The squeal of ancient brakes echoed through the trees of the small park, the lone man reclining on the bench in the growing dusk. The man watched the trolley slowly struggle around the sharp curve of track.
The man knew that struggle by heart. The trolley would take exactly thirty seconds to get around that curve. He had counted it many times, with his stopwatch, and it was always the same. He even enjoyed the dependable regularity to which it seemed almost haltingly to grind around that turn. Even after he’d given up the habit of timing it, months ago, the time it took to make that turn never seemed to change. He could even feel it: always exactly the same amount of time.
Early on, he had sometimes wondered whether the trolley might get stuck part-way; it seemed to struggle so much. But, that, too, was months ago. Now, he just looked forward to its noisy struggle...
...It sometimes reminded him of watching chicks struggling to break out of their shells---a sight he'd seen plenty growing up on a small farm.
...It meant he was about to take his gloriously peaceful ride home.
Just as the trolley stopped in front of him, on impulse he grabbed a copy of one of the free city newspapers on display in the metal boxes beside the bench. As the trolley opened its door with a gentle squeak, he got up, tucked the paper in his tan leather bag, and climbed aboard.
He paid the fair to the operator, and moved to the middle of the car. He sat onto the wide side seat facing away from the park, and sighed in sleepy relief. Sprawling himself out on the seat, his back propped up on the seat’s aft armrest, he breathed in the air the trolley let in at most of its loosely-clad seams.
He just lay there, taking in the nothing out the windshield, the creaky trolley resuming its course. Soon they were passing through the downtown of glass-sided skyscrapers and stone and brick high-rises.
There was one thing he always liked about this trolley ride: it had lots of trees, even along many blocks occupied by the tallest buildings. And, the streets smelled nice and clean. Even though he was only assistant-to-the-assistant to the city planner, he knew that some parts of the city were a little run-down, and it made him feel accountable to the people who lived there.
It was a new city to him. He had moved there recently after his dad died. He’d been unable to take over his dad’s mortgage, but he was determined to buy back the house from the bank. So, he had quit his job at the small-town auto shop and gotten a higher paying job in the city. He’d hoped one day to afford the cost of travel all the way back to his boyhood home every night, but that first city job hadn’t paid enough even to hope to buy his old house. His current job paid more, but even then it would take years just to make the down-payment. That didn’t factor in the cost of his transport to and from the city every day—which, looking by his increasing time at work, would require a plane or helicopter.
It cost him much less to live and work in the city than to make mortgage payments that even his present salary would barely cover; and then he still had to eat. City apartments could be cheaper to rent per square foot than a house of comparable quality in the country. And, since the ratio of interior volume to the square footage of external walls is much greater for a big apartment building than for a separate house with comparable insulation and weatherization, the heating and cooling costs of an apartment in such a building is significantly lower per cubic foot than is that of a house.
So, either he had to work too much to pay for an ideal home setting that he would never enjoy, or had to settle for now to a life in the city with a cheap apartment. But, he was a very practical man, unwilling to risk over-extending himself for his own personal desires. So, he was either going to buy back the house outright, or not buy it at all.
He often wondered if rents would be lower than they were if the owners who rented them out were not paying mortgages just to own them. Then he would be able to buy back his old home sooner, assuming the total of all other critical costs was more-or-less equal to what it was now.
Without thinking, he sleepily pulled out the copy of the free paper he had impulsively acquired at the stop. He opened it at random, hoping to read something relaxing and trivial. The page was blank: there was no print on it; no pictures, either. He flipped to another page. That, too, was blank. He was too sleepy to feel surprise. He leafed through all its pages, and all were blank. Still no sense of surprise. Only the cover sheet was printed, with advertisements taking up the inside front and back pages. I’ve been gipped, he thought humorously. A free paper with no news in it. Probably a one-in-a-million mistake that it ended up in with the printed copies. He decided he was going to pick up another---printed---copy at the stand of news boxes near his apartment.
He put the blank thing back in his bag, put an arm on the seat back, and resumed simply enjoying the ride. Through heavy eyelids he watched the world approach-and-pass in the increasing night, his brain lucidly humming his favorite tune as if he had a radio built into his head. This was an ability his brain had somehow acquired, and it had done so at the same time he had moved to the city. It was just as if he were listening to his stereo at his apartment home, but with range of acoustic options determined entirely at will.
