Elections Have Consequences
fiction by Tom Ray
Seeing his wife coming across the prison parking lot, Adam Dennet closed his laptop. Paige frowned, looking at nothing in particular. As she took her seat beside him in the car, Adam saw her eyes fill with tears.
“How was he?”
“How do you think?”
When rage boiled up in her like this he found it better to let it die down on its own. As they pulled onto the highway he prepared for a quiet two-hour drive back home. He knew better than to turn on the radio, instead playing the mental game of counting out-of-state cars they met. The trip home entailed no Interstate, only county roads and state highways. After fifteen minutes of no out-of-state license plates, he switched to counting the cattle in the fields they passed.
She interrupted his counting. “He’s taking a stinking barbering course.”
“He’s supposed to take some kind of training for when he gets out, so he signed up to study barbering.”
The thought of his father-in-law Ben Carter cutting hair struck Adam as funny, but he held back his laughter. “That’s interesting.”
“Are you kidding me? Are you seriously kidding me? He ran a successful business, managing millions of dollars. He’s a professional. And they expect him to be a stinking barber?”
“It’s an honest profession, Paige. And considering what they convicted him for, I doubt he’ll ever get a job in any kind of financial management again.”
“It’s so unfair. It’s so darn unfair.” She never cursed, and he admired the way she held back the “damn” she must have wanted to say. “When he was in before, he took the course to become a cook, but after working for Mom when he was on parole he said he would never work in food service again. She can be such a--” she struggled for a second before finishing with “such a nasty person. She bullied him when he worked for her at that stinking Jamie Burger.”
Adam sympathized with Paige’s mother, Brenda Carter, who divorced Ben before the first indictment. In the past Adam tried to defend Brenda to Paige. That had proven pointless, so now he said nothing.
The fields of crops and livestock gave way to the town of Upton—filling station, dollar store, elementary school (middle school and high school sat in another part of the county), paint and body shop, supermarket, tire store, and the Jamie Burger fast food restaurant. They turned onto the side road leading to their home before they reached the Upton Industrial Park. Light manufacturing from the North had brought new life to the town that once seemed destined to die as young people fled farm life.
When they arrived home, they found Brenda on the living room sofa reading to five-year-old Ethan and three-year-old Samantha. The two kids sat on either side of their grandmother. They only looked up when Brenda interrupted herself to say, “Hi, kids. Have a nice drive?”
Paige glared at her mother, so Adam said, “Hi, Mamaw. Yes, very nice.”
“Say hello to Mom and Dad, kids.”
Ethan and Samantha mumbled their greeting.
“Thanks for watching them for us, Mom.” Paige’s clipped speech and low voice showed more anger than gratitude.
“My pleasure. I love playing with my buds.” Her light tone implied she ignored Paige’s resentment.
“Well, you better get going. I’m sure you have plans to go out with Paul tonight.”
“Don’t worry about that, Paige. I have to finish this story first.” The kids looked again at the book on Brenda’s lap, and she resumed reading aloud.
Paige went to the kitchen and Adam went to the bathroom. Adam returned to the living room as Brenda concluded the story with her enthusiastic voice. “The end. Did you like that one?”
Ethan said, “Yes,” in a satisfied tone, which Samantha echoed.
“Thanks for taking care of them, Brenda.”
“I wasn’t kidding when I said it’s my pleasure.” She looked straight at him, speaking in a serious tone. Then she lightened up. “How’s Ben?”
“Having a pretty rough time from the way Paige acted.”
“You didn’t see him yourself?”
“No. I’m not sure if he could see two people at once. Anyway, I don’t particularly want to see him, and Paige likes to see him alone.”
Paige came in from the kitchen. “Supper will be ready in half an hour. Ethan, go wash your hands. Adam, get Sam ready for supper.”
Adam said, “Will you join us for supper, Brenda?”
“She’s anxious to meet up with Paul, she doesn’t have time for us.”
