“Dammit, Donna,” I head a man yell, “Don’t have no taxes on the land. Soybeans, woman!”
“Jim, you haven’t grown a damn bean out there in years and the inspector from the state said we gotta tax you. It’s automatic. Now here’s the number, go call him.”
I spun the key ring Ken had given me around my finger, the library keys spinning. City hall was an exciting place.
“I don’t like it,” Jim said.
“I don’t like you,” Donna said, “No go call the state and tell them I said that and see how they like you.”
The man huffed and turned around. He nodded as he walked out and I silently thanked him for saying Donna’s name so I would not have to smile and pretend I knew it.
“Hey, Donna. Long time,” I said, walking up to the counter.
“Evan Banned, how have you been? Haven’t seen you down here in a bit. Almost asked you to dance over at the Tonk the other night after those boys got done with the poetry, but I saw you had company.”
I smiled, having nothing to say, “Yeah, you should have come over. Just wanted to stop by and tell you folks I’m taking the keys back for the library. The set that Ken Harris got from you?”
“Okay, no worries. Gonna need you to sign for them.”
I held the keys to my chest, “I, uh, I mean to have them. And ask for any other set the city might have of the building.”
She bent her head and her brow wrinkled like pug dog under her mousy hair. She was attractive, kinda like that French girl from the John Cusack film with the skiing, but not French. Her jaw opened a bit and closed.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“It came to my attention that the family still owned the building. Its ours and we’d like to be the only one’s with access if that’s okay.”
Her lips pouted and it did interesting things to her face. She breathed in, doing interesting things to… other areas. I suddenly wished she had come over the other night at the Honky Tonk.
Donna’s hand rose and she pointed to the back, “Let me go see if Will… Mayor Bilbo is in and have him hand’em over to you, okay?”
“Sure,” I said, “I’ll wait out there.”
I struggled to remember Donna. She was younger than me, and that made things hard. I hung out with older kids in high school and by senior year had checked out all together. Still, she might make interesting company. Seemed sweet enough, and attractive. I made a note to check my yearbook or ask Mom next time she called.
“Mr. Banned,” Mayor William Bilbo’s voice boomed from the back office, leading the way as he walked out, “how have you been, boy? Haven’t seen you since that nasty bit out at the New Year party.”
I let the reference roll off me and asked for the keys right away. Matt Bilbo was a politician and libel to talk around the issue rather than about it. His family, well.. The other Bilbos would just bowl through an issue or bury it in a swamp. Made for complex negotiating strategies, but helped that Matt was a white sheep in a flock of black.
“Don’t know why you won’t let us hang on to a set, maybe show it around. Building like that, right in the middle of town… We hated to lose the library, Evan, but no reason to let things just sit quiet and dead, you know. Even your own Pete Clupper, the old youth minister of your church, is interested stating up his own thing in it.”
Bilbo had his hand on my shoulder now, leading me out of the office. Donna waved as Bilbo opened the door, still talking, and we walked out into the brisk fall air.
“See, with the fair here you can see people want a revival of the downtown area, churches and hope are all good things. We’ve had bars attempt to come in, change us,” he said, looking down as he said it, knowing I have shared a drink or two with him at the Tonk, saying all this for the people in the square, “But this is our town, by God and country. So what do you say? Will you, the last of our founding family help the town continue by donating the building to our funds.”
His sales pitch was brute force and strange to my ears. I was used to library vendors appealing to my need to serve my patrons, not for votes of national courage. Good thing I did not really care about his notion of good works.
“Sorry, mayor,” I said, walking away from him toward the booth of the Friends of the Library, “The building is going to stay in the family for a while.
He said something else, but I did not listen. Just walked into the crowded square feeling accomplished.