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Chris Lynch (b. 1962), a Boston native, is an award-winning author of several acclaimed young adult novels, including Freewill (2001), which won the Michael L. Printz Honor, and National Book Award finalist Inexcusable (2005). Lynch holds an MA from the writing program at Emerson College, and teaches in the creative writing MFA program at Lesley University. He mentors aspiring writers and continues to work on new literary projects while splitting time between Boston and Scotland.
High school senior Gordon Foley runs for mayor at the behest of his grandfather, an old-style politician scheming to regain power while he's in prison for fraud.
THRUST UPON ME
You could understand it if you ever drove the car. And if you ever got near my girlfriend, you'd understand it. Either experience would make it totally clear to you how I could ever have let it all happen to me. But you ain't never driven a Studebaker Gran Tourismo Hawk, and you ain't never—except maybe for a few of you—touched the cashmere small of Sweaty Betty's back, so I don't even know if you could ever quite know.
But here goes.
Tooling along up and over and down again and up again on the hills on the long road out of the town of Amber, a guy knows why it's so important to have a driver's license. The clouds follow the car, floating up higher when we crest a hill, coming back down on us when we valley out, lapping at the ice-white gleam of the Tourismo's hood like a big ol' tongue in the sky that just can't help itself but get a good lick in at the hood.
It is that kind of car. It's a delicious kind of a car.
And the road. You get the stomach wiggles every ten seconds from the perfect shwoop of the loll of the hills, curvalittle left, curvalittle right, rolling with it, swinging into it, but never climbing, because the grade never gets that steep, and the car never sweats. You could be driving over the skin of a giant bowl of chocolate pudding for all the resistance the road gives you.
The stereo plays, and it's a beautiful stereo, but it doesn't play loud, not on this road. That would insult the car, and it would be stupid. No, the music accompanies the auto.
Jeff Beck plays the guitar, just so. He's an old guy from long ago in the sixties, but he's got fine fingers like I'd kill for. He plays something called "Greensleeves," which is an old old tune from back in history somewhere, but which is a beautiful aural idea like I've never had myself.
The car, too, while we're at it, is from another time: 1963. Can you imagine?
One might suppose I was one of those lost-in-a-time-warp guys. Not true. I just take my pleasures, no questions asked, whence they come.
Which is a good point at which to get back to it. The point. Why I am on the luscious chocolate-pudding ribbon of road, in the white ice-cream car, listening to Mr. Beck pluck out "Greensleeves," is that I am on my way to visit the car's actual owner, who won't be needing it for the next five to fifteen years, and who always said that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted me to have the car.
"So," I'd said from my side of the Plexiglas when I'd last seen him. "So, I think this amounts to something did happen to you."
He'd laughed at me. Pulled the cigar out of his mouth—soaked and chewed and disintegrating as if a baby had been smoking it—and looked over his shoulder at the guard standing against the wall. "You believe this kid, Chuckie? My ass marks ain't even fluffed out of the driver's seat yet, and the kid's trying to take it away from me."
The guard laughed along, and shrugged. "Can't do nothing with kids, Fins. What're you gonna do?"
Fins turned back to me. "He's right. What am I gonna do?" He threw his hands straight up in the air, and laughed away as if somebody invisible was tickling his armpits.
That was what I loved about my grandfather. He could be in prison—even if it looked like a pretty luxurious prison—and have his own grandson trying to take his stuff, and still he thought it was funny. Even with the racketeering junk and all that, he was a belovable figure.
"I can have it then?"
"Ahhh, I don't know ..." he teased. "That's a lot of car, a lot of responsibility...."
"C'mon, Da. You know I'm the one. You know nobody's going to love it like I am. And Sweaty adores it."
He placed both hands flat on the partition. "Please, no talk of women, it's too frustrating for a guy in a place like this. You know there are no women allowed—no, y'know, conjugals. 'Cept Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends." He smiled his broad grin, with the large space between his front teeth.
"Da ...?" I whined.
