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Statesman In Exile

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It was a picture from back when he still had most of his hair. The suit was more or less the same.

At the beginning of Bill Dewey's first term, a small Ocean Town outfit was contracted to come down for the day and take his official portrait. The photographer said she'd be warming up with a few candid shots. "Just go about your business," she said. "Pretend I'm not here."

When the contact sheet came back with everything she'd shot that day, the city treasurer dutifully cut a check for a desk shot that was as stiff and terrified as Bill's first driver's license photo. But the one he kept on his desk for all these years was a candid that he paid for out of his own pocket. Buck, who had the day off from school, was sprawled across the desk, and he was still young enough that he fit with room to spare. He seemed to be examining something that his father was pointing out in a county directory. Their backs were to the daylight streaming through the window, giving the scene a gauzy appearance.

"I had a feeling you'd like that one," the photographer laughed. Bill liked it enough that it was still his profile picture on Cheeper.

And yet, there was another element to that day that he was never quite able to forget. The studio assistants were breaking down the lights while their boss hit the boardwalk for a late lunch. Dewey had stepped away for a coffee, but came back in time to hear something that wasn't meant for his ears.

"Oh my God, Mayor Doofy was sweating so much that you'd think he was already under indictment. That guy's so spray cheese I could just die!"

The man folding up the tripod cackled. "Dude, keep your voice down. The family could've bugged the building."

"Oh come on. does this Dewey look like he'd get that metaphor? Assuming you didn't have to tell him what a metaphor is."

And that's the point where Dewey loudly cleared his throat, causing the duo to fumble everything they were holding. While they were scrambling to recover, Dewey nonchalantly entered the room, thanking them for their work and leaving them thorougly confused as to what just happened.

In the present, he flipped the frame on its face in a cardboard box. All in all, a piece of him was glad this was over.

 


 

"How much more time do you need, Billiam?"

The next mayor, a woman in a pale green pantsuit, crossed the room. Nanefua Pizza had been his most persistent critic, and thanks to the compact nature of the business district she was unavoidable. But now here they were, Mayor Pizza and Citizen Dewey.

Bill wistfully scanned the office. "I dunno. I've practically lived here for so long that it's hard to remember what goes with me and what stays."

Nanefua placed her hand on Dewey's arm. "Well, if you think of anything, you know the number. We're not changing it anytime soon."

She was unloading one of the boxes that her granddaughters brought over for her when Bill noticed that an ornate pewter picture frame was the first thing she removed. It contained a battered black-and-white studio portrait, creased and scratched in several places as if it spent far too long in the bottom of a suitcase. The woman, a much younger version of the one next to Dewey, was seated and holding a sleeping baby in her arms. There was a man standing behind her with a hand on her shoulder. They weren't smiling for the camera, but Bill could tell from their body language that it was out of custom, not out of sternness.

She removed her glasses to rub her eyes, then placed the picture on the right-hand side of the desk. "My husband. We lost him to heart disease several years ago. Whenever I find myself somewhere new, this is the first thing that gets a place."

"He would've been proud."

Nanefua considered the idea with a quiet smile, but dismissed it with a shake of her head. "He would've run against me. Stubborn old goat."

 


 

So what was next?

Bill wasn't relishing starting over at middle age, but there were a few options open. The obvious choice was taking a shot at state office, but the fire wasn't there just yet. Besides, they already knew him in the capitol...unfortunately. Several members of the state Senate forwarded him the TubeTube tomato clip. Some of them had even pushed it through a meme generator.

His brother was still running a used car lot, and they were always at least a man down. But their relationship had taken a serious hit during Bill's tenure in office. He could do the work as easy as you please, but would Jimmy let him? Would Jim even let him clean the windows at this point? It'd be worth the conversation, but it wasn't something he was looking forward to.

And then there was outest of outliers. The only remaining employee of the Big Donut unexpectedly quit a few days ago, leaving the place locked up during the evening rush. Dewey scowled, thinking about the type of absentee management that would sink the strongest business. Maybe he could try his hand at that.

His train of thought was broken by the youngest Fryman boy. "You okay, Mayor...I mean Mister Dewey?"

Bill was woolgathering at the order window of Beach Citywalk Fries. No line, thankfully. "Oh, sorry. Fully-loaded with double cheese."

"Take a break, Peedee. I got this one." The senior Fryman allowed the boy to step away from the register, and then through the back door to the fresh air.

Fryman put the potatoes in the oil and gave the ex-mayor the once-over. "Moving day, huh?"

"Yeah."

"So how'd Marie take it?"

Bill took a deep, hissing breath through clenched teeth and adjusted his collar. "I'm married to a wonderful, understanding woman. And hopefully I still will be at this time next year."

"Yikes. That bad?"

"She always said I shouldn't stay somewhere I'm not happy. It's the particulars that got me in the dog house."

"Well, you kinda caught us flat-footed. I can only imagine how it went over at home."

Dewey rubbed his temples. For a moment, that old weight was pressing down again. "All I ever wanted to do was help people, y'know. That's why I went into politics in the first place. But sometimes the best thing a leader can know is when it's time to get out of the way."

Fryman sighed as he lifted the basket out of the oil. "Yeah, I know, Bill. Honestly, you weren't always great, but you've always been good enough." Dumping the fries in a styrofoam bowl, he quickly applied the fixings, placed a lid on it and dropped the order into a bag. "Hey, you got a glow stick on ya? For old time's sake?"

Dewey chuckled as he reached into his coat pocket. "This is the only one left. You better make it last."

Fryman held the stick up to the light, wiggling it back and forth between his fingers. "Aw, man. It really is a dying age, isn't it?"

Dewey shrugged. "I gave my last case to that rave kid who rents the warehouse. He goes through 'em faster than I do."

Fryman pushed his visor back. "That's kind of hard to believe. You still hanging onto the campaign buttons?"

Dewey smiled, as easy-going as he'd been in years. "Yeah. For a little while, anyway. You never know when I might get the itch again. Or maybe just for sentimental reasons."

Fryman handed the bag through the window. "Well, take care of yourself. Oh, before you head out, Ronnie says he saw a flying barn going up from the direction of the old DeMayo place. You hear anything about that?"

Dewey picked up his order, feeling the warmth against his palms, and chuckled. "Not my department anymore."