As Iris Long sat in her seat in the back row of the Lutheran contemporary service, her mind was moving in several different directions at once. Raymond Cooper, seated 10 seats to her left on the opposite end of the row, was obviously uncomfortable. She could sense something wasn’t going according to plan.
Standing behind her, just inside the entrance to the fellowship hall, Marvin Walsh was noticeably upset as he talked with someone on the other side of the door. It was as if Marvin was trying to coerce someone into the building, but Iris couldn’t quite make out his words as the seventh chorus of "Mighty is Our God" burst from the electronic piano located on the platform directly in front of the congregation.
Her mind raced between watching Raymond from the corner of her eye, attempting to make out what was being said behind her, and thinking back to a letter she received from A.J. Fryerson just before his disappearance.
A.J. had been missing for two months. Iris couldn’t help but think whatever was going on with Raymond and Marvin was somehow related to A.J. Fryerson. After all, Raymond had spent several hours railing against Mayor Dick Bland, and Chief of Police Dibble during the previous week. Raymond blamed the two public servants for not providing answers to citizens who feared for their own safety following the disappearance.
On Friday’s "Renderings with Raymond," Cooper was especially aggressive.
"Maybe," Raymond shouted into the microphone, "A.J. was kidnapped!" After a brief pause to let listeners dwell on the thought, he continued, "Maybe he’s being tortured as I speak at this very moment."
The speech by Mayor Bland on Friday, assailing those who were creating panic about A.J.’s disappearance with no evidence to suggest foul play, was an obvious attack aimed at his nemesis and former political opponent, Raymond Cooper. Iris had a hunch the meeting between Cooper, Walsh and Earl Goodman, which she unwittingly glimpsed while passing the radio station Saturday morning, had something to do with the mayor’s speech and Fryerson.
Her mind traveled back to Saturday morning, as she stood in the entrance to the Hoffbrau, just out of sight of the conspirators as they parted ways. She could still hear Marvin shout, "See you in church!" knowing all along Cooper and Walsh weren’t regular churchgoers.
Iris hadn’t told anyone about the letter. A.J. penned letters to the editor every week. Sometimes he would write two or three in a week. Never mailing them, he would drop them off at the newspaper office to save himself the 32 cents postage.
She remembered the last time she saw Fryerson. He came by the office early in the morning, as was his practice. Iris often imagined he sat up most of the night to create his latest chef-d’oeuvre.
A.J. seemed especially irritated on that particular morning. Don’t misunderstand, he was always irritated. But Iris hadn’t seen Fryerson this agitated since his infamous letter-writing feud with Chief Dibble years earlier.
A.J. always seemed to have a comment to add when dropping off his letters. She remembered his initial missive after Buford Levitt installed new pumps at the town’s only gas station. After dropping his envelope on the Hometown News front counter, he muttered, "That will teach Buford Levitt to steal money from me. He’ll think twice before messing with A.J. Fryerson again."
Iris didn’t print all of A.J.’s letters. Most readers probably don’t realize newspaper publishers are liable for information appearing in a letter to the editor. Whenever Fryerson wrote something that could get Hometown News in hot water with the courts, Iris would file the letter in her "not used" folder. Thanks to A.J., that folder had grown to several folders.
Iris began to feel the ache in her legs as the congregation sang their third "praise song" of the morning. "Don’t Lutherans ever sit?" she mumbled to herself.
Iris thought back to Fryerson’s final letter which began, "Dear Editor: If other citizens had suffered the way I’ve suffered, thanks to our chief of police and mayor, they would have left this town a long time ago. As for me, I will stay as long as I have breath in my body."
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