This year’s NaNoWriMo project is an intended serial comedy entitled “City State,” to be published under the Martin Bannon byline. Here I present the first installment for your reading enjoyment. Your comments are heartily welcomed!
Episode 1: It’s Miss
Patrol 2, I’ve got a 12-29 at city hall. Do you copy?
“That’s a 12-56—I’m on my way.”
Do you want backup?
“Negative, Darcie. I’ve done this drill so many times in the last few weeks I can do it with my eyes closed.”
Copy that. Good luck.
Deputy Sean Poltado was a patient man, but even he had reached his limit with the anarchy that had been erupting at recent council meetings. Twice a month he found himself talking down a room full of citizens who behaved more like schoolyard bullies than grown men and women. He thought it would have ended now that the election was over; apparently he was wrong.
He flipped on his rack lights, but resisted the temptation to engage the sirens as he sped toward the center of town. Maybe if he flew in in full 9-1-1 mode he could make the instigators feel some shame over their behavior, but it was against protocol to “wail” unless it was a true emergency.
He had traveled only two of the five miles to City Hall when something—or, rather, someone—up ahead caught his eye. She—it appeared to be a woman anyway—was walking along the rain-slick highway, toward town, the same direction he was going, but on the opposite side of the road. She was so laden with baggage that all he could see was the back of her rain-soaked pant-legs. But he’d studied enough women from behind to recognize the way they moved, even when fully loaded, as this one was.
As he approached her he saw that she carried a suitcase in each hand, and wore a flimsy purple raincoat with the hood pulled over her head. The unsightly hump within the coat was, no doubt, a bulging backpack. The entire ensemble was slick with rain.
Vagrants were nearly nonexistent in Wanker’s Mill. There were no services for them in the town of ten thousand residents, and no sidewalks they could stake out in hopes of a handout. There wasn’t even a stoplight at which a homeless person could petition idling drivers for spare change.
Poltado slowed as he passed. Perhaps this woman was a hitchhiker, just deposited and seeking her next ride. If she was, she wasn’t trying too hard, however; she didn’t even turn to look, let alone extend a thumb, as he flipped a U-turn and pulled to the side of the road about twenty yards ahead of her.
He donned his rain hat as he stepped out of the cruiser to meet her. She was no vagrant. She was a woman of about thirty, with a strikingly beautiful face and full, coral lips, which spread into a most captivating smile as her eyes met his. She didn’t wait for him to speak.
“Nice night for it, eh?” she said as she set both suitcases on the ground. “Don’t suppose you’re my taxi?”
“Well, ma’am, I—”
“I beg your pardon?”
“It’s ‘Miss.’ I’m single.”
It was usually the civilian who was made nervous in the presence of a uniformed officer. But this woman’s directness and confidence threw Poltado off balance. There was something about her that was not ordinary.
“Well, Miss, I’d be happy to give you a ride into town, at least,” Poltado offered. “I’m on duty at the moment and I’m responding to a call.”
“Hey, do I look like I’m going to be choosy?” the woman said with a laugh. “It’s a heck of lot drier in there”—she nodded toward the cruiser—“than it is out here. I’ll go wherever you’re going.”
She bent to pick up the suitcases. Poltado reached to intercept her. “Here, you let me get those,” he said, remotely popping the trunk of the cruiser and hefting the bags inside. “You want to put the backpack in there as well?”
“Absolutely,” she said without hesitation. “If you’d just give me a hand.” She turned her back to him and raised her arms to the horizontal. Only now did he see that the purple raincoat was actually a poncho, making it possible to simply slide the pack’s straps off of each of her shoulders. The scent of her sweat and perfume—or perhaps it was only her antiperspirant—enfolded him as he ducked under the poncho to help. It was intoxicating.
It had been over three years since Deputy Poltado’s wife had died in a bicycle accident, and he’d been celibate ever since. Not as matter of principle, but by circumstance and pragmatism. There weren’t a whole lot of available women in Wanker’s Mill. And because his interaction with most of them was in an official capacity, it just didn’t feel right to mix business with pleasure.
By the time he slammed the trunk lid shut, the woman was no longer at his side. Where… He turned a quick circle, wary, before realizing that she had already climbed into the front passenger seat of the cruiser.
