The Mayor’s got to Die is a short story from Tecumseh’s past about a plot to assassinate the mayor. #short fiction #Tecumseh
The Mayor’s Got to Die
Initially, this is the story of why the Mayor’s got to die. Let alone the fact, Hershel Percel shot Cole Young dead at the Tecumseh train station on July 4th of the year 1890. Young was a notorious gambler and rabble-rouser. Percel’s a decorated Civil War hero and Tecumseh’s only doctor. What sparked the incident was Young’s attempt to leave town with Percel’s wife, Elizabeth.
It took the jury one vote to acquit the popular war surgeon on the grounds he was temporarily insane. One of the jurors commented to a reporter from the Tecumseh Times that a good horse breeder would have put a hole in a thief if the man stole his favorite filly. He couldn’t fault Percel for protecting his property. The prosecution couldn’t argue with that sort of logic. The common consensus around town was Percel had every right to shoot a shady character like Cole Young seeings as how he was a war hero and a better than average doctor.
Doc Percel doctored the poor for free
Doc Percel was known to treat the poor for free, which made him popular with members of Tecumseh’s citizenry who resided on the shady side of the tracks. This riff-raff outnumbered the influential constituency 2 to 1. I firmly believe the only reason Percel won the election of 1894 was that the poor folks wanted to make sure the doctor stayed in town.
He wasn’t a bad sort and might have made a good mayor if It weren’t for one thing. The decorated Civil War surgeon was serious about fulfilling his campaign promise to clean up Tecumseh’s dirty backroom dealings. Bribes and shady land agreements are the way business has always been conducted in this town on the banks of the Eel River. The fool got himself elected, so the Mayor’s got to die.
I’m Albert Jones
My name is Albert Jones. I’m Tecumseh’s Sheriff, and It’s my job to stop Percel from keeping his word. This town has worked hard to establish a reputation in favor of corruption. The pursuit of dirty deals makes outstanding profits for our city’s wealthiest citizens.
I don’t have anything against our new Mayor personally, but the man is standing in the way of progress. The first thing Percel did after he took office was to contact authorities down at the State House in Indianapolis about auditing the city’s finances. No sissy doctor is going to come in here and stir the kittle while I’m wearing this badge on my chest. It’s my job to keep the peace. I don’t care if he is a Civil War veteran. The man needs to stick to playing by the rules of civilized government. Thus, I was the one to come up with the plan because the Mayor’s got to die.
Why the Mayor’s got to die
The first thing I did after I found out about Percel going to Indianapolis was call a meeting, which included all the folks that mattered. They are the people who elected me to keep law and order unless they paid me to look the other way.
Every lawman worth his salt knows who butters his bread and how to keep the movers and shakers happy. I’m at the bottom of the heap around these parts, but if I play my cards right, I might come out somewhere near the top. The group of illustrious gentlemen filed into my office with a hangdog look spread across their collective faces. It appeared I wasn’t the only one concerned about Percel’s antics.
The meeting to discuss killing the Mayor
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about that new Mayor. If we were smart, we would have tampered with the election. Nobody thought he’d get a single vote after the way he shot Cole Young down in cold blood over at the train station. It’s the riff-raff across the tracks that won him the race.” Chester Smith said in an angry voice.
His hands were gathered in tight fists at his side. I swear it looked like he wanted to punch somebody, which was proof things were out of control. Smith was the preacher who belonged to the big brick church on the corner of Elm and Jefferson Streets. He had the largest congregation in town. The man of the cloth had the reputation of being someone who didn’t rile easily.
Harold Warner’s opinion
Harold Warner spoke up next. “The sorry son-of-a-bitch came into my shop yesterday, asking me all sorts of questions about the land deal I made when I bought the widow Green’s farm on the east side of town.
The good Mayor wanted to know if I had firsthand knowledge the railroad planned to run tracks through there. He implied I didn’t give the woman a fair price for her land.” Everyone in the room knew Warner cheated the widow Green out of thousands when he bought up her property and turned around and sold it to the railroad for three times what he paid. Warner made a point of bragging about the deal he made all over town. Old Harold was famous for not being able to keep his big mouth shut when it mattered.
The room erupted with mumbling. I regretted calling this meeting so close to supper time. The smell of the fried chicken Mabel Samples was cooking over at the Tecumseh Inn two doors down on the square seeped under my office door.
I had to take charge
This fiasco could go on all night if someone didn’t take charge. I held my hand up in the air to establish some sort of order. “We need to get down to business. My stomach tells me it’s dinner time. I got the perfect solution to our Mayor problem if the rest of you are willing to go along with my plan.”
