Deception By Proxy:  The Prologue

Rick Tallent
Copyright 2017-ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The warm spring weather was a welcome reprieve from the harsh winter that had kept people inside and threatened to never end.  One day the early-March winds were blowing snow and threatening to bury the North Georgia town with a deep layer of cold, white precipitation, yet the next day, all of that changed, and the skies were clear and blue with hardly a wisp of a cloud as a warm breeze gave a promise that winter was gone.   Doors and windows were propped open and people were escaping the confines of the indoors into the pleasant warmth of the spring.

Children were running and playing, filling the elementary school playground with laughter, cries of joy, and the creaks of the rusty joints on the playground equipment, while the teachers watched, sipping their coffees and talking among themselves.

The seventy-year-old man walked confidently and steadily down the sidewalk, his cane, more of a prop than a necessity, tapping out a tune except for the moments when he stopped to admire the children at play, his smile echoing his pleasure and approval.

People waved as he passed, many calling out greetings of a good day to him.  It pleased him to know that at his age, so many people recognized him and still respected and honored him, making him stand a little straighter and walk with a stronger gait.  Unhurried, he stopped to converse with a few of the other seniors who were sitting on their porches, raking their yards, or washing their cars.  He had an appointment to keep, but it could wait because he would rather visit with old friends and neighbors than be rushed.  For too many years, his life had been driven by the clock and the dispatches of a police radio, but in retirement, he was free to be unhurried, and those who sought his presence could be patient until he arrived, even his grandson who was supposed to meet him for lunch.

A few minutes later, he stepped though the doors of the recently remodeled diner across the street from the Carson County Courthouse and, working past the old friends and acquaintances, made his way to the booth that he had used so many times it should have his name emblazoned on it.

“Hi, Grandpa!” the tall, dark-haired, twenty-something called out as he stood and embraced him.  “Did Grandma not come with you?”

“Hi, Mike,” he greeted.  “No, she’s out shopping with her sister for baby clothes.  How was your drive down from Knoxville?”

“Oh, about the same as always;  I-75 is a mess and traffic through the 75-24 split in Chattanooga was about as bad as anything I have ever seen.  Reminded me of Houston. It was nice getting off the interstate and coming across the mountains, though.  I’m just glad they haven’t turned that road into a super-highway!”

“Well, I kind of doubt they ever will.  We don’t have enough happening on this side of the mountain to justify it, and I kind of like it that way,” he replied.  “What’s this that I’m hearing about your first novel being reviewed as a possible movie?”

“Oh, Grandpa!  I’m still shaking from the telephone call!  I never imagined my first book being accepted like it has.  I’m trying to stay calm, but I can’t wait to hear what they decide!”  Michael Claiborne exclaimed.  “Just to have something that I wrote be in the hands of a television production company is awesome, but, yes, they contacted my agent and said that they want to talk about using it as the basis for a made-for-television movie!”

“That’s wonderful!  I’m so proud of you!  Always knew when you were writing all of those stories as a child that you would someday be famous!  Maybe your grandmother and I will see you at the Emmy or Academy awards.”

“Grandpa, you and Grandma always believed in me, and that’s why I wanted to talk to you before I made any decisions,” he said.  “I’m going to move back home.  Rhonda and I are divorcing. It’s amiable, but she has decided that she wants to move back to Boston, that Knoxville is too small for her, and all of her family is encouraging her to do it.  When I told her that I did not want to live in Boston, she just shook her head and said that it didn’t matter because she wasn’t asking me to go with her anyway.”

Tears gathered in his eyes and threatened to roll down his cheeks.  Swallowing hard, he was able to fight back the emotions that were still raw and hurting.

“I’m so sorry, son,” his grandpa said quietly.  “Why don’t you come home and live with your grandma and me?  We have that big old house, and it’s quiet and peaceful here; and, you can write full-time.  Who knows, maybe this is the Lord answering our prayers.  You said that she thought your writing was a waste of time.”

“You think Grandma would mind?  I’m sure that Momma would have a cow over it,” he replied.

