Book 1 in the Mail Carrier Cozy Mystery Series
Everyone in Sugar Creek Gap has tried to fix up widow and beloved mail carrier, Bernadette Davis on several dates. They say she has to be lonely.
What they don’t know is how Bernadette’s life is filled…filled with everyone’s hidden secrets and obsessions. After all, she does deliver their mail and hears all the dirty laundry southern folks love to sweep secrets under the rug.
While on her route, Bernadette finds out the beloved Sugar Creek Gap Country Club is being sold and turned into condos. The developer is Bernadette’s best friend, Mac Tabor and right now he’s not very popular.
The entire town is against the development and eager to vote it down, vowing they will do whatever needs to be done to stop the sell of the country club to Mac Tabor.
Chuck Shilling, majority owner of the country club, and Mac have a public fight because Chuck is rethinking of selling the club to Mac. When Chuck is found dead, Mac Tabor is the number one suspect.
Bernadette discovers she’s got a penchant for discovering clues that just might help STAMP OUT a killer who is on the loose while trying to save Mac Tabor from going to prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
Book 1 in the Mail Carrier Cozy Mystery Series
Have you ever been around one of those people who say there’s something coming or something about to happen? Or you’ve been thinking ’bout her and she calls at that moment, that instant?
My best friend, Iris Peabody, she’s not one of those psychics or anything, but she does get those weird feelings every once in a while. The first time we were in third grade. She swore to me how she’d seen a vision of Bobby Peters, the cutest boy in school, kissing me on the old rubber tire that was cemented into the ground on the playground. As soon as the teacher said it was time for recess, I darted out to that playground and perched myself right on top of that tire.
Bobby Peters himself ran by and pushed me right off, sending me to the ground and breaking my wrist. Boy, was Iris wrong.
Then there was another time when we were in high school and Iris told me she’d had one of them visions where Bobby Peters was going to ask me to prom. When I saw him walk over to our table in the cafeteria, my heart went pitter-pat.
He up and asked Iris. She went.
It wasn’t until years later, when I’d already gotten married to Richard Butler—making me Bernadette Butler, stay-at-home mom and ex-United States postal worker—and Iris was already divorced from Bobby Peters when she called me up at three p.m. one afternoon. I was getting ready to head on over to the high school football stadium to watch Grady. Oh no, he didn’t play football; he was the Sugar Creek Gap grizzly bear mascot that did get promoted to manager of the team the following year. Still, I went to every game Sugar Creek Gap High School played to watch my boy run up and down the sidelines in the ridiculous bear outfit, waving the high school flag in our very small town of Sugar Creek Gap, Kentucky.
Anyways, back to Iris. Well, she called me right before I was setting out for the game, asking all sorts of questions about Richard and whether I’d talked to him. Her exact words were, “I feel like something is wrong with Richard.”
To this day, I still get chills thinking about it.
Iris insisted I call him, but I knew Richard was away on business in our neighboring state of Tennessee, according to the online calendar we shared. There was no reason to bother him, especially when Iris’s little “feelings” had never come true yet.
I was cheering on the cute bear when I noticed the state Sheriff had showed up at the game. It was like a slow-motion scene when I recalled seeing them ask someone a question, and the person had pointed directly at me. The Sheriff officers’ eyes met mine, and my stomach dropped. Iris Peabody’s feeling about my beloved Richard had come true: he had been killed in a car wreck on his way to his meeting.
I’m Bernadette Butler, United States postal carrier. Mom to Grady Butler. Widow.
“Good morning, Vince.”
Vince Caldwell was sitting outside on one of the many swings across the long covered porch at the Sugar Creek Gap Nursing Home, looking at the morning paper.
My phone rang just as I’d walked up. It was Iris. This was the second time she’d called this morning and the second time I’d sent her to voicemail.
“Mornin’, Bernie.” Vince pulled the readers off the bridge of his nose and looked up through his bushy gray eyebrows. He patted the open space next to him and put down his crossword puzzle. “I was thinkin’ of you this mornin’. About to turn cold. I hope you start dressing warmer. I’d hate for you to catch a chill.”