He walked around to the passenger-side door and tapped on the glass. “Uh, I’m sorry,” he said when she opened the door, “but you’ll have to sit back there.” He gestured toward the cage that separated the front seat from the back and gave her an apologetic smile. “Regulations.”
She paused only a second before stepping out and circling around the rear door he was now holding open. “So,” she said with a coy smile, “you think I’m dangerous, do you?”
“Not at all,” he assured her, wondering if, in fact, she might be. “It’s just that I can’t have anyone riding shotgun unless they’ve been frisked first. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied without hesitation. “That depends on whether drinks and dinner are included.”
Whoa. What was he supposed to say to that? Nothing, he decided, and shut the door. He could feel the heat in his cheeks as he made his way back around to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel. Maybe it was a good thing this firecracker was behind the cage.
Episode 2: Missing
He’d broken up bar fights that were quieter. Even with the windows in his cruiser fully raised Deputy Sean Poltado could hear the ruckus coming from inside City Hall as he pulled into the parking lot. It sounded like a fox was in the henhouse.
The town had gotten sideways in recent years, and it finally went completely off the rails during the recent election. Once a sleepy little backwater where no one could even tell you who was on the ballot, Wanker’s Mill was now an armed camp of partisans—armed with nothing more than spiteful words thus far, but getting more vicious by the day. As far as he was concerned, the recent behavior of many local citizens was wholly unacceptable, and un-Oregonian to-boot.
He heaved a sigh and made his way up the front steps of City Hall. The tranquil lobby belied the commotion just beyond the double doors of the council chambers. When he grabbed both doors and swung them wide, his worst fears were confirmed: chaos reigned. What should have been a city council meeting instead resembled a bar brawl.
Throughout the room knots of red-faced and tousled men bellowed at each other, pushing and shoving; shrieking women contributed their two cents from the sidelines, either urging their men on or engaged in heated arguments of their own. Carrot sticks, Oreos and other miscellaneous veggies sailed back and forth across the room, landing amid the overturned chairs.
The remnants of chips and crackers crunched under the deputy’s feet as he took his first steps into the room. “Hey!” he shouted. “Folks!” No one heard amid the din. He pulled out his nightstick and waved it in the air to attract attention. “Ladies and gentlemen, please!” he yelled across the room, still unheeded.
An apple soared toward him from the back of the room, possibly intended for City Manager Brian Teeg, who stood a few feet in front of him fending off angry shouts from Peg Heyland and two other women.
Instinctively Poltado deflected the fruit bomb with a wide swing of his already airborne nightstick. It was a move that, on the baseball diamond, would have made the home team proud. Here however, it merely reversed the flying fruit’s direction at an even greater speed than it had arrived with. Seconds later the crystaline report of shattering glass announced that the errant apple had achieved home run status somewhere out in the parking lot.
The room fell silent. Eyes darted back and forth across the room from the wrecked window on one side to Deputy Poltado on the other. Men who, seconds before were full of bluster, now looked sheepish and chastened. Most of them were older than the deputy and had known “little Sean” since grade school or high school. To have him stand here glowering at them like an angry parent could not have been comfortable.
Poltado said nothing as he surveyed the room, taking in the extent of the damage, and noting the names and faces responsible. Now that there was loss of property he would have to file a report, something he had managed to avoid in earlier dustups that had remained only verbal in nature.
Then his eyes fixed on something that made his heart skip a beat. “Whose blood is this?” he screamed, pointing at the splatters of red that streaked and dotted the white wall to his right. He was horrified. Violent crime was rare in Wanker’s Mill. It was unthinkable that there should be a bloodsoaked crime scene right here at City Hall, especially in the presence of so many of the community’s respected citizens. “Who’s hurt?” He scanned the room again for any casualties he might have missed.
“Why, Sean,” Councilor Nanny Darshon said, stepping toward him and gesturing toward the stains, “It’s only salsa.” She stooped to pick up a sauce-smeared paper bowl, which she now held out for his inspection.
It took a second for his adrenalin to back off as the deputy realized his mistake. Now it was his turn to look sheepish as the room erupted in laughter.
“OK, fine,” he conceded. “Go ahead and laugh; it’s probably good for you. Whatever’s been going on, you clearly need to shake it off. But nobody’s leaving here until this mess is cleaned up. All of it. Now I mean it.” He gestured toward the overturned furniture. “Scott, you get those chairs turned upright. “Clara,” he said, pointing at the wall. “How about you scrub that wall before those tomato stains set?”
