece of paper and began writing. He wrote as best he could but he couldn’t see the words. And he only knew vaguely where the paper was. He signed the paper with his usual flourish signature and attempted to stand up.

Suddenly, it was as if he were fine. Veeblefester’s sight went dark, his pupils dilated, his irises got cloudy. His arm stopped tingling. “He had the most to gain…” Veeblefester croaked as his knees buckled. “…I had the most to lose.”

And Veeblefester landed back on the chair and his body crumpled onto the desk and the letter. The letter carried, besides the fancy signature, only eight words but they were the most powerful words Rancid Veeblefester ever wrote: “I hired Brutus Thornapple to kill my wife.”

The Born Loser characters created by Art Sansom. Comic strip by Chip Sansom, distributed by United Feature Syndicate, New York City.