A Message from The Editor: The first snowfall (the one before the snow gets up to your keister and the car won’t start) kicks off the preparations for the holiday season in Piney Woods County, stuck way up here in the northeastern corner of Vermont. And, as it does every year, the seasonal merriment swirls around the Town of West Burville and its local eatery, the Double Axle Diner.
For the diner regulars, known to everyone in the County, including the Sheriff, as the Counter Dwellers, this is a chance to rest up and take in the festive atmosphere and great food served up by Linda Mae, proprietress and chief cook, over at the Double Axle. It’s a tradition.
But this Christmas season things might not be what they seem. This is the story of what happened. After all, nothing’s ever more certain than things change…
Have a Wonderful Christmas from All of Us at the West Burville Gazette,
Fay Tessreau and the News Staff
When the skies start to take on a steely determined look and the wooly worms are nowhere to be found, the locals who reside in the Northern Hills begin to batten down for another deep winter. But not right away.
The first flakes of snow and the first icy blast of cold wind off the Arctic makes the firewood tossing, plow blade sharpening and snowmobile tuning take on a pace. Mixed in with these mundane annual tasks are visits to the best eatery in all of Piney Woods County, the Double Axle Diner, located in downtown West Burville, population 683, give or take.
Anyone who’s ever spun a stool at the Double Axle knows the owner and operator is the buxom Linda Mae. And today, just three weeks before Christmas, Linda Mae was looking particularly fetching in a teensy bit too tight starched white uniform accentuated with a festive red apron with itty bitty pine trees embroidered along the bottom, and one of those little wreath pins with the twinkly lights pinned right next to her assets. With her blond hair catching the morning light like spun sugar and her carmine lips, she was a sight to behold. And the Counter Dwellers were parked in their usual seats taking in the view.
“Morning, Linda Mae. You’re looking mighty pretty this morning,” Hooter gushed.
Linda Mae gave Hooter a wink and an extra warm up on his coffee.
“Mornin’, Hooter,” she smiled.
For the past decade or so, Linda Mae had wielded the coffee pot at the Double Axle, taking it from a tin can roadside hash house to the culinary capital of Piney Woods County. It wasn’t just the Meatloaf Special or Linda Mae’s signature Pecan Festival Fantasy Pie that drew the Counter Dwellers. For over a decade Hooter and Bunchy Meacham, along with Old Mel Winchel, Lambert Thistle and Flock Lambert, Dayrel Giroux, and Ludovico Haynes, when he could get off the log truck, would occupy the counter stools to share a meal and ogle Linda Mae’s amenities. For her part, Linda Mae would prod the boys with slabs of meatloaf and thick slices of pie served up with a saucy wiggle.
Now maybe it’s because the Double Axle was the only diner within striking distance of the local slopes or maybe because it had a reputation among the out-of-state ski crowd for great food and colorful local characters, the Double Axle would fill up every weekend with folks headed to the mountain. By the time the new year rolled around everyone in West Burville was pretty much used to crazy driving, horn honking, loud talking, big spending out-of-state skiers passing through town. The trick was to look both ways before you hoofed it across the road.
But two weeks before Christmas Eve something unexpected happened that shook the Counter Dwellers down to the soles of their felt packs. Someone arrived in town that made the ladies hustle over to the Double Axle for some lollygagging and a light lunch.
Around about noontime on a particularly busy Saturday the door opened to admit a burst of winter and six feet of fork dropping manhood. Word spreads quickly in a quaint village and even faster if there’s a new man in town. The ladies occupying the corner booth and nursing the low-cal cottage cheese and hard-boiled egg platter were riveted to the vinyl upholstery. So was everyone else in the Double Axle. Strangers come and go. But not this kind.
