He was still sifting when he shouldered open the screen. The door behind it was mahogany, highly varnished, and carved by a local artist. Between swirls on its bottom half were a dozen slots identified by small brass plaques. The first row, politely, was devoted to the neighboring towns -- Ashcroft, Hedgeton, Cotter Cove, and Center Sayfield. The lower rows were Lake Henry-specific, with slots assigned to things like Police and Fire, Congregational Church, Textile Mill, and Garden Club. Eye-high on the door, with no slot attached, was the largest plaque. Lake News, it read.
The door moved even before John inserted his key. As he elbowed it the rest of the way open, the phone began to ring. "Jenny?" he called. "Jenny?"
"In the bathroom!" came the muted yell.
Nothing new there, he thought. But at least she had come.
Tossing his keys on the kitchen table in passing, he took the stairs two at a time, past the second floor and on up to the third. There were no dividing walls up here, which made it the largest room in the house. The addition of a slew of windows and skylights also made it the brightest. Most important, it was the only one with a view of the lake. That view wasn't nearly as good as the one from John's house, but it was better than no view at all, which was what the lower rooms in the Victorian offered. Three willows, arm in arm and more fat than tall, saw to that.
The attic room had been his office since he had returned to town, three years before. It was large enough to house the newspaper's sales department, the production department, and the editorial department. Each had a desk and a view of the lake. That view kept John focused and sane.
The phone continued to ring. Letting the papers slip to the editorial desk, he dropped the bag from Charlie's on top, stood the thermos nearby, and opened the window wide. The lake air was clear now. Sun spilled down the slopes of the east hills, setting fire to foliage in its path before running out over the water. A month before, it would have hit a dozen boats captained by summer folk who were grabbing precious last minutes on the lake before closing up camp for the year. The only boat on the water today was one of Marlon Dewey's prized Chris-Crafts. The sun bounced off its polished oak deck and glittered in the wake spreading behind.
He picked up the phone. "Morning, Armand."
"Took you long enough," his publisher said in a rusty voice. "Where you been?"
John followed the course of the handsome Chris-Craft. Marlon was at the helm, along with two visiting grandchildren. "Oh, out and around."
The old man's voice softened. "'Oh, out and around.' You give me that every time, John, and you know I can't argue with it. Damn lake has too many bends, so I can't see what goes on around yours. But the paper's my bottom line, and you're doing that okay. Long as it keeps up, you can sleep as late as you want. Did you get my piece? Liddie put it in the slot."
"It's there," John said without checking, because Armand Bayne's wife was totally reliable. She was also totally devoted to her husband. What Armand wanted done, she did.
"What else you got?" the old man asked.
John clamped the phone between shoulder and ear and pulled a handful of papers from the briefcase. He had dummied the week's pages at home the night before. Now he spread out the sheets. "The lead is a report on the education bill that's up before the state legislature. It's a thirty-inch piece, across the top and down the right-hand leg, photo lower left. I'm following it with opinion pieces, one from the local rep, one from the principal at Cooper Elementary."
"What's your editorial say about it?"
"You know what it says."
Copyright © 1999 by Barbara Delinsky
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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