“Thank you. I think about you every morning.” I took a seat and at that moment realized exactly why Iris had called me but hadn’t left a message.
Earlier I had been running late for my route, and I wanted to try to finish a little early since it was game day.
“I still can’t believe it’s been ten years.” Vince reached over and patted my leg. “We sure still miss Richard and his guitar.”
“Yeah. Me too.” I sucked in a deep breath. My heart sank into my stomach when I looked at my watch to see the date.
The anniversary of Richard’s death. Something I’d never forgotten…until today.
“You and Grady headin’ over to the cemetery before the big game?” Vince asked, because it was high school football season, and wouldn’t you know, my son Grady had gotten his degree in sports management with a minor in English and was now Sugar Creek Gap High School’s English teacher and head football coach.
“I’m sure we will.” I tugged open my mailbag and took out Vince’s mail. We probably weren’t, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I usually went to see Richard alone. “You want this or want me to put it in the mailbox?”
It wasn’t long after Grady was born that Richard and I had decided I’d be a stay-at-home mom and quit my job as a mail carrier. Childcare was expensive, and Richard had just gotten his first good sales job, which took him out of town a lot. It made more sense for me to quit my job than to try to find somewhere or someone to watch our son.
After Richard had passed, I’d gone back to the post office. They’d offered to give me my route back, which was a driving route, but the downtown-area walking route was available. It was much harder to walk and carry the mail, but staying outdoors kept my mind clear and helped me escape from thinking too much about Richard.
“I’ll take it,” Vince said, bringing me out of my thoughts. Vince was one of the many elderly citizens who had moved to the retirement condos the nursing home offered. My parents lived here too. They weren’t retired by any means, but it was a low-cost and low-maintenance way of living, and they loved it here.
“Well, if I’m going to get to the game on time, I better get hustling.” As I stood up, the chains holding up the swing clanked. I handed him his mail.
“Growllll.” Vince did his best impression of the grizzly bear sound the football crowd made when someone scored a touchdown. He got up too. “Goooooooo Grizzlies!”
“Rah, rah.” I laughed and pumped my fist in the air. I noticed an Uber driver had pulled up. “Where are you going?”
“Emergency city council meeting today. I’ve heard of some rumblings about Chuck Shilling selling his majority share of the country club to someone. Apparently, at last night’s commissioners’ meeting, things got a little heated.” He didn’t mention who might have bought the country club. “From what I understand, Dennis Kuntz is all up in arms. Should be a good one.”
“Maybe I’ll stop in on my route.” I waved him off before I made my way into the building.
Dennis Kuntz and Chuck Shilling owned the one hundred twenty acres the country club sat on, so why would Dennis be so upset?
I pondered the question as I dropped the mailbag to the floor and filled the small community boxes as quickly as possible before I locked them back up and headed out in record time.
In light of the news of the sale of the country club—which was huge if what Vince had told me was true—maybe no one would remember what today meant to me. Not that I didn’t love the way my community rallied around me and Grady, but it was as if they rehashed it every year when I was just wanting to grieve on my own.
The bright sun had warmed the autumn day enough that I could take off my sweater. I tied it around my waist and walked over the Old Mill Creek bridge. Once over the bridge, I was standing right where I’d started my morning: next to the post office and across the street from where I’d begin the rest of my morning route. The downtown businesses were on the left side of Main Street.
Eventually, I’d get to the small neighborhoods on the west side of downtown then make my way back to downtown, where I’d deliver all the mail to the business district of Sugar Creek Gap, which included the courthouse, doctors’ building, bank, and various other businesses. I liked to finish my day with a few neighborhoods just east of downtown that circled back to the post office.
Briefly, I stopped to listen to the sound of the babbling brook swimming across the rocks as the old mill pushed the water down the creek. It was a daily ritual that I loved, only today there were a lot more cars on the bridge than usual.
When I crossed the street, I noticed the cars were pulling into the courthouse parking lot.
Out of curiosity about what Vince had said about the country club, I decided to switch up my route and deliver the mail to the courthouse just so I could pop my head into that emergency meeting.