“I don’t want to intrude. Thanks, anyway, Adam.”
After supper and putting the kids to bed they watched TV in the living room.
“You shouldn’t have been so rude about Brenda having supper with us.” He tried to sound calm, reasonable.
“I wasn’t rude, just telling the truth. She was hot to get over to Paul’s.”
He heard his voice rising. “You were rude to me, cutting me off when I invited her to stay for supper.”
“You have no right to invite her without checking with me first.”
“All right. I’m sorry. I thought it was the polite thing to do, since she did us the favor of babysitting for us.”
“She’s their grandmother. She loves staying with them.”
He kept quiet.
Going back to work at the county seat on Monday gave him relief from the tension at home. Paige would be in a better frame of mind in a couple of days. Until then he would try to avoid upsetting her more.
Midmorning his boss, Maureen Perry, the Rexford County Tax Assessor, called the staff of half a dozen into her office.
“The primary election comes up in August, and whoever wins the Republican nomination, of course, will win the general in November. Well, my husband Len has finally decided to retire, so come January we’re moving to Florida. Petitions from candidates wanting to run for my job have to be filed in a couple of weeks, so I need to let everybody know this job will be open. With me stepping down, a lot of folks will be interested in going for it. I’ve just emailed a statement to the Rexford County Weekly Times announcing my decision. The Times won’t be out for a couple of days yet, and I wanted to tell you all in person.”
Vic Porter said, “Hate to see you leave, Mo,” giving his best shot at sounding sincere. Whenever members of the public came into the office, Vic liked to act as if he were the boss. Talking among the staff, he complained sometimes about the way Maureen did things, saying she hadn’t done enough to automate, or she gave too many breaks to property owners who appealed their assessments.
Everybody else joined in wishing Maureen well.
Adam ate his lunch as usual on the little patio beside the courthouse where the Tax Assessor’s office resided. He had taken the first bite from the meatloaf sandwich Paige packed for him when Vic sat down across from him at the picnic table. Vic had a bag from the Burger King across the street.
“Hey, Adam, quite a bombshell from Mo this morning, huh?”
“Bad break for you.”
“Yeah, don’t you think?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Well, everybody knows you’re Mo’s favorite. An endorsement from her would give you a big edge in the election. But coming so soon after that trouble about your father-in-law, people are going to remember that, and Mo’s support probably wouldn’t help you much. Maybe in another four years Ben will be forgotten.”
Adam kept munching his sandwich, resolving to eat without letting Vic ruin his lunch.
“I mean,” Vic went on, “some guy running against you would bring up about Ben breaking parole and all, and stealing that girl’s debit card. That will bring back memories of the trouble that got him sent up in the first place, all those people he scammed.”
After a pause Adam said, “Are you running, Vic?”
“Maybe. Oh, but I wouldn’t bring up anything about Ben. But a lot of people will want that job, and politics is pretty rough around here. Some asshole will bring it up.”
Adam kept quiet, and Vic went on to talk about the Atlanta Braves and University of Tennessee football.
That night after supper Adam told Paige about Maureen retiring.
“That’s great! Did you talk to her about endorsing you in the primary?”
“Asking her right away would be a little pushy wouldn’t it?” She laughed. “Still, don’t wait too long. Somebody else might try to move in on her first.”
“I don’t want to put her in a spot by asking her to do that.”
“Why not? She likes you. Besides you’re young, and capable, better qualified than anybody in that office, or anybody in the county.”
“It’s too soon for me.”
“You’re 29, that’s a good age. Mature enough to take the responsibility, but young enough to bring energy to the job.”
“Too soon after what just happened with Ben. If Maureen had stayed on for one more term, people might have forgotten about him. But with him getting in trouble again this spring, everybody will remember. Anybody running against me would make Ben an issue.”
“Bull. Nobody would do that.”
“Vic Porter would. He gave me a warning shot at lunch, after Mo announced she’s not running.”
