I thought I’d share another another chapter of Gladwynn Grant Gets Her Footing this week. This book is with my husband now for editing so there very well could be typos, etc. here. This is kind of “as is”, but changes will be made before I publish the book July 18.
That reminds me: If you want to preorder a copy of the book, you can do so on Amazon for 99 cents for a limited amount of time. You can only preorder an ebook copy of the book at this time.
If you want to catch up with the other chapters you can do so here:
The Birchwood municipal building reminded Gladwynn of an old warehouse. The outside walls and roof were metal. A pair of glass doors brought them into the inside of the building, which doubled as a community hall. The ceiling was tall with bright fluorescent lights hanging on large rectangular fixtures.
They had set rows of long tables and chairs up in the middle of the room and Gladwynn guessed the hall would sit at least 200. Right now, there were probably about 50 people sitting in chairs that had been set up in front of a long table at one end of the hall.
“We’ll sit here in the back,” Laurel whispered. “At most meetings, I’d say grab a seat up front, but for this meeting, Glenn always suggested sitting near the exit just in case. I took his advice and was glad I did that night the fists started flying. I hightailed it right out of here and followed up later with a call to the board president.”
A fist fight? Gladwynn’s muscles tightened. What in the world had she gotten herself into?
Glenn was the reporter who’d covered this beat for 25 years. He’d retired last year, which was why Gladwynn was even here.
Laurel placed a notepad and tape recorder on the table. She tapped the speaker of the recorder. “If you don’t have one of these yet, be sure to invest in one. It’s good to be able to play the meeting back later to back up your notes and make sure you get quotes correct. It’s also nice to have in case someone tells you that what you said they said, isn’t what they said. Understand what I’m saying?”
Gladwynn laughed. “Oddly, yes.”
Two men sat across from them, grinning like they’d just told each other a joke.
Gladwynn guessed the men to be in their late 50s, or early 60s. One was slightly balding, carried some extra weight in the belly and wore dark-rimmed glasses. He reminded Gladwynn of a giddy grade school kid the way he was beaming and practically bouncing in his chair.
He leaned across the table toward Laurel. “You’re in for a good one tonight, Laurel. We hear Daryl Stabler is all wound up about something.”
Laurel kept her gaze on her notebook. “Oh yeah? What has him riled up this time?”
The other man shrugged. “Who knows? He was ranting in the diner this morning about some threat he got. We figure it has something to do with the land the fire department wanted to buy last year.”
Laurel cut a glance at Gladwynn. “This is Frank Tyler and Rich Ryder. They’re residents and–“
“We’re more than that,” Frank broke in. “I’m on the local community watch and Rich is with the fire department and used to be a member of the board.”
Laurel managed a strained smile. “Yes, of course. They are more than residents. They’ve helped me when I’ve covered meetings out here, especially last month when some tension, shall we say, came up.”
Gladwynn tilted her head questioningly. “Tension?”
Rich scoffed and waved his hand. “Ah, it was just crazy old Lester Jenkins. He’s mental, everyone knows that. It was something about the township leaving snow on his property. He’s always mad about something.”
Frank turned his attention to Gladwynn. “Yeah, but it all got crazy after he did his yelling. He walked outside for ten minutes and came back again. Poor Laurel here thought he’d gone out for a gun.”
Laurel looked up at the ceiling. “That’s not really what—”
“Oh yeah, you did.” Rich agreed. “You thought he was going to shoot us all up. I saw you inching toward the exit.”
Rich leaned slightly across the table and reached down to touch his ankle. He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “You two don’t need to worry, though, okay? If he does it again, I’m ready.”
Gladwynn’s eyebrows dipped. “Ready for what?”
Rich’s voice was at a whisper now, his hand still down near his ankle. “To eliminate the threat. I’m carrying.”
His explanation didn’t clear up anything for Gladwynn. “Carrying what?”
“A gun!” Rich hissed in a loud whisper.
Gladwynn’s eyes widened, and she leaned back slightly.
Rich scoffed and waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry. It’s registered and conceal carry is legal here.” He tipped his chin up. “Where you from anyhow?”
Frank made a face. “Oh. Sorry to hear that.”
She suddenly felt defensive. “I’m not from the city. Just upstate.”
Rich scowled. “Ain’t much difference between the city and upstate anymore with those governors you people been electing.”
Gladwynn was grateful that the sound of a pounding gavel interrupted the conversation.
The room had filled up now, with almost every seat available being used. Gladwynn had no idea people actually showed up to municipal meetings anymore, let alone this many.
Voices merged together, creating a loud hum. The gavel pounded again.
“I’m calling the meeting to order,” the man with the gavel called loudly. A hush began to fall over the room.
