If you were to ask just about anyone in my hometown in early 1998 to describe the annual Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot at First Baptist Church, you would have heard words such as "exciting," "fun" or "loud."
Undoubtedly, a description of "hotcakes, sausages and biscuits filling plates to their brims" would follow, along with praises for the dozens of Valley wives dutifully preparing a feast in the church kitchen.
Two events conspired to ruin any hope of the usual festive atmosphere surrounding the annual affair. If it wasn’t enough that Juliet Stoughton and her "crew of troublemakers" were sponsoring a competing breakfast for Valley women just across the corner at the Methodist Church, Bascomb Finch had unwittingly created an atmosphere of chaos by running down Main Street on Friday night, shouting that he had seen A.J. Fryerson walking through the playground at the Methodist Church.
Raymond Cooper noticed immediately something was amiss after arriving early to set up a remote broadcast from the men’s breakfast. Instead of the usual 30 or so women crowded around the kitchen and working to decorate the tables, Cooper counted no more than six women hurriedly making preparations.
Any other year, the fellowship hall would have been packed with hungry men at 7 a.m., ready for Brother Billy Joe Prather to ask God’s blessings on the food they were about to receive and the targets they would soon be filling with bullets. But here it was 6:55, and there were no more than a couple of dozen men scattered throughout the room, looking hungry and a bit bewildered.
Marvin Walsh joined Raymond as they took their seats to begin the broadcast, scheduled to start at the top of the hour. At 7 a.m. sharp, the group of hungry men had swelled to approximately 120, less than half the usual size of the annual breakfast.
"I told you we had trouble," Marvin leaned in to tell Raymond in a hushed tone. "This A.J. thing has everybody riled up."
Conspicuously absent at the breakfast was Earl Goodman. A close friend of Raymond Cooper and perhaps the most vocal Valley resident in opposition of Juliet Stoughton during the mayoral election, it seemed odd that Goodman wasn’t present for his favorite event of the year.
As Brother Billy Joe approached the microphone to ask God to bless the food, everyone in the room stood. Hats were removed, and chattering stopped.
The annual breakfast was no smalltime activity. The ladies served breakfast as the men remained seated at their festively decorated tables.
Raymond Cooper, happy to talk about anything other than A.J. Fryerson, described the goings-on, with a bit of embellishment, to the listening audience.
"We have an outstanding group of men on hand for this year’s breakfast," Cooper began, obviously less than truthful. "What do you think about today’s festivities, Marvin?"
"You’re right about that," Walsh responded. "This is the favorite day of the year for a lot of men in the Valley."
Describing the food heaped on his plate, Raymond said, "I don’t think there’s much chance I can finish all this."
The truth is the turnout was so much lower than expected, the women in the kitchen had cooked probably twice as much food as necessary. Double servings were the norm for the day.
Cooper was the first to notice Iris Long slip in the door of the fellowship hall with her note pad and camera. As Long wrote something on her pad, Cooper was quick to let the studio audience know about Iris’s appearance.
"You know," Raymond said to his listeners, as if speaking only to Marvin, "knowing Ms. Long, she will probably distort the truth and write something to demean the gala taking place here today."
Marvin was quick to jump in, "I wouldn’t doubt that one bit. That’s just the type of thing she would do."
"Annnddd," Raymond continued, "it seems like she’s taking pictures at angles to make the crowd seem smaller than it is."
"I noticed the same thing," Marvin snapped back. "Next thing you know, she’ll be taking a picture of the wall behind her."
It was about that time Earl Goodman finally made his way into the fellowship hall. Walking directly toward Raymond’s table, he motioned for Raymond to come toward him, obviously wanting to talk in private, without the entire radio audience listening in.
"Where have you been, Earl?" Raymond asked in a less than friendly tone.
"I went by the Methodist church to see what those women are up to," Goodman answered.
"How many folks showed up to eat?" Cooper inquired.
"Probably a couple of hundred. And it’s not just the folks that showed up to eat. It’s the folks in the kitchen! There are at least 20 men in there cooking for those women. And that’s not all. They’re all talking about Bascomb seeing A.J. last night."
Walking over just in time to hear what Earl was saying, Marvin turned to Raymond and grunted, "I told you this was going to be trouble. I just knew it!"