The center of the commotion was ignoring the attention and making a beeline for one of the counter stools. And it didn’t go unnoticed by Hooter and the other Counter Dwellers. With a single movement that might do a ballet dancer proud and involving a lift, a half-pirouette, and a butt shuffle to the left, all seven Counter Dwellers came to rest one stool over blocking any new arrivals. Perhaps the stranger was among the many folks who don’t know that the counter in a small town diner is the property of a few townies who set the rules about who gets to sit where. At the Double Axle the unwritten rule was strictly enforced.
And here’s something else: a quick lesson in small town romance. When a woman lives in a town the size of West Burville, where every available man smells like eau d’ two stroke and wears logger boots for a date, it isn’t a stretch to imagine the reaction of every woman in the diner, including Linda Mae and little Vonda Sue, who was in for the rush. Linda Mae had slipped the coffee pot to a precarious angle and stood slack-jawed, dripping hot coffee onto the red linoleum floor. Vonda Sue had forgotten who got what and the place was in chaos. Hooter and the boys were speechless.
As the eye-catching stranger decided on a side booth by the front window, Linda Mae set the coffee pot down on the counter, just missing Lambert’s right hand, and bustled over with a menu.
“Hi, stranger, welcome to the Double Axle. I’m Linda Mae. What would you like? I mean, uh, from the menu.”
“Well, hello there, Linda Mae. Nice place you’ve got here. I’m Sander Klauss. I’m giving ski lessons over at the mountain. I think I’ll have a cup of hot coffee and some of that delicious looking meatloaf. Say, Linda Mae, let me ask you a question. Do you ski?”
With a doll-like head nod, Linda Mae offered that she had always wanted to learn. The groan from the counter was audible.
Shifting his bulk to get a full view of the competition, Hooter narrowed his eyes and turned back to his pie. Hunching over the plate he watched Klauss in the mirror over the pie case.
In the next few days, things went from bad to worse for the Counter Dwellers. The food was still piping hot and the best around but Linda Mae was distracted. To the Counter Dwellers she seemed to spend her day checking her updo in the mirror and watching the door. Whenever Klauss came in, the temperature would go up in the place and Linda Mae would get all flighty and there’d go the conversation and the warm ups on the coffee.
After about a week of this, Hooter called a powwow. It was time for a little chat with this pretty boy ski instructor. Old Mel suggested he and the other Counter Dwellers might act as backup for Hooter. Not too close to be noticed but close enough if Hooter needed anything and they could maybe hear him. When Hooter became suspicious of what seemed like a plan to leave him to face Klauss alone, old Mel clucked that none of them was as smart as Hooter so they’d just lie low behind their vehicles in case things got rough.
The time for the powwow arrived a few days later with skies that looked like two feet of drifting snow and the wind picking up. Klauss had just finished his usual lunchtime foray into the Double Axle and the hearts of the ladies of West Burville. For Hooter, it was time to ask a few questions.
Seeing Klauss arrive, the Counter Dwellers deployed to their vantage point behind Lambert’s rusty pick up. The backup plan seemed to be working just fine, except for the muttering about the cold and the stamping and the shuffling and the twelve legs visible from the knees down below the rotted undercarriage.
As Klauss was making his way across the parking lot, Hooter saw his chance.
“Hey, Klauss, I’m coming right to the point here. You mind if we have a talk?” Hooter offered.
The muttering stopped.
“Sure, Hooter, sure. Now is as good a time as any,” said Klauss flashing a pearly grin.
Hooter stopped and stared. Something didn’t seem quite right here. But he couldn’t place it.
Hooter was concentrating hard on Klauss as the man ambled his way. What was wrong with this guy? “I’ll be damned Klauss but something ain’t right about you.” Hooter said in a low voice.
Klauss chuckled. “It depends on what you mean by “right”, Hooter. A lot of things aren’t right. And a few things are. Know what I mean?”
Behind the truck the Counter Dwellers were puzzling that one out. Flock and Lambert decided it might be a good idea to take some notes and began noisily divesting themselves of their insulated coveralls in an effort to find a pen when old Mel yelled, “What’d he just say?” That pretty much blew their cover.
