Several months ago, Jack Hope brought in a copy of a column I had written 27 years ago which he recalled had caused quite a stir at the time. I remember that, too. I would be afraid to write such a column today. Fortunately, I can just reprint this one from Sept. 28, 1989…
At the very real risk of endangering my own position – nay, my very life! – I am compelled, due to circumstances too devious and unbelievable to relate fully at this time, to reveal to you, my faithful readers, a once sacred mystery. What happens from this point, my friends, is entirely up to you.
Normally, I would never have believed the following account to be true, had I not witnessed it with my own eyes. And the fact that they have discovered that I now know this terrible secret has made it imperative that I commit to paper the following account for all to read, before it is everlastingly too late.
If the worst happens – if the members of this elite committee track me down and, and – I dare not speak it! – then you, my friends, will at least have some idea of what horrible fate awaited me, the price I paid for stumbling upon something which has been shrouded in secrecy for more than a century.
Important details must, because of the lack of time, be omitted, but let me begin. As you know, in this town we have a city council, we have a school board, a chamber of commerce, a hospital board, historical society, Rotary and Lions clubs and various other bodies of government or community oriented individuals who seem, on the surface, to be making decisions which affect Hillsboro.
But the time has come to reveal the truth. The fact is, and I confess this with trembling hand and palpitating heart, with an ear to the creaking boards in the hallway floor, the rain pounding against the glass, the shutters creaking in the wind, there is actually only one small all-powerful, omnipotent group of men and women which makes every decision and controls the fate of Hillsboro, as it has throughout the decades.
There! I have said it! Let them come and do their worst!
I will continue while I am able. Their private decisions and wishes are then sent secretly to the council and boards and community groups, who publicly carry them out and act as though their decisions are their own.
But I digress. Allow me to reveal the circumstances of the sorry evening when it was my ill fortune to first come across this collection of dictators, which calls itself the Betterment and Improvement Group for Studying Timetables Upgrading Future Functions (BIGSTUFF).
I was walking through town late one weekend night. Suddenly, in the uptown district, I saw a faint light emanating from a seldom-used basement room. Consumed by curiosity, I approached the window and peeked through a tiny opening between the dark curtains.
There, assembled around a large oak table, were the nine or ten top movers and shakers of Hillsboro. By pressing my ear against the window, I could hear bits and pieces of the conversation, which I reconstruct here to the best of my ability, indicating by this symbol ($$##&&**&) the things which, because of outside noise or my own pounding heart, I could not make out.
“…($$##&&**&) could win that election, if we don’t do something about it. And you know what that could mean.”
“Absolutely. We’ll stop that at any cost. I’ll handle it. Don’t worry.”
“What’s the progress on the Recreation Park?”
“Going along just as planned. The city council will hear three more proposals, and turn them all down. Then we’ll move our man, ($$##&&**&), in there. By that time, the public will insist on a plan being accepted, and we’ll be in the driver’s seat.”
“Good. Proceed as instructed. Now, is there an update report on the Scott House?”
“Yes. As we ordered, the school board postponed the matter until May. By then, our new board members will be in place.”
“Ah, the Scott House. It’s the only real amusement we have.”
“It’s really too bad we have to go to the trouble to put new members on the board.”
“I know. But when one or two begin to think for themselves, well, we have to do something.”
“Very well. Is there anything new on the cruising situation?”
“Nothing. The issue seems to have died down again. Cruising will last as long as we want it to. It serves as a great cover for these meetings. No one in their right mind comes to downtown Hillsboro on a weekend, and we can meet without fear of discovery. However, there was almost a problem a few weeks ago when that teenager fell out of the back of the pickup truck.”
“Well, we can’t control everything.”
“What did you say?”
“Uh, I said, we can’t control everything.”
“How long have you been part of this group, young man?”
“Um, about six months.”
“Hmmm. You have a lot to learn. Alright, let’s move on. What’s next on the agenda?”
“Hillsboro’s water and sewer rates. It’s time for another increase.”
“Do you think residents will put up with another rate hike this soon? After all, we just increased it three times in the last two years.”
“So what? As long as you don’t disrupt cruising or mess around with historic buildings, you can get away with anything in this town.”
“Very well. I propose a 25 percent increase in January. Proceeds to be used for our Hawaiian vacation in February. All in favor?”
“So be it. Motion passes. I’ll inform the city council of our decision. Anything else before we adjourn?”
“One thing. Isn’t it about time we let ($$##&&**&) retire? He has served us well in that office for a number of years.”
“Hmmm. You may be right. Let’s check the calendar. How does 1991 look?”
“No can do. That’s when we’re replacing most of the ($$##&&**&) board. We don’t want that much of a changeover at one time.”
“Okay. How ‘bout 1992?”
“No. That’s when we’re allowing a final decision on the Scott House.”
“Oh, right, I forgot. Well, he’ll just have to tough it out a while longer. Give him another week of vacation. Until next month then, meeting adjourned. Wait! Who’s there?!?”
Dear reader, let me confess that I gasped aloud as all heads turned toward the window at which I knelt, and I realized that I had been discovered!
I sprang to my feet and ran with all the speed I could muster down the dark sidewalk, but I heard someone call, “After him! It’s that cursed Abernathy! Don’t let him escape!”
Somehow – I know not how, for in my delirium I lost track of time and place – but somehow, I found myself safely home again, and I set out at once to transcribe on paper and for posterity the events I had just encountered.
Safe? But for how long? That, I do not know. But I cannot imagine that my existence will be a long nor a pleasant one from this point, and I can only pray that this account reaches you, our public, before the Powers That Be discover my intentions and snuff them out.
But even now, I hear their quiet tread upon the hallway floor! I hear their muffled voices as they prepare to burst into my room! Quickly, I hide these papers in the desk drawer, in hopes that someone will find them, someone with the courage to publish it – fantastic tale though it may be – so that the public’s outrage may lead to their abolishment, so that the fate of Hillsboro may be wrestled from their iron grasp!
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.