Raymond Cooper’s plan was simple on Wednesday as he began his daily program at noon on Talk Radio 88.3. As had become his custom, the show commenced with Lee Greenwood singing "I’m Proud to Be an American," followed by a heartwarming prayer by Raymond.
Just a few hours earlier, as Claire sat across the booth from Sarah Hyden-Smith, sipping hot tea and memorizing the Hoffbrau’s breakfast menu, neither she nor Sarah had any suspicion this conversation would alter their friendship in so many ways.
Eventually, Claire lowered her guard enough to share something she had been hiding from her new friend.
"I need to tell you something. Something really important."
"OK," Sarah responded in a caring tone.
She explained that her old life was much different. Before moving to the Valley, she had a good job. She was involved in several community causes. Then she dropped the bombshell.
"Claire is not my real name. My real name is Juliet Stoughton. Back home, everyone calls me ‘Jules.’"
After the shock wore off from her friend’s confession, Sarah asked if there was anything else she’d been hiding.
"No, just the name. I met a girl named Claire in college. She was the most confident, smartest person I’d ever met. After my ex-fiancé left, I decided to use her name, hoping I could be more like her. After all, nobody knew me here. They still don’t. Well, no one except you."
After the prayer, Raymond began a stirring discourse concerning the importance of honesty in the press. Cooper knew that by now, almost every listener would have read the morning edition of Lennox Valley Hometown News, and he was none too happy about the words editor Iris Long used to characterize his election campaign.
"Perhaps," Cooper barked, "the alleged editor has an ulterior motive. Maybe there is more to her negativity than meets the eye."
Raymond welcomed Farley Pucket to the show. Pucket owned the local True Value Hardware Store and was Cooper’s biggest advertiser. Raymond knew where his bread was buttered and trusted Farley to agree with his opinion on most any subject.
"Did you get a chance to read the so-called editorial in the paper this morning?" Cooper quizzed his guest.
"I feel," Pucket answered, "it’s the duty of every citizen to keep up with the goings-on in their community.
"But it’s getting harder for me to read the biased opinions of that so-called editor every week," a riled-up Farley continued. "I’m just about ready to cancel my subscription."
"Have you," Cooper asked, "heard any rumors about Long planning to enter the mayor’s race?"
"It wouldn’t surprise me none," Pucket answered. "There’s no other explanation for the way she is defaming a fine man like you."
With that, Cooper opened the telephone line for his first caller. It was none other than Vera Penrod, secretary of the Spring County Chamber of Commerce, as well as president of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society.
After a brief introduction by Cooper, Penrod spoke in a disconcerted tone.
"I just came from the county courthouse, where I was going over the list of vendors for this week’s farmers market," she said.
Vera stopped to catch her breath before continuing.
"That’s when it happened."
"That’s when what happened, Vera?" asked an interested Cooper.
"There was a young woman there. I’ve seen her in town once or twice. Her name was Juliet Stoughton."
"Go on," Cooper prompted, hoping for the kind of gossip for which Vera was best known.
"She was there to place her name on the ballot for the Lennox Valley mayor’s race. She had that new woman preacher with her."
This might have been the first time Raymond Cooper found himself totally speechless. There was at least 10 seconds of complete silence before a recorded commercial for tiller repair kits at Pucket’s True Valley Hardware began playing.
Upon his return to the air 30 seconds later, Cooper was loaded for bear.
"Who is this Juliet Stoughton?"
"I wonder," Farley chimed in, "if she could be an employee of the Federal Reserve System."
"I smell trouble," a worried-sounding Cooper said. "The last thing our Valley needs is a tool of the media running for public office."
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.