Ignoring the commotion behind the truck, Hooter spat, “What the hell are you talking about? Don’t talk stupid to me, Klauss, it don’t up the ante in your popularity in these parts to make fun.”
“No harm intended, Mr. Gibson,” Klauss answered shifting from one foot to the other and stuffing his cold hands into his pockets. “Look, let’s get to the point here. What is it you want from me?”
“I want some answers.” Hooter responded in the same low menacing tone.
Hooter stood facing Klauss. Neither man moved for a few seconds. Finally, Hooter admitted, “I seen you, we all have, eyeing up Linda Mae. How long you been here? Two weeks? And already she’s burned the meatloaf twice and run out of pie. This some kind of game you playing with her? ‘Cause if it is, it ain’t going to end the way you might be hoping.”
Klauss stared at him.
“Why you staring at me? Don’t you have nuthin’ to say?” Hooter asked.
Klauss opened his mouth to speak then shut it again. The snow had begun to come down with a vengeance and the two were wrapped in dime-sized flakes. “I don’t have much to say right now, Hooter. I just think you might be making a mistake, that’s all.”
“Now listen here, Klauss. Linda Mae is a good girl.”
By now the Counter Dwellers were out from behind the truck crunching across the snow and preparing to defend Linda Mae’s honor and her pie making skills. But they sure were hoping it wouldn’t get physical.
“Me and the boys here have known Linda Mae for a long time and we’re pretty fond of her. She makes the best damned meatloaf in the entire county and maybe the next one over to boot. And she ain’t bad to look at either, if you know what I mean.”
Klauss nodded as if he knew.
“We don’t want our girl hurt and we ain’t standing for any foolishness. No broken hearts, you got that?”
Klauss nodded again.
“Ain’t you got nuthin’ to say? Dammit, man, this is serious stuff.” Hooter was riled. This wasn’t going the way he and the boys thought it would. Klauss was agreeing with him. What was wrong with this guy?
“Look boys, I’ll meet you halfway. I’ve grown fond of Linda Mae. She’s special. Really special. I knew that the minute I saw here. I think you’re going to have to wait, just like me. I don’t have much to offer aside from that.”
The boys looked at each other.
Klauss turned and walked into the falling, swirling snow. In a matter of seconds he was swallowed up. The snow had picked up considerably during the time they were outdoors and lingering in the parking lot didn’t seem like a good idea. As Hooter turned to head for his pickup, a thought hit him. What did this Klauss guy drive? No one had seen him in a vehicle and Hooter made a mental note to ask the other Counter Dwellers what he drove. Come to think of it, where did he just go? Linda Mae was closing early to get home to decorate and Vonda Sue had already pushed off in her ancient Datsun Avenger. Odd. Hooter was alarmed. This Klauss bore watching.
The following morning Linda Mae was bustling about the Double Axle, dishing out her usual smiles with an extra helping of happy and humming to herself.
“Now what?” Hooter mumbled under his breath. The rest of the Counter Dwellers had picked up his sour, suspicious mood and were watching Linda Mae flit from one end of the diner to the other. Something was up.
By the end of the 10 o’clock pie and coffee shift, Linda Mae made an announcement: “I’m closing early this afternoon, everyone. Right after lunch. I’ve got a…a… date.” She let it drop like an A-bomb in the diner. Linda Mae blushed and gave a little burpy giggle and went to retrieve the coffee pot. Down the length of the counter, coffee cups slammed down on saucers, spoons clattered, pie forks dropped, and the Counter Dwellers swallowed what was in their mouths before their jaws hit their knees.
“Aw, c’mon, Linda Mae, you’re not going out with that ski bunny, are you?” Bunchy chimed in. Linda Mae only smiled a simpering sugary smile and plumped her blonde curls. The boys exchanged looks.