“Don’t worry about your mother;  she has too many skeletons in her closet to say much.  Anyway, she has a new boyfriend and is talking about them getting married and moving to Atlanta.  Your grandma and I would love to have you live with us for as long as you want.”

“Thank you, Grandpa,” he said quietly, holding back the emotions.  “You were right about Rhonda;  I’m just glad we didn’t have any children.”

“Well, who knows?  You might be so busy writing, and on book tours, and meeting with Hollywood executives that you won’t have time to think about anything else,” Grandpa reassured him.  “Besides, she doesn’t deserve you if she doesn’t believe in you.  Does she know about the book?”

“I doubt I’ll be THAT busy, but, no, I haven’t told her anything about the book or the movie company.  I’ve paid for everything out of the special checking account that I set up just for my writing so that she couldn’t complain about the costs.”

“Good.  We’ll just have to keep all of that quiet until the divorce is final.  If you need us to help you financially, you know that we will.”

“I’m okay financially.  I don’t spend much and most of the time I’m writing, so I don’t go out and party.  We met at the lawyer’s office this morning and signed the papers, and she’s leaving for Boston tomorrow.  And before you ask, yes, I used the same lawyer who helped me with my book and he made sure that Rhonda has no rights to any of my writings,” he explained.  Then he laughed, adding, “She actually snickered and said, ‘not that anything he writes would ever be worth anything!’ as she signed the papers.  My attorney just said, ‘well, it is standard in any divorce where artists are involved, and it does go both ways.  Michael signs away all rights to your music, too.’”

“So, she didn’t know about the movie company?”  Grandpa asked with a sly smile.

“No, and she didn’t think that I knew about her old boyfriend wanting her to join his band in Boston, so I guess we’re even.”

They laughed and talked for a few more minutes as they ate their sandwiches, most of it small talk about his plans to move home.  As they pushed away their plates, Grandpa sat up straight and looked at his grandson, his eyes twinkling as he smiled.

“You’re up to something, aren’t you?”  Michael asked, knowing his grandfather too well.  “What are you thinking?”

“Well, son, have you started your next novel yet?” he asked.

“No, not really;  I’ve been kind of distracted by all of this with Rhonda the last few weeks.  Why?”

Grandpa Mark drained his coffee cup and then leaned back in his seat, stretching his arms out on the back of the booth’s bench seat.

“Did you ever read the book or see the old movie ‘Peyton Place’?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye and a sly smile on his face.

“It’s one of the first novels I ever read!  Sure, Grandpa; why?”

“A few years ago, well, actually a few decades ago, I coined a phrase to describe how people in this county lived,” he said slowly and deliberately.  “I was on my way back to the office from dealing with a prominent family’s domestic problems and it came to me.  ‘Untrustworthy and dishonest  people
with the power to hide the truth,  and to keep lies alive.’”

“Really!  That’s one that I’ll have to remember,” Michael replied as he dug in his backpack for his ever-present notebook.  “What was that again?”

“Just write down these three words, Deception by Proxy.  Go look them up in the dictionary, and I would bet that with your creative and talented little mind, you will see it, too.  The short version is:  'People with the power to keep lies alive.’”

Michael scribbled it down, then sat and looked at his grandfather for a long time.  He could see the old man’s mind rehearsing all of the stories that he knew from his decades as a police officer and as the Chief of Police.  The more he looked at him, the more those three words churned repeatedly in his mind, and the definitions became clear.

“Deception,” he said aloud, “the root word is deceive, and it means to falsely mislead.  Proxy;  it means someone who had the power or authority, but they gave it to someone else to act on their behalf so that together, they have more power.”

The seasoned old retired Chief of Police smiled as he watched the waitress refill his coffee cup and walk away, and then his eyes returned to his grandson.

“Grandpa, I saw that!”  Michael chuckled accusingly.

“Not too old to enjoy looking,” he replied with a sly smile.  “Plus, your grandma isn’t here to keep my attention off the pretty young girls!”  He paused, and then added as he set his elbows on the table and cradled his coffee cup.  “But back to what we were saying.  Behind every person is a story that someone does not want told, but they don’t always have the power to stop it from becoming public knowledge, especially when a successful young novelist moves to town and begins researching for a new book.”