He sat there in the dimly-lit interior of the trolley, feeling the night air pass along the windows. He wondered idly about his long-term plans while enjoying his ‘in-built’ private stereo. But, with the trolley door making its faint mouse-chattering squeaks, the gentle shake of the car was making him very restful.
His boyhood home had included a three-and-a-half acre parcel of land, adjacent to a stream. His family had grown a lot of food---and a lot of friends---on that land over the years. His dad had always liked company, and was always a great and boisterous host. There were many birthday parties on that land, for what seemed like most of the people in the town, both young and old. He was the only one who hated having his birthday celebrated with a party---a practice which he had managed to all-but abolish by the time he was twelve, by simply avoiding any party in his honor until even his dad took the hint. He hated being the center of the adoring attention of a crowd. All he wanted was to keep track of his age: he didn’t want to wake up one day and suddenly realize that he was several years older than he felt. That would be like living in the arctic and losing a sense of the hours because the night is nearly as bright as the day. He liked his nights dark.
Of his parents, his mom had been the quiet one, seemingly unremarkable but for her shyness and impossibly youthful appearance. It had been a surprise to him when, in his late teens, he saw her swimming like a fish, because he had had no idea that anyone in the family, especially her, could swim that well. He had learned only after she died that she had been a deep diver and long-distance swimmer. But, it turned out that his dad was surprising as well: though having been a greater talker, and having talked about everything it seemed, including plenty of himself, his dad had never mentioned to him that he was a national-class marksman in his youth. He found this out only when his dad’s brother told him the day the bank repossessed the house, digging out the trophies and everything. He felt it was odd that he had not known his parents as well as he had thought he had.
This trolley was now more his home than that house now was: spacious for all its smallness, and his favorite part of city life. Except maybe for the pigeons, which he liked a lot, and the sounds they made. There weren’t many pigeons where he had grown up. When he’d first moved here, he’d gotten the vague impression that pigeons preferred concrete over anything else, since he’d seen them gathering on it so much. Then he’d learned that the pigeons were just looking for crumbs of humans’ food.
‘Coming aboard?’, he suddenly heard the trolley conductor call out to someone in the street. He woke from his under-slept thoughts and noticed that the trolley had been stopped for a few moments, because the door was open and the breeze was wafting in. He looked at the solid back-panel ahead of which the conductor sat, the conductor entirely blocked from his view. In his tired brain, which was now silent of its music, the conductor’s voice seemed surreal, the voice seeming magically to emanate from the other side of the panel.
The man glanced over his extended right shoulder into the dark outside the windows. He saw no one outside within hearing distance of the conductor’s voice. This added to his sense of surreal-ness: he was hearing the voice of a man he couldn’t see calling to someone else who wasn’t there. He couldn’t help but wonder who the conductor was talking to. There didn't look to be anyone out there anywhere near the trolley stop, and the stop was uninhabited.
For what seemed like near a minute, nothing at all happened. Everything was quiet and still. The man sat there in the silence, and began to feel unaccountably expectant to see someone appear up the trolley steps. But, the door soon creaked shut, and the trolley gently lurched forward into the night. The man felt a little puzzled.
He was not used to so many odd things happening so close together in time. Then it occurred to him: maybe it was not that uncommon for a free city newspaper to accidentally put a copy of its printed cover sheet on an unprinted set of its inner pages. And, he thought, maybe it was not that uncommon for a trolley conductor to have imaginary would-be passengers. Then, he suddenly found it all very quirky, like a silent movie starring Groucho Marx, in which he was the butt of a joke that no one—and nothing―had intended. Nothing, that is, except his own chronically sleep-deprived brain. Now he was feeling giddy.
He was punch-drunk on weeks of too-little sleep. But, he was going home to his apartment, knowing he would crash on the couch in front of a not-turned-on TV, and be woken a couple hours later by his watch so he could finish the overload of paperwork he had in his bag. This had been his routine for weeks. But, he was young, and healthy, so it wasn't really a problem. He hoped one day to have a chance to catch up on some sleep. Any sleep. Even just one day's worth.
At the next stop, two elderly ladies, each with four and five large bags of city shopping each, came aboard, waddling on account of their loads. Another uncommon event. He had never seen anyone carry so many bags onto the trolley, much less two people together. The conductor cracked a joke, and the second of the two ladies replied in humorous agreement. Something about the burdens of having too many grand-kids. The two ladies piled most of their bags in the first row of front-facing seats, opposite his own side seat, and sat down on the trolley’s other side seat, which was adjacent the conductor’s back-panel. They chatted away at the conductor, the lady nearest the panel repeatedly peering around it and otherwise leaning forward.
