“WELCOME TO WHISPERS.” That is what the sign read as Larry drove into town. Coming from a big city, this quaint small town was just what he needed to escape from his high anxiety lifestyle.
The muffler on his 2002 Chevy Camaro SS rumbled as he coasted down Main Street with the top down on his cherry red convertible. The sunlight reflected off the high gloss paint job, catching the attention of onlookers.
Larry was not trying to attract attention, but he suddenly felt the star attraction of a sideshow. The residents acted like they had never seen a car like his before, which, judging by the dated vehicles that were parked along Main Street, could be true.
According to the sign, the population of the Town of Whispers, was 1,568. There were more people than that working in the office building where Larry was employed in the city. He spotted a diner and parked in front. Once again, he spotted the locals nudging one another and pointing as he walked inside and had a seat in a booth.
Moments later, a waitress walked up to him and asked, “What’ll it be, stranger?”
“What do you recommend?” Larry asked the waitress.
“Well, being this is your first time here, I suggest you try our Porky-Moo Sandwich. You get a slice of ham and a quarter pound of beef served on a kaiser bun with lettuce, marble cheese, pickles, and bacon. It’s our house special,” she said.
“Sounds great, just hold the pickles, please.”
“You got it, hon. Anything to drink?”
“Coffee please, black with two sugars.”
Larry leaned back against the worn vinyl seat and looked around the room. An old man sat at the counter sipping at his coffee as he picked away at a plate of scrambled eggs. Two middle-aged women sat at a table across from his. One of the women kept giving Larry looks of distrust. He listened as Hank Williams belted out his old country and western hit, “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” on the jukebox. Five minutes later, the waitress returned with his food.
“Anything else I can get you, darlin’?” the waitress asked.
“No, thanks. This looks delicious.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” the waitress began. “What brings you to these parts?”
“I just needed to get away for a while. This looked like the perfect spot.”
The waitress just nodded and walked away. Larry devoured his meal. It was more appetizing than what he expected. It took all he had to finish the last bite before the waitress returned with the check. The total for the meal was only $6.50. A meal like that in the city would have cost him closer to $18.00. He wiped his face and hands then headed back out to his car, leaving a $10.00 tip for his waitress.
A group of people had gathered on the sidewalk near his car, so Larry took the liberty of asking them if there were a hotel in town that might have a room to rent for a week or so. The adults turned away as if they were ignoring him purposely, but a boy around ten years of age, told Larry there was a motel up the road called Peyton’s Place. He thanked the boy and hopped back in his car. The boy stared with awe as Larry revved the engine until a woman, likely his mother, grabbed the boy by the arm and dragged him away.
Peyton’s Place was two minutes down the road. The vacancy sign was lit up in red neon lights at the entrance, so Larry pulled up the office. An elderly woman sat on a stool behind the counter, knitting what appeared to be a sweater as Larry walked in. She glanced up through her thick bifocal glasses and continued knitting.
“Excuse me, ma’am, I was wondering if I could get a room for the next week?” Larry asked.
The woman continued to knit without acknowledging Larry’s question. Again, he asked, and this time, she looked up and spoke.
“Sorry son,” the woman said as she adjusted her hearing aids. “Did you say something?”
“I was wondering if I could rent a room for the next week?”
“Do you smoke?”
“No ma’am, I quit.” Larry replied.
She looked him over with disapproval, then asked for his identification and a major credit card. After everything checked out, the woman handed him the key to room number seven.
The room wasn’t much to write home about, but it would do for the time he was staying there. The bed frame was old and beaten, yet the mattress was surprisingly comfortable. He turned on the television and laid back on the bed. When the tube on the old TV set warmed up, the picture was fuzzy. He searched for a remote control, but soon realized there was none, so he got up off the bed and walked over to the television. It was then that he realized there was no cable, only two rabbit ear antennas that stuck out the top of the set. He hadn’t used a set of rabbit ears since he was a young child. Slowly, Larry moved the antennas back and forth until he could get a clear enough picture. As soon as he backed away from the television, the picture started to fade again. Eventually, he gave up and turned it off.
After a short nap, Larry got out and decided to go for a walk through the town. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the temperature was perfect, so he left his car parked and headed back up Main Street.
The old architecture reminded him of the town of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show when he was a child. The barbershop had a red, white, and blue barber pole spinning just outside the door. An ice cream parlor was across the street, and three children stood with their noses pressed against the window, drooling at the multiple flavors that they had to choose from. A full-serve gas station was on the corner where the attendant checked the oil of each car and cleaned the windshield like back in the old days. He couldn’t imagine a thing like that happening in the city.
The local police department doubled as the general store. Larry could only assume there wasn’t a lot of crime in this town, at least not enough to keep a full-time police officer on duty. The smell of the local bakery grabbed hold of Larry’s nose and dragged him inside. A young woman with dark hair and emerald-green eyes welcomed him as he walked in.
“I heard there was a stranger in town,” the woman said. “How can I help you today?”
“What is that wonderful aroma?” Larry asked the clerk.
“You must mean my apple crisp. I just took it out of the oven a little while ago. Care to try a piece?”
Larry paid the girl for a square of the apple crisp and went to take a bite, but the girl stopped him.
“If I were you, I would blow on that a few times to cool it down before you take a bite. Otherwise, you will end up burning yourself. It is still warm from the oven.”