Social Knitwork was the first business I came to. It was our local yarn shop, owned by Leotta Goldey. She was a whiz with any sort of material. She was the go-to gal for anything that needed to be altered and lettered and had a monopoly on all things with names on them, including all the business she got from the Sugar Creek Gap schools and sports teams.
When I pushed through the door, the bell above it knocked against the glass. Leotta looked up.
“Morning, Bernadette,” she greeted me with a pair of knitting needles in her hand. “You doing all right today?”
“I sure am.” I headed over to the counter. I reached around and grabbed her mail out of my bag, putting it in the basket that sat next to the register. “No mail today?”
“Nope.” She stood over a customer’s shoulder, watching them knit something. I generally was here at the same time each day, which was when Leotta gave lessons as well. I was not a knitter or any type of crafter, but I did enjoy watching. “I’ll have some tomorrow. I’ll be writing out my bills this afternoon.” She pointed one of the needles to a coatrack, where some fluffy knitted fall-colored scarves hung. “I made some new scarves for tonight’s game. You take one if you like. It’s gonna turn real cold this week.”
“These sure are pretty.” I thumbed through them. “Grady and Julia gave me the personalized scarf for my birthday this summer that I think you made. I better use it, or they’ll tan my hide,” I joked, thinking Grady probably had no idea that Julia had given it to me.
“That’s right.” She looked up at me and smiled from over the student’s shoulder. “He’s such a good boy, Bernadette. And that Julia. She’s a quick learner.”
Julia Butler was his wife. They’d met at college. She worked as a secretary for Mac Tabor, a good family friend who was the local architect. She’d graduated from business school. She and Grady had gotten married a couple of years ago and had yet to give me a grandbaby.
“Quick learner?” I asked.
“Yes. She’s been coming over here and taking a class from me during her lunch break.”
That was news to me, but it didn’t seem odd, since Julia’s office was just a couple doors down.
“You be careful out there this morning.” She pointed her needle toward the window at the street. “All sorts of people cancelled their knitting appointments because they are up in arms about the sale of the country club. Did you hear about last night’s meeting?”
“Somebody said something about it over at the nursing home this morning.” I watched alongside her as another car zoomed down the street.
“I wonder why so many people care.” Leotta shrugged and walked back to her student.
“I have no idea. I’m not a member of the country club.” I put my hand on the handle of the door.
“I’ll see you at the game,” Leotta called out to me from across the shop.
My phone buzzed. I stopped on the sidewalk and pulled the cell out of my pants pocket.
When I saw it was Iris for the third time, I figured she really wanted something, so I answered it.
“Hey, Iris,” I answered as I continued to deliver the mail of the local businesses. Mostly the owners were busy with customers or not in the fronts of their shops when I delivered their mail, so I’d pop in and out as quickly as I could.
I’d pretty much perfected my system over the last ten years.
“Where have you been? I’ve been calling and texting all morning. I about left pies in the oven to come find you.” Iris sounded a little more on edge than the typical yearly feeling-bad-for-her-friend call.
Maybe she was calling about the pumpkin sugar cookies I’d volunteered us to make for the high school boosters.
“I’m fine. I’ll meet you at my house right after I get finished delivering my route.” I didn’t tell her how I’d already baked several dozen of the pumpkin sugar cookies last night when I couldn’t sleep. “I totally forgot it was the day until Vince Caldwell reminded me. I feel awful. I bet Grady wonders why I haven’t texted him.”
“Huh?” Iris sounded all sorts of confused on the other end of the line.
“Richard’s date of death.” Was she pulling my leg? Iris never forgot.
“Oh my God!” Iris’s voice was so loud it made my brain rattle. “Bernadette, I’m so sorry. How are you? Did you get any sleep? You’re working? Of course you didn’t get any sleep and you just said you were working. I’m a bad friend.”
“You’re a great friend. I’m fine. I slept,” I lied. “I just told you that I totally forgot.” I stopped shy of Tranquility Wellness to make sure I didn’t disturb any sort of class or clients’ quiet time. Tranquility Wellness was a one-stop Zen shop that did all the things the name would suggest, like spa treatments, yoga classes, meditation classes, nutrition classes, and any sort of spa treatments that I wanted to check out.
“So if you weren’t calling to check on me so early this morning, then what’s up?” I asked.