At one point, the ladies turned in unison to look back at the man, one of them saying, politely, ‘My, you look dapper.” He simply smiled back, feeling like a very thin-and-floppy bean-bag pillow that had been slung onto the seat. Then the two ladies exchanged slightly odd glances at each other, speaking too quietly for his tired brain to hear. They glanced back at him briefly, with faintly odd looks, then turned to continue their chatting with the conductor.
The man could not have vocally responded to those ladies had he wanted to: he was almost asleep—though his eyes were open―, the fresh night air wafting in with each gentle shake of the trolley and its loosely-hung, gently squeaking door. By this point, the whole scene became so comical to him that he later was almost certain he would have burst out laughing had he not just then fallen asleep.
“Hey! Hey, isn’t this your stop?" He woke with a start, the trolley conductor standing over him. "Wake up, sir", said the conductor, "Isn’t this your stop?”
The man hadn’t thought that he would have fallen asleep. Nor had he thought that the conductor, whom he’d rarely seen since he’d moved here, would have known what stop was his. But, then, he guessed that the conductor must know what stop was his, since he'd taken this trolley at this time nearly every night for months. He swallowed, croaked a ‘Thank you’, and stood to make his way out.
The two older ladies had gone, he noticed. Then he saw an odd reflection in the window that briefly caught his eye, but thought nothing of it. He knew that too little sleep could easily make his brain overlay mistaken impressions onto what his eyes saw. He walked down the trolley steps, and out into the night, grateful it was now fully dark.
Then he noticed that the lights above the stop were uncommonly dimmed. Oh, good grief, he thought with mock irritation. He absently scratched the side of his temple as he started toward his cozy apartment. Halfway there he stopped and opened the metal newspaper stand that kept the free city newspapers, grabbed a copy, and checked to see that it was printed. It was, so he crossed the street and walked the last three blocks to his apartment.
He stumbled in through his front door, flipped on the light, and walked to his answering machine. The machine, along with a phone, sat more-or-less in the center of his apartment space, between two dark green plants on the top of the combination shelf-cabinet that abutted the back of the bigger of his two couches. The shelf-cabinet constituted the furniture-limit between his main, tiled, dining area and his living room. There was also a breakfast area, with breakfast table, at the left side of his open kitchen, with a second phone on the far left wall that formed part of the outside entryway to his apartment. He had a third phone in his bedroom.
There were three messages on his answering machine. He quickly playing the first parts of the messages to determine how many here were and from who. Then he turned off the machine to let that little alone information settle in his brain. The first two messages were from his boss, the assistant to the city planner. The third was from his co-worker, Carl. Both persons identified themselves right away, even though they knew he knew their voices. He sometimes listened to his answering machine from in the bedroom or bathroom, but the muffling effect of walls and furniture could obscure the voice too much to identify. That’s how he could tell a call by a trained professional from a call that might be of less importance: by their procedure.
Then, again, some of the most urgent calls that one might get could involve callers who made no effort to identify themselves. So, it was a kind of shifting thing he did in his mind, because he got a lot of calls, not all of them from professionals. Pros are supposed to be in mind of their professional duties of effective and thorough communication. Calling on others in a professional capacity is a lot like piloting an airliner—which had been his first job away from his hometown.
He went to the bathroom, then to kitchen tap for a drink. Then he turned the answering machine back on, put the volume up, and let it run-and-repeat as he sat on the couch and idly listened to it spill it guts.
He was letting his sleepy brain take its own sweet time adjusting to the new information in the calls. He opened the free city newspaper―the printed copy—and idly leafed through it. He looked through its pages like a half-blind tourist looking at signs in a foreign language that clutter parts of cities like Hong Kong and Bangkok. He was half-sleeping already. He noted that having the blank copy was a kind of harmony within the dissonance between his sleepy brain and the printed copy. The pages of this printed copy may as well be blank, he happily observed.
He got up and turned on the TV to help keep himself awake. Then, to his slight surprise, he unthinkingly reached into his satchel and took out the paperwork that he would have to have completed before arriving at work in the morning. His routine was shifting. Just like everything else that was trivial had seemed to have begun shifting since he’d impulsively picked up a free city newspaper that had turned out to be blank.
