|alt | the banner years | chapter 5|
by Jeff Carrie
It has been a long night. The police have just released everyone.
"On the bright side", Ward announces, "we've definitely scooped the larger dailies." I nod. We agreed to not mention the briefcase. The police detectives interviewed me the longest. I'm not the well-trained liar that Cassie is, and it didn't take long for the detectives to determine that Ward didn't know anything.
Cassandra holds her teacup and looks across the booth of The Hawthorne Inn. She has smuggled in a bag from House of the Seven Bagels. I reach in and grab a blueberry bagel.
"What time is it?" I ask.
"12:05 in the morning", Ward replies checking his watch.
"Didn't we arrive at the police station at 12:05?"
"Yeah, I think that was Daylight Savings time though"
"Let me see m--your watch."
Ward hasn't bothered to wind it, it's probably been 12:05 for the last two weeks.
"Hmmm, I think it needs a new battery, I'll have it replaced for you."
"Gee that's swell."
"No problem", I say placing the watch back on its rightful wrist. I look hard at Ward.
"Tip made a reference to you as the 'former publisher' of the Examiner. Do you know anything about that?" I ask.
"Nope, as far as I know this is my first time working here."
I look at Cassie. She shrugs her shoulders.
"Mara mentioned that squirrels were out to kill you."
"Is she still hung up on that JFK thing? Geez it's been almost 35 years, Mara, give it up already. The squirrel is probably dead by now."
"Is there anyone else besides the three of us who know about the contents of the briefcase?"
"Three of us?" Ward seems surprised.
"You gave me the briefcase to hide", Cassie interjects.
"Oh right, of course I did. I think that's all."
"Who called and asked you to go to Tom's place?"
"No one called me, the cab dispatcher ordered my driver to go there." Cassie nods her head.
"Have you received any mail from Ottawa?"
"Why yes, I did! How did you know?"
"I also received one. What did yours say?"
"Apparently it's down to me and one other person in Ontario. If I have the winning number and order Maclean's magazine and three other magazines one of us will win $47 million dollars. Sorry, I didn't realize you were the other one."
Cassie rolls her eyes and rests her head on her hand.
"Anyway, I've got to go; Mara is, ummmm, expecting me."
We say our goodbyes and as Ward leaves, I turn to Cassandra.
"What do you think?"
"Well, he seems oblivious to it all. If there is some hostile takeover of the newspaper planned, he doesn't know about it."
"Do you think the Canadians are behind it?"
"No, they're still too busy taking over the entertainment industry; besides, we would have noticed all the extraneous letter U's. I think the Canadian Conspiracy is just a rumour." Cassie pauses and asks, "Shouldn't you be heading home Winston?"
"I doubt anyone is waiting for me, if that's what you're wondering."
She nods. I stare into my coffee cup and reflect on the day's events. Cassandra turns sideways on the seat, puts her feet up and seems to do the same.
The staff is busy typing away in the newsroom. I slide myself into Ward's office. Salem and Ward have just left for their second lunch of the day. On the wall behind the desk is a picture of the news staff. The picture has been there for a couple of years now, but somehow it stands out today. The image registers in my mind; it seems to flash past me quickly, fading and reappearing again and again. Odd. I remember the day that the picture was taken.
I remember the day that the picture was taken. It was her first day here, she had just moved to the city from the Midwest, all of a sudden she was the center of attention. The boys all salivated at the thought of getting the homecoming queen behind the bleachers. Everyone except Salem, of course, so naturally she decided that she wanted him. Poor Salem--he always was a sucker for a pretty face. I've warned him away from others, but as always he never listens. I think the only thing he ever believed was when I told him our romance wouldn't last. I was lying of course. What I should have said was, that our love would never last. Our romance seems to be eternal, our lives entwined and tangled, circling each other in some mystical karass, a timelessness somewhere between timid and Timbuktu. But love? no, that seems to be caught between luck and loss. You were lost to me that very day.
Back to business, I'm looking for the briefcase. Ward approached me about it this morning.
"Hello Cassandra, I have a small favour to ask you."
"I don't pawn watches Ward."
"No, not this time; it's the matter of this briefcase."
Ward places a large brown leather briefcase on my desk, I had heard Salem discussing it on the phone this morning. Interesting.
"I can't actually show you what's in it, but I need advice on what to do."
Quite all right, I think. I'll just concentrate on reading his mind. It's a blank of course, I shouldn't be surprised. Maybe I can coax it out of him, get him to think about the contents.
