“Therefore, let it be resolved that the City of Cypress Knee welcomes one and all to celebrate the commemoration of our one hundred and sixty-seventh anniversary during Founder’s Day Weekend.”

Adelaide Spruce, chair of the city council, set the proclamation aside and then looked toward the other five present members of the board.

“Do I hear a motion to approve this proclamation?” she asked.

Doyle Konrad raised a hand and said, “So moved.”

“Second,” added Lee DeWitt.

“All in favor, signify by saying ‘aye,’” Adelaide said.

The board members all said “Aye.”

“All opposed?” No one spoke up. She concluded: “Hearing none, the motion passes and the proclamation is approved.” Forcing a smile, she said, “A shame Councilman Buckingham couldn’t be here. Bless his heart. We all hope he’ll get over this flu bug with a quickness.”

Larry Hamilton had seen Buckingham riding toward the outskirts of town in a city car with his not-so-secret girlfriend as he had been on his way back from Reed Odell’s farm. The councilman hadn’t looked sick at all, and Larry doubted that Eula Dean could take his temperature by sticking her tongue in his ear like that.

He could be wrong, though. He wasn’t a doctor. He was a journalist.

For more than a decade, he had worked as a reporter and, eventually, an assistant bureau chief for The Orlando Pulse.

During his career in The City Beautiful, he had covered murder trials, political scandals and major commercial and residential development projects.

He burned out over the internal politics at the chain-operated newspaper. A man he considered a mentor, Shaun Bradley, had dangled a promotion in front of him – a promotion that he had expected would go to a friend and colleague. In the end, Bradley had used Larry to pressure his friend into being a more compliant minion and gave him the promotion.

This left Larry feeling like he had betrayed his friend and like his mentor had betrayed him. With newspaper economics being what they were, he didn’t see any further advancement in his future. So he had written a letter to Shaun, complaining about the entire situation and threatening to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Shaun shared the letter with every higher-ranking editor who might have a hand in determining Larry’s destiny. If his options for advancement had been limited before, they were subterranean now.

That’s when Larry had punched his boss.

He went through several sessions of anger management. Ultimately, he reached the conclusion that he was unhappy in his job, his marriage and his surroundings.

So he left them all.

Now, he served as senior reporter and news editor for his hometown newspaper, The Cypress Knee Notice. More of a ham-and-egg job here.

Mostly, that meant spending a lot of time at city hall, in the police station, at fire scenes, and out at places like Odell’s farm to take photographs of giant orange gourds. He scribbled notes with a pen on a ruled pad at the folding card table set aside for media in front of the council dais. Three chairs at the table, but usually the press contingent in a busy city council meeting consisted of Larry and Elroy Gaddis, radio host for WCKN AM. But tonight’s agenda was fairly light, so Gaddis was at the station providing news breaks and gabber between Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks.

His smartphone buzzed. He had it on silent mode during these meetings. He pulled the device from his breast pocket. The phone identified PERSEPHONE as the caller.

He let it ring a second and third time as he rose from the table and stepped out into the hallway. Then he accepted the call. “This better be good,” he said. “I’m probably missing the vote on the Miller Street repaving project.”

“Sounds like a real barn-burner,” Persephone Collins replied. “Sorry to tear you away from that. What I’ve got for you probably doesn’t come close to measuring up.”

“Oh?”

“I’m on my way to Naughty Nico’s to pick up a body.”

Larry chuckled. “I always knew the clown-faced stripper gimmick would give some geezer a heart attack.”

“Nothing to do with the strippers. It’s another dangler. Famous one this time. Tag Kern.”

“Tag Kern, star of ‘Tankbusters’ and ‘Assignment: Dangerous?’ That Tag Kern?”

“That Tag Kern,” she said.

He glanced through the window of the door to the council chambers, saw Adelaide moving on to the next agenda item. “I can follow up on street paving tomorrow. Thanks for the tip.”