Authors: Cammie Eicher
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
Table of Contents
Also Available from Resplendence Publishing
By Cammie Eicher
Resplendence Publishing, LLC
Cover Art by Kendra Egert
Published by Resplendence Publishing, LLC
2665 N Atlantic Avenue, #349
Daytona Beach, FL 32118
Electronic format ISBN: 978-1-60735-627-1
Warning: All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Electronic Release: January 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or occurrences, is purely coincidental.
To my radio writer friends Mistie S., Mark J. (and my Mark and Sara), and all those other radio folks who have made my life more interesting over the years.
“Tessa, spawn of the devil on line two!”
A call from Eugene Forrester was so not the way I wanted to start any day, let alone the Monday after the Fabulous Fortuna Fall Festival, the biggest—and possibly only—activity of the Fortuna Merchants Association. “Fabulous” might be stretching the description a bit. But as the one and only news hound at WFRT, I was expected by the entire listening audience to tell all.
Eugene Forrester is, to put it politely, a trifle odd. He’s been described by some folks as everything from “marching to a different drummer” to “every town has to have a weirdo, right?”
Personally, I think Eugene is okay. Or rather Big E, as he prefers to be called these days. I try to remember that. But I’m pretty sure that at fifteen, he’s going to change his name back as soon as his last pair of droop-off-his-ass pants wears out and he realizes he’s about five years behind the trend. I cross my fingers and hope he simply wants to get my take on the fried fish eating contest, which was won for the seventh time by Maudie Beltz, the spinster school teacher.
I pick up the phone and say hello.
I am so not prepared for what he says back.
“Miss McDonald,” he says—Eugene has that southern polite thing going on, “I think my mother’s gone bat-shit crazy.”
I’d seen the illustrious Florine Forrester on Saturday, working in the Organic Agriculture and Archery Guild booth. She’d seemed fit as a fiddle and perfectly normal to me. She was dressed like an old-timey farm wife but with a plastic apple with an arrow through it tied to her head. She’d been passing out samples of her homemade bread covered with homemade apple butter, created from apples with nary a chemical near them.
I politely declined. I haven’t been big on apples since I got into those green ones when I was a kid and so regretted it a few hours later. I did accept a small cup of cider and halfway agreed to serve as a judge at the association’s annual Yuletide Fruitcake Bake-off. The winner receives a hundred dollar savings bond and has her recipe printed in the local newspapers. The judges get two-for-one coupons for that buffet place out on the Interstate.
“Exactly what do you mean, crazy?” I quiz.
Eugene sighs. “You know how my mom plays the organ at church?”
Ah, yes, I did indeed. What Florine may lack in talent she makes up in enthusiasm. Her feet dance from foot pedal to foot pedal, her body shimmying back and forth as she adds Jerry Lee Lewis-style punch to “Bringing in the Sheaves”. And every time she hits those chimes, every non-churchgoer within six blocks gets blasted out of bed through sheer volume of sound. When the choir’s in full voice, and Florine’s at her best, the resulting sound is completely unforgettable—and not necessarily in a good way.
“Uh-huh,” I say, with some hesitation. If Eugene is about to tell me his mother is having a fling with the good Rev. Humphrey Hayslinger, who’s eighty if he’s a day, I’m not sure I want to hear about it.
“Come to choir practice tonight. You’ll see what I mean.”
I find myself agreeing to be at the First Church of Love’s Devotion at 7 p.m. to sit in on the group’s rehearsal for its annual Christmas cantata. It is written and directed as always by Florine and Louise Opperman, also known behind their backs as the “twits times two”. Not that there is anything wrong with their brains nor do they lack the necessary social graces. They share a common trait: Whatever enters their minds comes straight on out their mouths. It took Rev. Hayslinger a good three weeks to appease the communion committee after Louise announced, loud enough for everyone to hear, that she’d toss an extra twenty in the offering plate if that’s what it took to get some decent grape juice.
After I hang up, I realize Florine is about the right age to be undergoing the life-changing experience of the change of life. She’s fifty-something, with a head of hair that would be all gray if she wasn’t a regular at the Curl Up and Dye on Main Street. Not that I know that much about menopause, only what the women’s magazines shout from their covers. But I do know Florine’s in the forefront of healthy eating in the greater Fortuna area, which might be her way of attempting to stall her matronly years.
Or it could be her way of trying to trim down her Eugene. He goes a good 250, I’d say. And that would be all right if he was taller than five foot six, or if his weight came from muscles built in the school weight room. Yeah, the chain on that wallet that hooks from his belt to his back pocket probably adds a few ounces, as do the piercings in his ears and eyebrows. But he’s always been what my grandmother called “a fleshy boy,” which may explain why he wears all black. Nah, I think he’s trying to be goth and gangsta, which is quite a look for beautiful Fortuna.
