Miss Thurman's Intervention

by Mickey Hunt

A horde of blatting, deafening Harley motorcycles rolled by Whatley’s Farm Supply, halting all conversation, all thought.
Barry Sullivan shook his lanky blonde hair and clucked the tip of his tongue. “Miss Thurman, I’m not working for you anymore on my day off,” he said to the woman beside him and closed the hatch of her Subaru.
“Here, take this.” Miss Thurman held out a folded $10 bill.
“Now, you know I’m not allowed tips.”
“You’re a young man and you need money for your future, for your braces when you get them. You should go to college.” She paused a moment and said, “I couldn’t possibly lift those chicken feed bags when I get home. My figure has turned into a dumpling.”
Barry pursed his lips over his jutting front teeth. “I’ve saved money for braces. This is a good job—Whatley’s pays for health insurance, too. Did you hear me? I won’t do your yard work unless we clean up your house. You have a problem.”
Miss T’s lower lip drooped like she might cry.
“You’re not getting younger, Miss Thurman, and you need your house in order. You want to have company, some visitors once in a while.”
“Are you going to load my Rose of Sharons?”
The plants in two-gallon liners waited on the wagon that Miss T. had dragged across the parking lot. Barry peered into the back seat of her car and saw stuff piled up to the windows. The front passenger side was the same. “No room. Like your house.”
Miss T. stood motionless, helpless. “It’s not bad. I get by.”
“No you don’t. There’s hardly room to walk.”
“Will you bring my flowers on Monday? And plant them for me?”
“You’re impossible. I will bring them over.”
“And carry the feed bags to my shed. I go to the church at 10:00 a.m. to work in the memorial garden, so come before, please.”
“You have a nice day, Miss Thurman. Think about what I said.”
Miss T. drove away, and Barry wheeled the wagon to his immaculately spotless pickup truck and loaded her plants. He returned the wagon to its home by the annuals.
Whatley’s Farm Supply was experiencing a rare moment when no customers demanded his services. Barry gazed around the inside of the store, a warehouse with metal siding and roof. When he had hired on in high school, the place was a mess. Tools were buried and tangled. New seed got sold, and old seed got older and weevil-ridden. Spilled fertilizer covered the floor. The store stank of noxious pesticide fumes. Rats pooped and chewed everywhere. Worst of all, the maggot-infested hams hanging on the wall.
Outdoors, Whatley’s had been a jumble of rotting fence posts, crumbling concrete statues, rusting farm implements, and ripped-open mulch bags. In time, Barry organized and cleaned it all and trapped the devilishly smart rats, even coming in on holidays and working without pay. He had built a special room for pesticides and installed ventilation.
He sighed in happiness at the present neatness and then noticed a scrap of string on the floor near the horse ration stacks.
“Barry!” It was old Mr. Whatley yelling from the cash register. “Barry, Ms. Ledford wants four pounds of hairy vetch seed!”
Whatley’s Supply closed on Sundays and reopened on Mondays, but Barry took off Mondays except in springtime. On his days off, he cut firewood, painted, and performed yard work. He also substituted on a newspaper route, which often got him up early to make the most of the day. Living by himself in a tidy, two-room apartment, he had expenses.
The following Monday, he stopped by Denny’s for breakfast and waited until Miss T. was sure to have left for her church, Fern Prairie Baptist.
He pulled into her driveway and sat awhile, until he noticed the full chicken feed bags lying on the ground in a heap.
Risky, he thought. Never have done this before.
He unloaded her plants, carried the dew-dampened feed bags to the shed, and walked up to the front porch. Miss T. kept a key tucked under a weedy flower planter, but Barry had never been in her house. Had looked in through the back door, but never had been inside, not even for the bathroom, because Miss T. didn’t let him. Barry was comfortable with the woods.
The front door barely budged—there was stuff piled up behind it. Barry had forgotten she always used the back door. He shoved hard, heard thumping, squeezed through, and gagged. The house reeked of cat pee. With supreme effort, he managed to hold down his Denny’s. On a narrow footpath, he crept through the rooms with an expression of disgust and horror stamped on his face. Wild-eyed cats scatted. Cats, but they didn’t suppress the mice, which had left calling cards everywhere. Heaps of junk covered the floor, coffee table, couches and chairs, beds.
Where did she sleep?
