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TITLE: Faithfulness (Chapter 3)
By Nichole Hall

Ryan began to tell him what he’d uncovered. Her family was from Hawthorne and her great granddad, Robert Ashton, founded the local church back in the late 1800’s. Melanie hadn’t lived in Hawthorne until two years ago. That’s when she’d purchased the business, although she hadn’t closed on the deal right away. He hadn’t been able to find out what the complication had been just that she’d only owned the property for the last 18 months.

Than listened as Ryan informed him about how her father, the late William Ashton had been in the Air Force. They’d lived all over the world; England, Germany, Italy and that didn’t include the places she had lived in the U.S. Her father had died during weaponry training in 1996 when his weapon had malfunctioned. Then she, her brother James, and her mom Abigail Ashton moved to Oklahoma City, where her mother’s family lived.

Than pondered over all Ryan told him and asked, “She must have been what, 15 or 16 when her father died?”

“Something like that.”

“What else you got?”

Ryan rambled on about how she graduated top of her class with a degree in business from Oklahoma Christian. She had involved herself in some local charity work. She had donated books to the local schools, churches, and libraries when the need arose. She had also put together book fairs for the school, the town and the hospital.

“She’s pretty much your all around upstanding citizen.” Ryan told him.

“Thanks for the info, Ryan. I’ll be in touch later as I get closer to the completion of the project.”

“What stage are you at?”

Than sighed and said, “I’m looking for a property location, so don’t get in too big a hurry.”

“Just give me a call when you’ve contacted the VP.”

“All right, thanks and tell Mom and Dad hi for me.”

“Will do.”

Than hung up his phone and considered all the information that had just been relayed to him. How could he not know this place had been sold? He thought for sure the Shaws would have told him. He had had as much as a connection to the house as they had, more so actually. Even if Michael or Ashley hadn’t been in contact with him, he thought Jackson would have. To come here and learn about it this way didn’t seem right. Not after all they had been through together.
His rage stirred within and he took another drink of his coffee to settle himself. He strode back to the table he’d been working at, ran his fingers through his hair and set his mug next to the laptop. How was he going to find out more information about the property? He couldn’t ask Michael or Ashley; too much time had gone by.

The only way he’d learn any more was to ask Melanie. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose wondering what other path he could take, but she was the only way. The only one who could give him the information he needed. How he hated it when Tyler was right.
After a full day of research, Than found a few places that would meet his needs. He became frustrated none of the realtors he’d called would talk to him about the lots for sale. As soon as he told them who he was they’d clam up and stop working with him. He could be here six months or longer if he didn’t find a suitable location. He decided to call it a day and go back to the hotel.

After a few days of re-familiarizing himself with the town, Than found himself back at the coffee shop. He noticed Taylor working on a Back to School display when he arrived. Determined to make some headway, he took the stairs two at a time.
He unpacked his laptop and flipped the screen open and turned it on.
Mel came up with the coffee pot, a cup and a trivet. She strode over to the table where he sat and filled the mug to the brim.

“Thanks.” He mumbled with a pen in between his lips and his fingers on the keyboard. She sat the trivet on the table and placed the coffee pot down. She had made a small bond with him, but not the type of connection that brought about repeat business. Sure, he was here because he needed the services her shop offered, but not because he lacked in books or knowledge.
She found a chair directly across from him and asked, “Find anything promising yet?”

Still looking at his computer he took the pen from his mouth and answered, “Not much.”
Mel wanted to know more and didn’t want to distract him, but her curiosity got the best of her. “So, how long have you worked in your family’s business?”
Without looking up he said, “Since I was eighteen…about nine years.”
“I take it you’ve always worked for your dad?”
“Will you tell me how Murdock Insurance came to be?”
He looked away from his computer and into her eyes intriguingly. This was not a question he got very often. In fact he couldn’t remember anyone who had ever asked him how the company started. He took a drink of his coffee, swallowed and said, “I’m surprised. Most people don’t care about that aspect of the company.”

“Well Than, you’ll soon learn I’m not most people.”

