Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Chapter 27: In His Name


MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
    and the woman important to each 

27

    As the limo sped from the mansion, Bill observed in the side view mirror the valets who seemed to lean into the frame and think, “Did I see that?” In the back, he saw Slade hunched and looking forward, an angry knot on his brow. He pressed the accelerator and the CEO fell back against the seat. In the opposite corner Helen lay upright with the vacant eyes of a forgotten doll. He was driving them to the downtown condo; that much was clear. What to do with the elephant in the rear, less so.
     He stopped at the gates and after they swung open, turned onto the two-lane road that would connect to the freeway. On a weekend afternoon people were around, which told him he’d be working late. He let off the pedal. All those people eating and drinking at the wedding and he could only manage a nip.
     “Why are you slowing down?” Slade’s eyes met his in the mirror. He pressed on the pedal, swerved across the dashed white line to pass a car then returned to the lane. They reached a small business district where he tailgated a white SUV and honked until it pulled over. Racing to the next stop sign, he let off then sped through the intersection. The houses were crowded close and after navigating a lateral arc, they went onto the freeway.
     The entitled had their ways, he thought. From bouncing at the clubs he saw them carry expectations easily and in the open, which convinced others of their status. But stand in the way, and they let loose holy hell. That worked when the other guy was afraid of being embarrassed. He liked waiting for somebody to cross the line, then pop! a bloody nose. Their feelings were what really stung. He saw it in their eyes.
     Slade had his way, and he was boss. Follow orders or else, though he considered “else” an option to pursue another occupation. The world had plenty of bosses. He’d do whatever he had to in his name, but didn’t want anything sticking to him. “What about him, Mister Slade.”
      “Use your imagination.”
      “My mind goes into dark places. Tell me.”
     “I don’t want him bothering me again or annoying her. Tell him then dump him. What’s wrong with you?”
     “This is the third time.”
     “Be more persuasive.”
      “Maybe if he didn’t have a reason to come around.”
      “This is business.” He glared out the window.
      A thump like a shifting load came from the trunk, followed by punching and kicking sounds. “He finds the release and everybody will see.”  He moved behind cars headed for the off-ramp, which fed into an intersection. He made a right then jerked the limo forward. The pounding stopped for several moments before starting again as they passed fast food restaurants and gas stations. He turned into a small road, pulled into a drive to change direction then pressed a button below the dash.
     The trunk sprung open and Atom Green popped out. He did a frantic 360 before rushing the cab and pounding the fender. The limo screeched away. Slade was watching the chauffeur. “What are you so satisfied about?”
      “The way he self-deported didn’t cost me a thing.”
       “It will if he bothers me again.”
       “What about her?”
        Helen had slipped to the floor and was reaching out blindly. Slade pulled her up and resettled her on the seat. She brought her hands to her face, seeming to pull something away. “When we get to the condo, use the underground garage. I’ll take her from there. ‘Too much champagne, poor girl.’”



The next chapter will be posted by January 22.  
The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Chapter 26: Arbor

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                                and the woman important to each 

