Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 7- By Howard Schneider 

7

Jackie returned from her room an hour after she'd abruptly ceased telling Goody about her encounter with Martha and Bobby in the company parking lot and then hurry off to find her laptop. Goody was on the patio hovering over a gas grill. "Smells good. What is it?" Jackie asked. 

"Burgers. There's potato salad in the refrigerator. If you get that, we'll be ready to eat. Grab that bottle of Merlot on the counter, too. Then you can tell me what you've been up to. You want cheese on yours?' 

"The works. I'm starving," Jackie said, heading inside. 

After they'd finished their burgers and slid the empty plates aside, Goody refilled their glasses and said, "Okay, enough suspense. What's your big idea about how to deal with this blackmail situation?' 

Jackie chuckled, then said, "We'll steal their thunder. You know, beat them to the punch?" 

"Is this how you're going to do it?" Goody asked, glancing at a folded up sheet of paper Jackie took from her shirt pocket and held out for Goody to take. 

"It's a statement you could read at a press conference tomorrow. If you agree, that is. After all, we should tell the press about the change in management and the new business plan, don't you think?" 

"We? I'm not involved in the company anymore. Remember? It's yours now." 

"True. But you can still let the press know how you feel about turning your interests over to me. That's new-worthy, isn't it?" Then, after a pause, Jackie added, "You could read that statement when one of your friends in the press asked about me. Why you'd let me take over." 

Goody scanned the first sentence, nodded, then read the whole announcement out loud. "In addition to my confidence in Miss Grant's ability to steer The Good Life Cookie Company along a path of continuing success, I am especially proud of her overcoming an extraordinarily difficult past—an orphaned childhood, being passed from one foster home to the next, abuse by unscrupulous men determined to use her as a disposable commodity, attempted escape from the horrors of neglect and homelessness through drugs and petty crime, and two years in prison for doing what she had to do to survive. But through extraordinary strength of character, formidable intelligence, a stubborn spirit to carry on and do good, and a stroke of good luck, she survived that life. But she did much more than merely survive—she became an accomplished business leader and has proved to be as fine a human being as any I've ever known. I am proud to turn my interests in the company over to Jackie Grant and am confidant she will not disappoint me, her colleagues, her employees, or the public. I fully endorse her as Chief Executive Officer of the Of Good Life Cookie Company." 

Goody laid the sheet of paper on the table, looked at Jackie, then said, "Well, this statement should take the wind from their sail. Normally I'd ask if you are sure about revealing the dark side of your past, but knowing you, I'm sure you've thought it through. And, as I think about it more, you are right to do it this way. Better to have it come from us than from some reporter digging up dirt at some point in the future. I'll be happy to read this at a press conference tomorrow. I'd be proud to tell the entire world what you've accomplished. 

"Thank you, Goody. I knew I could count on you. I'll have Angela schedule a press conference for tomorrow morning. Then I'll call Martha and put an end to her blackmail scheme. She and Bobby will soon be on their way back to whatever rathole in LA they slithered out of." 

Martha stubbed out the smoldering joint on the plastic top of the bedside table in their economy-rate room at the motel they still rented and answered on the third ring. "Jackie. Why are you calling now? I told you tomorrow morning." 

"I won't need to call at all, Martha. There's a new plan. Tune in to Channel Six at eleven tomorrow morning. Have a nice day." 

"What was that about?" Bobby asked, rousing himself from a semi-stupor induced by a pipe of Oregon premium hash oil." 

"I don't know, but I don't like it. She sounded too cocky, like she's ain't gonna pay up. We'll find out what she's doing tomorrow morning at eleven, on TV. She better not be trying to pull a fast one. She don't know who's she's dealing with if she is." 

The next day opened as differently as imaginable in the two locations relevant to this story—one location being a run-down, low-rent, pay by the hour, day, or week motel in Southeast Portland, the other, an exclusive, gated estate in Northeast Portland overlooking the majesty of the Willamette Valley. The inhabitants of each location were focused on the press conference that was to be carried on Channel Six at eleven-o'clock that morning. The futures of both parties were at stake, and each combatant was determined to prevail. Finally, the hour of revelation arrived. 

When the press conference neared its end, one of the Oregonian business reporters asked Goody the planted question about Jackie. Goody's response hit Martha like a jack hammer on full power. 

"Damn her!" Martha screamed as she jumped up from the bed and began ranting and raving as she paced around the ratty room, incoherently, shaking her head back and forth. Finally coming to her senses, she said, "If she thinks I'm gonna give up this money, she stupider than I thought she was. She ain't getting off the hook by spilling the beans like she did. Bobby! We're gonna do what you said we should 'ah done from the get-go. Grab the old woman. Then she'll pay up. She'd be too soft not to. She ain't like me—or her mother. No way we're gonna leave without our million." 

Bobby opened his red-rimmed eyes and looked at Martha. "What'd you say?" 

"I said we're gonna do what we need to do. Get up! We gotta make a plan. It's now or never. And a far as I'm concerned, 'never' ain't in the cards."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 6 - By Howard Schneider 

Jackie left Goody's house to go to work alone for the first time in their four years of working together. It was the morning after they'd celebrated reorganization of The Good Life Cookie Company. 

"Good luck," Goody shouted as Jackie got into her car. 

