The Underdog's New Teeth
by Aaron D McClelland

Some believed Harold's thirst for vengeance began with the lottery win, but it was a thing that had simmered inside him for decades. Harold had an eidetic memory when it came to the wrongs people had visited upon him, and his first act of 'balancing the ledger' had in fact taken place seven years before his lottery windfall at his twenty-fifth high school graduation reunion.

The year of his first act of vengeance, Susan (nee Hanson) Baker had called Harold to invite him to their high school reunion like she had like clockwork every five years. Susan loved reunions and loved organizing them and would enthusiastically greet every attendee as they entered the ballroom each year. For the previous twenty years, Harold had politely declined Susan's invitation and made up a variety of excuses each half decade to spare her feelings, but the reality was that Harold couldn't stand anyone he went to high school with, (with the exception of Kimberly Stanfield, but she had married someone else so that ship had sailed), and of course Susan herself who he bore no ill will. Susan was akin to a lone dandelion in a hidden corner of a perfect lawn; pretty and bright and annoying, but innocuous and hardly worth the effort of dragging out the weed-be-gone.

When Susan called Harold for the twenty-fifth reunion - ever optimistic that he would attend and she could add another tick mark on her list of holdouts - an idea formed in Harold's mind and he asked Susan if Alex Strainer would be coming. Susan checked her list and said that Alex had RSVPed 'yes'. Hearing that, Harold told Susan he would be delighted to attend and Susan made a little fist-punch gesture and mouthed a silent 'YES!' as she added Harold to her list of guests.

Harold felt good that he had brightened Susan's day, but he knew he was going to feel even better when he stood face-to-face with Alex Strainer after twenty-five years.

In high school, Alex had been one of Harold's tormentors, actually the principal one if truth be told. Harold was a studious pupil who was more comfortable with mathematics than he was with having an actual conversation with a living person, so many of the 'jock crowd' - slobbering Neanderthals that they were - saw Harold as an easy target when they were bored. Alex, however, seemed to take on Harold's discomfort and torment like it was a hobby. Harold supposed it was mostly due to Alex being a foot shorter than him. Harold's shape leaned toward beanpole and Alex resembled a fire hydrant, and like many little men, Alex filled that particular hole in his soul with the triumph of beating up taller people.

Harold never forgot Alex nor the unwelcome gift of his pain and humiliation on his journey toward college. Harold had just wanted to be left alone, but Alex was having none of that.

On the night of his twenty-fifth grad reunion, Harold arrived dressed in a new suit and allowed Susan to gush over him as she carefully placed his name tag on his lapel, then made him promise to come ask her to dance. Harold lied and said he would, but when looking at the guest list he'd noticed that Alex Strainer's name had a line of highlighter carefully crossed through it, which meant Alex was already inside the ballroom.

Harold roamed and searched the ballroom crowd, and because he was taller than most he was able to scan faces until he spotted Alex standing with a group of the other ex-jocks from high school near one of the small bars. Alex was telling a story and the other jocks were laughing.

As Harold threaded his way through the crowd, he noticed that Alex had lost his fire hydrant physique and now resembled a misshapen beach ball with a big belly that overhung his pants and would not allow him to button his herringbone sports jacket. Plus his once wavy dark hair had grown sparse and brittle and revealed the shiny, liver spotted dome of his round little head.

Harold inserted himself into the group of jocks and faced Alex while he handled the heavy object in his right coat pocket.

"Hello, Alex." Harold said calmly with a genuine smile on his face. He could see the confusion in Alex's expression as he tried to recognize him, and because Harold wanted Alex to remember him, he waited patiently while Alex bent forward and squinted as he read Harold's nametag. Harold watched the lights come on in Alex's dull eyes.

"Harry!" Alex exclaimed like they were old friends, "Hairy Harry!"

That's when Harold pulled his right hand out of his pocket, his fingers already firmly entwined in the four metal rings of the brass knuckles he'd brought. Harold punched Alex hard in the mouth, turning Alex's front teeth into jagged little stalactites and stalagmites, and dumping the fat little bully on his ass.

Before anyone could react, Harold turned and walked calmly out of the reunion. Poor, ever-optimistic Susan never got her dance, nor did she call Harold five years later for their thirtieth reunion.

Back home, Harold was surprised that nothing came out of his act of vengeance on Alex Strainer. He waited out the first dozen days after the reunion anticipating the arrival of police at his door but they never materialized. He was prepared for what he considered the inevitable police investigation with a concocted story about Alex saying something rude and a denial that he had used brass knuckles - which he'd already discarded by throwing them far into the harbour across the avenue from his home - but he never got the chance to test out its standing in criminal law.

Harold had got away with it.

