Chapter Four

Iris and Lloyd

Iris took Lloyd Sutton’s creative writing class as an undergraduate English major.  She had read all of his books, and could hardly contain herself when he asked to see her after class. It was the end of the fall semester, and she had done well in the course.  Dr. Sutton had plans for a new historical fiction novel and needed an assistant. His wife had usually assisted with his writing, but since their nasty divorce, he had taken a break from writing and people altogether.  He had become impressed with the nineteen year old who sat at the front of his noon class.  She was always early, always present, and always attentive.  He offered her a job working as his assistant over the Christmas break, and she readily accepted until he explained she would live in his home for the duration of the break.  Iris was uncomfortable at the news, but when he explained that Ruth, his middle aged housekeeper also lived there, she reluctantly agreed.

What was intended to be a holiday job of three weeks turned out to last for ten years– the rest of Lloyd’s life.  Iris became Lloyd’s research assistant, traveling companion, friend, dog-walker, and anything the eccentric little man needed. He was like a father or uncle to her.  When he isolated himself to write, she was the only person he allowed to enter his solitary confinement.

Iris thought solitary confinement was harsh phrasing for a man who loved writing so much.  Lloyd, however, informed Iris that he hated writing as much as he loved it, that often words were both his ailment and his antidote.  Like the wheelchair in which he sat, Lloyd’s writing got him where he wanted to be, even in his crippled state.  His confinement helped him stay focused on the story and its characters.  Brimming with shelves and shelves of books, solitary confinement was Lloyd’s playground.   It was a room that looked like fall year round, with piles of books from the floor to the arm of his overstuffed leather chair, where he read his chosen classics like, The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, The Sun Also Rises, and Sherlock Holmes.  The pile near the burnt orange upholstered chair consisted of The Bluest Eye, Paradise Lost, and The Three Musketeers.  When he read, Lloyd was always in one of the chairs.  Often the piles of books would spill onto the floor when he was in a reading frenzy.  They obstructed Lloyd’s navigation; at these times Iris was allowed to come in and clear a path for Lloyd to move around and make his way, in his wheelchair, to the sleek Macbook Pro he liked to have positioned smack dab in the middle of the huge curved mahogany desk.  The desk was as intimidating as it was inviting, with its curves and bends.  Lloyd had it made special; now, Iris owned it–this gift from Lloyd that kept on giving even after he died.  She situated the desk across from the fireplace in grandma Maggs’, no her–Iris’ study–just the way Lloyd had arranged it in his own study.

Other times, Iris would enter Lloyd’s solitary confinement to bring him food, on a plain silver tray.  He didn’t ask for much:  a turkey sandwich, dry, with water; almond butter on toast; Sun Chips.  It was easy to see how others would think she was his glorified maid, or even an overpaid amanuensis; but Iris knew she was more than that to Lloyd.  She had been his confidant, his muse, and always his second set of eyes.  It was rumored that the unlikely pair—frail, temperamental writer confined to a wheelchair and a tall, curvy young student—were having an affair. Some even called Iris his “pet” or “Girl Friday.” Once, she had mentioned the gossip to Lloyd, and he smiled and said, “ Let them talk. They are simpletons who have never had anyone of any importance show any interest in them. Besides you do not work for free. You are invaluable to me, and I have compensated you well, but they need not know it. They are envious. That is all.”

Lloyd had compensated Iris well. The work she did on campus was paid for through the school.  For the work she did on the weekends and breaks, she was paid handsomely. After the two collaborated for a year, Lloyd began to pay her tuition and expenses. He called it a scholarship and never spoke of it again.

While Iris worked for Lloyd, he managed to write several books and sell the rights of three of them to movie producers.  Iris, Ruth, and Manny—the driver—were Lloyd’s family.  Upon his death, Lloyd left his vacation home in Big Sur, Shakespeare (his Scottish terrier),  and a sizeable nest egg to Ruth and Manny who had fallen in love during their employ. Lloyd had been an only child, his parents were deceased, and his failed marriage yielded no children.  He willed the rest of his estate to Iris.