26

    
     Atom Green sketched a circle around the lawn filling with wedding guests. With blazer, expensive grass-wet shoes and baseball cap, he looked like a hybrid worker-guest, which allowed him to stroll without challenge about the dais and arbor. All the while thoughts of Helen and Slade quickened his pulse and caused his teeth to clench.
     He became fixated on the arbor that stood eight feet high. He had watched as workers laced its bare metal skeleton with willow limbs then festooned the arch with purple and white hyacinth, creating something tribal and elemental that stretched for and was framed by the sky. When positioned to the east, he could see the surging marine-green ocean through the portal; looking uphill from the west, the earth clad in bladed green. It was unity of sky, sea, earth and -- fire, the human spirit represented by bride and groom. But the nightmare was Slade pulling Helen through to lock her in a future dominated by him. Real, symbolic or just imagined, he had to save her.
     As two p.m. approached, ushers helped the celebrants to their seats in the semi-circle of chairs, behind which two tents on either side of an inlaid wooden path served as staging points for the wedding party. When the groom entered, Atom had to restrain himself from staring at his erstwhile peer and competitor, Dave Forester.
     Anticipation grew, reflected in rising chatter. A priest in purple vestments stood waiting to begin. Atom crept closer, pinballing behind scattered people watching from the lawn. He recognized some in the audience, like his former sales manager Jeremy Port, the chairman and others, and was ready to flinch if recognized. Meanwhile, the scheduled starting time came and went and the impatient crowd seemed to urge the ceremony on. Then he heard something like a group exhalation as a procession of about a dozen followers led by the CEO descended from the mansion. His straining eyes looked for Helen then spotted her, hidden behind Slade. Only on their passing did he get a clear view. She looked straight ahead and did not see him, affording him an intimate peek at her absorbed, beautiful face.
     The group settled in the front row, as Slade mounted the dais to stand beside the perplexed priest. He gazed over the assembly like a conqueror, then said “Begin,” and took the seat beside Helen.
     Wanting to be in her line of vision, Atom positioned himself beyond and to the left of the arbor. He removed his cap and ran his fingers through his dark hair and stood defiantly revealed. She looked forward though not far enough, it seemed.
     The bridal parties entered and deployed to their positions and then the bride and groom completed the set. Under the brilliant sun --gleaming white dresses, crisp suits, sharp creases and beaming smiles all around.
     Finally, the groom kissed the bride to loud applause and then led her through the arbor and back onto the dais. They posed for pictures while the assembly disbanded, some lingering and others heading toward the mansion. Atom moved swiftly to where she was standing, and reached out to take her hand. “Helen,” he implored.
     Her eyes seemed to acknowledge him though her face showed no affect. He pulled her hand and she followed him up the sloping lawn. Looking over his shoulder once and then again he could not see a pursuit, though felt vulnerable crossing the wide expanse. He thought of ducking indoors, but didn’t want to see anybody, so headed for the side of the building near the service entrance. When they turned the corner, he stopped and looked squarely at her open yet unseeing eyes. “Say something! What’s wrong?”
     Without warning, Slade pushed him aside and lifted her like a doll, her arms swaying limply. He kissed her full on the mouth. “She wants to be with me,” he sneered. Atom rushed him, but felt a tug on the collar and then pain in the back of the head—


I'll be taking a break to participate in National Novel Writing Month, so the next chapter will be posted by December 31.. 
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.



Saturday, October 1, 2016

Chapter 25: Two Camps


MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                                and the woman important to each 


25


                                                                      


      “Come down, Delfina. He can’t interpret away your presence.”
      “Must I be humiliated in public? She’ll be there.”
                       