“First off, I think it’s a good sign you forgot. Maybe you can start dating now.”
Leave it up to Iris to fix me up. She’d been trying to do so for the past nine years, leaving me one year to grieve.
“Not on your life. The last thing I want is a man to have to cook and clean for.” I looked in the window to see if there was a class before I crept in and laid the mail on the counter. “What’s up?”
For a brief moment, I stopped and took a deep breath. Even though I knew Peaches Partin, the owner, used a machine to pump a spa smell from a bottle into the vents, it still made me feel good to inhale and exhale the fragrance.
“I had me a feeling. I know you don’t want to hear about it, but I was wondering if you’ve been by Mac Tabor’s house yet?”
I’d asked her to stop telling me about her “feelings” after Richard’s death.
“No. I haven’t gotten that far in my deliveries,” I told her. “I’m about to stop at Pie in the Face. You there?”
Iris had created her business, Pie in the Face, after she’d caught Bobby Peters cheating on her in their own bed. Not only were he and the girl all snuggled up, they’d been eating Iris’s homemade pie right out of the pie plate.
Forget he was cheating; Iris never let anyone eat out of the pie plate.
“You didn’t even cut a piece out of the pie plate?” was what Iris had told me she’d said to the cheating couple when she found them in bed with her pie plate. “You get a pie in the face!” she yelled at them as she picked up the pie and slammed it into his face.
She had come to our house all torn up, but Richard and I couldn’t stop laughing. Richard had suggested she make her baking side hustle into a real business. That was also when he had jokingly said she should call it Pie in the Face so whenever Bobby had to drive downtown to get to his lumberyard, the name on the bakery would be a constant reminder of his philandering ways.
She ran with Richard’s idea and had a very successful bakery now.
I did bake some items for her, and she paid me for them, but most nights, we were still baking in my farm kitchen, keeping each other company. If not for Iris and our friendship or our fun nightly baking sessions at my house, I didn’t know what I’d do with all my free evenings now that Grady was married off.
That was when being a widow was the hardest. Night.
“I’m not at the bakery. I had a few deliveries this morning, and now I’m off to the high school to help teach Cake Decorating 101.” Iris was also the baking consultant for the high school’s home economics department.
“Anyways, when you get to Mac’s house or business, make sure he’s all right. And I have some outgoing mail, so be sure to grab it, because I’m not sure Geraldine even heard me when I left. She was on her phone Instagramming some of the pies.” Geraldine Workman was Iris’s only employee.
Iris and I hung up. I quickly texted Grady.
I knew Grady would be too busy in his classroom to even read my text, but I still didn’t want the day to go by and Grady think I didn’t remember.
A group of men was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Wallflower Diner, my mom and dad’s place. One of them was Dennis Kuntz. I walked slower and pretended I was going through the bag to collect the diner’s mail.
I recognized the other men from the football games. They all liked to hang over the chain-link fence instead of sitting in the stands with their wives.
“I’m telling you, Mac Tabor threatened me last night when I told him I didn’t agree with Chuck selling his part of our country club to him. He’s not going to get away with it.”
When anyone mentioned Mac’s name, it got my attention.
Dennis Kuntz’s big belly hung over his pants, and a toothpick stuck in the corner of his mouth. His thin brown hair was combed to the side to help try to cover up the baldness, but he didn’t do a good job of it. He had plump cheeks.
“I heard it,” I heard one of them say, but I didn’t look up to see who it was. “This emergency city council meeting better settle it, because I don’t have time to listen to this crap at tonight’s game. We’ve got to bring home a win.” The man shook his head. “The city council and the commissioners better get on the same page before this little town implodes.”
As the mother of the coach, it was hard to pinch my lips shut. These men loved to give their two cents on how they’d run the plays that Grady gave the boys on the field. Once, I hadn’t kept my mouth shut, and Grady had been mad at me for a week. He said I should know better and it was part of being a mom of a coach.
Nonetheless, I was a mom—a Sugar Creek Gap Grizzly mom that was a bear in her own right.
“Mac Tabor and Chuck Shilling will regret it if they show up this morning.” Dennis Kuntz folded his hands over his big belly.
