Concerning the Candidate

I heard Salman Rushdie read Donald Barthelme’s Concerning the Bodyguard as one of the New Yorker‘s fiction podcasts. Since I like stories that take a different form I thought I’d try something along the same lines, a story made up mostly of questions. I was pleased with the result and sent it to Wired, which speedily rejected it (although not frostily; as a former editor myself I appreciated that). Not long afterwards I became interested in screenwriting and revamped it. I sent an earlier version to my one contact in the business, a friend-of-a-friend producer who said she would look at it the same day. That was in December. It’s now July …

INT. CANDIDATE’S OFFICE – DAY

The CANDIDATE, smooth-faced, early 30s, stares at his iPhone in horrified disbelief

CANDIDATE

Oh, fuck. Oh, Jesus fucking Christ. Fuck fuck FUCK!

He looks at his titanium-braceletted watch, then dashes out of the door and through another office in which an ASSISTANT is watering a dusty rubber plant. Election posters with pictures of the smiling CANDIDATE cover the walls.

ASSISTANT

Shit storm, force ten

FLASHBACK

INT. ELECTION NOMINATING COMMITTEE MEETING ROOM, A FEW DAYS EARLIER – NIGHT

Half a dozen PARTY WORTHIES sit on one side of the table, the CANDIDATE on the other. The WORTHIES have yellow legal pads.

CANDIDATE

So I’m sure you’ll agree that my knowledge and experience make me the right man for the job.

(smiles)

My family connections are just icing on the cake. But I do know my father-in-law would like to make a lasting contribution to the city which has allowed him to prosper.

(looks around)

I’m sure if I suggested, I don’t know, a new city hall, he’d be happy to help in any way he could.

WORTHY

There remains the matter of trust. Can we be assured that your record is unblemished? Be frank. Are there any unfortunate episodes we should know about? Any youthful brushes with the law, for instance?

CANDIDATE

I am so glad you asked that question. I have always believed that anyone who enters political office has to serve as a role model for the community. I’ve had moments of weakness. We all have. But I have always found strength and guidance in the Church. And I know when I need help I can always turn to Jesus. He is my rock.

WORTHIES exchange approving glances and jot down notes on their legal pads.

PRESENT

INT. MARBLE-COUNTERED KITCHEN – DAY. ELAINE, THE CANDIDATE’S WIFE, IS ON HER PHONE

ELAINE

That’s right, five cases. No? Alright, I’ll take the three Veuve Cliquot and two Moet. No, don’t bill me, bill William McLachlan. What? M–C–L–A– Yes, I’m sure you have heard of him. He’s my father.

Too pugnacious to be a trophy wife, she hangs up, then opens Twitter. Noting that she has 23,769 followers, she sends them a tweet: To help Andrew win the election we’re holding a series of get-togethers for supporters and you are all invited. No rubber chicken! Stay tuned!

It’s too long. A look of contempt crosses her face as she selects the word Andrew. She deletes it and substitutes the pronoun us.

ELAINE

Meaning me. Which to Andrew means William McLachlan.

INT. PARKING GARAGE, CANDIDATE’S CARBON BLACK BMW 650 – DAY

The CANDIDATE sits behind the wheel and stares at his phone, brow furrowed and lips moving as he whispers soundlessly to himself. He looks at his watch.

He grinds his teeth and beats his head against the wheel. The HORN blares, making him jump.

CANDIDATE

FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!

His hands wring the steering wheel as if it was somebody’s neck.

He makes a decision. He starts the motor and backs out with tires shrieking.

EXT. BUSY URBAN ROAD CLOTTED WITH TRAFFIC – LATE AFTERNOON

The CANDIDATE’s BMW inches forward. There are advertising hoardings everywhere.

It becomes apparent that they all have the name MCLACHLAN in the bottom corner.

INT. CANDIDATE’S BMW – LATE AFTERNOON

The CANDIDATE is gridlocked. Outside the car window looms another of the McLachlan billboards, advertising Fifty Shades of Grey.

As he stares at it erotic memories well up.

FLASHBACK

INT. APARTMENT BUILDING CORRIDOR, TWO YEARS PREVIOUSLY – NIGHT

He is going with a girl, drunk, back to her apartment. The apartment is on the third floor, 307. They stumble inside, tugging at each other’s clothes and laughing. Then the girl …

PRESENT

EXT. ROAD – LATE AFTERNOON

FX BLARE OF HORN

The DRIVER of the car behind the CANDIDATE’s gestures impatiently for him to move forward.

INT. CANDIDATE’S BMW – LATE AFTERNOON

The CANDIDATE goes forward a few feet and comes to a halt beside an advertising hoarding for a Chevy truck.

The CANDIDATE is not interested in trucks but he does notice the ad bears the name not of McLachlan but of MULDOON, in bigger letters.

EXT. RUNDOWN LOWRISE APARTMENT BUILDING – LATE AFTERNOON

The BMW pulls up outside. The CANDIDATE gets out and enters the building.

INT. SAME CORRIDOR AS THE EROTIC FANTASY – LATE AFTERNOON

The CANDIDATE stops outside 307. He presses the BUZZER, which gives a fluttering, desiccated rattle.

