Aphelion Issue 234, Volume 22
November 2018
 
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The Rainbow Construction Co.

by Jerry Petersen




O’Toole was puttering around in the garden as he was wont to do on such a fine spring day. He set out a platter of ale on the ground; as much as he hated to waste the ale he knew it would attract and drown the slugs that liked to attack his lettuce.

A call came from around the side of the house. “O’Toole! You back there?”

He recognized the voice as his vice mayor, Manny. “Yeah, come on back.”

“I thought you might be in your garden today,” Manny said as he approached through the yard. “How’s it coming along?”

“Lovely,” he said. “I think I’ll get some big, red tomatoes this year.”

“And the hops?” Everyone always wanted to know about O’Toole’s special crossbreed of hops that he used in his home brew. The mixture was his specialty and his secret.

“Same as always, I would expect. So what brings you by?”

“We have a visitor in the office. And you’re not going to believe it when you see him.”

O’Toole spent as little time as possible attending to official mayor duties. He had agreed to run out of civic responsibility, and had never expected to win. Even after the old mayor had died at age 104 in the middle of his re-election campaign, O’Toole fully expected the corpse to get more votes.

“Can’t you handle him?” he asked Manny.

Manny shook his head. “He asked specifically to see the ‘head honcho.’ That’s you.”

With a sigh O’Toole put away his gardening tools and climbed on his bike.

“I could give you a ride if you want,” Manny said.

“On a nice day like this?” O’Toole said. “The visitor can wait an extra 10 minutes till I get there.” Ever since something in the engine of his Dodge had gone kerflooey, O’Toole had not bothered to get it fixed, always either taking his bicycle places or catching rides with others.

When he got to the office, Helen the clerk told him she had already provided the visitor with tea and he was waiting patiently. Inside the mayor’s chamber he was greeted by a small man, no more than 4 1/2 feet tall, wearing a green three-piece suit and a green bowler hat atop a shock of bright red hair. He carried a green briefcase.

“Hello, Mayor O’Toole,” The man said. “I am Shaughnessy. So pleased to meet you.”

O’Toole looked around, waiting for the punchline, because this had to be a joke. Someone in city staff was riffing on his Irish heritage by hiring someone to play a leprechaun in his office. He expected them to come out of hiding any minute.

He double-checked his memory; it was not March 17 today, and it wasn’t April 1; it was May.

O’Toole moved past the small man and around his desk to sit down.

“So, Mr. Shaughnessy, what can I do for you?” O’Toole asked.

“It’s just Shaughnessy, Mr. Mayor,” he said. “And you should be asking what I can do for you. I come with an opportunity for your village.”

Ah, here we go, O’Toole thought. A developer of some sort.

“Let me begin at the beginning,” Shaughnessy said. “I represent the Rainbow Construction Co. And you should feel very lucky. For of all the towns in this region, the company has chosen yours to be the site of a new rainbow.”

“A rainbow.”

“That’s right,” Shaughnessy said.

“And you build them?”

“Precisely.”

“And of course you’re going to tell me this rainbow will have a pot of gold at the end of it,” O’Toole said.

“Of course,” Shaughnessy said. “That’s the whole point of building rainbows, is for the pot of gold.”

“Shaughnessy, you do realize we’re in Vermont and not Ireland, right?”

“Mr. Mayor, the Rainbow Construction Co. has branched out beyond the Emerald Isle throughout Europe and is now expanding into North America. We have built rainbows in Virginia, Oregon and of course Florida. Yours will be the first in the Northeast.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” the mayor said. “Leave me a copy of your proposed contract and I’ll take it up with Council at the next meeting a week from Tuesday.”

“A week from Tuesday?” Shaughnessy seemed heartbroken that he wouldn’t be landing a deal that very minute.

“The wheels of government turn slowly, Shaughnessy.”

“Very well,” the little man said. “But advise them not to delay, or the company may have to choose another town.”

“I’ll relay the message,” O’Toole said, and walked him out of the office.


*****



Spring sun and spring rains took turns blessing the valley with the most verdant green imaginable, and soft breezes made bloom petals fall like warm-weather snow. O’Toole sat on his porch enjoying a sample of his latest golden lager. It was the day of the Council meeting, and to endure it he wanted to be feeling a glow akin to his brew’s color.

With the likelihood that it would be dark when it was finished, Manny said he would pick him up. The Council meeting chamber was in the same building as the mayor’s office, the tax collector and treasurer, the license bureau and the garage where they stored the float for the annual Maple Syrup Festival Parade.

As mayor he was also sergeant-at-arms and called the meeting to order. The Council consisted of two men and four women, most of them retirees in their third or fourth term.

“OK, I’ve been by to see each of you to give you a copy of this proposed contract,” O’Toole said. “I hope you’ve had time to read it.” O’Toole hadn’t, but he would only have to vote on it if there was a tie.