There might not be time to handle this latest development with their usual attention to detail but there might be time to make sure a second date never happened. A hastily arranged stake out of Linda Mae’s house for the early evening hours was delegated to Flock and Dayrel, with high hopes they wouldn’t go ring the doorbell and ask her where she was going.
The next morning the pair reported that Klauss arrived right on the seven o’clock button in a boring looking Ford Fitch and rang the doorbell. He also, apparently, turned and winked at Flock and Dayrel who were hunkered down behind the arborvitae. Linda Mae was dropped at her door with not so much as a kiss at around eleven o’clock. Flock and Dayrel said they were guessing about the kissing part because they had moved to Dayrel’s pick up when the cold got too bad.
The next phase was more subtle. Hooter and the other Counter Dwellers were convinced that something fishy was going on and the “Klauss business” needed to conclude well before ski season did. So far all they knew was that he showed up at Linda Mae’s in an old Ford. If they were going to give Linda Mae any helpful information that might sway her thinking, they’d better get cracking. It was beginning to look a little too serious on Linda Mae’s part.
The Counter Dwellers elected Old Mel Winchel to spearhead the investigation up at the mountain. Old Mel was one of those Piney Woods classics who had his teeth out sometime in the Fifties and never saw the need for replacements. As a result, his lips were now sucked in so far the locals speculated he could swallow his face. But Old Mel had a talent. People told him things. Maybe it was the way he looked. A bit of this and a bit of that and the next thing you knew he had your whole life story.
After a conversation with the other boys, Old Mel made for the mountain in his battered Chevy pickup. Halfway to the base lodge, he hatched his own plan.
As usual, the parking lot up at the base lodge was filled with out-of-state cars and mouthy flatlanders who whined if the weather was bad because they couldn’t ski and whined if the weather was good because they couldn’t ski long enough. And they always asked for things like low-fat milk and their salad dressing on the side down at the Double Axle.
Old Mel was considered “local color” up at the mountain. This entitled him to certain privileges like using the main door instead of the employee entrance the way everyone else from town did. Sashaying through the air lock and narrowly missing being speared by a pair of long red skis the width of a stiletto, he headed for the ticket counter. Behind the window sat Judy Cosgrove, who had reigned over the ticket booth for the past twenty years.
“Hey, Judy, how goes it today?” Old Mel offered.
“OK, Mel. How you keepin’?”
“Good, good. Can’t complain. Nobody’d listen anyway. Hey what you think of that new ski feller? You know, that Sander Klauss?”
Judy smelled a rat. “What are you boys up to this time?”
Old Mel couldn’t think of a good comeback that wouldn’t further rouse her suspicions. After a couple of minutes of hopeless poking and prodding and getting nowhere with Judy, he slunk away. Rattling back down the mountain, he was no wiser than he was on the trek up.
The next day was the start of the final shopping spurt before Christmas and things were hopping over at the Double Axle. What with hungry shoppers, the vigilant Counter Dwellers, and Linda Mae mooning here and there, it was shaping up to be a heck of a Christmas. Klauss on his forays into the diner acted about as besotted as Linda Mae.
The Counter Dwellers spent a considerable amount of time asking each other if Klauss ever worked or if he really knew how to ski. So far, Old Mel had been unable to find anyone who had actually seen Klauss on a pair of skis.
It was sour grapes for lunch at the Double Axle with only two shopping days left until Christmas. Linda Mae floated around humming to herself and winking at the Counter Dwellers. What was she up to?
What she didn’t know was that the boys were planning one last full out attempt to get rid of Klauss.
“Damn the man,” Hooter grumbled as he watched Linda Mae. How were they going to get rid of him before he broke Linda Mae’s heart? Among the suggestions was disabling Klauss’ Ford Fitch. No one knew where he parked it but they knew he took Linda Mae out in it and that was good enough for them. Hooter was volunteered to track the Fitch down and disable the engine.
