Number One - A Fable

Number One - A Fable

A Story by A R Lowe
"

A disturbing tale...

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Number One - A Fable


 


   The news broke at dawn here but I heard it on the radio at eight and was surprised and puzzled. I don't say shocked, because I didn't know the man and so didn't allow myself to be shocked, but the richest man in the world had been gunned down outside his home and nobody knew why. They say he had no known enemies but he must have stood on a few toes on his path to financial glory. The media had milked the story dry within a week. They must have rooted and shovelled like the devil himself to find leads, reasons, motives, suspects; but they came up with nothing more than titillating speculation and we were tired of that.

   Nine days after the first murder an aging tycoon was hit just below the left ear by a sniper's bullet and no investigative wizardry was needed to confirm that he was the richest man in the world - had been for nine days. Now I was almost shocked. I take a special interest in the news because I am a failed sports journalist and a recently failed local politician and not resigned to either of these disappointments. I have to write this story though, even if it hasn't quite happened yet.

   That's why it's a fable. I'm writing it to instruct and amuse, as the dictionary recommends, although there's little room for animal characters as we usually perceive them. I'm not writing for money as I'm not going to have much use for it now, so I'll be as honest and objective as I can. I'm almost sorry to have to refer to media accounts in the telling of this tale but as I was only present at one of the murders - or 'eliminations' as they came to be known; the media again - I need to outsource.

   Links between the two murders were sought frantically - even the police started to take an interest - and there was one undeniable fact; a real fact: both men had been the richest in the world. Another fact was that the two men were from the same country and so had also been the richest man therein. So the world and the country waited, speculated, and, without admitting it, thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

   Then nothing happened. Literally nothing happened, as the world was so enthralled by the whole thing. Important sporting competitions ceased to be important. Crucial elections were largely ignored. Civil wars petered out due to lack of interest. Nothing happened except speculation on who was now the richest man in the world. The 'Rich Lists' had been unanimous about the previous two incumbents, but the bronze medal, now polished up to gold, had had three or four suitors.

   I say had had, because now no-one was clambering onto the podium. Howard Hughes would have tipped his hat from the grave to this new limelight shunning craze. To be fair, none of the candidates had ever over-exposed themselves to the world of print and pictures, but they hadn't minded being on the lists. Now they weren't to be seen, none of them. Even numbers five and six, or six and five, both slightly more flamboyant multi-billionaires, were taking sabbaticals without getting any poorer for it. Still nothing happened.

 

   Nine months later, just as important sporting competitions, crucial elections and civil wars had regained their rightful popularity, a very rich man from another continent was found cold in his bed. He had been poisoned, they said, and there were 34 suspects from amongst his retinue of servants, soldiers and a visiting manicurist. They (They?) had taken their time but had got their man, as the revised lists confirmed. Now it was very much a World Issue, a World Event; but where to aim the blame? Terrorist organisations were considered the best bet - yes, many bets were taken - but the main groups denied responsibility. A freedom fighting force of seven men from a South Pacific island claimed the scalps, but as none of them had passports, ocean-going vessels, or shoes, they were dismissed as eccentrics.

   Rich lists were now big business and every angle was studied before naming the next Number One. Family wealth or individual wealth? Declared or surmised? Re-evaluations of properties, pictures, oil fields and tenement blocks were undertaken because the public simply had to know who the next target would be. They had a right to be told; focus had to be retained in this human interest story to end all human interest stories.

   While the eyes of the world - figuratively speaking, in fact very few actual eyes were upon him in his bunker - were on an Eastern gentleman of great means, the dictator of a small African state was drowned on a fishing trip under suspicious circumstances. He had been dictator for many years and had accumulated great wealth. He was said to be...  well, you know what he was said and later proven to be. This time a plausible entity declared themselves the perpetrators - The Socialist People's Front of B____. They said they had followed the example of 'The Ones' and had extinguished their 'Greedy One', the 'Capitalist Scourge', and other such epithets. We knew what they meant. This was a whole new ball game.

   The former number six or five, recently promoted up the danger list, and not at all reassured by the recent movement of the goalposts (sporting terms riddle poor journalism, but I'm a failed sports journalist after all) appeared on his own television station writing huge cheques to charitable organisations; one of the recipients' requirements being to publicly announce the clearing of the cheques on another television channel. Rich men cover every angle.

