A week had passed since Bascomb Finch made his ill-fated appearance on Raymond Cooper’s radio show, but the story of his "drunken display" was still the talk of the town, thanks to Raymond Cooper and Iris Long.
The "special edition" of Raymond’s Valley Patriot had filled racks around the downtown area at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. Iris thought it was interesting to call the issue "special" since the Patriot advertised itself as a weekly newspaper.
Just like a lot of Cooper’s shenanigans, it was unusual for the paper to follow any regular schedule. He was lucky to get a new issue out twice a month.
As usual, Cooper didn’t hold back any of his feelings. The headline on the front page alone was almost enough to tell his version of the A.J. Fryerson story:
A.J. Story Falls Apart as
Lone Witness Admits
to Drinking Problem
Iris Long felt sure, rightly so, Cooper had cooked up the entire "drunken Bascomb" story, but as usual, Raymond had his listeners and readers eating out of the palm of his hand.
Raymond was certain he had put the Fryerson story to rest, once and for all. His live interview with the sole witness to the lone alleged appearance of A.J. Fryerson put the matter to rest for good, as far as Cooper was concerned. What he didn’t realize, however, was Iris Long had something up her sleeve, as well. Being a journalist for five decades had created a sixth sense in Iris.
She knew to cross every "t" and dot every "i." She also knew to be ready for any surprise that might come her way.
Raymond wasn’t as educated as Iris in the ways of print journalism. While Long followed all the traditional journalistic standards, Cooper flew by the seat of his pants. Iris would never print a story without a minimum of two sources.
Cooper saw sources as an obstacle and often ran stories that were no more than his own version of reality. Nonetheless, his readers and listeners hung on Cooper’s every word, believing them to be inspired by someone, or something, greater than Raymond himself.
When Long’s Lennox Valley Hometown News arrived in town Wednesday morning, it was as if a natural disaster of some type had struck.
Marvin Walsh and Farley Puckett were sitting in a booth at the Hoffbrau at 9:42 a.m. when Barry Jarrell arrived with a stack of Hometown News copies under his arm. Before he could hand the newspapers to Jessie, patrons rushed to get their own copies, dropping quarters by the cash register as they hurried back to their booths.
Raymond Cooper had dropped the gauntlet. Every citizen in The Valley was on pins and needles to read how Iris would respond.
Along with the community calendar down the left sidebar, there were two stories on the front page of Hometown News. Beneath the fold — that’s the bottom half of the page — was a story almost no one noticed on Wednesday morning.
The headline under the fold read, "Methodist Church to Host New Year’s Eve Party: Everyone Welcome."
It was interesting that Iris would place such a nondescript story on Page 1. There must have been more to the New Year’s Eve party than met the eye.
No, it wasn’t the special event at the Methodist church everyone noticed. It was the headline, in 80 point type, spanning across five columns at the top of the page:
Final Letter From
A.J. Fryerson Foretold His Disappearance From Valley
You could have heard a pin drop as ‘Brau patrons read those words, then followed with their eyes to the story below. Two, sometimes three, readers crowded around copies of The Hometown News in every booth.
As readers followed the story from Page 1 to the "jump" on Page 8, Marvin Walsh and Farley Puckett hurried out of their booth and made a hasty exit from the diner.
It took most folks a while before reading the story about the upcoming party at the Methodist church. But when folks finally got around to that story, they noticed another valuable piece of information they could have easily missed in the excitement over the A.J. revelation.
Raymond was perhaps the only resident of The Valley to notice that tidbit immediately: "Rev. Sarah Hyden-Smith, pastor of Lennox Valley Methodist Church wants everyone to know a very important surprise announcement is going to take place during the party."
Looking over the page, Cooper snarled, almost to himself, "This isn’t over yet."