Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Tuesday, August 17, 1999
It was customary to not talk about agenda items as the council members sat around before the meeting, waiting for the minute hand on the clock to point straight up. More than customary – it could be considered a violation of the Open Meetings Act. There had been some squabbles about near-violations of the act in the recent past, mostly stirred up by Bill Driscoll looking for anything he might be able to use to discredit the council. As a result, the members of the council made it a point to avoid gathering in more than twos or threes, unless they all happened to be at a public function like a banquet or a ball game.
That sometimes made it difficult, since all of the council members except Emily had been on the council for a long time, and most were friends anyway. Emily knew them all, but none as close friends; every one of them dropped by the Spee-D-Mart once in a while, mostly since the gas price was about a nickel a gallon cheaper than it was out at the truck stop across from General. As with anyone else, Emily often had a polite conversation with them; since she’d been on council, sometimes it was to talk about some upcoming item in a casual way, which was legal so long as there were three or fewer council members in on the discussion.
As far as that went, Driscoll was as welcome as anyone else to drop by the Spee-D-Mart to top off his tank, get a cup of coffee and a donut, and shoot the bull with Emily as she stood behind the register. He often did; she’d known long before she’d come on council that he could be an interesting conversationalist so long as the conversation was on some subject where he didn’t feel he had to grind an axe. However, since she’d been on council, there had been all too many of those. One of the more unpleasant aspects about being on council was the need to carry on the business of the store as she listened politely to him as he stood and bent her ear about whatever it was he was whining about. He was all too ready to give her the benefit of his obviously superior knowledge and experience.
At least he wasn’t running for council this year – perhaps being outpolled by a dead man had something to do with it. Council terms were for three years, with two or three members being elected each year; Mike Daugherty was on the ballot for re-election this year, along with Jim Pikkala, another long-term council member, and maybe Driscoll had gotten the message he wasn’t likely to shoulder either of them aside. That didn’t mean he wasn’t a citizen and deserved to have his opinions listened to, and Emily was of the opinion he was worth listening to since very often he was right on the nose. But that didn’t keep him from being a pain in the ass who made her heart drop every time she saw him walk into the store.
“So, Emily,” Daugherty spoke up, looking for something to fill the silence, “Did you have a good trip?”
“A great trip,” she smiled. “There were literally thousands and thousands of bikes there. There were some good shows, and everything you could imagine was on sale. I mean, like everything.”
“I can’t believe you’d actually ride a motorcycle all the way out to South Dakota and back,” Driscoll snorted.
“That was the best part of the trip,” Emily smiled. “Just being out in the wind, looking at all the scenery going by. It makes for some long days, but we took our time and rode the back roads from the other side of South Bend on. It was so neat being out with my Harley on some quiet two-lane highway under those big clear skies.”
“You sure like riding that thing, don’t you?” Pikkala smiled.
“Oh, yes,” she grinned. “It was the nicest thing Kevin has ever done for me. I ride it whenever I can. It’s not as often as I like, since I have to haul the kids around in the minivan so much.”
“Motorcycle mamma, I guess,” Levitsky shook his head in a slightly sneering tone.
It was not the first time that the city manager had expressed his distaste over a council member who would ride to the meeting on her Harley, like she’d done this evening. She’d been doing it since the weather turned decent in the spring, but after the kid reporter from the Hawthorne Telegram had run a picture of her and the bike on the front page he’d started to needle her about it.
“Actually, I think it’s kind of neat,” Daugherty smiled. “I remember the old Indian I had when I was a kid. I used to have a lot of fun riding it, but boy, that was a long time ago.”
“It’s just hard to believe this is a town where a woman council member would ride a Harley, of all things, to a council meeting,” Levitsky commented, his tone considerably more sneering this time.
“Looks like it’s about that time,” Daugherty broke in before this got serious. He picked up the gavel, tapped it lightly, and said, “Call the meeting to order. Roll call, please.”
Emily remained impassive. It wasn’t the first time she’d been needled by Levitsky – they really weren’t on good terms with each other, going right back to when she’d voted against Hufford as the DPW supervisor. The city manager’s job in any town is to follow the direction of council, which needs to provide that direction. In practice in most towns, the city manager makes a recommendation about a course to follow, and more likely than not the council goes along with it. That had been happening less and less of late on the Bradford Council. Almost anything more than a routine rubberstamping of something obvious usually got at least two votes against, Pikkala’s and Warner’s, but more and more frequently the recommendations were voted down, with Emily going either way, depending on the issue. Levitsky seemed to take the rejections personally, and often responded by being critical of the council members personally, and tonight it seemed to be Emily’s turn. However, the council members usually tried to get along with each other and the city manager the best they could, since they knew he’d be gone sooner or later, and they’d still be in Bradford.
