Iris Long hadn’t slept much since Saturday night’s bowling match, where Raymond Cooper made the announcement concerning the first issue of his competing newspaper, The Valley Patriot, premiering Tuesday morning.
Iris knew Raymond "like the back of her hand," and she was certain he was repaying her for supporting his opponent in the recent mayoral campaign.
Two days later, on Monday morning, Cooper not only appeared as the newest publisher in town after a six-week absence, but also returned to his seat behind the microphone at Talk Radio 88.3, just in time to promote "the Valley’s new home for honest news."
Raymond told his listeners "their" newspaper could be picked up at several locations throughout the Valley including Farley Puckett’s True Value, Pratt’s General Store and, of course, in front of Talk Radio 88.3 on Main Street.
Raymond didn’t give any clues about the contents of his new paper, other than to remind listeners it would include the news they wanted to read, not topics "forced down their throats like nasty medicine," obviously referring to The Hometown News.
Sitting in a booth at the Hoffbrau on Tuesday, Iris sipped coffee across from Juliet Stoughton. She could only imagine what The Patriot would include.
"I wonder what time it will come out," Juliet pondered aloud.
"All he said was Tuesday morning," her friend responded.
Iris was obviously worried. She confided in Juliet she had already lost three advertisers to Raymond’s paper.
"Apparently," she told Juliet, "he’s almost giving ads away to anyone who agrees to move their accounts from The Hometown News to his rag."
"There’s got to be something we can do," offered Juliet. "He can’t get away with this. You know he’s just trying to get back at you after losing the election."
Their conversation was interrupted when Sarah Hyden-Smith, pastor at Lennox Valley Methodist Church, came rushing in.
"They’re out," Sarah said in a nervous tone. She was carrying two copies of the paper. "I haven’t looked. I waited so we could look at it together."
Sarah, Juliet and Iris had become close friends during the recent mayoral campaign. It was Juliet who dropped out of the campaign, clearing the path for "Silver Tongue" Dick Bland to win reelection. Anything was better, she believed, than seeing Raymond Cooper as mayor. It never dawned on her, or anyone else, Raymond would create a competing newspaper.
Sarah handed both folded copies of The Patriot to Iris, who opened them on the table amid the trio as Hoffbrau waitress Jessie joined them. There was momentary silence as all four gazed at the front page.
"Bland Steals Election" was emblazoned across the front page in 80-point type. Below was a photo of Iris Long speaking with Mayor Dick Bland during the final vote count just weeks earlier. It stretched across all six columns of the front page.
Two-thirds down the page was another headline, smaller than the first but still larger than most headlines in The Hometown News: "Cooper Vows to Lead Search for Missing Citizen."
A Table of Contents in the bottom-right corner hinted at what would follow on the inside pages.
Valley King Pins Report — Page 2
Opinion Page — Page 3
Church News — Page 4
Farley’s True Value — Page 5
Political Review — Page 6
Raymond’s Renderings — Page 6
Classifieds — Page 7
That’s when all four readers saw it. Iris sat, speechless, as if her eyes were playing tricks on her.
"I can’t believe it," she muttered.
"Is that what I think it is?" Juliet said as she looked closer.
"Holy cow!" Jessie shouted, before catching herself.
"I can’t believe it," Iris whispered again. "Rumor Has It with Maxine Miller." She stopped to catch her breath before continuing, "Page eight."
Read more about the Good Folks at lennoxvalley.com.