Eminent Domain: 18, Conrad DeBolt’s Obituary

The Friday posts are chapters from my fiction project, Eminent Domain. They’re long, and they’re not for everyone, but if you read, I’d be glad for your comments, critical or otherwise. The early chapters can be found here or under the category Fiction Projects in the menu bar.

18 Conrad DeBolt’s Obituary
Feb. 23-24, 1988

“Did you see the paper this morning?” Henry asked as Alex walked in the door; he was sitting at Phyllis’ desk with a coffee mug in front of him and the newspaper open.

“Honestly? I chose not to read it. Angie usually puts the newspaper articles I’m supposed to read in front of me at breakfast, but she got sick in the middle of the night, and I took her tea and the newspaper and told her to stay in bed. Besides I have to talk to Ross at eight, and he’ll tell me what it said.”

“Well, I think you should know this before you talk to Ross.”

“Okay?” Alex waited.

“Conrad DeBolt died last night.”

“Oh.” He sat down. “Well, shoot. I don’t … I mean…”

“Yeah. It’s tough. I never liked the guy much; I mean we didn’t ever connect. But now I feel like I should have gone to see him or something.” Henry tossed him the newspaper, and Alex silently read the short obituary.

Conrad Sidney DeBolt, 60, of Adamsford, died on Monday evening, February 22, at the Adamsford Hospital after a period of declining health. A memorial service will be held at the Prices Corners Community Church on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 11:00 AM. There will be no calling hours.
Mr. DeBolt was born in Indianapolis February 7, 1928, a son of Richard Aaron DeBolt and Laura (Sidney) DeBolt. He graduated from George Washington High School in 1947, and Valparaiso University in 1951. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Mr. DeBolt married the former Marie Zimmerman in 1955. She preceded him in death.
Mr. DeBolt was the Chief Engineer of PennDOT District 13, headquartered in Adamsford; he was on medical leave when he passed away.
He is survived by his mother and a brother, Aaron Hugh DeBolt, both of Indianapolis.
Memorial gifts may be donated to Prices Corners Community Church.

“Man, I hope my obituary isn’t this sad when I leave this earth,” Alex said.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought…”

Alex looked at Henry. “Where is everyone? And if everyone is taking today off, why are you here?”

“I couldn’t sleep after the meeting — my brain was going a hundred miles an hour, so I came in around 3 A.M. to work. I’ll probably crash soon, but I’ve got something I want you to look at. Anyway, no one actually called, so my guess is everyone is operating on slow mo this morning after the meeting.”

Phyllis rushed through the door then; her face was blotchy, and she had the newspaper folded to Mr. DeBolt’s obituary. “Oh, you read it. I was running late, and I didn’t want you to to talk to Ross without having seen it.”

“Do you think they get the newspaper in Harrisburg?”

“I do. Ross has called me before and he already knows things, but he might not read the obituaries. I’m surprised Clancey didn’t do a bigger article on Conrad DeBolt.”

“They probably didn’t have time last night, but you can be sure there will be one in tomorrow’s newspaper.”

They stood around in silence, each thinking their own private thoughts about Conrad DeBolt. The phone rang and the door opened at the same time.

“Don’t bother answering it, Phyllis. I’ll just go get it in my office.” Alex walked back to his office as Dana and Keith walked in one after the other.


Burton and Denise Stewart had been home from the meeting at the courthouse for about fifteen minutes when the telephone rang. It’s a pastor’s lot to take late telephone calls, he thought, wondering if someone had died. Occasionally he had just wanted to let the phone ring, but he had always prayed for strength and then picked up the receiver. Tonight Aaron DeBolt, Conrad’s brother whom he had never met, was calling from the hospital. Conrad had just passed away.

No, Aaron did not need him to come in; he was staying at Conrad’s. Yes, he was fine; it had been expected, but he would like to talk to him about a memorial service. The sooner, the better for him. He was caring for his elderly mother who was too frail to travel, and he couldn’t stay long. Conrad’s wishes were to be cremated and have no viewing. Would it be possible to have a service on Wednesday morning? Yes? Oh that would be very good — he was anxious to get back to his mother. She was very distraught that she could not be there.

