Mr. B. Nice
As Well as anyone could remember, it had started with a park bench.
One day, not close to a holiday or for that matter any special day, a brand new as well as what appeared to be very expensive bench, showed up in town. The kind of park bench you would expect to see in front of an important building. A delivery truck had dropped it off and just said,
“This is to be put in front of the Court house.”
It was put in front of the Court house and a day or two passed with the
“My, doesn’t that look nice”, “That must have cost a bundle”, “and I’ll bet our taxes paid for that”
And so on, fading into just acceptance.
Even later, questions started to come around, but not a lot and only after a long time, probably because; well no one seemed to have any answers.
True, it was just a bench and yes it must have cost a lot more than what one would likely have at home but what the heck. No one was really talking about it too seriously. Did someone donate it or, is someone going to expect recognition for this unasked-for gift and is it a gift?
It was nice enough and silly, but people would find themselves sitting on it when they passed, just to say they had done so.
“Hay, did you sit on the mayor’s bench?” “I sat in the front seat of town”, “I was sent to the bench”, “Call me Benchley”
Several months passed and by now other benches had been donated by individuals who had found it to, not only be a chance to get their name out there, but actually decided it could be a pleasant place to stop when in that part of town.
Of course, none of the other benches had the same high quality but still in all, served any purpose needed.
Eventually it became a large enough part of the local talk that People in the area started doing more and more inquires.
No one working in the Town offices had any ideas and everyone asked, had just assumed the same. Someone else in the building ordered it and the reason and identification of the person or persons would follow.
Maybe someone remembered the delivery company. Calls were made and after several, back and forth, a paid invoice was found with the name, Mr. B Nice.
After even more time, the bench had been there long enough that the great discovery hardly made the local paper. A short note in a corner of the paper and not much more was said about it
Time went on and someone had heard of a family in need receiving a gift from, Mr. B Nice. Or was it Brice or Bike or Price? Not until more stories started to come to the surface, did it become a bit more interesting. Soon a local reporter took it upon himself to do some investigating and found out many of the stories he had heard were apparently true and gifts had been showing up for several years to people in need from Mr. B Nice.
Not always large expensive gifts like the park bench but gifts that seemed to hit the mark at the time. A lawn mower, a flag pole, in one instance a washer was installed.
One woman told of having lost a job and although she was getting by, was feeling very down. A delivery came from Mr. B Nice and what she found was a beautiful small throw rug. Not something she could trade in on a new car or use for the mortgage payment but a happy thing, giving her what she needed to pull herself out of her gloom. The woman said,
“I didn’t need a throw rug and it was the last thing on my mind at the time but that simple little rug started me climbing up and out and I am still riding it. I suppose I just needed something happy at the time.”
She went on,
“I didn’t get my former job back but I was called for a job I hadn’t applied for. Oddly enough, the kind of job you always want but never believe you are good enough for. A job I really like and in a few years, it may turn out to be a much better job than the one I lost.”
As more and more of these instances came to light, naturally more and more speculation was in the air. Somewhere amongst the groupings at the beauty shop, barber shop, coffee shop, water cooler meetings and local volunteer fire department meetings, every living person and plant had been scrutinized.
Everyone knew who the responsible party was. It’s just that everybody had a different idea who it was coupled with a different “this or that person is most likely” story.
One day, Mr. Clint Bradshaw came into town. A likeable guy, always driving a brand-new pickup and smiling everywhere he went.
Any place there was a group of people he would stop, seeming to have plenty of time for anyone willing to chat. He remembered their family, knew names of many of the children and would inquire about their school and activities.
Mr. Bradshaw was an Antique dealer and always looking to buy any old things the locals could steer him to. He would stay around a few days, load up his truck with whatever he could round up and pay cash for the dusty old, barn smelling pieces. He would leave instructions for the moving and storage people to collect the larger things he couldn’t take now in his small truck.
How or when it starts, is always hard to say but gossip or call it what you will, always comes up with answers.
Mr. Bradshaw could well be the gifter. He is from out of town, has a lot of money, that he is always willing to show, tips well; OK, not as well as some but more than many and never reveals what he does for a living even when pressed.