“Vic? You must be joking. He’s an old man.”
“He’s in his 40s.”
“He hasn’t even been to college.”
“He’s been working in the office for years. And a lot of people in this county don’t have college degrees, and would hold it against anybody who criticized Vic for not having one.”
“You’re thinking of reasons not to run. You don’t want to succeed. You want to fail, to be a lousy clerk the rest of your life and blame my dad for it.”
“I’m just being realistic.”
“You’re being a loser.”
They spoke no more for the rest of the night.
Vic Porter said, “If I’d known that son of a bitch Randy Twitchell was running, I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of collecting signatures to get on the ballot.”
Adam continued eating, irritated as always when Vic invited himself to intrude on his lunch.
“Did Mo tell you he was going to run? Is that why you didn’t run, she told you Twitchell would run? None of us would stand a chance against him.”
“Maureen never said a word to me about it. I doubt if she knew.”
“I’m not even going to campaign now. Twitchell has all the contacts from being on the County Commission. I’ll look like a fool with my name on the ballot. He’ll hold it against me, too, that vicious son of a bitch.”
“There’s still time to withdraw your name from the ballot.”
“Yeah, I’d better go do that now.” Vic put the remains of his lunch back in the Burger King carry-out bag and rushed off.
That night as he loaded the dishwasher Adam said to Paige, “Randy Twitchell is running for tax assessor.”
She stopped putting leftovers in Tupperware containers and stared at him. “Oh, no. Why?”
“I guess because he’s bumped up on his term limit, so he can’t run for Commissioner again.”
“And he’ll be your new boss. I told you, you should have run.”
“What good would that do?”
“He’d attack you about Dad, the kind of things he said before about Dad. It wasn’t any of his business, a County Commissioner has nothing to do with a court case like that. He kept getting his name in the paper attacking Dad just to get votes.”
“How would my running against him change that?”
“When he started criticizing you about Dad you could come back at him, criticize him for being unfair to Dad.”
“Which would get him even more votes. He could talk about his schoolteacher sister losing all her savings to your dad. Face it, baby, people around here hate Ben Carter and want nothing to do with him, or anybody in his family.”
She resumed pouring leftover tuna casserole into a container. “Maybe. It’s moot anyway, since you missed the deadline to file.”
Later, in bed, he said, “About this election business. I want you to invite Brenda to join us for the 4th of July picnic, and tell her she can bring Paul.”
“No way! What’s that got to do with the election?”
“I’ve got to get out of the Tax Assessor’s office. Paul can help me get a job in industry. Or give me advice on looking for a job.”
“You’re not going to humiliate yourself by kissing up to that creep. We don’t need him.”
“I’m not going to humiliate myself by working for Randy Twitchell. He hates us because of your father. That’s the kind of guy Twitchell is, a bully, a sadist. He’ll make me miserable until he drives me out of the office. Better to get out before he’s elected, instead of looking for a job after he throws me out.”
She turned over on her side, facing away from him. Then he turned away from her.
“Hey, Wanda, there’s still time to take your name off the ballot.” Vic looked over the partition into Wanda Vaughn’s cubicle.
“What? I don’t understand.” Wanda peered up from her desk, through her bifocals.
"I just noticed the other day while I was in the Election Commission office that you filed your petition to be on the ballot for Mo’s job. Well, I don’t know if you heard, but Randy Twitchell has filed for the same race. You don’t stand a chance against a pro like Twitchell. The guy’s a real jerk, too. Once he takes over in here he’ll make anybody who ran against him miserable. It’d be wise to get your name off the ballot. You have until tomorrow.”
“I spent too much time on my petition to drop out now.”
“Suit yourself, but I’m just trying to be helpful. Randy’s going to make you regret running.”
