The sun shone through the windows of the Holliweather News office, making bright patches on the dark wood flooring. It was a peaceful afternoon, and the young woman at the desk paused her typing to gaze up at the ceiling. Unconsciously, she made a mental note to dust the corners that displayed sparkling spider webs, but after a moment her slim fingers were flashing back and forth among the keys once more.
The front door slowly opened as a middle aged man entered. A wooden plaque on the back of the door swung and thumped dully back in place, causing the secretary to glance up guiltily.
“Hi Alf,” she greeted her partner, “Any interesting news?” The man, known as Alfred, flung his ball-cap on a chair and placed a small note book on the desk before her. He leaned forward, his voice strained with excitement, “Read what I have here.” Upon the top page a few paragraphs had been hastily scribbled, and these she read aloud. “$1,000 reward to the first person who gets the Moon Pie recipe and brings it here. The owner of it has the name of Taylor Olley and lives in this city some place. All we know about her is she is sixteen years old and has long hair. So hurry and ‘find’ your $1,000!” The room was silent as she pondered what this meant.
“Where did you find this?” she finally asked.
“I can’t recall the name of it, but it was on the gates to the biggest candy factory.”
The girl’s eyes widened a little, “This will be big news then.”
Alfred finally bubbled over, exclaiming, “Don’t you know what this could do for us! We could become rich or at least famous! All we have to do is track down this girl, Taylor, and get the recipe. Then instead of turning it in… we use it for our advantage, asking for an even bigger price for it. Don’t you see, Maggie?!”
She nodded slowly but her common sense overruled her excitement, and she stayed calm. “By the way,” she sarcastically reminded Alfred, “We both have a job still, and I would really enjoy tossing it to the wind for a crazy plan that might not even work.”
Alfred rolled his eyes, “Look, I already have this thought out. Meet me here tonight after boss leaves. We should keep this just between you and me; we don’t want him keeping us from our money.” Maggie agreed, making a motion as if zipping her lips.
The sound of a car pulling in caused Alfred to shove his note book into his pocket, and the secretary to quickly hide her idleness. Alfred strode out of the room and a few minutes later the boss entered, the familiar bang of the plaque announcing his presence.
After a full day of work the clock above the door neared six, and the light began to fade. The boss glanced at the time and grunted to his secretary, “Maggie, you can finish that tomorrow. It’s time to close up shop.”
“I can lock up tonight. Besides, I have some work to catch up on,” she paused to offer.
He shrugged, mumbling something that sounded like “thanks” he handed Maggie the key and exited the building. And so it happened that he drove home, never thinking twice about the unusually generous offer.
Only a few minutes after his car pulled out Alfred ran into the newspaper office breathing hard. “Did I miss Saul?”
“And where were you all day?” Maggie narrowed her blue eyes at him, “We almost lost our meeting place because you weren’t here to secure it!”
Alfred made a motion as if brushing her words off. “Cool down, partner,” he slouched on a stool lazily. “Let’s just say…out gallivanting.”
“When you were supposed to be doing your job,” Maggie said, percing her lips disapprovingly.
Alfred yawned mockingly at her, “Save the “good person” sermons until later and let’s get down to business. I have found the guy for our job.” Maggie opened her mouth to reply to his haughty remark but wisely shut it again and followed him to the back room.
They talked in low tones as the sun disappeared bellow the horizon. “Maggie,” urged Alfred, “He is not so bad once you get to knowing him. We can hire him for the job at a cheap sum, and he is sure to get the recipe before anyone, like boss, becomes suspicious.”
Maggie shook her head doubtfully, “Well, what is his name?”
“Um,” Alfred cleared his throat, “This man is the James Handler.” Maggie’s face was clearly seen by her co-worker, and he sighed. Leaning forward Alfred argued, “No one has to know that we have any connections with him, and Handler can get it over with in only a matter of weeks and we’ll never think of it again.”
That didn’t sound so bad. “He’ll do the job alright,” Maggie hesitantly agreed. “I just wonder how he’ll keep from being caught,” she muttered to herself.
“This is what we want from you...” instructed Alfred. Once again they had met after hours but were now joined by a third, darkly silhouetted figure. A small note book was passed between them as where some words.
Presently they parted, two casually locking up and leaving by way of the front door. But the other’s exit was a curious one indeed. All the lights having been put out, the lone figure quietly stepped over to a window. Sliding it open he peered out into the dark alley behind before swinging one leg over and jumping to the ground. He reached in and pulled the window shut, then slipped into the crowded alley, weaving in and out of the shadows.
No one would have been able to guess where he was going, his way was so crafty. His short legs seemed to carry the small, stocky figure all too speedily. The darkly tanned face was partially hidden by a black fedora pulled down low over his eyes.
Suddenly he stood in front of a house that was like all the others, but to him this was not just any home. It had been his destination from the beginning. During his various loops and detours he had been inching his way toward a certain building. This home and its occupants were to be his main focus for many days to come.
Alfred was striding down the street a few days later when he stopped abruptly. Was he being hissed at?! He nervously glanced around and seeing no sign of anyone, he quickened his steps onward.
