chapter 26 –-
“oh what a tangled web we weave,
when first we practise to deceive!”
when first we practise to deceive!”
Jack sat in the dark as Mr. Karras rummaged around in the desk drawers searching for a flashlight. The winter storm howled louder than ever outside. Eventually, Jack heard Mr. Karras exclaim, “Ah-ha!” and a pale beam of light cut across the room. The beam from the flashlight wasn’t nearly as bright as the beam from the movie projector they had been using just a few minutes before, but it was enough for Mr. Karras to find his way from the study to check on his wife, leaving Jack in the dark once more.
Finally, Mr. Karras returned, bringing a lit candle in each hand and the flashlight held under one arm. “She’s fine,” he said as he bustled back into the room and set the candles down on the desk. “I’ve lit a fire in the wood burning stove to provide a little warmth, and we’ll just have to make do until they get the power back on. Now, where were we?”
The raging storm, the power outage, and the flickering candlelight in the study served only to intensify the mood Mr. Karras was in. “Ah, yes. The film shows that there must have been a second water balloon launcher. This is a classic case of a carefully coordinated strike on a Ragbray official.”
To Jack, it seemed more like a classic case of the guys from the Iowa City beater brigade having a little fun. Jack had seen their work first-hand a few nights ago, but he kept quiet as Mr. Karras continued.
“Shift your attention to the items I’ve collected here.” The candlelight cast a wavering shadow of Mr. Karras’ arm pointing toward the wall of bookcases to the right of the desk, which was covered with a large bed sheet. Hundreds of small notes, maps, pictures, and newspaper clippings were pinned all over the bed sheet and connected back and forth with a tangled web of string.
“This,” Mr. Karras announced in an ominous voice, “is the Ragbray conspiracy web.” The winter storm outside howled against the windows, as if on cue. Mr. Karras pointed toward the center of the bed sheet and said, “The trail starts with this memo I found a few years ago.” The light in the room was so dim that Jack had to hold a candle close to the memo in order to read it.
The note said:
Hey dudes, what if we cut out that hundred-mile day? It just takes everyone too long to finish and they are way too tired to have fun after that. Fun means $$$, bottom line. -C. Dale
“Don’t you think it’s strange that beer garden profits have jumped 28% since they cut the hundred-mile day? I have the records to prove it,” said Mr. Karras, smacking his hand down on a thick file folder that must have been too heavy to pin to the bed sheet.
“And what have they replaced the hundred-mile day with?” Mr. Karras answered his own question without waiting for Jack. “Now there’s a century loop every year, an extra twenty or thirty miles of desolate, windswept roads that only a few die-hards care to ride while everyone else is in the towns spending money on beer. It’s called the ‘John Karras Memorial Century Loop’ and I’m not even dead yet!”
“Take a look at the name on that memo,” said Mr. Karras as his fingers traced one of the strings leading from the memo to a business card. “Here’s his full name. Clyde S. Dale. The card says he works for Anheuser Busch, yet when I tried to contact him, no one at the company had ever heard of him, even though his memo brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales for Budweiser.”
Mr. Karras shifted his attention to another part of the display. Jack’s eyes followed him to an old Pizza Ranch placemat. Among the grease spots was a hand-drawn map of a beer garden large enough to cover an entire town square. Mr. Karras explained, “The Miller Brewing Company has also been making changes. Every year, their beer gardens get bigger and they take over more and more of the overnight towns.”
Somehow, Mr. Karras managed to become even more serious as he turned to look at Jack and said, “They’ve started to come after you now.” For the first time, Jack noticed a small picture of himself pinned to the bed sheet near the bottom. Dozens of strings from all over the bed sheet stretched down to Jack’s picture, which looked like a fly caught in a web. The winter storm outside howled against the windows once again, as if on cue.
to be continued...
[a serial by little orphan dbax]