After three weeks in The Valley, Frank Bell thought he had heard just about everything.
My hometown was a lot to take in, even for someone like me who was born and raised there. Just imagine moving from a big city like Terre Haute, Indiana, to our small town.
In the beginning, Frank got most of his information from my group of friends, as we found our way to his barber shop just about every day after school. His only real adult friend so far was Rev. Sarah Hyden-Smith, who dropped by to invite Frank to visit the Methodist church. That invitation led to a “scandalous rendezvous,” according to Maxine Miller’s “Rumor Has It” column, over lunch at the Hoffbrau.
Things were starting to pick up after three weeks in business. Several of The Valley’s good folks had dropped by for cuts and, as is often the case, to discuss the news of the day.
Though Raymond Cooper hadn’t been to the shop yet, Frank was already familiar with his antics. Stories of Raymond’s near victory in the recent mayoral election, his miraculous conver-sion during the 8:30 morning service at the Lutheran church, and the pig stampede at the county fair made Cooper seem larger than life to our town’s newest citizen.
On Thursday, Constable Erby Bailey laughed out loud as he told a series of Raymond Cooper stories.
“You know,” Bailey whispered, as if sharing a secret, “this is confidential information.”
“Of course,” Frank answered, trying to look as solemn as possible while attempting to hold in his laughter.
Constables, I later learned, are elected officials who operate as officers at no cost to the county. They do, however, get a kickback from the state for writing citations, making arrests and serving court summons. The state-based fee for each service at that time was $1 per citation, $10 per arrest and $5 for each summons.
“I’ve never cited anyone for not wearing their seat belt,” he said, obviously interested in more serious offenses. “And you can ask anybody, I rarely give a speeding ticket unless the driver is going 10 miles over the limit.”
“But it was like this,” the good constable continued, “I was on Highway 11 a couple of weeks ago and noticed this car driving a good 15 miles over the limit. I didn’t notice at first, because it was dark, it was Raymond Cooper in the driver’s seat.”
“Did you give him a ticket?” Frank asked, trying to act as if he was really interested in the story.
“I’m getting to that part,” Bailey answered, obviously enamored with his own story. He continued, “I said, ‘Raymond, where are you going in such a hurry?’”
That’s when the constable explained how he noticed Raymond seemed a bit fidgety and upset at the same time. Erby saw someone in the passenger’s seat. He couldn’t make out who it was in the dark, and he wasn’t about to use his flashlight. Raymond was already irritated enough.
“Raymond told me he had been in Springfield to cover a big story for his newspaper,” Bailey continued. “He said he needed to get back to the paper to write the story in time for the next issue, so I apologized for the delay and told him to be careful, since he was so tired.”
“That was nice of you,” Frank responded to the confidential information.
Then Erby held his left hand in the air, as if telling Frank to stop what he was doing for a moment. “The funny thing is,” Bailey spoke carefully, “there weren’t any stories about Springfield in his next paper.”
“That is peculiar,” Frank answered.
Just then the bell above the door jingled, putting a stop to any talk of Raymond Cooper.
“Well, hello, Pastor!” Erby shouted as Brother Billy Joe Prather entered the shop.
After a quick introduction, Billy Joe got right to the point.
“I wanted to welcome you to The Valley,” he said gleefully to Frank. “I assume you’ll make a visit to First Baptist Church. It’s The Valley’s largest congregation, you know.”
The pastor continued, “And I’m sure you’ll want to attend our annual men’s breakfast and turkey shoot next month.”
“A turkey shoot?” asked Frank.
“Yes, the biggest in the county,” Billy Joe answered proudly.
“I guess I haven’t heard everything after all,” Frank thought to himself.
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