He spread his work out on the coffee table. Then he reached into his satchel and took out the blank copy of the free newspaper. The outside of the sheet was printed with nothing that pertained to his work. He looked inside the blank pages and wondered at the poor printer, or distributor, whose job―or, more likely, whose life—had been so tough as to make that woker not notice that the entire set of inner pages had nothing printed on them. But, however it happened, he himself now had a curious souvenir: He wanted to know how it happened, and to make the poor worker’s life better. There was a story there, and he wanted to give person or person's involved to the opportunity to tell it. And, he had the proof, in his hands, that something had gone wrong.
Too much concern for efficiency and competition. Too much concern for a too-narrow, too-shortsighted, and, for that matter, too-longsighted idea of quality of life. He didn't think accidents were normal, despite their common occurrence.
The occasional accident easily could happen. But, he suspected that a culture that normalized borrowing as persons’ means of increasing both their quality of life and the health of their collective economy was a culture that is over-extending itself: making bubbles that were destined either to burst or to deflate. And, his work in city government was concerned not with servicing a vague, generalized economy, but the pressing inequities that he believed resulted from the effective ascendency of greed.
He believed that even a little normalized greed can, over time, warp an economy, its infrastructures, and, thus, its culture. And, a warped culture can, in turn, only increase the qualities of greed which become normalized. So, a public government, instituted and sustained by a community of informally recognized more-or-less balanced persons, is defined as the prime collective instrument for counteracting the cultural and infrastructural effects of every form of greed, beginning with no one form of them, and ending with the most damaging of them to the most number of people. Which means that such government cannot find itself in the pocket of commerce: Human moral and ethical decency is what makes commerce possible, not the other way around—and the less indecent a people is, the more complex-yet-simple an insight is required to tell the difference in any instance between greed and justified self-interest. It’s not paradise: People must recognize that there is only one actual source of living, and that that source is not in perfect keeping with the ideal of human nutrition, human activity, and hospitable weather.
He put the blank paper on the floor, and got up and turned off the TV. Then he sat back down, leaned back on the arm of his couch, and put his feet up on its other arm. He absently listened to the ever-repeating sounds of the messages on his answering machine, as they bounced around inside his apartment. He put his hands behind his head and turned to watch the now-blank-and-silent TV. He woke three hours later, the answering machine still repeating.
‘That’s what I’ve been saying.’
It was Carl, his co-worker, on the phone, Carl’s emphatic voice shocking him into a slightly more awake state. It was now 6AM. He had completed the office’s paperwork by 2:30 AM, and had gone back to sleep on the couch. He now was sitting at his breakfast table, looking out over the street, eating hard boiled eggs and coleslaw-and-jam-on-toast. He’d taken a quick shower at 5AM, and was now feeling refreshed as he talked to Carl about the message Carl had left on his answering machine yesterday.
‘She should have called me’, Carl’s voice said. ‘Her school mate told me she was staying overnight at her house, which I thought was OK. I still do, but she told me she was going to call.’
The man had called Carl while making his own breakfast, in answer to Carl’s message on his answering machine. The message had not been urgent, just concerned, unlike Carl’s current state of mind. He sounded shaken.
‘I don’t know, C,’ the man said, as he took a bite of egg. ‘I’m sure I’d worry if I were you, but I’m not you. But, just go with what feels right, what feels necessary. You never can tell, and if you have a hunch that won’t go away, I say do what it tells you. Just be ready to have to eat your words if it turns out not to be anything. You don’t want to make a bad situation worse, much less a good situation bad. If she had no habit of calling you, you wouldn’t be so concerned. The good situation is that she even wants to call you.
‘I know’, Carl said. He took a deep breath and let it out. He took another deep breath, let that out, then said, ‘OK. I’m going to call Sam and tell her I’ll be late. Take over for me. I really appreciate it. See you later.’
‘Ok. Bye. Godspeed’, the man said. He reached to put the phone back on the wall. As he did so, his eye caught someone in the street seeming to flit out of his view the moment he looked. Some vagrant, perhaps. Whoever it is, he or she seems not to want me to notice. He got up from the table, and stepped to the shelf below the phone to write himself a note. He’d increasingly had to write notes, since his brain was so preoccupied with work that he might easily forget anything that didn’t involve either his work or his need for sleep.