   This was rich, this was great, this was the thing to do. The former number five or six proposed the establishment of a free National Health Service - something which had been thought wholly unnecessary until then in that particular country - and pledged to cover all costs for the first three months. This would cost him an awful lot of money, he said, but would be worth it. He hoped that others would continue the good work in the future, to ensure the good health of the nation. Good health was all the rage just then.

   The largest property owner of a small island state died in his bed. He was 89. Who knows? Who cares? No-one cared because very shortly afterward the as yet uncharitable Eastern gentleman died in a gas explosion. Private bunker construction has come on leaps and bounds since then. We were back on centre court waiting for the next serve.  

   Conjectures as to the identity of the perpetrators continued, but a new 'Contagion Theory' was expounded by a clever man in glasses. Should we be looking for one group; one organisation? Had others taken up the baton? It was hard to imagine the infrastructure and secrecy required to maintain a worldwide assassination concern in our Orwellian age, and murder has been out of copyright for a long time. Thus public interest shifted from the who to the why and the what next. It was also at this time that the word Elimination replaced other more emotive terms for the taking of life. It sounded more clinical and people liked that.

   A shipping magnate of some substance was run over by a tractor in one of those little Baltic countries. A farmer was clubbed to death in a very, very small mountain principality and his status and provenance were later verified. The Contagion Theory was confirmed, but the clever man in glasses didn't accept any of the lucrative speaking engagements that were offered him. Accumulation of any sort of wealth was now frowned upon and avoided.

   A Charitable Revolution was underway as rich people realized that money really didn't buy much happiness anymore. The richest woman in the world entered a nunnery, declaring, nay swearing, that her accountants would render her penniless within a month before leaving her employ forever. Two weeks later her successor was found in a pool of blood under a walnut tree on one of her more isolated estates, thereby confirming the sporting tradition of separate male and female competitions.

   Because there did seem to be one golden rule in this game of death: only Number Ones were fair game. For humankind to survive as long as we have, there have always been unwritten rules, and this was the new one. It was considered poor taste to eliminate a mere contender on the grounds that the means were at hand and that it would save time later. That was not cricket. But, Number One of what or where? An Iberian olive producer was sedated and fed to the pigs. After the remains of his body were found, claims of foul play were confirmed in an anonymous letter to a provincial newspaper, of which province he had been the richest man; the Number One.

   Where would it all end?  A Bishop was stabbed to death up the Amazon. A village baker was run over in a Himalayan town. A coat-hanger manufacturer was found locked in a freezer in ... well, what does it matter where he was found? He was found, he was frozen solid, and he hadn't been an especially rich man, but he was Number One somewhere. Now no-one wanted to be wealthy, but there was, nevertheless, an unprecedented run on gold. Hidden wealth, it was thought, was safe wealth. ‘Dress down and save up’ was the whispered motto, although charitable donations continued to accelerate. Thousands of new charities sprang up to meet the new demand. Existing charities diversified; no charity wanted to be the biggest in any country, city or town. Small was good, modest was best, discreet was desirable.

   Amid all this turmoil there were a few winners, which some of the more upmarket newspapers mentioned in passing. Extreme poverty came to an end in a matter of months. Clever, shabbily dressed men soon claimed that the basic needs of water, food, clothing and shelter were being met in 98% of the world and those living in the remaining 2% were being attended to. Most businesses became cooperatives in which every member had a scrupulously equal share. Religious leaders were at a loss to equate so much evil with so much common good. Did the end justify the means? God only knew.

   It was at this point that I made my contribution to the cause by eliminating the mayor in my small town. He was wealthy, corrupt, and had orchestrated my political failure. I shot him four times with my licensed handgun and waited for the police to arrive. I couldn't start at the top so I started where I could. I wouldn't even have known how to find the richest man in the world, let alone have the funds to track him down and kill him. It's all about money in the end.

 

   So I've written my story, my fable, while I sit waiting for my own elimination. It's killed the time and made me feel better about what I did, but I guess we always seek justification for our actions, especially bad ones. I have been in this cell for so long now that I can't remember if it was already all so clear in my mind when I shot the mayor. It felt like murder at the time. 





© 2014 A R Lowe



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Added on April 20, 2014
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Author

A R Lowe
A R Lowe

Lancashire, United Kingdom



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