Time goes on and when he would come to town, daring people would ask Mr. Bradshaw if he were the mysterious gifter. With not much more than a sly bashful smile he would just reply with a “you never know” or “Why would you think that?” not really waiting for an answer.
If there were any in town that hadn’t liked Mr. Bradshaw they liked him now. He wasn’t pestered or asked for anything but was considered a welcome guest everywhere he went, even if he couldn’t stay long.
More years went by and more gifts came around. The admiration and a kind of reverence grew for Mr. Bradshaw.
There are always those in town who seem to be jealous of the praise someone else is getting and need to find something to complain about.
Old Mr. Warren said “How come he doesn’t have a wife? Maybe he knocked her off fer the surence money”.
Mrs. Thayer thought he might be a spy from some other country and Frankie said he aint never seen him take a drink.” What kin a guy is dat.”
Miss. Sharon Beasley said they should be a little cautious and old Nan Johnson thought he might be from outer space. More years went by, more visits from Mr. Bradshaw and a lot more speculation but by now it was pretty well determined he was Mr. B Nice, the gifter.
So many people had been touched by this invisible Mr. B Nice, and in its own way, he had more or less held the town together during a lot of hard times.
During these times, Mr. Aarons had to close up his hardware store which was more or less, the hub of town on shopping day. The store had sold not only hardware but toys, work clothes, and so much more. Over the years he had given store credit and combined with never charging interest and those who didn’t have the money to pay back, he was done. He had left rather quietly with the town’s people finding out a day or so later. The bank could no longer hold out his loans and by way of gossip, town’s people learned, had to move back to family several hundred miles away.
The minister had left as there was no money for him to keep his family.
Now things started to come together or shall we say come apart around the same time Sam Hurley, Ralph Hinton and Sharon Beasley moved away.
A small article in a large city newspaper was reporting of a fraud deal where a business man was bilking people out of their property without them ever knowing it. Just a few sentences but enough to get the attention of at least one or two of the townspeople.
Maybe it was the suggestion this person was presenting himself off as an Antique dealer or the mention of him always driving a new truck. Not much but because Mr. Bradshaw hadn’t been around for some time, well, probably nothing but one wonders.
Other newspapers were sought out and in time it was pretty evident, this was the same Mr. Bradshaw.
He had not only been buying valuable antiques from them and around the country but paying little for them and at the same time, getting many to sign away their property under the guise of a life insurance policy.
But what about Sam Hurley, Ralph Hinton and Sharon Beasley? Why did they leave in such a hurry? And there were more under suspicion. Although Mr. Bradshaw fit the picture best, he wasn’t the only one suspected.
It would take a little time as some were really not known or rarely talked too, in the years they had been in town. Sam Hurley had been a Barber but talked about everything but himself and his background. Ralph Hinton who limped, hadn’t worked at all, cashed a disability check at the bank but not much more was known. Sharon Beasley taught a grade school class for a while but for the most part stayed to herself in her little house outside of town. She did travel a lot and there was some speculation that her and Mr. Bradshaw might have been working together. Mr. Aarons had left in a kind of hurry, without even collecting from some of his customers.
So that was it. Just sit and wait, and wait they did. Any effort to obtain more information, had only led to dead ends. Following up on news articles got them nowhere and although many had what were supposed to be copies of what they had signed, turned out to be nothing but a lot of false information with no phone numbers or addresses, which could be connected to anyone or anything.
A year and several months went by with an infrequent important looking person coming by to ask a few questions and the usual
“We can’t discuss this now but will get back with you.”
The town started taking on a kind of gray hue or so it appeared. Conversation dropped off to a rare simple greeting missing even an attempt of a smile.
He had been a pretty smart guy and done his work well, leaving them little recourse and any legal action seemed to be very expensive as well as hopeless.
By now it was Thanksgiving and although no one declared anything or talked it down it was in the air. There was not a lot of celebrating going on and they would just move along as best they could.