Carl’s teen daughter had always called someone when she said she would. It was even irritating sometimes, but, like any girl with a sympathetic father, she seemed to feel that communication was too important to be left to chance or impulse. His heart almost skipped a beat: Impulse. Blank newspaper. He had the feeling that something was congealing. He would watch to see if the feeling was based in reality, or just in his tired brain.
Carl’s daughter was an extraordinarily sweet and caring girl. Such things tended to compel people to impute what was, in fact, an inequitably high value to her. But, Carl wasn’t just anyone. He was her dad, and he was shaken that she hadn’t called.
So, the man understood very well Carl’s feelings. He had just been trying to moderate Carl’s reactions, having stressed to Carl that, as her father, he was conditioned by her consistency to react as he had. It could get in the way of Carl’s ability to think objectively, which, in turn, could make Carl less-than-requisitely effective in the case that there really was a serious problem. The man’s old-time helicopter buddy had once told him a bit of heli-pilots wisdom: the key to unpredictabilty is predictability. In other words, if you wanted to be sure to be unpredictable when it really counts, then you may have to be highly predictable until then. Something similar seemed to have happened with Carl’s eldest daughter: she had simply forgot, which she’d never done before. Things can sometimes make one fail to recall important things. The brain has no note pad. At least, the brains of most fairly normal people don’t.
He sat again and finished his breakfast. Then, he put the dishes in the sink and ran water over them to soak. My brain needs a soak, he thought. And Carl’s. Especially Carl’s. For what little he knew of teen daughters, Carl could easily make things much worse. If Carl reacted too emotionally toward his daughter, it could produce in her own sweet psyche a hyper-sensitivity just like her dad’s conditioned need for her consistency. Carl was a generally calm guy, and he reacted even less than the man did to taunting and practical jokes. And, the man didn’t react. So, Carl was solid, most of the time. Just not this time. That’s life.
The man would do what he could, which is why he’s written himself the note. He just hoped he could remember enough of this by the evening, because, in having to be late to work, Carl had just increased the man’s workload today by as much as a third. If something really serious had happened, then Carl might need him a lot more later than he had needed him just moments ago on the phone.
The trolley deposited the man at the stop nearest his office building: two blocks away. He stepped down onto the street, and dashed to the other side while the cross traffic was still busy moving toward its own various places of work.
There was something about the city that had a poetry, if you liked such things. The rural areas of a state were generally slower-paced. But, it was in the city that you got to witness things that inspired the sense that humanity was not just about bailing hay and planting crops. There was something noble about the city, for all its faults. You couldn’t find many places in the rural regions that could be so promising in face of so much struggle. The country life was, in certain ways, a pale, if mainly sweet, picture of what people cared about. While the country boy was like an apple in the midst of an apple tree in the middle of a gentle orchard, a city boy could be like a whole bunch of cherries at the top of a tall cherry tree overlooking a whole mountain valley. The man had grown up in the country and the small town, and had no lack of love for it. But, the city was where so much good could happen, because so many people were there to try to make it happen. Ideally, a city is a celebration, of sorts, of the best that humanity can do for itself. The glass-sided skyscrapers were, in terms of their visual beauty, just testaments to that potential.
But, for every good that was established, the way humans often think they have to operate means that there is a lot of bad just itching to take root. In any city in the world, there is a tradeoff which most people make in hope that good will prevail, un-personified. But, everyone from public and private executives to the most ‘insignificant’ street dwellers are just a foot-fall away from becoming far more evil than they tend to recognize in themselves. The ‘other person’ in any sudden dispute typically is felt to be the bad guy. ‘There is no reason’, they would say, ‘not to get as much good for oneself as one can, so long as one doesn’t set out to do great evil.’ But, that’s rarely the way it works for the most part. Of course, some people are real snakes, for various reasons, who wish mainly to point fingers like the most presumptuous of would-be cops. But, the largest amount of evil done to a more-or-less stable-and-humane society is not done by presumption by anyone against anyone else, but by the sheer bulk of those who, in happily seeking their own interests, are too assured of the smallness of their own negative impact on others. The city is no place for such thinking, because, unlike the country, it’s so easily far more dynamic, and only partly because of its population density. What is ‘effective’ is not necessary effective for the general good.
The man arrived at the front of his office building, pulling open one of the glass doors to the lobby, and walked inside. He hastened to an elevator as its twin metal doors were about to close. Someone held it open, and he passed through the gap into the quietness of the small, packed space. He turned to face straight outward, and watched the lobby disappear as the shiny elevator doors shut inches from his face. He glanced sidelong toward the man who had held the door for him, and said ‘Thank you.’ The other man nodded, but said nothing. He went back to staring at the metal doors, and his own vague reflection.
