When Aunt Alva caught sight of a man going into the new convenience store, she ditched her protest sign and moved as fast as her arthritic legs allowed across the steaming asphalt and through the glass door after him.
Seeing a chance to get out of the heat, I followed her.
“You have to leave right now,” she instructed the man as he pulled a gallon of milk out of a cooler. “This store isn’t open.”
“It’s not?” He gestured at the ceiling lights and the clerk behind the counter.
“They’re breaking the law. They still need three variances for setback and other code violations.”
The store manager emerged from a back room. “That’s it, Alva. I’m calling the police.”
She smiled. “Please do.” I eyed a barrel filled with cans of Coke on ice, wishing I could dive in. Not to cool off, but to hide.
My parents never grounded me or whipped me with a belt. They favored acute humiliation.
“Two days with your aunt, young man,” my father had pronounced after an argument in which the word Nazi might have slipped out. “That’ll teach you.”
The cops burst into the store and ordered my aunt off the property. Shockingly, she obliged. I slinked out several feet behind her, my head turtled, terrified someone from school might see me.
Another wasted summer day.
“I would have made them drag me to jail,” said Aunt Alva, now behind the wheel and firing up a cigarette, “but we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
I knew she meant Mayor Conklin, who trounced her in the last election. She never had a chance. For one thing, she ran on the write-in ballot. And no one would display her yard signs, which said, “Conklin is a crook.” She stuck them in every vacant lot in town but Conklin’s minions yanked them out. The day after he won a second term he sued her for libel. The case was still pending.
She drove to Katie’s Eatery, where the mayor usually had lunch. Good, I thought, I’m hungry, but then she parked next to a blue sedan and unlocked it with a remote. A stalk-the-mayor rental.
“I’ve got a hunch,” she said as we switched cars, scribbling in a notebook feathery with multi-colored tabs.
Aunt Alva always had a hunch, and it was always wrong. She hadn’t been able to pin a thing on Conklin, a retired teacher whose wife was dying of cancer. Last spring she spied on his house for a month and was thrilled when he crept down the street one night to a divorcee’s tri-level. She passed around photos at a city council meeting, only to be informed that the woman was the mayor’s sister.
I knew about it because I was in the audience, hiding under a plastic chair.
“Get down,” she growled now. We slouched in our seats as the mayor exited Katie’s and hoisted himself into an SUV.
Staying a few cars back, we trailed him into a local park and down a snaking road to the western edge, where there were hardly any picnickers or teenagers, only a water tower.
“What’s he up to?” Aunt Alva kept saying. Then she drew in a sharp breath. “That’s Oliver Samson’s car, by the tower. He’s a developer. It’s a payoff, kid. Conklin’s mine.”
I’d seen my aunt get worked up before, but never like that. She swung the rental off the road, up a hill and through a stand of pine trees, crunching thousands of dead needles. We jerked to a stop.
“Come on,” she said. We ran to the chain-link fence that surrounded the tower, sidling around until we could see the mayor, who was shaking hands with Samson and another guy.
She tossed me her digital camera and whispered, “Go up there and take pictures. Quick.”
It so happened that my friends and I were no novices at scaling the tower. I squeezed through a familiar gap in the fence and crawled up the ladder, stepping off when I reached a metal platform halfway to the top. I inched along the platform until I was directly above the men. Samson was giving the mayor a large envelope. I couldn’t believe it. For once, my aunt’s instincts were right. With nowhere to hide, I leaned over the railing and snapped away.
“Holy shit!” The unidentified man pointed, and Samson and Conklin looked up.
Conklin waved his fist: “Get your ass down here!”
Samson’s crony pulled out a gun and made for the tower. This was getting serious. I raced to a second ladder on the opposite side and more or less slid down, praying the guy wouldn’t be able to get past the fence.
I pushed through the gap and flew to the car, where my aunt was standing at an open door, cell phone in hand. We jumped in, she clicked the locks and we ducked. The wail of police sirens grew louder.
“Did you get the pictures?” she asked.
I had to laugh.
A month later, I entered the office in city hall. “For you, mayor,” I said, setting a styrofoam cup on the desk. Coffee from the up-to-code convenience store.
“Hey, kid,” Aunt Alva said, keeping her eyes on some document. She’d been tapped as interim mayor after Conklin and the others were arraigned on a list of charges as long as the water tower was tall. “You coming back over this weekend?”
Sally York‘s short stories appear in The Molotov Cocktail, Foliate Oak, Skive Magazine, and MicroHorror, among others.