Once everyone got busy on the clean up, he addressed the room again. “Folks, this crap has got to stop. I mean, look at yourselves. This is City Hall for criminy’s sake, not a grade school cafeteria. What would you say to your children and grandchildren if they could see you right now?”
His question was met only with throat-clearing and the shuffling of feet as people busied themselves with faces averted from his accusatory glare. Few were inclined to meet his gaze. Among those that did was 84-year-old Ruby Dabbler, the council president, whose face appeared to be slathered in cold cream.
Ruby read the puzzlement in his expression. “It’s only ranch dressing,” she said, gesturing to her face. “I’m fine. Really.” She wiped a creamy blob off her jaw and licked her finger clean.
“Ruby, what happened here? What started all this?”
“The mayor’s gone missing, Sean. He’s just disappeared.”
Episode 3: Misbehaved
Late dinners were the norm for Deputy Poltado; his shift didn’t end until eight o’clock. By the time he got home his seventeen-year-old son Jon would be out with his friends somewhere, leaving Poltado to consume his microwaved meal alone.
But tonight’s meal would be later than usual. He was still at City Hall with Ruby Dabbler and Nanny Darshon, two of the five councilmembers who had remained behind when the cleanup was done. Herb Will and Vernon Limbeer, the “mayor’s boys,” had refused to answer any questions. Instead, they just lobbed accusations, insisting this was all the fault of Councilors Dabbler and Darshon. Poltado finally had to threaten to take them in, just to get them to leave the building.
Now Ruby and Nanny were arguing about their conflicting accounts of the evening’s skirmish; Poltado was trying again to eke out the details he needed for his report.
“I was only trying to open the meeting,” Councilor Dabbler said for the third time. “They just wouldn’t let me.”
“Who?” Poltado asked.
“It’s because the mayor wasn’t here,” Nanny said. “That’s what started it.”
“Just because the mayor was late doesn’t explain World War III breaking out,” Poltado said. Turning to Councilor Dabbler, “Who wouldn’t let you open the meeting, Ruby?”
“Will and Vernon.”
“But why? Isn’t a simple matter of protocol? I mean, it’s Roberts’ Rules of Order, right?”
Nanny Darshon broke in again. “I’m telling you, Sean, it’s because the mayor wasn’t here.”
“Is that what they said?”
“They didn’t have to,” Ruby said. “It’s because the mayor is missing. We delayed the meeting for thirty minutes, but the crowd was getting restless, so we went ahead without him. We tried to anyway.”
“Well, he didn’t just disappear,” Poltado told the women. “Didn’t Brian try calling him.”
“You know the mayor and his wife won’t speak to Brian,” Nanny said. “Ever since Brian refused to hire Portia at City Hall.”
“But that was over a year ago,” Poltado said. “How can a city function if the mayor won’t speak to the city manager?”
“It functions just like this,” Nanny deadpanned.
“Surely somebody could have called him,” Poltado protested.
“I did call finally,” Ruby said. “Both his home and his cell—but they went to voicemail.”
“What about Portia?”
“No one had her cell number,” Ruby said.
“Except Herb and Will,” Nanny added. “And they both refused to give it to Ruby.”
“OK,” Poltado said. So the mayor missed a meeting. Maybe he got tied up somewhere. Or maybe he plain forgot.”
“He’s supposed to be sworn in tonight for his second term,” Nanny said. “He’s not going to forget that.”
“OK, whatever,” Poltado said, getting impatient. “We’re just going in circles now. Why did Herb and Vernon have a problem, Ruby. Even if this was their first council meeting, they must realize that mayor might be absent once in a while.”
“They claimed I no longer had authority to preside in the mayor’s absence,” Dabbler said. “Choosing a council president for the new term was on tonight’s agenda.”
A light suddenly went on for the deputy. “Ah, I get it. If the mayor had been here, they’d have had a majority and the job would have gone to Herb or Vernon.”
“Exactly,” Nanny said. “They’d packed the chamber with their supporters. And when Ruby tried to proceed in spite of their objections, the whole room just came unglued.”