“Listen up, people. We need to hear what Albert has to say about how we are going to rid ourselves of our new Mayor,” Samuel Coffee shouted from the back of the room.
“The answer is plain and simple, gentleman. The Mayor’s got to die,” I said. The room erupted with loud talk. These prestigious men sounded like a gaggle of geese discussing flight plans south for the winter. Mabel’s fried chicken smelled better by the second. I thought about going out to grab a bite to eat while my suggestion was mauled over by these big shots.
Judge Baker stood to his feet and commanded everyone in the room’s attention. The officer of the court was formidable in both his enormous bulk and sterling reputation. “Are you suggesting we kill him in cold blood?” he asked like he didn’t already know the answer. The Judge was a cagey old coot. He always had to have everything spelled out in colorful detail before he made a decision.
“I would imagine cold blood is the only way to do it unless he’d volunteer to drop dead. He could have an unfortunate accident, or better yet, we could make it appear he was killed in the commission of a felony.
Everybody in town knows Percel has criminal tendencies. Wasn’t he declared temporarily insane at his trial after he shot Cole Young dead? That verdict establishes the fact he doesn’t always think straight. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch for him to get killed while breaking the law. Folks might think it was poetic justice. We’d have to find a new town doctor, but that’s the price of getting rid of a trouble maker,” I said.
In five minutes, I was able to explain all the details of my plan. The room got eerie quiet while the influential men did a little calculating. I didn’t trust any of these vampires as far as I could throw them. The bloodsuckers would turn on me in a second if it were to their advantage like piranha on a feeding frenzy.
I know all the secrets these men want to keep hidden and more about the railroad deal than they suspect. In a way, I’m their biggest liability. The one factor I can always count on is these gentlemen’s lust for power and greed. I planned to beat them at their own game using a stacked deck. I already figured out the exact card I needed to pull out if I was to come out ahead in my current situation.
“Before we agree to this, everyone in this room has to swear an oath of secrecy. Nothing we agree to can be uttered beyond these four walls. That means no pillow talk with your wife or one of the ladies over at the Golden Britches. What we are deliberating here, gentleman is a serious crime. You got to promise to keep your mouth shut. That means you can’t blab a word of this to anyone, especially if your name happens to be Harold Warner,” I explained, looking Harold directly in the eye. Everyone in the room knew Warner was the weak link in the chain.
I watched as the entire group of esteemed men raised their hands and swore the oath I asked the Judge to make up on the spot. For the next hour, these influential citizens plotted out every detail of the murder of an elected official. Thus, the Mayor’s got to die.
New level of ruthlessness
Therefore, they reached a new level of ruthlessness by the time the Judge turned to me and said, “Do you think you can carry out our instructions, Albert? We can’t leave any loose ends dangling in the wind.” These pompous asses already thought they were the ones to come up with the idea to kill the Mayor. As a group, they have a proclivity to underestimate a guy like me. My plan was working out just fine.
“I can do what you’re asking, but I got to wonder what’s in it for me,” I said, knowing I had them over a barrel. None of the men in this room would be willing to get their own hands dirty. They needed me to do the job.
“What price are you asking?” Melvin Whitley called out from the back of the room. He owned and operated a local saloon known as The Watering Hole. Whitley also kept women of the night across town near the railroad in a second drinking establishment called the Golden Britches. This whorehouse was making him a wealthy man. The location was convenient for traveling salesmen and railroad workers with an itch that needed to be scratched.
The Golden Britches
Indeed, a man could get drunk before he visited one of the upstairs strumpets for a fun night on the town. In my opinion, Whitley served a needed service in the Tecumseh community. I didn’t mind looking the other way as long as I got to visit the ladies at no charge whenever the yearning overcame my better sense of judgment.
“I want in on the railroad deal at the same percentage of the profit everyone else gets,” I said, wondering if I was pressing my luck by asking for too much.
“It’ll decrease our profit margin, but I don’t see any way around it unless one of us volunteers to shoot the Mayor,” Chester Smith said.
“The last thing I heard, we were still living in a democracy. We can’t include the Sheriff unless we take a vote,” bank owner Jenkins said, adding his greedy opinion into the mix.
They voted on the plan
A ballot was taken, and it was six to one in favor of letting me have an equal share of the profits. I should have felt privileged to be granted membership into these men’s secret club, but I noticed a few hard looks on several faces as they filed out of my office. Plus, these prestigious men were too willing to vote me into their unofficial association. I was going to have to watch my back, or I’d find a bullet in it.
