Recently I detailed how I came across a skeleton in the dank basement I worked in as part of my duties of publishing the town’s newspaper. Much was fact, but not all; the reader is left to tease out the truth from the fiction. I also related how there was a dearth of suspects in my murder mystery. Heading east on Main Street, the manager of the Legion was ruled out as being too honest. Passes were also given to the owner of the hardware store and her long-time clerk for being too guileless.
Working west, however, Bob of Bob’s Garage could be the culprit.
Bob was famous about Solon for several things. While working he often broke out in operatic song, and his Figaros could be heard from one end of Main Street to the other. He was also a good and generous cook. He’d often offer a pizza party for eight as a prize to be auctioned off at the annual Dollars for Scholars fundraiser. Bidding would go as high as a thousand dollars for the privilege of being fed and entertained at his table.
He also was the leader of a gang, the soda pop gang: retired or just tired old men who sat around in the shade drinking sodas while Bob held court between oil changes. With a mix of intelligence and mischievousness, plus a sprinkle of lunacy, there’s nothing Bob liked better than to stir up a lively conversation. On any given afternoon, the gang might be discussing global issues like nuclear proliferation or more mundane local topics like whose car had been seen in whose driveway.
He also grew marijuana.
On one afternoon the conversation turned to drugs. During the talk, Bob allowed that not only had he never smoked pot, but also he’d never even seen a plant. In attendance was Vince, a retired farmer that recalled the years during World War II when the U.S. government re-legalized hemp cultivation so American farmers could grow it for the war effort. The fibers of the plant were needed to make rope and other textiles in short supply. Among the 350,000 acres that were put into production were a few Vince farmed. Although the plant hadn’t been in cultivation for nearly 50 years volunteer plants still popped up in the fields and ditches of Vince’s land.
A couple days later Vince came across a few of the volunteer plants, yanked them out and threw them in the back of his pickup to take to Bob’s for a little show and tell. Needless to say the crew had a high old time jawing over what Vince brought them, but at day’s end the plants were tossed in a weedy spot in the front corner of the business and forgotten.
Forgotten until the next year, that is, when a healthy hemp plant sprouted where the old ones were dumped. Bob noticed the plant and saw nothing wrong with letting it grow. He even added some marigolds to keep the cannabis company. By midsummer, the plant was near five feet tall and leaned out over the sidewalk.
Then one day in late July, a car pulled up to the garage, and a man rolled down his window to ask directions. The soda poppers picked up immediately that the plates on the vehicle revealed it to be a government car from Illinois. While Bob was giving direction the wayfarer’s eyes focused on the bushy, waist high plant with the distinctive five fingered leaf fronds.
“Say, that’s a very unusual plant you have there,” the stranger said and asked, “What is it?”
“Oh, you mean my marigolds,” Bob said. “Aren’t they beauties?”
“No, I mean that one there,” the stranger said pointing. “That big bushy one there.”
“That’s a marigold, too,” Bob replied, not giving an inch to the city slicker. “It’s a hybrid,” he added, talking extra slowly, enunciating each syllable with extra stress for effect.
We’ll never know what exactly the stranger thought about Bob and his “marigolds” and we can only speculate why and how the hemp plant disappeared that very night. We do know, however, that the big story in Chicago that summer was about a DEA agent that disappeared on his way to a convention in Des Moines.
Or do we?