"It's really a very nice briefcase."
"Thank you, I
just picked it up this morning."
No, idiot, I know your combination is 1-2-3, everybody knows your briefcase combination is 1-2-3.
"Is it a wedding present for Paige? I'm curious what's inside."
"Oh, nothing that
expensive, just some personal items."
Yes, I'm sure the plush interior is very nice, and yippee that it has a folder for envelopes and stamps. What is in the briefcase? I'll try something else.
"Well let's see what secrets the cards hold."
Still nothing. I gather up the tarot cards on my desk and proceed to lay them out. First card, The Fool--hmm there might be something to this deck after all. I've been faking the cardplay all this time. Second card, The Magician.
Salem? The deck feels lighter somehow.
Katherine, or me? Elise in the secretarial pool?
Nine of cups. Definitely me.
"Ummm, so, does the eight of wands go on the nine of cups?"
"What do the cards say?" Ward asks.
I have absolutely
no idea. I make something up. "Well, it appears that the moon is
rising towards Aldebaran."
Aldebaran. `The follower', why did I pick that name?
"That's great advice, Cassandra. Now I know exactly what I'm going to do." Ward stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.
I returned to the cards wishing I had paid more attention when I sent away for the Fortune Telling course on the back of that matchbook. I find the briefcase under the desk where I saw him leave it. Does Winston want it too? He was also in the hall. No, he certainly would have had the chance to see it by now. He might know what's inside, but his mind is closed to me. I reach down, pick up the briefcase and suddenly images flood my mind. It's dark, I can hear the rumbling sounds of a train rushing by--Salem walks right past me-- he's reading a newspaper--he puts his briefcase down--his back is to me, but I catch light reflecting off something that he has just pulled from his coat--he checks his watch...the images blur and sharpen--someone else is with us, also in the shadows--I can't make out who it is--suddenly there is a BANG!
There is knock on the door--someone is in the hall---
I sit down in Ward's chair. I put the briefcase behind the chair as the door slides open. It is Tip Turner, Paige's fiance.
"Hi, I was ummm looking for my briefcase...." Tip looks furtively around the office until his eyes focus on a small brown briefcase which is lying under the coat rack.
"Ah there it is," he scoops it up and leaves quickly. How long until he notices the W.P. embossed on the plate? There is a commotion in the newsroom. I hear Salem's voice, he's back from lunch. I hear Paige's shriek. I crack the door open and watch as they chase Tip out the door. No one notices as I slip out, briefcase in hand, to my own office.
"What in heaven's name are you talking about? Why are squirrels after my father?" Paige is delirious. She must be--why would she start worrying more about her father than her new car? I listen to her tirade, giving her barking the same credibility that I give to a volunteer carnival worker. Fortunately, she quickly runs out of steam. I haven't the heart to tell her what kind of squirrels are after her father. Mara's English is always full of idiosyncrasies, but I recognize her verbal gymnastics. If she means squirrels, she means a flying squirrel, specifically the assapan. Mara asked me about assapans once before--she had meant assassins. It took a while explaining to her how JFK could be killed by a squirrel working in the school book depository. (Squirrels. You just can't trust them.)
I try to calm Paige but it's useless. The newsroom is busy and I have work to do, a problem which is only compounded by the fact that my car is sitting on Acorn Street. I call a cab for Paige, and explain to her that her other option is walking. The cab pulls up to the front door. As I open the back door for Paige, the driver asks--Where do you wish to go today, sahib? It's the same driver from this morning.
"Take Miss Player wherever she wants to go," I say, pushing Paige inside and slamming the door before she has a chance to object.
The taxi speeds away and I can't help but feel a twinge of regret for the horrible trick I've just played. That cab ride is going to be two hours of pure hell. Oh well, it serves him right for charging me $200 this morning.
I turn and head back to the newsroom. Assassins? Out to get Ward? Why? The only thing Ward has ever hurt was the Examiner's finances. Could that be it? What did Tip know that he had referred to Ward as the former publisher?.
I go to see Katherine--we have a photo shoot down by the big dig. The city is trying to put a tunnel underground to improve the traffic situation. It is a filthy eyesore if ever I saw one, easily the last place I want to be standing in, covered in mud and salt and reeking to high heaven. I hear Kate's voice coming from Cassie's office. All of a sudden the smells of the construciton site drop to an apropos number two. It will still be much more enjoyable than being in a room with my present girlfriend and my previous lover.
