"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,
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 long. 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.