The shouts of the protesters marching down Main Street almost drowned out the thumpity-thump of the wheels of Lilliana’s wagon as she pulled it over the uneven sidewalk. Pots of African violets she hoped to sell in the flower shop filled the wagon bed, making it heavy and unwieldy to maneuver. At least the air was cool and clean on this late October morning, the thermometer approaching the mid-seventies, unlike the life-draining hundred-degree temperatures of southern Arizona in the summer.
“One, two, three, four. We don’t need any more.”
Not terribly original, thought Lilliana, but at least it rhymed. Signs reading Stop the Ghost Town, We Don’t Need Tourists, and Keep Rainbow Ranch Quiet (that one ironic in light of the noise they were making) bobbed up and down in time to the chant.
She recognized the psychic twins, Marilyn and Susan, a.k.a. Glennis and Glynda, right in the thick of the protest, along with Pastor Douglas from the Presbyterian church. As she approached her destination, another voice added itself to the din.
“Get away from my store!” Geoff Cameron, co-owner of Cameron’s Flowers and Gifts along with his wife, Penny, stood in the doorway shaking his meaty fist in the air. His face was almost as red as his beard.
“We have just as much right to be here as you do,” one of the protesters, a woman, yelled back at him.
“You’re bad for business. I’m going to call the police.” Geoff turned and entered his store, slamming the door behind him.
Lilliana was a bit miffed that he hadn’t noticed her and closed the door in her face. That’s why she preferred dealing with Penny. Gruff at the best of times, Lilliana couldn’t imagine trying to do business with Geoff when he was angry.
Fortunately, when she opened the door, he was nowhere in sight.
“Let me help you,” Penny said as she hurried from behind the counter to hold the door open. Several inches shorter than Lilliana’s own five-ten, she was the antithesis of her husband. Kind and amiable, she was always a pleasure to deal with.
“Thank you.” Lilliana wrestled the wagon over the sill.
“What lovely plants!” Penny exclaimed, then as she lifted a couple out of the wagon, she added, “And such beautiful pots.”
Lilliana had been wondering what Penny would think since this time she hadn’t purchased the pots from the Camerons’ store. “I finally got to speak to Grace Dalton, the art teacher from the elementary school, about making some for me. She’s the one who gave the class at the retirement home a few months ago.”
“I remember.” Penny set the pots on the counter and reached into the wagon for two more. “As a matter of fact, she came into the store yesterday.” Penny pointed at a fixture on the counter draped in colorful material. It looked like a mug rack that had been repurposed. “She’s started making these wonderful silkscreen scarves. I told her I’d take them on consignment, just like I do your African violets.”
Several scarves hung from each arm of the rack, organized by color. Abstract patterns of pink or lavender or blue swirled against the white of the material.
Lilliana paused in her task to comment. “They are lovely. I’m sure they’ll sell well.” In fact, she just might buy one for herself. Later, when she determined if her sales would accommodate the extravagance. She resumed unloading the rest of the African violets. When she was done, she glanced around the store. “What happened to Geoff?”
“He went in the back to call Chief Cartwright.” Penny pressed her lips together for a moment. “I wish he wouldn’t make trouble.”
Lilliana could sympathize. Antagonizing the residents of Rainbow Ranch didn’t seem to be a good business tactic since they also provided the largest share of the store’s customers. Much as the Camerons had hoped relatives coming out from Tucson would stop to buy something for their elderly parents living in the Rainbow Ranch Retirement Home, the locals still provided most of the store’s business.
“That’ll show them.” Geoff emerged from the back of the store and stomped toward the front door. He slammed it again on his way out. His voice was clearly audible inside the shop as he yelled at the protesters again. “You’d better leave if you know what’s good for you.”
After she returned to her usual spot behind the counter, Penny pursed her lips again as she took a ledger from underneath. She consulted Lilliana’s ledger page, then filled out a receipt in silence, the ballpoint pen plowing furrows in the pad. When she finished, she hit the No Sale key on the register, and the drawer popped open. She carefully counted out the bills before handing them to Lilliana. “Here you go.”
Lilliana glanced toward the door. “Why is Geoff so angry? The Town Council approved the ghost town, which was what he wanted, wasn’t it?”
Most of the business owners had been in favor of developing the old mining town of Greenville as a tourist attraction. They all thought they’d make a lot of money from the additional traffic. The residents, as evidenced by the marchers outside, hadn’t been quite as enthusiastic. They wanted to keep their small town quiet and private. The retirement community had been a big enough change for most of them, increasing the population of Rainbow Ranch by almost twenty percent in one fell swoop.
