Authors: Richard J. Bennett
Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction, #Christian
The Lovely Chocolate Mob
Richard J. Bennett
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 Richard J. Bennett
I would like to thank the following for their contributions: First of all, to John Belken, Arkansas Parole Board member, who read the rough draft and made suggestions concerning the Law & Order aspect. Second, to Stephen Bennett (my brother), a civil engineer, who read portions of the book and made suggestions in that area. To J. Caleb Clark, who provided the beautiful artwork for the front and back covers, to David Couric, who proofread and edited the final product, to Hampton Keathley, who formatted the book for both the printed and electronic versions, and finally, to Walter Harvey, author of “III”, who showed me that writing could be fun, and didn’t have to be all research.
Cornelius Lovely had breathed his last. Surrounding him at the transition from this life to the next were his personal physician, Dr. Franklin Burke; his granddaughter, Susan Lovely; and his Minister, the Reverend Christopher Cone; plus his personal staff, which included his butler and chauffeur. Cornelius Lovely had made his peace with God many years earlier, but having a clergyman near in his final days brought him comfort. Most of his family were dead or scattered, except for his granddaughter, Susan, who was the likely candidate to inherit his earthly fortune. If she were the sole heir, she stood to inherit all the family estate, properties, and much of the Lovely chocolate industry.
Mr. Lovely had spent most of his final days at his mansion on the grounds of the chocolate factory, but on this last day, he was brought to the hospital for treatment after he’d fallen into a coma. His butler and chauffeur thought he might come around, given the chance to be near the most modern of medical equipment. He had rallied before, and lived a much longer life than most, but this time he didn’t make it.
Cornelius had been a hard-working businessman who knew and loved chocolate. Strangely enough, he had been rail thin all his life, and at six-foot four had towered above his co-workers, employees, secretaries, truck drivers, factory workers, and board of directors. They all owed him their occupation, as did many in the town of Lovely, in one fashion or another.
Being thin, he didn’t appear as though he enjoyed chocolate, but he did, testing his products as many as three times a day. Exercise and hard work kept the extra weight off. Plus, he just didn’t eat it at every opportunity; he had will power, more than the average citizen of Lovely. To him, chocolate was a means to support oneself and to build a business; to others, chocolate was life itself.
This would be the main feature on the local news channels and in the city papers: the founding father had died. The city of Lovely had lost its biggest employer, benefactor, guide, director, heart, and soul. The mayor would soon call a day of mourning. Churches and private school children would offer up prayers; civic meetings and public school children would observe a moment of silence, although there were those among them who would also pray for Cornelius Lovely. Lights would go out at the hospital in observation of the passing of the founding father, the man who donated land for the hospital as well as the elementary, junior and senior high schools. The Lovely Children’s Home he sponsored would close its administration office for a day.
The Lovely Chocolate Factory, however, would keep making chocolate around the clock, with no slowing of production, as per his instructions; he wanted it that way. In fact, “Chocolates around the Clock” was a slogan at the Lovely Chocolate Factory, and had been used in their advertising in years past. Digital clocks were not allowed on the factory grounds, in the administrative offices, and on the workroom floors; any use of a digital watch was frowned upon.
Mr. Lovely saw the creation of chocolate as a duty and a means of spreading happiness to his customers. When making a good product for the buyer, a need is met, and the world is made a better place.
Needless to say, the town of Lovely was thrown into darkness. Within an hour most of the population knew of the passing of Mr. Lovely, or “Old Man Lovely,” as he was called with great respect and admiration.
With his passing, his granddaughter, Susan, gave permission for his body to be moved to the funeral home and was helped through this process by the family physician, Franklin Burke. Afterward, he escorted Miss Lovely out of the hospital and to her car in the parking lot, since his duties were mostly over for the day, and also since it was night, and it wouldn’t do for a pretty woman to be by herself in a parking lot, even though it was well-lit and watched by security cameras.
My name is Randall Owen. I’m 50 years old and have never been one who you would call extremely happy. Happiness and excitement are what I would have welcomed in life, but somehow I’ve never been able to get or keep a grip on them. Contentment, as well, has eluded me; it’s always been around the bend, out of reach, and in the future. As a result, I’ve grown older feeling I’ve missed my “place,” my calling, and haven’t been able to carve out much of a niche in society. I suppose this isn’t really a tragedy, since this seems to be a common malady in our culture. And yet, since I expect others to rise above their culture, I’d also like to rise above mine.
No one has been helped by me except for my immediate family, which is good enough, I suppose, but it doesn’t live up to the glamorous expectations I had as a younger man. There’s not much of a life here, at least not like Ross Perot; now there’s a life! Rich, powerful, driven, he even made a run for president. He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to; I’ll bet he even pays someone to put his shoes on in the morning, and then pays them extra to tie his shoestrings.
Maybe I’m being too self-absorbed, but hey I’m 50 years old and looking at life from the perspective that it’s all downhill from here. Since the prospect of depression scares me, I decided to have myself assessed, and to seek out professional help.
Now I didn’t want for people to think that I was a “case,” or nutty, or even weak, but I had come to the conclusion that it’s not weak to say one needs help. This can be compared to the man who decides he’s been too proud to ask directions, and finally winds up at the gas station. If he’s going to get anywhere, he ought to ask somebody who knows the area, like his wife would want him to.
So this is what I did, I made an appointment with a local mental health counselor. I didn’t want to shell out the big bucks to pay for a full-fledged doctor or psychiatrist. I’m was paid well on the job, but not that well. Besides, I had other bills to pay, and this seemed to be an almost frivolous spending item, but again, now that I’m at the half-century mark, I could use a course correction.
