Jack looked around carefully and then cautiously shuffled over the snow toward the front door of the Mr. Kar Wash car wash. The sign on the door said, “Sorry, we’re closed,” but there, on the doorstep, partially sheltered by the awning, was a big rolled up newspaper in a plastic bag. The words Des Moines Register were visible through the bag.
Fighting the urge to search through the paper right then and there, Jack tucked the bag under one arm like a football and began making his way back along the creek and the mountain road leading up to the Karras home.
The return trip up the mountain was as uneventful and beautiful as the trip down had been, but it took a lot more time and effort on Jack’s part. He was able to follow the tracks he had made earlier, and this helped compensate for the steep grade of the road.
It was almost noon by the time Jack finally reached the Karras’ home again. He was tired, but it was the good kind of tired that comes from exercising for hours outside in the cold mountain air. Jack handed the newspaper to Mr. Karras and then traded the wet hiking clothes for dry clothes, just in time for lunch.
It took Jack and Mr. Karras all of lunch and a good deal of the afternoon to look through the entire paper for any items that might be linked to the Ragbrai conspiracy. Jack tended to skim the headlines and photo captions, but Mr. Karras was much more careful, poring over the details of each story, checking every photo, and even scanning the advertisements.
Jack was pretty sure that Mr. Karras wouldn’t try to sift through the hundreds of classified ads, and he was right. After going through every other section of the paper, Mr. Karras let out a disappointed sigh and said, “Nothing today. Thanks for going all the way down to get the paper anyway. The paperboys around here would charge me twenty-five bucks a day for that kind of service.”
As Mr. Karras shifted his attention to the comics pages, Jack casually pulled the classified ads out from under the pile and let his eyes wander up and down the columns, page by page, until he found the ads for old cars. The last ad in the last column read:
VW parts for sale: muffler, AC, generator, ignition, clutch, bumper, exhaust, alternator, new tires, seats. 938 Miller Ave.
The address was for Dog Bait’s house, where Jack had stayed a few nights earlier. It was the same address used in the first classified ad from Sister Kim. Too late to hide what he was looking at, Jack noticed Mr. Karras staring at him. “What have you found there?” he asked, setting the comics aside.
“Uh, nothing,” said Jack, unsure if he wanted to reveal the notion that Sister Kim might be trying to send him a secret message through the classified ads. However, Mr. Karras proved to be too quick.
“Let’s take a closer look at this ad,” said Mr. Karras with renewed intensity. “It appears to be an ordinary list of car parts, but maybe there is something else here.” He grabbed a piece of scratch paper and listed the parts at the top of the page. Then Mr. Karras tried rearranging the words and letters while attempting to make sense of them. He tried all sorts of tricks with letters, numbers, and patterns, but it was no use. Finally Mr. Karras gave up and walked away from the table.
Jack was left alone at the table. He glanced down at the paper and saw the list Mr. Karras had started with:
In a flash, Jack saw what Mr. Karras had missed.
to be continued... [a serial by little orphan dbax]