Shadows

Shadows


Shadows


_____ "Kickbacks is such an ugly word, but judge and jury both agreed that Talbot shook old Jonesy down."

_____ Ed Pritchard sniffed aloud and stirred his coffee. Tears began to bead in Murphy's eyes.

_____ "In this whole town we could not find a lower bid than that of E.D. Jones?" he asked.

_____ "As aldermen we must accept," said Smith, whose crafty answer hid a plan to draw the tendered task away from Jones. The others leapt at Smith's proposal: offer Jones the job but not the standard right to list his name on registries or carve it onto cornerstones. When Blake and White expressed delight at this, the four who shared these loyalties to Talbot broke for beer and smokes.

_____ It fell upon the mayor to give the sorry news to E.D. Jones. Such "offers" were the stuff of jokes. No architect could ever live with the conditions' overtones.

_____ "And what've you done these last few years?" prospective clients might ask of him. How could the contractor then say he'd built the City Hall? The jeers would echo.

_____ The chance was slim that E.D. Jones would say "okay".

_____ To Mayor Surtey's great surprise the man accepted! Glory be!

_____ There was a catch. E.D. would set conditions of his own. No eyes could stray behind the tarp to see the grand façade. He would not let a deadline hasten such a task.

_____ The five conspirators had not expected this contingency. If they declined how could they mask their motives as each member sought to please his own constituency?

_____ Construction started in the spring. The back and northern walls were raised in weeks. The southern face, designed to match that on the northern wing, was built by Jones himself, unfazed by taunts. If pressed, he would remind the pest that one could not be late when deadlines don't exist. He built it, brick by brick, his eyes inclined towards the sky. He would create a masterpiece. For now, the tilt of sun and stone consumed his mind.

_____ Ted Smith persisted.

_____ "Finished soon? Another year, perhaps?" he'd snivel.

_____ Ever the civil engineer, old Jones ignored the whining goon. With sextant, compass, pen and level Jones would measure, stack and peer forever upwards. Only the sky and this next brick could interest him. Brick by brick. It was three years--three years, and none could fathom why--before construction came to rest amid long sighs and muted cheers.

_____ The grand unveiling day had come. The city's best had brought their broods and spouses, grateful for the chance to share this moment. There were some who waited for the interludes to shout out slogans, songs and chants. The mayor's speech was eloquent but made no mention of the man who'd built the Hall.

_____ The crowd could wait no longer. At last, the signal went to Jones. The awning fell, its span revealing windows so ornate that children gasped. The canvas fell some more, uncovering baroque reliefs; and still it dropped, its slow descent exposing cherubs. Well before the gathered city folk could take this in, the wind would blow the canvas to the ground.

_____ "Good Lord!" the mayor cried, eyes boggled wide. Instinctively, hands moved to brows. A woman fainted.

_____ Pritchard roared: "Sweet Jesus, man, have you no pride?"

_____ The sight they saw would soon arouse much more than anger. One small child would point her finger at the five repulsive gargoyles over the door and then at Talbot's crew. Soon, mild applause and cheers would come alive as laughter rippled through the core of cognoscenti standing there.

_____ On meeting one of this quintet we'd see the same old scene recur. You'd look and say: "I could swear by all that's holy we've never met but, damn, you look familiar, sir!"

_____ The group could claim its only solace: contractors would never stick that name again on cornerstones.

_____ At the sun's crest--at summer solstice--shadows on the offset brick spell out the name: E.D. Jones.


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