It took a week for me to put my plan in motion. I had to break into the post office after closing time to write the Mayor a letter. It took me over an hour to peck out the message on one of those newfangled machines they call a typewriter. I couldn’t compose the blasted letter with my hand for fear someone would recognize my script. I licked a stamp, folded the piece of correspondence, stuck it in an envelope, and dropped it in the mail slot.
How I went about setting up the Mayor
The message said if the Mayor was so interested in cleaning up the dirty deals around Tecumseh, he needed to be at the flour mill south of town at 10 p.m. Thursday. Now, all I had to do was wait.
I picked Thursday because that was the day Andy Collins stashed the entire payroll for the mill employees in his office safe. It wouldn’t be hard to convince the citizens of Tecumseh the Mayor was after the payroll money.
Percel’s motive for stealing the payroll
Everyone in town knew Percel was over his head in debt because of his need to satisfy his fashionable wife’s expensive tastes. He was building that swanky mansion on the edge of town to keep her in Tecumseh. Elizabeth was a fickle child bride from a wealthy Pennsylvania family, who came to Percel equipped with a roving eye. The girl thought she’d caught a wealthy doctor.
What she got for her trouble was a war surgeon who got paid in eggs and poultry. Percel found out it was easier to keep her happy than to kill off all her lovers. Nobody would entertain a curious thought about how our new Mayor would end up dead during the commission of a robbery.
My two clumsy deputies
I have two clumsy deputies who come in handy from time to time. They’re useful when I need to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. On Wednesday evening, I told them I had a tip there was going to be a break-in at the mill. You should have seen them. They were so excited to get in on a little action. It took a lot of effort to hold them back. They were like two thoroughbred horses trying to break out of the gate. After two days of surveillance, the three of us hit pay dirt.
When the Mayor strutted into the clearing, we were hiding behind a covering of trees. We must have been standing about five hundred yards from him. Of course, I knew he’d be there since I set the events about to take place in motion. He stood under the moonlight and lit a cigar with a match. The pungent aroma of tobacco reached my nostrils, making me crave a cigar myself. There wasn’t a line of worry on his face when the light from the match lit up his features.
Any fool could see
So, any fool could see the Mayor was waiting for something, but my deputies were chomping at the bit for action. I settled them down by whispering how it was essential for us to catch the Mayor red-handed.
We squatted frozen in our hiding places for the next fifteen minutes. I could tell the Mayor was starting to get squirmy from all the waiting. He stomped in the direction of the flour mill just like I hoped he would. He turned the doorknob, and it popped open as planned. Andy Collins unlocked the door when he left for the night. I waited until Percel moved through the entryway before I went into action. “Stay where you are, Mayor. We got you surrounded,” I yelled into the darkness.
Percel played right m into our hands
The fool played right into my hands. Percel took off running like a nervous rabbit chased from a berry patch by an angry farmer armed with a shotgun. He and I rounded the corner at the same time. My deputies were a couple of lengths behind. One-shot was all it took for me to bring down the Mayor.
The only thing my officers saw when they came around the corner was Percel dead on the ground, and me standing over him holding a smoking gun. At the inquest, my talkative deputies testified I had no other choice but to shoot, or the Mayor would have got away.
How I covered for myself
I covered up for myself when a reporter from a fancy paper in Indianapolis started asking questions. He asked why a gun or burglary tools were never found near the Mayor’s body. If I had been thinking, I would have planted a lock pick on the ground beside his body to make it look good. I suggested he probably had an accomplice who got cold feet.
That was why he hung around outside the mill, smoking a cigar for so long. I told how my deputies, and I didn’t make a move until we saw him enter the mill. How the Mayor was able to get through the door without burglary tools would forever remain a mystery.
They never found the letter I sent because I broke into the Mayor’s house and snatched it from the top drawer of his desk. I burned it in my fireplace later that night. A sense of accomplishment formed inside my breast as I watched the paper ignite in a burst of flames.
Getting rid of the Mayor was my first step to becoming a wealthy man. Imagine my surprise when I encountered Judge Baker in the alley behind my office the morning after Percel died. The prestigious gentleman held a gun in his hand. “We can’t let you in on this deal. You should have stayed in your place. Greed has a way of getting men such as yourself killed,” he said as he pulled the trigger.
The surprise waiting for me in the alley
There wasn’t any time for me to react. When the bullet ripped into my chest, I came to the realization I’d been dealt a dead man’s hand. I cursed the ruthless gentleman towering over me with my dying breath. That’s how Hershel Percel and I came to spend eternity together in limbo in a place I can only describe as Purgatory. There is a special spot here reserved for men who got involved in corrupt political intrigue and dirty double-dealings when the Mayor’s got to die.
Who Is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
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