BAD NEWS FOR MIDDLETOWN
Phoebe moved up Bridge Avenue in her speed-limp. The quiet town drew all her attention. She saw a few strangers and some people she vaguely knew, but no one recognized her, and she felt like a ghost. It seemed as if a decade had gone by since she had lived there.
What’s this? she wondered in shock. It’s all Scutter’s store! It’s tripled in size!
Scutter’s new upscale gourmet food market had taken over Louie’s Pizzeria and the Old Professor’s Used Books. Large, fancy new windows and signs had been installed over a long area. Phoebe glanced in the windows, saw a crowd of faces in the checkout lines, and hurried on by. With her fists clenched in anxiety she skipped in her odd fashion across the street to the toy store, but looking up saw a padlock on the front gate. Across the small courtyard the front door had a ‘Closed’ sign.
Of course. Gilligan won’t open until church let’s out.
She started to head home and noticed Sammy through the glass door of his coffee shop. He was an old man with thin white hair who wore an old-style white apron. He had run his coffee shop since before Phoebe was born, and long before that. She knocked, and he opened the door with a big smile on his face.
“For you I’m always open,” he said, and served her a coffee with a wide smile. “So how are you?”
“Well, I injured my knee twice, and can’t play soccer anymore.” She felt a stab of sadness and regret. “I’m looking for something to do.” Her hopes were too fragile to discuss even with Sammy. What if Gilligan turned her down? People would just feel sorry for her.
“With your energy,” Sammy was saying. “You’ll be busy in a week.”
“Oh, I don’t know… It might take a while. But what’s with Scutter’s store? He just opened two years ago and suddenly his place looks like Disneyland. Is he rich or something?”
“Oh ho! Something called investors. One thing I’ll tell you confidentially, last year they tried to buy me out too! But I’ve decided to live another twenty years and stay open every single one of them, just to put a spike in their wheel.”
“I’m glad to hear that! But what’s he trying to do, take over the town? What’s up with that?”
“Well…” Sammy lowered his voice as if he were afraid of being overheard, even though the coffee shop was empty. “It’s not really Scutter who’s behind all this. Ever hear of the Geddon Insurance Group?”
“No… what’s that?”
“Bad news for Middletown, that’s what. They’re after every property they can find.”
Phoebe was silent, thinking about the toy store next door. Have investors come after that too? With a sad, crooked smile she sat sipping her coffee, feeling that maybe she was too late.
Sammy waited patiently. “Give it some time,” he finally said.
“I don’t have much choice.” She put a dollar on the counter. As she spun her stool to head for the door her glance fell on the wide shelves of plywood and chicken wire covering the back wall of the shop. “Now that’s new,” she said.
“That’s right. I’m selling a few local groceries now.” He emphasized the word local with a chuckle. “I get the satisfaction of taking some of Sutter’s business, making a little extra money, and helping out my friends at the same time.”
Phoebe walked up to the shelves. They were empty except for a few stray leaves of lettuce and arugula and a couple of snap peas. Tacked to one shelf was a poster board sign featuring a stenciled image of a tree with spreading roots and branches. Immediately below were the words,
BREADS AND MUFFINS
“Ah! My sister’s shelf!” she nodded with approval. Very nice! So… I get the feeling I shouldn’t ask about the vegetables.”
Sammy nodded. “I knew you’d understand. The less said the better.”
“Thanks. Well, I just want to say, we’re counting on those twenty years you promised.” As Phoebe headed for the door her mind was working fast. She turned at the last second and said, “One more question. What’s up at the church today? Dr. Bear said there would be controversy.”
Sammy opened his sleepy eyes wide. “I should be there myself! My conscience is bothering me, but it’s too painful to see Reverend Tuck trying to reason with people who won’t listen."
“This is all about climate change?”
Sammy gave her an odd look, as if trying to read her mind. “We need you in this town.” he said quietly. “There’s a lot going on. It may take you a while to see it, but believe me, you’ll have plenty to do.”