Sitting on the other side of Wanda’s cubicle, Adam winced at the news of Wanda running in the primary. She had worked in the office longer than anyone except Maureen. Short and overweight, dull brown and gray hair, no makeup, Wanda failed to impress with her appearance. When Adam first came to work in the office Wanda helped him learn the job. Always helpful, never rude, she did her job efficiently, but so quietly that Adam tended to overlook her. Randy Twitchell would enjoy targeting a quiet person like her.
That night at supper Paige laughed when he told her about Wanda running. “That’s hilarious. Nobody has less personality than Wanda. How embarrassing.”
He frowned. “It’s not funny. Randy’s going to make her life a nightmare once he gets in. I don’t want to work in a place like that, constant bullying.”
“Maybe that’ll take some heat off of you.”
“Don’t be silly, honey. He’ll have plenty of time to harass both of us. I’ve got to get out of that office. If you don’t want to let Paul McNary join us on the 4th, I’m going to see him at his office.”
He looked at her steadily. She averted her eyes, then wiped Samantha’s mouth and said, “You doing all right, Ethan?”
“So are you going to tell your mom to invite Paul?”
She sat silent, then said, “I have no idea where you could get a new job, and Paul probably could help you find something. All right, I’ll tell Mom she can bring him.”
In the middle of June, as Adam sat in his cubicle, he heard, “Hello, everybody. Where does Maureen sit?” Randy Twitchell’s voice filled the room as if at a rally.
None of the workers in their cubicles replied to Twitchell, nor did Maureen come out of her private office to greet him. Failing to get a response, Twitchell continued. “This must be her office, the one with the sign that says ‘Maureen Perry, Tax Assessor.’” He gave the forced laugh of a politician pretending to be affable. “There you are, Maureen. I’m just checking out the digs. I won’t be moving in until January, but just wanted to check it out.”
Maureen spoke in a normal conversational tone, making her answer difficult to hear, even with her door open. Twitchell followed her example, lowering his voice. The few minutes Twitchell spent in Maureen’s office made Adam nervous, just from the politician’s proximity.
When Twitchell came back out Adam heard him say, “Oh, yes, Adam Dennet.” He turned to see Twitchell standing at the entrance to his cubicle. Adam blushed, remembering an incident from the preceding year. The County Commissioner had come into the office to complain about the assessment of property belonging to a friend of his. Adam happened to handle the case. Twitchell had become aggressive until Maureen heard the commotion and came out of her office. She set Twitchell straight, with a rare display of anger. As he left the office that day, Twitchell had thrown a threatening look at Adam.
Adam wanted to say something to Wanda, go to her desk and tell her he supported her and would never let Twitchell bully her. But why do that? Twitchell had just bullied him, and he did nothing, could do nothing. What could he do when Twitchell harassed her?
But the Commissioner referred to something else today. “Yeah, Adam Dennet, Ben Carter’s boy.” Again the phony laugh. “I know, son-in-law, not son. But to me you’re Ben’s boy. I didn’t come back here to see you, though, but your neighbor. There’s my competition. How are you, Mrs. Vaughn?” He moved over to stand at Wanda’s cubicle.
“Fine, Mr. Twitchell. How are you?” Wanda spoke in a low voice.
“Couldn’t be better. I just wanted to say, whatever happens in the primary, no hard feelings. And may the best man win.” Another hearty laugh.
If Wanda answered, she did it in a voice too low for Adam to hear. Then her opponent said, “Well, all right, then. So long everybody. I look forward to working with you.”
Adam wanted to say something to Wanda, go to her desk and tell her he supported her and would never let Twitchell bully her. But why do that? Twitchell had just bullied him, and he did nothing, could do nothing. What could he do when Twitchell harassed her?
At the end of the day Vic walked out of the office with Adam. As Adam approached his car Vic said, “Randy put on quite a show in the office today, didn’t he?”
“Yeah. He’s such a shit talking to Wanda like that.”
“Wanda?” Vic laughed. “He didn’t say anything to Wanda but ‘hello.’ It was you he was after. You better start looking around, buddy boy. He’s a shoo-in for the primary. Today he gave you fair warning you’re going to be on his shit list come January.”