Still, a remark like that ticked her off. It wasn’t appropriate to say something in the course of the meeting, so she let it go, but afterwards she stood outside talking with Lloyd Weber about it. “You know the problem as well as I do,” Weber told her. “As far as he’s concerned, we’re nothing more than a bunch of yokels in Hicksville he has to put up with until he can find a better job. He thinks he’s smarter than the council, and if you don’t believe it, just ask him. He’s not the first arrogant young punk city manager we’ve had and probably won’t be the last one. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of them go through in forty years.”
“It would be nice if he found a job somewhere else,” Emily said. “And sooner, rather than later. I honestly don’t think he’s been doing all that great a job, and that’s not just my reaction to him being cranky. But it’s not good for the council or the community to have him badmouthing everything.”
“You on the council are the ones who are going to have to remind him sooner or later that he works for the council, you don’t work for him,” Weber advised. “Actually, I think at least part of the problem is he’s sat around listening to Driscoll a little too much about how unqualified the council members are.”
“You mean, we don’t have college degrees, we weren’t auto company executives who know what’s best for everyone whether we like it or not?”
“That puts it in a nutshell,” Weber grinned. “Driscoll isn’t the first person to blow into town and tell us that we’re all a bunch of yokels who don’t know what we’re doing. Unfortunately, Levitsky agrees with him. Anyway, I wanted to tell you, that sounded like a neat trip you and your husband took.”
“We had a good time, that’s for sure,” she smiled, grateful to be discussing something else. “Would you like a story about it?” She’d been writing for the Courier since last winter, starting with the township board meeting and the story about Woodward and Malvern Hill. Sometimes it was a fairly large feature story – the most recent was about a Bradford man’s efforts to get a medal for the heroism displayed by a long-deceased ancestor – and sometimes it was coverage of a routine meeting, like the township board. She’d said right from the start she didn’t want to cover the council meetings, because it wasn’t quite like the chamber and wouldn’t be right; he’d agreed it could cause a conflict of interest, and said he was happy she’d seen the pitfall.
“Maybe a small one with one photo,” he said. “But I was thinking about it during the meeting, and I came up with an idea. Your time at the Spee-D-Mart is pretty flexible, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s been one of the nice things about it,” she agreed. “I can usually get off to take a kid to a doctor’s appointment or go to an elementary school program if I know about it enough in advance.”
“I thought so,” he smiled. “Here’s my problem. It’s been years since I’ve been able to take a real vacation like that, and while riding a motorcycle out to South Dakota isn’t something I’d want to do, I envy you the chance to get out and do it. But I can’t because I have to get a paper out every week.”
“You know, I’ve wondered about that,” she nodded.
“The problem is that Hazel doesn’t know squat about computers and isn’t really a writer, anyway. It’s been years since I’ve had someone there who knows enough to back me up. What I’m wondering is if you’d be interested in coming down and working for a half day or so one day a week, learning your way around the system and trying to pick up enough so you could fill in for me once in a while? I mean, we could plan it ahead of time for a slow period, like in February or July when it gets really dead. I could have the majority of the work done, all you’d have to do is pull together the final package and be prepared if something caught fire. It wouldn’t be a lot of money, four or six hours a week, but it’d be a few bucks.”
“Sure,” Emily grinned. “It sounds like fun and I wouldn’t mind learning a little more about it. When would you like me to start?”
“Whenever you can,” he said. “We’d probably better keep it toward the tail end of the week when things aren’t quite as busy, but after you’ve been exposed to it a little I’d like you to plan on coming in the first part of the week.”
“I really shouldn’t this week,” she replied. “I’ve got a hole on Thursday afternoon, but I’d planned on taking the kids shopping for school clothes. After the kids get back in school it should free up a little.”
“Sounds like it’d work for me,” he replied. “It’s not like it’s a big-rush thing.”
In a couple minutes she was on the back of the Sportster. A couple of kicks got it running; she revved the engine hard two or three times – that’s for you Levitsky, you wouldn’t have the balls to ride a Harley, so all you can do is run your fast mouth – and headed down the street. The summer days were getting shorter now, and it was clear that summer was coming to an end, but council had run short, so she might as well take a few minutes to ride around town and enjoy herself.
On a whim, she headed down Railroad Street. There was an abandoned, dilapidated house there the council had been bugging Levitsky to do something about, but of course since council wanted it, he couldn’t be bothered. There’s going to be a showdown there sometime, she thought. Most of the time council was interesting and she thought she was doing all right with it, but when Levitsky got on his high horse it sure made getting out and riding the Sportster a lot more fun. That didn’t mean she was going to let a chauvinist asshole of a city manager run her off council; in fact, if Weber was right, there would be a good chance she’d be there to see him gone.
