Otto went to fill up his rusty autowagon for the drive out to the nowheres, leaving Albrecht by his lonesome outside the dingy lifeless building that served as the townhall. While he waited for Otto, Albrecht thought he might stretch his legs and have a look around town and turned of its porch of the mayoral building and headed across the street to the school, where a woman sat beneath the shade of its porch, surrounded by potted plants hung from the underside of the veranda. She was carving something in her left her hand with a knife of bone, thoroughly absorbed in the endeavour. To her immediate right stood a tall, lanky man, with thick bulbous hands, well-worn and gnarled like the roots of a great tree and rusty brown eyes that shone reddish with the midmorning light. A few feet away from both of the figures, to the left of the saloon-entrance, hunched a young woman, watching, with intense interest, a legion of black ants carrying a magnificent looking beetle, which twitched with vain indignancy, its few remaining legs scratching at the remorseless azure sky.
“Morning, ma’ams. Sir.”
The girl looked up fearfully. The gnarled man nodded slowly, without emotion. The old woman’s visage of worldly-detachment swiftly twisted into a fleshy scowl of suspicion.
“You’re not from around here.”
“No ma’am. Albrecht Brandt,” he extended his hand. The woman’s owlish gaze remained fixed upon his face.
“Mal Saunders.” She gestured to the lanky man and the girl, “This is Eddy and Martha. Eddy don’t be rude, say hello.”
Eddy frowned and tipped his mishappen hat.
“You’re here because of the mayor,” Mal stated, “To build that pipeline. That tower.”
Though the words were not spoken in query, he felt compelled to answer as such.
She nodded, more to herself than to Albrecht. Her look of suspicion transmogrified to one of worry and sadness. A visage that bespoke betrayal.
“Do you enjoy your work?” Eddy queried.
“Oh yes. My father was a bridge builder. When I was very young—but a boy—his business took him to Africa. He brought me and my mother along to see it. Ever since, I’ve been interested in building, just ended up bringing water to people instead of helping them cross it.”
The lanky man looked to the old woman as if to measure her approval and then returned his attentions to Albrecht.
“You don’t have no problem with uprooting the land?”
“Everyone needs water.”
“Theys other ways a gettin it.”
“Not out here there isn’t.”
“Theys always other ways.”
Albrecht was silent a moment, confused by the lanky man’s vexation.
“Well I don’t know what to tell you. I was hired by your mayor. If you’ve an issue with the watertower, take it up with him.”
The lanky man grimaced and spit as the old woman shot him a disapproving glare. He feel silent, as if shamed. The old woman then raised the finished carving and held it up for all to see.
“What do you think?”
The lanky man gazed upon it admiringly.
“Its lovely, Ma.”
The little girl smiled and clapped her hands.
Mal Saunders turned the statue round for Albrecht to observe. The effigy was small, only slightly larger than his own fist and depicted a vaguely humanoid female, bloated and monstrous.
“Halloween come early round these parts?”
“No,” Mal responded, “Not Halloween. Please, take it. A gift to welcome you to our town.”
She held out the effigy with a pleasant expression. Reluctantly, he took it.