‘They need an expandable elevator’, someone said at the back. A few people chuckled.
‘It could contract back to normal size when the morning rush is over’, another said. The banter behind him continued:
‘I would use the stairs, but I work near the top floor, so I’d be twenty minutes late.’
‘And twenty pounds lighter.’
‘You’re already too thin’.
‘So is the expressway. They could make it expandable too.’
‘Only in your dreams,’
‘He doesn’t dream. He’s too mature for that.’
A few guffaws followed, and the man’s floor came. He and a few others got out, and one fellow pretended to be blowing soap bubbles through the lenses of his glasses while trying unsuccessfully to stifle his own laughs. I wonder how much sleep he gets. All the others followed him, laughing at his antics.
The man made his own way down a side hallway, and in through the door to his boss’s office.
‘Sam,’ he said. ‘Good morning. Did Carl call you?’
‘Good morning, Taq. Yes, Carl called. There’s a new phone at his desk, and a message on it for you.’
‘Do you know if the message is urgent?’, Taq said, as he pulled out his completed paperwork and handed it to Sam.
‘Thank you’, she said. ‘No, I didn’t hear the message myself. Ruby told me that Carl had left a massage, that’s all.’
Taq adjusted the shoulder strap of his satchel. ‘What did Carl tell you when he called you?’
Sam was staring, unmoving, at her desk, facing Taq directly, her attention undivided on the matter of one of her employees having an emergency. ‘He said he had a family emergency and that he would be late getting to work. He said nothing more. Is everything all right?’
‘I think so,’ Taq said, ‘but he’s got himself worked up. It’s possible it’s serious, but don’t let it concern you at this point. I’ll let you know more after I hear his message.’
‘OK. Thank you. Will that be all?’
‘Yes. See you later.’
Taq went back to see Ruby---the secretary for his boss’s office, and, by extension, his own and Carl’s secretary---and asked her if and what Carl had said to her. She replied that Carl had called her simply to make sure to tell him that he had left a message for him on his office phone. There was no implication in Ruby’s voice---nor had there been in Sam’s---as to why Carl would have left him a message on his own phone rather than on Taq’s. But, if that was an issue for Carl, he supposed Carl would tell him. But, if the matter with his daughter was serious, then the particular location of his message would be rather far from Taq’s mind. It seemed trivial as it was, so he forgot it.
He went out and around to his desk, and saw some of Carl’s waiting work on his desk. He retrieved his note pad and pens, and went back again to Carl’s desk, sat down in his chair, and picked up the receiver of Carl’s new phone. What happened to his old phone?, thought Taq. It was here yesterday. Perhaps it had seen an accident. He punched the playback button and listened to Carl’s recorded voice:
‘Taq, this is Carl. I went to Susan’s friend’s house and no one was home. I’m at her school now, and no one seems to have seen her since class yesterday. I’ve called the police. Taq, I‘m really worried. I know you’ll say that they all probably just went out together some place, and that everything’s fine. I’m sure you’re right---I want to believe you’re right. But, I just don’t feel it. I think something’s wrong, but I just don’t know what.’
The message simply ended there.
He went back to Sam immediately, and told her the most general idea of Carl’s message. ‘You can have the morning off if you needed it’, she said.
‘I doubt there’s a real problem.’ Taq replied. ‘But, there is a possibility, however slim, that it could be extremely serious.’
Sam agreed. So, Taq went to his own desk and made some calls to try to locate Carl. The school had not seen him since sometime this morning, and had no idea where he might be now. The police said they didn’t know of his whereabouts, but that their last contact with him was over the phone at Susan’s school an hour ago. Carl’s wife was at work, and had not heard from him since just before the time he had placed his message for Taq on Carl’s new office phone.
Taq got his coat and bag, went and brought Sam and Ruby up to date, then headed to the elevator. I really should try to find Carl with more than a phone. If nothing serious has happened, then the worst that would be done would be some very stern words to Susan, and a few days of hectic catching up for Carl and me. But, one doesn’t play loose with worst cases, and something is bothering Carl that he isn’t telling me.
Carl drove down the dirt road, which wound along dry hills, down through dry river beds, and back up again. He was looking for a road that branched off of this one.
[END OF EXCERPT]