A ride around town yielded nothing and Hooter realized that no one knew where Klauss lived. Strange. The only other choice was one of the parking lots up at the mountain. With a groan Hooter shoved his pickup in gear and made for the access road.
After a couple of hours of driving real slow through each lot, he spotted the Fitch. At about the same time security spotted Hooter. For the past hour they had been watching Hooter’s slow progress past the vehicles in the packed lots.
As Hooter heaved himself out of the driver’s seat and reached for his tools, security pulled up.
“Okay, buddy, want to explain what you’re doing?” said a bull-necked security guard. Hooter stammered something about looking for a friend’s vehicle.
“What’s the name of your friend?” the guard sneered. Hooter obliged. “Klauss, Sander Klauss. He’s one of the ski instructors up here. He locked his keys in his car.”
“Klauss? Who? Never heard of him. Listen, friend, if I were you, I’d hike my butt back down the mountain and we’ll forget this ever happened. Come up here again and I’m taking you inside. Got it?”
Hooter got it. Climbing back behind the wheel he wasted no time finding the main road. It didn’t make sense to Hooter. Nothing was adding up. No car, security never heard of him, no one knew anything. Who was this clown?
Back in the parking lot at the Double Axle the Counter Dwellers were not pleased to hear Hooter had failed. Old Mel indicated that his dead auntie could have done a better job and everyone retired for the evening mad at everyone else.
Christmas Eve day had arrived with no answers. Keeping with tradition, if not with each other, it was a sullen, miserable crowd that hauled itself onto the stools at the Double Axle for their annual cup of Christmas cheer.
Linda Mae had outdone herself in a dazzling white uniform with the sweetheart neckline the boys loved. From her ears swung gay little Christmas trees and pinned to her ample bosom was the twinkling wreath. Her coiffure was a study in the architectural possibilities of hairspray and her lips were rouged a luscious Cranberry Cinnamon Swirl.
With a collective sigh the Counter Dwellers hearts melted. This was their girl. But the spell was not to last. As Linda Mae handed around cups of spiced eggnog she hummed a little tune. Wait. Hooter recognized that tune. He’d last heard it over twenty years ago when he and Martha Louise had pledged their troth. She couldn’t be humming The Wedding March. Could she?
As the last of the cups met hands, Linda Mae wished her faithful patrons and admirers the best of the holiday season. As they gave her their best three cheers, Linda Mae just smiled.
“Boys, I’ve got an announcement to make. I’ve accepted a proposal of marriage.” Linda Mae stood there. That was it. The cat was out of the bag. Linda Mae gave a little twinkle and exited through the swinging kitchen door.
The Counter Dwellers sat there. No one said anything. Hooter thought he was imagining Linda Mae said she was marrying a total stranger.
But she had said it. What was the woman thinking?
Hooter and the other Counter Dwellers could buy the fact that Linda Mae had a crush but marrying someone you’d known for about two weeks was just plain dangerous. Hooter realized they didn’t have much time to save Linda Mae from herself.
No one knew anything about Sander Klauss, except maybe for the Ford Fitch. Maybe he was one of those German ski instructors who blew into town every few ski seasons, romanced the local talent and then evaporated with the snow. But what if he was an escaped convict that liked blondes and Linda Mae was in danger.
Hooter was fresh out of bright ideas. Except for one. He and the rest of the Counter Dwellers would spend Christmas Eve shadowing Klauss on his next date with Linda Mae. If he made a move, they’d be there to rescue her and her honor. When the rest of the boys agreed it was a sound plan, Hooter handed out assignments. The real trick was going to be getting away from their families on Christmas Eve.
At nine o’clock that night Hooter and Old Mel joined Bunchy, Flock, Ludovico, Dayrel and Lambert in the parking lot of the West Burville Texaco. The Counter Dwellers were weighed down with rucksacks filled with thermoses of strong coffee and sandwiches. Lambert had swiped his wife’s holiday Five Pound Fruitcake and Flock had included a box of sticky ribbon candy he’d taken out of his grandmother’s gift pile. At least they’d eat. Dressed in insulated coveralls, heavy wool hunting socks and felt packs, the boys were ready for a long night of staking out Klauss and his intentions.
