Alt-130 Enterprises
alt | the banner years | chapter 2

by TJ

      "2038 Washington Street," I repeated in equally careful English. He considered this and then asked, "What is located at that address, Sahib?"

      "The Boston Examiner."

      His eyes narrowed and his nostrils seemed to flare. I knew, by instinct, that I was in for some trouble; he either hated the Examiner or had the hots for me. I hoped it was the former. We rode in stony silence, and just when I could see the Examiner Building, the driver suddenly turned chatty. "What a great country is America," he said as he promptly turned right and got on an expressway and headed out of town.

      "That's the wrong way. Turn this cab around immediately!" I said with all the firmness I could muster.

      "But, Sahib, this way is faster and no construction."

      "What construction? There's been no construction on Washington Street in several decades."

      "Did I say 'construction,' Sahib? I very sorry. I mean to say 'potholes.'

      "Well," I said with some relief, "that's different. If you can find a street in this whole town that doesn't have potholes, we'll do a feature article on it and put your picture in as an 'alert reader.'" His eyes again narrowed and his nostrils flared. This was turning into the cab ride from hell. I began to fear the worst--this cabby really had the hots for me and I'm not that kind of guy. But as long as the cab kept moving, there was nothing he could do to me. (I hoped.)

      "If you can get me there before noon, that would be good." I settled back, knowing I was in for a long ride.

      "That can come to pass," he replied.

      Thus it went. Whenever the cab got near the 2038 block of Washington, the cabby would exclaim something about what a great country America is, and lurch off in a new direction. As the meter approached $170, I decided I'd had enough. "Just stop here. I can walk the rest of the way. One hundred and seventy dollars for what should have been a three-mile ride is a bit steep."

      His eyes narrowed again, and his nostrils really flaredlike tiny little wings. I was beginning to wonder if he could use them to fly, like Dumbo used his ears.

      "Make it $200 even, and I forget the whole thing."

      "Sounds good to me." I fished ten twenties from my wallet and handed them to the cabby.

      "Thank you, Sahib." he said as he bowed slightly, obviously delighted at the sight of the cash. I realized then, that it was the money, not me, that he had the hots for. It was expensive, but what a relief.

      I was out of that cab in a flash, and caught a glimpse of the cabby, staring intently at the Examiner building two blocks away, eyes narrowed, nostrils at full flare,(I could just hear those jet engines revving!) money in one hand and the fingertips of the other stroking the jeweled handle of a dagger in his belt. I sensed then that this cabby and the Examiner might cross paths again, some day.

      Ten minutes later I was walking down the hall to my office. As I passed Cassandra Twitch's office, the door opened and I heard the voice of Ward Player say, "That's great advice, Cassandra. Now I know exactly what I'm going to do." Ward stepped into the hall, closed the door behind him, and turned to leave quickly, nearly knocking me down in the process.

      "You're just the person I want to see." he said, radiating the enthusiastic glow of an Amway salesman fresh from a motivational meeting. A brief frisson of dread crawled up my spine, then, when it reached my brain, got tired and lay down to nap.

      "I'm going to let you buy me lunch. We've got things to talk about. But, tell you what--I'll drive!" He looked at me and smiled, waiting for me to say, "Why thank you, sir, that's very generous," but I wasn't feeling grateful. Between the costs of feeding my boss and my transportation expenses, I was beginning to wonder just how long I could afford to keep this job. So I switched gears. I tried to call Ward's bluff.

      "What does Cassandra think you should do about the, ahh, briefcase?"

      "Briefcase?" Ward's cheery mein was replaced by a look of complete  bafflement, in other words, his default expression. "Oh, that. Well that's not important now." His enthusiasm quickly returned. "What I really need your help on is this new car I picked up this morning. Well, it's not new, it's used. It's just new to me, ha ha!. It's what the ad guys call a 'pre-owned car.' Ha! It's a nice little car, but it's a depressing brown color. I need to trade this thing in for a brighter color, and I need someone with your business sense to help with these car dealers."

      "But, sir, that's my car."

      Ward looked suddenly thoughtful, a reaction which was not only sudden, but unprecedented. After a few moments he looked me squarely in the eye and said softly, "All the more reason you should come help me solve this. Let's go eat!" he said brightly.

      I suddenly remembered the plight of Sister Marie, the heroine of one of the entries in the 1983 Bulwer-Lytton contest (written by Richard J. Savastio of Media, Pennsylvania) which we had printed in the Examiner:

      As she fell face down into the black muck of the mud- wrestling pit, her sweaty, three-hundred-pound opponent muttering soft curses in Latin on top of her, Sister Marie thought, "There is no doubt about it: the Pope has betrayed me."

      Yes. I could relate to Sister Marie; we were in the same boat, or rather, car, metaphorically speaking. I was thankful that Ward had never studied Latin. But enough philosophizing; I had a lunch to get through. And I had to figure out how to save my car and keep Ward happy.

      And, there was the matter of the briefcase.

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