                                                               -ii-

     Downstairs in the mansion a grand staircase spread like a bridal veil, on whose marble steps family and friends gathered for smiles and pictures, while upstairs smiles were sequestered as two camps staked out positions. In the south side room, the chief executive officer Stephen Slade assembled his corps of young managers and recruited investors. In the north side chamber, the chairman Graham Slade conferred with members of the board, his loyalists and his wife. Standing by the window, Delfina, the CEO’s spouse, gazed over the sloping lawn.
     Clayton Clamp felt the tension, though he was loose and ready for the task of getting closer to his target. First, he greeted the chairman and the claims manager, who vouched for his cover as freelance investigator. Then he observed waiters and other staff shuttling in and out and between the rooms. The principals were rooted to the spot, except for the director Mark Storts, who was the most youthful member of the board.  After watching him leave then return, Clamp approached him.
     “Is it any more lively over there?”
     “Quite a bit more,” he answered then introduced himself.  “I’ve designated myself as go-between for the chairman and the CEO. It doesn’t seem to be appreciated, but that’s what I’m doing.”
     “I’m glad someone’s thinking about the company as it’s being ripped apart.” Eyes lighting up, Storts brought his head closer. Clamp stooped to listen.
     “The father-son dispute aggravates at many different levels. Employees pick sides then get into arguments that end in silent stares. They’re afraid their guy will lose and in any case would rather not worry about things they can’t control.” He paused then said, “When the baton passes, the hand off should be clean. Don’t hold on.”
     “You just revealed your bias.”
     “Stephen and I were college buddies after all.”
     “Then maybe you can introduce me.”
      They skirted the staircase, passing through rays of sun beneath a skylight. Storts nodded to a man outside the door who admitted them, and the difference was jarring. An excited chatter filled the room as men and some women clustered throughout, attired in business wear not particular to a wedding ritual. The crowd would at some point spill outside, Clamp thought, whereas on the other side the walls defined the occupants who were as rigid as marble chess pieces.
      Stephen Slade was standing by the farthest wall, slightly apart from those surrounding him. Slender, polished and dressed for the occasion in rich gray suit, wide silk tie and pinned with a pale rose boutonniere, he trained his attention on Storts as they approached. “This is Clayton Clamp, a claims investigator.”
     “Claims?” He grimaced and raked him with a severe look before walking away. Storts apologized but Clamp waved it off as they watched him join a young woman who was looking out the window. Then they were amazed when he erupted. “Snap out of it, Helen, will you!”  His face was in hers as she daubed her eyes with a handkerchief, then he stalked away. Few paid the outburst any attention, though for Clamp the exchange was charged with meaning. He went to her.
      Still facing the window, she wore a dress a subtle shade of violet, and had auburn hair that fell to her shoulders with a slender braid crowning the brow. He strode a step beyond then turned to see her face, which was pale and delicate and stained by tears. “If you’re the bride then you better get changed.”
     “I’m not,” she coughed, “the bride.”
     “Then it can’t be so bad.”
      “No, not so---“
       Her eyes grew large and then were eclipsed by Slade’s back. He pushed her, hand at elbow, toward a nearby door, her legs stumbling to keep pace. Storts appeared to wilt.
     Clamp left the room then went down the stairs and through the foyer where he spied Lola McIntyre at the champagne table. He made a mental note to add her to the list, then once outside breathed in fresh air and heard the strains of a violin quartet from one of the tents. He turned toward the mansion, which should have been cleaved in two, if reality were reflected in what is seen. The window where Helen stood was vacant. On the other side, Delfina was gone. He pondered whether she too had been crying, and whether tears would bring a mountain down. None benefit by seeing the magnificent fall, and while those who don’t see have nothing to tell, those that do can be struck dumb. 





The next chapter will be posted by October 30..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Chapter 24: Quitting Time


MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                                and the woman important to each
                                      
                                                                       24


 
     It was quitting time the Friday before the wedding, and Lola McIntyre haunted the Billing Department doorway. “Got any plans for the weekend?”
     Mimosa Liang, the co-worker with the long black hair, stopped to point a finger. “You’re going to the wedding, you had your hair done and you’ve been telling me all week.” She stalked past. “I can’t wait till it’s over!”
     Lola patted her hair and the charms on her bracelet jingled. “Everybody knows,” she thought and went looking for Mailroom Joe and Stockroom Bob, but their workplaces were empty.  Determined to savor the last hours of anticipation, she journeyed up to Executive Reception and found Betsy Murray behind the curved counter at C-suite gathering her belongings.
     “See you at the wedding tomorrow!” Lola chortled.  The petite secretary eyed the gossip warily and opened her purse. “I have an invitation…” She waved an ivory envelope. “I probably won’t go.”
     Lola rocked back on her heels then leaned forward. “Let me have it!”  Betsy pulled it back. “Then again, I might. Surely you have one, since you’re going.”
     “I was thinking of a friend.”
     “It’s plus one. You can bring your friend.”
     “I was thinking of another one.”
     “Too bad.”
      Lola retreated from the know-it-all smile, thinking “Plan B.”

