Monday, November 17, 2014
Give a Hoot
When it came to all things mechanical, no one in Talbot’s Peak could surpass Lutz and Bortz. The two German-born wolves could build or fix anything that involved pistons and gears. Once, on a bet, they constructed a tractor from scratch. The horse-shifter who’d been pulling his own plow happily paid up.
Right now, Mayor Gil was wondering how much it would cost to get the two to leave town. After they unfixed the town clock, of course.
According to Vernon McMahon, who’d been around long enough to know, the bell in the City Hall clock tower had been silent for decades. (“L’il Larry hasn’t struck the hour since Reagan was in office,” Vernon said.) With a new wife and possibly multiple children on the way, Gil wasn’t thinking straight. He decided Talbot’s Peak could do with a working clock, and “Nutz and Boltz” were just the pair to get the bell ringing again.
He forgot they considered themselves artists, and artists tend to get … artistic.
The first time Li’l Larry announced the time was two in the afternoon. Gil sat at his desk, thunderstruck. He waited until three to make sure he’d heard correctly. Five minutes after that, he summoned Lutz and Bortz.
The two arrived just in time for the four o’clock “chiming.” “Ah,” they said, nodding in chorus. “Ist goot, ja?”
“No, it’s not goot—I mean good. I asked for a bell. Something that goes ding-dong. Not whoo-hoot.”
“Bells. Ding-dong.” Bortz dismissed such conventionalities with a snort. “So 20th century. This has character. What is the English word? Unique?”
“Unique, ja,” Lutz agreed. “The clock now reflects the town. What shifter goes ‘ding-dong’? But whoo-hoot, everybody knows what that is.”
“Everybody expects a clock to sound like a clock. Not an owl. What did you do, rig speakers?”
They nodded happily. “We can change it,” Bortz said. “Wolf, horse, sheep, cow, anything you want. Just record sound.”
“You want to announce the time?” Lutz thrust a palm-sized microphone into Gil’s face. “Speak into here.”
Gil batted the mike away. “No, thanks. I want—”
“We fix the emergency siren, too,” Lutz informed him. “Ist wolf howl now. Get everybody’s attention.”
“Ja, ja.” Bortz nodded soberly. “Back home in Buchendorf, sirens go off, everybody panics and dives under bed. Nothing gets done. But wolf howl! They listen to that. Better response.”
“Okay,” Gil cautiously agreed, “that was probably a good idea. I’ll announce the change at the next town meeting. We’ll still have to vote on it. Now, about the clock—”
“You’re right.” Bortz stared thoughtfully up at the clock tower. “We could do more. Do better. Give Talbot’s Peak something no one else has. Clock with personality. Bring the tourists in.” He and Lutz stared at each other, and cried out in unison, “Cuckoo clock!”
“No!” Gil screamed. “Look, it’s—fine. The clock is fine. We’ll let it run for a couple of days and see what the people think. If they like the owl, then owl it is. If they don’t, we go back to a traditional ringing bell. Agreed?”
“Tradition,” Lutz scoffed. “Where's the fun in tradition? Change ist fun. Change ist goot.”
“This is art.” Bortz waved his arm expansively at the clock. “Art is goot for the soul.”
“It’s not up to me.” Gil frantically ran with this loophole. “It’s up to the people. If they decide they want a regular bell, well, then it’s out of my hands. You can understand that, can’t you?”
The two considered this. “Must it be a bell?” Bortz asked.
Hating himself for having to ask, Gil said cautiously, “As opposed to … ?”
“Something else musical. Like flugelhorn. Or glockenspiel.”
“Or cow bell,” Lutz suggested. “Would cows find that offensive?”
The longer we talk, Gil realized, the worse this gets. He decided to put an end to it. “Tell you what. We’ll put it to a vote at the next town meeting. You can present your ideas then. Remember, this is a sound people in town will have to listen to at three in the morning. Try to keep that in mind.”
The wolves exchange a glance. “We don’t live in town,” Bortz said.
Somehow, Gil had figured that. Belatedly, it occurred to him he should have asked Vern why the bell had stopped chiming to begin with. A picture of furious deaf bats with sledgehammers rose in his mind. He squashed it. “Vote. Town meeting. Two weeks from Thursday. We usually start at 7:30, but if you show up early there might still be refreshments. Put a presentation together and we’ll see how it goes. Okay?”
The pair nodded enthusiastically. Too much so, Gil thought. He imagined he could smell the wheels turning in their brains. They bid him a cheery guten tag and loped away.
Oh, God. Two weeks. Two whole weeks to brainstorm, to let their artistic impulses run rampant. Images of gigantic cuckoo clocks wormed their way into his thoughts, fluting their annoying calls at all hours of the day and night. What the hell was I thinking?
On the other hand, they wanted something that would say “Talbot’s Peak.” When viewed in that light, a cuckoo clock seemed like the perfect choice.
Maybe he could appoint Rachel deputy mayor, then call in sick on meeting night and make her deal with this. Yeah. Sounded like a plan. Gil went back inside City Hall, to wait for the five whoo-hoots that would signal the end of his work day.