Title: Campaigning Can Be Deadly (A Discount Detective Mystery - 2)
Author: Charlotte Stuart
Genre: Mystery/Female P.I.
What begins as a prank ends in murder.
The campaign for the U.S. Congressional seat was referred to in the press as “Mr. Smith goes to Washington versus the carpetbagger.” The popular local candidate gets the majority of endorsements, but his opponent’s wealthy, out-of-state family is willing to do whatever it takes for him to win.
Penny-wise Investigations, a discount detective agency located in a mall, is hired to find out who is stealing the local candidate’s political signs. Two of their investigators, Cameron Chandler and Yuri Webster, not only catch the thieves in the act, they find a body next to a pile of stolen signs, proving that Campaigning Can Be Deadly.
Billed by the press as “the carpetbagger versus Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” the contest between the two opposing candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives demonstrated the power of money in a campaign. With huge resources behind him, the “carpetbagger” became a household name overnight by bombarding the urban Washington State district with ads and flyers attacking his opponent. “Mr. Smith,” on the other hand, already a well-known local politician who had won most of the endorsements, tried to ignore the smear campaign from his opponent by consistently focusing on policy.
As the election drew near and polls suggested the race was too close to call, the candidate who had tried so hard to remain above the fray came out with an ad aimed at discrediting his opponent for moving into the district to run for office. Immediately, the press jumped on the change in tactics. They tarred both candidates with the same brush and labeled the race as one of the most negative ever run in the state. It made good headlines.
On election eve, with the race still too close to call, both candidates hosted parties for their volunteers, contributors, and supporters. The parties appeared alike on the surface. There were reporters milling about, filling the time until there was something to actually report by commenting on who was present and assessing whether the collective mood seemed upbeat or dispirited. There were snacks and drinks, lots of snacks and drinks. There were multiple television sets tuned to election returns on competing channels. And there were loud conversations buoyed by optimism about their candidate’s chances of winning.
In spite of the similarities between the two election eve parties, there were also distinct differences. One was being held at the candidate’s campaign headquarters in the suburbs, the now empty desks pushed against walls, the remains of campaign flyers and telephone scripts stacked in a corner. There were plastic bowls filled with potato chips, Doritos and pretzels set out on folding tables. The dips were in their original containers. People were drinking out of paper cups. In contrast, the other party was being held in a fancy downtown hotel where caterers were in charge of food and drink, and no expense had been spared.
Another difference was the size of the television screens. Two small monitors had been set up on boxes placed on wobbly tables at the party taking place at the candidate’s campaign headquarters. The large hotel event space, on the other hand, had three huge screens strategically placed so everyone could see them no matter where they were in the room.
Although there were reporters at both events, there were more at the hotel than at the cramped campaign headquarters. Not only was the food better, the hotel soiree boasted appearances by important people and the local social elite, while the campaign headquarters was mainly filled with casually dressed young volunteers and staff. The handful of reporters present at the less prestigious party wandered aimlessly around the room, showing more interest in the snacks than in the guests, although they didn’t look impressed with either.
After the polls closed, participants at both gatherings continued to eat and drink while chatting optimistically about their candidate’s chances, pausing in a tableau of hushed anticipation whenever new data on the local race for the House seat popped up on one of the screens.
The candidates were neck-in-neck during all of the early returns. Then, as more votes came in, the numbers would appear to favor one candidate, only to reverse direction a few minutes later in favor of the other. Shouting and clapping quickly faded into booing and slumped shoulders, back and forth with the vacillating numbers.
Finally, with 66 percent of the votes counted, one candidate started pulling ahead, slowly but inevitably increasing his lead.
TWO MONTHS EARLIER
Chapter 1 – The Case of the Vanishing Yard Signs
A new crop of campaign signs had magically appeared overnight along the highway. To me they were symptomatic of the superficial bent our political system had taken recently. Flashy slogans and graphics in lieu of policy discussions. Did anyone honestly think a potential voter was going to make a decision about a candidate based on a yard sign? The only possible good I could imagine coming from the money and effort spent on signs was to serve as a reminder of the upcoming election. Although I doubted anyone unaware of the election would be persuaded to vote as a result of being bombarded by dozens of signs bearing the names of people running for everything from Congressional representative to county clerk. I dismissed the signs as a waste of money and gave them little more than a brief glance as I drove by.
It wasn’t until I got within three blocks of the mall that a tight grouping of campaign signs actually did catch my attention. They were on a vacant lot next to a small house that had somehow survived all the development in the area. It was a busy corner with open space and no visible owner, an easy target for volunteers eager to get their candidate’s name in front of the public. Just yesterday, I remembered seeing a row of bright green signs with dark green print—Nathan Knight for Congress—sticking up out of the uncut grass that blanketed the property. Today, however, the row of bright red signs screamed Vote for Bobby Mann in large navy-blue block letters superimposed over a U.S. flag. The transformation was both startling and strange. As I waited my turn at the stop sign, I wondered what had happened to Knight’s signs. Maybe they had been moved to another location. Or maybe someone supporting Mann had tossed them in the bushes at the back of the lot. It seemed possible. Emotions were running hot in the run for this seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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What’s your favorite thing about the Fall season:
I love the colors, the golden and orange tones in the woods.
What inspired you to write this story:
I worked on a Congressional campaign some years ago and was impressed with the dedication of volunteers and surprised by the passionate divisiveness between campaigns.
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