-ii-

     Early the next day, Joe and Bob approached the gates of the Pacific Palisades mansion, where a line of modest cars queued before a uniformed guard. A lingering marine layer kept the morning gray and cool before the forecast warm summer day.
     They had awoken no earlier than any other workday and were silent during the hour-long drive. Joe, with white ear buds plugged in beneath stringy black hair, had closed his eyes, while Bob was lively, tapping the steering wheel to the beat of classic rock in his aqua Corolla that was as neat as his stockroom.
     They passed through the gates, then followed the road to the designated parking lot, catching a glimpse of the peach-colored mansion that glowed like neon under the soft light. Behind a copse of trees adjacent to the tennis courts were the lot and a van waiting to carry them the rest of the way.
      The mansion’s central two-story structure rose like a cresting wave and then descended into single-story wings on either side. Arched double doors between marble columns and beneath a bas-relief frieze depicting leaping dolphins formed the portico, and conveyed a sense of noble completion; which contrasted with the scene on the ocean side, where on a green sloping lawn assorted metal rods, tent pegs, rope and white canvas were scattered like an obstacle course. Farthest from the mansion, a ten-foot metal arbor stood like a denuded tree behind a wooden dais that fronted an area where stacks of folding chairs were ready to be deployed. 
     A lean man with leathery skin called them. “Gather round. There’s plenty of work for you all.” Wearing jeans, boots and an untucked shirt that fluttered in the breeze, he surveyed the crew from beneath bushy white eyebrows: men, large and small, in work clothes of various description. He counted off five and pointed to his left. “Over to that tent. Go!” They jogged away to where a supervisor waited. He counted another group and sent them to their work. He was in rhythm, about thirty laborers in, when he reached Joe and Bob. He scrutinized their neat jeans and t-shirts unstained by toil then gestured behind him. “Help set up the chairs, and don’t get hurt.” A chorus of laughter pursued them down the slope.
         
-iii-

     Lola’s jaw dropped when Atom Green strode out of his condo. “You look too good! You’re supposed to look like me.”  She indicated her black pants, and matching long-sleeved shirt and comfortable shoes. “There’s no way you’ll pass. You’d know if you’d been in service.” His lips formed a silent retort.
     “No blazer. No tie. Don’t you have a light jacket to wear, a black one? The slacks are okay, but those shoes! Too expensive, but I can see by your expression you won’t give up them up. Here, put this on, and wear it low.” He found a suitable jacket in his wardrobe and carried the blazer like a parcel with tie in pocket. The ball cap emblazoned with “LA,” fit snuggly over his personality.
     They made it through the mansion gates and boarded the van. No one paid them any mind as their group was shepherded inside through a service entrance, and Atom managed to slip away. 
     At first surprised by his absence, Lola was satisfied that she’d done her part and now could relish the luxurious setting that had sparkled in her imagination for so long. They stood in a large foyer with a floor-to-ceiling window facing the Pacific. The headman, an Englishman named Gerard, was making assignments and directed her to set up the champagne.
     Unable to contain herself, she ran to the window and saw tents like white mushrooms populating the green lawn. She imagined a big red ball rolling past them and splashing into the blue sea.
     “Hoy! Set up these tables!” She hustled to her station, the golden charms on her bracelet jingling, then lost herself in the romance of sun-rimmed flutes and sparkly bubbles.
     It was half past eleven. The wedding started at two.
    
              


The next chapter will be posted by September 25..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Chapter 23: Outside Looking In



MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                                and the woman important to each
                                      

