Mail-Order Millionaire

By: Carol Grace
Chapter One

Miranda Morrison peered hopefully into the depths of the plastic gallon bucket, but it was dry. Pressing her head against the bark of the giant red maple, she swore under her breath. Damn, double damn, not a trace of sap, and here it was mid-March. No sense in even checking the other pails on the other trees. If Big Red didn’t produce, there wasn’t much hope for the rest of them. Mud oozed over the toes of her black rubber boots as she plodded back to the house to change her clothes. Good thing she didn’t count on the farm for her living. Good thing she had a job in town, or she’d have to sell the farm.

It wasn’t the best job in town, she reflected as she maneuvered her old pickup truck down the two-lane road, it was the only job in town. Northwood was a company town and she worked for the company—Green Mountain Mailorder Merchants. Her job was not only to handle customer complaints, but to pose for the catalog pictures, along with most of the other employees under the age of sixty-five. She hadn’t been there all that long, but sometimes it seemed as if it were an eternity. It was just that she didn’t want to work for anybody but herself. If she could only spend all of her time on the farm, then she’d see some progress, wouldn’t she?

As Miranda drove, she noticed that the snow was disappearing as fast as her hopes for a good sapping season, taking with it chunks of the road. She swerved to avoid a giant pothole and missed. The next thing she knew there was a jarring thud and she was leaning at a forty-five-degree angle, the front left wheel of her truck lodged in the pothole.

Gingerly she examined herself for injuries and found none. She slid out from under the wheel and stood on the deserted road, staring at her lopsided truck. Why hadn’t she allowed time for these mishaps, which happened all too frequently? She couldn’t be late, not again. But after pacing back and forth on the slick road for ten minutes, she got lucky. Howard Tucker came along and pulled her out with the winch and pulley he always carried in the back of his Jeep.

“Thanks, Howard,” she said, back in the driver’s seat again. “I owe you one.”

He waved his hand, dismissing the thought. “Pay me back in syrup.”

She sighed, closing the door and rolling down the window. “I wish I could. But I’m afraid we might not have much of a season this year.”

He ambled closer. “Ever think about selling the old place?”

“Not really. What would you want it for anyway? You’ve already got eighty acres of your own.”

He shrugged. “Just thought I’d take it off your hands. Seems a shame, you burying yourself way out there. Must get lonely after being in the big city.”

She shook her head. “I like it. It’s home.” She didn’t tell him it was more than just home. It was a safe haven, a refuge where she could be herself, maybe even support herself one day. She looked at her watch and grimaced inwardly. “Thanks again.”

Miranda sped into town and entered the Green Mountain Mailorder Merchants parking lot only fifteen minutes late. She raced into the building, threw her jacket on the coat rack and stopped just long enough to fill her cup with coffee in the linoleum-tiled lunchroom. Then she hurried to her desk in a tiny cubbyhole, which was next to four other desks in four identical cubbyholes that made up the complaints department. A quick glance told her she wasn’t the only one who was late. In fact, she was the only one there so far.

Before she attacked the pile of yellow complaint forms on her desk, she looked over her shoulder. There was no time clock, not yet. But there was old Mr. Northwood, who always padded through the knotty-pine offices in his rubber-soled duck-hunting shoes, looking for those workers who didn’t embody the Vermont work ethic. But not today. Apparently he was late, too. Relieved, she turned back to her desk, noticing that her voice mail was overflowing and eight of the ten incoming lines were flashing urgent orange signals.

“Good morning, Green Mountain Merchants,” she said eight times, and then, “Will you hold?” They all said yes, except for number eight, who wouldn’t hold, wouldn’t even consider it.

“I’ve been holding for twenty minutes, since nine o’clock, listening to a recorded message telling me to call between nine and five. I guess I should be grateful you people come to work at all,” he said in a deep sarcastic voice with just a tinge of a Southern accent.

Miranda took a deep breath. “How can I help you, Mr....”

“Carter. Maxwell Randolph Carter.”

She watched the orange lights on her phone console flash, imagining seven angry people hanging up, redialing and getting the recorded message all over again. “What can I do for you, Mr. Carter?”

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