Just after Thanksgiving Day, a certified letter showed up at the local newspaper office and although almost all knew what it said shortly after its arrival it was published in the next day’s paper.
Please be advised that on December 24th of this year a reprehensive will meet with any and all who would like more information about your current conditions and any resolutions that might be arrived at. The person, not named at this time, will meet at the court house at five o’clock, one hour before closing.
The envelope had come direct from the County clerk’s office and calls to the same, revealed nothing. Either no one knew or they couldn’t bear to be the one to give hints of the very bad news to come out of this.
Painfully the month passed. For some it seemed to fast and others too slow. On the one hand they wanted to get all this over but if it meant losing all they had they wanted to put it off as long as they could.
The result was going to affect everyone. As time had gone on and they waited for answers slowly, more and more people came forward to say that they had signed something or other and had been advised, not to tell their neighbor as this was something so unique, it was only available to a few.
The ownership of the properties had been passed on several times with the person who had purchased it last, not knowing what the original circumstances were. It was that most seemed compassionate but still, they had paid good money and needed to claim their purchase.
The awful nerve of these people, holding this meeting on of all days, Christmas Eve and just an hour before the Court house closes, just in case there is some little thing they might file or want to appeal or apply for whatever a court house might provide.
Funny, but that by now, old bench which seemed to have been the start of all of this was still there on the Court house lawn. Had it not been for its sturdy construction, it would have most likely been destroyed by now. That bench seemed to represent a lot of what was going on right now.
Christmas Eve came and long before the suggested time almost all of the town people, men women and children were there at the court house. This was like a rare hanging which might have gone on a couple hundred years ago and although it was not a good thing, everyone felt it was their duty to be there.
Around twenty minutes before five in the evening, a shiny black limousine came rolling into to town and to no one’s surprise right up to the court house, stopping pretty much in the middle of the street as anything which would have proven to serve for a parking place, had already been taken.
There was a pause and most of the chatter stopped leaving a more or less deathly silence. Pretty soon a door of the car opened and an official looking, older man dressed in better clothes than usually seen on these streets, emerged. Walking up to the court house he stopped short, just before going in.
Turning around and setting a brief case on the ground, he gestured for silence and their attention, soon realizing that gesture was hardly needed.
“Folks, ladies, gentlemen, children, I only know a very little of your pain and understand how anxious you are to hear what I have to say.
I am an attorney with,,,,,,,,,,,.
Giving the name of the firm, he could see, not a single person would remember or care,
“I have a letter which I have not opened or read, and the only thing which kept me from opening it was I was given just the least bit of information. Please be patient as it is a rather lengthily letter and you will need to hear it all,,,,,, or so my instructions tell me.”
Our firm was called to deliver this letter, and other than what little I was able to glean from the newspaper, know very little of your situation. We are not involved and never have been and it was and is a surprise to us why we were chosen to deliver this. Hopefully that information will reveal itself in the letter, so without further ado,”
Picking up his briefcase and setting it on the wide railing, opened it, and pulled out a large brown envelope. Slicing open the envelope with a volunteered pocket knife, pulled out several pages neatly clipped together and looking more like a manuscript.
Starting right in,
“I am sure you are most anxious to know anything you can about your future and for now I will not be able to tell you all that you would like to know. Let me start out with, things are not going to be as you are assuming. “
That seemed to get a little relief from the a few people but because by now they had waited and worried so long it was going to take a lot more than that to give them much peace this night.
“My name is Sharon Beasley”
At this point it was not possible for them to be any more attentive. They hardly looked at each other. All ears were on the reader, and strained to hear every word.
“I used to live in the city, and my father was on the police force. When I was twenty-seven, being a surprise to no one, married a young police cadet. About a year after my marriage my father was killed while on duty and only two years after that, my husband was killed in the line of duty.
They always say, “Well, you knew this might happen, going in”, but when your time comes it is hard to be ready for it.
I had been a witness to my husband’s murder by a gang leader. I needed to get away from the city and this turned out to be the direction. The department arranged for me to be in a place out of the way while they were rounding up suspects.