As she eased out the gate, Jackie noticed a grimy, tan Toyota parked half a block away but didn't pay it much attention. She didn't connect it being there when she and Goody returned from the lawyer's office the day before, either. This morning her mind was focused on the board meeting she was soon to chair, the revised management structure she would present, and her plan to increase revenues by acquiring two local competitors. Both were challenges to her company's dominance of the hemp-based chips and crackers sector. She intended to show decisive leadership from the get-go to reassure the board she could achieve their goal of a public offering—the exit plan by which senior management and board members could cash in their stock options. 

"Bobby! That's her, "Martha said, nudging the tattoo-covered brute dozing behind the wheel of the car he'd stolen in Sacramento two days earlier. "Wake up! We don't wanna lose her." 

"I see her," he said, shaking away the sleep and watching her car disappear in the side mirror. He made a quick U-turn and sped ahead. A moment later they caught sight of her, and Bobby let off the gas so she wouldn't see she was being followed. "I'll grab her when she stops." 

"No," Martha said,  "Just follow her. She must be going to work. We'll confront her when she gets out of the car and tell her what the deal is. She's no dummy—she'll know we mean business. She'll do what I say." 

What if she don't?" Bobby asked. 

"She won't want her drug-dealing past known—or her two years in the state pen. But if she won't cooperate, we'll step it up a notch. Don't worry, I won't let this chance slip away." 

Twenty minutes later Jackie turned into her company's parking lot and took an empty spot. Standing in the narrow space between her car and the Ford 150 pickup she'd parked next to, preparing to lock her car, she suddenly heard her name called out. When she turned to see who it was, she saw a stocky, red-headed woman in faded jeans and a grimy sweatshirt. A huge, tattoo-emblazoned man in baggy shorts and a sleeveless grubby tee shirt lurked behind her. They stood at the back bumper of her car and blocked her way past. The tan sedan idled next to them puffing black smoke out its tailpipe. 

The woman took a step closer. "Hello, Jackie. I don't expect you know who I am since we've never met. I'm your mother's sister, Martha. We come all the way from LA just to make your acquaintance. With your fame and all, I figured you'd want to share your good fortune with me, being a close family member—your only one, in fact. And I would sure as hell appreciate your generosity." 

Jackie was startled by these two people appearing from nowhere, and by the woman's outrageous claim to be her aunt. But having survived on the streets of LA and Portland, she wasn't easily intimidated and quickly recovered. "I've never heard anything about my mother having a sister. You'll have to have more than a wild claim in a parking lot. Do you have any proof?" 

Ignoring Jackie's response, Martha continued, "Here's the deal, niece: Tomorrow you're gonna give us one million cash, in twenties, fifties and hundreds. In a suitcase. The kind with wheels. And just in case you're wondering why you'd do something like that, I'll tell you why. Because if you don't, I'll let the whole damn world know about your drug dealing past and your time in prison. I don't think your company, or your old lady girlfriend, would like it if their little princess turned out to be a scheming ex-con and a drug addict. Do you?" 

"I don't believe you. Get out of my way or I'll call the police," Jackie said with as much bluster as she could muster, then yanked her phone from her jacket pocket. 

Martha rushed forward, grabbed Jackie's phone and threw it to the pavement, then crushed it with the heel of her boot. "Here, call me tomorrow morning with this," she then said, tossing a disposable phone at Jackie. "I'll let you know where to bring the money." Then she turned back to Bobby. "Let's get outta here. Jackie's got to get to work." 

In her office after the board meeting, Jackie called Goody. "It's me. I need to talk to you." 

"Was there a problem with the board?" Goody asked. 

"No. Everyone's okay with the reorganization and my revenue projections. It's something else." 

"What's wrong?" 

"I'll see you in twenty minutes. I'll tell you then." 

Sitting in Goody's spacious living room half an hour later, Jackie described her encounter with Martha and her silent giant. "Do you think she might really be your aunt?" Goody asked. 

"Yes. I called the Oregon Children's' Services Department on my way here. They confirmed that my mother had a sister, Martha Grant, residing in California. Evidently, she was judged unsuitable as a guardian because of a criminal record. That's why they put me in foster care." Jackie stood and went to the big window overlooking the valley and stared out at the shimmering lights of the city off to the west. "Her hair is red, like mine," she added on the verge of tears. 

"What will you do?" Goody asked gently after a long silence. 

"I'm not sure. But I don't like the way she threatened me, and I'm sure not going to give her a million dollars. I'd never be able to come up with that much money in one day anyway. And I wouldn't even if I could. It's blackmail. Maybe I can help her out somehow, but not that way." 

"What about her threat to tell the papers about your past?" 

Jackie didn't respond for a few moments, seemingly deep in thought. Then she suddenly turned toward Goody, who was still sitting on the sofa. She hesitated a moment, then said, "But there is one thing that  . . ." Saying no more, she quickly stepped away from the window and headed for the hall that led to her room. "Give me an hour, then I'll tell you."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 5 - By Howard Schneider 

"You sure that's the right number?" Bobby asked, referring to numbers on a stone column next to a gate across a driveway leading to a stand of maples. A house was not visible from the street. 

Martha looked at her phone again. "I got the address from a business directory. Looks like where a rich person lives, don't it?" 

"How would I know? What we gonna do now?" 

"Turn around and park on the other side of the street. We'll keep a lookout for a while. See if somebody comes or goes." 

Bobby pulled the sedan to the curb half a block past the gate and turned off the engine. He'd stolen the mud-splattered Camry in Sacramento, exchanged the plates with the pickup he'd boosted in LA, then kept going north on Interstate 5. They'd got to Portland the night before and checked into a sleaze-bag motel on a stolen credit card. It took Martha half the night on her phone to locate Priscilla G. Henley's address, whose name she’d gotten from an article about The Good Life Cookie Company management change in the LA times. She’d been unable to find an address for Jackie. That’s when she thought of finding Jackie through her business partner. 