Seven people were sitting at the front table. Gladwynn guessed that the one with the pen and paper, scribbling furiously, was the board secretary.
Laurel leaned close to her and lowered her voice. “They’re going to open the floor for a public comment section after the secretary reads the minutes. That’s when all the fur tends to fly.”
“Are all municipal meetings like this around here?”
Laurel shook her head with a smile. “Most are more boring than watching sap run.”
The public comment section didn’t show as much crazy as Gladwynn had expected it to. At first anyhow.
Most of the comments involved questions about trash in the township park, complaints about the snowplow hitting a mailbox, and questions about an upcoming winter festival.
But when a wild-eyed character with white hair that stuck up straight from his head stood with a piece of paper in his hand, Gladwynn braced herself.
The man took a step forward, pointing at the man who had identified himself as board president John Giordano earlier in the evening. “John, did you leave this letter in my mailbox?”
John made a face. “What are you talking about? What letter?”
The man persisted. “I got a threatening letter in my mailbox, and I know without a doubt it’s from you. I had every right to sell that land. You know that. It’s nobody’s business, especially not the townships.”
Laurel leaned toward Gladwynn. “That’s Daryl Stabler. He owns a huge plot of land over on 84. There are rumors some big development has bought it, but we haven’t been able to track down who yet[lh1] .”
Gladwynn nodded and turned her attention back to the front of the room.
John folded his arms across his chest, a deep frown curving his mouth downward. “I don’t care what you do with your land, you old fool. You stop taking your meds or something? Or maybe you need to start. Now, if you’re done, the public comment session is concluded. I motion we –
“I’m not done until you admit that you left this letter!”
John rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated huff. “What’s even in this letter?”
“You should know!”
“I don’t know because I didn’t leave it!”
“You threatened me, and I won’t stand for it!”
John suddenly stood and pointed a finger at Daryl. “I did not threaten you. You take that back right now! I didn’t write that letter and I did not threaten you.”
A man with salt and pepper hair raised a hand at the end of the long table where the board members were sitting. “Daryl, you’ll need to be careful here. You’re stepping into slanderous territory.”
Laurel whispered, “Township Solicitor Trent Styles.”
Daryl’s voice rose. “It is not slander when it’s true!”
Gladwynn glanced at the exit and started calculating how many steps it would take her to get there. She also wondered how many other people in the room had weapons strapped to their ankles.
Someone at the back of the room cleared his throat. Gladwynn turned to see a dark-haired man wearing a uniform, his arms folded across his broad chest.
It was a throat clearing apparently only she heard because everyone else was still shouting accusations back and forth. She kept her eyes on the man, wondering if he was a security guard. He sported a well-kept dark beard, but she could still see a muscle jumping in his jaw. From where she was sitting his eyes appeared to be green with a hint of gold.
His uniform didn’t look like a state police uniform, but she’d be very surprised if this small township had a police force.
The volume level rose. Curse words were uttered. Two men stood nose to nose.
“That land is mine to sell, not the townships! I don’t care if you wanted it for your fire company!”
“You promised it to our fire company!”
“That’s the way they work, Daryl. Watch them. Threatening. Manipulation. It’s how this township has always worked!”
The loud pounding of the gavel on the table didn’t even silence the room. In fact, it seemed like the people, many of them now standing and pointing fingers at the board members and each other, were trying to shout over it.
The booming voice behind Gladwynn made her jump. She and Laurel both turned to look at the uniformed man. The voices continued at the same volume.
It took another firm declaration from the man before the group began to settle down. His voice settled into a calmer tone as the conversation faded. “Let’s have some sort of semblance of decorum here, people.”
He never moved as he spoke, his arms still folded across his chest, his legs apart in a wide stance.
Even as the voices quieted, many continued to glower at each other, with a few casting annoyed glances back toward the source of their admonishment, as they sat.
John took a deep breath. “Vince is right. We all need to calm down and let cooler heads prevail.” He folded one hand over the other on the table in front of him. “One way to do that is close this public session for now and get to the other business of the evening.”
The other business was routine and mundane with far too much time spent, in Gladwynn’s opinion, on the cost of gravel for the township roads.
She looked at her notes and circled Daryl’s name, then scrawled the words property, fire company, and threatening letter. Next to each she added a question mark.
When the meeting concluded, Laurel stood. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to the board members.”
John held out a hand toward her after Laurel’s introductions. “Nice to meet you. Gwen was it?”
“Oh.” John, a pleasant looking man with a round face and gray hair, huffed out a soft chuckle. “I guess that’s one of those more modern names, huh?” He winked. “Sorry you had to experience that unpleasantness during the public comment session during your first visit with us.”
