Alt-130 Enterprises
alt | the banner years | chapter 4

by John I. Carney

      As I walked out of the building and toward my car, Paige's custom-painted,  lemon-yellow convertible sped into the driveway, lunging to a stop mere molecules behind my rear bumper. It was an unusually-warm day for early March, and Paige took any chance to put the top down.

      She opened the door, leaped out of the car and made a beeline for the house.

      "No time to talk, Winston." Her voice was just starting to crack. "My life has just been ruined, and I have to find my father."

      She's broken off the engagement," I thought to myself.

      At that point in time, I knew I would rather be at the Blue Diner downing one of their terrific egg creams. But I knew that if I allowed Paige to walk in on her father and the hired help doing -- well, doing whatever -- there would be hell to pay. So I was determined to stop her.

      "Paige, wait!"

      She turned to face me and I realized her eyes were watering.

      "There's something I have to show you."


      I looked around and wracked my brain.

      "These ants," I declared, resolutely.

      There was a line of ants marching single file down the sidewalk. I knelt beside them and motioned for Paige to join me. She walked over to me but was dressed up (her clothing budget was the envy of all New England) and showed no inclination to kneel on the concrete.

      "See these ants?" I asked. "See how they don't seem to even notice us?" I reached down and squished one of the ants with my thumb, but the others continued their steady advance.  "It's a truism that ants are completely, totally, self-involved. All they care about is the task before them."

      "So?" she said, her voice starting to break.

      "So, Paige ... uh ..." I struck my hip with the heel of my hand, a nervous habit. "So, you're no ant. You care about something other than yourself."

      "What are you talking about?" She looked at me askance.

      "You can't bother your father right now. He's involved in high-level dischange and intercourse -- er, discourse and interchange -- with a, a, ahhh -- with someone from the Pacific Rim."

      "I don't understand."   That made two of us.

      "It's about -- trade negotiations."

      "Trade negotiations?"

      "Yes. Your father has found a Japanese newsprint supplier who can beat everyone else's prices."

      "I don't care!" she said, losing interest in my web of deception. "I have to see Daddy! I have to tell him Tip and I are through!"

      "Oh, no, Paige," I feigned surprise. "What happened?"

      "I found out Tip has been writing Daddy's obituary!"

      I laughed condescendingly -- a common reaction when dealing with Paige. "But Paige, that's his job. He writes obituaries ahead of time so that if someone dies close to deadline, all we have to do is plug in a few details and send it to pagination."

      "But you don't understand," Paige insisted. "It's what he put in the obituary!"

      "What do you mean?"

      She reached into her purse and pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper. Our stories are moved from department to department through the computer network, but in the newsroom we have a cheap 24-pin dot matrix printer for those times when we need to run out a hard copy of a story in progress. Usually, that means running out an advance copy of Ward's editorial to send to our libel attorney.

      The printout was, indeed, a hard copy of Ward's obituary-in-progress. Paige had circled one sentence.

      "Ward Player is the former publisher of the Boston Examiner," read the printout.

      "'Former publisher?'" I asked.

      "Tip told me it was just a mistake, but he sounded funny when he said it."

      I thought about the contents of the briefcase, which now seemed to make just a little more sense.

      "Let's get back to the paper," I said. "There's something I want to show you."

      "But I have to talk to Daddy!"

      "I think he'll be busy for a while. Come on -- " I reached for my pants pocket and realized I'd left my car keys on Ward's kitchen counter.

      "You can drive," I said.

      "You just want to ride in the convertible," she laughed.

      "No, it's just that you have me blocked in."

      "Well, as long as you don't smoke. I don't want you stinking up my car."

      "But it's a convertible!" I protested.

      "I don't care. I don't want you smoking in it."

      I scowled my best Dutch-uncle scowl and clambered into the passenger seat.


      We ran down the stairs to the basement newsroom.

      "It's in Ward's office," I said.

      "What is?"

      "The briefcase. I have to show you what's in the -- " Paige kept a key to her father's office, which she used to let us in.

      I walked behind the desk and pushed Ward's chair out of the way. Earlier, I'd seen Ward leave the briefcase under the desk, out of sight. But it wasn't there now.

      "Someone has taken the briefcase," I mumbled. I walked over to the doorway and cast a casual glance around the newsroom. Macadamia was seated at her desk pounding out copy. A light over the darkroom door indicated that Speedo was inside, processing or printing. Dan was arguing with the snack machine. Brad was reading the New York Times, trying to identify some serious issue which he could expound on and which no more than 12 of our subscribers actually cares about. Tip was heading out the door carrying a briefcase. Paige and I hadn't seen him when we arrived -- he must have been in the break room, or the morgue, or one of the other side rooms.

      "Tip! Hey, stop!"

      He paid no attention but headed out the door. I bolted after him, nearly knocking Dan down in the process.

      "Winston!" yelled Paige. "Where are you going?"

      As I stumbled out of the building and on to Washington Street, I saw the taillights of Paige's yellow convertible growing steadily smaller.

      "Damn," I said.

      Paige emerged from the building a second or two later. I directed her gaze down the street.

      "Hey! Who's taking my car!"

      "Did your fiance have an extra key?"

      "Tip!" she screamed.

      "And I think he's got your father's briefcase with him."

      "I don't care about the briefcase -- I want my car back."

      "Let's go call your father," I sighed.


      As we re-entered the newsroom, we realized what a commotion our sudden exit had caused. Dan, Macadamia and Brad were all staring at us, as was Speedo, who had emerged from the darkroom. "Did any of you see Tip going into the boss's office?" I asked.

      "Well, sure," said Dan, gesturing at Paige. "He said you'd asked him to pick up some papers."

      "Tip and I are through," sniffed Paige.

      I grabbed a phone and punched in Ward's number so hard the paperweights on the desk rattled.

      "Herro?" answered Mrs. Plopp. She didn't sound happy.

      "Can I speak to Mr. Player?"

      "He is not heauh. He got a phone carr."

      "Do you know where he went?" ... in my car?

      "He said the squalls were afteuh him." Anyone else in the newsroom would have though she said the "squalls" were after him, a vindictive weather system if ever there was one. But I'd seen the photos and the physical evidence in the briefcase, and so I heard through Mrs. Plopp's accent. I turned to Paige.

      "The squirrels," I said, "are trying to kill your father."

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