16 Jack and Alex
Tuesday Feb.16, 1988
Jack was pacing in his office. Only recently had he realized that he could think better when he was upright and walking. If I had known this during law school, he thought, I might have been summa cum laude. He was considering buying a treadmill.
The Chronicle was there on his desk where he’d left it. The headlines blared:
PENNDOT CALLS PUBLIC MEETING ON RTE. 592
Late last night the Adamsford Chronicle learned that PennDOT’s Chief Engineer in Harrisburg, Ross Fowler, will be in Adamsford this week investigating Rte. 592. PennDOT has requested that a public meeting be called so information may be both collected and disseminated about the 32-mile stretch of S.R. 592 between Adamsford and Hattiesville, where a fatal accident claimed the lives of three people last week.
The meeting will be held in the County Courthouse in Adamsford in Courtroom A at 7:00 PM on Monday, Feb. 22nd. PennDOT officials from Harrisburg and and engineers from District 13 will be in attendance.
When Alex Goddard, Acting Chief Engineer for District 13 was contacted he declined comment, saying only the meeting was an information gathering meeting concerning road projects for both the Twelve Year Plan and the Three Year Plan.
Jack had read it over three times. “Poor sucker,” he thought, “you did make a comment, and they pretended you didn’t.” Sounded like Alex was on the hot seat. He wondered if he knew him well enough to just show up at his office and chat. He didn’t think so. But it sure would be nice to run into him somewhere. They both used to drink after work at the Basement Grille and were often at the same table sharing laughs. He’d even heard that Alex had dated Paulie Matson too. Fairly recently. Ah well, then they had that in common as well — both ex-boyfriends of the same girl. He didn’t think that would be a good introductory topic.
He was curious where Alex hung out these days. Probably at home with his new wife, because he was never at the Grille anymore. Or maybe he wasn’t doing anything but working. Jack wondered if he could hang out in the Pizza Hut parking lot next to the PennDOT offices and spot Alex from the parking lot. That certainly sounded like a scheme. He didn’t want it to seem like a scheme.
So, I could just be a man and go knock on his office door. And say what? ‘Hey Alex, I’m thinking of representing several people who live out on 592. What do you know about PennDOT’s plans for the road?’
And Alex would say, ‘Sorry Jack. We’re in the information gathering stages right now; why don’t you come to the meeting on Monday?’
‘Yes, I was planning to, Alex. Thanks.’ And then I look like a jerk. Of course, I am a jerk, so, who cares?
Jack sat back down at his desk, threw the newspaper in the wastebasket and opened a file folder that was waiting for attention. That settles it, he thought, I’m just going to forget about it until the meeting.
Alex had been hopeful that today would be a good, productive day. Since they had spent the day yesterday with Ross and his lawyer buddy, the day was going to begin positively with no 8 AM phone call from Ross. Until that crossed his mind this morning, he hadn’t realized how much the dreaded phone ringing every morning was affecting his state of well-being.
He walked into the kitchen whistling, and Angie looked up surprised. She had folded the newspaper so he would see the front page article first thing, and now she wished she hadn’t. “I have your breakfast ready,” she smiled “I never used that warming oven before, and now I’m glad of it.”
Alex shook his head. “I’m still getting breakfast! What’s going on here? If going to church on Sunday caused this, then I’m all for it.” He walked over and put his arms around her while she had her back to him at the stove.
She turned around. “I would have told you that I was going, but I hardly knew it myself.”
“It’s all right. I was just surprised when we all trooped over here at 9:30 and no one was home. And then to see your car in the church parking lot when we drove by on our scenic tour of 592, well, I was just surprised.”
“I know.” She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. “They were so nice to me — I felt as if I had never left. And, well, you know… but Burton did re-iterate to me that he would be glad to talk to you. I think he knows what you’re into.”
She handed him his warm plate, and he went to sit down at the table. There was silence as he read the article in the newspaper. He sighed. “Yeah, well, he knows for certain now if he’s read today’s paper.” He looked up at her. “You know, I gave them a quote, and here they say I had no comment. Are they idiots or something?”
“It probably could have been worse,” she said.
“Yeah, it probably could have,” he agreed. “But I don’t want to think how… So I guess our vow of secrecy is gone now, trouble is, I don’t know what to say to anyone who asks. Is the phone going to be ringing all day? Will people show up at the office? Or am I just attaching too much significance to this?”
“You’ve always said that Phyllis is very capable,” she said. “It’s her job to take care of you guys. Work in the back office today, maybe, until you see how it goes? I’m thinking you’re not overreacting. It’s a front page article here…”
“Yeah, I gotta go. At least Ross isn’t calling me this morning.” He kissed her good bye. “Thanks Angie, for being so great about this. It’s just beginning, you know.”
She nodded. “Hope your day goes well,” she said, as he left. “And I’m praying about it,” she said to the closed door.
Jack was sitting in Pizza Hut looking out the window at the PennDOT office building. Once he’d thought about pizza for lunch, he couldn’t get it out of his head. He’d brought some work along — historical briefs on PA Eminent Domain law, that he figured he ought to read. It wasn’t quite noon yet, so the tables were still fairly empty. A cook behind the counter stacked up three pizza boxes and yelled for the delivery guy. “These go over to the PennDOT office across the parking lot,” he shouted.