It started the first day Katherine arrived and it hasn't let up since. When she waltzed into the newsroom she immediately captured her audience. Cassandra and I had just broken up and she was the last thing I had expected.
"I want you Salem", Katherine had said, invading my private daydream, causing me to gulp my coffee all at once and risk spraying it back through my eyes. She didn't notice my gasp or she ignored it. "I want you to do the photography for this. You're not like the others. I like you Salem."
Before I could tell her how much I wanted her, she continued, "Everyone else here looks at me like I'm meat. I'm sick of hearing how much these dogs want me. But you, you're different."
I checked my watch, "Hmmm--27 seconds--I'll have to remember that. ...Count to 27 before you say anything..." Katherine was still speaking, I gave her my best "you have my full attention look." Luckily, she didn't see through it; she was looking out my office window, which was only slightly more transparent.
".... I knew it when I saw you Salem. When I walked in the room I could tell right away. The only two people who didn't remove their hats and trip all over themselves were you and Stone. Stone's reputation precedes him. That leaves you Salem. You're the guy I want."
Am I really wearing a hat? I thought. I had forgotten all about it.
"I'm your guy", I replied. I was about to add, "This is about work right?" but stopped to count. I had counted to seven when she replied, "Good, now grab your camera and let's go."
I return to my office to wait for Kate. I spy the envelope from Ottawa. Might as well get some editing done while I wait.
I slit open the envelope. There are several blank pages. Hmmm, well the new television season has been kind of lame, but I didn't think it warranted this sort of Oscar Wilde critique. Then the last page slides away from the back. I read it carefully, and then again a second time. I check the postmark again. It was mailed in Ottawa on Friday. I don't know what is more astonishing, that Canada Post has managed international mail over a weekend, or the fact that the neat block lettering on the paper is all too familiar. It is my own.
I slide the briefcase into my desk. Do I risk opening it here and then returning it? Salem is back, his attempts to catch Tip have failed. They must think he has the briefcase. I decide that I'll take it home later and examine it there. I'm torn between running out the door and playing it cool, waiting for a chance to leave unaccosted.
I stare at the cards on the desk trying to decide what to do next. Hmmm, four of Wands on five of Pentacles--that should clear up the ace of swords. I have a pretty cake job, they pay me way too much money to come up with horoscopes that can be bought from a syndicate. Well, Winston, I suppose that's your doing. A shadow falls across my desk.
"Katherine, hi, what can I do for you?"
"I want a word with you, Twitch. Why the hell is it that you get a whole office while I sit at a desk in a common newsroom?"
"Well you spend so much of your time off site that it isn't really practical, whereas I have to spend my whole day here."
"Yes, well the fern and the dieffenbachia seem to have become equally productive in more spartan surroundings."
"Say, that's a lovely dress, is it comfortable? I hope they make them in smaller sizes."
"I got it at Filene's. Speaking of which, there was a delivery van pulling up when I went by--I think your make-up order for next week has arrived. We should have a feature in the Sunday magazine with beauty tips, there are lots of people in town who could benefit from something like that."
"Well, I don't think women read the magazine. It's mostly men who are more interested in business items, like whether Ben and Jerry's stock is a safe investment or not. What do you think?"
"I must run, Winston and I are having dinner together after work."
I read her thoughts. Well, you're half right my dear, and I am sadly tempted to prove the other half right as well. What the hell does Winston see in her?
I am waiting for Winston to finish taking care of Ward's deadbeat daughter. Speaking of deadbeats I look over to Cassandra's office. I have never understood why the Examiner keeps her on payroll when we could have hired a more believable syndicated charlatan at a much lower cost. I must remind myself to check if equal opportunity applies to people from other planets. She has hated me since I arrived. "Winston and I go way back", she had warned me, "further than you can imagine." I take a special pleasure in reminding her that their relationship only extends backwards. I knock politely before entering.
"What do you want?"
"Easy, Miss Twitch, I just came here to chat. I love your office. I'd like to have an office someday."
"Well you spend so much of your time off site that I assumed you kept offices at various downtown establishments."
"There's no need to be condescending, I was merely inquiring. This is a lovely fern."
"Thanks. Say that's a lovely dress, is the tent fly optional?"
"I'll ignore that, but I thought you might like to know that the Sunday magazine will be running a beauty section, and they are bound to have some practical makeup tips."
"Yes, well I don't think anyone reads those articles. I haven't seen any evidence that the diet articles are helping anyone. Say, do you still have Ben and Jerry's for lunch? The stock price took a big hit last week."