If it hadn’t been for them talking about Mac and how Iris was hell-bent on those feelings of hers, I would probably have just walked on by with that night’s game my only care in the world.
“You only own forty percent of the country from what Chuck Shilling told me last night after football practice it was a done deal.”
Another one of the men had spoken up, and I recognized the voice as Peter Dade’s. Peter’s son, Samuel, was the star of the high school team. I knew his wife, Eileen, from the boosters.
“Chuck pretty much said it was a done deal. Said it right there while we were standing on the fifty-yard line.” Another one of the men in the circle had stuffed some money into his wallet and was trying to put it in his back pocket when his elbow hit me. “I’m sorry.”
“No problem.” I stopped, nearly stumbling over my own feet. “I should’ve been watching where I was going instead of sorting the mail.” I sucked in a deep breath and slid my gaze over to Dennis.
“Ain’t you Richard’s widow?” Dennis asked me with furrowed brows.
“Yes.” It was a title I hated, but it was what it was.
“You got a great son. Good football coach. I’m really looking forward to tonight’s big game.” He smacked Peter on the back. They all nodded. Well, not Dennis.
“Your husband and Mac Tabor were best friends.” Dennis’s chin lifted. He stared down his nose at me.
“Yes, they were,” I confirmed. My stomach tightened. I could feel the gut punch coming.
“You tell him that if he thinks he’s going to get his hands on my country club, he’ll have to go through me to do it,” Dennis said through gritted teeth.
The other men laughed.
“I’ll see you gentlemen tonight.” I hurried past them and pushed the diner door open.
“Go, Grizzlies!” My dad sat at the counter with the other regulars.
“Go, Grizzlies.” I pumped a fist in the air and weaved in and out among the full tables. “Here’s the mail.” I handed my mom the stack of various food-service bills and magazines she loved to display throughout the diner for those who were eating alone. “What’s the deal with the country club?”
“Sure enough, there was a line out the door when we got here.” Mama shook her head.
Her hair was still nice and brown, giving me hope I wouldn’t inherit the gray hair my father had gotten in his fifties. Mama was a little plump around the waist and hips from all those years of good cooking for all the people in Sugar Creek Gap. The years had been kind to her. She had very few wrinkles and wore very little makeup.
“You know I can’t make hide nor hair of the truth, but I do know something about Mac Tabor,” she continued. “I was gonna ask Julia about it this morning, but she grabbed a biscuit and coffee before she headed out. Something about a long day.”
Julia and Grady lived in the one-bedroom apartment above the diner. It was perfect for them because it was fairly close to their jobs. Julia’s office was a few shops down at Tabor Architects, and the high school was just about a mile down the road. Really, I should have been living in the apartment and they should have had the farm. But I couldn’t think about that right now.
“Uh-oh, you got that look in your eye.” Mama handed me a Styrofoam box filled with some biscuits. “What are you thinking?”
“Nothing.” I shrugged and took the box. “Harriette?” I asked with a nod at the biscuits.
“Yes. She’s got the ladies coming over this morning for some front-porch gossip.” Mom winked. “I told her I’d send the biscuits with you.” Mom always had me delivering food, as if I was Uber Eats or something. “Gertrude has made some of her blueberry jam and canned a lot for the winter. I think I’ll get some for the diner.”
Gertrude Stone, hands down, made the best jam in Sugar Creek Gap.
“You in a hurry?” Mom asked when I put the container in my mailbag and started to wave.
“Yes. I’m thinking about switching up my route and heading over to the city council meeting to see what’s going on around here.” I sighed. “It appears as if everyone has lost their minds over this.”
“Rightfully so. When changes happen in a community, every one of us is trying to figure out where we will belong in the new system. I think that’s what’s going on.” Mom swiped the towel across the counter before she tucked it back into her apron. She took a to-go bag from underneath the counter. “For Rowena. Tell her they are from Granny.”
“Aww.” I took the bag of leftovers my mom liked to give my cat. “She’ll love it.” I stuck it in my bag. “Will I see you tonight?” I asked her.
“Of course you will,” she said. Mom and Dad never missed anything of Grady’s. Even now in their mid-seventies, they were just as active as the day I’d brought him home from the hospital.
