( By Matt Shea )
Glenn Royals reached into his deep pockets and produced another sizable check. Pastor Mighten smiled in gratitude as the town's wealthiest man continued to support. His compassion seemed to be a curse as neighbors became dependent on him. Glenn was now expected to help those that asked. His image changed from being a charitable man, to a despised landlord.
The church services came to an end as everyone stood. Systematically; the pews closest to the altar emptied first. The patrons quietly left the wooden structure adorned with stained glass. Pastor Mighten was first to exit and would greet his parishioners in the main lobby. He always confronted Glenn Royals with an extended hand.
"We certainly appreciate what you do for us." said Pastor Mighten.
"It's my pleasure to serve the Lord," replied Glenn. The warm handshake escalated to a hug; with the two men revealing God's grace. There were more people to visit as Glenn left the church and crossed the street. He mingled with familiar faces he would see throughout the week. He continued to walk towards the town's lone gas station and entered. This was just one of his many businesses.
"Good morning, Mr. Royals," exclaimed the clerk.
"Mr. Royals is my father," said the proprietor. "My name is, Glenn." The warm man smiled at the teenager and asked, "How is your day, Teresa?"
The young woman blushed saying, "Fine, Glenn."
"How about enjoying this fine morning and take a few hours off with pay?" suggested Glenn. "I'll run the store for awhile. You can be back here by noon."
"Thank you, Mr. Royals; I mean, "Glenn"! The employee left.
The image of this humanitarian continued to decompose. Bill Fossell entered the establishment and was stunned to see Glenn Royals behind the counter. It was obvious that Bill avoided Glenn.
"I don't have the money yet," said Bill
"That's okay," said Glenn. "You can charge as much as you want."
Bill had pride and looked up at Glenn. "You must love the feeling of being such a powerful man. You actually run this town."
"I don't have any power. I have been blessed with the good fortune of being able to run my business," replied Glenn.
"You think God is the reason why you have so much?" retorted Bill. "The meek are the ones that will inherit."
Glenn didn't know what to say. He was being addressed by a neighbor that turned on him. He lent money to Bill and allowed him to charge anything in his store. He was also his landlord; and allowed months worth of rent to be excused. He never asked to be paid back. Glenn helped others and never use his success as leverage. He only had one dream; and that was to live in a small town where everyone cared for one another.
"Why don't you stay here with your kingdom!" exclaimed Bill. He left without getting any supplies. That bothered Glenn knowing that Bill was going through hard times. What made matters worse, he was now being denied helping someone.
The tempo changed within seconds as Phil Swanson entered the station. Phil was Glenn's closest friend in town. "Good morning, handsome!" greeted Phil.
"Good morning to you!" replied Glenn.
"That was quite a sermon Pastor gave today." said Phil.
"I loved it!" said Glenn.
The bantering volleyed back and forth for several minutes.
"Do you work all day?" asked Phil.
"I hope not," laughed Glenn. "My helper should be back before noon."
"We are having a barbeque this afternoon," said Phil. "Why don't you drop by?"
"Ya got a date!" said a smiling Glenn Royals. "Do I bring anything?"
"No, just yourself," replied Phil.
Glenn's spirits were raised by this visit. He looked forward to an afternoon in a friend's back yard.
Phil shook Glenn's hand and said, "I have to get a hair cut now; see you later." He left for the barber shop.
Teresa returned to her job. Glenn enjoyed a brief visit with the young woman and eventually left.
The quaint town was convenient for pedestrians, with everything being within walking distance. Glenn would leave his enterprise and walk by the barber shop that led home. He approached Sam's Barber Shop and saw the retirees that gathered there. Glenn would stick his head in the door.
"Hello everyone," said Glenn.
"Hi, Glenn," answered the group.
The visit proved joyous as everyone teased and laughed at one another. A peculiar event would then take place. Phil asked Glenn if he could borrow one hundred dollars. Glenn immediately opened his wallet without question. The room admired Phill's dignity and came to a silence. Glenn handed Phill a one hundred dollar bill.
"You can take your time paying it back," said Glenn.
Phil accepted the money saying, "Thanks, Glenn."
Glenn respected his friend by changing the subject. "Hey!" he said pointing at a retired police chief. "You have to be nice to me, I'm still on parole!" Laughter erupted as Glenn waved good bye and left.
The engagement at Phil's home would start in an hour. This gave Glenn ample time to go home and prepare for the afternoon. His travels would take him by his apartment complex.
