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Sunday, July 22, 2012

             Although he hated to admit it, Fr. O'Kenney was relieved and grateful when Mrs. Peppers called for quiet, and began the meeting.  Watching her in action, he had to say that she made an excellent chairperson.  Although her ideas were obviously the most sensible, she let the committee make several suggestions of their own, but always managed to bring them around to her way of thinking.  When members wandered off topic, such as when a debate grew over whether friend chicken should be dredged in buttermilk or egg wash, she firmly reigned the chatty women back in, reminding them that the food was to be catered and that it's preparation mattered little to them.  She was definately a force to be reckoned with.

           When the last of the topics were voted upon, Fr. Kevin wondered why it was he was here.  For the most part, they asked for little of his opinion, and he spent most of the meeting smiling and nodding until his teeth hurt.  The payoff came when refreshments were served, and he gazed upon a table groaning under the weight of home baked treats, with all the members pushing their specialties on him. His stomach had settled down from last night's over indulgence, and he loaded his china with representatives from all five of his favorite food groups...lemon square, chocolate brownie, blueberry muffin, oatmeal cookie and banana pudding.  He noticed that Mrs. Peppers was eyeing his trip around the table, so he carefully added a tiny croissant with her world famous tuna salad to his collection, though he had no intention of eating it.  He hoped the little dog was a bigger fan of tuna than he was.

          The content commtitee members milled about the living room, happily munching away on the afternoon feast, and chatting over a bit of this and that.  He carefully avoided both Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Martin, not wanting anymore details on the private lives of Miss McKreedy or the Sheriff, a combination that for some reason bothered him now that he knew about the girl's untruthfulness.  He wandered over to a group gathered near the midget sofa, tisking and clucking over the fire at the restaurant, and listened in.

        "My husband said there wasn't a wall standing.  Everything was burned to a crisp.  He's the Fire Chief of the Dollyville Volunteer Fire Department, you know." explained a tall red head, popping a tiny cream puff into her mouth.

        "Of course we know, Sandy.  You never let us forget."  mumbled Bess Tiller, her grey hair permed into tight ringlets.

         "You don't have to be rude, Bess.  I was just making conversation.  Just for that, I won't tell you what else he told me.  Things nobody is supposed to know."  Sandy crossed her arms across her chest, a pout crossing her wrinkled face.

         "Don't be so pissy, Sandy.  You know I was just teasing.  Go on and tell us."

         Sniffing, Sandy continued her story, " appears the fire was no accident.  At least that's what my Henry says.  The whole place reeked of gasoline, and the fire raced through that building like there was no tomorrow.  The investigator says it was arson for sure."

         "How awful.  And I heard that the Rivera woman was inside at the time.  That makes it another murder...the second in two weeks.   Dollyville is going to hell in a handbag for sure.  It's a good thing we have this election for mayor...something here's got to change."  The woman turned and looked toward Tessa, who was busy campaining across the room, her booming voice carrying across the buzz of several conversations.

          Fr. Kevin stood silent, both shocked and uncomfortable.  Arson?  Murder?  It was hard to believe that two homicides in two weeks...from the same family... was a coincidence.  And why hadn't the Sheriff mentioned this arson information to him this morning?  There was something terrible going on, and Kevin felt frustrated at his inability to do anything about any of it, despite his best intentions.

          As people finished their treats, and began to say their goodbyes, Kevin looked for a way to gracefully make his exit, and avoid any further one on one time with the volitile Mrs. Peppers.  He inched his way to the door, nodding farewell to several of the women, when Mrs. Parker handed him a stack of plates, and asked his help in carrying them to the kitchen.  Not wanting to see impolite, the anxious Pastor found himself further from the front door than he would have liked.

        He located the kitchen off the hallway, and began to stack the dishes in the sink.  Mrs. Peppers' kitchen was like the rest of the house, stuck in circa 1965.  A pair of ceramic roosters eyeballed him from the shelf next to the sink, and the dinette set had to be all of fifty years old, though it appeared as new as the day it was bought.  Looking for some paper towels to wipe his hands, he noticed a pair of expensive, state of the art, binoculars hanging on a nail next to the east window.  He never figured Mrs. Peppers for a bird watcher, but one could never tell about the types of hobbies people chose.

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