I gave her a quick hug and my dad a kiss before I headed out the door.
Quickly I delivered the mail for the other shops between the diner and Tabor Architects.
“Good morning. I’m so glad to see you,” I greeted Julia, my daughter-in-law, when I walked into the front office.
“You won’t believe how crazy people have gotten over Dennis Kuntz and his partner, Chuck Shilling, selling the country club.” Then Julia told me some news I’d yet to hear. “And how Mac is buying it.”
So it was confirmed. This was news that would travel fast in Sugar Creek Gap.
“He is?” I wondered if Iris had had a feeling because she’d heard about the big news.
“Yes. Mac has been doing some layouts for the new condos he wants to build. He told them about his plans at the city council meeting last night. Worst mistake ever.” Julia shook her pretty blond hair and put her hand up to her head. “I’ve already got a throbbing headache from people calling and protesting. What am I to do? I don’t make the decisions around here.”
About that time, the phone rang. Julia raised a finger to signal me to hold on.
I glanced out the door and noticed a few of the city council members and the mayor walking toward the courthouse with some signs under their arms. I almost got a crick in my neck trying to see what the signs said but couldn’t get past their glares at me through the window. What had I done? I shook my head and turned back to my daughter-in-law.
“Tabor Architects,” she answered the phone. “I’m sorry. Mr. Tabor isn’t in right now. May I take a…” Julia pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at it before replacing it in the cradle. “This town has lost their minds.” The phone rang again. She grabbed it but put her hand over the receiver of the phone and mouthed, “I’ll save you a seat tonight in the stands.”
Sugar Creek Gap wasn’t a tourist town. Our little community had been built on generations of families. We were a small community, but through the years, the owners of big farms had sold off various acres and built several subdivisions.
Sugar Creek Gap was a tiny community surrounded by mountains.
Sugar Creek Gap had been founded as an old mill town since it was nestled in the mountains. The old mill wheel was the first one built, and the preservation committee made sure to keep it running. Though we didn’t have any mill operations today, it was still a neat piece of history and was unique to have it right smack-dab in the middle of downtown.
On most fall mornings like this one, you’d find residents who had walked downtown to get a nice cup of hot coffee and sit next to the wheel as they enjoyed the scenery and caught up with friends.
Not this morning. It looked as if everyone had gotten their coffee from the Roasted Bean and headed to the courthouse.
Our courthouse was located right behind the mill wheel and housed all the officially elected offices, clerks’ offices, PVA and much more. Most of the lawyers in town even rented office space there. The Sheriff department was in the back, and the volunteer fire department was located in the building next to the back parking lot. It was a one-stop legal shop for all of Sugar Creek Gap.
Even the library’s parking lot, which was right next to the courthouse’s lot, was full.
I swung my mail carrier bag around me to rest on my back as I tugged open the heavy leaded-glass doors. The hallway was filled with people talking and drinking their coffee. The clerk’s office always had a lot of mail and gossip, so I headed there first.
“Hey, Bernadette, you’re early.” Trudy Evan looked up from behind her computer and smiled. “I guess you heard about last night. Law had to be called and everything.”
I laid their rubber-banded mail on the counter and leaned on it.
“Really?” I’d yet to hear that little bit of juicy gossip. “The sheriff?”
“Yep. Angela was getting it when she ran into the courtroom after Mac threatened Dennis Kuntz.” Trudy shook her head. “I’m guessing Mac done told you.” She eyeballed me.
“You know what, Trudy, I’ve not talked to Mac. I had no idea he was even trying to buy the country club until Julia told me a minute ago,” I told her.
It was unusual for Mac to keep such a big secret from me. Uneasiness pierced my stomach.
“It’s not a done deal from what I heard. I think Mac’s signing the papers this afternoon.” She dragged the mail off the counter and took the rubber band off. She started to thumb through it, sorting it into different piles as she continued to talk. “The mayor and a few of the council members are really trying to stop it. They don’t want condos going up, but if you ask me,” she looked up and whispered, “the city council members get free membership, and they don’t want to lose that perk.”