For a second Jack thought about offering to deliver them himself. Nah, too weird, even for me… he decided. The waitress brought him his personal pan pizza, and as he was thanking her, he saw Paulie come in with Reenie Price. He looked down at his pizza — too late to make an escape — so he took a deep breath and plastered a smile on his face. “Hello Paulie. Reenie. Would you like to join me?”
Paulie looked at him strangely. “Would that be weird?” she asked.
Reenie smiled. “Thank you, Jack. We’d be glad of some company, however weird it might be.” They sat down across from him.
Two weirdnesses in a row, Jack thought, I’d better go home.
“Must be a pizza day,” Reenie smiled. “What brings you to this side of town?” she asked. “I never come over here for lunch.”
“I’m stalking Alex Goddard,” Jack laughed. “I thought I might see him for lunch, and instead I see the two of you.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Paulie said drily.
“Did I say I was disappointed?” he asked.
“No bickering!” Reenie said. “You two sound like my children. Or my employers. Or Ethan and me,” she admitted. “Anyway, I seem to be surrounded by bickering these days, so not on my lunch hour, please.”
“Point taken,” Jack said easily. And he changed the subject to the Art Gallery, asking if there were any fun exhibits coming up for spring.
As Reenie told him about her upcoming plans, she couldn’t help but notice him. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had asked her about plans for the gallery. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had agreed with her, even. He was also very nice looking. “Would you like an invitation to the opening night wine and cheese party?” she asked.
“I’d love one,” he said.
“Okay,” she smiled. “I’ll put you on the list.”
“So why are you stalking Alex Goddard?” Paulie asked. “Those were your own words,” she reminded him.
“The whole Rte. 592 thing.” He was cautious. Paulie seemed jumpy. He knew they had gone out together; Paulie also lived on the edge of town on that road too.
“Well, I’m going to that meeting,” she said. “And so is everyone else at this table, I’d say.”
Jack looked at Reenie. “And you have an interest in it too?” he asked.
“I’d say I do,” she declared. “My last name is Price.”
“Oh, well, I knew that, but I never connected the dots. Price’s Corners. You’re related?”
“Matthew Price is my father-in-law. It’s his family farm that gave the intersection it’s name.”
Three weirdnesses, Jack thought. “I lived further out that road when I was a kid. I grew up there right below the store. Just across from the old orchard. If I need to, and if I can, I’m going to defend the rights of two property owners there.”
“We might be needing your services, too,” Reenie said. “I’ll talk to Ethan, though. I can’t speak for him.”
“Ethan Price. I knew him in high school. Do you live on 592?” he asked.
“No. We live back a long lane off Churchill Road, pretty close to the Game Lands.”
There was silence as the waitress brought pizza for Reenie and Paulie. Jack gathered his papers and stood up. “Ladies, I’ll leave you to your lunch. Here’s my card, Reenie. Have Ethan call me if he wants. It’s all very vague still. I’ll see you next Monday at the meeting then?”
“Yes, thanks.” They said their politenesses. Then Paulie called out, “It was nice to see you, Jack.” It definitely sounded conciliatory.
“You too, Paulie,” he said. And then he thought, This whole morning has been so strange, I might as well just go knock on Alex’s door.
He wandered across the parking lot to the PennDOT building.
It didn’t take long. Alex’s secretary, who looked vaguely familiar, was definitely guarding the place.
She took his card, inspected it, inspected him, and said politely, “No. There aren’t any appointments today, or anytime this week. I can give him your card, though, and any message?”
“No message,” Jack said. “Except to tell him I stopped by and to call me if he wants. I’d just like to talk.”
“I’ll certainly do that,” Phyllis said. She looked at him speculatively. “Aren’t you Allen Stuckey’s son?”
He smiled. “I am.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jack. I’m Phyllis Deeter. I used to know your dad; he was a good man.”
“You look familiar to me,” Jack said. “But I can’t place you.”
“I’ve been a secretary here for over thirty years; your dad and I knew each other from his County Commissioner days. And I live out by Prices Corners.”
“Do you live on 592?” he asked.
“No, but I just live down the road from the church.”
“On Churchill Road?” He couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice. “I just had pizza with Reenie Price!”
“Yes, she’s a neighbor, though we live on opposite sides of the road, and our driveways are both long.”
“This has certainly been a day of coincidences,” Jack said shaking his head.
“Well,” said Phyllis. “I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe God puts people in our paths for a reason; it’s only sometimes we choose to see those reasons.”
“Hmmm,” Jack said. “We could argue about that sometime…”
They were interrupted by the phone ringing. “Busy day?” Jack asked.
“You wouldn’t believe,” Phyllis answered. “Excuse me. Nice meeting you, Jack Stuckey.”
I would believe it, he thought. It seems like everyone I’ve met today lives on that road. Yes, Alex Goddard, you are on the hot seat.
The first chapters of this novel, Eminent Domain, can be found by clicking here, or by clicking on Fiction Projects in the menu bar.