It was beginning to snow again. The boys were milling around stamping their feet when Lambert said it just might be a night for ol’ Rudolph to be guiding the sleigh. Old Mel and Ludovico chuckled until Hooter shot them a poisonous look that stifled the merriment.
Something wasn’t right. Old Mel was the first to say it when he whispered, “I got a weird feelin’ here and I can’t quite place it.” Everyone nodded.
“What now, Hooter?” Flock asked.
“We make for the Double Axle…and stay low,” Hooter replied. Everyone thought that was a good idea, except Old Mel, who argued that his lumbago was raising Hob with him and he wasn’t crawling around on his hands and knees for anyone. Ludovico suggested they leave him behind and a small scuffle ensued when Old Mel offered to clean Ludovico’s clock. Hooter shushed them both.
Hooter suggested they fan out and remember to stay out of the snowbanks. After a minute of getting sorted out and some pushing and shoving between Old Mel and Ludovico, they set off for the Double Axle.
Just before the parking lot at the Double Axle, with its one flickering security light mounted on a short post, they stopped. Flock and Dayrel mentioned cold feet and frostbite in the same sentence and Lambert muttered that the kids would be wondering what had happened to Daddy. The others nodded in agreement. But no one made a move to turn back. What they all wanted was a gander at Linda Mae closing up the diner. But there was no activity behind the counter. Had she left without shutting out the lights? Or had something happened to her?
Behind the Double Axle is a field bordered by pines. Here and there scrubby trees, stunted by years of wind and cold, stand twisted and bent. Right in the middle of the scrubby underbrush is an open area no one visits. The field serves as the view for diners who might glance out the plate glass window. But mostly it’s just ignored.
As Hooter and the boys were slogging their way through the snowy parking lot around to the backside of the diner, they noticed hazy lights way out in the field. What was going on out there?
The boys stepped up the pace. Hunched down together they skirted the dark edges of the field. As they got further into the field they saw the battered Ford Fitch parked in the deepening snow, the beam from its headlights looked like gauze through the veil of heavily falling snow.
What they saw next made the Counter Dwellers leave the shadow of the trees and pick their way across the brush strangled field. Klauss and Linda Mae were standing in the snow waving their arms at the sky. No one could hear a word they were shouting but it looked pretty urgent. The boys picked up the pace.
Staying a distance from Klauss and Linda Mae, they tried to assess if she was coming to any harm. It didn’t seem that way but the Counter Dwellers piled into each other trying to get a closer look.
If Klauss and Linda Mae had turned they would have seen a tableau of the Counter Dwellers hunched behind a few stripped out pricker bushes. But their attention was diverted by a light that was headed their way and getting stronger by the minute.
“What the…?” muttered Hooter with his mouth hanging open. The Counter Dwellers got a little closer to each other.
“Is that one of them UFOs like they got over in the desert?” Bunchy whispered. “I’m for getting out of here.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Hooter growled. “What if that Klauss is an alien and he’s taking Linda Mae up in that UFO? We’ve got to save her. I knew there was something fishy about that guy,” he added.
The idea of saving Linda Mae prompted the Counter Dwellers to break cover and stalk toward Klauss and Linda Mae, still waving and hollering at the approaching light. Not for the first time Hooter asked himself what the hell was going on here.
“What if it’s a plane gonna crash into Linda Mae?” Bunchy said a little awestruck.
“Shut up, Bunchy. It ain’t no plane.”
The boys were rooted to the spot with their felt packs getting soaked. But no one was noticing their feet.
Out in the field things were so bright their eyes hurt. Hooter and the other Counter Dwellers couldn’t be sure but it looked like the Ford Fitch was shimmering.