Martha learned about Jackie’s year in Oregon’s Coffee Creek Correctional Facility when ten years earlier a social worker contacted her as next of kin. She figured Jackie would pay generously to keep Martha from telling the world about her drug-selling days. She and Bobby just had to find Jackie and make a deal. All they wanted was a million cash, then they’d split, never to be seen again. 

Meanwhile, as Martha and Bobby sweltered in the stolen Camry and grew increasingly impatient, Priscilla and Jackie were in a Black Walnut-paneled conference room with their attorney finalizing details of Priscilla’s retirement from the company. “With your signatures, it’s done,” Canin Bonndorf said as he handed the form to Priscilla. After she signed it, she passed it to Jackie for her endorsement. “Congratulations, Miss Grant,” Bonndorf said when Jackie handed the form back to him. “The company is officially yours, lock, stock, and barrel, just as Mrs. Henley intended when we drafted the bylaws four years ago.” 

With tears welling up in her eyes, Jackie took Priscilla’s hand in hers and said, “Thank you, Priscilla. We created this wonderful enterprise together, and I promise I’ll take good care of it. I’ll never let anything make you regret the faith and trust you've placed in me.” 

Priscilla stood, still holding Jackie’s hand, and said, “Come on, Jackie, let’s go home. We’ve got some celebrating to do.” 

Thirty-five minutes later Jackie pulled her Nissan Leaf up to the gate, punched in a code, and drove through after it swung open. Still enthralled by their decision about the company, and happily anticipating their celebratory dinner, they hadn’t noticed the car parked down the block. 

“That’s her,” Martha blurted out. “That head of red hair is like her mother’s. I’d know her anywhere. She must be living with the old lady. That’s why I couldn’t find an address for her. Must have something on her. Why else would the woman turn over the whole damn company to a good-for-nothing junkie like Jackie?” 

“What do we do now?” Bobby asked. “Ain’t no way we gonna get past that gate to grab her. And what makes you think she’s still a doper?  Maybe she’s clean. You don’t know.” 

“Hell I don’t. Her mother, my sweet, deceased little sister, never got clean. Like mama-like-daughter, I don’t think Jackie could either. No doubt about it. She’s a user. Let’s go back to the motel. I gotta think about this—how to get her to share her scam with us. After all, I’m family, ain’t I?” 

“How are you going to keep busy now that you’re retired?” Jackie asked Goody after she poured another round of brandy. The celebratory coq-a-vin, followed by a delicious flan from Vertigo, one of Portland’s better French restaurants, was an excellent finish to their momentous day. The lights of downtown Portland were mesmerizing, and they both were more relaxed than they’d been in the months leading up to the change in corporate structure. 

“Now that I don’t have to think about advertising strategy for your cookies, and all the rest of it, I can concentrate on the Jobs for Homeless Women project I intend to start. Housing is the first priority on the list.” Goody took a sip of the brandy, then stood and walked over to the waist-high stone wall ringing the outer edge of the patio and surveyed the expanse below. She then turned back to her young companion. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, Jackie. How happy it makes me that you will run the company on your own. You’ve earned it, and I have complete trust in your ability to continue its success. But it’s been an exhausting day and now I need to go to bed.” 

Jackie walked Goody back into the house, hugged her and bid her goodnight. Then she went to her own suite, content knowing there was nothing standing in the way of a satisfying future, doing what she loved, gratified that she’d been able to salvage a respectable life from what otherwise would have been a disaster. That it would be clear sailing from this moment forward. 

As Goody and Jackie drifted into the well-earned sleep of contentment, Martha and Bobby were sprawled on the double bed in a ratty room of their ratty motel opening a second pint of Canadian and lighting up their third joint of Oregon prime pot. “It’s simple, Bobby boy. We grab her whenever she leaves that place where she’s staying. You can handle that, can’t you? Like carjacking, right?” 

“Yeah, I guess. Whatever you say. Then what? Want me to rough her up?” 

“No need for that. Not yet anyway. Once I tell her the score, she’ll do what we want.” 

“What if she don’t?” 

“We’ll do what it takes, that’s what. Don’t worry about it. You just gotta do what I say. Okay?” 

Bobby nodded, took a deep drag, then asked, “When we gonna do it?” 

“Tomorrow morning. No point in dragging it out. We’ll get the money and split. Just like that. Easy as can be.” 

“Then what?” he asked. 

“The good life, Bobby boy. That’s what. The good life.”

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 4 - By Howard Schneider 

"Where to now?" Jackie asked after they left the New Deal restaurant, got into Goody's Subaru Forester, and headed west on Halsey. 

"My house," Goody answered," glancing at Jackie, then turning north on 47th Avenue. "We need to brainstorm. I've got the perfect place for that—a quiet, secluded house on Alameda Ridge. You'd have your own suite if you want to stay a while." 

"What do you mean, stay a while?" 

"Exactly that. A place to live until you figure out what you want to do with your life. It'd be a hell of a lot better than going back to living on the street. No place to shower and ripping off old ladies for something to eat every day. And you'd be doing this old lady a big favor—a chance to do something for someone in need of a helping hand." 

Jackie didn't respond at once to Goody's offer, not sure what this strange woman's true motive might be. Was she a predator who'd do some terrible deed, or was she a for-real good person, someone she could trust? But considering her options at that moment, Jackie finally said, "Alright. But just for a few days." 