They were shopping with the kids at Taylor’s Supermarket in Upton when Dolores Branem met them in the frozen food aisle. “Adam and Paige! Gosh, how I’ve missed seeing you two. And your lovely family.”
“Hi, Dolores.” Adam tried to sound cordial. Paige said nothing.
“Registration for our Vacation Bible School starts next week. I wish your little ones could join us.”
Paige said, “We’re comfortable with the Bible School at Claremont Methodist. We’re very satisfied with their youth programs.”
“Oh? Well, it’s a shame you all left Starling Point. Dennets and Carters have been going there forever.”
Adam and Paige didn’t reply, refusing to engage further with her. Finally she said, “I’d better get going, And your babies are going to get cold here with the frozen food.”
In the car on the way home Paige said, “I can’t believe that old witch.”
The next morning, Saturday, Adam went to his father’s house. Since the death of his mother, Adam made it a point to go fishing with Gene Dennet on Elaine Dennet’s birthday.
After they anchored the boat in the lake and had their lines in the water, Adam said, “We saw Dolores Branem yesterday at Taylor’s.”
“Yeah? She try to get you to come back to Sparrow Point Methodist?”
“Dolores was the reason you started going to Claremont, wasn’t she?”
“Well, she was kind of the last straw. We were getting a real bad vibe there after the trouble with Ben started coming out, then Paige overheard Dolores talking to a group of ladies about him. Really sarcastic stuff. Paige was too upset to say anything at the time, which is a good thing. If she’d been able to talk she would have said some things better left unsaid. We went to Claremont the next Sunday. Pastor Ramsey was nice, and made us welcome. Ben’s name was never mentioned, but they knew who we were. They’ve been very kind to Paige.”
“She needs understanding, doesn’t she? By the way, you all don’t feel like I’m being disloyal by staying on at Starling Point, do you?”
“Gosh no, Dad, I don’t think that. Paige has never said anything like that, either, and you know her. She’d say something to me if she didn’t like you going there. Oh, in fact, I almost forgot, I’m supposed to ask you if you want to join us for our 4th of July picnic. Just me and Paige and the kids, and Brenda and her friend.”
“I would, but our seniors group at church is having an outing on the 4th. Who’s Brenda’s friend?”
“Paul McNary. He manages the Mol-Rite plant on the highway.”
“Oh, it’s a guy? Well, good for Brenda. I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’ve gotten to be good friends with Becky Drew. She’s in my Sunday school class.”
“That’s great, Dad. You need to be with somebody. I remember Becky. Mom liked her.”
“I was going to say something sooner, but I didn’t know how you’d take it.”
“I’m glad for you.”
“You got a bite.”
Adam looked at the float on his line and jerked the rod.
When they arrived at the county park by the lake on the 4th of July, Brenda and Paul had already claimed a table for them under one of the picnic pavilions. Adam had dreaded this day because of Paul, even though he had asked Paige to let Paul join them. The previous 4th Brenda brought Paul without telling Paige in advance. That ruined the day as Paige tried to ignore Brenda and Paul, and Brenda forced her presence on Paige.
This year, though, Paige behaved better. “Wow! Great table. Thanks, Mom.”
“You’re welcome honey.”
“Hi, Paige, Adam.”
Paul had fired up the grill already, and Paige soon had hot dogs and hamburger patties cooking.
After they finished eating, Ethan wanted to swim in the lake right away, but Paige told him he’d have to wait half an hour. She got him to help her and Brenda clean up after the meal, giving Adam and Paul a chance to walk along the shore by themselves.
Paul said, “Brenda tells me you’re thinking about leaving county government.”
“I haven’t ruled out looking for something in Blount or Loudon County, or the state. But, yeah, maybe I should move into the private sector.”
“That might be a good idea. What was your major in college?”