Burton quietly put down the receiver and sat alone in his study. He thought he probably knew Conrad DeBolt as well as anyone did; they had discussed theology many times. He was a solid believer, a deep, quiet man who did his giving anonymously. He wanted no credit for any good deeds. “No,” he had said. “I understand grace, and my few good deeds are just rubbish, compared to my sins.”

He had confessed private sins to Burton. Not because he felt the need to confess to a priest or a pastor, but because he believed that if his sins were said out loud, his forgiveness could also be said out loud. He needed to hear it, he said. So when they came back to haunt him, he could say “Get behind me, Satan. I am forgiven for those sins.”

“We are to hear each other’s confessions, Conrad,” Burton told him. “For that very reason.” And he listened.

Perhaps he should offer to clean out Conrad’s apartment  — an offer of help to a busy man who needed to get back to his caregiving duties. This seemed to be a matter he should go to the Lord about; in fact, he had several serious matters to discuss with the Lord. One, or even two, he could simply pray while sitting at his desk. But several — well, that required kneeling so he could keep his focus. He made his way over to the bench in front of the window and knelt to converse with God.


A small crowd was gathered in the church sanctuary on Wednesday for Conrad DeBolt’s memorial service. The five employees of the PA Dept. of Transportation District 13 were there. Aaron and many members of the church were present; Conrad had been a trustee for several years and was well-liked. Tom Del’Olio came in by himself and immediately looked around for someone he knew. Finding no one, he went toward the front of the church and sat by himself.

“Wonder why he’s here?” Henry whispered. “There’s no one for him to impress.”

Alex shrugged. “Maybe he’s early.” Distracted, Alex folded and refolded the funeral service bulletin. If Pastor Stewart opened the service to regular people, perhaps he should say something. He wanted to be prepared to say something brief, if the chance occurred, but at the same time he was apprehensive — he didn’t feel he had known Conrad DeBolt well enough to speak at his funeral…

Angie took his hand. “Are you all right?” she whispered.

He shrugged again. “Don’t like funerals…” he whispered back. “Should I say anything?”

“Just see how it goes,” she said quietly. “Only if you feel the need.”

Bill Clancey walked in just then and went up to sit with Tom Del’Olio. Alex nudged Henry. “The press is here. That’s who he was looking for.”

Alex needn’t have been anxious — people spoke lovingly of Conrad, and in ways that Alex hadn’t known him at all. His brother Aaron told of what a loving son he had been to their mom; since her health had failed Conrad had come back often on weekends to give his brother a break. Until, of course, his own health failed. Alex was relieved that the sad obituary seemed not to be true at all. That his life had been filled with friends, and love, and kindness, and suddenly, Alex felt a crushing pain of sorrow for not reaching out to know this man.

Then Phyllis got up to speak. She told of how kind Mr. DeBolt had been to her when her own husband had passed away. He had sat at her desk in the office many times after everyone had gone for the day and listened and handed her tissues for her tears. He understood, for he had lost his own beloved Marie, not too many years earlier. And after others had quit asking, he would come up to her out of the blue and ask how she was doing. And sit down to listen for her answer.

“I will miss him,” she said with a smile. “But I know that he is safe now and free from pain.”

Before he knew what he was doing, Alex stood up. “Conrad DeBolt was my boss at District 13,” he said. “He was fair and quiet, and I didn’t ever take the time to get to know him very well. I’m listening to all of you speak, and I wish I had known the man you knew. I regret very much that I didn’t take the time out of my busy and arrogant life to get to know him… I’m thinking that all of us are like that in some way. There’s someone around us that needs our friendship. Or maybe it’s the other way around — there’s someone around us that we need to know for our own benefit and good. I’m sorry, Mr. DeBolt, that now you’re gone and I won’t have the chance, but in your death you have taught me a good lesson. And I’m going to remember it well.”

He sat down, and Angie took his hand and squeezed it. “That was beautiful,” she whispered. “Alex Goddard, I love you.”


