15

By six thirty, the parking lot behind the Town Hall was full. After that the spaces on Main Street went, and those on West Street and East Street. By quarter of seven, even the post office and FD parking lots were loaded, and every almost seat in the Town Hall was taken.

Big Jim had foreseen the possibility of an overflow, and Al Timmons, assisted by some of the newer cops, had put benches from the American Legion Hall on the lawn. SUPPORT OUR TROOPS was printed on some; PLAY MORE BINGO! on others. Large Yamaha speakers had been placed on either side of the front door.

Most of the town’s police force—and all of the veteran cops, save one—were present to keep order. When latecomers grumbled about having to sit outside (or stand, when even the benches had filled up), Chief Randolph told them they should have come earlier: if you snooze, you lose. Also, he added, it was a pleasant night, nice and warm, and later there was apt to be another big pink moon.

“Pleasant if you don’t mind the smell,” Joe Boxer said. The dentist had been in an unrelievedly crappy mood ever since the confrontation at the hospital over his liberated waffles. “I hope we can hear all right through those things.” He pointed at the speakers.

“You’ll hear fine,” Chief Randolph said. “We got them from Dipper’s. Tommy Anderson says they’re state-of-the-art, and he set them up himself. Think of it as a drive-in movie without the picture.”

“I think of it as a pain in my ass,” Joe Boxer said, then crossed his legs and plucked fussily at the crease on his pants.

Junior watched them come from his hiding place inside the Peace Bridge, peeking through a crack in the wall. He was amazed to see so much of the town in the same place at the same time, and gratified by the speakers. He would be able to hear everything from where he was. And once his father got really cranked up, he would make his move.

God help anyone who gets in my way, he thought.

His father’s slope-bellied bulk was impossible to miss even in the growing gloom. Also, the Town Hall was fully powered this evening, and light from one of the windows drew an oblong down to where Big Jim stood on the edge of the jammed parking lot. Carter Thibodeau was at his side.

Big Jim had no sense of being watched—or rather, he had a sense of being watched by everybody, which comes to the same. He checked his watch and saw it had just gone seven. His political sense, honed over many years, told him that an important meeting should always begin ten minutes late; no more and no less. Which meant this was the time to start down the taxiway. He was holding a folder with his speech inside it, but once he got going, he wouldn’t need it. He knew what he was going to say. It seemed to him that he had given the speech in his sleep last night, not once but several times, and each time it had been better.

He nudged Carter. “Time to put this show on the road.”

“Okay.” Carter ran over to where Randolph was standing on the Town Hall steps (probably thinks he looks like Julius-Cotton-Picking-Caesar, Big Jim thought) and brought the Chief back.

“We go in the side door,” Big Jim said. He consulted his watch. “Five—no, four—minutes from now. You’ll lead, Peter, I’ll go second, Carter, you come behind me. We’ll go straight to the stage, all right? Walk confidently—no goshdarn slouching. There’ll be applause. Stand at attention until it starts to taper off. Then sit. Peter, you’ll be on my left. Carter, on my right. I’ll step forward to the podium. Prayer first, then everybody stands to sing the National Anthem. After that, I’ll speak and run the agenda just as fast as poop through a goose. They’ll vote yea on everything. Got it?”

“I’m nervous as a witch,” Randolph confessed.

“Don’t be. This is going to be fine.”

He was certainly wrong about that.

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