                                                                       23
            
      Atom Green glared at the phone then dropped onto the sofa of his Manhattan Beach condo. Since resigning from Slade, he had not tried for another sales position and was consumed by thoughts of Helen, who had said she wanted to keep on seeing him. Her unwillingness or inability to respond -- he wasn’t sure which-- created a kind of panic, forcing him to confront the fear of being on the outside looking in. His time working in the background at the restaurant compelled him now to seek the main event and the greatest prize. At Slade he enjoyed the status of top salesman, the competitive camaraderie of the agents and the out-sized bonuses. The meta of Helen encompassed them all; she was the greatest prize.
       He changed into slacks, white shirt and blue blazer, then inspected himself in the mirror. He brushed back his quill-like black hair and flashed a smile that competed with the bright shirt and conveyed the electric exuberance that charmed others. Confidence recharged, he left for the drive downtown.
     After parking his Mercedes coupe in a lot a block from the Wayfare, he walked quickly to the hotel and through the lobby to the elevator where he keyed in the code.
     The smell of smoke should have been a warning, as well the dark figure propped at the end of the corridor. Intent on his mission he continued to the door and pressed the buzzer. The figure became animate and approached. “You’re not allowed,” it said and grabbed him by the collar just as the door opened. Helen peeked out. “Bill! What are you doing?” The chauffeur stunned Atom with a rap to the back of the head and dragged him to the elevator. Helen followed, pulling at his black tunic. “Stop!”
      He felt momentary pleasure at seeing Helen amid the distress of being manhandled. Though he was six feet and toned, the other man was larger and apparently used to hauling heavy loads. He twisted and flailed as Bill pressed the button and blocked out Helen. When the elevator opened, he threw him in. “You’re not allowed.” And then the doors closed.                                                     
      Back in the car, his phone lit up and HELEN flashed on the screen accompanied by a chiming bell. She apologized, and said she didn’t know why Bill was in the hall. He insisted that they meet. 
     “There’s something I need to finish first.”
     “The wedding?”
     “Partly. Don’t try to see me until I call you. Promise." 
     The call was as brief as the encounter in the hallway. Thoughts of the wedding filled him with dread. He and Dave Forester traded places at the top of the sales chart and a friendly rivalry had developed, so much so that he was to be in the wedding party. Slade’s hostility quashed that. Dave was embarrassed, but his family was friends with Slade’s family and had the closer bond.
      Having the CEO of the company host your wedding would seem to confer a guarantee of success personally and professionally, and he dreamt of such a benediction. Now all he could think of was Helen with Slade at a wedding. Slade had the power to damn and to bless and held Helen in his thrall. His mind contorted to deny the converging associations. He needed to be present to prevent the unimaginable, but would have to sneak into the Palisades mansion and go undetected.
     He searched his phone for the number of someone who was possibly more excited about the wedding than even the bride or groom. Lola McIntyre picked up on the first ring, and he explained the situation. She was on board, enthusiastically, but he cautioned her. “Don’t tell Slade or anyone close to him. You know who I’m talking about.” She agreed and promised to get back to him. It was a risk he had to take. Lola had helped him connect with Helen the first time and was always ready for a thrill. The hitch was her workplace boyfriend: Bill.

                       

 The next chapter will be posted by August 21..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     
    

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chapter 22: Now You See

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
                                              and the woman important to each 


 
                                                                      22


      Chairman Graham Slade sat hunched behind the desk in his home office, phone to his ear, listening to the man he engaged to infiltrate the company.
      The spy had seemed younger than graying hair and experience should allow due to a marathon runner physique. His thick glasses, though, spoke to years of parsing contractual fine print, determining intent and crafting solutions. The chairman had not warmed to his impish grin, which served to invite intimate conversation from people shouldering lesser burdens. Clayton Clamp had the requisite skills, and now was delivering the goods. He reported that the CEO had amassed a bloc of new investors, which he’d spring on the board of directors and then demand its expansion. With new allies in place, he’d pursue a unitary leadership.
     The chairman couldn’t blame a CEO for wanting what he himself had for thirty years. He could fault him for treating employees like fungible items on a spreadsheet to shuffle or fire without regard for the impact. The intelligence, though, was stale.
     “I need something to derail him.” As Graham listened to the response, Rhea came through the door carrying a silver tray with coffee and toast and a red rose in a pewter vessel. “Make it concrete.”  He hung up and ran a hand over his crew cut hair, then joined her at the table beside the window that overlooked a lagoon.
     “Are we getting a new patio?”
     “Board business.”
     “Stephen?”
     “The company and CEO are board business.”
     “Family business, too. He’s your son.”
       He bit into the toast and sipped his coffee, gazing at his companion who looked smart in a ribbed white turtleneck sweater that contrasted with steely gray hair. She made him feel young. Her hazel eyes met his blue ones.
     “Don’t harm his future.”
     “He can float away under a golden parachute, and take his contacts and pedigree—my contribution—elsewhere. Or, he can find a dark corner and suck his thumb.”
     “If it’s hard on him, it will affect Delfina and the boys.”
     “He’ll land on his feet and walk away.”
    “We might lose them forever.” She looked out the window on the sunny Southern California day. He searched for the right words.
     “There’s a woman fairly new to the company, his assistant who works very closely. I can guess at her game.”
      She stiffened. “Delfina complains he doesn’t spend enough time with them. I pray it’s not true.”
     “Now you see.”
     “I can’t bear them knowing.” She reached her hand across the table to touch his.
     “Tell her not to bring them to the wedding.”
     “What a shame. I remember Stephen watching you address an audience. It captured his complete attention, and made him wonder how his father, who tells him to stand up straight, could speak to hundreds of people who actually listen. They have some understanding what it means to be CEO, but a ceremony demonstrates the reality.”
     He drew back his hand. She held on. “What are we going to do?”
     “He needs to be made so toxic the board has to let him go.”
     “The assistant?”
      “He could be in violation of SEC rules, but that lacks punch. Sex, on the other hand, captures the imagination.”
      She pleaded. “Graham, the family.”
      “There are ways to keep things quiet, dependant on what he does. He sets his own direction, which will suggest the remedy.”
     She released him and her eyes expanded as if to encompass their lives. “I used to be so proud, too, watching you speak and everyone together and their growing families. I don’t understand why it’s different now.”
     “We were all on the same page. Nowadays, we’re presented with a slew of options and are scattershot pursing them. Stephen’s mistake is to want it all for himself, to make himself the big man. He acts like a guy on the street big-talking his way into the confidence of others, the kind of guy who boasts about his gambling wins and hides his losses. Huge, he says, but subtract his losers and I guarantee they’re much smaller.”
      “That’s not Stephen! You’re talking about someone else.”
      “He can charm in person, but sometimes a salesman starts believing his pitch, and does anything to close the deal. He thinks he’s coming out ahead but bleeds red. In time, Stephen will realize the image he projects.”
      She went over to hug him from behind. “You better be right.”