“Is that what you do now for the county?”
“Not really. What we do in the Assessor’s office is valuate real property, for taxing.”
“I’m trying to think of a place you could fit in at Mol-Rite,” Paul said. “The thing is, I don’t have a real accounting staff here locally. The heavy-duty finance stuff is handled by the home office in Greensboro. Even at that, I’m afraid you’d have to start at an entry level in accounting. I’m not sure how much interest they’d have in a guy with your experience stepping down like that. Maybe a better angle would be in our facilities management department. They call it that, but it includes acquiring and selling real estate, as well as managing buildings. A lot of decisions about buy or lease, and hold or sell. How does that sound?”
“Great! How would I go about applying?”
“Send me your resume and let me do a little digging. I’ll get you a name you can call. But here’s the thing, this would also be in Greensboro, or maybe some other location. But it definitely wouldn’t be here. Do you feel like re-locating?”
“I haven’t discussed that with Paige, so please don’t say anything to her or Brenda. But I would like to get out of Upton. Having to move to Greensboro would be a plus for me.”
“I definitely won’t say anything to either of them. I mean, when Brenda finds out I’m helping you all leave the area, she’ll be mad as hell.”
“Yeah, I’m sure she’d miss Ethan and Sam.”
“Not just the grandkids. She loves Paige, despite all the grief Paige gives her. She is kind of high maintenance, isn’t she? Paige, I mean.”
“She may seem that way, but it’s only about her dad.”
“That’s what I don’t get,” Paul said. “I never knew Ben, but from what I’ve heard he’s an asshole.”
“He was always a big deal around here, a white-collar guy. That made Paige feel superior to most of us. After Paige married me, Brenda divorced him. Paige couldn’t understand that. She didn’t realize what Brenda had been putting up with for years.”
Paul picked up a rock and skipped across the surface of the lake. “I would think his getting indicted would have made her think differently about him.”
“Well, Paige was mad at him at first, but then people around here turned on her as much as on him. Ben’s case dragged on forever. Every day it seemed like he turned up in the paper or on TV. People would come up to her at the supermarket, even at church, and confront her about her dad.”
“Yeah, people can be cruel like that.”
“She’s not one to take abuse lying down. The more people attacked her, the more she came back at them. Defending herself progressed into defending Ben, and it kept on until now she won’t admit he did anything wrong.”
As they headed back toward the pavilion Paul said, “It must have been rough on her, and on you, too. Maybe moving out of the area will help.”
“It will,” Adam said, with more confidence than he felt.
Sitting in his car in the courthouse parking lot, Adam called the number Paul gave him at the Mol-Rite headquarters in Greensboro. He’d researched the company online for a week.
“Paul sent me your resume and told me you might be calling. He spoke very highly of you, and his word carries a lot of weight. Anyway, tell me about yourself.” Denver Reitman headed up real property acquisition and sales.
Adam had prepared for that question. A couple of days before he even ran through his speech with Paul. Now his words flowed.
After Adam finished his pitch Denver said, “Man, you seem to have your stuff together. I might be able to use a guy like you. Work has picked up lately, and I’m getting swamped. Let me suggest you fly out to Greensboro so we can meet face-to-face. You could talk to HR, and also check out the area. Might be a good idea to bring your wife along to make sure she’d be on board with the move. I can’t make any promises, and the trip would be on your own dime. But I’m definitely interested in you. When can you come over for a day?”
“Can I get back to you, Denver? I need to work my schedule at the office, and with my wife.”
“That’s fine. Give me a call back when you’re ready.”
As he got out of his car after ending the call, he saw Randy Twitchell. Avoiding eye contact in hopes Randy might overlook him, he heard the booming voice. “Well, hello, Ben’s boy.” The phony laugh. “Enjoy your screwing off time while you can. I won’t let employees duck out to the parking lot the way Maureen does.”
Adam managed a “Hello, Mr. Twitchell,” as Randy got into his Lexus.