The dining room and kitchen tables were piled with elongated pyramids, as if Miss T. had been studying angles of repose—Barry fancied he might be an Agricultural Engineer someday. Partly empty food cans, crushed milk jugs, and unwashed dishes and pots had been tossed into mounds in the kitchen.
Where did she eat?
Barry gingerly opened the refrigerator and stepped back.
Smelled like sour, fermenting pig slop.
Barry smiled. Miss T’s would be a challenge to rival Whatley’s.
He took a last look around to fix the effect in his memory, but something caught his eye. Something unusual he had missed before, obscured by stacks of cardboard boxes. In a corner of the formal dining room sat a card table faced by a folding chair. Barry turned on the desk lamp. The tabletop was nearly clear, almost neat, with ballpoint pens and sheets of stamps.
Miss T. worked here!
Barry picked up a gaudy, printed sheet of paper from the table.
Miss T. entered sweepstakes!
This from Publishers Discount House “guaranteed” an Alaska cruise. She had filled in the information and stuck a stamp on the envelope. The top cardboard box in the nearest stack was full of promotionals from sweepstakes she had already entered. A hodgepodge of coupons and rebate literature was stuffed in another box. He plucked out a coupon. Expired three years ago.
“Hmm,” he hummed.
Outside again, he breathed deeply to purge his lungs. He skipped the lunch hour and mowed his lawns. Afterwards, he drove to the Fern Prairie Baptist, one of those churches that started small in the city and when it grew beyond its walls, added on, and when it grew exponentially, moved into the country for cheaper land. It was nearly 5 o’clock and surely Miss T. had long since departed.
At exactly five, a man with a rounded belly approached a car parked in a space designated for pastors.
Barry ambled over. “Excuse me, sir.”
The man glanced at his phone and said, “How can I help you?”
“Not me, but someone in your church. Miss T.—I mean, Miss Thurman.”
“Yeah, I know her. She does flowers for the altar once a month.”
“Not just the altar. She works in the memorial garden and takes care of your roses.”
“She does? I didn’t realize.”
“Miss Thurman has a problem. She… Her house is a mess. She’s got a hoarding, saving, possessive sickness. In her mind, you know. She can’t throw anything away. She likes to do crafty things, and she’s bought tools and supplies, but they’re disorganized, and she can’t find anything. So, she buys new ones and throws them down. Cluttered isn’t the word. She sees value to every bit of junk and every plant. Plants to her are orphans. She finds them where I work, the scraggly ones, and feels sorry for them, and so she buys them, but her yard has no plan. She has me stick them in randomly, if they get planted—the roots usually grow out of the pots first.”
“Sounds serious,” the man said and looked again at his phone.
“It’s worse. She never has anyone visit. She’s lonely.”
“She’s embarrassed to have anyone over.”
“Can you help her?” Barry said. “I mean, um, with counseling? Or, I’ve heard of… intervention? Where her friends gather and give her therapy sessions. You could pull a team together and clean out her house while she supervised.”
“In circumstances like this, the person should be absent. They couldn’t handle seeing other people make decisions about their possessions and property.”
“Makes sense,” Barry said, convinced.
“Listen, I’m only an associate, but I’ll ask Pastor Andy and see what he says. We have a staff meeting first thing tomorrow. I’ll bring it up.”
“What’s your name?”
“Barry Sullivan.”
The man shook Barry’s hand. “Good to meet you. Do you have a church home?”
“No, sir.”
“Come visit us on Sunday. We’d love to have you.”
In the evening Miss Thurman called. Barry let his message machine answer because he knew it might be her.
“Barry, please help me in my yard,” she said, dolefully. “I’m lost without you. No one else will work for me.”
Barry moaned.
On his lunch break the next day he called the church. A secretary answered.
Barry said, “I talked with one of your preachers yesterday. Didn’t get his name, but he was supposed to—”
“Probably Richard Thompson. He just left. Uh, he’s on vacation tomorrow and won’t be back for a couple weeks. Can someone else help you?”
“Well… anybody.”
Music came on of a sort Barry had never heard before. He listened to the bawled out, whiny words—like love poetry—but then he realized they were about Jesus. It was a radio station. Before the song ended, “Matt” the announcer came on the radio live, pushing authority into his voice like a talk show host as he discussed an upcoming concert, a fundraiser for the station.
A minute later, a deep, soothing voice cut in and said, “This is Pastor Andy.”
“I’m Barry and I talked with Minister Thompson yesterday. He said he’d mention Miss Thurman at your meeting. She needs help with cleaning her house, and she’s lonely and needs, just needs people to care for her. Did you all make a decision?”
