Sunday, Feb. 14, 1988
Alex was sitting in his office on Sunday morning, not really waiting for Ross’ daily call, but yes, waiting for his call. He had papers in front of him, maps, and enlarged sections of the old road plan, but his brain was elsewhere. Only the fourth day in, and his powers of concentration were failing. Of course, here he was at his desk on Sunday at 8 AM. The others weren’t due in until nine, and Phyllis had asked politely and firmly for Sundays off. He’d said yes, with the caveat that if something was desperate she’d have to come in, and she had cheerfully agreed.
When the phone rang, he took his standard deep breath and answered. Ross’ voice was no longer jovial either. In the last phone call he had sounded just loud and brash. Brash was usually a cover for something else; Alex had wondered idly what it meant.
“…just wanted to keep you on top of things. Jonathan Lee, Esquire, and I are flying up with the helicopter tomorrow. While you guys are out enjoying yourselves on the carnival ride, we are meeting with Del’Olio. He’s going to sponsor this project in the House, and we have some coaching to do. Next week, on Monday the 22nd, we are going to have a public meeting about this project. It will likely be in the courthouse — your public meeting room isn’t big enough, and we don’t want SRO. People will be better behaved in a court room, don’t you think?”
Alex felt the warmth drain from his upper body. “What does that mean for us, Ross? What do you want from us at this meeting?”
“Well, you’ll all want to be there. It’ll put a local face on the project — you know — not a project designed by engineers from Philly. And you’ll just tell them that you’re working hard to keep everything fair and everyone happy.”
“Why do I have the feeling that we are being hung out to dry?” Alex asked.
Ross’ voice turned edgy. “Listen, Alex. I’m missing a vacation to St. Croix because of all this, and it had been planned for six months. My wife is not happy. My attorneys are not happy. The governor is not happy. You’re not happy. As far as I can tell, I’m the biggest happy suck in Pennsylvania these days, so don’t start whining to me. You’re getting paid well for this. I am not. We’ll talk more tomorrow, but start planning your comments to Clancey, because they’ll be ringing you up. See you tomorrow.” The phone clicked.
“Don’t hang up on me!” Alex shouted into the empty receiver as the dial tone buzzed in his ear.
The engineers wandered in around nine o’clock, all looking as if they had gotten a good night’s sleep. Keith found Alex lying on the couch with his eyes wide open staring at the ceiling.
He looked up at the ceiling. “Nope, it doesn’t look good up there,” he said. He sank down in the recliner they had dragged in from Henry’s apartment yesterday. “What did the Horrible Head Honcho howl about this morning?”
“I’ll tell you when everyone gets here,” Alex said.
On cue, Dana and Henry walked in. “Okay, we’re here. Looks bad.” Henry said.
“I’ll come in tomorrow at eight o’clock and answer the call,” Keith said. “And…”
“You won’t have to — Ross and the attorney, Jonathan Lee, are flying up with the helicopter. They aren’t going with us — I guess that’s good, anyway — they are talking to Del’Olio while we fly. But the big news is that next Monday there is a public meeting at the courthouse about this project. We are all to be there — you know, putting a local face on the project. I’m feeling like we’ll be at the table facing the crowd — well, no one said that, but…”
Everyone was silent.
“What no smart remarks from the peanut gallery?” Alex asked. And immediately he said, “Oh, guys, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to…”
Dana interrupted him. “It’s fine. We aren’t offended. But we do need to know what it is we’re supposed to say. Are we supposed to have plans or something? In a week?”
“How many ways can we say ‘We’re working hard to keep everything fair and everyone happy’?” Alex said.
“We will try our best to be just and equitable with everyone,” Henry said with a self-satisfied smirk.
“We want your trust and we will work hard to be un-biased,” Keith said.
“We are working day and night on this and we welcome everyone’s input. Call us anytime,” Dana said.
“That could be dangerous,” Alex laughed. “How about, we are local, just like you, and we want a non-partisan, legitimate plan to fix this dangerous road.”
“We sound like we’re running for office,” Dana said.
“We might be running for our lives,” Henry said. “They did fire DeBolt.”
“The key word to all of this is honorable. That’s what we have to be, and we have to come up with the best plan with the least damage.”
“What a way to spend Valentine’s Day,” Henry said.
“Let’s go get some breakfast,” Keith suggested.
“Can’t go anywhere public and talk about this,” Alex said. “Let’s go to my house and I’ll fix bacon and eggs for everyone. Just let me call Angie to warn her she’s about to be descended on.”
When he came back a few minutes later, Keith had found Roget’s Thesaurus on Phyllis’ desk, and they were looking up words for fair and happy.
“Angie didn’t answer,” Alex said. “She’s probably in the shower. Come on, we can all squeeze in my car, and maybe we’ll take a drive after we eat. Bring that thesaurus along…”