How can I tell you what it was like? Alone and away from those I needed to be with at a time like this. Not being able to tell my story to anyone. The department arranged for me to get a job at your school, with the absolute least amount of questions.
I suppose the school was told, I was formally ill but was safe now and wasn’t to be pestered with questions. Maybe they told them I was in the military, doing some secret work, and wasn’t to be questioned. Anyway, people avoided me as was the plan, so I could retain my secrecy when I moved on.
Irregular times were arranged for me to go to a place to meet with the investigators and trade whatever information needed. I would do most of my buying and banking and take care of any other things needing attending to and it would be back here to my home until the next visit.
I had received a large insurance payment from the department as well as a smaller one, which my husband and I had taken out. Along with the money earned I was very comfortable with what I had and living like I did, needed little. If there were any house repairs, car repairs, or other needs, the department wanted to know and they would arrange for the repair, keeping my identification undiscoverable.
A short while after I moved here and just to use up more of my time I started writing again. I had done a bit of writing, children’s stories, before and during my marriage, archiving many and also dabbling in fiction of which I had several completed manuscripts. At the time, samples had proved my writing to be less than lucrative from the publishers contacted. Living here and because I had little to do outside of teaching, getting back into it was easy, only, I found myself writhing crime solving novels with somewhat happy endings.
I was able to sell a couple of crime solving stories and after a few years found it best to leave teaching and spend more time writing. As much as I loved the children and teaching, I was afraid I would slip one day, telling them more than I needed to.
One of the stories I had written, had been received well. So well in fact, that almost anything I had written or would write was sought after. My children’s stories were recommended by schools and translated to many languages. My fiction was on major book shelves and in the windows of all the large book stores.
Because of my life style, I was already putting a fair amount of money into savings and so the money received from publishing was more than I ever could have managed alone. I was able, with the help of the department, to hire the right legal person to assist me and soon realized I needed to give something back.
It was easy to help people and soon became an obsession.
I became Mr. B. Nice
Shortly after I moved to your town, the department had arranged to deliver the park bench with the invoice which would be eventually discovered and signed, Mr. B. Nice.
I could not help but see how it had helped make the towns people a little happier and so, wanted to claim, though secretly, a little of that glory.
I started giving when I would hear something from school children or see a story in your local paper. As my income increased I was able to learn a lot more of the needs.
I might add that because of the seriousness of my own case and the importance of my testimony, what we will call for now, a very large problem involving many of you people is being handled and resolved.
For that reason, I have been privy to much information which at another time would prove far more difficult.
Moving on to your properties. As near as I can tell, working with the authorities, a great portion of your holdings have been recovered. Finding out they had been working with a criminal, many of those unknown buyers and sellers have agreed to give up any profits made and in several cases, give a little more back.
I have agreed to finance anything else which will keep you from recovering your properties.
In time you will have a chance to work on any and all papers needed but be assured, you are, at least back to where you were before your villain showed up. All will be made right.”
By now several things are happening simultaneously. Vehicles are showing up with some of the former residents. Large semi-trucks are showing up and off in the distance a log trail of headlights on the mountain. Very faint sounds of music somewhere off in the distance, but nothing would distract the people from their spot. It was as though; the entire town was in a trance. Even the small children, who couldn’t possible have an idea of what was being read, were fixed on the moment. Their parents so silent and still. The whole town there and all so glued to one man’s reading.
He continued on.
“I have arranged for and by now should be there, all that is needed to restock Mr. Aarons Store as well as a large warehouse. He has not been notified of circumstances other than he must be there tonight to claim what his store has left and reclaim its holdings. He and his family will be escorted, he was told for his safety, and you should expect a show on his arrival.
I will ask. No, demand from all of you, something in return for my generosity”
A bit of a silent groan and almost vocal “If it’s too good to be true ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.
The reader stopped and said, “This is in large red print so I believe she means for it to be taken seriously.” And he started again
I will ask. No, demand from all of you, something in return for my generosity”.
