Iris had been working on the story almost exclusively since Jessie shared Vera’s version of the events which took place on Sunday morning at First Baptist Church. Unfortunately, facts were hard to come by.
The seasoned editor had confirmation Juliette went to the front of the church during the invitation hymn as the congregation sang, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” She also had confirmation that Stoughton firmly expressed her intention to sign up for the men’s event. Beyond that, things got a little foggy.
Unable to reach Juliette directly, Iris left several messages on her answering machine. Remember, this was before the days of smart phones and voicemail. Iris hoped Juliette was okay and that she would eventually check her messages.
Iris’s instincts told her Raymond Cooper would focus on Marvin’s encounter with the Devil in his weekly rag, The Valley Patriot. She was convinced the devilish encounter was constructed by Cooper himself, though he would never admit to it.
Immediately after leaving the Hoffbrau that morning, Long visited Brother Billy Joe Prather at First Baptist Church. When the receptionist told Iris Brother Prather would be busy for some time, Iris said she would be happy to wait, as if she didn’t have a full schedule. After a few minutes, Billy Joe made an appearance and invited Iris into his office.
Brother Billy Joe insisted he didn’t have any information for the newspaper. He explained to Iris that a deacons’ meeting is not a public event, and he wasn’t authorized to give out any information.
Iris asked how forcing Juliette Stoughton out of the sanctuary and into some back room could be considered an official deacons’ meeting, but Billy Joe held firm, eventually explaining that if she wanted information concerning the events of Sunday, she would need to speak with the chair of the board of deacons, Harley Puckett.
Harley was the younger brother of Farley Puckett, owner of Puckett’s True Value Hardware. Folks in The Valley liked to joke that if Wilma Puckett would have had another son, she would have named him “Barley.” Fortunately, her third child, born 10 years after Harley, was a girl, who was named “Carly,” after Wilma’s closest brother, Carl.
Iris left Billy Joe’s office and headed straight to Puckett’s Hardware, where Harley worked with his brother. As she entered the store, she was greeted by Harley.
“Good morning, Mrs. Long. How can I help you this fine morning? A lot of folks are buying grass seed today.”
“I don’t need any grass seed, thank you,” she began. “I was hoping I could speak with you about the deacons’ meeting at church Sunday morning.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Harley responded. “I don’t believe we held a deacons meeting on Sunday morning.”
Iris got straight to the point. “I was just at Brother Prather’s office to find out what happened after Juliette Stoughton was ushered out of the sanctuary yesterday. He said he was unable to tell me because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the deacons.”
“Oh, he did, did he? Are you sure that’s what he told you?”
“Yes, I’m quite sure,” answered Iris in a friendly but firm tone.
“The truth is,” Harley mumbled, “I’m not sure there was an official meeting. We just wanted to be sure we understood what the young woman was saying.”
“You’re talking about Juliette Stoughton. That’s the young woman?”
“Yes. That’s her name. She seemed like a sweet girl, but we were all confused.”
“Confused about what?” Iris queried.
“We were confused about why she would want to attend a turkey shoot. That’s all. I mean, have you seen her? I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know how to shoot a rifle.”
Iris was starting to sense she wasn’t going to get very far with Harley.
“You know,” Harley said, “You might want to talk to Marvin Walsh. I heard he saw the Devil outside the Lutheran Church on Sunday.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard,” Iris responded, hoping she would soon be able to track down Juliette.
Lennox Valley: The Book will be available June 1 from most booksellers. Visit www.LennoxValley.com to get more information. Writer Kevin Slimp is a Johnson City native known for his expertise in publishing technology. “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” is fictionally based on people he has met in years of travel. Contact him at [email protected].