The house was still a mess – nothing had been done about it, still an eyesore – but as she rode past she happened to notice Vicky jogging up the street toward her. That was a little strange; Vicky may have been many things, but an exercise nut she was not, even when they’d been cheerleaders. She gave a little wave, then, on a whim, did a U-turn in the middle of the otherwise empty street to go back and have a word with her, pulling to a stop toward the corner of Lane. She rolled back her face plate and said, “Wow, I wasn’t sure it was really you.”
“My weight’s drifting up again,” she puffed. “Jason said I ought to try some exercise.”
“Well, hang in there,” Emily smiled, thinking that once again Jason had been a positive influence on her. They were pretty darn good friends, and once again she wondered if something were brewing between the two of them. You just couldn’t tell – sometimes it seemed like it, and sometimes it didn’t. “You still look a lot better than you did a year ago,” she replied, shrugging off her musings. “You want to get together? It’s getting a little late but we could maybe do a short ride.”
“No, better not,” Vicky replied. “I want to get another mile in, and then I want to take a shower and put my hands around an iced tea so bad it isn’t funny. By the time I get that done, it’ll be too late for your kids.”
“I guess you’re right,” she replied from the back of her bike. “Maybe tomorrow. Sonja called me today and asked if we’d thought any more about a Halloween party.”
“Cripe, I’d all but forgotten about it,” Vicky huffed. “Yeah, I guess we’d better. I’d better get moving. Let’s go for a ride tomorrow evening, maybe we can find time to talk about it.”
“I’ve had a couple ideas,” Emily grinned. “We can talk about it tomorrow.”
She did have a couple of ideas, she thought as she rode away. The Halloween party last year had been a blast, it had been a long time since they’d had a party like that, but they’d pretty well filled Aaron and Amber’s house with it. Since then a number of other class members had commented that they’d like to come if they did it again, and it had proved a good enough way to get the group together that it seemed like it would be worth doing again. The logical thing to do was to move it around a little so the same people wouldn’t be stuck with it every year, and Bradford seemed like the likely place to have it since it was fairly central and everyone had connections there, anyway. That meant it was going to fall in her lap and Vicky’s most likely. But there wasn’t enough space at her house to do it justice, and with Vicky living with her folks she had no space to work with. It wouldn’t be right to ask Jason, since he wasn’t a class member, and he had enough stuff in his two garages that he didn’t have any space to work with, either.
She mulled it over in her mind as she went around one corner, then another, and then into the older industrial area off of Mechanic Street. It’d sure be nice to have some place eerie and creepy, she thought as she rode past the old window plant, long closed, with a weather-beaten “for sale” sign sitting in front of it. It had been used as a warehouse in recent years, but now was just sitting empty if she remembered the discussion down at the store. She’d been in it years ago; she couldn’t remember why, now, and knew it was mostly barren brick walls and concrete floor. Boy, that’d be halfway there for Halloween decorations, she thought, but the place was huge, you’d get a party lost in there. You wanted a place small enough that people were kept fairly close together, something say the size of about a three-car garage, maybe.
Somewhere in the back of her head, she knew she’d been in the perfect place in the last few months, but it wasn’t coming to mind. She rode on out to where Mechanic Street dead-ended into Maple Grove, and turned left toward home, her mind running. She could visualize the place, fieldstone walls, concrete floor, rough hewn beams holding up the floor above – it almost made her think of a dungeon. The one she’d seen, wherever it was, wouldn’t take much work to make it really look like one.
She was running down Maple Grove and about ready to make the turn for home, wishing she could ride just a little bit more tonight, her brain still working . . . and where the space was she’d been thinking of suddenly hit her. Of course, she thought, it would be perfect, and the couple who owned it was just goofy enough it probably would work. It probably had no water and sewer, but that was do-able, even if they had to rent a couple port-a-johns. Cooking would have to be picnic style with the food pretty much brought in, but there was room for that big portable grill Mike and Liz had – they wouldn’t actually have to roast a goat again, after all. If her memory of the interior was right, it was already halfway to being decorated for Halloween, anyway; you could turn it into a dungeon or something without half trying.
It’d take some work to do it right, but right off the top of her head she couldn’t think of any reason why it couldn’t be done. She glanced at the sun – no, it was too late to head out there now, but she could call tomorrow.
I need to run it by Vicky, she thought, maybe by Liz, and see if it sounds as good to them.