Harold's aptitude for numbers had made him the perfect candidate to become a successful accountant, which was a good thing because it was with numbers that Harold was the most comfortable. It was mathematics that he devoted his life to in college and career, and other than a couple miserable failures at being a boyfriend, Harold had found the deepest, near orgasmic pleasures in balancing a complex collection of numbers much more satisfying that messy human coupling. Which is what had made his teeth-shattering punch to Alex's mouth feel so satisfying; the account between Harold and Alex had been balanced in that one brutal and final ledger entry.

For over two decades before the twenty-fifth reunion, Harold had lived alone in a tidy three-bedroom, two-bath apartment in a modestly prestigious brick and stone building that was once a grand hotel on the winding avenue that traced the curve of the city's picturesque inner harbour. Like everyone else, Harold started out by renting his home, but when the owner put the entire building up for sale, Harold and another man - who lived on the floor above him with his wife and two children - figured out a way for the tenants to purchase it and not have to pay much more per month in mortgage than they already did in rent. Almost all the tenants took part in the endeavour so Harold and the man upstairs had included all the participant's names in a newly formed limited liability real estate holdings company.

Harold and the man upstairs - whose name was Alberto 'but-my-friends-call-me-Al' - became casual friends and would enjoy a weekly brandy in a local cocktail lounge together and exchange pleasantries in the elevator. That was about as deep as Harold was comfortable wading into the pond of relationships at that time.

As time went on an half a year's worth of brandies stacked up, Harold noticed that Al's 'business associates' were of a pedigree of men who were somewhat rough around the edges and wasn't at all surprised to find out that Al made his living running a group of gangsters called a 'crew'. Al offered Harold a job cooking the books for a few of his operations to earn some tax-free money, which Harold respectfully declined - he had all he needed to be happy and didn't see the point in risking it to get more. Al wasn't offended, as his method of making his way in the world wasn't for everyone, and if nothing else, Harold declining Al's offer only strengthened their friendship.

Al was the one who sold Harold the brass knuckles he used on Alex Strainer.

Harold was content in his life, sometimes idly thinking about other people like Alex Strainer who had slighted him throughout his life and what manner of vengeance he could lay at their feet to balance that particular ledger and make their accounts even. It was - after all - just a harmless pastime he indulged himself in, but one day everything changed.

Harold's one perversion that he engaged in was to purchase a ticket for a popular weekly national lottery. Harold knew the odds against winning a jackpot were ridiculously high which gave him a little shiver of deviant satisfaction that he came to enjoy because it flew in the face of every economic foundation he believed in. Buying that weekly lottery ticket made Harold feel like a wild man, and knowing it was folded neatly in his wallet as he worked at his accounting firm would sometimes give him an erection. But Harold's fun ended the day they drew all six of his numbers plus the bonus number and Harold was suddenly fifty million dollars richer.

Harold's reaction as he read the winning numbers and compared them with his ticket six times until he was sure he'd won was an odd one; he uttered one single word with as much enthusiasm as a person would upon learning they had stage four lung cancer - 'fuck' he said, without the usual accompanying exclamation mark - without any punctuation at all, actually.

Harold didn't know what to do. He was now a rich man, so the joy of being an accountant had faded like a cloud of exhaled breath on a windy winter's day. How could he feel satisfaction when balancing ledgers for companies he could now buy with the annual interest on his principal? Without the purpose of being an accountant, Harold felt adrift; a person lacking a basic function in life. Harold loved his three-bedroom, two-bath apartment, with the harbour view so he didn't want to buy himself a mansion. Harold liked driving his little red Triumph Spitfire, so he didn't want to buy a stable of sports cars. Harold knew he was a dismal failure at navigating relationships with women, so he had no desire to primp and show-off to attract a trophy wife. He had no interest in travel, or art, or theatre, or opera, or any of the myriad other things the rich seemed to fill their days with. Harold became morose and twitchy.

Then he had an idea.

Because he took the greatest joy in balancing ledgers, Harold made a list of all the people who had wronged him in life and calculated ways he could exact vengeance on them. For seven years he had savoured that moment he closed the Alex Strainer account, and could foresee his future joy in repeating that process. Harold had found a new occupation that was congruent with his personality.

Harold didn't consider himself a petty man, so he limited his list to people who had wronged him in high school and later, considering the cruel antics of elementary aged children to be excusable because of their unformed brains. But anyone past the age of thirteen was fair game.

Harold employed the finest private detective agency that had offices in major cities all over North America and Western Europe to find those people on his list and sometimes employed his neighbour Al's people and associates they were familiar with to exact his vengeance and balance his ledger with his list of people.

