Things get delightfully tacky, yet unrefined this week on Longboat Key.
Editor’s Note: Ten years ago, Longboat Key author H. Terrell Griffin made his debut as a mystery writer with the “Killer Summer” serial in the Longboat Observer featuring the fictional Detective Jake Bass. Click here to read the catch up with his latest series.
It was early afternoon, a day after the near-riot at Town Hall. The commission chambers was packed with citizens who came to watch the Town Commission hold its weekly workshop to decide which issues were important enough to bring to the regular commission meeting.
I was there to provide security for the vice mayor, who was still shaken by his near-death experience with a hangman’s noose. I saw Charlie Goins in the back corner talking earnestly with the Canadian peacock killer.
The agenda had been whittled down to two items: whether to allow a zoning change on the north end so that a hotel could be built and whether to close down the Hooters restaurant that had taken over the building once occupied by Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant.
The vice mayor was not happy. He was pushing for an ordinance that would make it a criminal offense for anyone to hang a public official. The other six commissioners, including the mayor, were against such an ordinance. Their argument was that one incident wasn’t enough reason to create another law.
“But none of you were hanged,” the vice mayor said.
“That's true,” the mayor said, “but we’re all beloved by the people.”
“You won’t be after you vote on that hotel.”
“There’s nothing dangerous there,” the mayor said. “Just good old American democracy at work. Everybody gets a say.”
“Did you see the pitchforks last night?” the vice-mayor asked. “You rezone that land for a hotel and you’ll feel the noose around your neck.”
A man with a large nose and a beer belly stood in the back of the room and waved a rope tied with a hangman’s noose. “You tell 'em, Vice Mayor.”
“Pshaw,” the mayor said, “I’m voting against it.
A chorus of “me, toos” rose from the dais.
The developer shouted, “We’ll sue,” and he and both his supporters stomped out.
“I’m not afraid of no stinking lawyers,” the mayor said.
“Don’t worry,” the town attorney said. “We’ll find a lawyer who’ll represent the town. We need to appropriate about a hundred grand for his fees. That should cover the first court appearance.”
“Why is it,” the mayor asked, “that every time we have a legal issue, you hire another lawyer instead of addressing it yourself?”
“What?” the mayor asked.
“I meant to say, this town deserves the best representation money can buy.”
“I think the citizens are getting tired of paying such outrageous legal fees.”
“It’s only tax money,” the town attorney said. “It’s not a big deal.”
“You’ve got a point. Can we win any suit the developer brings?”
“Probably not. But remember, it’s not who wins or loses, it’s how you play the game.”
“Another good point,” the mayor said. “Next item.”
A citizen stood up and hollered. “Mayor, what about the wetlands over by the hotel site?”
“You talking about the Gulf of Mexico or the bay?”
“No, ma’am. Neither. I’m talking about the wetlands.”
“The Gulf is wet and there’s land under the surface. The bay, too. So it’s wet land. I don’t see how that affects the hotel. Anyway, the villagers have talked us out of proceeding with that issue. Sit down, sir.”
“The next item on the agenda is Hooters,” the town clerk said.
“We ought to table that one,” the mayor said. “It’s not really a problem.”
Forty-six elderly women jumped to their feet, a cacophony of dissent filling the room. The mayor banged her gavel, turned up her microphone and hollered, “Y’all calm down. Pick one of your group to address this august body.”
The women huddled and soon chose a spokeswoman, one of the leaders of the Longboat Key Garden Club. “We’re concerned that our husbands spend most of their days at Hooters eating chicken wings, drinking beer, and ogling the waitresses.”
“What’s wrong with that?” the mayor asked. “Probably keeps them out of the house.”
“They’re all getting fat.”
“Ogling makes them fat?”
“The wings and beer.”
“Well, you don't expect the owner to let them sit around all day and ogle unless they spend some money.”
“But, Mayor. You own the place.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Your name is on the liquor license.”
“You should recuse yourself from taking a position on this.”
“Can’t do that,” the mayor said. “I was elected to use my judgment, and I don’t think wings are that bad for you. And beer is mostly water.”
“What about the ogling?”
“You just said that doesn’t make them fat.”
“No, but it gets them all heated up.”
“At their age?”
“Yeah. It’s already hot out there, and the walk home after all that beer and wings just about gives them heatstroke.”
“What’s that got to do with ogling?”
“They eat their wing lunch and then stay to ogle until it’s mid-afternoon and very hot outside. They have to leave then because of nap time.”
“You could pick them up in your car. Turn on the a/c.”
The women huddled quickly. Then, “We hadn’t thought of that. Maybe we could carpool.”
“Okay,” the mayor said. “Problem solved. Anything else?”
Charlie and the Canadian slipped out the side door, grinning and elbowing each other in the side. I wondered what that was all about. A conspiracy theorist like Charlie consorting with a Canadian peacock killer who Charlie said infiltrated our island from Bradenton Beach didn’t make any sense. I’d have to ponder that issue.
A fistfight broke out in the back of the room and somebody threw a very irritated peacock into the chambers and shut the door. The angry bird, squawking loudly, flew onto the long circular desk at which the seven commissioners sat. The commissioners seemed frozen in their chairs, stunned at the rapid turn of events that brought more than the usual discord into their midst. The mayor took control, shouting, “Somebody get this car-pecking wad of feathers out of here. This might be a terrorist attack.”
A woman in the back of the room, whom I recognized as one of the bird catchers hired by the city to cull the peacock flock, came forward with a burlap bag, threw it over the bird and hauled it away. Her partner came to the dais and presented the mayor with a bill for $500. “One more gone,” he said.
The mayor adjourned the meeting. I escorted the vice mayor home and went to find the big-haired preacher.