Marvin Walsh had been hosting "Renderings with Raymond" for five weeks and the stress of manning the town’s only local talk show was becoming apparent.
With Raymond away, the show was quickly becoming almost unbearable. Each day at 12:13 p.m., the first caller would be Leon Willis.
"Marvin, when is Raymond coming back?" Leon would whine into the phone.
For a few weeks, Marvin did his best to assure Leon, as well as other listeners, Cooper was doing just fine. He was recuperating from the pressures of managing the Valley’s "only real news center" while running for mayor at the same time.
"Raymond Cooper refuses to give you, his loyal fans, anything but his absolute best!" Walsh would almost yell into the microphone.
Additionally, Marvin had a farm to tend to, and not just any farm. Walsh’s farm was the second biggest in the county, and even with farmhands it was a fulltime job to keep cows milked and egg baskets filled.
This Friday’s show would be different, however. It began as usual with Lee Greenwood singing, "God Bless the USA." During a quick recap of local news, Valley residents were told there were "no new breaks" in the A.J. Fryerson story.
There was something different in Marvin’s voice, however. He sounded peppier. The pace of his reading and the pitch of his voice had increased from previous shows. That’s when Marvin shared the "breaking news" with his listeners.
"I won’t be taking calls during the first hour of our show today," Walsh explained. "We have a very special guest with us."
Kelly Schmidt and the rest of the customers at Caroline’s Beauty Salon tried to guess who the guest would be.
"I’ll bet it’s Silver Tongue," Kelly speculated.
Vera was quick to put a damper on that notion. "Why would he have Dick Bland on the show after the way he talked about him during the election?"
"I’ll just bet it’s Sheriff Dibble," shouted Rhonda Goodman. "Maybe he’s going to tell what happened to A.J."
Following a quick commercial for Farley Puckett’s True Value Hardware Store, Marvin was back and the salon hushed in silence.
Marvin was so excited, he sounded like a kid trying to hold in a secret.
"There’s no need to keep you in suspense any longer," Walsh told his listeners. "I have none other than our champion, Raymond Cooper, with me on the show."
There was a collective gasp throughout the Valley.
"Let’s get right to it, Mayor, I mean, Raymond."
"First, let me say how wonderful it is to be behind this microphone again," Raymond said in a hushed voice. "I could feel the prayers and supplications of all my listeners rising up to heaven while I’ve been away."
After a dramatic pause, he continued. "I have two important announcements I would like to share with our listeners today."
"Oh my, he’s dying!" shouted Kelly.
"I’ll bet he was away solving the A.J. Fryerson case," Rhonda shot back.
"I am greatly chagrined at the lack of progress in the biggest missing person investigation in Valley history," Raymond said, "and I believe much of the fault lies with our so-called newspaper editor who, instead of investigating this case, has taken valuable time from our chief, forcing him to hold press conferences and interviews so she can have fodder for her supermarket tabloid.
In response," he continued, "as a God-fearing and loyal citizen, I have decided to start a real newspaper called The Valley Patriot."
"Heavens to Betsy," gasped Marvin. "What’s your other announcement?"
"I have agreed to take A.J. Fryerson’s place as captain of the Valley King Pins in their match against the Pleasant Hill Strike Force tomorrow night at Valley Lanes."
At that very moment, Sarah Hyden-Smith, pastor of the Methodist church, took a sip of coffee as she finished lunch at the Hoffbrau.
"Good Lord," murmured Jessi as she warmed up Sa-rah’s coffee.
"Don’t blame him," Sarah responded.