His pace quickened; his feet already felt frozen and from here on, he knew, things were pretty well buttoned up for the night, except for In Vino Veritas, the tiny wine store in the next block. He would look inside and wave when he passed it. Otherwise there were just the two banks, the former Webster Savings & Loan whose recent collapse had cost Uncle Sam such a pretty penny, the beauty parlor favored by the old women, the barber shop favored by the old men and the young of both sexes, the imposing limestone First Presbyterian Church ("Relax!" said the signboard. "God loves you!"), sundry small retailers and service establishments and then finally, when you crossed Baxter, there was Kriegers Department Store: brass polished, windows nicely trimmed, sidewalks shoveled the way Charlie Krieger himself shaved, down almost past the top layer of skin, and coffers no less bare than the pavement so carefully cleared of snow. Having just closed for the evening, they had to unlock the doors to let people out.
Terry reached his destination shivering, his moonish face bright with cold. The Y was humid as a greenhouse and smelled pungently of chlorine from the swimming pool in the basement, and sweat from the locker rooms and basketball courts. You could hear the squeak of sneakers on the hardwood, the occasional shout, and Terry wished he could play rather than work. He struggled to control his breathing as he felt the tension rising in his stomach. A recurring image flashed reassuringly through his mind---of himself open in the corner, calmly bending, leaping, and then firing, the ball inscribing a long, high arc through timeless air until it tore through the net with a slap.
For the umpteenth time, he resolved to consort less frequently with that demon weed marijuana. It was hurting his wind and thus his cherished one-on-one game, but that demon was Terrys best friend in Webster right now, and despite his righteous misgivings they consorted happily as he entered the brightly lit auditorium, late as usual. He could see that the vast majority of the audience were women, and unconsciously he preened for them even as he walked quietly to the front and slipped into the seat at the end of the dais, behind the cardboard sign that said EDITOR, THE WEBSTER CHRONICLE.
"Speak of the devil," he heard Melissa Faircloth say cheerily, and a few claps rose cordially from the assembled gathering. Rangy, red-haired Melissa, at once elegant and ungainly, stood calmly at the podium, her accustomed position as head of the local League of Women Voters. "I was just commenting on the coverage in this weeks Chronicle," she went on. Her softly wry Southern accent was always a relief from the winters of Webster, and the notion of this modest succor from the tundra outside (amplified by enough cannabis to neutralize a rhino) brought Terry nearly to tears. He swallowed these, belched slightly, and giggled. Melissa, bless her, was undaunted. "I was about to say, when you so conveniently appeared, that the fate of our downtown is inextricably connected to what we as a community decide about Kriegers."
Terry grinned gamely, the savory taste of marijuana reminding him of a small problem with hiccups. The Webster Chronicle of November 5, 1985, the very day on which the question "Whither Webster?" was being addressed, brought home the news that Kriegers, a publicly held chain of six small-town department stores based in Webster, was the subject of a hostile takeover bid by Ira Rothwax, a Philadelphia retailing magnate and corporate raider. The Chronicles publisher had received a heads-up two days earlier that a bid from Rothwax was expected, and Terry had gone all out, in just twenty-four hours junking or holding everything hed done for the week and remaking the entire edition. It had been like the old days, like working at a real newspaper. Since then he had slept for exactly four hours.
Reprinted from The Webster Chronicle by Daniel Akst by permission of BlueHen Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Daniel Akst. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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