Larry did as she suggested, and after his first bite, he was hooked. The tantalising taste of the apples and cinnamon sent his tastebuds in a frenzy. He had to have more, so he asked the girl to box up six more pieces for him to take back to his hotel.
“Is it true that you were run out of your hometown, mister?” the woman asked.
“What?” Larry responded, taken aback by the question. “Where did you get an idea like that?”
“It’s just what I heard when Peggy from the diner came in to buy some pies this morning. Maybe she heard you wrong,” the girl said. “So why did you leave your town?”
“Like I told the waitress at the diner, I just needed to get away for a while. The city can be a bit too much at times,” Larry replied.
He thanked the girl and left the bakery, wandering further up the street until he came across a pharmacy. He decided to go in and see if they had anything for a headache.
As he wandered through the aisles, Larry could spot the pharmacist looking him up-and-down. A scowl hardened upon his face. Not being able to find what he was looking for; Larry went to ask the pharmacist.
“Excuse me sir, but do you know where I can find some something for my headache?”
Pausing before responding, the pharmacist said, “You probably have a headache from sitting in that noisy car of yours for too long. I could hear you coming from the other side of town earlier today. Anyways, you can find your headache medicine in aisle four, next to the Metamucil.”
“Thank you,” Larry said. “How much do I owe you?”
“That’ll be $4.15.” Larry handed the man a five-dollar bill. “By the way, I hear you got in trouble with the law back where you come from. I hope you don’t bring trouble to our town.”
“I can assure you,” Larry stated abruptly. “I am not running from the law. I just wanted to get away for a while from the stress of the city. Why is that so difficult for people to understand?”
The pharmacist grumbled under his breath as Larry walked out the door, not waiting for his change. This quiet town seemed to be livelier than he expected.
Still stirring from his conversation at the pharmacy, and needing to get rid of his headache, Larry went back to the motel where he saw a police car parked next to his car. As he approached, a stout man in his forties exited the vehicle, his hand rested upon the butt of his sidearm.
“You and I need to have a conversation, stranger,” the police chief stated as he walked toward the rear of his vehicle. “You people think you can come into my town and hide from the law, but the law still exists in this town, and I don’t plan on letting any sour apples like you spoil what we got going on here. You understand me, son?”
“Officer,” Larry began to say before he was cut off.
“You will address me as Chief, Police Chief, Willoughby, or simply, sir. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir, but I think there has been a misunderstanding.”
“You can explain that down at the station, son.”
“At the station? Am I being arrested? What are the charges?”
“Flight from a Peace Officer, to start with. I don’t know what they have you on yet, but I will find out soon enough. Then there is reckless driving. A lot of the folks have been complaining about you racing up and down the street in that death machine of yours. Then I heard you were recently asking about buying some drugs. We don’t go for that sort of thing in this town.”
“This is ridiculous!” Larry exclaimed. “None of that is true! Can I please go back to my room and lay down?”
“I got a nice cot you can lay on back at the station, now do you want to come peacefully, or do I need to use force?”
Not wanting things to escalade any further, Larry got into the back of the police car.
“Is that Betty’s apple crisp I smell?” the police chief asked when he got into the car.
“Yes, sir. Would you like one?”
“Are you trying to bribe me, boy? I guess I have another charge to add to your arrest record now.”
Larry just shook his head and chose not to say another word. They arrived at the police station / general store a few minutes later. Larry was escorted through the dry goods aisle and into the back room where a single jail cell was located. The chief relieved Larry of the box of apple crisp, stating that it was evidence, along with his bottle of pills. Larry cringed at the sound of the cell door clanging shut.
“Do I get my phone call?” Larry asked.
“I’ll give you your phone call after I help these customers in the store,” he said.
Fifteen minutes later, the chief passed the receiver of a rotary phone through the bars and asked Larry for the number. When the chief realized it was long distance, he put up a fuss before ringing the operator. Larry asked the operator to put him through to his lawyer’s number back in the city.
The lawyer was unable to make until the next morning, so Larry had to spend the night in jail. At 8:00 PM, the chief locked up the store and shut off the lights. He told Larry that he would be back in the morning, leaving him in darkness except for the moonlight shining through a small window.
The next day, Larry’s lawyer arrived. He apologized for not being there sooner, but he had trouble finding the police station. After hearing Larry’s side of the story, the lawyer asked to see the list of charges and asked to speak with any witnesses that the chief had.
The lawyer spent a good part of the day talking to the townspeople before returning to see Larry. He spoke with the chief for a few minutes, then the two of them walked over to the jail cell. The chief’s face was red as he turned the key and unlocked the cell.
“You’re free to go, mister. It appears that there was some miscommunication among the townsfolk. On behalf of the town of Whispers, I deeply apologize.”
He handed Larry the box of apple crisp, and Larry noticed immediately that it was lighter than the night before, but he said nothing. He found that the more he said in this town, the worse off he would be. Instead, his lawyer drove him back to the motel where he paid his bill, packed his car, and prepared to leave the town. Turning to his lawyer, he shook his hand and said,
“Thank you for coming out of your way to help me out of this. I came to this town thinking that I could escape the stress of the big city, but in fact, I think I need to get back to the hustle and bustle so I can get some rest!”