“Well, how about at the we clear the gallery at the next meeting so you can do what you need to without all the ruckus?”
“I’d love to,” Ruby said. “But we can’t. Oregon’s Open Meeting Law requires that all deliberations be open to the public.”
Poltado shook his head. “Well, one way or another, this crap—pardon my French—has got to end. This ain’t what folks around here voted for, I don’t care which side they’re on. The council has got to come up with a solution, mayor or no mayor, or I’m gonna be forced to ban public assemblies for the safety of everyone.”
* * *
“Oh my god, I can’t believe it! How long has it been?” Cori said, flinging the storm door wide and clamping her in a vise-grip hug. Deena reeled at the reek of sour milk, mingled with Ragu.
Deena forced a smile, wondering if the tomato sauce stains on the apron now pressed up against her favorite blue blouse would come out if she got some cold water on them in time. Weighed down with a suitcase in each hand, she could do nothing but stand there on the rainsoaked porch until the Jaws of Life freed her from her friend’s enthusiastic grip.
“Hi, Cori. Sorry to barge in on you like this—you know, without any notice.”
“No! Don’t even start,” Cori said, releasing her captive at last and grabbing the larger of the two suitcases. “I’m thrilled to see you. C’mon in out of the rain.” She held the door wide for Deena to pass into the foyer. “It’s got to be at least, what, fifteen years?”
“Seventeen,” Deena replied. “I was pregnant with the twins when you left for Oregon.”
“You’re right!” Cori’s eyes grew wide. “I remember how huge you were. Ack!” Her shriek of excitement reverberated off the ceiling of the home’s twenty-foot foyer. “Aaaand,” she added with a conspiratorial wink, “I remember the night it happened. That impossibly hot sixteen year-old at Joanie’s party—”
“Yes,” Deena rushed to derail the lurid story that was imminent, “We all remember that night. What a cute home!”
“Oh, it’s such a mess,” Cori said with a wave of the burp towel she’d only now snatched off her shoulder. “And Brian’ll be home any minute now. I’m just getting dinner.”
“Oh, hey,” Deena said, following her into the kitchen. “Don’t worry about cooking for me while I’m here. I can take care of myself.”
“As if!” Cori said with a waggle of her head. “That’s not how we roll around here. You’re our guest. Besides, I’m already cooking for five; a sixth won’t make no never mind, as my grandma used to say.” She waved a dismissive hand at Deena. “Come on, let’s put your things in the guest room and then we can catch up while I serve up the spaghetti.
“Mmm, sounds good,” Deena lied.
“I’ve got a special gourmet recipe I clipped out of the Wanker’s Weekly—it’s got mushrooms and fancy cheese. You do like mushrooms, don’t you?”
“Oh, sure. Maitakes are one of my favorites. ”
Cori paused. “Girl, I have no idea what you just said, but mine are the white kind—will that do?”
Episode 4: Misgivings
“So, what brings you to Wanker’s Mill, Deena,” Brian said, reaching the garlic bread toward his houseguest over the head of his youngest son.
“Well, the bus almost did,” Deena said with a sarcastic smirk, passing off the unnecessary calories to the Teegs’ eldest son, seated next to her. “They told me when I boarded in Portland that it went to Wanker’s Mill, but that appears to be only a loose interpretation.”
Brian smirked. “I’m afraid you’re right; it stops at the city limits.”
“Isn’t that crazy?” Cori said, taking the bread and passing it to her eldest son. “I don’t know what they were thinking when they planned that.”
“Actually, you can thank the mayor for that,” Brian said.
“The mayor?” Deena asked.
“Yeah. He and his antigrowth coalition won’t permit public transit within the city. They claim it brings ‘undesirables.’”
“OK, that’s enough,” Cori said with a dramatic sweep of her hands. Turning to Deena she said, “We have a rule: no city business at the dinner table. You see, Brian’s the city manager. If I didn’t stop him, it would be politics 24–7 around here.”
Deena perked up. “City manager?” she said to Brian. “Then you must have been at City Hall tonight when Deputy Poltado arrived.”
Brian looked surprised. “Uh, yeah. Do you know Sean?”
“Not by that name, but yes, we got acquainted this afternoon.”
Brian’s puzzlement deepened.