After arriving at the medical center, a few blocks from the hospital in downtown Lovely, I spent time just looking at it from the front steps. This building was mostly doctor offices, separate from the patients and equipment at the hospital; the health professionals felt more in control here, more relaxed. I had an appointment in 15 minutes and was trying to talk myself out of it. It’s been embarrassing; it was embarrassing to make the appointment with the secretary, and that was over the telephone.
I did ask around beforehand, and heard about a friendly mental health counselor who had a good reputation among those who had sought out a life “course-correction.” The counselor was female, age 45, educated, pretty, and single, now. Her name was Karen Planter. Rumor said she married young, had kids early, but her husband turned out to be a boy who never grew up, drank excessively, didn’t amount to much, and liked girlfriends. They divorced after six years and three kids; Karen reverted to her maiden name, and Miss Planter had worked odd jobs and long hours to support her kids. She came to the conclusion that the only way she was going to further her situation in life would be through education. Her marital experience had matured her two decades in six years, so school came easier for her than before. She had managed to become a mental health counselor after a few years’ study, and word had it she was working on her doctorate in psychology. During the day she practiced in the medical center, the building I was then entering. I had learned much of this from church acquaintances, friends, relatives, and through the internet.
This internet was a great new invention; if you wanted to know something about somebody, you just typed their name and information poured out. I have wondered how much somebody knew about me by looking on the internet, but then, since I’m not a very exciting subject, nobody would really want to read much about me. I guess I slept easier knowing this.
In the elevator my stomach began to act up and get butterflies, but I couldn’t back out, not when I was already there. “I’m a man!” I thought. “There’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing! If counseling helps, then it’s not a waste of money.” I exited the elevator and walked down the hall to a glass office door marked “Mental Health Counseling,” and saw a young secretary typing at a desktop computer, with the nameplate “Phyllis Rozzell” sitting beside a bowl of candy. Candy was everywhere in this city.
I waved at the pretty girl, and pushed the door open. “Hello, Mr. Owen?” she asked. She was a charming little thing, and I felt silly, even with my butterflies turning. “Yes, ma’am, that’s me,” I replied. “I’m here for my one o’clock appointment.” She smiled and handed me a clipboard with a pen and some forms attached, something I was supposed to fill out before the “Doctor” saw me. I hoped this wouldn’t take too long. I realized I was holding in my stomach for her sake; what was wrong with me? She was just a little girl; why did I feel the need to impress her? To her, I probably looked like somebody’s confused grandfather.
I walked over to the couch and sat. There was only one couch in this waiting room, along with about ten metal chairs with cushions, a television (which was turned off at that moment, thank goodness), a few lamps, magazines, books, but no coffee table; I guess the room was full enough without a shin-banger. A bare-minimum waiting room, and I was the only person filling it. There were three other mental health counselor offices besides Miss Planter’s, or Ms. Planter’s, or whatever she preferred to be called. They must have still been out for lunch; maybe they staggered their lunches, so somebody would be there all the time during the workday. Not being a very big waiting room, perhaps this had been some other type of doctor’s office before. That’s O.K., seeing how Miss Planter really wasn’t a full-fledged doctor, at least not yet. A professional had to start somewhere.
I began filling out the questionnaire, much of it on my health, weight, height, mental state, and insurance. I tried to be objective here. I was fatter than I’d like to be, grayer, and slower than I used to be. The world used to be filled with old people, but was quickly filling with younger types, kids who couldn’t dress right, talk right, and act right. What was wrong with this country? But this little secretary, Phyllis, put them all to shame. She’ll be married in a year, if she’s not already. I hated being 50, but who was I kidding? She’s 30 years younger than me, and already out of my league, a classy little girl. With her good looks and health, she could be a model if she wanted, but she’s working now and in a health-related job so she must have brains as well.
The forms were boring. I was writing about myself, so maybe I had a boring life. I hoped the wait wouldn’t be too much longer.
After about 15 minutes, “Ms.” Planter came through her office door. I still debated whether she’d like “Ms”; “Mrs.” was out, and I didn’t know if she’d liked being a “Miss” or a “Ms.” since she’s not a “Dr.” yet. I supposed it was safer to be politically correct than to insult your shrink. And hey, she was really a pretty lady at 45! (prettier than her portrait on the internet). Nice clothes as well, and in a dress, not a pantsuit, she glided across the waiting room to greet me. I sat there, stunned, because I wasn’t used to pretty women looking in my direction, and there she was, in my personal space with her hand extended in greeting before I even thought of standing up. What was wrong with me? “Get up! Get up!” I said to myself.
I stood up slowly and took her hand. “Good to meet you, Ms. Planter. I’ve heard you’re a good listener.” She smiled and said, “Won’t you step into my office?” I nodded and started to follow her back into her working area, but handed Phyllis my forms before I forgot. Two pretty girls in one day; I hoped I didn’t say something too stupid. That usually tends to turn girls off, and I needed these girls to be “on.” But since I was paying them, they’d probably give me their attention, as long as the money lasted, anyhow.
I stepped into Miss Planter’s office, and found it to be a bare-bones set-up also. There was a desk, a chair, a couch (I suppose that’s standard mental furniture), a few pictures of family and children, two degrees, and professional licenses framed on the wall. There was also another door to the office, probably an escape for patients who would rather take the back exit than walk through the waiting area again. A box of tissues sat on the desk, but I didn’t plan on doing any crying here. I had an agenda.