“Anyways, if you want to get a good seat this morning”—she dragged her eyes to the other side of the room and gave a quick nod—“head through that door. You might have to stand, because the courtroom is already filled up. Judge Mason had to call off court just so they could have this emergency meeting.” She shook her head. “I feel so sorry for Emmalynn Simpson. She and Kenneth have been through the wringer on this one. Someone said Kenneth is the reason the country club is going to have to file for bankruptcy if they don’t sell it.”
Murmuring and footsteps from outside the door caught her attention.
“I bet it’s about to start.” Trudy grabbed a tube of lipstick and put some on. “I heard the TV cameras were going to be here.”
TV? I watched Trudy scurry off to the door she’d told me to go through then followed. There wasn’t a local television station, so I wasn’t sure what she meant, though my curiosity had been piqued.
“Told ya this was a good spot.” Trudy folded her arms and leaned back against the wall.
It was standing room only in the courtroom. The judge’s bench and the court reporter’s desk had been replaced by three tables placed in a U-shape. If I counted correctly, there was a seat with a microphone for every city council member, twelve in all plus one for the mayor.
There was a podium in the middle of the U-shaped tables with a microphone. As the city council members took their seats, I noticed Kenneth and Emmalynn Simpson sitting in the front row of what would be the jurors’ box. Dennis Kuntz was next to them.
Mayor Leah Burch walked in and took the middle seat. The city council members all filed in and took seats at the other tables. After everyone appeared to be in their places, Leah stood up.
“As we can all see, the matter of selling the country club has come to everyone’s attention. We all know last night’s meeting got a little carried away and out of control. Today we’ve invited members of the country club and the residents of the area to come and give us some insight on how they feel.” Leah took a deep breath and looked down at the list.
I glanced around to look for Mac but didn’t see him or Chuck Shilling.
“Ashley Williams is not only a council member but someone who does live in the country club neighborhood.” Leah looked at Ashley, who had a prestigious spot at one of the tables.
Ashley stood up and adjusted her clothing on her way to the podium to address the crowd.
“I’m Ashley Williams. As you know, I sit on the city council and was appalled to hear the city commissioners held a meeting and approved the new annex for the sale of the country club, giving Chuck Shilling, the majority stakeholder, the ability to sell the club—without the consent of Dennis Kuntz—to Mac Tabor. We have to stand together always if we care as much as we say we do!”
Ashley’s voice got louder. She pounded the podium with her fist. Her shoulder-length brown hair was pulled back into a low ponytail that swung from side to side with each thump, creating a more dramatic effect.
“There is strength in numbers! And thankfully, our systems of government are designed to submit to the consent of the governed, which is you! Not money, not power, not influence, nothing else! Mac Tabor only wants to make a quick buck, and he will do that at the expense of our community.”
The crowd cheered. Dennis Kuntz was the loudest.
“Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I watched my daughter, who was lying in her comfortable bed, and thought about our peaceful community. I moved to the country club neighborhood so I could give my daughter a better life. One where she could run around the street and be home when the sun went down, not worry about the traffic over three hundred new homes will add. I sat there and worried about my daughter getting hit by a car and how I was going to have to keep her inside.”
Leah was doing a great job instilling fear in everyone. She spoke with a deliberate tone and made good eye contact.
“At five p.m. today, the city commissioners have agreed to meet at a larger location, the Agriculture Learning Center Building at City-County Park at the fairgrounds, in anticipation of a greater citizen turnout as they decide the immediate fate of the one hundred twenty-seven acres of golf course, restaurant, and pool.” Her eyes lowered. “Mac Tabor and Chuck Shilling are supposed to be there. Chuck has agreed to put the contract signing on hold. So I’m encouraging you to grab a SAVE OUR COUNTRY CLUB sign.” She picked up a sign that had been lying on the podium. “Take several, and give them to your friends and neighbors today. I, along with Mayor Burch and a few city council members, are going to be going door to door with these signs. Please. You have a voice. What Mac Tabor and Chuck Shilling did, going behind all of our backs and not getting the voice of our community, was wrong, and they should be held accountable!”
She smacked the podium, and the room went crazy.
It was my cue to get out of there. My first stop was going to be Mac Tabor’s house.