Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

The Conyers Missile Crisis

Genre / Location / Object

Mystery / A polling station / cheeseboard

Out of the eight local and state elections he’d run in, the only time Doug Thorson was declared the winner was on the date of his last election, for the open seat on the Conyers City Council. Unfortunately, Thorson was murdered before he’d even found out. His housekeeper (who supported Thorson’s opponent in the election), found him in the kitchen after midnight, face down on a cheeseboard left over from a celebratory charcuterie tray someone had sent over. Upon hearing he was dead, most Conyers citizens first shook their heads sadly, then gave a knowing nod to the person who’d told them, as if to say, “We all knew it was coming.”

The bigger surprise had been that he’d won at all. As small towns go, political loyalties in Conyers were typically poorly kept secrets. Everyone knew the winner – probably by a single vote – would be Thorson’s opponent, Meghan Gilley. So when his posthumous win was posted on the Chautauqua County Gazette’s website the next day, the citizens of Conyers were dumbfounded. Whose vote could have changed? They gathered once again at the Senior Center – the previous day’s polling station – to more-than-a-little overtly discuss both suspects and voters:

Doug’s daughter, Leanna, so publicly supported Gilley that the hardware store (owned by a pair of Gilley supporters) delivered sign-making materials to her home each week as their campaign donation. Leanna had been a wild child, and after Doug kicked her out when she turned 18, the two had barely spoken. Some folks were surprised she’d stayed in town after that, but she loved her job at the bank and grew to love her boss, Homer Glover, like a substitute father, even though Homer supported Doug. He’d had to, really, since Homer’s son, Glen, had been Doug’s campaign manager for a dozen years.

Glen Glover, Doug’s sycophant extraordinaire, would have faithfully voted for his boss, even after Doug fired Glen on the heels of their seventh unsuccessful campaign. This was also after Doug’s company, ThorTech, had blown all of Glen’s hard work in that final State Senate campaign by producing highly (and wrongly) radioactive missile fuses for a government contract. The citizens of Conyers were nothing if not patriotic. Weapons that were deadly for the wrong reasons were certainly frowned upon.

Fired project engineer Justin Horn would have voted for Meghan Gilley, of course. Though Doug’s own lawyers successfully defended Justin against federal charges for what was dubbed “The Conyers Missile Crisis” in the media, Justin maintained that Doug himself had ordered the production team to ignore safety standards in favor of the quick turnaround that was guaranteed to net Doug a bonus big enough to finance his next campaign.

Sheriff Nivens would have voted for Gilley even if he’d never met Doug. Gilley’s wit and charm worked wonders on simple Buddy Nivens. For every community fundraiser that Mayor Gilley’s wife lead, Buddy Nivens could be counted on to be the biggest donor. It was at her request, as head of the Conyers chapter of Mothers Against Hate, and the mother of a son who was about to do his patriotic duty and enlist the U.S. Navy, that the Sheriff’s own deputies had searched ThorTech high and low when the radioactive fuses in question had gone missing, just before federal charges were to have been filed against Doug himself.

In the end, the folks of Conyers never found out whose vote they were wrong about, though they did find Doug’s murderer after his daughter Leanna confessed to the crime a few days later. “Shocked but not surprised” was how many people described their feelings upon hearing this latest news, mainly because no one really knew what the feud between Doug and Leanna had been about.

Doug Thorson won the city council election by a single vote: his daughter Leanna’s. Despite the utter contempt she held her father in, Leanna delighted in the idea of giving such a longed-for victory to the man who both gave her life and would cause her death within the year from the cancer ravaging her system. She’d practically giggled with glee as she delivered the poison-laced charcuterie tray to the town polling station.

You see, Doug hid those contaminated fuses in the only place he was sure that simple Sheriff Nivens would never look: Doug’s own garage, which he happened to be renovating during the Conyers Missile Crisis.  Doug had duct taped the evidence of his malfeasance to the back of new tool cabinets before he installed them on the wall which faced the inside of the house. The wall which ten year-old Leanna’s bed sat next to.

So for the next eight years, Doug’s daughter slept a foot away from intercontinental missile fuse parts which the U.S. government said were so radioactively contaminated that they couldn’t even be used against our enemies.

Her father would never be able to celebrate this victory, but for the short time she had left, and from the solitude of a prison cell, Leanna certainly would.

Copyright 2023 by Melani Weber