Aaron DeBolt was driving home across the Ohio Turnpike. His mind was meandering and not on driving; the flat, boring interstate encouraged wandering thoughts — especially when one’s brother has just died. He mentally checked off the list of things he had done: gotten the death certificates from the court house and walked across the street to the bank for his accounts there; gotten the key to his safe deposit box at the bank and emptied it; cancelled the utilities and had the final bill sent; talked to the landlord and negotiated the security deposit; arranged for an estate company to clean out the apartment; gone to the post office and had mail transferred to his own address in Indianapolis. As the executor of Conrad’s estate, it had been a long and exhausting day yesterday. Even so he was very glad that he had made the trip — he had gotten to the hospital and been able to talk to his brother for several hours before he had slipped into that final coma.

“I think perhaps you might think that I should have left you and Mother my entire estate,” Conrad had said. “But I want to explain why half goes to the church…”

Aaron had cut him off. “Don’t explain. We — Mother and I — are fine. You have helped us much lately, and there is no need to talk about it. You are loved, Connie, by both of us, and whatever is in your will has nothing to do with it.”

“Well, being my executor will get you in shape for being Mother’s executor.” Conrad had grimaced then, and Aaron waited until he spoke again. “There’s nothing unusual — two bank accounts and an IRA. Life Insurance and you are the beneficiary. Just regular gas, electric, and phone. The bills are in the top drawer of my desk. No cable. Not much good furniture; take whatever you want if there’s anything. There’s a couple of good family pictures, but maybe you have copies…” He paused.

“Also in my top drawer is the key to my safe deposit box. There’s the title to my car and my life insurance policy; there are some journals in there too. You can read the journals or not, but burn them.”

Aaron started. “What do you mean?”

“Just promise me you will burn them. It’s a deathbed promise you’re making here,” Conrad smiled weakly.

“It’s that business when you were fired and then re-instated years ago, isn’t it? Are these valuable? Can I blackmail someone famous?” Aaron teased.

Conrad closed his eyes and didn’t answer. Aaron took his hand. “I promise, Connie. I will burn them.”

The dying man kept his eyes closed. “If you read them,” he said with difficulty, “your good opinion of your big brother will suffer.”

“Nah, never,” Aaron said. “I can promise that too.”

And now, in the car driving home with the three journals safely in the back seat, he wondered if he would read them before he set them on fire. The journals were twenty-five years old — ancient history — and he had promised that his good opinion of his brother would not be tarnished…

 

 

This is the end of Part Two, and the end of these posts for now. Thanks to all of you who read and commented. 

Eminent Domain: 17, The Meeting in Courtroom A

The Friday posts are chapters from my fiction project, Eminent Domain. They’re long, and they’re not for everyone, but if you read, I’d be glad for your comments, critical or otherwise. The early chapters can be found here or under the category Fiction Projects in the menu bar.

17 The Meeting in Courtroom A
Monday, Feb. 22, 1988

Alex was almost right when he suggested they would be sitting up front facing the crowd like a tribunal. Instead, the tables had been arranged in an L shape. The smaller table facing the crowd was for Ross, Jonathan Lee Esquire, and the Honorable Tom Del’Olio. The longer second table, perpendicular and a little offset, was for the four of them. Phyllis was seated over to the left with the court stenographer, who had been hired for the occasion as well.

They walked in together at 6:45 and took their seats up front. Tom Del’Olio didn’t stay seated for long; almost immediately he jumped back up and walked over to shake hands, or pound people’s backs, or schmooze. “That’s what the guy does best,” Henry said under his breath.

Of the five from the local office, Phyllis seemed the most at ease. She was smiling at people in the audience and waving at every new person who walked through the door. She knows almost everyone, Alex thought. He looked around. He knew Angie. There she was sitting near the back with Burton Stewart and a woman who must be Burton’s wife. She smiled and blew him a kiss. Bill Clancey and Pat, the photographer, and a couple of other people who must be reporters were standing in the back. And oh, good grief, there was Paulie Matson. He looked away quickly to Keith and whispered, “How many of these people do you know?”

“Eh, I don’t know… a few. Don’t worry about it, Boss,” Keith said. “Let’s hope Ross and his buddies do all the talking.”