“What was the name?”
“The name of the other person.”
“Miss Thurman.”
“Is she a member of our church?”
Barry’s whole body clenched. They had not discussed Miss Thurman, and this man did not know who she was. “Mr. Andy, Pastor Andrew, I’m sorry for wasting your time. You have a good day.”
“Well, come see us Sunday morning, young man. We’d be glad to have you.”
“Mr. Andrew,” Barry said with heat, “Miss Thurman grows your roses and maintains your memorial garden. She arranges your altar flowers.”
And then Barry hung up before the preacher could say anything to make him angrier.
That afternoon at Whatley’s, and while he cooked dinner and later washed and buffed the dishes, Barry stewed over the situation. During the night, he dreamed a monstrously messy cruise ship glided by, and on deck a crowd of strangers circled a frightened, weepy Miss Thurman. In the morning, the shifting, twisting possibilities settled into an idea.
After work he spent an hour at the public library’s computer. Next day, he got off early and drove to a print shop. Before long, he had his materials together and a short speech written.
But who would give it? Maybe Matt would.
He called the radio station. Matt came to the phone.
Barry said, “I’m Barry Sullivan, and I’d like to hire you as, as a voice talent.”
“Okay. What are you considering? A commercial? My rate is $300 a studio hour. That’s inexpensive in the business.”
“It’s um, a practical joke.”
“I want you to call a friend and tell her she’s won an Alaska cruise. Tell her the airplane tickets and cruise details will be sent in the mail, and she might, might have her picture taken.”
“What’s the purpose of the joke?”
“Promise not to tell anyone?”
“That depends,” Matt said.
“Well, I’m really giving her the cruise. I’ve saved up for braces, but this is more important. I don’t want her to know it’s from me. She’s an older lady who needs encouragement. I work at Whatley’s Supply and do her yard work.”
“Yard work? Barry, if you’re legitimate—and you sound like it to me—I’ll call her for you, for free. Send me the script—do you have one?”
“Yeah, and I’ll make a donation to your radio station.”
Miss Thurman believed she had won the Alaska sweepstakes, not at first because she thought it was a scam and the free trip was to Las Vegas; she believed it when Barry’s fake literature and the real airplane ticket to Vancouver arrived. She believed it even though no Prize Car appeared at her driveway and no one took publicity pictures, even though the cruise was for one person and not two, and even though she was able to join the cruise only three weeks after Matt’s phone call.
Barry hired his little brother, Earl, who lived in a foster home (it was midsummer when school was out); he rented a dumpster and took vacation days.
Barry and Earl started with a general trash pick up and cleared the furniture into the yard, covering it with tarps. Then they went room by room. They sorted by categories: obvious garbage, sellable items, items to keep, and items for Goodwill. Barry bought shelves and tubs and consolidated and organized her keepsakes and craft supplies. The boys mopped, scrubbed, dusted, deodorized, sanitized, swept, vacuumed, washed, wiped, shampooed, rinsed, dried, shook, folded, and aired; and they trapped the mice. Barry posted duplicate tools and appliances on Craigslist. They worked every day from early morning to late night. They fed the chickens and collected eggs, as Barry had already promised while she was gone.
He carted two sick cats to the vet and locked the others outdoors.
When at last they had perfectly polished the interior of the house, Barry and Earl tackled the yard, mowing, pruning, planting, weeding—work accumulated since Barry had gone “on strike.”
The rental company hauled away the dumpster, full.
When Miss Thurman arrived back home, refreshed and energized like a filly, she was tickled to see her trimmed and tidied yard, but when she entered the house she was amazed and scared, then devastated, humiliated, and then angry beyond saying.
The police arrested Barry for burglary.
He got out of jail later in the day with a pledge to appear in court. Miss Thurman didn’t think it important to prosecute Earl.
After all the help he gave her, Barry was upset with Miss Thurman, so he intended to plead Not Guilty. Their relationship was strained, but Miss Thurman still wanted him to do yard work, and since the house was clean, Barry agreed. So, when he arrived, Miss Thurman appeared to squash her simmering anger, but also not show how truly pleased she was about her house. And Barry didn’t openly gloat when she let him eat lunch at the kitchen table and use the indoor bathroom.
He looked around warily for signs of growing mess. So far, everything looked fine.