The door is opened by CITIZEN CYCLIST, shorts, ratty grey ponytail, green shower sandals. He eyes the CANDIDATE’s Italian wool suit and doesn’t like what he sees. Around him toys clutter the floor.

CITIZEN CYCLIST

Yeah?

CANDIDATE

Yes. Good afternoon. I was wondering if … Actually, I was looking for someone who used to live here.

CITIZEN CYCLIST

Name?

CANDIDATE

Sue. Sue Smith.

CITIZEN CYCLIST

Never heard of her.

CANDIDATE

Blonde? Mid-twenties?

CITIZEN CYCLIST

(over shoulder)

Trish, know anyone called Sue Smith?

TRISH

(off camera)

Nah. Who wants her?

CITIZEN CYCLIST

(looking closer)

I know you. You’re in the election.

CANDIDATE

(both embarrassed and gratified)

That’s right.

(steels himself not to waste an opportunity)

I hope I can look forward to your support. Your vote can help  change …

CITIZEN CYCLIST

Four-wheeler, aren’t you?

CANDIDATE

Excuse me?

CITIZEN CYCLIST

Four wheels bad, two wheels good. More bike paths. That’s what we need. What’s your position on bike paths?

CANDIDATE

I’m so glad you asked that question. We have to look at it from all sides, take every position into account so we can …

CITIZEN CYCLIST

I’ll tell you what position I look at it from. Face down in the middle of the fucking road because some shithead in a BM-fucking-W cut right in front of me. Didn’t even stop to see if I was dead. Question: why are BMWs like hemorrhoids? Answer: assholes get them.

CANDIDATE

Well, yes, there’s clearly an issue to be discussed here …

(trips over a child’s broken scooter as he backs away)

That’s the great thing about democracy, we can each play our part in putting forward …

CITIZEN CYCLIST slams the door.

INT. CANDIDATE’S BMW, STILL OUTSIDE THE APARTMENT – EVENING

He looks at his watch again. A sheen of sweat covers his brow. He has developed a nervous tic in his cheek. He looks at his iPhone. His lips move soundlessly as he re-reads the message. He clicks on the attached link.

The screen displays a photograph of the CANDIDATE. He is naked, and on his knees. The girl over whom he is bending is also naked, her pubic hair trimmed to a single narrow path in the style known as a Landing Strip. Lines of white powder run along either side of it. The candidate is holding a rolled-up banknote between thumb and forefinger and grinning.

He is not grinning now. He reads the message on the iPhone screen, again:

“Withdraw your candidacy by midnight or this photograph will go to your father-in-law, you wife and her Twitter followers.”

He opens Facebook and looks for girls called Sue Smith.

He goes to the page of the first one. It shows a toothy nine-year-old with a pony.

The second is a large crop-headed woman in a relationship with someone called Joy.

The third has seven-year-old twins and is mourning her husband, recently killed in Afghanistan.

The fourth is black.

Recognition dawns when he sees the fifth, a blonde with full lips. He scans her Timeline.

CANDIDATE

Yes!

Frantically, he taps out a message to all her friends, headed URGENT REQUEST FOR INFORMATION, bold face and upper case.

He waits impatiently, unable to stop glancing at his watch.

CITIZEN CYCLIST appears on the sidewalk and raises a single finger at the BMW, then swings a leg over the saddle and launches himself into the night. The CANDIDATE doesn’t notice.

FX: PING of incoming message

The CANDIDATE reads, lips moving soundlessly.

SUE’S FRIEND

(off camera)

You won’t find Sue. She finally realized all the men in her life were dickheads. She’s living in a convent in Italy now. And not coming back.

CANDIDATE

Jesus fucking Christ. That’s it. I’m finished.

He flicks listlessly through the names of Sue’s friends. They scroll down the screen like cherries on a fruit machine.

The CANDIDATE jerks upright. He jabs at the screen so the names go into reverse, then stop.

CANDIDATE

James Muldoon. Junior.

He stares at Muldoon’s Timeline. Muldoon was in a relationship with Sue Smith two years ago.

He now works in the family firm of Muldoon Universal Enterprises, Inc.

CANDIDATE

(whispers to himself)

Junior? Nobody wants to be known as Junior.

The penny drops. The CANDIDATE’s expression changes from horror to awe. A grim smile, and he begins to tap a message to James Muldoon Junior.

CANDIDATE

(skims over what he has written)

Admire your ambition … Something of greater value than getting rid of me … We both know where the bodies are buried … Grand alliance … New blood … Power passing to the younger generation … Partners, not rivals … Your father and my father-in-law in well-deserved retirement … Dawn of a new age of mutual prosperity …

He presses SEND. His face has a look of triumph. He admires himself in the driving mirror.

CANDIDATE

(to his reflection)

Oh, yes. Definitely the right man for the job.

INT. ELAINE’S KITCHEN – NIGHT

ELAINE

(stares at a text from James Muldoon Junior on her phone)

Oh, you shit, Andrew. You treacherous, slimy little shit. But you know what’s worse? You are really, really dumb. Always cut out the middle man. That’s what Daddy says. That’s how he got rich. Muldoon knows that. But that’s exactly what you made yourself.

She leaves the kitchen and returns wheeling an office-sized shredder. She shoves in a stack campaign posters so the CANDIDATE’s face disappears from the $200 haircut downward.

ELAINE

Asshole.

*****

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