"Ah," he said, shooing me away with both hands waving. "Go, take it. What am I, a convict, going to do about it? I have no power to stop you. No one is going to listen to me."
That was his joke. His no power. His nobody listening to him.
"Yo, Chuckie," he called to the guard. "Can I get a beer?"
The guard started out the door.
Fins turned to me. "I'm sorry. Gordie, you want one?"
Up until the day he went to jail, and for eighteen years prior to that, Fins Foley was the obscenely popular mayor of Amber. Had he known during all that time that there was a local ordinance against convicted felons holding municipal office, he would have fixed it in time to be the obscenely popular jailbird mayor of Amber.
"No, thanks, Da, I gotta be getting back. Sweaty's expecting me."
"Do not keep that young lady waiting," he said, fake-poking my little bony chest with his big bony finger.
"I won't," I said, kicking my aluminum chair over backward as I scrambled. "So," I treaded. "Can I tell her? That, y'know, the Hawk is mine."
"... Till I get out, you mean? Can you take care of it for me, you mean?"
"I mean that, yes," I said.
"Don't I give you everything? Am I not a complete sucker when it comes to my favorite relative?"
Truth? He is. Total sucker. For me alone.
"No way. You're tough as nails."
"Get outta my prison," he said, shaking a fist and biting his sopping cigar in half. "Ya rotten punk."
Just as the door was about to close behind me, and Fins was telling the guard how wicked his grandson was, just as I was about to pull a Batman leap from the second-story window right into the seat of—
Did I mention the Gran Tourismo Hawk was a convertible?
"Hey, hey, hey," he called.
Slowly I pushed the door open just enough to slip my narrow head and shoulders through.
"If I hear tires spinning in that parking lot, I will escape. I will break a wall, and run, and even with Chuckie here on my back, I will catch up to you on foot."
"I would want you to beat me up, Da."
"A car—the right car—can be the most important thing in a young man's life."
"Next to his grandpa," I slobbered. Shameless.
"Don't get jerky on me now."
"I'll never forget ..." I said, backing out.
He didn't even have to yell for me this time. He held up one finger, as if he had been struck by an idea.
"How old are you now, Gordie?"
"When are you eighteen?"
I came all the way back down to earth as I heard the seldom oiled gears of my grandfather's mayoral-racketeer thought machine.
"This is gonna cost me, isn't it?"
"Whaaat, whaaat?" He sounded hurt. Sipped his beer. "Stop already. When are you eighteen?"
"Next week. Da, you know that. You've never ever missed my birthday. You know it better than my parents do."
He chuckled. He loved being compared to my parents. It only made him look even more immense.
"You come in and see me on your birthday. Will you do that for a poor tired old man? A sad, unjustly accused—"
"I'll come, I'll come," I said. "Now can I go see my girlfriend?"
"I love you," he said.
"Shit. I love you, Da," I said, through the protection of the steel door.
"I love you," he said again, because he always has the last word. And because it was true. Which was why whatever he had planned for me was inevitable. I could never tell him no.CHAPTER 2
GRAN TOURISMO HAWK
"Come on, Betty."
"Come on yourself. What's your problem today?" She pushed me away firmly with both hands, pinning me to the driver-side door. Sweaty Betty was at least as strong as me.
I struggled toward her again, but could not get myself out of the hold. I relented, hung there like a poster tacked to the wall.
"Please?" I wailed.
"It's the middle of the day, Gordie. What are you thinking? All of a sudden it's like you got some irresistible charisma or something? I think I can resist it."
The window was rolled halfway down, enough for me to poke my head out and look up at the meltaway clouds while my body remained stuck. We—Sweaty Betty, the Studebaker, and myself—were parked at a quiet, breezy spot a quarter mile from the school, peaceful, but not really private enough for me to be asking for what I was asking for at three in the afternoon.
"Hey, Gordie, sorry, man," Mosi said, looking down into my face, blocking out the entire sky with his massive, frizz-framed head. "Just heard, about Fins losing the appeal. Everybody knows he didn't do it."