Surprised, Than felt a warmth settle upon his face. He looked away, and cleared his throat in an attempt to regain his composure. Once the heat left his cheeks he pushed his computer to the side. He leaned over the table and rested on his elbows. Holding his coffee cup in his hands he stared smartly into her eyes and said, “You really want to know?” She nodded. And he started to explain.

“My great granddad started Murdock Insurance in 1882 in North Carolina. He had seen the pain and hardships people had gone through during times of loss. He wanted to help people recover what had been stolen. At the beginning he had concentrated on their homes. Most people had purchased policies in case of a fire back then. So my great granddad had gone to his customers’ houses once a week and collected the premium.
As time moved forward, so did the company. My great granddad had investors who had purchased stock which helped the company grow considerably. By the early 1900’s he had expanded to surrounding states and even internationally.”

Than shifted in his seat and took a sip of his coffee. When he looked at her she could tell he was starting to let his guard down a little. He continued, “Our family had been one of the more fortunate families that made it through the depression. By this time my great granddad had retired, and my granddad had taken over.
My granddad had been affected by the depression, but not to the extent that most others had been. Mortgages had lost much of their value. During that time he had just maintained his company in the aspect that there hadn’t been much growth.

Finally by World War I, the company prepared itself for the claims to pour in and it had taken its toll financially. By the early 80’s my dad had taken over so that my granddad could retire and soon Ryan, Tyler and I will do the same.”

“Ryan and Tyler are your brothers?”

“Mm-hmm.” Than drank some more coffee and asked

Melanie, “Are you sure you want to hear all this?”

Melanie was truly interested and she said, “I
find it fascinating. I’ve never known a business to start that long ago and still be successful today. Please continue.”
“Well, at the start of the company my great granddad decided the best way to stay connected with each office was to have regional home offices. Each regional home office is in charge of a particular region. Murdock Insurance has 5 regional home offices with the one in Charlotte being Headquarters.

Each regional home office covers roughly ten states and has a Senior Vice President who is responsible for their region. Then there’s the Vice President who is responsible for their state. They hire the agents and handle the local sales, investments, general management and issues from policies to claims.”

Mel had a grin so big on her face that he became distracted and said, “What?”

She giggled and said, “It’s just that you lost me with all the VP talk.”

He couldn’t help but smile back at her and said, “Sorry, I get carried away sometimes.”

Mel saw the contentment on his face and asked, “So, I take it this is something you enjoy doing or is it expected of you because of the family you were born into?”

Than didn’t really have to think hard to answer. He answered with his heart, “Actually, I do enjoy it.” He stared at his coffee cup and a slow grin emerged, “There’s a certain amount of peace that washes over me when I’ve helped a family recover what’s been lost.” He looked back at her and continued, “Most people have lost things for reasons beyond their control. Nowadays, companies won’t pay out unless they absolutely have to and even then they try to short change the customer. Murdock Insurance is one of the few that still cares about their customers and hasn’t forgotten why they went into this business.”

She filled his mug and asked, “What’s the next step in the plan?”

Than took another drink of his coffee and said, “I’ve had trouble getting a site location. There seems to be plenty available, but no one will talk to me about buying one.”
“Why don’t you go see my friend Ali? She’s a realtor you know?”

“No, I didn’t know. She’s the other woman I met at the deli?”

Mel watched him as he started disconnecting and shutting down his computer. She answered, “That’s her. She’s been a realtor for two years now. She’s good at it. I’m sure she can help you get what you need.”

Than started to collect his notes and put them in his bag. He felt more relaxed now that they had been talking for awhile. “You’re sure it won’t be a problem for me to see her?” He gathered up the battery cord to his laptop and was forcing it into his bag, along with the laptop itself.

Mel shook her head, “Not at all. Would you like me to give her a call?”

“No, that’s all right. Just point me in the right direction and I’ll swing by and see her. I’m really anxious to get the ball rolling.”
Melanie gave him directions to the real estate office; a small brick cottage with a tiny front porch and a sign in the yard that said Hawthorne Realty. “You can’t miss it.”

Without thinking, Than asked, “You mean the old Caraway house?” Mel had a confused look on her face and replied, “Yeah, that’s it…how’d you…?”

Than moved down the stairs before Mel could finish her question. She heard the door chime and knew he was gone.
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