That evening, with Jackie cleaned up and wearing a skirt and blouse from Goody's abundantly stocked clothes closet, and dinner done, they turned their attention to the topic that'd been trickling through their minds but left unspoken until this moment. "Any thoughts about what you'd like to do?" Goody asked. 

Jackie was quiet for a moment, staring at the city lights spread across the north end of the Willamette valley visible from Goody's patio perched on the edge of the ridge. "You're serious about this crazy offer, aren't you. To do a business together." 

"Yes, I am." 

 "Well, there is one thing we could think about. Before I lost my job a couple of months ago, when the restaurant I was working in went bust, I helped the woman who did the baking. I  made cookies and breakfast pastries mostly. Got pretty good at it, too. Even came up with a recipe for healthy cookies. They sold lots of them—four different kinds. Maybe we could make a business with those cookies." 

Goody nodded, asked a couple of questions about the cookies, then, apparently satisfied with Jackie's answers, said, "Okay. Let's do it" 

It took four months for Goody and Jackie to get The Good Life Cookie Company up and running: leased kitchen space, a line with four varieties (almond, carob, marionberry, ginger), an impressive website, promotional materials, and three of retail outlets. Goody's business connections from managing the advertising agency she'd founded twenty years earlier and run until she sold it to a national chain, her sound business sense, and most of all her deep financial pockets, were key to the speedy establishment of the cookie company. While Goody focused on business aspects of the enterprise, Jackie focused on developing the recipes and figuring out production scale-up. Their efforts paid off—eight months later they had a line of six kind of cookies at four of the Portland supermarket chains and a handful of smaller food retailers, had recruited high school students to man booths at weekend farmers' markets, and were ramping up online sales. The future of the business looked good, and so did Jackie's future. For the first time in her life, she had hope, hope of creating a reality for herself other than the despair of poverty. 

In their fourth year of robust growth and increasing revenue and profit, Goody decided it was finally time to turn the business over to Jackie, lock, stock, and barrel. By this time, the company had added a line of healthy crackers and chips, gone national, including large-scale production facilities on both coasts, and were carried by major food chains across the entire country. Because of Goody's wealth, Jackie and Goody had been able to maintain complete ownership of the company during this time of rapid growth, allowing both of them to reap major financial reward, increasing Goody's already sizable fortune and generating enormous wealth for Jackie. 

A major consideration in Goody's decision to turn over the company to Jackie was how Jackie had evolved from a down-and-out street thief to a wonderful friend, an upstanding individual, and a polished businesswoman, transformation made possible by Goody's good-hearted determination to use her wealth, and her charitable nature, for the betterment of a woman desperately in need of a kind deed. 

Jackie expressed her heart-felt feeling the day Goody told her about her decision to leave the company. "How can I ever thank you for what you did for me? You're the only one who saw me as a person worth taking a chance on, a chance to make something of myself. I promise I'll never give you reason to regret what you've done." 

Because of her patient mentoring and exemplary example, Goody's gamble on the young woman who four years earlier tried to steel her bag of vegetables and fruit had paid off. But the astute reader might still ask what was it that Goody saw in Jackie that day at the Hollywood farmers' market when they met under such fraught circumstances? Was it uncomplicated intuition? Was it an irrepressible desire to change this ragamuffin's life? Was it pity? Who can say? Certainly not me, the author of this story. The only things that counts, in my view, is that Goody had the desire and the means to do something. And thank their lucky stars, she made a quick, on-the-spot decision, and it turned out for the best. Certainly, best for Jackie, but also best for Goody in that she achieved her goal of passing the advantages of her good fortune on to another generation, even if the representative of that generation was a total stranger. In her mind, that was enough. And in her view, the belief that her investment, both emotional and monetary, was successful, and was sufficient to turn over her portion of their enterprise to the woman she thought of as her former apprentice, but now equal, Jacqueline Grant. 

With the company having a national presence, and a well-publicized reputation for entrepreneurial spunk, ownership transfer from a partnership to Jackie's sole ownership status was covered in the business sections of every major news outlet. For a few news cycles. Goody's and Jackie's names were strewn across the national news landscape as examples of how sometimes things can turn out satisfactorily. 

Bur alas, as if to confirm the old adage about never knowing what surprises life might bring,  one of the many news articles about The Good Life Cookie Company ownership change was picked up by a local TV news program in a Los Angeles suburb and happened to catch the attention of Jackie's estranged aunt Martha. Martha was her mother's low-life, ex-con sister who'd never even met Jackie. But even though her mind was foggy from dope and booze,  she recognized the name. "Bobby! Get in here! You gotta see this. Jenny's kid's on TV. She's some kind of rich businesswoman in Portland." 

Bobby, Martha's boyfriend, pimp, and cocaine supplier since she got out of prison six years earlier, stumbled into the room holding a half-full beer bottle in one hand and a smoldering joint in the other. "What?" 

"Look at this. That's Jenny's kid," Martha said, pointing at the screen. "Jacqueline Grant. That's her alright. I never seen her, but I know it's her. See that red hair. Just like Jenny's. Just like mine." 

" Who's Jenny?" Bobby grunted. 

"My sister. She's dead. Died giving birth to that there kid." 

"So what? She don't mean nothing to us," Bobby said as he turned to leave. 

"Hell she don't. She's our meal ticket, Bobby. We're going to Portland." 