Penny nodded, the blue-green stones that dangled from her earrings sparkling as they caught the light with the movement of her head. “Yes, but he’s afraid there will be some kind of proposition brought up to void the agreement. We’re not too sure how things work here yet.”
The Camerons had emigrated from Scotland not too long ago and were recent arrivals not only to Rainbow Ranch, but also to the United States. Even Lilliana wasn’t sure how things worked in Arizona. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she knew a town meeting could have outvoted the council in a heartbeat. But Arizona didn’t seem to have town meetings.
The town’s lone police car pulled up at the curb, and the Chief of Police got out. Chad Cartwright, a good-looking young man not quite thirty, could have played his role in a movie. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the years of experience he should have for the position. He scanned the line of marchers before heading for Geoff Cameron.
“About time you got here,” Geoff shouted. “I need you to get these people off my sidewalk.”
Marilyn Koster raised her voice to respond as she joined the two men. “It’s the town’s sidewalk.”
Harlan Taft, one of the more senior members of the Rainbow Ranch Retirement Community, came up behind her. Lilliana wondered what he was doing here—other than looking to make trouble, something he had a natural talent for.
“Mrs. Koster is right,” Cartwright said.
“They’re blocking my store,” Geoff countered. “That must be against some regulation.”
Cartwright lifted his cap and scratched his head. Harlan pulled out his cell phone and snapped a not-very-flattering picture of the chief. Ah! thought Lilliana. Mystery solved. Harlan was gathering material for his Facebook page, “What’s Up Rainbow Ranch.”
“We have a right to march,” Marilyn said.
It looked as if the chief needed some assistance. “Excuse me, Penny. I’ll be back in a minute to get my wagon.”
She pushed the door open and stepped outside. “Good morning, Marilyn, Chief.” She grimaced as she caught a glimpse of Harlan out of the corner of her eye maneuvering to include all of them in a picture.
“I’m a little busy right now, Mrs. Wentworth,” Cartwright said as he repositioned his cap. The scent of starch and laundry detergent from his crisp uniform shirt hung in the air.
“So I see,” Lilliana said. “I think Mr. Cameron has a point, though. It’s going to be difficult for me to maneuver my wagon through this crowd. I might bang into one of them or run over someone’s toes. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Grabbing onto this, Cartwright declared, “You are correct, Mrs. Wentworth. Blocking the sidewalk is a matter of public safety.” He faced the demonstrators. “As Chief of Police, I order you to stop protesting in front of Mr. Cameron’s store.”
“We have freedom of speech under the first amendment.” Harlan, white hair askew and the sleeves of his sport shirt flapping around his bony arms, pushed his way in front of Marilyn. “I demand you allow us to exercise our first amendment rights.”
Cartwright opened his mouth as if about to speak, then closed it.
Lilliana nudged him with her elbow. “Perhaps the protesters can move across the street.” She pointed to the other side of Main Street where only desert scrub bordered the sidewalk. “That way they can still be seen, but won’t be a potential safety hazard.”
Harlan didn’t look happy with that solution. His wrinkles grew deeper as his expression tightened. Marilyn tilted her head as she looked from Lilliana to the chief to Cameron to Harlan, then back to Lilliana. She raised a hand to her face and loosely curled her fingers in front of her mouth.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Cartwright said. “Any objections?”
“I suppose that would be okay,” Marilyn said.
The chief glared at Harlan, who reluctantly nodded. “Follow me.”
Cartwright led the way to the corner, the marchers following, then stepped out into Main Street with his hands raised to stop the non-existent traffic. Lilliana supposed a car might drive down the street while the demonstrators crossed it, but the odds of that happening at this time of day were slim.
Geoff Cameron watched them, assuming a pose that resembled nothing so much as standing guard in front of his fortress. Lilliana went back inside.
“I’m glad you were able to defuse that situation,” Penny said. She glanced furtively at her husband outside and lowered her voice. “Geoff has been so short-tempered lately. The least little thing sets him off. Sometimes I think he’s going crazy.”
“Being short-tempered doesn’t mean you’re insane,” Lilliana reassured her.
“No, but talking in your sleep might.” Penny wrinkled her brow and started twirling a strand of hair around her finger.
“What does he say?”
She took another glance at Geoff before she whispered, “He keeps talking about ‘finding the fairies.’ ”