Kevin Hunter who'd stolen Harold's bike in grade nine and had insulted Harold by painting it a different colour with a paintbrush and claiming he'd bought it at a swap meet, was awakened one night by the sound of his prized '57 Chevy Nomad exploding in its garage. Kevin had logged over two thousand hours meticulously restoring that car and personally laying down 35 coats of metallic midnight blue paint to perfect it.

Debra Faraday who married and became Debra Sussex after breaking up with Harold and telling all her friends about how boring Harold was in bed, had her affair with her BDSM boyfriend documented by the detective agency not only with photographic evidence, but with high definition video and sound as well. Her husband and grown children and all her friends and members of her church got copies, and as an added bonus, Harold uploaded it to various websites on the web using a VPN blocker so it couldn't be traced back to him. Debra Sussex went back to being Debra Faraday after her husband divorced her and her grown children wanted nothing more to do with her.

Victor Dovzhenko who owned the grocery store closest to Harold's apartment and who was unreasonably rude to him on every visit, was suddenly swarmed by shoplifting teenagers on a daily basis, and when Victor banned teenagers from his store they were replaced by shoplifting adults. Victor gave himself an ulcer as he frantically patrolled the aisles of his store looking for shoplifters who had greater skill at their job than Victor had at catching them.

Detective Sergeant Bruce Poulsen who - as a first year rookie - once gave Harold a speeding ticket when Harold was positive he hadn't been speeding, was hauled before a review board and asked to explain the photographic evidence of him having sex with an underage prostitute and beating her with his police uniform belt. The photographs also documented the welts and bruises on the teen girl's buttocks and thighs. Bruce was forced to take an early retirement at a 75% reduction in his pension to ensure the photographic evidence wasn't released to the public, and Harold took a modicum of pleasure in providing the teen girl a full-ride college scholarship and living expenses so she would never have to meet another Bruce Poulsen.

Harold's growing catalogue of successful acts of vengeance became the focal point of his and Al's quiet cocktail lounge meetings that were lightly lubricated with brandy. Al brought order and dignity to these meetings and discussions by setting the tone and pace of each occasion, by opening with inquiries after Harold's health and wellbeing and Harold after his, then once lips were smacked after the first savouring of fine brandy, Harold would begin his discourse on the week's activity. Each would begin with a detailed description of the person and the injury done followed by a philosophical exploration of every aspect of how such an act could impact an undeserving person. The act of vengeance was laid out with such fine and eloquent detail, that it would bring shame to Hercule Poirot's finest revelatory monologue at the end of an Agatha Christie mystery. Revenge was not a dish best served cold for Harold and Al, it was an elixir to be savoured and sipped slowly like the expensive deep amber brandy that swirled in the two men's glasses.

Both Harold and Al looked forward to their time together each week; Harold in the telling and Al in the listening and clever questioning of detail.

But it was Harold's vengeance against Doctor Philip Dupuis, a tenured professor of economics at a prestigious university that exceeded Harold's wildest dreams and was the centerpiece of his and Al's meetings for almost two months in the cocktail lounge because the initial revenge triggered a chain-reaction that cascaded the balancing of ledgers all the way down lines that spread outward like a spider's web.

Back when he was just Phil Dupuis, Harold and Phil were members of rival debate teams in college. Of the two, Harold was known for his precise approach; his research was impeccable; his logic solid; his presentations on a par with the most heralded dissertations found at ivy league schools. Phil on the other hand was a showman; an orator; a master of rhetoric; and a capturer of audiences. Women wanted to have sex with Phil and men wanted to be him.

In the final debate of that season, Harold composed his arguments with a flawless logic that would exhaust all attempts to counter it. It was his final orchestral composition of rationality, iron clad contention, and mathematical precision - his masterpiece of the debate season. But when Phil took centre stage he emanated confidence, he oozed benevolent paternal acquiescence for the lesser minds who sat in rapt attention of his every word. Phil dismissed Harold's arguments as puerile and suggested they were the desperate graspings delivered with the naiveté of a child. Phil didn't assault Harold's logic, he assaulted Harold himself.

Harold was rattled and when he countered with the assertion that Phil's rebuttal was nothing more than argumentum ad hominem, he found himself falling into Phil's trap as the audience snickered while Harold fumbled his closing statements. He had inadvertently turned Phil's clever misdirection into the most powerful of logical fallacies; argumentum ad populum - Harold had lost the audience to Phil's gambit. Phil's simple closing statement was as masterful as it was brief; he motioned toward the sweating and trembling Harold and simply said; "I rest my case."

Harold had won the contest of logic and reason, but Phil had won the audience that included the instructors who were both judges and assigners of final grades. Phil won the debate and Harold received a final grade that cost him a 3.9 amidst his scholastic record of solid 4.0s. That moment burned itself into Harold's memory and soul.