"Love to stay and chat, but Winston and I have work to do." I can't leave fast enough. God, that woman is a witch. Her name even rhymes with bitch for god's sake--how appropriate is that? What the hell did Winston ever see in her?
Winston and Katherine depart. I check the newsroom to see if it's safe to leave. I'd better make sure Tom has my horoscopes ready for printing. I find him in the morgue with Marlin. They're startled by my entrance and they both make an uneasy attempt to hide something when I enter. They're probably experimenting, and I ignore the hands behind their backs.
"So, what do you think of the Sox this year?", Marlin asks.
I'm fine with using small talk to escape the uncomfortable scene. "Another wait til next year season I'm afraid, the Marlins will win it all this year."
Tom stifles a laugh. Marlin is less successful. Chicks and sports, he thinks to himself.
"What? Is that so out of the question?"
"An expansion team? Never happen," Marlin laughs.
"Sure, how much do you want to bet?"
"For you, 20-1 odds."
"A thousand bucks."
"Hey it's your money. Tom you witness this?"
Hello golf clubs! Marlin thinks as we sign to it.
Hello new car, I think to myself. Don't ever let anyone tell you precognition isn't lucrative.
Marlin slips out of the morgue giggling. I check with Tom about my horoscopes.
"Oh, right--um--I think I have them--could you just check my office for me? They should be on my desk." Tom slides his keys to me. As I pick them up off the cabinet, I'm frozen in my tracks. I feel chilled as the sensations and images wave over me--This must be Tom's apartment--hmmph, single guys never clean up pizza boxes--but there's more lying around discarded--I can see shapes in the dark-- my mind is lead through the dark of the apartment and I follow a path into the living room--on the floor hidden by the coffee table I can see him face down--blood oozing from a head wound. ARE YOU OK?
"Cassandra, are you ok?"
"What? Yes, Tom, I'm ok." The shock subsides, " Tom, don't go home tonight."
"Just DO NOT go home tonight, understand? Stay here at work if you have to."
"Sure, sure, whatever you say. I've got some catching up to do, I'll just stick around for the night, I guess."
"Good, good, you do that, just PROMISE me you WON'T go home, ok?"
"Sure, I promise--but you have to promise you won't rob my house."
I'm shaking as I leave. My hands are still cold. I go to pick up the briefcase and again the images flood me. Again I see the light catch what Winston is holding, again the loud bang. I slip my coat over the briefcase and exit out the back door. I toss the briefcase on the passenger side of my Accord, and head home.
As I drive down Beacon street, I look up at the second floor windows of #469. The windows are dark. I park the car and head up the stairs at number 463, to my apartment. Upstairs, I dial the typical 1-2-3 and open the briefcase. I sift through the contents. Ward was right, it does have a nice plush interior. So this is what the secrecy is all about.
Now I have to see Winston.
His rooms are still dark. The wait is interminable. How long does it take to eat dinner anyway?
"Grab your camera and let's go."
Katherine is hurrying out the door and off to work. She doesn't mention what she and Cassie were talking about, which is fine by me. She interviews some of the construction foremen, preying on them, trying to find some lead to the supposed corrupt contracting practices. My mind is still retracing the day's events. I'm brought out of my daze as a yellow taxi cab passes by--its passenger is banging against the glass, swearing.
Dinner is at Whiskey's Steakhouse on Boylston. It's my favourite haunt and yet, I'm not remotely hungry. I glance down at the table where the bottle caps stare up at me from under the glass. I catch my reflection with the CANADIAN bottle cap neatly centred on my forehead and I can't help but wonder if there is some doppleganger of me across the border, eight hours away.
Katherine and I take a slow walk along Commonwealth and then turn down Hereford to Beacon street. It feels good to have my arm around her and yet, as I pass by the brownstone at 463, I can't help but look up to the top floor, where the lights are on.
I live on the second floor of the brownstone at 469. Each stair is harder to climb than the previous. I pass the picture of Babe Ruth's farewell to Fenway. I wonder if his old joints were as tired as mine are now.
I call Ward's place. Mara answers. He's still not home, but she has seen squirrels in the trees outside. Luckily, she really means squirrels. I promise to check back with her, and ask Ward to call if he returns. It has been a long day. I slump into the chair. Sleep is what I need. Katherine is slipping into her nightgown, as I go to slip into catatonia.
"AAAAAAAH!" I jump, causing Kate to rush into the room. A large grey cat jumps off of my chair and looks up at me.
"F&%#! Bad Janey, Bad cat."