That night in bed Paige said, “Greensboro? We didn’t talk about that. I thought Paul might give you a job at his plant here. Or help you get a job with another local company. How can we move to Greensboro? Do you know how hard it would be to visit Dad all the way from Greensboro?”
“We could fly to Knoxville from Greensboro and rent a car once a month.”
“Do you know what that would cost? For us and the kids?”
“We could find a babysitter for the kids. And I’d be making a lot more money. We could afford it.”
“You know how hard it’s been to get a babysitter. If it weren’t for Mom we could never go anyplace by ourselves. And how much money?”
He felt stupid for failing to talk salary with Reitman. “We didn’t get into specifics, but whatever Mol-Rite offers, it has to be better than my current pay working for the county.”
"Let’s just go over there and just check it out. You might like it.”
“I’m not going. If you decide to go work over there, you’ll go without me and the kids.” She rolled over on her side as if to go to sleep.
“Hey, Adam, good to hear from you. Ready for you and your better half to come over for a visit?” Denver Reitman sounded as friendly and enthusiastic as in their first conversation.
“My wife can’t make it right now, but I’m ready to come whenever you say.”
“Good. Maybe it works out better since this isn’t a good time for your wife. A little problem has popped up requiring me to go out of the country for a couple of weeks. You don’t happen to speak Mandarin, do you?”
Denver must have picked up on the unease in Adam’s voice. He laughed. “Just kidding. You definitely won’t need to speak Chinese for this job. I mean, I don’t for cryin’ out loud. My plan would be for you to concentrate on properties here in the States. For now at least. Anyway, how does the second week in September look for you?”
“That’d be great.”
They agreed on a date and time. Denver said his assistant would send an information packet to Adam.
After work that day Maureen dropped Adam off at Upton Tire Service, where he’d left his Chrysler Pacifica minivan that morning for a front-end alignment. His dad managed the store.
“I’ve got an appointment for a job interview at the Mol-Rite headquarters in Greensboro.” He sat across the desk from his dad in the office at the rear of the store.
“Great! That means they’re interested.”
“Yeah, but the guy can’t meet with me until September.”
“So?” His dad sounded irritated at the discouraged tone in Adam’s voice.
“I’d hoped I could have the interview, maybe even have a job offer, before the election.”
“What difference does that make? Randy won’t be taking over until January.”
“Believe me, he’ll come into the office well before then to make his presence felt. Probably the day after the primary.”
“Don’t worry about that, son. Mo can handle a blow-hard like Randy.”
“I’d rather handle him myself. If I had a firm offer in hand, I could stand up and tell him to go to hell when he came in throwing Ben Carter in my face. Maureen always seems to be protecting me. I feel like I would never have gotten a job after college if she hadn’t hired me. And she only did that because of Mom.”
“Bull. You were well qualified for that job. And there’s nothing wrong with a family friend hiring you. That’s how most people get ahead in this world.”
“I guess so.”
“Guess, hell. But don’t do anything rash. If Twitchell gives you any shit before you have that firm offer in hand, suck it up. Don’t give him grounds to throw you out in the street without a job.”
“I know, Dad, I know.”
“So you’re going through with it? I told you I’m not moving to Greensboro.” Paige was watching TV with Adam in the living room.
“I wish you’d at least go with me to the interview, to see what the town is like.”
“Ethan will be in school then.”
“Brenda will take him to school that day, and babysit Sam.”
“It’ll be a waste of time. I told you, I’m not moving that far away from Dad.”
“Why? You only see him once a month. And I told you, we’ll work that out.”
“There’s nothing to work out. You’ll have to choose between your family and that job.”
“You’ll have to choose between having food on the table and living close to the penitentiary. I promise you, as soon as Randy takes over in January he’ll find a way to fire me because of what Ben did to his sister. I have to get out of that office, and the sooner the better.”
