|alt | the banner years | chapter 3|
by David Streeter
"Wait a minute, sir!" I called to Ward's rapidly retreating back. He stopped and turned, tapping his toe impatiently as he waited for me to catch up with him.
Just as I got there and was opening my mouth to speak, he sudenly said, "You know, you really need to get more exercise. You walk too slowly." And with that, he was off again toward my car.
I can walk just as fast as he can, but telling him so would only have taken us off on a totally irrelevant tangent; I proved it to him instead (even as I knew he would never notice it,) by catching up with him again in three steps. I fired my opeining salvo in an attempt to distract him, "Sir, we just had lunch not even an hour ago."
"That was breakfast. Now it's lunchtime," he checked his watch. "See? 12:05." As I looked at the watch, I realized it was mine, too, the one I had lost a year ago. I decided this wasn't as important as my car, however. Besides, I knew what he thought of congee, and I agreed; the only thing worse was haggis.
"Okay," I said.
As we went throught the door into the parking lot, I tried again. "Tell you what--why don't I drive? That way I can get a feel for what the car's worth."
Ward frowned at this, thought a few seconds and said, "Good idea." Then he tossed me my keys.
"Where do you want to go for lunch?" I asked him.
"Oh, I don't know--how about O'Brien's?" he suggested. I decided not to point out to him that we had just had "breakfast" there.
We drove the ten minutes in silence, for which was grateful, but suspicious.
When we arrived, the only open table was the one we had just vacated. Ward ordered two corned beef sandwiches. The waitress looked at us like we were goofy. I raised my eyebrows and rolled my eyes at her, but she wasn't impressed. Finally she wrote down thh order and walked away, out the front door and to the right. It occurred to me that O'Brien's didn't serve corned beef. She was getting them from the deli next door.
"So what do you think I should do?" Ward suddenly asked me.
"About the car?" I asked cautiously.
Ward looked confused (which was not unusual.) "Why would I want to do anything with your car? I was talking about this," he said, his hand on the briefcase.
"Oh, that. Did you ask Cassandra about it?"
"Yeah. Let's see, what did she say...? Oh yeah. She said 'the moon is rising toward Aldebaran and will cover it soon.'" The waitress arrived with our sandwiches, still wrapped in the paper from the deli. I turned my coffee cup up, but she ignored it. Ward unwrapped his sandwich.
"I just love the way they wrap their sandwiches here," he said. He took a bite. I ignored mine.
"You know, maybe you should talk to a lawyer about it," I suggested.
"A lawyer? Why would he care about how the sandwiches are wrapped?" Ward looked vacant and puzzled (also not unusual.) "Oh--you mean--but why would a lawyer care about the moon?"
I stared blankly at him for a moment. There were days I wondered...... well, I just wondered.
Ward began connnecting the dots. "Oh--you mean the other thing. Well, I suppose I should find out whether Mara or I have any grounds to sue each other for sexual harrassment." This was getting harder by the minute. My corned beef was sending out powerful smell rays. I was feeling a bit faint. I tapped my fingers on the briefcase and Ward's glance came to rest there.
"Come to think of it," he said, brightly, "a lawyer could probably help me with that, too. Glad I thought of it!"
He grinned hugely and took another big bite of his sandwich. Noticing I hadn't touched mine, he motioned toward it.
"Uh, no--I'm not hungry," I said. "I had a lot for breakfast."
Ward swallowed and said, "Eat, boy eat! You're too skinny!"
I unwrapped the sandwich, but could only take a tiny bite. With my hand covering my mouth, I tore off a big hunk of the sandwich and palmed it; I put the food down and pretended to chew, smiling at Ward. As my hand passed over my coffee cup, I dropped the sandwich hunk, realizing too late that the waitress had indeed filled the cup with coffee. I was desperate for caffeine, so I quickly took a big gulp of the coffee, with the corned beef in it. If I hadn't been awake before I certainly was now.
"So, can you recommend a lawyer for me?" Ward asked.
"I'll make a couple of phone calls when we get back to the office."
"Well, then, let's go! I don't have time to sit around this dive all day!"
With that, Ward stuffed the last of his sandwich into his mouth, jumped up, grabbed the rest of my sandwich from my plate and bolted for the door. I took another gulp of coffee, straining out corned beef with my teeth, stood up, flipped a ten and a five onto the table and followed him out.
When we got back, Ward said he was going to take a nap, and disappeared into his office. I headed for mine and closed the door. There on my desk was a thick envelope. It was postmarked Ottawa, Ontario. Must be the latest from our Television critic, Jeff. His Canadian perspective on our American tv shows was, well, unique among the Boston papers (and all the other papers I knew of.) I set it aside and opened my address book to the M's. I dialed a number in California.
"Hello, this is Thomasjhoihaengnganrggnanan't come to the phone right now as I'm busy investigating a bunch of internet users who claim to be fans of a famous author but rarely talk about him. One of them even claims to be his personal internet god. You can leave a message if you want, but I might not answer for a couple of years. beeeeep."
"That's a nasty garble you've got there in your tape, pal," I sighed, and hung up. Well, if you can't get a lawyer, try a paralegal, I thought to myself, and turned to the J's, and called Maryland.
"Law offices," said a clipped voice. I asked for my friend.
"Sorry, she has the week off to attend the reunion of the Purple Cowtail Club of 1978. May I take a message?" I politely declined and hung up, sighing again. I was just reaching for the phone book to call "Pick a Shark," the attorney selection service, to get a lawyer for Ward, when he burst into my office.
"Mara just called. She says I have to come home right away, there's a problem only I can take care of. At least, that's what I think she said. Anyway, I'd feel better if you came with me."
I stared at him for a second, then popped up. "Okay. Let's go."
"You drive," said Ward, tossing me the keys. At least I had my car back, even if it might turn out to be only temporarily. We left the building for what I feared might be my third lunch of the day.
Despite my trepidation, I set a new record for driving to Ward's place, screeching to a halt at the back door only eight minutes later. As we approached the door, he stepped in front of me so that I was almost glued to his shoulder. "Stick close," he whispered. Then he opened the door.
I nearly lost my corned beef.
Mara had been shopping, and not for groceries. She'd been to Victoria's Secret. She was standing there in the kitchen wearing a black negligee that left nothing to the imagination--even that which should have been. Her huge smile upon seeing Ward was instantly replaced with icy daggers directed at me.
"Stick close," Ward muttered again out of the side of his mouth.
"Wercome home, boss," said Mara with a jaw as tight as the lid on a new jar of dill pickles.
"Stick close," Ward said again, his eyes riveted on the black nightie (or at least in the vicinity of it,) and with just a hint of desperation.
"There is BIG PROBREM, Boss," said Mara, never taking her eyes off me, but grabbing several tea towels and arranging them hastily in front of her...tea set.
"Of course! I can see you've got a probrem!" I stammered out quickly. "I'll just be getting along now, Mr. Player," I said as I tried to squeeze past Ward to the kitchen door. This was made extremely difficult by the fact that Ward had grabbed the front of my shirt in a death grip and would not let me go. He still had not taken his eyes off of Mara. Beads of sweat had begun to form at his temples. I had only one chance to leave, and I was going to take it--shirt or no shirt.
"What seems to be the probrem, Mara?" said Ward, his voice trembling. His voice was trembling so much, this came out sounding more like "whasseetoo beethuhp rubling, Mah--ah---ah? AH AH AH...." In fact, the AH's were getting softer, and longer by the second, and Ward's grip was definitely loosening. I tore loose and bolted.
thing I heard, as the door slammed and I tucked my shirt back into my pants
was the faint sound of tea towels being dropped one by one on the kitchen