A recent rash of burglaries prompted Mayor Ian Jennings to call a meeting of concerned Dunnville residents, and a good number of townsfolk now sat anxiously waiting for Mayor Jennings to approach the podium centered on a stage before heavy maroon curtains. The air conditioning wasn’t sufficient for the June sun that heated the stifling community room so several windows were opened to allow a lilac-scented breeze in. Nevertheless, women fanned themselves with everything from old church programs to hand-held electric fans that whirred quietly, doing little to assuage the stifling heat. Three months after the deadly explosion, small items began disappearing. People at first assumed they had just misplaced things, but when his wife’s pearl necklace went missing, Jennings decided something had to be done.
Parking her overflowing cart beside an adult-sized tricycle with a rear wire basket under the shade of the Town Hall’s façade, Annie ascended the five concrete steps and into the auditorium seemingly unnoticed.
Securing a vantage point in the corner by the door, she surveyed the assembly with interest. A police officer and his harness-wearing K-9 partner stood on the opposite corner. Although the officer didn’t directly acknowledge her, the German shepherd eyed her with a curious tilt of the head, his long pink tongue lolling to one side. Annie half expected the officer to banish her from the premises but he merely covered his nose discreetly and stepped back two paces. Annie was used to her own body odor and scowled in offense at his reaction.
However, Annie herself detected a pungent simian odor and was slightly bemused to see a capuchin monkey squatting on the windowsill, toying with what appeared to be someone’s iPhone. He wore a tiny pocketed vest and a flower-printed diaper from which protruded a long bushy tail. Annie’s self-consciousness ebbed, realizing it was the monkey’s odor that offended and not her own.
The monkey glanced Annie’s way momentarily, and then turned his attention back to the device in his furry hands.
Annie’s gaze finally rested on the backs of two attendees in particular; a woman wearing a yellow crocheted jacket with a matching hat and the bald man sitting three rows in front of her.
Seventy-two-year-old Agnes Harper sat on the beige bridge chair scowling at the balding head of the man three rows in front of her. She and Harvey Dilwood lived just two houses down from each other yet it had been twenty-five years since they had spoken. Wearing a lacy crocheted sun hat and matching long-sleeved lace jacket, she scratched her forearms vigorously while the rotund woman next to her coughed dryly.
“This meeting better not last too long,” Rita Bloom grumbled in her nicotine-roughened voice as the mayor approached the podium in a crisp gray suit. “I gotta get back to the diner. No tellin’ what Olive’s burnt.”
Agnes nodded, still glaring at Harvey Dilwood’s back. Just the sight of him made her eczema flare up. “And I’ve got four loaves of sourdough bread to put in the pantry. At least I had time to wrap them all in brown paper bags before I left this morning. You know the crusts will get soggy if you store sourdough bread in plastic bags.” She continued to scowl at the bald man’s cranium.
“Just look at him, the obnoxious old fool,” Agnes snarled, clenching her arthritis-gnarled fists. “Managed to avoid Harvey Dilwood for twenty-five years and there he sits, right in front of me.”
“It’s a small town and you live within a cat’s shadow of each other,” Rita reminded her in a gruff whisper. “How the hell can you avoid the man?”
“If he’s sitting on his porch, I stay inside and quilt or bake,” Agnes explained. “And if I see that ugly Buick of his parked in front of Finnegan’s I won’t go in. Not even for your lunch specials.” Still scratching her forearms, Agnes took a deep breath and scanned the crowd. Twisting her head to the back of the room, she smiled at the sight of the young police officer posted near the door with his K-9 companion. Even the dog wore a uniform of sorts; a black harness with the name KAISER emblazoned in white along his shoulders.
“Doesn’t Jimmy look smart?” she whispered proudly. “He just made Lieutenant you know!”
Rita nodded, and then succumbed to another hacking fit. Agnes retrieved her cream-colored purse from the floor next to her and set it heavily in her lap.
“You need a hard candy, dear,” Agnes whispered, unzipping the cavernous purse. “Let me find you one.”
“On behalf of Helen-Ophelia and myself,” Mayor Jennings began, gesturing to a plump woman in a powder-blue silk pant suit, “I want to thank all of you concerned Dunnvillers for coming out this morning for this very important town meeting.” Mayor Jennings smiled, wearing an expression that conveyed just the right combination of professionalism and solicitude. “I’m pleased to inform you our town has obtained a new asset to everyone’s safety and security.” He motioned for a uniformed police officer to approach the stage. The officer held what appeared to be a laptop computer in his hands as he took his place next to Mayor Jennings on the stage. He was in full uniform complete with his service revolver holstered at his hip.
As Mayor Jennings continued speaking, Agnes began rummaging discreetly through her purse.
“I know I have a roll of Life Savers in here somewhere–”
“I’m here to announce a solution to our town’s crime wave.” Jennings announced, nodding to the officer who manipulated the laptop on cue. A mechanical whirring sound was heard, causing Agnes to look up from the depths of her purse. What looked like an armored praying mantis rolled onto the stage. From her seat behind the podium, Helen-Ophelia clasped a hand to her fleshy throat, her painted lips gaping in what was clearly mock surprise.
The strange contraption stopped just a foot away from Mayor Jennings, who gestured proudly while the crowd muttered in confusion.
“What the hell is that?” Harvey Dilwood demanded.
“That, my friends, is a Foster-Miller Talon,” Mayor Jennings smiled proudly. “An Explosive Ordinance Disposal apparatus, or EOD, for short.”
“How much of my taxes did it take to buy that damn thing?” Harvey demanded.
“A surprisingly small sum,” Jennings insisted. “We acquired this Army surplus model second-hand.”
“How’s it going to stop the crime wave?” Someone else asked.
“Why, it’s like another police officer on duty,” the mayor replied. “But it doesn’t require a paycheck!” Jennings chuckled at his own joke, and then coughed slightly. “We can send this robot into situations that would be unsafe for a human officer.”
“Can a robot track down the terrorists that blew up my old garage?” Harvey demanded.
Some people chuckled at Harvey’s question and from the back corner, Lieutenant James Vickers spoke firmly, “That wasn’t the work of terrorists, Mr. Dilwood.”
Agnes looked up from her purse and craned her head to the back of the room. You tell him, Jimmy! She thought proudly as her fingers probed the bowels of her purse.
The assembly erupted into more chatter. From her chair on the stage, Helen-Ophelia implored the excitable crowd to hush by patting the air in front of her while Mayor Jennings wrapped a gavel on the podium and then seized a pen and tossed it carelessly onto the stage.
“Allow Officer Wallace here to demonstrate the Talon’s capabilities,” Jennings went on, signaling to the young cop who held the robot’s controls.
The crowd fell silent and shifted forward in unison as the EOD whirred into action. From the window the monkey shifted from foot to foot, chattering in alarm.
The Talon’s mechanical arm extended while a pair of grippers lowered to the stage floor and deftly secured the pen while Jennings extolled the robot’s virtues and Helen-Ophelia looked as though she’d witnessed a miracle.
“Isn’t that marvelous?” Helen-Ophelia beseeched cheerfully.
Agnes turned back to the stage and stared at the ugly contraption as it maneuvered on its tracks, performing tricks like a mechanical dog. She failed to see how the thing was going to protect anyone. Unimpressed with the town’s new acquisition, she continued burrowing in her purse until she found a half-opened roll of butterscotch Life Savers beneath a larger, heavier object which she withdrew to better access the bottom of the bag.
“Found them!” Agnes whispered happily.
From the stage, the young cop dropped the EOD’s controls and yelled, “GUN!”