The Conduit Connection

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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Sometimes something is so obvious you look right past it.

Such is the conduit that is clearly visible running between the roofs of the Payson Roundup and the Swiss Beauty Connection. As visible as it is from the street, it took an offhand comment from local contractor Mike Voden, who had once been on the roof when it leaked, to make me aware of its existence.

The Payson Roundup is, of course, your source for news in the Rim country since 1937, and the Swiss Beauty Connection is the front operation for Payson Mayor Barbara Brewer.

You can tell the Roundup has been your source for news since 1937 because the primary color of the interior furnishings is barf orange, a color that was declared an abomination and banned in 1938. We, unfortunately, are grandfathered in.

But if you think people actually get their hair done at the Swiss Beauty Connection just because it appears so when you drive by, I have just two words for you -- cardboard cutouts.

Come on now. If it were a legitimate hair emporium, it wouldn't have the word "connection" in it. It would be called the Swiss Beauty Shop or the Swiss Beauty Salon or the Swiss Hair Emporium.

No, my friend, there is trouble right here in Payson and that starts with "T" and that rhymes with "C" and that stands for "connection" a word that actually refers to the conduit that runs between the two establishments, a pipeline that can only be used for one purpose -- secret communications between the mayor and the newspaper that enable them to control the town for their mutual benefit.

As a reporter sensing a Watergate-scale scandal, I immediately confronted the mayor about the sinister piece of tubing. But this mayor of ours is a clever one, and she immediately responded with something about a common wiring system, now in a state of disrepair, for the lights strung along the Swiss Village Shops at Christmas time.

Then she quickly changed the subject and showed me an outlet on the front wall of her salon into which the Roundup had plugged its Christmas lights -- a classic power grab, to be sure, but nothing akin to the collusion being carried on in the conduit above.

With visions of Pulitzers dancing in my head, I returned to my office to put the pieces together. My first thought was that the conduit must house a miniaturized version of those pneumatic tube cash conveyers pioneered by old department stores and still used at bank drive-throughs to this day.

The great advantage, of course, is that communications conveyed by pneumatic tube cannot be tapped like traditional electronic communications or even e-mail. And beauty shops have the perfect drivers for a such a compressed air system -- plenty of hot air generated by a combination of blow dryers and gossiping clientele.

But absent was the telltale "swoosh" noise those tubes make, so there had to be another explanation. Then it hit me: such a conduit could easily be used to run a long piece of string between the two establishments. Attached to either end, of course, would be tin (or, in today's world, aluminum) cans -- a crude walkie talkie, to be sure, but a devilishly clever one for its simplicity.

And that would also explain the soft drink machine that sets between the two businesses. Brewer is frequently seen filling it, but you never see anyone actually purchasing a soda from that machine.

I suggest to you that the soft drink machine is nothing more than a convenient and endless source of cans for the walkie talkies.

But we investigative reporters do not operate on mere suggestion. I set out to find proof, and it wasn't long before I struck the mother lode -- a trash can in the Roundup hallway chock full of empty soda cans.

A mere coincidence? I think not.

Now all that was missing was a motive. What in this town could possibly be worth collusioning over -- a long-lost gold mine, the franchise for Payson Concrete & Materials caps, the pork rind concession at August Doin's?

No, the most valuable commodity in Payson is ... water. And the greatest source of water is ... Blue Ridge Reservoir.

Since he (or she) who controls the water from Blue Ridge will control the town, we citizens must be vigilant. With all the restrictions the town has on watering, a garden hose extending up the Beeline from the Swiss Village Shops should stand out like ...well, like a conduit between two buildings.

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