With this post, I come to a successful conclusion of the Blog 31 Day Challenge. Thank you for joining me, encouraging me with your kind comments, and sharing my posts with your friends.
Today: not only to celebrate this milestone, but also to fulfill my promise to cheer on my teacher friends who miss their students, and my young parent friends, trying to take those teachers’ places, are the opening paragraphs of what will be Part V of The Magnolia Arms Chronicles.
This time, I had resolved “not to write a single word” until I had a complete outline. However, since many of you love my main character Agnes–a community college English teacher who longs to be an writer–and have told me you would “move to the Magnolia Arms” if you could, I thought reuniting with her and spending a few moments in the kitchen might help you keep moving forward confidently with your day.
If you’ve read The Moores, the Merriers, you will remember Dr. Cosmo Tuttle who appears near the end of the story. In the next book, you’ll get to know him better.
I’ve chosen him to be narrator.
And now, I hope you will enjoy the first few pages of The Return of Hobson Paine.
On Wednesday, January 2, a stranger—rumored to be a millionaire—moved into Oakley Manor, white-columned, windows shuttered, grounds overgrown.
On Thursday, the headline of the Dennisonville Chronicle read: “Local Businessman Under Investigation.”
The lead story, disclosing “decades of shady business practices” by Benson Oakley III, elicited various reactions as reports of “Benz’s” arrest rippled outward.
“Serves him right,” was the general consensus of the blue collar crowd guzzling coffee at Newman’s Restaurant. “He always thought he was better than us, even when we were kids.”
Refined ladies breakfasting at Mollie’s Restaurant, however, expressed a different view.
“At least poor Hettie didn’t live to see the day,” they commiserated. “She would’ve been heartbroken. Think of the shame…her oldest son, a criminal.”
Eavesdropping, restaurant owner Muriel Porter wiped the gray marble counter a little more vigorously.
Didn’t live to see it… my hind foot, she thought. They don’t know if Hettie is dead or not. And if she hadn’t walked off and left those two boys alone with that cold-hearted father of theirs, maybe Benz wouldn’t be in trouble and Willis…they still don’t know where he is. Poor guy.
But as was her policy, Muriel kept her head down, her opinions to herself, and offered to warm the ladies’ coffee, adding there was one raspberry Danish left. Would Verbena like it?
Over at City Hall everyone from the mayor to the janitor was reeling from the news. This article—first case of “investigative journalism” in the Chronicle’s history—had toppled a community icon from his pedestal.
Benz Oakley was the richest man in town, a major contributor to political campaigns and charitable causes. Oakley Furniture was Dennisonville’s premiere business and principal employer. Only last week the newspaper, still lying on Mayor Jake Tanzler’s desk, had featured a riveting account of a woman who drove all the way from Charleston, South Carolina, to purchase Oakley furniture for her home on Sullivan’s Island.
That Thursday, the mayor had phoned Anson Rix, Chronicle editor—a mere one month on the job—to commend him for the “fine article,” lauding it as a “boost to tourism.”
This Thursday, the mayor would direct his chauffeur to drive him to Main Street, where he would march straight through the Chronicle office to the editor’s desk and give Rix a thorough dressing-down about the “public relations nightmare” he had created.
Climbing into the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car, Tanzler displayed the offensive paper to his driver.
“How’d this mess happen, Marty?” he asked.
“No idea,” Marty said, eyeing him in the rearview mirror. “Everybody in town, including me, was hoping for an article on that guy who moved into Oakley Manor yesterday. You hear about that? Word is…he’s a millionaire.”
On Wednesday, a stranger moved into Oakley Manor.
On Thursday, a prominent businessman was arrested for fraud.
Nobody related the two.
My landlady Agnes Carlisle insists I was the first to suspect a connection.
The day after I confided my suspicions, she marched into the kitchen of the Magnolia Arms, where I was having breakfast, and plopped down in a chair across from me.
“You were right, Cosmo,” she said. “How did you guess?
I peered over my bifocals. “Conjecture.”
“It’s your scientific training. That’s what gave you an edge,” she said, as if I were a suspect and she a detective, issuing an indictment.
“I’m a geologist…a stratigrapher. The story is always in layers—the past part of the present. Sometimes the layers are spread over a wider area than you think. You peel them back and let them tell you the story.”
“Are we talking about field study or the man who opened the bookstore on Main Street?”
“Both,” I said, swallowing a mouthful of cornflakes and banana.
Her shoulders sagged. “I’m usually better at reading people. I never saw this coming.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I said. “You can’t expect to think clearly when you’ve been sick for so many weeks.”
She patted her middle. “I never saw this coming either.”
Agnes was five weeks pregnant with her second child. Her first, Denver, was only seven months old.
A robust friendly boy, he was a balm for my broken heart.