Suddenly someone grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled poor frightened Alfred back into the evening shadows. Fortunately, Alfred recognized the black fedora and remained calm and relatively quite. “James Handler, you scared me!” Alfred complained.
“I’ve been following you since you bought nails at Joe’s Hardware, bought a new yellow note pad, and all the way to the diner where you got sandwich, and just couldn’t your attention!” was the hissed reply.
Alfred found himself getting a little uncomfortable as Handler named precisely each of his errands. “But no time to talk of such things now.” Handler glanced around and before slipping off he whispered, “Lance 1980,” and was gone.
Alfred slowly walked out onto the sidewalk, frightfully stunned and bewildered. Spying a Taxi parked by the curb near by, he asked the driver to “bring him to Holliweather News downtown” and settled into a seat.
The only other passenger was a young man in torn jeans and white rimmed sunglasses who appeared to be asleep. Therefore, Alfred felt comfortable in taking out his new yellow note book, jotting down what had happened and returning it to his back pocket.
The car sped through town and pulled up in front of the Holliweather News Office in record time. Alfred hopped out and flipping a coin to the driver ran to the door of the building.
The plaque banged louder than usual as Alfred entered.
Maggie quickly shook her head at him, and he realized the scene which he had burst in upon. The boss, Saul, had his back to the door and was pacing the floor dictating a letter to the Holliweather Police Department. “He was short and had dark skin, no make that, darkly tanned skin. He came bursting in here as if he owned this very place and had no explanation. He just ran right out looking like a scared cat,” Saul turned, “Oh Alfred, glad you came. You need to know of a few strange things happening about. Take a seat.”
Before he could continue the telephone rang shrilly. Maggie picked it up and holding her hand over the receiver she quickly handed it to her boss, “For you, Saul.”
After a moment he hung up and explained, “There has been an accident down on the main hwy that I need to report. Don’t expect me until well after three.”
Soon his car had gone. “Well that was convenient,” Maggie said, letting out her breath.
“Hmmm...”Alfred shook his head but didn’t speak his thoughts. “Maggie, as I was walking from the Hardware store James Handler, um, met with me. All he spoke was something like Lance-a 918-something or other. Do you have any idea what that means?”
Maggie grinned and began typing furiously, “I have a pretty good idea. I’m searching it right now.”
Alfred leaned over his co-worker’s shoulder, “Ya that must be it right there, Lance in CO.”
Maggie double clicked, and a short article popped up. She read aloud while Alfred scribbled notes. “Lance Space Ship manufacturers is a fairly well off company though not very well known. Currently it has only five locations around the world,” Maggie skimmed the article so quickly it was almost impossible to understand her words.
Alfred interrupted, “Read that part again will you?”
“Sure, it says- “including China, Michigan, and New York,”” she repeated.
“Well what do you know, we’ve got a Lance Space Ship base right here in our own state, and I didn’t even know about it. Click on that link and see what it says about this Michigan factory.”
They waited as the page loaded before she began reading once more in her high soprano voice. “As high interest in outer space became popular among the rich in the U.S, Lance raced to be the first to invent the comfortable civilian ship wanted. In the year 1980 the first cruse ship equipped for space was sold on the campus of Lance Space Ship base in Michigan. On the side of the glossy capsule shaped ship they painted the words Lance 1980 in big bold letters to celebrate their accomplishment.”
The room became quiet as Alfred gathered his thought and read over his notes. “Lance 1980,” he repeated. Looking up he exclaimed, “Maggie, we figured it out! That was what Handler said, I remember now.”
Maggie’s eyes were big, and she suddenly stood to stare out the window, “Boss is back! What could have gone wrong?”
“Oh dear, that Handler,” groaned Alfred.
Maggie quickly shut the documents, and Alfred snatched up his note pad. Stuffing it back in his pocket, he met Saul at the door. “Oh, hello. I was just going off to, uh, ask the mayor about his thoughts on the new bill passed about cows milk. I guess we’ll have to talk when I get back,” Alfred casually walked to his car.
Just like old Alf, always finding a way out and always leaving me to deal with it, Maggie was thinking, but said aloud instead, “Let’s see…what were we doing before you left?”
“Never mind that now. It was the strangest thing, it turns out that the call was a false alarm. No accident at all! I even called to see if I had gone to the wrong place, but no!” Saul paced the floor, a troubled look on his face.
Grinning to herself, Maggie suggested innocently, “Could it be a prank call, or miss-information?”
The boss tipped his head, “Possibly....”
“I’ll be in the back room if you need me,” Maggie assured him and quickly escaped more conversation. She sat down wearily and began re-wording an advertisement for a large litter of puppies.
Presently, the clock read 5:30, and she laid aside her work and started toward the door. The sound of tapping on the window made her stop. Maggie turned and saw a darkly dressed man who was motioning at her. She shook her head at him and hastily wrote a message on a scrap of paper, which she then held up. “Come at 7:00 to back.”
He nodded and slipped out of sight.
Maggie let out her breathe and sat down. She ripped the paper into small pieces and dropped them into the wicker waste basket nearby.
To be continued next time...