g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/
Along this stretch of Lincoln Highway once stood a town of about two hundred people. There was business on Main Street, two churches, one bar and as with small towns everywhere a whole lot of gossip. The town of Stanton had prospered for over a hundred years but with young people moving out the town died a slow death. All that remains is a plywood covered church that shadows a cemetery of people long gone. The only guy who remains lives on the outskirts of what was once the town, the last Mayor, Herbert Pechin III. Herbert is the last living member of his family and still calls himself the Mayor for he was the last elected and no election had been held since. Just outside of Stanton is the township of Magnolia, population one hundred and fifty. The only legitimate business there is Fat Boy Joe’s Diner along Lincoln Highway. Fat Boy couldn’t afford to have one of those pre-fab diners placed on his property so he built one out of wood and brick and covered it with shiny steel siding to make it look like one. The diner had been there since the early 1980s and Fat Boy was getting ready to close the joint up. He was a short man of about five foot two with stumpy legs and short arms but a very large chest and stomach. Fat Boy lost most of his business to the interstate highways and depended on the orchard growers and farmers that were left for his weekend business. Fat Boy would lament over the loss of the truckers and all that Sunday business before the church’s left town. The diner was only open nine to five on the weekdays and seven to three on the weekends. Ornery Oscar was the cook. Oscar was from Mexico and no one ever asked how he ended up this far north or how he ended up at Fat Boy’s. He lived in a small home located behind the diner with Fat Boy. They had lived that way for over fifteen years now. Three ladies staffed the joint. All of them single in an area where there weren’t many eligible men. Mabel ran the cash register and was getting a little long in the tooth as they say around here. Mindy and Shelia were the waitresses. Both never completed high school and were in the early twenties. The girls lived on their family farms where their parents kept asking when they would get married. It seemed like everyone left in Stanton and Magnolia just barely got by. What was left of property in Stanton was up for Sheriff’s sale by the county, not that anyone put a bid on it. The only tax paying citizen was The Right Honorable Herbert Pechin III.
It was a Sunday to remember at Fat Boy’s. The locals were in and Herbert Pechin III was providing everyone with his political views of the week. As there was no newspaper the only local news came from Herbert. Fat Boy enjoyed listening to him and would let him go on for over a half hour. What the good Mayor did not tell them was he had spent the last ten years buying up all the property for Sheriffs sale in Station. The Right Honorable Herbert Pechin III had a plan and in the coming months the folks at Fat Boy’s would learn more. Right after his address something happened that hadn’t happened in years. An outsider walked into the diner. He was a man in his forties, tall, salt and pepper hair, well dressed and it was noted he parked a BMW outside. Mindy and Shelia jointly waited on his table, served up a Fat Boy Breakfast Special and were twirling their hair and batting their eyes at the man.
The stranger was enjoying all the attention he was getting from Mindy and Shelia and sweet talked them as their flirting intensified. Soon he was joined by Herbert Pechin in his booth and the two men spoke quietly for over two hours while the others strained to hear. The stranger stood up.
“My name is Henry Boyle. I own the Eco Energy Company and I am pleased to say I will be a neighbor of yours in a short time. I have agreed to purchase the old church and restore the cemetery over in Stanton. I plan on living in the church while I develop our production site. Folks you are all sitting on a large amount of natural gas and I aim to get it all!”
Herbert and Henry sat in the booth signing papers until Fat Boy’s closed.
It was less than six weeks after Henry Boyle made his presence known that the folks at Fat Boy’s found out that Herbert sold what was the town of Stanton to Eco Energy to include his own house.
Herbert told the folks that his house would be the first office on the site and he was heading south to enjoy the rest of his life in the warmth of the sun. With that, no one ever saw or heard from The Right Honorable Herbert Pechin III again.
Things were changing at Fat Boy’s. The construction workers from the church and the Pechin house were coming in for breakfast and dinner. Eco Energy had set up mobile homes along the old grid of Main Street. What had been the forty street grid of Stanton was now fenced off and the folks watched as heavy equipment and drilling apparatus made their way up Lincoln Highway to the new Eco Energy Facility at Stanton. From what the folks saw it appeared that Henry Boyle was in the midst of building his own modern company town. Mindy from Fat Boy’s was now working as an assistant to Henry Boyle and her parents had sold the farm in Magnolia to a developer. The Stevens family had sold everything but one acre and their house. The township and the county all signed off on the development plans. There would be four hundred new houses, an apartment building, a small shopping center all on what was once the Stevens Farm. Fat Boy continued to get a lot of business from the workers and began to explore selling off the twenty acres he owned across from the diner. He spoke to the developer of the Stevens Farm and soon some men from the city came to visit him.
In less than a year the Pechin House Motel and Conference Center was built right there on Lincoln Highway along with a modern convenience store and gas station. In the woods behind the diner Fat Boy had two homes built, one for Ornery Oscar and one for Marge and Fat Boy. Seating became a problem at Fat Boy’s so he had an addition built on to seat fifty people. Fat Boy now had nine employees to work the diner and four in the kitchen, he even had Wi-Fi installed.
One Monday morning about twenty people showed up at the gates of Eco Energy. They were carrying signs protesting “fracking” at the site. Most of the locals figured they would leave after a short time, but they didn’t. Many wanted them to go away but not Fat Boy. There was no down side to having the drilling, even those who were opposing it were eating at the diner. News crews even showed up to cover the protesters and of course went to Fat Boy’s.
The sky was clear, sun strong and a gentle wind caressed Herb Pechin as he stood on the beach in front of his condominium in Clearwater. He spent most of his day walking the beach, reading and of course hanging out at the senior center where he was elected chairman of the advisory committee.
He loved the energy of the place with all the Brits and French coming here for vacation. There were
dozens of restaurants to choose from and Herb was happy about that. He often thought back to Stanton where he watched the town die and fade into memory. That evening he watched the national news and there was on story on about Eco Energy. The news showed Fat Boy’s and the development on the Stevens Farm, the new motel and conference center, the protesters. He watched as the reporter spoke of the water table and discharge from the drilling. He watched as photographs of the old town and its former Mayor flashed across the screen. The protesters said he was an opportunist who used his position to buy up old property and sold it for a profit to Eco Energy. The report ended with an interview of Fat Boy.
“This place was heading to a bad end. Stanton survived in the past because of the carpet mill but when it closed the town quivered and died quickly. The Right Honorable Herbert Pecchin III had other ideas and was a man of vision. There is life here again and hope for young people.”
The camera panned a large photograph of Herbert Pechin hanging in Fat Boy’s, then to the reporter.
“An opportunist or a man of vision? It depends on your point of view. There is life in this place again but at what cost?”