"Thanks, Mos." I maneuvered my arm up through the window beside my head, and engaged Mosi in a firm wrist-shake. "But what if he did do it?"
He shrugged, as if this were irrelevant. "Screw 'em then, if they can't take a joke."
Mosi leaned out over the windshield before he left. "Hi, Sweaty," he said, and lumbered away.
"Hey, Mosi," she answered, finally releasing me.
"He said I could keep it," I said, toggling my head around to loosen my neck. "The Tourismo. Fins says it's mine."
"Get out," she returned.
"True it is, baby baby." As Sweaty Betty's face lit up, I inflated and grew suave and slick, taking on the personality of the Gran Tourismo Hawk. She turned away from me now, giving all her attention to the car. Lightly, with the tips of three fingers, she caressed the walnut, red leather, and polished—polished by me, twice a week—chrome of the dashboard. Back and forth and back and forth, her long slim hand stroked the surface, running along from the glove compartment that was big enough to carry a sleeping bag, to the radio with the tubes inside that took three minutes to warm up before it would play anything. She stopped there, diddled the metallic station buttons like piano keys, then snapped back around to me.
"He did not, you lying sack," she said.
"Huh? Huh? ... Unnn-huh?"
I had frozen, fixed and dilated, on her fingers and what they had done for the Hawk. I almost didn't need her anymore.
"Fins didn't give you the Stude. No way."
"He did, I swear. But I think it's gonna cost me something. I'm not sure what, but I have to go see him on my birthday."
She looked at me differently now, piercingly. Very exciting, very frightening. "So it's really true, then. You and the Tourismo. You are one. You don't just borrow it now."
I nodded. My new charisma smile.
"Hey, sorry to hear about Fins, man." The voice came in the window from over my shoulder. I didn't even know who it was.
"Get outta here, you," Sweaty snapped at him, without taking her eyes off me.
"Happy birthday, young man," Fins hollered as I stepped into the visitors' room.
"Ya, happy birthday, kid," the guard said.
"Thanks, Da," I said, bouncing on the balls of my feet, shooting the old guy with my finger gun. Then I trained it on the guard. "And, thanks, ah ... Chuckie." Bang. Shot him. Holstered the pistol and sat in my chair backward.
"Eighteen," Fins said, nodding. "Sonofabitch."
"Eighteen." I nodded.
"You're a man now."
"Was a man before."
"But a real, official one now."
"All that and more, Finian."
I was eighteen, I was driving the Hawk. I was taking the day off from school. It was a cloudless October day as summery as anything June could do. Life was so good, I could feel its fingers running up my frontals and down my back.
"You're beaming, kid. You got a glow."
"Do I?" checked my look as well as I could in the scratched Plexiglas. "I know I can feel it, but does it show, really?"
"Chuckie, does the man got a glow?" Fins called back over his shoulder.
"I can't hardly stand it. He's hurtin' my eyes."
"See that, stop it now, Gordie, your hurting the officer's eyes. He's gonna put on the shades any second, and there ain't nothing more depressing than one of them big cop types following you around all day wearing the mirror shades indoors."
"Slinging with both hands today, Da," I said, closing one eye like I was about to get hit. "What're you going to drop on me?"
"Relax. Will you relax? I got a present for you, on account of you're eighteen now and a legally recognized man."
I smiled in anticipation. My grandfather was a creative and flamboyant gift-giver, even when he didn't build up the moment like this.
"Chuckie, could you please?" he asked the guard as he drew an envelope out of his pocket. The guard came and took it, let himself out the special no-entry door that separated Fins Foley from Gordie Foley, and slipped me the paper. Quickly he got back to the incarceration side of the wall, since he really wasn't supposed to allow Fins to give me stuff. But it was my big one-eight.
I read the form that was inside the envelope. It made no sense to me.
"This makes no sense to me, Da."
"Read it again," he said. "It's kind of important that you can read, and comprehend stuff."