“So I open the floor for discussion.”

“What’s to discuss?” Trudy Donner said. “What part of ‘pot of gold’ do you not understand?”

John Forbes, the self-appointed contrarian of the group, spoke up. “Do you really think this guy’s gonna come along and just give us free money? I smell a rat.”

For once O’Toole felt that the contrarian point of view was probably right, or at least safer. “We really don’t know anything about this Rainbow Construction Company,” he said. “We should look into what has happened in the other places they’ve built.”

“I have,” said Karen Jacobsen, always the one most on top of things. “In Oregon they report visitors coming from all over to see the new wondrous creation. They say it spurs jobs in the hotels and restaurants and generates growth. Same with Virginia. I haven’t gotten ahold of Florida yet.”

“And what do we need growth for?” Forbes said. “I like the valley the way it is.”

“You can’t stop progress,” Hank Nelson said. “It’s what drives the economy.”

And so the discussion went, with most of the council talking about advantages of meeting the needs of a growing population, which in turn would raise the tax base to pay for city services.

In the end the contract was approved 5-1, and everyone went to the pub for a pint before going home.

The next week, several trucks bearing the Rainbow Construction Co. logo rolled into town and set up at a lot on the edge of the river. Residents sauntered by and some even stopped to watch the goings-on, but there was not much to see beyond the equipment and scaffolding. And the workers, who were all short and wore green overalls.

O’Toole took a gander at the site each day, and the only clue he got was when a flatbed truck rolled up next to the others. It was piled with something covered by a tarp, and under the edges of the tarp he could see green. But he couldn’t discern what material it was - it didn’t look like concrete, wood, or steel. In fact he got the impression of green itself being the material.

In the following days he could see, between and through the scaffolding, a stripe of green that still seemed immaterial. And the scaffolding grew higher.

Something else was going on, it seemed. O’Toole couldn’t be sure it wasn’t his imagination, but as he rode his bicycle to the office and back home, the valley looked just a little less verdant.

Meanwhile another flatbed truck joined the fleet at the construction site, and under its tarp O’Toole spied a similarly vague blueness. Obviously the Rainbow Construction Co. had found a way to harvest and manipulate pure color. And he had a sneaking suspicion of where they were harvesting it.

He rode his bicycle out to Blue Lake, so named for obvious reasons. Locals bragged of it being the prettiest lake in the state.

Sure enough, the lake was detectably less blue than before. But the kicker was the Rainbow Construction Co. backhoe dipping its bucket into the water and carrying out loads of blueness to a waiting flatbed.

O’Toole pedaled over to the vehicles and addressed a group of the little workers in green overalls and red hair. “Who’s in charge here?” he demanded.

“I’m the foreman,” said one.

“And who gave you clearance to go removing blue from our lake?”

“We take our orders from Shaughnessy.”

That figures, O’Toole thought. He knew there was something sneaky about that guy.

“And where’s Shaughnessy?” he asked.

“Over in Briggsboro setting up the site for the other end of the rainbow,” the foreman said.

“Well, stop what you’re doing until I can get this straightened out,” O’Toole said.

“No can do, bud. We have a quota to fill today.”

O’Toole could see he was powerless to do anything right then, so he pedaled back to town to get Manny. Like on any good Tuesday afternoon, he found him in the pub.

“Manny, we have to go for a drive,” he said.

They took Manny’s car but O’Toole drove, given Manny’s inebriated state. Briggsboro was a hill and another valley away, and as the car rounded curves and topped rises, Manny was looking a little green himself.

Finding the work site in Briggsboro was just a matter of spotting the Rainbow Construction Co. trucks. And at the site, Shaughnessy was obviously the only one in a three-piece suit instead of overalls.

“Shaughnessy!” he said a little too loudly as he approached.

“Ah, Mr. Mayor,” Shaughnessy said. “What brings you over to Briggsboro?”

“You,” the mayor said. “We need to talk.”

“Yes? What seems to be the trouble?” Shaughnessy’s pleasant manner had an almost magical calming effect.

“Well, I’ve found out your company is drawing the color away from our valley and our lake,” O’Toole said.

“Yes, Well, we couldn’t very well build a rainbow without color, could we?”

“But to take it from our landscape? You have no right!”

“It’s all in the contract, Mr. Mayor,” he said.

“I don’t remember seeing anything about that in the contract,” O’Toole said. He didn’t mention that that was because he didn’t read it.

“It’s in the fine print,” Shaughnessy said.

“Well, we’ll have to see about that,” the mayor said, and stomped away.


*****



Back at his office he dug out his copy of the contract. And he actually read it. It didn’t say anything that he could make out from the midst of the legal mambo-jumbo about siphoning color from the area. He also didn’t see any fine print anywhere. But then he noticed there was something odd about the first word, “Whereas,” which was written in large script. It appeared fuzzy around the edges.

