"I can’t believe it," Iris whispered over and over. "I just can’t believe it."
Iris noticed her most popular columnist hadn’t dropped off her column by Monday as usual, but she figured Maxine was working on a last-minute scoop or some extra-juicy bit of gossip. Never in a thousand years would Iris Long imagine her long-time writer and friend betraying her like this, but there it was in black and white.
To make matters worse, Maxine’s column was planted at the top of page eight, in the same location readers had become accustomed to finding her weekly feature in the Hometown News.
Raymond Cooper had really done it this time. First, he creates a rival publication to get back at Iris for her support of Juliet Stoughton in the mayoral race, then he plasters a picture of Iris talking with Mayor Bland on the front page under the headline, "Bland Steals Election."
Most readers would see beyond Cooper’s attempt at linking Iris with Bland’s vic-tory, but for Raymond’s loyal supporters that photo was proof the election was manipulated by the elite media of the Valley.
Long often told friends there was nothing Raymond Cooper could do that would surprise her. Obviously, she never imagined he would stoop this low.
"Rumor has it," Maxine’s column began, "media sources in the Valley conspired to sway the recent election."
Seated across from her friends in a Hoffbrau booth, Iris dropped the paper on the table in front of her. She seemed a bit disoriented.
Sarah Hyden-Smith quickly left her seat and moved next to her friend.
"No one will believe this trash," Sarah offered. "Everyone knows Raymond is a weasel."
"Everyone," Iris interrupted, "except half the Valley who voted for him."
Iris felt her world crashing around her. The same woman who created such mem-orable headlines as "Homeless Man Under House Arrest" and "City Unsure Why the Sewer Smells" was suddenly without words. In the previous 24 hours, she learned three of her regular advertisers had jumped ship and, now, the most popular columnist in the Hometown News had joined them.
Publications like Hometown News were like small town newspapers across America. The paper was a labor of love for Iris, who knew every community needed an honest source of news. The good folks of the Valley clipped pictures of their children holding ribbons at the 6th grade spelling bee, learned what was happening at school board meetings and knew what their elected officials were up to, thanks to the hard work of Iris Long.
There would always be a few readers like A.J. Fryerson. He would complain about the biased reporting and slanted news, but A.J. complained about everything and everyone in the Valley knew it.
Iris could only imagine what would happen if she had to shut down her paper. She wasn’t sure how the Hometown News could survive with advertisers moving to Raymond’s Valley Patriot.
If Cooper was successful, he would control Valley media, owning the town’s only radio station and newspaper.
"We’re not going to let it happen," Juliet chimed in. "You’ve done too much good for too long. The people of Lennox Valley love you and the Hometown News."
That’s when Sarah noticed a few typos.
"Jeremy Joyce admitted to hospital with third-degree buns," she read aloud with a giggle. "The buns," she continued, "came after he came in contact with a high-voltage wife."
Pretty soon everyone in the restaurant was huddled around their booth. It was soon apparent that Raymond lacked both a proofreader and an understanding of journalistic ethics.
"I wouldn’t throw in the towel just yet," Hoffbrau waitress Jessie chimed in.
It wasn’t long until everyone in the ‘Brau was joining in the laughter.
"Look at this one!" shouted Ken Rochelle.
"On Page 3."
There it was, just under the "Local Events" heading:
Valley Youth Cook
and Serve Grandparents
"Well, maybe it’s not going to be as bad as I thought," chuckled Iris.
Watch for Lennox Valley: The Book, coming May 2017 @ lennoxvalley.com