"'Gordon Foley.' That's me, my name there at the top."
"Who am I nominating?"
"Gordon Foley," I echoed.
"Gordon Foley." That echo would not go away.
I stared at the form, trying harder and harder to comprehend, but the more intensely I stared at the words, the more intensely they resisted me. I looked up from them to Fins, who now had one cigar clenched in his teeth and one pointed at me.
Chuckie the guard—whose name tag read V. McGONNIGAL—came around again and stuck the kielbasa cigar in my gaping orifice.
"I got a couple parking tickets—think you could fix 'em for me?" he joked. I think.
"Happy birthday, kid." Fins beamed like a new father. "You're gonna be goddamn mayor."
"So what did he give you?"
Sweaty had been waiting in the car while I visited my grandfather. When I returned, she had the top down and the front passenger seat reclined all the way back to where it was lying on top of the rear seat. Her feet were crossed up on the dashboard.
"Didn't I tell you no feet on the dashboard, Betty," I snapped, pulling her feet down. I pulled the chamois cloth out of the glove compartment and started buffing.
"Come on, come on, what did you get? A big wad of money? A house? What?"
I couldn't concentrate until I had finished polishing up the dash. There.
"Um." I tried to assemble it in my own mind, then to frame it for Sweaty. "The city. He, pretty much, gave me the city."
"I wasn't aware he owned it. Damn generous of him."
"Ya, well, eighteen is one of the big ones. And he does like me a lot."
"Great," she said, hopping up straight in her seat and pumping it back to upright position. "Let's go play with your new present."
Already Betty was enjoying the whole thing more than I was. This wasn't good. I wanted to get it too. This was where I should have been fired up, peeling out of the lot with Sweaty on my lap, making for the beach. But ...
"Wait here," I said, trotting in reverse from the car back toward the prison.
Sweaty Betty took her sunglasses off once more and maneuvered the seat back into sunbathing position. I saw her wave way up high past me. I turned to see three or four somebodies waving back from behind a fence on the roof of the building.
"Better hurry," she called.
"'Cause, as you know, Gordie, they aren't letting me be mayor anymore, even though everybody wants me to be."
"I heard," I said, staring again at my name on the form. "So why do I fall into it?"
"'Cause you're what I need. You remind me a lot of me a long time ago. You're young, you're cute, you'll be a statement. And I've learned, when it's really important, you can only trust family."
"So, Da, why not run my dad? He's your son."
"Him? I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him."
So much for the family thing.
"See, I had what they call in the papers a 'hand-picked successor,' but,"—he let out a dramatic, wounded sigh—"she ain't turning out too great. She's kind of ignoring the boss now she thinks I'm outta the way."
I waved my hands at him, crosswise, like stop, stop! "That's all fine, Da. But frankly it's not the part I'm interested in. What I want to know right now "—I pointed both index fingers at the floor beneath me, at the here and now, in case he missed my point—"is what are you doing to me? What is going to happen to me here? I'm a senior now, you know. I kind of had plans for this year."
"What do you think? Think I don't know? Think the old Da's so decrepit I don't remember? I know what your plans are. One big party, puffing your chest out and pulling your pants down, now till May, am I right?"
"Ohhh." I was about to get indignant when the words registered. "Well, ya. I mean, you make it sound kind of stupid, but I suppose that's about it."
He beamed. "See. I been there. And know what? My plan is just going to help you. Jesus, Gordie, you know what it's going to be like, going through senior year as an eighteen-year-old political superstar? You'll be beating 'em off with a stick."
I let him do it to me. The old snake.
"You'll be goddamn near godlike. Hell, I only wish I could have been mayor at eighteen instead of—"
"Whoa. Stop right there for a second. Eighteen-year-old mayor. Da, you're talking like I'm going to win. That's not going to happen, is it? You're not going to make me win, are you?"
Excerpted from Political Timber by Chris Lynch. Copyright © 1996 Chris Lynch. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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