“I’m counting on you to sound intelligent, Keith,” Alex whispered.

“We want your trust and we will work hard to be fair and unbiased,” Keith grinned. “Hey, we’ve got Dana, she’s pretty and smart and literate. It’s all cool.”

“Then why am I sweating?” Alex asked.

“Just remember your line,” Dana said with a straight face. He couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not.

The crowd was large but seemed subdued; Ross had been right about people behaving in a courtroom. Those in attendance cut a wide swath across socio-economic and political lines. There were long-haired thirty-somethings, corduroy-jacketed university professors, community leaders from various groups, a few men dressed in camouflage hats and hunting jackets, farmers, and just folks. At 6:55 there were very few spaces left — just one section near the front, that would probably be filled when those standing and talking to Del’Olio tried to find a seat. The courthouse bell began to ring the hour, Del’Olio made his way to the front, and Ross stood up to welcome everyone to the SR 592 Informational Meeting.

Ross was his charming self as he introduced everyone up front. He made sure that all in attendance knew that notes were being taken of every word said, and every word said would be carefully listened to and taken under consideration. And suddenly, he went into Bureaucrat Mode — the tempo of his speech slowed and took on a monotone quality. He droned on and on about how projects get put into the Twelve Year Plan and the Three Year Plan and the differences between the two plans.

“His plan is to put everyone to sleep,” Keith wrote on the tablet in front of him, and Alex had to bite the corners of his mouth to keep from laughing. Suddenly he felt like he was back in seventh grade, and he relaxed.

Ross speechified for at least ten more minutes. When he finally stopped, several hands went up. “Yes, we will take questions,” he said, “but first I’d like for you to hear Tom Del’Olio speak.”

The Honorable Thomas Del’Olio got up and smiled at the crowd. He paused, as if he were waiting for applause, and when none came, his smile disappeared and he began to speak. Every sentence in his speech starts with I, Alex thought. I did this, and I’m going to do that, and I want your trust and I will work hard to be fair and unbiased. Next to him Keith burst into a coughing fit and needed a glass of water to finally subdue himself. Alex was afraid to look at him.

Del’Olio spoke for five minutes until he got down to the important points of sponsoring the road plan so it could get on the Three Year Plan. Then he went back to the I sentences. I am on the House Transportation Committee; I have friends all over the state who will cosponsor this legislation; I believe we can get this road fixed very very soon… And then he launched into why the road should be straightened. He had statistics in his hand, and he read them all. When he finally thanked everyone for listening and sat down, it was 7:45.

Hands went up all over the room.

Ross looked around nervously and pointed to the most mild-mannered looking person he could find. Ben Strait stood up and poked Willis who was sitting in the row in front of him. “Willis, you stand up too — If you don’t mind sir, we’re going to talk together, since we have similar situations.” Willis stood up. He was a large man who towered over Ben; he was wearing coveralls with an embroidered logo that read Jobe’s Towing, Inc.

Ross smiled. “Two for one — go ahead gentlemen.”

Ben cleared his throat. His glasses had slipped down on his nose, and he looked much like the stereotypical absent-minded professor. “I think everyone here agrees that the curves on Rte. 592 are very dangerous. My wife and I served dinner to the trucker who was killed in the accident and urged him to wait out the storm.” His voice faltered. “These…. these weeks have been very emotional for us. But the point I’d like to make is that our store, and Willis’ gas station and towing service are both situated on two curves that are most certainly considered dangerous. What is going to happen to our livelihoods, our businesses, our houses, if these curves are straightened?”

A murmur of voices swept across the room. Ross stood up and waited for silence. He half-turned and motioned at the table next to him. “I understand everyone’s concern. These Transportation Engineers, at this table, are the ones who are responsible for designing this new road. They are local. You know them; they know you. We have not sourced this project out to an engineering company from Philadelphia, or New York, or Chicago. Because we want you to have trust in them — that they will do their absolute best —  for you who live, and drive, and have your livelihood on Rte. 592.”

Willis was still standing. He looked directly at Ross and said, “That was very eloquently spoken, sir. And yes, we appreciate the fact that these are local people, but you didn’t answer our question.”

