For late July the weather was pleasantly mild in Marienstadt, Pennsylvania. The lush foliage of the trees in the park across the street from Town Hall swayed and sparkled in the sunlight offering shady protection for the ladies of St. Walburga's Parish and their hoagie sale. Every Saturday throughout the summer they had arrived mid-morning with folding tables, ice chests full of canned soft drinks, trays of home-made brownies and fudge, and plastic tubs filled with hoagies—a Marienstadt delicacy. Though there were a few stores in the town known for their own hoagies, the St. Walburga ladies believed theirs were superior.
“You have to slice the ham very, very thin,” Bertie Weis, who supervised the pre-sale hoagie-making each week, explained to Chief of Police Henry Werner. “That's what makes the difference. It's best to just chip it, and, naturally you have to use a good quality ham. Isaly's is the best. Plus we make our own rolls. How many would you like?”
Henry reached into the hip pocket of his uniform and pulled out his wallet. Though he had eaten hoagies—soft bread rolls stuffed with chopped ham, cheese, and pepper sauce—all the time as a boy, as an adult he had lost his taste for them. Still, every Saturday, he walked across the street and bought a couple. The ladies were trying to raise enough money for new uniforms for Central Catholic High School's marching band and, as an alumnus of the school, Henry figured he needed to be supportive.
“Just two,” he said.
“Mild, hot or extra hot?” Bertie asked.
“Extra hot?” Henry raised his eyebrows. “When did you add that? I think the regular hot is strong enough for me.”
“That's what most people say,” Bertie said, “but there are a few fellows around here who aren't happy unless they have tears running down their face while they eat.” She put the sandwiches, rolled up in white paper, into a sack and handed it to him. “Would you like some fudge or brownies to go with that?”
“I think this is enough for my lunch, thanks.” Henry, a tall, good-looking former-Marine, had always maintained a strict fitness regimen but now, in his late thirties, he found he had to be more careful about what he ate. It aggravated him endlessly.
“Gimme eight of the extra-hots.”
Henry turned to find a short, wiry man with a scruffy beard and sharp, dark eyes next to him.
“Hello, Peeper,” Henry said. “What brings you into town?” Peeper Baumgratz lived in a house trailer on the edge of Opelt's Wood a few miles outside of town and mostly kept to himself
“Just picking up a few things.” Peeper grinned. “I'm goin' campin' for a few days and I had to get some stuff. Gimme six a them brownies, too.” He nodded toward the tray then turned to Henry. “I stopped by the convent to let the sisters know I'd be away until Thursday or Friday but I'll check in on em on my way back.” Peeper, after an unfortunate accident in which he ran his pickup truck through the Bucktail Tavern, causing a considerable amount of destruction, had avoided prison by agreeing to community service—helping the nuns at the local convent. He did basic carpentry, maintained their vehicles, and took care of the snowplow and truck that Sister Ursula used for her plowing business. It was Henry's suggestion that he do this and it seemed to be mutually beneficial. Peeper liked the nuns—especially Sister Ursula—and the nuns prayed a lot for him.
“Well, good luck camping,” Henry said. “Don't eat all those hoagies at once.”
“I love 'em,” Peeper said. “'Specially when they're good and spicy.”
Henry chuckled, gave Peeper a pat on the back, and turned toward his office in Town Hall. Peeper's battered Chevy truck was parked at the curb. When Henry glanced at it, he noticed another familiar figure, a particularly large one, in front of him.
“Hey! Oliver!”............................... I'm working on the rest.