Photo by Thomas Leemon via Unsplash. Women’s Fiction. Commercial Fiction.
I wonder, as I jog past the grimacing skeletons and fuzzy spiderwebs who made the effort to decorate Main Street in celebration of the seasons. I make a mental note to ask at the next town hall meeting. Last night’s had ended so abruptly I hadn’t had a chance to ask the short list of questions I’d accumulated over the past few weeks.
The town hall had begun pleasantly enough, with Frank Hansen presiding. He’d introduced me as a friend of Tomahawk Hill and as its newest resident. People had clapped politely, and some I’d already met called out “welcome” or given a “hey there, Jake!” But when it was time for me to introduce my plans for the property I’d purchased, not even Therese could have prepared me for the nature or intensity of the questions (some curious, many suspicious, but each-- tinged with emotion), and hurled at me with the accuracy and speed of a professionally pitched baseball.
When Frank stepped next to me to interrupt an especially hostile questioner, “that’s all the time we have tonight folks. Let’s get the cleaning guys in here so they can get home too,” I’d marveled at the convivial tones of his voice, feeling downright grateful to him.
It’s seven-thirty on a Wednesday morning, which means all of the activity in town buzzes around the northwest side where cars and buses burp out grade schoolers stumbling to class—relieved of their duty, they roll back the way they came; drive down Main Street toward the interstate, home, or to the diner which is by now serving a second round of breakfast customers.
I wave back to the few people lifting fingers over steering wheels, wondering if they’d been present at the meeting last night. If they weren’t, they'd have heard all about it by the end of the day. I grimace.
I glance at the marquee of the town movie theater as I run past, smiling for a moment as I see the announcement: Girl Crazy, Starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Olivia had said something about October belonging to Judy Garland. I’d met the owner, Bud Pederson, at the diner on my first trip to Tomahawk Hill over the summer and he’d been friendly to me then, telling me what I should order for lunch, inviting me to a movie-- on the house. But last night, as I’d stationed myself by the door to shake hands, he’d flatly ignored me, tight-lipped, his son Don on his heels as they walked past without even a nod.
Therese must have noticed the deflated look on my face. She’d placed her hand on my arm, muttered, “he just lost his wife last month. It was a long time coming, but that wouldn’t make it any easier.” I nodded, stunned. Watching Parker move through his loss has made me all too familiar with the signs that a person might be grieving.
Back at home last night, I hadn’t felt much better. It wasn’t until I was lying in bed, wide awake that I realized why I still felt stung. I cared about what the people of this community thought of me. Sure, I had shouldered responsibility for PR at Hurst with my pops but cutting ribbons and giving interviews had seldom felt personal.
Before Parker left for LA, we’d further discussed the possibility of starting the project by creating supporting businesses, rather than with the resort itself. He’d seen the photo albums Nathan Weiss had left Olivia, and I think this had been partly responsible for his epiphany. “If you build in town first? More restaurants, more housing, a bigger and better grocery? The money will flow into us, and into Tomahawk Hill even before you start building the resort. The people you hire to build the hotel? They’ll be able to live here. Dine, here.”He’d elbowed me. “It’d also give you more time to get used to the idea of partnering with Hurst on the resort rather than starting a relationship with someone you’ll only dump later.”
I’d shaken my head. Parker and Cesar couldn’t be more different when it came to personality and upbringing and world view, but two things they had in common. One was unwavering loyalty to me. The second was steadfast loyalty to the brand. Apparently, they couldn’t separate me from the other.
Last night, I’d shared what Parker and I had discussed by using the oldest sales strategy in the book. Get them to say ‘yes’ right off the bat. “Would you like to see money flow into our town in just one year, rather than three?”
I’d congratulated myself for phrasing it this way when I’d written my notes, our town— but saying it? I felt like a fraud. Therese had advised me to dress casually—and I had— but looking around, I knew my plain white t-shirt probably cost more than what they’d spent on their shoes. I couldn’t have been more of a foreign entity than a farmer wearing a Prada suit.
While I was answering the dizzying amount of questions (some practical— When would I start building? To others I hadn’t foreseen— why was I so interested in Tomahawk Hill? Couldn’t I build this out in California?And even personal— was I still single?), I’d seen bar owner, Marty Macken whisper to Therese. I’d finally met Marty over the weekend and I’d liked him immediately. His face was as worn as roughly sanded pine wood, his salt and pepper hair curled over his ears.
When I caught his eye during some of the back and forth, he’d winked; a thumbs up appearing above the pocket of his denim shirt. But afterwards, he’d gone straight for the door, given me pat on the shoulder as he walked out. “Let’s talk soon, son,” he’d said. But that had sounded more like an expression of regret than an invitation.
I need to stop worrying about people’s feelings and focus on what I came here to do. A glance at my watch tells me I have a phone call with a local contractor that Parker knew, in under an hour. I should run back to my house to shower and eat something before the phone ties me up for the rest of the day.
As I near the diner, a crowd is starting to form outside. Someone is tapping on the diner windows, gesturing for whoever is on the other side to come outside and look at this!
Curious, I slow my jog to a walk. I’ve never seen so many people standing or walking along Main Street at the same time. The first person I recognize in the group is Brenda, her apron wrapped as snuggly around her waist as the arms around her chest. As though she senses my gaze, she turns, her expression shifting from anger to...pity?
I smell the rotten eggs before I see them, splattered like someone’s rejected breakfast all over the glass front of the old hotel I now owned. And under the eggy mess; a white, spray-painted symbol, ugly in its sincerity.
In all capital letters is my name: HURST, with a giant X, marked through it. And then next to that is HURST = HEARSE. KILLING OUR TOWN.