He inspected the beauty of his freshly painted building. The lawn was well manicured with colorful flowers and bushes enhancing the courtyard. It was a wonderful place to live. The satisfaction of taking care of his tenants was interrupted. Someone was calling out his name.
"Mr. Royals!" called out Mrs. Woodrow. She was one of the oldest citizens in that town and seemed to be in a panic.
"What is it, Megan?" asked Glenn.
The elder had tears in her eyes as she addressed her landlord. "I hate to do this to you again, but I will be late for rent this month." She stared at Glenn for mercy.
The compassionate man smiled at Megan and said, "Is that all it is?" He then gave her a warm hug. "Everybody is late on occasion; don't worry about it."
The grateful woman looked at Glenn and said, "Thank you; you're such a good man!"
Glenn smiled and said, "Everything is all right, Megan. Now stop that crying!" Mrs. Woodrow broke into relief and chuckled. The entrepreneur continued to walk home in thought. Half of his tenants were delinquent on their rent; which could eventually effect his ability to pay the mortgage. His engagement with Phil would take his mind off of this anxiety.
Glenn arrived home pondering on the financial woes acquaintances gave him. The bachelor changed from his church cloths and left for the barbeque.
He could smell the charcoal burning as he approached the house. The open gate leading to the back yard was obviously a signal for Glenn. He walked on the staggered stepping stones that were placed on the lawn. He was seen by the Swanson family as he passed through the gate.
"There's the man of the hour!" exclaimed Phil as he walked up to Glenn. Phil's wife, Sandy and his sons, John and Mark greeted their guest. The two friends shook hands as Phil pointed at a cooler full of beverages. Glenn helped himself to a beer. He would be the only visitor.
Phil cheered his neighbor as they tapped their beers together. "How do you like your steak cooked?" asked the host.
"Medium rare," replied Glenn.
"I'll prepare the food," said the charming wife.
The men left the patio and walked up the elevated deck. It was now a tranquil moment as they gazed over the secluded back yard. It was surrounded by a rustic wooden fence. Antique wine barrels with rusted metal bands held gorgeous flowers. They were strategically placed throughout the yard. The traditional shed occupied a corner of the lot; matching the fence and barrels. Farming tools from last century were displayed on its exterior.
The centerpiece was a decayed tow truck of yesterday. It was enshrined on a mound that was accompanied with small maple trees and large rocks. Baskets with flowers hung from the obsolete vehicle as extra wine barrels displayed more plants. This was a masterpiece.
Glenn Royals savored the small paradise and remarked, "You have 'Heaven on Earth' right here."
Phil digested the compliment and said, "That's all we want".
The picnic table was set. Potato salad, steaming cobs of corn, fruit and the best barbequed steaks in town waited. "Time to eat," announced Sandy.
Everyone gathered at the table and sat down. Phil led grace thanking the Lord for the food, wonderful family and the gift of having Glenn Royals in their life. Glenn felt warm inside. Once finished Phil raised his hands and said, "Let the feast began!"
Glenn tasted his steak and said, "This is perfect." A conversation spawned ranging in topics. Humorous stories generated laughter; with everyone contributing. Finally, Glenn asked a question. "Phil, there's something I was always meaning to ask you," he said.
"What is it?" asked Phil.
I don't understand the jokes about you being a 'descendant', said Glenn.
Phill sat back in his chair trying to control his laughter. He was caught of guard with his mouth full of food. The family turned quiet as they stared at one another. The father recovered and said, "That all started with our last name." Glenn was intrigued.
Phil began to explain "The neighboring town has a main street named 'Swanson'; just like our name. They are the Rockefellers of this county. Many times we have been accused of being rich. There were those that either wanted to borrow money, or have us invest with them. Too often, a charity would solicit us. It eventually got ugly. We let everyone know that we're from this town; not that one. I still get teased about the name, with some still questioning. It's a curse to be rich in a small town."
That explanation hit home with Glenn. "He" was the Rockerfeller of that town. It wasn't easy.
The barbeque made Sunday afternoon complete. Homemade strawberry shortcake, coffee and a brilliant sunset finished the day. Glenn expressed his appreciation to the family and left for home.
He couldn't sleep that night. He kept thinking about what Phil said: It is a curse to be rich in a small town".
Monday was a few hours away. The business man would get up early and have breakfast at his diner. His morning routine consisted of walking through the community and randomly inspect his interests. The later half of the day would be focused on accounting and paying bills. If all went smooth, he would visit his tavern. Like a politician; Glenn would shake hands and buy a round of drinks The day turned out bad and was full of complications.
