Stubborn Town is a story of seven chapters, posted serially by me, your aging host, Cheeseburger Brown.
It's my birthday. I'm not going to work. Ah, sweet laze!
The sun threatens the horizon, drifting diagonally toward the hilltops as the moist air turns amber. It's eleven o'clock at night. Birds chirp.
Bonnie River closes up the Hot Foo, casting a glance over her shoulder at the parade of drinkers she's just shooed over to the Elk's Head Lodge, to Charlie's fold. None of them gives her trouble. It's Wednesday -- Bonnie's night to drive the schoolbus out to the old town -- and everyone knows the routine. "Cheers, Bon!" croons Errol, toasting her with an imaginary glass.
Bonnie waves. He grins and stumbles.
She walks down toward the water's edge, hefting a knapsack containing her evening (Sudoku pulps, a quilt, a half-knitted toque, a vibrator, an airline-size bottle of Sherry) and her morning (eyeliner, mouthwash, deodorant, a change of clothes, and a second bottle of Sherry). She crosses the schoolyard and then bends down to fish the keys out of the magnet box stuck up inside the wheelwell of the rusted orange bus.
She knocks her knuckles on the hood as she rounds the nose, then gasps and stops short after coming up against the tall shadow of Mr. Mississauga loitering by the step. "Goodevening, Ms. River," he says.
"Holy damn," replies Bonnie, a palm flattened between her breasts. "You scared the crap out of me, Mr. Missouri."
"Mississauga," says Mr. Mississauga.
"Oh, right." She watches as he continues a slow, limping patrol around the periphery of the vehicle. She shifts her knapsack from one shoulder to the other, asks, "What're you doing there, Mister? Safety inspection? I know you government guys are big on safety."
"I'm only on contract with the ministry," says Mr. Mississauga.
"The answer to your question is no, Ms. River, I am not checking safety. I'm just looking at the bus."
"It's related to the case."
"What're you looking for?"
"Don't you have some kind of theory?"
"No," says Mr. Mississauga as he disappears behind the back end of the vehicle. In the distance the sun is finally swallowed behind a sawtooth line of conifers. The temperature sinks with a gooseflesh lurch.
Bonnie frowns, then calls over the bus: "So you're not looking for secret compartments or nothing -- you're just looking at the bus. Just admiring it, eh?"
When Mr. Mississauga reappears around the front end, head bobbing over the hood, he asks, "Why would I be looking for secret compartments?"
Bonnie shrugs. "That's what the Mounties looked for. Their theory's that we're somehow smuggling people to the old site in the bus, then pretending to pick them up the next morning. They figured it's to get attention, drum up tourism or something. Of course, most tourists don't like to stay in lodges they disappear from in the middle of the night."
"The Germans say they've experienced nothing out of the ordinary."
"Maybe it doesn't work on Germans. We had a group up here from Quebec a couple of weeks ago and it sure worked on them. Don't Europeans have different genes from us? Maybe that's it."
Mr. Mississauga samples the depth and grit of the dust spatters dried onto the bus' bubbled-paint sides, bringing his swabbed index finger close to his eyes, then sniffing at it with his hawkish nose. He wipes the grime on his long coat, turns back to Bonnie and says, "I'm not like the Mounties. I don't use theories to hash things out."
Bonnie puts a hand on her hip. "So what do you do?"
Mr. Mississauga spreads his gloved hands. "I look at things. I listen. I hang around. I absorb what I can of the situation, then wait for my mind to show me the connections."
"You just wait?"
"What if it doesn't happen?"
"I wait more, or look around more. Or both."
"And then the answer comes to you?"
"That's a helluva method, eh?"
"We don't choose our gifts."
"I'm being kind of sarcastic."
Bonnie pushes the doors apart on the bus and climbs the step, tossing her knapsack on one of the vinyl bench seats. "Well I hope you're just about done because I got to get this thing moving before I fall asleep, eh?"
"I'm done," says Mr. Mississauga with a slight nod. He stands back. "Sleep well, Ms. River."
The doors fold closed and the engine coughs to life. The four-way flashers blink on in lurid red for a few seconds until Bonnie finds the switch to kill them. Then she pops the bus into gear and it chortles, spewing fumes into the purpling sky, and rumbles down the drive toward the highway.
Even though there's nobody around she uses her turn signals.
Mr. Mississauga lights a cigarette. It illuminates his face when he draws. Like bugs to a lamp, the glow attracts a couple of kids who want to bum tobacco. Their speech is unintelligible and they reek of solvents. Their hands shake and their eyes roll. Mr. Mississauga gives them a brace of smokes and ambles on...
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