Excerpt: 'The Scarecrow'

Carver gave Wyeth the show by rote, covering everything and saying everything the silk-stocking lawyer wanted to hear. Wyeth was on a barbecue and due diligence mission. He would go back to St. Louis and report on how impressed he had been. He would tell them that this was the way to go if the firm wanted to keep up with changing technologies and times.

And McGinnis would get another contract.

All the while he spoke, Carver was thinking about the intruder they had been chasing. Out there somewhere, not expecting the comeuppance that was speeding toward him. Carver and his young disciples would loot his personal bank accounts, take his identity and hide photos of men having sex with eight-year-old boys on his work computer. Then he would crash it with a replicating virus. When the intruder couldn't fix it he would call in an expert. The photos would be found and the police would be called.

The intruder would no longer be a threat.

"Wesley?" McGinnis said Carver came out of the reverie. The suit had asked a question – Carver had already forgotten his name.

"Excuse me?"

"Mr. Wyeth asked if the colocation center had ever been breached."

McGinnis was smiling, already knowing the answer.

"No, sir, we've never been breached. To be honest, there have been a few attempts. But they have failed, resulting in disastrous consequences for those who tried."

The suit nodded somberly.

"We represent the cream of the crop of St. Louis," he said. "The integrity of our files and our client list is paramount to all we do. That's why I came here personally."

That and the strip club McGinnis took you to, Carver thought but didn't say. He smiled instead but there was no warmth in it. He was glad McGinnis had reminded him of the suit's name. "Don't worry, Mr. Wyeth," he said. "Your crops will be safe on this farm." Wyeth smiled back. "That's what I wanted to hear," he said.

JACK

EVERY EYE IN the newsroom followed me as I left Kramer's office and walked back to my pod. The long looks made it a long walk. The pink slips always came out on Fridays and they all knew I had just gotten the word. Except they didn't call them pink slips anymore. Now it was an RIF form – as in, reduction in force.

They all felt the slightest tingle of relief that it hadn't been them and the slightest tingle of anxiety because they still knew that no one was safe. Any one of them could be called in next.

I met no one's stare as I passed beneath the Metro sign and headed back into podland. I moved into my cubicle and slipped into my seat, dropping from sight like a soldier diving into a foxhole.

Immediately my phone buzzed. On the read out I saw that it was my friend Larry Bernard calling. He was only two cubicles away but knew if he had come to me in person it would have been a clear signal for others in the newsroom to crowd around me and ask the obvious. Reporters work best in packs like that.

I put on my headset and picked up the call.

"Hey, Jack," he said.

"Hey, Larry," I said.

"So?"

"So what?"

"What did Kramer want?"

He pronounced the assistant managing editor's name as Crammer, which was the nickname bestowed on Richard Kramer years earlier when he was an assignment editor more concerned with the quantity rather than the quality of news he got his reporters to produce for the paper. Other variations of his full or partial name evolved over time as well. "You know what he wanted. He gave me notice. I'm out of here."

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