Monday, August 26, 2013
Gil stared at his computer’s screen, and the addition to the file he’d thought safely passcode-protected. The message was brief and very Rachelesque: You really sure you want to go there, boss?
So, in addition to her many other skills, Rachel was a hacker. He could go ahead and add that to her profile. But not what kind of shifter she was, assuming she was a shifter to begin with. That was the whole point of the file.
He logged off with an unsquirrelish growl. His efforts to get a clearer picture of the population that had elected him mayor kept hitting wall after wall. Centuries of having to hide their existence had made shifters overall tighter-lipped than clams. How the hell was he supposed to help them if he didn’t know who he was helping?
He’d just have to ask someone who did.
Gil pulled a pocket-sized notebook out of a drawer and flipped through it. He kept only special numbers in here. People looking for the super-secret files would zero in on the computer. They’d never think to check a spiral notebook with Dollar Depot stamped on the front. The number he wanted was nestled innocuously between those for Rattigan’s and Java Joe’s. He dialed.
After the third ring someone picked up. “I need to speak to the boss,” Gil said. “Tell him it’s the mayor.”
Sheesh. All this cloak and dagger. The things people went through in the name of politics. Had Lance Link ever been like this? Probably worse: he’d cleaned out the filing cabinets and started a fire in the trash can when he left office.
His sour thoughts were interrupted by a cautious voice on the other end. “Mr. Mayor?”
“Just Gil. How’s it going, Dante?”
“How did you get this number?”
“I have friends in low places. In particular, a rat from New Jersey.”
Dante’s chuckle had an edge in it. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I’m trying to compile a list of the shifter species in Talbot’s Peak. I’ve got the population numbers from the Census and tax records, but I can’t get an accurate count of who’s what or how many.”
“Good luck. If I recall, your predecessor distributed a survey in an attempt to garner this same information. I hear it didn’t end well.”
“There’s an understatement for you. The citizens trashed City Hall.” Gil leaned back in his chair. “That’s why I decided to ask the man who already has such a list.”
Long, wary silence on the other end. Then: “What makes you think I—”
“Because you’re Dante, and because I'm buds with a rat. Look, let’s cut the shit. I’m not trying to go NSA on Talbot’s Peak. Thanks to the fair and private contributions, we’ve got enough funds for the rec center. So how am I supposed to spend them? What programs will benefit the most people? Hell, do we even need a rec center? We’re surrounded by woods. They want to run and jump around, they can go out there.”
“That’s true, at least for the predators and the larger species. However, at least two-thirds of the population is smaller types and herbivores. I know they’d appreciate having a place to take their kids that would be safe and carnie-free.”
“Herbivores come in a lot of flavors. Give me some numbers.”
“The largest and most vocal group is the bunnies. You should know; they put you in office.”
“Yeah,” Gil snarled. “I’ll have to remember to kick their cottontails for that—excuse me, tell the little fluffernutters thanks. Bunnies, got it. What else?”
“Rather than specifics, let me make a few suggestions. An outdoor hedge maze, with bolt holes to underground tunnels. I’ll bet the parents would even volunteer to dig them for you.”
“How tall for the hedges? Kid-sized, or higher? Like, say, for deer and horse.”
“Horses aren’t much for mazes, but the deer would love it. Somewhere in between. I can give you a list of edible bushes, in case the kids get hungry.”
“Okay, maze and playground. How about indoors? Do we need a pool?”
“I don’t think so. The swimmers we have prefer non-chlorinated. The high school opens their pool to humans during breaks. You might want to coordinate with the school system. Some of the programs you’re considering might already be in place.”
“Call the schools, got it. So sports are out?”
“Not at all. The school programs are for students, not adults. This will get the grown-ups interacting with each other.”
“Today volleyball, tomorrow the world. Gotcha.”
“You certainly have a unique way of looking at things. Keep in mind wolves like team activities, while cats prefer one-on-one.”
“But we’re good with anything with a ball. Great. I’m already set on a basketball court. Bunnies love basketball. They’re not all that tall but damn, can they jump.”
“I have another suggestion. If you’re planning on daycare, or babysitting during the adult programs—”
“Huh. You’re ahead of me.”
“Yeah. I was wondering what to do about the hyper little darlings. Then I stood in front of the pet shop window for a while. We could put some tubes against the walls. And shelving, like people do for their cats. The human kids can use it too.” Gil considered. “I’d better make sure we have first-aid stations on hand.”
A sound of approval came through the phone. “You’ve thought this through. For all species.”
“That reminds me. How d’you think self-defense classes would go over?”
Dante laughed. “The wolves may not be happy, but quite a few other species would thank you. What did you have in mind?”
“The usual. Karate for beginners … how to read animal body language … ”
“Sounds good. Do me a favor: call me when you’ve got a plan. I’d like to go over it with you. I can also set you up with a local construction company.”
“Thanks. I’m betting you already have my private number.” Dante didn’t respond one way or the other. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.”
“I’m concerned with the safety of Talbot’s Peak. I see now you are too. I look forward to working with you, Mr. Mayor. Gil.” He hung up.
Gil set down the phone. He had a powerful ally now. That had to count as a good thing. He also had more info than he’d started with. Dante probably wasn’t even aware how much he’d let slip.
People tended to trust a squirrel because they were so small and cute and harmless. People also tended to forget Gil had been born human.
He shoved his little phone book to the back of the drawer and slammed it shut. “Now I need a shower. I hate politics.”