“Sean delivered her to our door shortly before you arrived,” Cori explained. “He found her hiking into town from the bus stop—in the rain, with all her luggage. Can you believe that?” She turned to Deena. “Girl, I still don’t know what you were thinking. Nobody walks on these roads; it’s just too dangerous.”
“So, where exactly were you headed, Deena, before Sean plucked you off the highway?” Brian asked.
Cori wasn’t sure whether it was Brian’s professional demeanor or merely the conservative suit and white shirt that made her feel uneasy. He was definitely easy to look at, but his manner was all business.
“I was on my way to see Cori, actually,” Deena said, It wasn’t exactly the truth, but she wasn’t about to admit that she was using her high school best friend as a convenience at the moment.
“I’ve always envied you,” she lied to Cori, “getting out of the big city for the quieter life. It was only a matter of time until I followed your example. I just had to wait until the twins left for college.”
The moisture that welled up in Cori’s eyes made Deena feel only slightly guilty. Cori shook her head slowly. “It’s just so hard to believe your boys are that old. I mean look at mine: eight, five, and seven months.”
Deena, fearing that the conversation was veering dangerously close to her fourteen-year-old pregnancy again, changed the subject. “You always told me that Portland was a beautiful city, so I came to see for myself.”
“Oh, and I can’t wait to take you shopping,” Cori said, beaming. “I know a great little shoe store in the Pearl that’s to die for.”
Brian shot her a look. “What?” Cori said, with a practiced innocence. Her pout was one that Deena recognized as a standard among her married girlfriends. It was as if they had all attended the same “Husbands 101” course. She decided to jump in before any marital problems could ensue. “That would be a blast, Cori, I’m sure. But I have to get a job before I can do any serious shopping.”
“Absolutely. I totally understand,” Cori said, clasping Deena’s hand with a sympathy that Deena found condescending. But, she reminded herself, she was mooching off her friend until she could get settled, so she probably deserved it.
“So you’re planning to find a place in Portland?” Brian asked, “Or…”
“Oh, n—no,” Deena stammered, “I mean, yes, but…don’t worry, I’ll get an apartment just as soon as—”
“No, no,” interrupted Cori. “Don’t listen to him”—it was her turn to glare at Brian—“you’re welcome here as long as—.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Brian broke in. “Relax, both of you. I wasn’t implying anything. Of course, you can stay with us for as long as you need.” He heaved an exasperated sigh. “I was only thinking about your employment needs, Deena. If you’re planning to stay out here in the suburbs, I think I might be able to offer you a job.”
“Really?” Deena and Cori chimed in unison. Deena brightened at the news. She didn’t relish staying here with her married friend and three rambunctious boys—not to mention her hot hubby—for any longer than was necessary. But she could live in Wanker’s Mill; it was green and pastoral and still not too far from everything.
“Yeah,” Brian said. “Your timing is excellent. Most of the city staff resigned today. How are your clerical skills?”
Before Deena could answer that, actually they were pretty good, Cori blurted, “You’ve got to be kidding! Why? What happened?”
“Nothing,” Brian said with a shrug. “Unless you count the recent election. Apparently they’d all made a pact to resign en masse if the mayor was re-elected. When the results were certified today, they made good on the threat.”
“Oh. My. God,” Cori deadpanned. “You’re not thinking of joining them, are you?”
“I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Brian answered, “if I had anything else lined up. But what I want is a moot point anyway. Now that the mayor has his majority, I’m sure his first order of business will be to fire me.” He turned to Deena. “You’d actually be doing me a huge favor if you’d come to work for me. It’d just be for a couple of months, until the new council is seated and cans my ass. I’ve got to keep the city running in the interim and now that the staff is abandoning ship, I could really use an assistant.” When Deena didn’t respond immediately, he added, “The pay is pretty decent.”
“Oh, that would be perfect,” Cori said. “You two could carpool!”
“Uh, well,” Deena began, hardly believing it could be that easy. “I don’t even know what to say.” She certainly wasn’t going to say what she was really thinking: I’m not only going to be living with my girlfriend’s hunk of a husband, I’m going to be his personal assistant! Yikes!
“Just say yes, honey,” Cori said with a wink. “I’ve been saying yes to Brian for twelve years now and look what it’s done for me!” She laughed uproariously.
Deena just smiled, suppressing her natural response: Three times pregnant?