I would like all of you to assist in stocking Mr. Aaron’s Store. In so doing you will, no doubt, find at least ten things you would like and write the ten down with your name. This will help Mr. Aaron to know what he is likely to sell in the future. Also, after all is put away and all the lists of ten are put in a large box, each and every one is to take out a list. Not your own of course, find one thing on that list, buy it and give it to the person whose name is on the list. If it is something you are sure is right and you find it more money than you have right now, I am pretty sure Mr. Aaron will give you credit, but insist he requires on interest as you pay it off, and pay as you can.
This is hardly the night to be suggesting fate or coincidence. This night or time for that matter just happened to be the soonest that the information could be sent, due to legal business. I was kept informed of your circumstances and if there had been any way I could, I would have told you of the ongoing investigation. There are always reasons and that was not possible. I would ask you to please keep as much of the information and explanations as you can to your selves as if it gets out, some of it, might cause me a lot more dangerous attention than I need.
On closing, even though we rarely exchanged a word, you could never know how much of a family you were to me, respecting my silence and giving a smile when you could not know how much it meant. You will probably never see me again or know who I am as there are pen names and so on. Be sure you will always be in my prayers.
Live for others and as always,
The letter ended just that quickly and the reader slowly put it away in his briefcase took out a tissue, whipping his eyes.
The click of the locks, on his briefcase, could be heard a long way off and the silence seemed to last forever. Slowly more noises, vehicles, people sobbing so openly, men with tears streaming, little children in wonderment, everyone hugging and exchanging those understanding glances that seem to say so much.
The reader went back to his waiting Limousine got in and slowly moved away, then turning around and stopping close to the bench just for a moment. A woman’s hand reached out the window and waved, causing someone to start clapping. It wasn’t long before the entire throng of onlookers clapped whistled hollered and hooted, continuing on long after the car was out of sight.
Slowly, so slowly all moved back in the direction to somewhere in real time. People looked at each other, said a few words, usually unfinished sentences, and people arriving from cars and signaling.
It was like the entire world had been asleep and now was waking up and making noise.
Some of the people arriving had been former residents, having been notified just as the store owner, tonight they must be here or else. Some of the people arriving said an evening report had come across on the national news, telling about what had happened to this town and that a lot of help was on the way but it would be slow because the highways were crowded with people, all wanting to share Christmas with a town that fought back.
Information traveled and exchanged enough to make for some kind of chaotic order. The semi-trucks were opened, and several lines of people set in place to pass all, and was carried to MR. Aaron’s store, through doors windows and as many in the store stocking shelves.
Mr. Aaron stood by giving what direction he could. He had come into town with a large police escort using all the lights as well as sirens and at least one ambulance, just in case someone was overcome with all the celebration.
Every kind of food was set up in the high school and beds were arranged in just about everything that could be called a room. Christmas lights came out of everywhere, trees and any trees were decorated with torn paper, old cans, wood chips and anything a person thought might be right.
Everyone helped. People from town and people from who knew where. Everyone acted as though they had some illness and the only cure was an opportunity to help. Leaders or coaches came forth to offer direction. People cooked, painted, boxed, took notes, collected and deposited, swept, mopped, burning barrels were around not only for the trash but in case you needed a little warming. Little time was set aside for celebration as the work seemed to be a kind of celebration and everyone wanted as much as they could get.
A respectable size warehouse was built with the help of the local cement and lumber company, so many hands were available it was completed in about the time it took for the cement to dry.
Reporters could never seem to get a straight story, getting them to the bottom of how it all started but they continued to send stories out. It seemed if you could drive or find a ride you were headed here. This was Christmas. A living breathing fantasy with all the right stuff.
It was several days winding down and as many weeks getting back to something close to the old days.
The park bench had of course been a bit of a focal point and lights installed. A Nativity scene, large enough to be a small motel had been constructed in a matter of a couple hours and supplied with various manikins, had more or less shadowed the bench during the Christmas time.
On day a large sign truck showed up and a beautiful brass sign installed next to the bench which read,
Be nice when it’s hard to be nice
If they push you around
If you are down on the ground
Think twice when it is hard to think twice
For God’s sake and yours, be nice