Late afternoon, a Buick pulled into the driveway, and from it climbed four women dressed for society, wearing hats and perfume.
“Is this the residence of Miss Thurman?” the first lady asked Barry.
“Yes, ma’am.”
She pointed her finger. “You’re the criminal. We read in the paper. Pastor asked us to pay a call.” She straightened her back and proceeded to the house.
“Haven’t been convicted yet, ma’am,” Barry said behind her.
The other ladies each shook Barry’s hand. The last one whispered near his ear, “Good work, Barry. We should have helped Miss Thurman a long time ago. Pastor Andy was embarrassed. Yard looks great, by the way.”
At 5:30 Barry knocked at the back door to be paid. Miss Thurman, flushed pink and at the tail of her laugh, greeted him. She scowled when she remembered she was the victim. “Come in,” she said, pretending resignation.
A tinkling from the parlor told that the women were collecting their tea cups and saucers.
Barry said, “Here’s the money my brother and I made selling your extra things.”
She shook her head furiously.
He stood mute while Miss Thurman wrote his paycheck. As usual, he peeked at the amount. He pursed his lips and took a deep breath. It was twice what she ordinarily paid! She tore the check from her book.
“Miss Thurman,” he said, beginning a protest.
She stopped him by waving the check in his face, the check snapping in the air. “Don’t think I’m letting you off the hook.” Softer she said, “You have a problem, Barry. You need help yourself.”
Barry didn’t know what he could safely say. “Thank you, Miss Thurman,” was safe enough.
No one explained why the trial date actually came speedily.
Itching from a self-inflicted buzz haircut, Barry showed up at the courthouse on the appointed Monday morning. He hadn’t hired a lawyer, and he didn’t want a public defender, so he had to sit all day and hear the other trials—and a sorry lot of business it was—while waiting for his name to be called. He should have brought the new Popular Mechanics his father sent by subscription.
About 4 o’clock, the courtroom emptied except for the bailiff who eyed Barry with suspicion. A man entered and whispered to the bailiff. The man—apparently the prosecutor—told Barry his trial was beginning.
Then Barry’s little brother, Earl, slipped into the seat beside him.
“What are you doing here?” Barry whispered.
Earl just frowned.
Barry pulled in a small breath and blew it out. He stood up and stretched. The courtroom was filling up again, or at least with twenty people, among them Miss T. He collected his materials and walked to the defense table.
“All rise,” a new bailiff shouted and introduced the new judge auctioneer style, as bailiffs do. The Honorable Herbert James Smith.
Miss Thurman testified first. With tears in her eyes and indignation in her voice, she said she had trusted Barry and he trespassed upon her person. That he had no right to organize her life, that if she wanted to live in a messy home, it wasn’t his business. Moreover, she said, the young man had discarded her valuable possessions, some of which held precious memories for her.
Barry was moved. He hadn’t really thought about this before. Well, he thought, but he hadn’t felt. Maybe Miss Thurman was right.
When the prosecutor had no more questions for her, Judge Smith asked if the defendant had any. Barry jumped up and cleared his throat. “Um. Miss Thurman, um. What do you allege that I threw away or sold, exactly?”
She glared. Then, self-conscious, she said, “I’m not so sure. I can’t think of anything now.” She laughed a little. “But you had no right.”
“I have an inventory, Your Honor, of everything except for the plain garbage.” Barry held out a sheaf of handwritten notes. “May I?” he asked.
Judge Smith gestured toward the witness box.
Miss Thurman took her glasses and silently read through the lists, her lips moving, hands shifting sheets of paper. “Anyway,” she said, “most of this, I’d say good riddance to, but… Oh, the bread maker. I’d like it back.”
“Did you ever use it?”
“Did you ever open the box?”
“When did you buy it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe 15 years ago.”
“Did I get a fair price?”
Miss Thurman glanced at the list again. “Yes, but that’s not the point.”
“Is there anything else you wanted to keep?”
She shuffled more pages and stopped. Her eyes misted over. With her voice higher in pitch and breathing in small gasps, she said, “It’s not on a list, but the silk Christmas wreath… My father gave it to me when I was a girl. It had artificial holly leaves and red beads. I know it was falling apart. It was rubbish, really, but it’s all I had from him. All I had.”
She pulled out a handkerchief.
Barry almost felt teary himself.
“I’m done,” Miss Thurman said, and the bailiff helped her from the witness box. As she passed Barry, she said, “You looked nicer with long hair.”