“And he just happens to have a grandfather who was the Chief of Police for decades in a small town?  Am I getting close?”  Michael responded, his smile becoming broader.

“Maybe so, but how about if he had access to journals and diaries?”

“OH MY GOD!  Don’t tell me!” he exclaimed, clamping his hands over his mouth to silence his outburst.  “You don’t!”

“I do,” he said confidently as he sipped his coffee, still cradling the cup in both hands.  “And I know of a few other people who have journals and diaries that would have no qualms about sharing their contents because they have nothing to hide.  A few more people would tell you everything that they know if they trusted the person.  Thus, the best person to reveal all of these secrets to is a novelist.”

“Grandpa, do you think----” he gasped, “---I mean, really?”

Mark Johnson smiled, knowing he had lit a fire in his grandson that would smolder and burn for a long time.

“Did you ever hear about the feud between the Robinsons, the Watsons,  and the Fletchers?”

He shook his head negatively, speechless at what the revelations could possibly mean.

“What about the lover scandals at the mental hospital?  Or, what about the murder of a young man and the raping of his wife? Or, maybe the arrest of a retired judge? How about how a young civilian saved the Chief of Police’s life?” he asked.  “You see, there are as many stories to be told here in Carson County as there are people who have lived here, and much of it has been kept quiet for any number of reasons.  Many of the stories resulted in people going to prison, some lost their fortunes, and some people died.  All that is needed is for a writer to open the Pandora’s Box of secrets and let them out for all to see.”

“And you have access to the keys to the Pandora’s Box, right, Grandpa?” he asked rhetorically, watching him carefully as he smiled and shook his head.  “When can I start reading and taking notes?”

“How about we spend some time with me telling you some of the background, and then I’ll introduce you to some people who can fill in all of the details?”  the retired police chief suggested, a sly smile lighting his face as he watched his grandson take the bait and allow himself to be drawn into the myriad of stories buried in the lives of the citizens of Carson City, Georgia.  “You do know that all of the names will have to be changed?”

“Sure, Grandpa;  just like on that old television show where the narrator says, ‘the names have been changed to protect the innocent’, except in this case, it might be to protect the writer from the guilty!”

“Yes, sir!”  he echoed.  “Some of these people would kill to keep their stories from being made public.”

“I’m ready, Grandpa,” Michael replied excitedly.  “Let’s relive the glory days of this county and turn it into a novel!”

Setting down his empty coffee cup, he looked at his grandson, the seriousness of what he was suggesting evident to his grandson.

“It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I was your age, Mike, but now I’m an old man.  I don’t want to go to my grave without telling these stories to someone who can keep the truth alive despite the lies and the deceptions.  Just bear with me and you’ll have enough material to write a whole series of novels!”

 + + + + + + + + + +
Over the next few weeks, Retired Chief of Police Mark Johnson spent hours with his grandson telling Michael every story he could remember and promising to introduce him to the people who could fill-in the details.  The box quickly filled with numbered and dated video tapes as Michael listened to his grandfather, occasionally asking questions as he scribbled notes.  By the time he finished telling the stories, Michael had filled several composition books with notes and had over fifty index cards with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of people who could validate the information and possibly add to it.

In the meantime, Michael’s first book was finding its way onto the “New York Times Bestseller’s List” just as a cable television network announced that it was being made into a movie.  The local media was having a field day with the news and keeping Michael’s name at the forefront of the feeding frenzy.  When asked what his next project was going to be, he smiled and told the news anchor that it was a secret, however, as soon as he had it finished and ready for the publisher, he would be glad to call the station.

As the stories began to take form, Michael fell under the spell of the peoples’ lives whose stories would be anonymously told in his series of novels entitled, “Deception By Proxy.”  One question remained in a dark corner of his mind and kept stepping into the light as he lay in his bed at night.  What would happen when the truth was revealed?

Deep in the pit of his stomach, Michael Claiborne knew the answer, however, he kept suppressing it. 

“Maybe enough time has passed that people will not remember,” he kept telling himself, all the time knowing that the only one he was deceiving was himself.