A woman to his right was busy packing up papers and folders. Without looking up she smirked. “If you’re going to be here every month, you might as well get used to it.”
John laughed nervously. “Don’t let Margaret here scare you off. It’s not always this bad.”
The board member who Laurel had introduced to her as Betty Wilson snorted as she stood and pulled a blue jacket on. “Yeah, but it will be if these nutcases have their way.”
John cleared his throat and stood. “Well, anyhow, it’s nice to meet you, Gladwynn. It’s especially nice to have a new face to look at. Seeing Glen’s grumpy mug every month was grating on my nerves.”
Gladwynn told everyone it was nice to meet them, noticing that everyone except John avoided eye contact as they pulled on their jackets and gathered papers before leaving quickly out the back door.
Back in the car, Laurel tipped her head back and laughed. “Those people are crazy! Seriously! First the guy with the gun, then the whole thing with the threats, and then John Cena telling everyone to shut their mouths. There has got to be something in the water out here, I swear. They’re all nuts. Glad I got out when I did.”
Gladwynn drank the last of her coffee. “That guy was better looking than John Cena.”
Laurel looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? You think so?”
Gladwynn cleared her throat, warmth spreading from her chest into her face. “Not that I was really looking. I mean, it’s just that I don’t think John Cena is that attractive so . . .”
She let her words trail away as she tried to think of a way to change the subject. “Do you know who he is?”
Laurel was clearly amused by this turn in the conversation. “So, this guy was not John Cena. He was way hotter. Is that what you’re saying?”
Gladwynn sighed. “That is not what I said, but, well, just about any man is hotter to me than John Cena. Anyhow, let’s just change the subject, shall we? What’s the deal with this property that Daryl guy was talking about?”
Laurel shrugged. “No idea. He’s always on about something at these meetings. I only filled in for Glen a couple of times and every time he was there to complain about something or other. These people always have some kind of crisis going on. It’s like they can’t survive in life without having something to be offended or up in arms about.”
Fog floated across the road and Laurel flicked on her high beams. “Tell me about this name of yours anyhow. Is it a family name? I’m guessing Scottish.”
Here we go again, she thought. Explaining my name.
“Yes, Scottish. Gladwynn was my great-great grandmother’s middle name. She and my great-grandfather came to the United States in 1835 from Scotland.” She managed a half smile, even though she hated telling the story again. “My parents really got into the Scottish names. My sisters are Iona and Sheena. My brother is Caelen and everyone calls him Salen because they have no idea it’s a hard c, not a soft one.”
Laurel glanced at her and laughed. “Seriously?”
“I wish I wasn’t.”
“Are you the youngest?”
“Of the girls, yes. Sheena is two years older than me. Iona is four years older, and Caelen is five years younger. He was a bit of a surprise.”
“Do your siblings live back where you are from?”
She shook her head. “Not anymore. Iona is in Florida raising three kids, Sheena moved to London last year to tour with the London Philharmonic, and Caelen is playing football for the University of Michigan.” She slumped in her seat and looked out the passenger window. “I’m the family oddball. I don’t have any kids, any talent – musical, athletics or otherwise – and I prefer being alone to being with people.” Chewing on her already short thumbnail she decided not to share about the many talents her parents also had – one of them consistently reminding her she wasn’t as talented as her siblings.
Laurel turned on the windshield wipers as rain began to fall. “Sounds like your siblings are just over achievers. Those type of people are usually super boring anyhow.”
Laurel wouldn’t call any of her siblings boring. Not in the least.
Back at the office she and Laurel worked on the story together, comparing notes, and choosing to focus less on the property and letter drama and more on the fact that the cost of cinders had doubled this year, which would put an already struggling township in even more debt.
She was barely able to keep her eyes open when she finally left the office around 10, which was probably why she almost tripped over a cat in the parking lot.
“Sheesh, little guy—or gal—I didn’t even see you down there.” She stopped and rubbed her hand across the top of the cat’s head. The cat raised its’ chin to move itself more firmly under her strokes then rubbed against her legs, weaving in and out.
She petted the cat for several minutes, then yawned. “Okay, buddy. I’ve got to get going. Head on home. I’m sure someone is missing you.”
Looking up as she closed the driver’s side door, she noticed the cat had perched itself on the concrete curb stop in front of her parking space and was watching her with half-opened eyes. It lifted a large white paw and licked it, then began to clean itself. All four of the five-toed paws were white and matched a white streak of fur across its belly, up its front, across one side of its nose.
The cat reminded her of one she’d had back in New York when she was about seven. She hoped this cat had a longer life than that one had. Worrying about the well lbeing of a cat was something she’d have to address later, though. For now, she needed a warm cup of tea and a pile of comfortable quilts to fall asleep under.