The Last Town #2:Preparing for the Dead

By: Stephen Knight


“Hiya, Max.”

Max Booker looked up from the swath of papers that littered his desk. While serving as the mayor of a town as miniscule as Single Tree, California, wasn’t a very stressful job, it was a bit hard on the eyes. The local government was small, which meant that Booker had to get involved with the finances behind every decision the town council brought up for a vote, as well as smooth any feathers which might get ruffled when he let an initiative’s champion know that there just wasn’t enough money in the coffers for his or her pet project. Single Tree was hardly a wealthy town, but at the same time, it wasn’t broke. Booker’s mission was to definitely try and provide the former without incurring the latter.

He pushed his glasses up on his forehead and blinked a couple of times. When he saw Barry Corbett standing in the doorway to his office, he put down his pen and got to his feet.

“Just the man I wanted to see,” Booker said, putting his palms on the desk. “Barry, did you somehow manage to get permission for airport construction without the town knowing about it?”

Corbett smiled slightly. “Yes, and no,” he said, cryptically.

Booker waved him inside. “Maybe we should talk about that.”

Corbett stepped inside the office, and another man followed him in. Booker recognized Gary Norton—hell, his older brother Warren had gone to high school with him—but they hadn’t exchanged more than a handful of words since Norton had built a new house next to his parents’ home several years ago, when Booker had first been elected mayor. The town’s planning and zoning board had taken issue with the house’s design, citing the fact that it was widely divergent from the rest of the houses on the street. That it was a corner lot caused even more consternation. Folks in Single Tree loved the money people like Norton spent, but they didn’t want their town transformed into Hollywood East, either. There was also some fear that Norton might want to establish another gigantic mansion like Corbett had, only much closer to town. That hadn’t been the case, but Booker and Norton had to ride through the P&Z gauntlet anyway.

“Well, hi, Gary,” Booker said.

“How are you, Max?” Norton responded.

“Gary, maybe you could get the door,” Corbett said as he slid into one of the two visitor chairs facing Booker’s desk. Booker watched as Norton closed the door and ambled to the last empty chair. He settled into it slowly, his face a blank mask.

“So what’s happening here, guys?” Booker asked. “Both of you here together? Doesn’t seem like this is a normal occurrence.”

“It’s not,” Corbett said. “Have a seat, Max. We have some talking to do.”

The unease Booker felt when the two men walked into his office blossomed into full-on suspicion. “What’s on your mind?”

“Sit down, Max,” Corbett said. “And you might want to tell Mary Ellen to hold your calls for a bit, we’re going to need some time.”

Booker eased himself back into his chair. “Well, we’ll see about that. I’m pretty interested about what’s going on at the airport, Mister Corbett. Seems like you might know something about that.”

Corbett made a dismissive gesture with one hand. “Yeah, yeah, I really did get authorization to install an instrument landing system, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. That work is going to be postponed.”

“How could you get that kind of arrangement made without us knowing about it?” Booker asked.

“Max, Single Tree does not own the airport. The city of Los Angeles does. Los Angeles is a little different than Single Tree, in that you can actually buy off politicians and the like without doing anything more than handing over money. The Federal Aviation Administration is a tougher nut to crack, but at the end of the day, the administration does what it’s told to do, and I have enough cash lying around to buy some influence. So there’s how Single Tree’s airport managed to get an ILS. With me so far?”

Booker took off his glasses and tossed them onto his desk. “Mister Corbett … what the hell are you trying to pull? I’m impressed with your ability to corrupt politicians, but what does this have to do with our airport? Is there a point to this?”

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