The death of Lloyd Sutton—the famous mystery writer—made national news.  Ruth and Manny wed quietly and slipped off to start their lives together in Big Sur. Meanwhile, the tabloid reporters had a field day with Iris—calling her a gold digger, a child bride, and even a murder suspect.  She would have left San Francisco, but she had nowhere else to go.  She was just like Lloyd. That’s why Lloyd took care of her. He had been a “college orphan” as he had put it.  Iris’ parents had divorced when she was a baby. Her mother was dead, and her father had moved to Italy with a girlfriend. The only family Iris had was her father’s mother—Maggie Murphy– who lived in Sweet Fields, Georgia.

Iris located her grandmother and made a trip to Sweet Fields to visit her.  Iris returned to San Francisco to take care of some business transactions and had planned a longer stay with her grandmother, but Maggie died before Iris could return.  Maggie, having fallen in love with the granddaughter she hadn’t seen since the girl was five, changed her will to include Iris as the sole beneficiary—not St. Andrew as she had originally intended.

“So,” Iris sighed. “Here I am with no family, no friends, and more money and stuff than I know what to do with.”

“That explains why there are so many whispers about you.” Locke said gesturing to the server for another mimosa. “The pastor and the finance committee knew of Maggie’s initial will, so you can imagine their surprise when they learned of the new one leaving YOU everything.”

“I had no idea!” Iris gasped. “Should I give the church the money?”

“NO! Absolutely not! Not yet anyway. Just calm down and sit tight. You can help St. Andrew alright, but the timing has to be perfect. We have a number of things to do, you and I.” Locke said in a loud whispered. “The first of which is getting rid of that Jackie Black.”

“Get rid of? What do you mean?” Iris asked eyeing the plate of croissants the server had placed in the center of the table.

“There’s something about that woman that disturbs me.  She has the demeanor of some of the headhunters I’ve encountered on my travels.  She’s on a mission.”  Locke shivered, “She’s hunting for heads, and she has one candidate in her sights.”

“You mean a fortune hunter?”

“I know what I said. She’s a headhunter. She’s looking for a husband. Not just any man will do. She’s looking for a pastor, and right now, our own reverend is in her crosshairs.” Iris opened her mouth and stared at Locke. “And don’t ask me how I know. I just do. Pay special attention to her.”

The pair left the café and rode in silence for a while through Sweet Fields.

“Why didn’t you eat a croissant? You wanted to.” Locke asked without looking at Iris.

“I try to limit my bread. I tend to have high glucose levels, and eating bread elevates it.”

“Ah. I see. I would say you need some meat on your bones,” Locke paused, “but I don’t eat much meat myself.  Anyway you have plenty of meat on your bones. Deacon Hughes noticed it. Especially the meat on your backside.”

“Who? Noticed what?” Iris asked shocked.

“Deacon Hughes. He’s the tallest man on the deacon’s board.  He’s tall just like his daddy. His father, Big Hughes, was a good-looking tom cat in his day, but he married Edie who’s almost as tall as him. William is their son; he is good looking like his father and clumsy like his mother.  When you were at the front of the church, he couldn’t take his eyes off you. He studied you from head to toe. He’ll come ‘round to your house this week, I suspect. Let me know when he does and what excuse he gives to call on you. You have to be careful of those long-legged Hughes men.”

Iris said nothing.  She had noticed the man Belle was talking about. She had made a mental note of how handsome he was, but she had missed the man’s inspection of her.  She hoped Locke was wrong about him coming to visit. She wasn’t ready for romance.  When Locke slowed to a stop in front of Maggie Murphy’s former legendary Bed & Breakfast, Iris released her seat belt and reached for the door handle.

“Iris, we need to go to bible study on Wednesday night early. I need you to help me get rid of this Jackie Black creature. Now, will you be able to focus or are you already over the moon about William Hughes?”

“I’m not interested in William Hughes.” Iris snapped.

“Good. But he’s going to come sniffing around, as he is surely interested in you…or your money. Call me with any new developments. Especially if members of St. Andrew pay you a visit. Right now, you’re a pretty pink piggy bank; the wrong people will be coming to smash you to bits and take what’s inside. The genuine people, though, won’t utter a word—because they won’t know you from the girl at the Piggly Wiggly.

“Thanks, Locke. For everything.”

“No, Iris. Thank you. Tetta!”

Later that day, Iris answered a ringing doorbell and found Jackie Black standing on her porch.

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