“Is that Ford melting?” asked Dayrel.
“For chrissake, shut up, Dayrel,” said Lambert. “I think it’s, looks like a…what the hell is that?”
In the place of the giant ball of light that was once the rusty Ford Fitch stood an enormous white sleigh and eight of the prettiest reindeer all done up in red harnesses with little jingly bells.
“Santa? Is that Santa’s sleigh and…uh…eight tiny reindeer?” Bunchy exclaimed before Ludovico hit him one off the side of the head.
“Of course, it’s Santa, you jackass. I think,” Ludovico pondered.
Something else was happening that cut Ludovico off and made the boys creep closer. It was Linda Mae. Or was it?
Someone was standing in the field and she sure wasn’t dressed in a waitress uniform. A woman who looked regal and magical and dressed in a long white robe with gold trimmings and a wreath of holly around her blonde updo. Linda Mae? The boys held their breath. At her side was a familiar figure but it wasn’t Sander Klauss. In his place was a tall round figure dressed all in red with dark wavy hair. The white beard wasn’t there but the boys still had a pretty good idea who it was. So Sander Klauss was Santa Claus. Why hadn’t they guessed? And he was going to take Linda Mae off in that sleigh to God knows where.
They were going to lose Linda Mae to Santa Claus. It didn’t seem possible. Sander Klauss had come looking for a Mrs. Claus and had found her at the Double Axle Diner. At the same moment the Counter Dwellers were musing about how you just could never tell sometimes, Santa was helping the new Mrs. Claus into his sleigh.
The boys knew they were looking at Linda Mae for the last time. They abandoned any idea of trying to hide. But just before she sat down, Linda Mae turned and blew them a kiss that crossed the field and touched the lips of each and every man. They gave a collective sigh and Old Mel’s knees buckled. But that part might have been the lumbago.
As she settled herself next to Klauss, Linda Mae gave one last wink and a little wave toward the Counter Dwellers. Hooter and the boys heard a single shout and caught a whiff of warm reindeer as the sound of tinkling bells filled the clear cold night. With a flick of the reins, the reindeer bounded into the dark snowy sky.
From the middle of the field, the boys waved their mittened hands one last time at Linda Mae. No one spoke. They stared at the field and into the sky and at each other. Finally Hooter said, “I told you there was something fishy about that Klauss guy.”
Tromping back across the field on icy feet, hungry and miserable, the Counter Dwellers agreed that Linda Mae better not have been abducted by some fancy alien in a Santa suit. Old Mel wondered out loud who was going to keep the diner open and Flock said as long as the lights were on they might as well grab some pie before heading home.
Stumbling across the hillocky snow the Counter Dwellers tried the door at the diner. It swung open.
“Linda Mae must have forgotten to lock up,” Hooter said as he stepped inside.
“And she left the coffee on and fresh pie. For us?” Dayrel asked the other Counter Dwellers.
“Would seem so,” said Lambert. “Let’s dig in.”
As Hooter was digging around behind the counter looking for a knife to cut the lemon meringue, he spotted a letter beside the coffeepot addressed to the Counter Dwellers. “Hey, look at this. Linda Mae left us a letter,” Hooter said, coming out from behind the counter.
“Hurry up, open it up.”
Hooter ripped open the white envelope. Inside was a single sheet of paper signed by Linda Mae.
Hooter read for a minute in silence. He lowered the paper and puckered his brow.
“Ready for this?”
“Boys, according to this here letter, Linda Mae, left us the Double Axle and all its accouterments, whatever they are. She spelled it all out right here and she spelled out our names too. ”
The Counter Dwellers were dumbstruck.
“You mean we own the place?” said Bunchy.
“Looks that way,” Hooter replied. “Now what?”
Now what indeed…
Merry Christmas from all of us up at the West Burville Gazette and the Double Axle Diner, West Burville, Vermont, population 683, give or take.