Harold's private investigation team dug deep for almost six months before they found what they had been searching for; dirt on Phil, and oh, what dirt it was.

To earn his doctorate, Phil had advanced a dissertation that included a meta study he claimed authorship of that examined multiple and complex effects on world-wide economics that included everything from the fluctuations in GDP of a dozen key nations, political shifts, war, anomalies in weather and sea currents, crop production and rainfall - all combined to form a complex intertwining of forces that proved the predictability of rising and falling world markets. His new theories made the rounds of finance and business schools across North America and Western Europe and was the basis for his first book on organic economics that dozens of universities quickly adopted as a text book. In the world of economics, Phil, now Professor Phillip Dupuis, became the Elvis Presley, the Bob Dylan, and the Beethoven of his field. No one would have been surprised to see Phil casually walk on water or restore sight to the blind.

But Phil - it turned out to Harold's delight - was a thief. In their tireless investigations, Harold's detective agency found a thesis written by a post graduate economics student at a small university in India that was word-for-translated-word identical to Phil's dissertation and was printed in an Indian Journal ten years before Phil claimed it as his own.

Harold had carefully composed a plan to expose Phil in a spectacular and public fashion - after all; Phil had humiliated Harold in public so it seemed a public humiliation of Phil was in order to restore balance. Running simultaneously in the New York Times and the Washington Post in North America and The Sun and The Times in the UK, and sixteen other major newspapers around the world, Harold had printed a full page guest editorial titled; 'This is What Plagiarism Looks Like' and included side-by-side comparisons between Phil's dissertation and the original translated from Hindi.

CNN picked up on the story and interviewed the author of the original thesis and closed the report by saying Phil and the university he held tenure at could not be reached for comment at press time. Universities around the world dropped Phil's textbook and the academic world shunned him and called him a fraud and a disgrace to academia itself. Finally, his own university disowned him and the university who granted him his PhD stripped him of it. Class action lawsuits were filed in courts all over the world, all naming Phil and his publisher as defendants, seeking redress for students who had believed his textbook to be the bible of world economic trends and he the author. His publisher sued Phil; the original author sued Phil and the publisher; and Harold was pleased that the mocking smirk that had twisted Phil's mouth on the day of that final debate had vanished forevermore from Phil's face.

The evening that Harold and Al savoured this magnificent tale of vengeance turned into a three-brandy night, but it didn't end there. Five days later, Phil knotted his old school tie into a loop that he wound around his throat and encircled the doorknob of his home study door and hanged himself by simply sitting down.

The following week, Phil's widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against all the newspapers who had published Harold's paid exposé, but quickly dropped it and went into hiding after Harold's detective agency uploaded a poor quality pornographic movie starring Phil's widow from when she was nineteen years old and needed the two thousand dollars to pay her back rent.

Phil's grown children also tried to file a lawsuit against the newspapers and Harold - named as 'John Doe' in court documents - but they too dropped their lawsuits when fraudulent tax returns, domestic violence reports, and a child pornography arrest was forwarded anonymously to small news outlets in each of Phil's children's home towns.

For Harold and Al, this ledger balancing had become a saga that occupied over a month of fellowship over brandy and candlelight, and the love for a vengeance that was satisfyingly beautiful in its unexpected complexity.

There came a night, however, when both men felt the melancholy that comes over a person as youth fades and the blossom wilts. Harold and Al realized that the few remaining names and wrongs on Harold's list would never achieve the ever-expanding magnificence of the Phillip Dupuis affair, and an uncomfortable silence hung between the men as they swirled their brandies and stared at the fluctuating refraction of candlelight within the rich liquor in their glasses.

It was Al who broke the silence by asking how much of the fifty-million Harold had left, and Harold answered that all told, his financial outlay on all the vengeance he had engaged in had only reduced the principal by three million. Al then asked Harold if he'd ever thought about branching out, of seeking vengeance for others, or even for society itself. Harold allowed the idea to warm in his mind and liked the emotion it conjured - casting Harold as a Robin Hood figure - and so asked Al what he had in mind.

Al smiled and produced a photograph from his inner jacket pocket and laid it on the table, turning it and sliding it across the tablecloth so Harold could examine it. Harold recognized the person in the photograph instantly, the man pictured was a rich celebrity who had delved into politics, and because of his wealth had been elected by the slimmest of margins. This was a man who trampled his opponents and innocents alike in his narcissistic quest for wealth and power that not just bordered on the edge of psychopathy, but had set up camp deep within its borders. The man in the photograph had unbalanced so many ledgers on his rise to power.

Harold smiled, and from that moment forward he and Al worked as a team, and oh, what a team they became.

COPYRIGHT © 2018 Aaron D McClelland, author of 'Little Gangsters' and the rest of the 'Gangsters' series.