Raymond Cooper was feeling pretty good about himself as he took to the airways on Friday, July 17, 1998. After all, with just five weeks until the mayoral election, Cooper felt like he could almost hear the victory celebration that would take place at the VFW Post on Highway 11, just south of town.
Little did he know as he began his opening monologue, Iris Long was exiting the office of Hometown News to make the drive to visit Marvin Walsh, one of two farmers who controlled nearly all egg production in the Valley. Marvin lived just 2 miles west of town toward Springfield, the county seat.
Cooper began his monologue with a brief prayer, a habit that began with his recent conversion at the Lutheran church. Unbeknownst to his listeners, all of his prayers were read from "Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers," a favorite of pastors that contained prayers taken directly from Scripture and from famous Christian figures through the centuries.
Today’s prayer came from Augustine of Hippo, although listeners assumed it was from the humble soul of Raymond himself:
"O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it, that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare your servant from strange sins."
Raymond thought it was one of his best. So good, he imagined, that more than a few Baptists in his listening audience changed their votes as he prayed. Augustine of Hippo, who died in 430 A.D., was probably turning in his grave.
Just as Cooper began his daily "Egg Report," where egg prices in Lennox Valley were explored at length, Iris pulled into Marvin Walsh’s gravel driveway.
It was part of her job to know everyone in the Valley, and Iris recognized both pickup trucks parked side by side. The red Silverado with the extended cab belonged to Walsh. The black Dodge Dakota, also with an extended cab, belonged to none other than Elbert Lee Jones, the other Valley egg farmer.
Iris felt like she had hit the jackpot. She imagined she would have to work on Walsh, then make a trip to visit Jones, who lived south of town on Highway 11. Hopefully, she would be able to dig up the truth about egg prices out of one of them. As an experienced investigative reporter, she knew it would be easier to trap both of them while they were together. She grinned knowingly as she put her car into park.
Marvin and Elbert Lee were sitting in rockers on Walsh’s front porch as Iris approached.
Marvin stood and offered a friendly, "Good morning, Ms. Long," as she approached the porch. "Selling papers door to door these days?"
Elbert Lee was the quiet one in the group.
"No, I’m not selling papers," she answered with a smile, "but I am working on a story that is bound to sell a lot of papers. Not just here in Lennox Valley, but all over the county."
"That must be some story," said Walsh, a bit less enthused. He suddenly had a bit of concern in his expression.
"What is it about?"
"I’m working on a story about two farmers in our community who have conspired to inflate the price of eggs for the past two years."
"Now hold on," Marvin shot back, "What in the world would make you write a story like that?"
"I thought it only fair to give you the opportunity to shed some light on the subject. It’s becoming fairly obvious that you two have concocted quite a scheme. Your neighbors are going to talk about this for years."
Elbert Lee was suddenly interested as he rose from his chair, "Now hold on just a cotton-pickin’ minute ..."
"Careful, Elbert Lee," said Walsh as he put his hands on his friend’s shoulders.
"Careful, nothin,’" Elbert Lee barked, "Don’t blame this on us. It wasn’t our idea."
"Then whose idea was it?" asked Long.
"That doggone radio man. That’s who."
With that, Iris Long felt the need to take a seat while she caught her breath. She knew that this scoop would make the Sarah Hyden-Smith story pale in comparison.
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.