"Are you crazy?" We ain't even got money for food. How we gonna get to Portland?" 

"Don't worry, Bobby. Like everything else we do, we'll find a way."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 3 - By Howard Schneider 

Jackie looked at Goody without responding to the woman's question about how she'd ended up homeless. She wondered how much to tell this stranger—whether to dig up a past that was so painful, so dark. 

Twenty years earlier there'd been no reason to doubt that Jacqueline Grant had a bright future—a stable family, loving parents with rewarding careers, well-adjusted as a first grader in an exclusive private school where her intelligence was recognized and would be nurtured to its full extent. clear indications of extraordinary musical talent—she sang as much as she talked, and she'd taken to the piano like it was an extension of her being. But one summer day her sunny world ended abruptly when she witnessed her older brother in a drug-induced rage kill her father, and then her mother, using the hand ax he'd long ago cherished as a boy scout. After she ran to the neighbors and the police got there, she saw them in the front yard shoot her brother in self-defense when he rushed out the door and attacked them screaming obscenities and swinging the bloody weapon. 

The shock of such a sudden and horrific event was too much for Jacqueline's young mind and she was instantly overcome with paralysis—unresponsive to questions, unable to speak, staring blankly into the distance, her only movement other than rapid breathing was uncontrolled trembling in her hands. 

Upon discharge from Children's Hospital three months later her speech had returned, but her former effusive self was now flat and turned inward. Since her only relative was her mother's black-sheep sister who was a hooker in LA, her court-assigned social workers agreed that would not be an appropriate environment for a seven-year-old girl, especially as fragile as Jacqueline, so she was given over to the foster care system. Her first placement was  with the Hanson's, an elderly couple in the far reaches of Northeast Portland who already had five kids in their care. "It's a good income," Dilbert Hanson always said when asked why so many. Although the following eleven years passed her through five different foster homes, some better than others, some worse, somehow, she managed to make it to high school graduation, then, at the age of eighteen, cast out into the world on her own.  

So, with the deranged act of a high school football hero high on crystal meth, the promising future of an exceptionally bright young girl was hurled into the uncaring lottery of random fate. Fate where nurturing support was replaced with the cruel uncertainty of life on the other side of the coin that dictates the rules of the game—the game of life. 

Refocusing her attention on Goody, Jackie said, "My story ain't all that different from lots of others like me. A streak of bad luck, that's all. It'll break in my favor someday. I'll be okay." 

Accepting Jackie's unwillingness to talk about her past, Goody said, "Okay. But what if I could change your run of bad luck. I could do that if you want." 

"You don't even know me. How do you know I wouldn't rip you off? Take advantage of your rich-lady "do-good" scheme, whatever it might be." 

"I'll take that risk. I just don't think you would. Rip me off, that is. What I think is that you're smart enough to take advantage of my "do-good" offer," as you call it, but in a good way." 

Jackie started to reply but stopped when Mary set a plate with pancakes, two sausage patties, and two sunny-side-up fried eggs in front of her, then set a plate with a single poached egg on a slice whole wheat toast before Goody. "Refresh that coffee?" 

"Yes, please," Goody said, then cut into the toast, careful to keep a portion of the oozing egg attached to the forkful of crusty bread. 

The two women ate in silence, Jackie shoveling in the food as if she hadn't eaten in a long time while Goody slowly savored her egg. Finally, after, pushing the empty plate aside and another swallow of the Stumptown coffee, Jackie said, "So, what do you have in mind, Mrs. Do-Goody?" 

"I'm flexible, Jackie," Goody replied, ignoring Jackie's sarcasm. "Rather than conger up some rich-lady "do-good" project that might not take full advantage of your capabilities, I want to know what you'd propose. Although there are conditions I'd put on anything we do together." 

"Yeah, like what?" 

"For one, it has to be legitimate, nothing criminal. Two, I'd want it to help people, not just be intended to enrich ourselves. Three, it should be something you could eventually take over and make yours. I won't be around forever." 

"Wait a minute. Are you saying you'd put up money to start a business, or whatever, you and me would run it for a while, then you'd bow out and it would be mine?" 

"Yes. That's exactly what I have in mind. What do you think?" 

"I think you're either crazy as a rabid racoon, or else my streak of bad luck is about to make a U-turn." 

Goody, chuckling as if to herself, waved Mary over to their table. "Check, please, Mary. Jackie and I have to get going. We have things to do."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 2 - By Howard Schneider 

Waiting to pay for a pound of mushrooms, Goody responded with anger when she realized a young woman was running off with her canvas bag near full of the fruit and vegetables she'd purchased that morning. "Stop her!" Goody yelled, "she stole my bag." A security guard happened to be nearby and after a short chase caught the thief at the exit gate of the farmers' market and held her until Goody got there seconds later. Goody took the bag from the woman, looked at her for a brief moment, then turned to walk away. She didn't want to make a scene—the thief could deal with being caught on her own. 

"I need that food more than you do," the woman yelled when Goody had taken only a few steps. "Let me go," she then snapped at the guard, slapping his hand where he held her arm. 

Goody stopped and turned to the guard. "Leave her be. I'm not going to press charges." Then she looked at the woman again, this time taking in what she was, who she was: a medium-height black woman, maybe in her twenties, thin but wiry, wild hair, an attractive but dirt-smudged face with intense intelligent eyes staring directly into Goody's. "Are you that desperate, or are you just a common thief?" 

