Fair play is taken seriously in Last Chance even if we don’t hold our politicians to a consistent standard, or any standard at all. We do love elections, though, and prefer them over auctions, bake sales, barn-raisings, and charity fundraising benefits. You’ll seldom find disappointment if you don’t look for it. In Last Chance, campaigns never end. Your hands could chap from the constant door-to-door flesh-pressing. Our voters focus on the pageantry, the expression of free speech, the motorcycle Globe of Death.
“Frisky” Clinchett’s yard was barely large enough for a lawnmower to turn around, but Honey and Candy crab-walked in the dust and faced off. They shrieked and hissed at each other, pausing only to rip up and fling clods of dead grass or light another cigarette. Neighbors and passersby had gathered at a respectful distance. We knew the combatants threw wild and they packed some power.
Identical twins Honey and Candace Sweet were born at exactly the same instant, a medical miracle featured on the front page of the Last Chance Gazette & Intelligencer. Their mother filed for divorce three minutes after the remarkable birth. Even as infants, each twin attempted murder on the other and it never stopped. Candace, or Candy as we called her, managed the day shift at Carl’s Chicken Shack. Honey was Last Chance’s long-serving Postmistress.
In less than half the usual one-hour response time, the twins’ childhood friend, Constable Arlene Nelson, Last Chance’s most courageous and only law enforcement official, arrived at the scene.
“Candy! Honey!” Arlene said. “I love you girls! I love both of you real bad but you got to quit fighting in public. Take it behind closed doors the way regular people do.”
“This here she-devil sold my wedding dress,” Honey wailed. “How am I supposed to get married if I got no damn dress?”
“You ain’t never getting married anyway because you’re too mean and stupid and ugly,” replied Candy, who for good measure chucked a mailbox at her sister.
“Now, hey you two,” said Arlene, who had her own problems but nobody ever asked how she was doing. “Run each other through a wood chipper if you want but stop vandalizing and trespassing poor Mr. Clinchett’s private property! He’s got no part in this!”
“If I’m ugly, what are you, she-devil?” Honey said, ignoring Arlene.
“Makes me the pretty one is what it does!” Candy swung a garden hose and whipped it toward Honey, who was too quick and ducked. The brass nozzle caught Arlene across the ear.
The twins froze like angry wax museum dolls. Arlene backed up one step before replanting her boots on the sidewalk.
“As your friend, I might deserve getting my bell rung,” Arlene whispered, and everyone had to shut up to hear her. “But. Not when I’m wearing this here badge. What you done is felonious assault of a duly-appointed peace officer, which is me.”
She retrieved her cap and brushed it off across her pants legs.
“What did you expect when you went in together on a wedding dress? You two can’t even share a glass of iced tea. What if you’d booked yourselves a double wedding? What about it?”
Candy and Honey knew she was right. The I-forgive-you hug they gave each other seemed sincere but who can say?
“You girls go on and get,” said Arlene. “I’ve got cases to crack and whatnot. Candy, you owe Honey for half a dress. Problem solved.”
“I’m sorry about the hose nozzle lighting you up, Arlene,” Candy said. “I didn’t mean it. Can I still count on your vote?”
“Scoot, you crazy persons!”
Arlene cradled a cold soda pop against the soreness. Her ear swelled up big, along with her frustration.
“For years I’ve followed orders, put my butt in harm’s way. Grabbed criminal intent in a headlock and whiffed its foul breath. Is my keg of potential truly tapped? Don’t I deserve betterment?”
The crowd of onlookers had dispersed. From the handlebar of Constable Arlene’s motor scooter dangled a folded piece of paper. A campaign flyer; betwixt its creases smirked the smug face of puffy Councilman Everett; worse than his picture was the formal declaration he would run for mayor of Last Chance.
“I’m for you if you’re for me. If you’re not for me, then go to Hell. VOTE EVERETT!”
“What kind of damn deal is this, poking election materials into official government vehicles?” Arlene said. “Smacks of a clear conflicted interest!”
With a growl, Arlene shredded the flyer into tiny bits of Councilman Everett. The fragments fluttered in the breeze.
“I never imagined destroying evidence could feel so satisfying. If anyone asks, I’ll say I spread the candidate’s message far and wide.”
The field of declared Last Chance mayoral candidates continued to swell like a tick: Arlene’s Uncle Hubert, Candy Sweet, former political trickster Barrymore, and now Councilman Everett, to mention a notable few. Almost all of them bemoaned the constant influx of vagrants, drifters, transients, hobos, tramps, and especially tinkers, although it was agreed, off-the-record, the tinkers kept our cutlery unsurpassably sharp, and for a reasonable fee. No one had seen the current mayor in months, nor could they recall his name or physical description; sporadic casual grifting was the only proof he still held the office. Would he file for re-election? Betting odds changed daily.
