Walfer Falls, a medium sized town west of Fort Worth, sat on top of the largest gas field ever discovered. A couple of engineers and one drilling superintendent were privy to this information, and they were sworn to secrecy with hints of the kinds of unfortunate things that would happen to them and their family should the information leak.
The town had given up on itself a long time ago when the aquifer dried up from overuse and when the railroad decided to route its tracks thirty miles to the south. There were five places to eat, including an ancient Dairy Queen, quite a few places to buy liquor, two gas stations, and one rundown supermarket. The children were bussed to a modern school thirty miles away while the courthouse downtown hadn’t had the pealing paint replaced in twenty years. When the last remaining newspaper folded, their last edition, a grand total of four pages including a full column for the auction of used farm equipment, described Walfer Falls as all dried up, dusty, and home to the desperate, the poor, and the lazy. “We don’t even have a Kmart,” the final editorial stated.
Lately, a stranger who drove an old Cadillac with rusty wire wheels had visited the two remaining real estate offices. The mysterious man was soft looking, a city slicker trying to look like a cowboy. He wore clean jeans, a red plaid western shirt, and asked after property for sale in the area. As this list included just about every piece of property in town, folks wondered whether or not the man was an advance man for WalMart or if he was simply insane. Jelly’s hardware store, Jelly Stone himself, thought about shooting the varmint just in case he was angling to bring in a discount store.
Florence Duvan, thirty-two, attractive brunette, divorced and supporting two children, suddenly found herself popular as the sole agent in Palmer Real Estate. “I can’t tell you anything,” she told Mildred, another divorcee who ran the Pie Shop across the street from her office. Mildred smiled knowingly. “Really, there’s nothing to tell,” Florence insisted.
Shorty Johnson, six-foot five and former football coach, informal leader of the derelict men’s gossip club and self-appointed commentator of local news on the KDUST AM, decided to pay Florence a visit to find out what was going on. He bought a fresh peach pie from Mildred and purloined a couple of used video games for Florence’s boys from the used books store next door. He settled his Stetson over his graying hair and set out across the street.
Florence offered Shorty some fresh-perked, Folgers’ coffee and sat down with him to share two slices of pie. She decided not to tell him that she didn’t have a computer for her boys at home.
“It’s confidential information,” she explained to the handsome former coach when he casually brought up the subject of the stranger in town.
“You know you can trust me, Florence,” the man smiled, showing his perfectly even teeth—replacements for the ones knocked out during an aborted year with the Dallas Cowboys.
Florence was tempted. She liked Shorty a lot even though she knew that he was an unreliable man. He made her heart beat fast, and she felt like a schoolgirl when she bumped into him at an occasional Chamber mixer. He’d once asked her out on a date and then failed to show up. “An emergency,” he had apologized over the phone, but she had found out he was watching the Falcons playing at one of the bars. Today he was on his best behavior.
“I can tell you one thing,” Florence thought about it. “He’s mostly interested in appraisal values. He hasn’t looked at a single piece of actual property.” She stopped there, knowing she was skating at the edge of her confidentiality agreement. “That’s all I can tell you, and I’d appreciated it if you didn’t make that public,” she added