The next person to be called was a complete surprise. Mrs. Conley, the school psychologist, wearing a blue skirt with a grey striped blouse and dangly purple earrings.
At the prosecutor’s promptings, Mrs. Conley said, “Barry graduated from high school two years ago. He was a much better-than-average student—B’s and a few C’s, but with A’s in Math and Shop. Nevertheless, Barry had a problem. He bordered on clinical Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. It never manifested as disabling to him, but it drove people—his sibling, adults and other students, the people around him—crazy because he manipulated them into participating in his neatness. He wearied people with tediousness about arranging the world to suit his needs. It was a good quality gone awry. I encouraged his parent to find treatment for him, but the parent was intractable.”
“Parent?” the prosecutor said. “One parent?”
“His father. His mother died when he was young, and the father never re-married.”
“Mrs. Conley, you have a Master’s Degree in Psychology?”
“And a Doctorate in adolescent social disorders.”
“Then, Dr. Conley, in your professional opinion, what are contributing factors to Barry’s compulsive disorder?”
Barry jumped up. “Your Honor, this is personal!”
“I believe,” Judge Smith said, “the issue is relevant. Go ahead, Dr. Conley.”
“Barry’s father is a convicted abuser of illegal drugs, and Barry sought to control the emotional chaos around him by organizing his physical environment. It compensated for what he lacked in family stability.”
Barry trembled and his face twitched. He had heard people say this sort of thing about him before.
“One more question, if I may,” the prosecutor said. “Can people with Barry’s condition find help?”
“Yes.” Mrs. Conley smiled at Barry. “Once they recognize that they have a problem, the right kind of counseling, and friendship, will help them identify and manage their compulsive impulses when they arise.”
“Thank you.”
“Mr. Sullivan,” Judge Smith said, “do you have any questions for Dr. Conley?”
“Um. Mrs. Conley, did you know you have a lipstick smudge on your teeth?”
Earl in the back sniggered and choked it off.
With eyebrows raised, and mouth clamped shut, Mrs. Conley stared at Judge Smith who glanced away. He would not deny or confirm a smudge. Mrs. Conley stepped down and didn’t smile again until she had looked into the ladies room mirror.
To Barry’s astonishment, Earl took the stand next. Then two of Barry’s buddies, then his boss, Mr. Whatley. Even Amy from high school, who, with her sister, he used to take to antique auto shows and bull riding competitions back when he had more time. They all agreed Barry had a problem.
He didn’t have the heart to ask any questions.
As if Barry hadn’t already been beaten into the dirt, as if he had not been forced, more or less, to watch a YouTube video of himself obsessing over everyone’s litter, lint, and clutter, one more person emerged to testify, an emaciated prisoner sporting an orange jumpsuit and dragging a clinking iron chain between his ankles.
Barry set his jaw to prepare for further torment.
Once the bailiff swore in the prisoner, the prosecutor said, “You’re Barry Sullivan’s father, correct?”
“Yes, sir, he’s mine. He’d be a handsome boy, too, if he fixed his teeth.” Sullivan opened his mouth wide to show his gums, the upper teeth gone entirely. “That’s what meth will do,” he said, vaguely flipping one hand.
“Mr. Sullivan, to your knowledge, did your son ever steal anything?”
“He stole my cigarettes and drugs. But he threw them down the toilet, or in the furnace.”
“Did he break into your premises to burglarize?”
“Yeah, he discovered where I lived and stole stuff when I was asleep or high. He turned me in to the police, too.”
Sullivan had been glancing at Barry throughout, but now he focused on him. “Barry, I’m sorry for being a bad father. You’re a good boy with good intentions, but you stepped over the line at this lady’s house. I’m worried.”
Judge Smith had been saying, “Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Sullivan,” but Sullivan kept talking.
“Take care of yourself, son, and don’t fret over other people’s messes, people not family. You need help. Don’t be me, an addict in jail, old before my time.”
The prosecutor had no more questions for the witness, and Judge Smith asked Barry if he had any. He did.
“Hey, Dad, how’s it going?”
“Been clean a year, since I was arrested. In a decent recovery program, finally. When will you visit?”
“Soon. My next day off. Sorry I haven’t yet. When do you get out?”
“Six months.”
“Good to see you,” Barry said.
“Hey, buddy!” Sullivan called to Earl in the back.
Judge Smith gaveled this drama to a close, disappointing the spectators, all of whom had been afflicted with swelled throats and troublesome tears. A sheriff’s deputy escorted the prisoner out.