Jazzed by feelings she couldn’t quite grip, Arlene fired up her scooter, motored into Last Chance’s business district, and parked. When she threw open the doors of the Last Chance Gazette & Intelligencer’s office, our newspaper’s editor and publisher, Loyd English (that’s “Loyd” with one “L”), sat upright and giggled with anticipation.
“Constable!” Loyd said, sliding a crossword puzzle into his lap. He leaned forward and a hand-carved pipe jutted from his grin. “What’s going on? Do you, maybe, have a scoop for me?”
Breathless and sweaty, Arlene paused while the rough thoughts tumbling inside her brain became smooth and semi-precious. She ignored the office’s immodest display of awards plaques and trophies, all of which were noticeably hand drawn or formed from gold-painted modeling clay. On Loyd’s desk rested an un-shredded copy of Councilman Everett’s leaflet.
“Yes, sir, I do have some information you might classify as newsworthy,” said Arlene. “I’m not here to tell you your job, but the headline could read something along the lines of ‘Last Chance Top Law Enforcement Official Throws Cap Into Ring Of Mayor’s Race.’ But you’re the wordsmith.”
She held his gaze; her daddy used to say staring made everyone think you were credible and sincere. Loyd flipped past pages of doodles and cat sketches before he found a clean notebook page.
“What a blockbuster, Constable!” he said. His eyes danced the boogaloo. “Can you reveal to me the new candidate’s identity?”
She snatched the pen from Loyd’s hand, scribbled in his notebook, and stomped out of the office. In less than a minute she covered the distance to the Farm & Fleet store, which also housed the Last Chance municipal offices. Quicker than you can poach an egg, she’d typed a letter requesting temporary leave and dropped it into the absentee mayor’s inbox.
Arlene cogitated while she scootered herself home. Sure, someone could lock themselves out of their truck, or a shoplifting spree might terrorize Last Chance, or paramilitary tramps and vagrants invade, but she had to take risks if she wanted to meet up with her destiny and give it a surprisingly firm handshake. But what came next?
Her long-vanished daddy, thrice-elected and habitually prosecuted former Mayor Lowell “Fuzzy” Nelson, always mustered sage political advice or many other flavors of it:
“Kitten, public service is the only vocation for energetic people unburdened by consciousness of guilt.”
“Government bounces into guardrails most days, but some days it don’t. On days it don’t, be quick to take credit!”
“Speak with conviction and you’ll avoid convictions.”
“A good campaigner puts voters behind the wheel of a broke down truck and reminds them how good it feels to drive with the radio on and the wind in their hair. A great campaigner makes bald folks believe they have hair.”
Arlene knew better than any of us what sort of fight lay ahead. Despite her upbringing she had scarce appetite for the liver and onions of politics, but the presence of Councilman Everett tipped her into the skillet. She saw past his puffy exterior and recognized his shriveled-as-a-prune heart and demagnetized moral compass.
“Poor Dolly,” Arlene sighed, referring to the councilman’s besieged and oft-maligned wife. “What she must be going through!”
Road miles vanished behind a cloud of exhaust and Arlene’s ruminations. Her plan, as she understood it, was to go home, change into civilian garb, collect her weighty thoughts, and embark on a mayoral quest. In a jiffy she was at her own door.
“Better bring a change of clothes in case my persistent campaigning keeps me away overnight.”
She didn’t own a suitcase but a backpack would do.
“I’ll need relief from my rigorous repetition of talking points. It’d be nice to surround myself with agreeable touchstones and so forth.”
Arlene gathered a few tokens and bits of memorabilia: photographs, a threadbare plush toy (missing one eye), citations of meritorious conduct (signed in red ink by the mayor), letters from Dolly.
“Who knows, I may need a nibble here or there in order to prop up my faculties.”
In no time at all, she cleared the fresh food from her refrigerator.
Arlene carried her cargo outside and strapped it to the scooter — her official Last Chance Constabulary transportation she’d paid for with her own money, same as her uniforms. She mounted up, revved the motor, and let hot blood burn her cheeks while she pondered. Last Chance and public service beckoned, back there in the gathering dusk. Within those well-trod boundaries awaited the opportunity to build upon her controversial daddy’s legacy and submit to the gravitational tug of pre-ordained fate.
Arlene cranked the scooter’s throttle wide open and accelerated in the opposite direction. She wondered if she could ride quickly enough to catch up and pass the setting sun.
In Last Chance and elsewhere you can love something or someone and yet find co-existence impossible. Does gasoline not lust for the safety-tipped match? Your nice red shirt adore chlorine bleach? What about pickup trucks and booster rockets? The attraction is irresistible because passion promises to bind everything and makes it strong as cement. If bringing these partnerships together ends in mutual destruction, so what? The split atoms release energy, which makes the world spin a smidge faster. Maybe this boost speeds us to our life’s ultimate destination, even if we don’t know the place’s name or exact whereabouts, or who will be there to bid us enter and find warmth.
Image via Pixabay