The Banner Years
By David S
"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 suddenly said, "You know, you really need to get more exercise. You walk too slow." 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 take us off on a totally irrelevant tangent. I instead proved it to him (even knowing he would never notice it) by catching up with him again in three steps. I fired my opening salvo in my 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 lost a year ago. I decided this wasn't as important as my car, though. Besides, I knew what he thought of congee, and I agreed; the only thing worse was haggis.
"Okay," I said. As we went through 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 for a few seconds, then said, "Good idea," and 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 I was grateful but suspicious.
When we arrived, the only open table was the one we had had earlier. Ward ordered two corned beef sandwiches. The waitress just 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 the order and walked away, out the front door and to the right. It suddenly 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 is 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," I said with a silent sigh of relief. "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 returned with our sandwiches. I turned my coffee cup up, but she didn't acknowledge it. Ward took a bite of his sandwich. I ignored mine.
"I see," I said. "You know, maybe you should talk to a lawyer about it."
Ward's face clouded again. He swallowed. "What can a lawyer do about the moon?" I stared blankly at him for a moment. "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 harassment." I tapped my fingers on the briefcase. His gaze eventually came to rest there. "Come to think of it, a lawyer could probably help me with that too. Glad I thought of it!" He grinned and took another big bite of his sandwich. Noticing mine was untouched, he started motioning toward it.
"No, I'm not hungry," I said. "I had a lot for breakfast."
Ward swallowed and said, "Eat, my boy, eat. You're too skinny."
I reluctantly moved half of the sandwich to my mouth and took a tiny bite. At the same time, I tore off a large piece of it and hid it in my hand. Putting the sandwich down and pretending to chew, I moved my hand to my cup and dropped in the sandwich hunk, realizing too late that the waitress had filled the cup with coffee. Desperate for some caffeine, I took a gulp of the coffee, even 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 can make a couple of phone calls when we get back to the office," I said.
"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 untouched other half of my sandwich, and made for the door. Startled, I took another gulp of my coffee, straining the corned beef with my teeth. Then I stood, flipped a ten and a five on the table, and swiftly followed Ward out the door.
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 was a thick envelope on my desk. It was postmarked Ottawa, Ontario. Must be the latest from our TV critic, Jeff. His Canadian perspective on 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 page. I dialed a number in California.
"Hello, this is Thomasjhoihaengnganrggnan'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 me a message if you want, but I might not answer it for a couple of years. <Beeeeep>"
"That's a nasty garble you've got in your tape there, pal." I sighed and hung up. "Well," I muttered to myself, "if you can't get a lawyer, try a paralegal." I turned to the J page and called Maryland.
"Law offices of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe," said a clipped voice. I asked for my friend. "I'm sorry, she has the week off to attend the reunion of the 1978 Purple Cowtail Contest. May I take a message?" I politely declined to leave a message and hung up, sighing again. I was just reaching for the phone book to pick a lawyer at random 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, I think that's what she said. Anyway, I'd feel better if you came with me."
I stared at him for a second, then popped up. "All right," I said, "let's go."
"You drive," Ward said as we left the building for what I was afraid might turn out to be my third lunch of the day.
Despite my trepidation, I set a new record for driving to Ward's house, screeching to a stop at the back door eight minutes later. As we approached the door, Ward stepped just in front of me so that I was almost glued to his shoulder. "Stick close," he said quietly. Then he opened the door and I nearly lost my corned beef. Mara Plopp had been shopping, and not for groceries. She had been to Victoria's Secret, and was now standing there in the kitchen wearing a black negligee that left nothing to the imagination, even that which should have been. Her huge smile on seeing Ward was instantly replaced with icy daggers directed at me. "Stick close," Ward muttered again out of the side of his mouth.
"[Christin, fill in something here.]" said Mara.
Copyright © 1997, 2002 David Streeter.
[Note: Christin had decreed that no one but her was to write dialog for Mrs. Mara Plopp. That was fine with me. I intended for Christin to just give her a single, cryptic line, and let the author of the next chapter explain what it meant (if possible!). Unfortunately, I didn't actually tell Christin what I had in mind, and she wrote several more sentences. Her privilege, I guess, as the mastermind behind the whole story.]