Love and Suspicion
Love and Suspicion
E arl Woodbury had not spoken to anyone in nearly eighteen years, and there wasn't a soul in town who didn't understand why.
He lived in the mansion on the hill with a view of the town, the lake, and a vast patchwork of Iowa fields in various stages of spring planting. Even so, he was seldom home. Instead, he preferred to leave early in the morning, walk down the hill to town, and then walk back when the sun began to go down. The only exception to his self-imposed schedule was bad weather, but that was not a problem on this sunny day in mid-May. In his sixties, Earl liked to wear beat-up cowboy boots, faded blue jeans, and a yellowing cowboy hat, which made him stand out like a sore thumb in his small town. Nevertheless, everyone liked old Earl, even if they couldn't get a smile or a nod, let alone a word out of him.
Sometimes he took a stroll up and down Main Street, but more often than not he sat on a bench across the street from the town's city hall, watching the people or reading the daily newspaper. Occasionally a dog came to greet him, causing Earl to display one of his rare smiles. Other than that, he wore no discernable facial expression at all. At lunch time, he waited for the usual crowd to dissipate before he got up, walked across the street and picked up his fish sandwich, complete with a generous helping of tartar sauce. He never paid for it. Instead, the restaurant sent a bill to Earl's attorney each month, who in turn added a generous tip and sent a check.
Indeed, everyone knew why Earl didn't speak - that is, until the sheriff hired a new deputy.
F OUNDED IN THE MID -1800s, Blue Falls, Iowa was a peaceful place for the most part. Located in the lower half of the state, the climate was surprisingly mild with the lows in the 40s and the highs in the 80s, plus a brief period in the 100s. Farmers worked the cleared land and happily enjoyed the lakes, woods, rolling hills, and a few more inches of rainfall than Iowans were privileged to in the north.
The same as any other town that saw a boom of early settlers, older buildings with shared walls marked the center of town and lined both sides of Main Street. The Wells Fargo office and adjoining corrals that once sat at the end of Main Street, were converted to the town's only bank, which was eventually joined by City Hall, a drug store, and a fast food restaurant. City Hall also served as the courthouse, the jail, the police station, and the Sheriff's Office, with a large room on the third floor used for town hall meetings. Next door was a large clothing store followed by various small and large shops, and in between was a small park with a pleasant fountain in which children were allowed to play on particularly hot summer days.
On Earl's side of the street were still more assorted shops including an aging but well-kept hotel, a full service restaurant, and a beauty/barber shop. Owned by the luckiest man in town, the last building on Earl's side of Main Street was a garage that offered car repair, parts, and a towing service. In the opposite direction, and less than two miles out of town, was the Woodbury Ceramic Tile Company owned by Earl Woodbury and managed by his oldest son, Michael.
For years, the highway went right through town and netted the community a great deal of business. Unfortunately, when the state built a four-lane Interstate, it bypassed the town completely. The population dwindled from not quite 20,000 to less than 10,000 and eventually, Main Street turned into two lanes with right angle parking on both sides - that was before the mayor came up with a brilliant idea. He suggested they offer ten acres of county land at a discounted price to anyone willing to establish a business in the community. Furthermore, no city or county property taxes would be collected on the land for the first ten