“You’re scared of your own shadow. Stand up to that bully. Man up.”
He went silent, staring at the TV.
Quietly, because of civil service regulations, Adam encouraged friends to vote for Wanda. His dad, Brenda, and Paul, agreed to ask their associates to support her. Everybody had to be subtle, for fear that Randy would find out and jack up their real estate tax assessments once he took office. Adam noticed that he received more flyers in the mail for Twitchell than for Wanda, and Randy had more ads in the Rexford County Weekly Times.
The morning after election day Adam checked the Rexford County Weekly Times and Knoxville News-Sentinel websites for election results. Neither newspaper posted the voting in the Rexford County races yet.
The large, flat Krispy Kreme box of doughnuts on the front counter in the Assessor’s office surprised him. Clutching a jelly-filled powdered doughnut, he asked Holly, the occupant of the first cubicle, “What’s the occasion?”
Before Holly could answer, Maureen’s voice came through the open door of her office. “Haven’t you heard? Wanda won.”
He went into Maureen’s office. “Are you sure?”
She laughed. “That’s what the Election Commissioner told me when I stuck my head in at his office this morning.”
“So you bought doughnuts. That’s nice.”
“I didn’t buy them, Wanda did.”
“She came in today?”
“Back at her desk right now. It’s just another workday as far as she’s concerned.”
Walking back toward his desk, he saw Vic standing at Wanda’s cubicle, talking. “I’ve got several ideas on automation. I could put together a business case for you if you want me to.”
“I’ve heard you mention your ideas before,” Wanda said. “Maureen’s requested money for upgrades every year, and always been turned down. I’m surprised you weren’t aware of that. Of course, I’ll continue to request the money for more automation, but I don’t have high hopes for it. Anyway, Maureen has laid the groundwork for it with business cases and so on.”
“Great. Whatever I can do to help, let me know.” Vic’s tone had become subdued. He returned to his cubicle.
Adam said, “Thanks for the doughnuts, Wanda.”
“You’re welcome.” She smiled at him, for the first time that he could remember. “I hear you might be leaving us.”
“I was thinking about it. How did you know?”
“A man from Mol-Rite called Maureen for a job reference a while ago. I hope you’ll stay. You have a bright future here.”
“Your winning the election puts a new light on things for sure.”
As he headed to the patio at lunch, Maureen walked with him on her way to the parking lot.
He said, “How’d she do it? Twitchell is a pro.”
“How’d Wanda do it? She’s active in a lot of things, like in the county association of Baptist churches, and the Order of the Eastern Star. The Right-to-Life movement, of course. Personal association and word-of-mouth mean more in running for this job than a big ad budget.”
“I’m so glad she won. I was thinking about leaving, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Good. I gave you a good recommendation when that guy from Mol-Rite called, but I didn’t want you to leave. Your mother was like a daughter to me, and you’re like a grandson. You belong here.”
From the patio he called home. “Twitchell lost. Wanda will be my new boss.”
“Are you sure?” Paige sounded breathless.
“Oh, thank God. This is too good to be true. Oh, baby, I’m so glad. So you won’t take that job in Greensboro, will you?”
“I guess not.”
“Don’t sound so disappointed. I’m so relieved. Now I don’t have to choose between my dad and my husband.” She gave a loud, nervous laugh.
He paused a few seconds before saying, “I better get back to work,” and they rang off.
Before going back inside he called a friend from high school, a real estate attorney.
“Hey, Red, I know you don’t do this kind of work, but could you tell me the name of a good divorce attorney?
Tom Ray devotes his time to writing adult fiction. His stories have been published in numerous journals and in the print anthology Unbroken Circle: Stories of Cultural Diversity in the South (Bottom Dog Press, 2017). He is a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee. After two years of active duty in the U. S. Army, including a tour in Vietnam, he entered U. S. government service as a civilian. He retired after working thirty-five years in the Washington, D.C., area, and currently lives in Knoxville.