“Does the defendant wish to call any witnesses?” Judge Smith asked.
Under his breath, Barry said, “You’ve talked to everybody I know,” but out loud he said, “No, sir. I filmed the house before we cleaned, if you’d like to see it.”
The bailiff rolled the TV around so everyone could see. Judge Smith cringed when the disaster panned across the screen, but he kept his face impassive. From the courtroom arose grunts, gasps, and other vocalizations. No one had believed the house had been that bad.
After the video, Judge Smith said, “Then does the defendant wish to make a final statement?”
Barry stood up. “Um, Your Honor. About the burglary. Our work was worth more than the junk we threw away. And, I spent the money I’d saved up for my braces on her plane tickets and the cruise. It’s all gone, the braces money. We—my brother and I—we really helped her.”
From the back of the courtroom (next to Earl) Miss Thurman said, “You had no right.”
Judge Smith gently tapped his gavel.
“I know that now,” Barry said, turning around. “I do know.”
“Okay,” Judge Smith said. “Closing remarks from the prosecution?”
The prosecutor stood half-way up. “No, Your Honor. I think we heard a confession.”
“I agree. Then…” There was a long, long pause, while Judge Smith fiddled with his gavel. “Then, the court finds Mr. Barry Sullivan guilty of Burglary in the Second Degree.” He thumbed open a big book, read silently and said, “Class D Felony. Penalty is… 38 months in jail, suspended, provided that Mr. Sullivan give 80 hours of community service, that he receive court-approved counseling, and… that he buy back as much of Miss Thurman’s property as is possible from the proceeds from what he sold. The court so orders.”
Mondays, Barry began working off his community service at the Fern Prairie Baptist memorial garden with Miss Thurman as his supervisor. After he recovered what little he could of the “stolen property” from the Craigslist sales, he told Miss Thurman he’d bring her those items on his next day off. However, before the day, she called him at noon and insisted he come to her house right away after Whatley’s.
Right away.”
When he arrived, the road in front was packed with cars and the yard jammed with people. Barry thought maybe the house had burned down or Miss Thurman had a stroke, but there were no fire trucks or ambulances. The only similar vehicle was a van painted in outrageous glossy emerald, scarlet, and gold. The house had been painted too, by the Fern Prairie Baptist youth during his recent absence.
Barry tucked in his shirt and wandered through the throng. It was a party, with people rosy-cheeked and whooping. Neighbors, friends, church ladies, stray dogs, and total strangers. Local reporters with notebooks and cameras. A beaming film crew. Even Amy and her sister.
Was that really the Honorable Judge Herbert Smith leaning against the powder-blue Mustang? Did he just wink at Barry?
A man wearing a gray suit and a pretty woman in a stylish ruby dress held a giant poster resembling a paycheck.
Miss Thurman stood regally on her front porch, the center of the festivity. When she saw Barry inching up the sidewalk, she rushed down the stairs and gave him a bear hug.
“Barry,” she cried, “I won the Publishers Discount House Sweepstakes and the Alaska cruise. The Grand Prize! I really won it! Since I already had my cruise, I’m opting for cash and I’m paying for your braces, and I’m giving you a full scholarship to the state university to study Agricultural Engineering.”
Barry froze in place, blinking, his mouth open.
“Hey everyone,” she shouted breathlessly and waved, “here’s the young man!”
The crowd cheered and cameras snapped.
“Miss Thurman,” Barry said quietly, “thank you so much for your generous offer. I’m shocked and truly grateful, but I’m wondering about something. It’s been bothering me. The jobs I’d like to have someday in engineering… They won’t hire a person with a criminal record.”
The crowd moved in closer and hushed, so as to hear better.
“Stop obsessing,” Miss Thurman said. “I was going to tell you anyway, so it might as well be now. The trial wasn’t real, no more than your phony sweepstakes was. Some people in my church put it on, like a charade. We have a trustee who is a County Commissioner, and he reserved the courtroom, and there was a lawyer and a retired judge. It was a payback, Barry, and we got your attention.”
“Oh. What about the burglary charges?”
“I had them dropped.”
She climbed up the steps and held onto the porch banister. “Hey, everyone!” she shouted as she beckoned, “won’t you all come inside for refreshments?”
Barry stepped aside and watched the people herding into Miss Thurman’s neat and clean house; he grinned big and almost sobbed.


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