"I'm hungry. That's what I am. And I don't have any money. Don't have anything. My stuff was confiscated yesterday—chased out of where I was camping—I've got nothing besides these clothes I got on." She held her arms out toward Goody, showing her the filthy sleeves of her thin shirt. "Least you can do is give me one of those apples. You wouldn't miss it. Not rich as your must be," the woman added bitterly, glancing at Goody's expensive purse and elegant jacket. 

The woman's truth caught Goody off-guard, striking a chord she was ill-prepared to hear. But being the kind person she was, her first thoughts was, She's right. I should help this unfortunate woman. I must help this unfortunate woman. But then her practical nature prevailed. But how? Money or food would only be a temporary fix. There must be better way—a permanent fix. As her brain continued to process the situation, a new thought surfaced: A fix that would serve our mutual benefit? But how? That's the dilemma. But  supposed to be solved? Then it came to her, Treat her as an equal. After all, she is. She's just facing monumentally different circumstances. "Let me treat you to breakfast," Goody said. "If I'm going to help you," as if that were already an established fact, "I need to know more about you. Who you are, what you need. Come on. I know a good breakfast spot on Halsey. We can get to know each other. My car's parked on the next block." 

The thief took another step back, confusion clouding her face. Help me? What the hell does she mean by that? She was taken aback by Goody's offer. But knowing an old lady like her was no threat, she said, "All right, but you better not try anything funny." With no response from Goody other than a friendly smile, the woman followed Goody out the exit without further comment, wondering what this take-control, elderly white woman might be up to. 

Their orders given to Mary, a waitress she'd known for more than ten years of patronizing this café, Goody looked across the red and white-checkered tablecloth and ask, "What's your name?" 

"Jackie. What's yours?" 

"Priscilla. But everyone calls me Goody." 

"Why do they call you that? They think you're that good?" 

"No, of course not. My middle name is Good, after my maternal grandmother. It's just a nickname, that's all." 

"Why'd you bring me here?" Jackie barked, changing the subject abruptly. 

Goody was quiet for a moment, then said, "I'm not sure. Maybe just to help a fellow human being in need. I really don't know." She took a drink of her coffee. "Tell me about yourself. How'd you end up living on the streets?" 

Jackie hesitated, wondering if she should share the horrendous events of her life with this stranger—an old woman maybe so lonely she's grasping desperately for any source of human contact, even if only from a scruffy, homeless black woman like her. But looking into Goody's eyes, she recognized sincerity, and compassion. "It ain't a pretty picture," she said, tears suddenly welling up in her dark eyes. 

Goody reached across the table and placed her hand on Jackie's. "Tell me. I want to know. And don't worry. I've dealt with some tough events in my life. I assure you I can handle it, whatever it is."

Priscilla Good Henley, Episode 1 - By Howard Schneider 

Priscilla Good Henley, known to her friends as Goody, had spent a year and two months mourning the death of Clarence, her beloved husband of fifty-three years. With impressive fortitude, she successfully made it through the usual shock and then the denial stage of grief, helped by staunch inner strength she'd relied on to survive other catastrophic events in life, like losing two young children and her first husband in a horrific boating accident. But it had been very difficult for her to move past the intense anger that followed denial, especially since his premature demise could have been avoided. If only she's been able to overcome Clarence's stubborn insistence that shortness of breath and occasional heart-burn was nothing to worry about. Difficult also because their marriage of fifty three years had been as perfect as she could have imagined, full of love and adventure. She hated the loss of that perfect union, of sharing the joys of living with the person she loved so deeply. 

But as time passed, and she had to accommodate the pressing day-to-day ups and downs of life, she gradually progressed to grief's bargaining stage and the horror of his absence lessened as the possibility of life without him emerged. After all, she was still alive, her health was excellent, her mind was intact, and she had no family encumbrances. And for frosting on the cake, Clarence's life insurance settlement was exceedingly generous, and when combined with their joint investment accounts, her own monthly PERS payments and social security survivors' benefit, a big, mortgage-free house in a highly desirable neighborhood and vacation cottage at the coast, she realized she was quite well-off. But also, more than just well off, she was single, attractive, and still had her wits about her. The fruits of wealthy widowhood were there for her to puck. 

But, as we all know so well, sometimes life can deliver big surprises. For had it not been for a chance encounter at her local farmers' market one summer Saturday morning, Goody might very well have passed from the bargaining stage of her grief on to depression before then finally attaining a state of acceptance, as is usually the case for people facing great loss. But instead, this chance encounter abruptly interrupted Goody's predictable completion of the five stages of grief and diverted her into a whirlwind adventure so bizarre that even the most imaginative fiction writers would have been at a loss to invent what followed. 

To be continued.

Harm and the Harmonica Man: Part Four - By Howard Schneider 

It had taken Harm a couple of weeks to make enough money for bus fare to Corvallis, where Barney Sieglitz lived, another haircut, and buy a new shirt and jeans—he didn’t want to look like a bum when he met Sieglitz again. He’d made an appointment through Tercel Washington to see Sieglitz at noon on a Wednesday. He'd been apprehensive how a visit might go, but as it turned out, it was the day when it finally came together for him—when he finally experienced a glimmer of hope that he wouldn't have to be trapped in futureless homelessness for the rest of his life. Here’s what happened. 

For the first few minutes after Sieglitz admitted Harm into the single car garage that served as a jerry-rigged recording studio, Sieglitz was demonstrably distanced, apparently torn between anger about his stolen harps and a side of him that wanted to help a guy get off the streets. He couldn't help but be skeptical that this street bum and thief might be everything his good friend Tercel had said he was, remorseful that he’d stolen the harmonicas and, that he had a sincere commitment to learn harmonica—even showed potential talent. But he trusted Tercel’s judgement and felt obliged to give Harm a chance. 

