It was a strange assignment, but like any good soldier, Elbert Lee Jones carried out his duties as ordered. When Raymond Cooper ordered Elbert Lee to make sure Bascomb Finch had at least two beers with his lunch, Jones wondered why he would make such a request. Without hesitation, however, Elbert Lee had headed directly to the Sinclair station where Bascomb pumped gas.
Sitting in the Hoffbrau as Finch drank the last of his second Bud Lite, Elbert Lee wondered what Raymond was up to this time. As much as he loved Cooper, Jones knew he wasn’t faultless.
Raymond’s scheme to raise egg prices, placing the blame on the Federal Reserve, landed Elbert Lee and his best friend, Marvin Walsh, right on the front page of The Lennox Valley Hometown News. Jones didn’t want to live through that kind of notoriety again.
Bascomb didn’t want a beer with his lunch in the first place, and getting him to drink a second was more difficult than Elbert Lee anticipated. Eventually, Finch finished his drink and Elbert Lee paid the bill. There was no time to socialize. Raymond Cooper expected Jones to bring Bascomb into the studio of Talk Radio 880 at exactly 1:00.
Two beers didn’t have much effect on Finch, as he was known to drink quite a bit more than two on occasion. Still, he was in a jovial mood as Elbert Lee led him into Raymond’s studio. After all, Bascomb assumed he was going to be praised for seeing A.J. Fryerson sneaking across the Methodist church playground on that fateful night two weeks prior, and he figured Raymond would be discussing his theories about A.J.’s current whereabouts.
Cooper welcomed Bascomb into his studio and directed him to his seat. Finch had never been in a radio studio before and felt like a celebrity as he took a seat in the metal folding chair.
“Welcome back,” Cooper roared into the microphone following the commercial for Farley Puckett’s True Value Hardware. “Let me tell you,” he continued, “we’ve got quite the surprise in store for our listening audience.”
Bascomb’s chest swelled with pride as he listened to Cooper’s announcement.
Pausing just a moment for drama, Raymond continued. “We have none other than the eyewitness himself, Bascomb Finch, with us live in our studio. I’m sure, like me, you want to get to the bottom of this whole A.J. Fryerson fiasco, er, story.”
Marvin Walsh, seated in a second folding chair, didn’t hesitate. Almost as if rehearsed, he shouted, “I know I do, Raymond!”
Cooper turned his attention to Finch. “Bascomb,” he began, “did you get to have lunch before coming over?”
“I sure did,” Finch answered. “I had the Friday special over at the ‘Brau.”
“Oh,” Raymond was quick to respond, “that catfish is pretty tasty.”
“It sure enough was,” Finch answered, as if he and Raymond were old friends sitting on the front porch.
“So tell me,” Raymond continued, “did you have some of Jessie’s lemonade with your catfish? I sure do love her lemonade.”
“I can’t say that I did,” Bascomb responded, a little less enthusiastically.
“I guess you must have had a glass of her ice tea,” Raymond quizzed further.
“No, I didn’t have tea, either,” Finch answered, almost mumbling.
“You seem to be a little tongue tied,” Raymond pressed. “Well, what did you have to drink with your catfish?”
“I was going to have the lemonade, but,” Finch never got to finish his response.
“We could sit here and ‘but’ all day, Bascomb!” said Raymond in a louder voice. “Just tell us. What did you have to drink at lunch?”
“I had a Bud Lite,” Finch answered, almost in a whisper.
“Just one?” Raymond shot back.
“Two,” Bascomb replied, barely audible.
Raymond gave the answer a moment to set in as his audience hung on every word, then almost shouted, “You mean to tell me you had not one, but two, beers at lunch today?”
“You don’t understand,” Bascomb tried to explain, “I didn’t plan to drink beer with my lunch today, but ...”
“That never is the plan, is it, Bascomb?”
Before Finch had the chance to respond, Raymond posed another question.
“Let me ask you something. How many beers did you have that night you allegedly saw A.J. crossing the Methodist playground? Two? Six? Did you finish a 12-pack before going out that evening?”
Bascomb attempted to answer, but couldn’t get the words out. As soon as he was about to speak, Cooper interrupted again.
“I think we all know the truth about what happened that night, Bascomb. I’m sure carrying this burden for these weeks has been overwhelming.”
Raymond was on a roll.
“Well, you can relax, Bascomb. You’ve come forward with the truth, and my Good Book says, ‘The truth shall set you free.’”
Back at the newspaper office, Iris Long sat alone, listening to Raymond’s broadcast.
“Good Lord,” Iris whispered to herself, “I have finally heard it all.”
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