Jonathan Lee, Esquire, stood up. He was a small, trim Asian man with dark horn-rimmed glasses and thick black hair. His voice was quiet and precise. “In cases where the state has interest in private property it may, with due process, pay a fair market value to the owners of the property. Although it may seem like a complicated process, it can actually be done quite quickly and fairly to all parties involved. Sometimes only a small amount of property is needed, sometimes a large section. Buildings and right of ways, of course, command more remuneration; however, engineers generally try to avoid capital improvements if at all possible. Each instance is dealt with individually and fairly as the case allows, so no blanket statement can be given.”

The murmuring was louder after Attorney Lee sat down. Ross stood up and many hands went up at the same time. Ross pointed, and a man in a hunting jacket stood up. “I’d like to know if the road will go through the state game lands. I hunt out there and so do lots of people. There’s trails and ponds and acreage out there that I don’t want to be lost because of a road.”

Ross looked at the table of engineers. “I’d like to introduce you to Alex Goddard, the Acting Chief Engineer of PennDOT District 13. Alex would you like to comment on that question?” Alex stood up, thankful that the first question was actually one he could speak about. “We are only in the preliminary stages, sir, but at this point, we have no plans to put the redesigned SR 592 through the Conquonessing Game Lands.”

“Where is the road going?” someone called out from the back.

“Don’t answer that, Alex,” Ross said. “We are going to have an orderly meeting with hands raised.”

Immediately many hands were raised. Ross pointed, and Ethan Price stood up. He grinned because he was fairly certain Ross had been pointing at his more respectable looking father who was sitting next to him. But Ethan had grabbed the chance. “I’d just like to ask where is the road going?”

The crowd laughed, and Alex smiled. “I’d answer that if I could, but like I said, we are still in the preliminary stages. I don’t want to say one thing and have it not happen and I don’t want to unnecessarily worry anyone. I do want to make sure that you all know this: everyone of us who is working on redesigning this road, understands that these are your homes, your businesses, your farms. We are going to try our best to do the least amount of damage to your property. We will personally come to talk to you and explain what we’d like to do. We will welcome your input and we will try our best to be just and equitable with everyone.”

There was no crowd murmuring when Alex sat down, just silence. He couldn’t tell if that was good or bad. He looked at Angie, and she gave him a thumbs up.

Ross pointed to another raised hand; Linda from The Chronicle was sitting in the crowd disguised as a regular person. “What is the tentative budget for this project?” she asked.

Dana pencilled on her tablet, “Good question. I’d like to know that too.”

Tom Del’Olio stood up. “The projected budget is 53 million dollars. Of course, that can be changed by the legislature when it comes before them, but at that time, we will know more about the actual costs. That figure does not include any bridges, should one need to be built or re-built. The governor is supporting this road re-redesign too, as a way of bringing more jobs into this area. He has committed to support it, on the condition that all companies and labor will be local.”

There were more hands. A man who had on a yellow Hattiesville Hornets t-shirt stood up. “Why wouldn’t a bridge be included? The bridge over Fox Creek at Four Corners definitely needs to be rebuilt. I would think that’s an obvious oversight.”

Keith raised his hand to get Ross’ attention. Ross was looking flummoxed, so Keith just stood up and said, “I think I can address that question. That bridge at Four Corners is already on the Three Year Plan and slated for rebuilding next year. That is the project I‘ve been working on; Ross, can you explain how the two might be combined?”

Ross nodded. “Thank you, Keith. That’s it exactly. If there are already projects on the books for the road in question, they will be consumed by the new project and that budget transmitted to the new.”

A few more questions were answered, but once people realized that nothing definite would be discussed, they began to think of the time, and what they had to do tomorrow morning. Some folks, probably from Hattiesville, got up to leave. Jack had been sitting next to Mary and John — Elizabeth had stayed at home with Rufus and the kids — so he got up from his seat and went to stand at the back. There were plenty of business cards in his pocket; he wasn’t going to advertise, but if anyone asked him for one, he had them ready.

 

 

Eminent Domain: 16, Jack and Alex

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.