The next chapter will be posted by July 17..
 The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.     
            

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Parby G


    The One California pulled away to cross Presidio towards the Embarcadero as we settled into our seats and took the measure of our neighbors. I was in the last row beside the window, a vacant seat away from a younger, smaller man. A vacant seat past him sat a middle-aged woman. Asian riders dominated.
    Across the aisle a woman with severe bangs faced backwards. Age spots belied the bangs and her timid cheerful smile. On this side sat a girl with long black hair. Between us in one of two forward-facing seats a young man wore a gray watch cap and white ear buds. 
     Conversations buzzed but did not attract particular attention. Passing sights beneath the overcast sky measured our progress. An old man boarded wearing a brown jacket and white cap with corporate logo. Eyes within his jowly face conveyed energetic curiosity. He sat beside Watch Cap.
     More riders boarded, the last having to stand, including a blonde in blue hospital scrubs and sneakers. Her employee pass read “Parby, G.” Old Man caught her eye then rose into a crouch, twisting back as if to move to my row. He stopped and looked to Parby who turned away.
     When the gallant stood anyway and she took his seat the middle-aged woman let loose a volley of Chinese. Monosyllables rolled through the bus, twisting, turning accusations that ended in English: “Molest me.” Her rant did not dislodge anyone. Smiling Woman retained her smile. Girl tried not to look. Watch Cap took out a bud and said, “You should have these.” Parby nodded.
     Old Man confirmed himself the target, directing a torrent of Chinese back at Angry Woman, his words a toothless bark with English of his own: “Sexual harassment.” I did not comprehend. Her rant was continuous. He let off then began again: “You don’t know. I have a million dollars in the bank.” Heads turned.
     “Why don’t you take a taxi then!”
     Old Man, standing near the middle exit, produced a wallet and extracted ten and twenty. He waved them. “You don’t know.”
    They traded words as the One snaked across the hills: climbing to Lafayette Park, turning onto Clay, descending to Van Ness, climbing Russian Hill then dipping down to Chinatown.
     Old Man kept his distance as Angry Woman got off at Stockton, still spewing heated words, at which point the younger, smaller man extended his middle finger and stabbed in Parby’s direction. The gesture attracted eyes. She noticed and leapt up to stand by the middle exit. Then at Grant, the rest got off: Old Man, Smiling Woman, the Girl, Watch Cap and Gesturing Man. Parby took a seat in peace, while I was like the audience in a theatre where the curtain had dropped. I got off the end of the line.