He poked his head out of his door. “Helen,” he said to the clerk, “Do I recall correctly that your boy had a microscope in his science fair project last year?”

“Why, Yes,” she said. “Why do you ask?”

“Do you think I could borrow it?”

“I’ll go fetch it,” she said, and hurried out the door.

A half-hour later O’Toole cut the word “Whereas” from the paper and placed it under the microscope. Sure enough, there was more legalese scrawled in tiny type, including the sentence, “The Company reserves the right to locally source all raw materials necessary for construction of the Rainbow.”

The next step was to see a lawyer. The closest thing to one they had in the valley was Pritcher’s oldest, who had taken two years of law school before getting kicked out over a dalliance with the dean’s daughter.

“I’m flattered that you came to see me,” Justin Pritcher said between one cow’s udder and the next. O’Toole explained the situation.

“Rainbow Construction Co.? Yes, I’ve heard of them. Wholly owned subsidiary of RCC, Inc. I’d be careful messing with them,” he said.

“So I’m learning,” O’Toole said. “But can we challenge the contract based on its unreadable fine print?”

“Unfortunately, you have two strikes against you,” Justin said. “For one, you’ve already proven that you can read it, if you figure out how. Second, a bill passed in Congress three years ago set no minimum font size for contract text.”

“A bill lobbied for by business interests, I assume.”

“Indeed. And therefore inevitable that it would pass.”

“Okay, so here’s another thing,” O’Toole said. “It says ‘sourcing of raw materials.’ But from what I’ve seen, they’re not getting anything material. They’re getting color.”

“And here you run into your Catch-22. European courts have ruled in cases involving Rainbow Construction Co. that immaterial attributes can’t be owned. You can own an object, but not its color.”

“But that’s Europe,” O’Toole said. “This is the good ol’ U.S. of A. I think we can still challenge it.”

“Again, I wouldn’t mess with RCC, Inc.,” Justin said. “They have a whole branch set aside for legal defense. They sue the pants off anyone who questions their methods in court. You’d spend more money than this valley has just filing paperwork. More money than the state.”

“So there is nothing we can do?”

“My advice,” Justin said, “is to enjoy the pot of gold.”


*****



So onward and upward the rainbow grew. The scaffolding kept climbing to dizzying heights, with cranes attached to the poles that were scary just to look at from the ground. Now a stripe of red had joined the green and blue.

“I wonder where they’re harvesting the red,” O’Toole said to himself. He checked his garden and saw the tomatoes were ripening just fine.

From his porch roof, using binoculars, he could see the other leg of the rainbow growing over the horizon out of Briggsboro. On a hunch he turned his binoculars to the west, where the sun was just getting ready to set. Sure enough, he saw: a blimp flying just above the horizon, with grappling hooks hanging below. He knew that if he could zoom in closer he’d see the blimp plucking red out of the sunset sky.

The two arcs of the rainbow had closed in toward each other before the workers started in on the yellow stripe. And soon the fields of wheat in the valley were less golden. With the duller green of the grass, the paler blue of the lake, and the pastier sunset, O’Toole thought, this had better be worth it.

Weeks later Shaughnessy came to the mayor’s office to invite him to take part in a capping-off ceremony to complete the rainbow at the top of the arch.

“I’ll pass,” O’Toole said. “It’s not that I fear falling off at the top, I fear hitting the ground at the bottom.”

“Pity,” Shaughnessy said. “I’ll show myself out.”

“Oh, Shaughnessy,” the mayor said as the little man reached the door, “Where’s the pot of gold?”

“Just wait,” Shaughnessy said, and left.

The scaffolding came down bit by bit over the next two weeks, and O’Toole had to admit the rainbow was lovely. Meanwhile some other construction was going on at the base.

A drive over to Briggsboro with Manny confirmed no pot of gold had appeared on that end either.

It was a month before the reveal, the area having been blocked off by large wooden fences. Behind them: the Pot O’ Gold Hotel, Restaurant, and Mini Golf Course.

The new business did bring 23 jobs with it, most going to high school dropouts working minimum wage under the supervision of a short, red-haired woman who always wore green. And it had a gold-painted giant pot out front that tourists would throw coins in for luck.

O’Toole had just about gotten used to dodging the tourist traffic on his bicycle when Helen gave him the good news/bad news.

“Another rainbow is going up just 90 miles across the border in New York,” she told him. “That will draw some of our visitors away.”

“Is that the good news or the bad news?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.



THE END


2018 Jerry Petersen

Bio: Jerry Petersen is a copy editor living in Toledo, Ohio, with a cat and dog who almost tolerate each other. In his spare time he dabbles in writing and painting, although he's old enough to know better.

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