”Do you have my harps?” Sieglitz asked brusquely before saying anything else. 

Harm opened the red backpack and took out the case and handed it to Sieglitz. “I took good care of them, only played the A and C ones. I practiced with them just about every night." Then, looking Sieglitz in the eye, he said, "I’m sorry I stole them from you.” 

Giving Harm a curt nod, Sieglitz unzipped the case, ran his eyes over the row of harps, smiled almost imperceptibly, then took out the C. He cleaned the plates and hole openings with an alcohol wipe, tapped it a few times on his pant leg, then raised it to his lips. The sounds he made sent shivers down Harm’s spine. Notes, chords, twists and turns he’d never even come close to creating, that had no idea were even possible. He was moved by the powerful feelings elicited by Sieglitz’s spontaneous riffing, emotions that rose deep from within him. 

Sieglitz stopped playing after a moment, put the harp back in the case, then stared at Harm for a long moment. Finally, as if having make a decision, he said, “Practiced? What do you mean by that? What’d you do?” The previous sharp edge of anger in his voice had softened, replaced by a what might be a hint of compassion, or was it just curiosity? 

“At first, I just blew in and out, randomly playing holes up and down, back and forth, low up to high, back to low. After a while, I figured out how by puckering my lips I could play one hole at a time. The sounds were cleaner, like single notes. I gradually picked out tunes I remembered from old TV programs, like cartoons and stuff. But I don’t know where to go from here, how to play like you just did. But I want to.” 

“Why? Why do you want to play harmonica?” 

Harm hesitated, unsure himself why he was so determined to play this instrument other than as a way to a better future. But as he thought about Sieglitz's question, he realized there was more than just that. “I like it," he finally replied. "More than anything I’ve ever done before. I know I want to make music—it makes me feel good, like an escape. It’s like a language I can use to express who I am—how I feel. That I can be more than a just another throw-a-way, dead end no-account with nothing to give the world. I want to be somebody, somebody that contributes, not just wander aimlessly from one day to the next, then die without anyone ever noticing or caring that I even existed. The harmonica will let me do that.” 

Sieglitz was quiet for a while, moisture clouding his eyes. Then he stood and went to the other side of the room and opened a drawer in an old cabinet and took out two harmonicas. “Here. Take these. An A and a C. They're important keys for blues harp. You’ll need them when you start working with Tercel. 

The End

Harm and the Harmonica Man: Part Three - By Howard Schneider 

By this point in the story, the reader knows that Harm's only goal has been to make it through each day, stay safe at night, and be ready to start again the next morning. But with his decision to become a musician, he confronted a different kind of goal, one he knows nothing about, a long-term goal rather than just immediate survival. But he needed a plan—how someone like him—homeless, broke, no assets other than a bunch of stolen harmonicas—can achieve such a drastic change. Nonetheless, to him it's his best option, and he's determined to succeed. That's when he realized he needed a teacher. Someone to help him be good enough to make a living playing harmonica. 

Barney Sieglitz was one of the best blues harmonica players in the Oregon. He'd been playing clubs and bars up and down the West Coast for thirty years and adamantly maintained that as a Jewish musician he had a right to play the blues as much as anyone else. Especially since his people had experienced plenty of prejudice, just as others had, like the blacks who’d historically dominated harmonica blues. It's no surprise that his name was mentioned frequently when Harm asked around about possible harp instructors. So, when one night after his last set at North Portland’s Star Lite Lounge and the robust applause died down, Harm approached him where he stood near the edge of the low stage and said, "Mr. Sieglitz, sir, do you give harmonica lessons?" 

The question caught Sieglitz off guard and for a moment couldn’t think of a response. Then, when the blinding overhead spotlight was turned off, he saw the man who'd asked the question, a tall, slim guy, maybe in his late twenties, with what looked like desperation written on his beardless face. Sieglitz was about to dismiss the guy with a quick, “Sorry, I don’t do that,” but eomething about the man’s earnestness caused him to pause, then say, "I don’t do lessons. Don’t even live in Portland. But Maybe I can recommend someone. Meet me in the restaurant at that Best Western Motel up the street tomorrow morning around ten o’clock and we’ll talk about it." Then he stepped of the stage and headed toward one of the booths along the wall opposite the bar. 

“I’ll be there,” Harm said, as the man walked away. 

Sieglitz looked back and said, “Okay.” He stared at Harm for a moment longer, frowned, then turned and joined the couple in the booth. 

A week later, Harm knocked on the front door at the address in East Portland that Sieglitz had given him for Tercel Washington, the harmonica player who’d agreed to Sieglitz’s request on Harm’s behalf. “You must be the guy Barney called about. Come on in.” Tercel was a small, wiry man, probably in his sixties as judged by the grey of his hair and the lines on his dark face. He led Harm through a maze of cluttered rooms to a small cove off the kitchen, indicating a straight-back chair next to a window looking out onto an equally cluttered, grassless back yard. This is my niece's house—her, her two kids, a meaner-than-shit dog, and me. So who the hell are you.” 

Harm was taken back by Tercel’s abruptness, but it didn’t stop him from plunging ahead with his objective, to learn blues harp. “My name is Harmon Zorn. Mr. Sieglitz said you could teach me how to play blues on the harmonica. Will you?” 