Southern Ohio can be chilly in October, and if I remember right, the Rev. Hayslinger keeps the air conditioning high in warm weather and the heat low in cool weather. I suspect that at times like this, when it’s in between seasons, the thermostat is set on neutral. I sling on my faithful red hoodie with the station’s call letters on the back and headed for the church. When I first came to town, the local history guru made a point of cornering me anywhere he could to give me the low-down on Fortuna’s past. One interesting thing I learned was that there used to be four churches in town. When they built a new one out of town that had rock music on Sunday morning and bingo every Tuesday and Friday, attendance fell off for all four of the old churches.
When it was down to the old faithfuls, the pastors started leaving. A committee of folks from all the churches got together and decided it made sense to join forces. They wrangled about the names for a while and decided that Third Presbyterian Second Methodist St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of the Saints was a bit too long for a sign out front. So they argued a bit, voted, and discovered that First Church of Love’s Devotion ticked off the fewest big tithers.
I walk into the sanctuary a few minutes before seven in time to catch Florine and the good Rev. Hayslinger standing toe-to-toe, voices raised as they argue. Louise clucks around them like the ref at a prizefight, peering at each one in turn and begging them to stop. Several choir members have their cell phones up and recording; anything I missed will be available via the Internet tonight.
The Rev. Hayslinger’s only child, the plump Penelope, adds to the frenzy by calling in a voice so high every dog in the neighborhood goes on alert. “Daddy, Daddy! Your blood pressure!”
Eugene has the good sense to stay out of swinging distance. Florine has a strong arm from all that bow pulling, and I suspect he’s in no mood to take an accidental right hook.
I’m trying to decide whether to attempt to calm the situation or call 911 to put paramedics on alert when Fortuna’s longtime police chief, Dwaine Portman, stomps up the aisle. His face is bright red and his eyebrows nearly touch from the deepest frown I’ve ever seen on him. He is definitely not happy. I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s upset by the situation or because he’s missing reruns of his beloved “Matlock”.
“What the…dickens is going on here?”
The mid-sentence pause is so the chief can find a word suitable to be uttered in church. I’m pleased to see he found one, since he is so fond of the h-e-double hockey sticks word. Unfortunately, he’s being ignored. When he pulls out his gun, I duck behind the baptismal font. But instead of a well-placed shot, the chief turns the butt of his pistol into a noisemaker, slamming it against the back of the nearest pew.
Silence falls. Well, except for the good reverend. I realize he’s forgotten his hearing aids again, which means he hasn’t heard a word Florine said.
That is probably a good thing, since Florine doesn’t seem to be settling down. She plants her fists on her hips and turns to glare at Dwaine.
“I said, what’s going on here?” His face is even redder. I suspect the choir is getting ready to use their cell phones to report that the chief lies twitching on the sanctuary floor from a stroke.
Florine points a finger at Rev. Hayslinger and yells, “
insulted my directorial abilities.”
“I did no such thing, young lady. I simply said that if this year’s program is going to be another overinflated kindergarten operetta, maybe I should frame my homily in Dr. Seuss rhymes.”
“That’s it!” Florine heads for the reverend. Dwaine puts her in a headlock before she can get the best of the preacher and shouts to me, “Call one of my boys!”
He doesn’t mean his sons, who are probably so involved in a gross video game they’d never hear the phone ring. He means his deputies.
Penelope barges into the fray once more. “Don’t you dare speak like that to my father!” She is only inches from Florine, wiggling her scolding finger.
Her bravery is due to the chief’s one-handed hold on the squirming madwoman as he uses the other hand to hit the shortcut number to his office. He is reduced to barely holding her in a bear hug by the time a siren sounds outside the church and his chief officer Luther Gross comes marching in. Luther nods at me as he rushes to help the now-panting chief.
There was a time when the man had a crush on me. Trust me, the crush didn’t work the other way. In fact, I would have remained blissfully unaware of Luther’s feelings for me if my darling Carson hadn’t told me.
That’s Lt. Carson Hayes, still of the Ohio Bureau of Investigation. His plans a mere six months ago were to tender his resignation from that prestigious agency and sign on with the county sheriff’s department as an investigator. Unfortunately, the tax dollars have been pinched so hard both the OBI and the sheriff’s office have been forced into hiring freezes. So Carson still lives in big-city Columbus, and I remain one of Fortuna’s spinsters.
My mother, the perennial Pollyanna, believes it’s a good thing Carson and I only cohabitate on the weekends. Actually, she doesn’t
that we cohabitate but the multi-pack of condoms she left in the bathroom the last time she visited makes me think she has a suspicion. My mother can not only take life’s lemons and make lemonade, she can stand watching a tornado and say, “Look, honey—the barn and all the cows are gone, but now we have a wonderful place to build that tennis court you wanted.”
My mother may have a point. About Carson and me, not about the tornado, although I wouldn’t mind a tennis court. Or maybe an in-ground swimming pool. I do have a tendency to rush into things headlong and regret them, like buying a mini-goat to chow down my backyard.