His diner was being sued by a local resident claiming food poisoning. What made matters worse, it was a long time customer that he often ate with; and sometimes bought meals for. "Why didn't he just call me and tell me of this problem?" Glenn asked himself. He took the legal documents and called the firm representing the petitioner.
His luck continued when he visited his gas station. Someone on the night shift embezzled money. This hurt Glenn. Whoever it was has received many bonuses and gift cards. They knew that their boss always had an 'open door' policy. This crime wasn't necessary. Glenn wouldn't file a police report. He would allow the employee time to confess. He was even willing to give that person a second chance.
Glenn was frustrated beyond hope. He felt a visit at his tavern would give him the comfort of friends. His intentions was to open up his wallet and buy a round for everyone; including lunch. Glenn would strike-out for a third time. He marched to his place of refuge and entered the front door. Before he approached the bar, he could hear his name mentioned. It was coming from a booth isolated in the corner.
"That Royals must like being a slave master!" said a drunken customer. Bill recognized the voice; it was Gary Lighten.
"He owns me too!" said another. It was the unmistakeable voice of Pat Wales; both were tenants and employees that owed him on both fronts.
"I have to see that man to earn a living, then I have to pay him to live!" said Gary.
"I remember when he was new in this town; everyone thought that he was such a humble guy," said Pat.
The drinking buddies were enjoying beer where sizable tabs were run up. Furthermore; they never thanked him for his generosity. Like most people in the community, Glenn never received a Christmas card from either one. The lone man certainly gave to his community, especially during the holidays.
He had at least one friend in town; Phil Swanson. He would drop by Phil's house that evening for emotional support. Glenn went home to recover; refusing to answer any phone calls. At nightfall he left his house to knock on his friend's door.
Glenn walked to Phil's porch and knocked on the door. It opened in seconds. Phil was pleasantly surprised to see Glenn and invited him inside.
"Glenn, it's good to see you," said Phil.
"Thanks," said Glenn. "Can we talk?"
Phil could see a worried look on Glenn's face. He motioned him to the back deck they were on the day before. "Would you like a beer?" the host asked?
"That sounds good," Glenn replied. Phil went to the kitchen and returned with two beers. They leaned on the wooden railings in silence as the sun set.
"What's troubling you?" asked Phil.
Glenn looked off into the horizon and sipped his beer. "It's something you said yesterday that I now understand. It is a curse being rich in a small town." He looked at his friend and continued, "I am not actually that rich; but everyone thinks I am. It really is a curse!"
He smiled at Glenn with understanding. He then remembered something. "Oh, I owe you some money, follow me."
Phil led Glenn down the stairs that touched the patio. He walked towards the old tow truck. Glenn raised en eyebrow with curiosity as he watched. Phil swing the crane; positioning it over a small boulder. He lowered the cable that rolled on rusted pulleys and made a loop like a hangman's noose. The cable was lowered and wrapped around the boulder.
He looked at Glenn and said, "Now here's the fun part; better cover year ears!" He leaned into the driver's compartment and started the motor. A loud, rattling-purr came from the Briggs and Stratton engine. Phil used the crane to flip over the large rock. He got on his hands and knees where the rock was resting. Phil began to dig with his fingers; exposing a chain. He fastened it to the cable and raised it with the boom. A metal box broke through the dirt. The container was removed from the hole it was buried in and placed on the ground next to it. He removed the chain and opened it.
Glenn looked over Phil's shoulder and giggled at the contents. It held bundles of neatly stacked hundred dollar bills. Phil removed a bill and handed it to Glenn. "I owe you an apology for using you at the barber shop the other day. I prefer a low profile."
Glenn could only grin with the cleverness his friend displayed. He asked, "Are you really a descendent?"
Phil stood at attention and said, "Fourth generation Swanson!"
Glenn pointed at him and said, "And nobody knows..." He then covered his stomach and fell down laughing.
"I have thought of doing that myself," said Glenn.
"You need to," replied his friend. "We were in your situation before we moved here. Neighbors started to hate us because they thought we should be giving more and more. Over here, everyone looks at us as struggling; just like everyone else. Nobody bothers us now."
Glenn looked at Phil and said, "I made a decision today; I am going to sell all of my businesses. If that doesn't work, I'll give them away."
Phil asked, "Do you know where you are going?"
"Yes," replied Glenn. "I am looking at property in the next town. It's several miles past the shopping center off Swanson Road. It's secluded acreage with a fish pond. It also has a boulder on the back lot..."
Glenn was revitalized as he tapped his beer with Phil's. "Bring your fishing poll when you visit," he said.