Before I say one way or the other, I wanna hear you blow a few notes.” 

“Okay.” Harm opened the case, took out the “A” harp, and  drew the 3 hole, then blew the 5 and 6 holes.” 

“Bend 3 draw,” Tercel said. 

Harm, not exactly sure what that meant, drew in on 3, changing his mouth shape as he did. The sound lowered a half-note. 

Tercel nodded, then said, “Not bad. Least you can blow a single hole, and there's  hope for your note bending.” Then he stuck out his hand and said, “Let me see that harp.” 

Harm struck the harmonica against his jeans a couple of times to get rid of any moisture, then reluctantly handed it to Tercel. 

Tercel held the harp close to his eyes, turned it over a few times, then handed it back to Harm. “Where’d you get this? he asked, not aggressively, but not lightly either. 

Harm felt the panic of about to be caught in a lie. “From a pawn shop,” he said, louder than necessary. 

“Bull shit! Those guys don’t buy and sell used harmonicas. I’m sure you know that. Let me see the rest of the harps in that case you got there.” 

Harm was no dummy, He knew he’d been caught. “Why?” he said, trying desperately to think of a way he could salvage the situation. Then it hit him—tell the truth. He’d never resorted to that before, but maybe it would work. “Okay. I ripped off a guy a few months ago—stole his satchel from where he was sitting on a bus stop bench. I tried to sell them, but no dice. So, I kept them, then started playing them. Discovered I liked playing them and decided I wanted to get good at it. Maybe even make a living that way. I just want to make a better life. I’m a nobody, but I want to be a somebody. I need you to help to do that. Will you?” 

Tercel was quiet for a moment, then said, “It’ll cost you. You gotta pay the price?” 

“I don’t have any money. I'd have to pay you when I get some work. What would the price be?” 

“The price is up to Barney. It was his Suzukies you stole—his prized collection of harps that had been tuned to his own style and sound. He was on that bench waiting for a ride to a studio where he was gonna record a new album. Funny how karma circles back around, ain’t it. So first, you got to make good with him. If you do that, I’ll make you a harp player.

Harm and the Harmonica Man: Part Two - By Howard Schneider 

It was a typical rainy Portland spring night, cool but not cold, breezy but not windy. Harm had secured the dry recessed doorway of a Covid-closed barber shop on Sandy Boulevard for the night. He sat on a double layer of cardboard with his long legs stretched out in front of him staring out blankly at the passing traffic. He held his scruffy, worse-for-the-wear red backpack next to him, one of only two possessions he still had from his foster home days. It had been given to him by a caring social worker for his eighth-grade graduation. The other was a four-blade pocketknife he’d stolen when he was in sixth grade. He couldn’t imagine surviving without either one.  

His usual hunger had been placated by a beef burrito and a green chili enchilada he’d bought with a generous handout from the driver of a shiny black Audi who must have felt compassion when their eyes met at the traffic light at MLK and Broadway. For the first time in a long while he felt at ease—a full stomach, a dry place to sleep, a couple of bucks in his pocket. But that contentment faded as he started thinking of what the next day might bring—another struggle to survive, unable to see any way out of his dismal existence, no hope for a better life. 

Wanting to dispel those negative thoughts, he opened the backpack to retrieve the pint of whisky he kept for just such occasions. Not seeing the bottle, he grabbed the harmonica case that was near the top of the pack to move it out of the way. For no special reason he paused a moment, then unzipped it and took the first harp in the row out of its slot and looked at it  closely. A capital “A” was stamped at one end, and the name “SUZUKI” was printed on the bottom. Japanese. Must be a good one, he thought. He counted ten holes and wondered how they were organized. He held it up to his mouth and blew into the middle holes, like he'd done in the laurel hedge a few days before, and again he liked the sound. Then he blew into the left side and moved harp past his lips until he got to the other end where the pitch was higher. When he drew is breath in, the pitch was different than when blowing out. Then it dawned on him in a flash: different holes, breath in or out, different sounds, the way to make music. He quickly took out one of the other harmonicas, one  with a “C” on it and repeated what he’d done with the “A” harp. Same progression of notes, only a higher pitch. Over the following couple of hours, he tried the rest of the harps and quickly figured out the differences in sound as the letters progressed from A to G, and how in each case the holes were arranged in increasing pitch from left to right. With that realization, he was hooked, determined to learn how to play like a pro. Later in his quest to become a harp player, he'd learn the letters designated the key in which the instrument was tuned, and that the notes were always arrange as specific scales. But at that moment what was important to him was that he had discovered a possible path to a better future—to become a musician. Maybe it was naïve, but at least it provided a much-needed ray of hope. 

For the next few months Harm stayed out of trouble and worked hard to accumulate as much cash as he could, panhandling six or more hours a day, hunting for cans and bottles when not at his MLK corner, even doing a few building-site clean-up jobs he'd stumbled into. Eventually he saved enough for a of decent set clothes and almost-new shoes from a thrift shop and, for the first time in a long while, a haircut. During all this time, even as tired as he might be, he worked with the harps every night, figuring out on his own how play simple tunes, tunes that came back to him from his childhood when he’d been left alone with nothing but TV cartoons, most with music tracks teeming with unforgettable jingles and melodies. Gradually, as he became able to mimic. more of these tunes, his confidence grew. Then one night he played something that sounded different than just cartoon music. It was a little bit sad, maybe a bit mournful, but definitely something of his own. Something he felt. And with that little melody, even as amateurish as it was, he knew he was ready for the next step in his plan.