Despite its monastic appearance, the Mapleton Chapter quickly revealed itself to be an ambitious and disciplined organization with a taste for civil disobedience and political theater. Not only did they refuse to pay taxes or utilities, but also they flouted a host of local ordinances at their Ginkgo Street compound, packing dozens of people into homes built for a single family, defying court orders and foreclosure notices, building barricades to keep out the authorities. A series of confrontations ensued, one of which resulted in the shooting death of a G.R. member who threw rocks at police officers trying to execute a search warrant. Sympathy for the Guilty Remnant had spiked in the wake of the botched raid, leading to the resignation of the Chief of Police and a severe loss of support for then Mayor Malvern, both of whom had authorized the operation.
Since taking office, Kevin had done his best to dial down the tension between the cult and the town, negotiating a series of agreements that allowed the G.R. to live more or less as it pleased, in exchange for nominal tax payments and guarantees of access for police and emergency vehicles in certain clearly defined situations. The truce seemed to be holding, but the G.R. remained an annoying wild card, popping up at odd intervals to sow confusion and anxiety among law-abiding citizens. This year, on the first day of school, several white-clad adults had staged a sit-in at Kingman Elementary School, occupying a second-grade classroom for an entire morning. A few weeks later, another group of them had wandered onto the high school football field in the middle of a game, lying down on the turf until they were forcibly removed by angry players and spectators.
* * *
FOR MONTHS now, local officials had been wondering what the G.R. would do to disrupt Heroes Day. Kevin had sat through two planning meetings at which the subject was discussed in detail, and had reviewed a number of likely scenarios. All day hed been waiting for them to make their move, feeling an odd combination of dread and curiosity, as if the party wouldnt really be complete until theyd crashed it.
But the parade had come and gone without them, and the memorial service was nearing its close. Kevin had laid a wreath at the foot of the Monument to the Departed at Greenway Park, a creepy bronze sculpture produced by one of the high school art teachers. It was supposed to show a baby floating out of the arms of its astonished mother, ascending toward heaven, but something had misfired. Kevin was no art critic, but it always looked to him like the baby was falling instead of rising, and the mother might not be able to catch it.
After the benediction by Father Gonzalez, there was a moment of silence to commemorate the third anniversary of the Sudden Departure, followed by the pealing of church bells. Nora Dursts keynote address was the last item on the program. Kevin was seated on the makeshift stage with a few other dignitaries, and he felt a little anxious as she stepped up to the podium. He knew from experience how daunting it could be to deliver a speech, how much skill and confidence it took to command the attention of a crowd even half the size of this one.
But he quickly realized that his worries were misplaced. A hush came over the spectators as Nora cleared her throat and shuffled through her note cards. She had sufferedshe was the Woman Who Had Lost Everythingand her suffering gave her authority. She didnt have to earn anyones attention or respect.
On top of that, Nora turned out to be a natural. She spoke slowly and clearlyit was Oratory 101, but a surprising number of speakers missed that daywith just enough in the way of stumbles and hesitations to keep everything from seeming a bit too polished. It helped that she was an attractive woman, tall and well-proportioned, with a soft but emphatic voice. Like most of her audience, she was casually dressed, and Kevin found himself staring a little too avidly at the elaborate stitching on the back pocket of her jeans, which fit with a snugness one rarely encountered at official government functions. She had, he noticed, a surprisingly youthful body for a thirty-five-year-old woman whod given birth to two kids. Lost two kids, he reminded himself, forcing himself to keep his chin up and focus on something more appropriate. The last thing he wanted to see on the cover of The Mapleton Messenger was a full-color photograph of the mayor ogling a grieving mothers butt.
Excerpted from The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. Copyright © 2011 by Tom Perrotta. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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