Iris Long was perplexed. She had just returned home from visiting her sister four hours away, where she realized that egg prices were 19 cents lower than in her hometown of Lennox Valley. A few phone calls to supermarkets and grocery stores in other cities confirmed her suspicion: Egg prices were more than 20 percent higher in her community than anywhere else she had checked.
Iris had been in the journalism business for a long time. Early in her career, she was actually an investigative journalist for a big-city newspaper. She knew how to dig through the muck to get to the facts.
Sure, she could run a story in this week’s paper, blowing the lid wide open concerning egg prices. She could write an editorial, sharing her suspicions that Raymond Cooper was somehow involved.
But Iris wanted more than suspicions. She had lived in the same town with Raymond Cooper for decades, and she knew he was an expert at weaseling out of situations just like this. If he had any idea she was on to his scheme, he would somehow explain away his involvement.
She needed more than facts. She needed proof. At first, she thought Raymond might have somehow convinced the grocery stores in Lennox Valley and Springfield to raise their prices on eggs. But it was unlikely that Cooper could get that many folks to go along with his scheme. There had to be something she was missing.
She searched back through old issues of The Hometown News. She found the story about Raymond buying the radio station and converting it to an all-talk format in 1993.
She found ads for Perry Pratt’s store and for the grocery stores in Springfield. Egg prices didn’t seem to fluctuate any more than anything else.
That’s when it hit her. She searched through the editorial page dating back to June 1996, finding the first letter to the editor concerning the rising price of eggs in the Feb. 11, 1997, issue. All of the writers — and there were a lot of them — mentioned getting their information listening to "Renderings with Raymond," Cooper’s daily talk show. Raymond had convinced his audience that the Federal Reserve was somehow at fault for high egg prices in Lennox Valley.
Next, Iris looked through grocery ads, starting with the June 4, 1996, issue. Egg prices seemed to remain steady through the summer and fall months. Beginning in November, however, there was a 2-cent increase in the price of a dozen eggs. Moving ahead, she noticed that egg prices rose, almost as if they were scheduled, 1 cent each month.
That might not seem like a lot of money. But a 1-cent increase each month adds up to 29 cents. Assuming that eggs in other towns had risen a few cents over those two years, the higher prices being paid by the good folks of Lennox Valley were starting to make sense.
She set aside the theory of grocery-store involvement right away. Even if some store managers would go along with some crazy Raymond Cooper scheme, Iris was convinced that Perry Pratt would never participate in something so deceptive.
Then it dawned on her. All of the stores in Lennox Valley and Springfield bought their eggs from two egg farms located between the Valley and Springfield.
One was owned by Marvin Walsh, who, Iris recalled, had more than once manned a seat at a display protesting the Federal Reserve System at the farmers market.
The other was owned by Elbert Lee Jones, a close friend of Walsh’s and, Iris remembered, the first to raise a question concerning the Federal Reserve to Pastor Sarah Hyden-Smith during her initial visit to the Valley.
It would be four days until deadline for the next issue of the Hometown News. Iris suspected they would be busy days, and she was quite sure she would visit both Elbert Lee and Marvin to discuss the rising price of eggs.
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.