“Now, when I was gwowing up,” del Selva began, “my school had a spewwing bee. It was a vewy big deal yeaw aftew yeaw. I fiwst pawticipated in a bee when I was in fowth gwade …” Oh, no, Hannah thought, everybody was going to have to be subjected to a probably long-winded story of the mayor’s childhood. At least she could be thankful he started with the fourth grade and not with his birth – the audience would be spared a few very likely forgettable chapters in what promised to be a long, long book. Already, she thought she imagined somebody in the audience snoring. At least the temperature in the auditorium would discourage sleeping. While normally it would not be a big deal to be without heat at this time of year, the rainstorm had brought on a chill, to the point where having a little heat on in the building would have been good. Unfortunately, with the gas out, there was no heat.
The mayor continued to go on and on, describing in great detail each spelling bee that he had been in. The chapter on fourth grade was mercifully short; while del Selva had been his homeroom’s runner-up, he had been eliminated early in the school bee, on a magnificently phonetic spelling of “beautician.” At least that word didn’t have any r’s or l’s in it, Hannah reflected.
Del Selva was just getting into his account of his fifth grade year and its spelling bee when Hannah found herself resisting a call of nature – not an urge to fall asleep, as the temperature in the auditorium, even under the stage lights, was chilly and maybe even getting colder. The tea she had had with supper was taking its vengeance on her, and she needed to use the restroom. She was just beginning to push her chair back from the table when, quietly, Marvin pushed his back and tiptoed out through the backstage door leading to the hallway where the restrooms were. She figured it would be bad form to have more than one judge absent from the stage at a time, so she decided to wait for Marvin to return before taking her own pit stop.
When Marvin returned, del Selva was midway through his fifth grade spelling bee exploits. In that one, he had been his class champion rather than just the runner up, and he made it to the final spell-down. He lost that on “puerile,” but as the school runner up, he advanced to the district spelling bee. As Marvin took his seat, he leaned over and whispered into Hannah’s ear, “Somebody ought to find some way to cut this speech short.” He winked at her, and she winked back.
Del Selva was beginning his account of the district bee as Hannah stood up to sneak out to the restroom. Suddenly her need to use the restroom became the last thing on her mind, or at least a very minor thought. Somebody dropped an anvil on the mayor. Or, at least, an anvil was dropped on the mayor. It came from above, somewhere in the recesses occupied by all of the machinery used to raise and lower sets and other large pieces of material on the stage. The anvil fell straight down, clearly targeted on the “X” on the stage behind the microphone. With a sound that combined both a crunch and a splat, it landed squarely on the mayor’s head, flattening him not merely figuratively but literally. Blood, flesh, and Hannah had no idea what all else, exploded outward, splashing all of the people on the stage and the front few rows of the audience.
For a moment, there was stunned silence, as if people didn’t really grasp what was going on at first. Then some people started to scream, or to yell, or to stare in shocked silence, ashen faced, at the anvil atop what was left of the mayor. It was one of the largest anvils Hannah had ever seen, black cast metal, and someone had taken the time to paint the brand name of the anvil where it was cast into the side, in vivid white, “ACME.” Hannah collapsed back down into her chair. Why would someone use one of Wile E. Coyote’s favorite weapons to obliterate someone who spoke like Elmer Fudd? She turned toward Marvin. “Well, you did say you wanted to find a way to cut that speech short,” she deadpanned.
“I think I would have preferred something a bit … um … neater,” Marvin said, wiping gore off the front of his suit.
By this time, Harry had arrived on the stage, along with Benny Quintana, the security guard, and the mayor’s bodyguards. “What happened?” Harry asked.“Your guess is as good as mine,” Hannah said. “Did anybody check to see whether Wile E. Coyote is hiding in the rafters?”