"I didn't know you had a cat. I thought you were a dog person"
"I don't.....I am...., it's...a neighbour's cat."
Lady Jane Grey is Cassie's cat. I have to stifle that bit of information. Kate doesn't know that Cassie is three doors away. Even the fact that I call her Cassie irritates her. I keep swearing at the cat under my breath. The cat seems to scowl at me as I think of images involving a burlap sack and a very deep lake. I chase it out into the hall. It stops and looks back at me. I shoo it some more. The cat moves a little further and waits. It is as if the cat wants me to follow her. I follow to the window where the cat bounces onto the ledge and up to the rooftop. The cat jumps across to the neighbouring brownstone and waits for me. I have been this way before. Cassandra and I used to make love on the roof above her attic under the stars. That was until she caught sight of the giant CITGO sign in Kenmore square and started giggling "GO, GO, CITGO!", that kind of ruined it for me.
"I have to run out for a few minutes," I call back to Katherine, who of course will wonder why there aren't the sounds of feet on the stairs. The night air is invigorating; the feet which plodded up the staircase seem to fly over the rooftops. I make it to Cassie's roof--the skylight window is open.
On her table is the briefcase.
Cassie stops me. "Tom is going to be killed."
"What? The assassins are after Tom?"
I relate Mara's call to her; I bring her up to date and she explains that Ward asked her to look after the briefcase. She's hiding something, but then I haven't been entirely truthful with her either.
"How do you know Tom is going to be killed?"
"I just know he's going to be killed in his apartment tonight. I've told him to stay at the office."
"What about Tim?"
"What about Tim?"
"He lives there too."
The revelation startles Cassandra.
"Quick, where's the phone?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"It's a cordless, I forget where I put it!"
"You must have some idea!"
"What am I, psychic?"
The base station sits on a window sill, I beep the remote and the receiver answers back. I call Tim's home number, there is no answer. I call Tom at work, he picks up immediately.
"Tom B. Stone, who be you?"
"It's Salem, Tom, where's Tim?"
"Why, Tim is right here."
"And he's with a giant pig!"
Great, either he's drunk or Channel 4 is playing WKRP reruns.
"Put Tim on the phone."
There are several beeps and then a click and a dial tone. I try again."
Tom B. Stone, Who be you?"
"Please give the phone to Tim."
"Certainly, who may I say is calling?"
"GIVE HIM THE DAMN PHONE!"
"Tim, it's Salem. What are you doing?"
"Talking on the phone."
He giggles. In the background I can hear Tom, "Tell him about the giant pig."
"There isn't really a giant pig here."
"No, I didn't think so."
"It's an aardvark."
"Listen you two, stay right there. Don't do anything till I get there."
"What about the aardvark?"
"Ask him if he knows how to publish a newspaper."
I hang up. Cass and I run out the door and down the stairs. We exit the back lane and hop into her Accord. She heads down the back lane and I see a car start up behind us. Are we being followed? Cass sees the car too, she takes a left at Massachusetts Avenue across three lanes of swerving swearing traffic. I hate driving with her, but she manages to lose the car and most of my breath.
We arrive at the office, Tim is still standing with the receiver to his ear. Neither of them have heard from Ward. I call again, Mara answers. Ward was there 20 minutes ago, he hopped in a cab which had just dropped Paige off. Cassandra is forcing coffee on the guys.
"So what's next in the Salem-Twitch riles?" Tom asks.
"We wait for Ward and then we have to find where Tip is hiding out."
"Where Tip is hiding out? That's not hard", Tim interjects.
"Where is he?"
"He was pretty broken up about Paige, so I gave him the keys to my place."
I call--the line is busy.
The boys live at 299 Faneuil in Brookline. Cass leaves a note for Ward and the four of us pour into the Accord. As we arrive, a taxi pulls up to the house followed by an all-too-familiar black car. Katherine exits the black car. She is not impressed by my choice of driver. Ward ambles between us.
"Did you guys get a call to come here too?"
"We live here" Tim replies.
The house is dark. The door is locked. Tom breaks in the door and then remembers, he has his keys in his front pocket. "Damn."
Tim switches on the lights, we pass by a stack of empty pizza boxes in the long hall, we wander into the living room, and on the other side of the couch, half-hidden by the coffee table, lies a very dead Tip Turner, face down, blood pooled on the floor where it had oozed out the side of his head.
Ward ignores the shouted pleas of "Don't touch the phone".
the receiver on the cradle, then lifts it, dials and yells "Stop the presses!"