A Trip Abroad
Melissa was, at the Southern Beverage Company, that most unpopular of all things, the outsider who can go anywhere and look into anything with the big boss' express permission. She knew that it was a mistake to be seen reporting to that boss in relaxed circumstances in the corner of the lunch room, but Pickersgill, seemingly oblivious to much that went on around him, so arranged it.
As it happened, the most violent opponent of applied psychological science wasn't a middle-aged man, rigid in his ways and opposed to progress, but Pickersgill's secretary. Miss Brenda Osborne wasn't an old hag, but a quite attractive red-haired woman in her mid-thirties. She had been with the young company since its beginning, and was known for her efficiency. Indeed, she was really much more than a secretary, and had two other women, who really were secretaries, working under her.
Despite the fact that Pickersgill was unmarried, Miss Osborne did not, as far as Melissa could see, have designs on him. She simply thought that Melissa would stir up turmoil and trouble, which would have no useful effect, and that the resulting stress and confusion would undermine the efficiency which she had worked so hard to produce. She said to Melissa one day,
"You may think it boring if the same people come in each day and do the same things without getting angry at one another. But that's all it takes to produce our wine. Mr. Pickersgill is quite capable of initiating any changes that may be required."
She might as well have added that he was capable of making those decisions and changes without any help from Melissa, or anyone like her. Actually, Melissa was quite impressed with Miss Osborne, and was inclined to agree with part of what she said. It wasn't the sort of company that needed dynamic and imaginative leadership at all levels. One energetic and forceful man at the top could have kept everything going. While Pickersgill was highly imaginative and moderately energetic, he wasn't a forceful leader. But Melissa could hardly say that to this lady. She said instead,
"The company could go on doing what it's been doing for a long time. But it would eventually slow down by a tiny increment each year. Meanwhile, the competition would be speeding up a little each year."
Miss Osborne reached across her desk for a pile of reports which would, Melissa was sure, show that Dawn Strike was not slowing down a little each year. But, just then, Jimmy Pickersgill came in.
Melissa was aware that Dawn Strike had an English subsidiary in a suburb of London. However, when he invited her to accompany him on an inspection trip, with a view to making some of the same changes there that were contemplated in America, Melissa was conscious of a particularly intense stare from Miss Osborne. She might be happy that Melissa would be out of the way for a week, but that was evidently outweighed by her consternation at this new evidence that the boss was losing his mind. Melissa was herself surprised that he issued the invitation so openly and casually, but, when he went on to name a time of departure, a week hence, she allowed that she could re-arrange a few appointments and accompany him.
Melissa wondered why it was always her first instinct to lie to
Jethro. She found it possible to answer herself with hardly any
hesitation: It was because he was so violent and irrational. He
couldn't discuss anything at all sensitive, so there was no point in
trying. The excuse she provided, that she was going for a week to visit
a cousin in Seattle, sounded false as she uttered it. On the other
hand, it didn't really have to sound true. Jethro refused, on
principle, to admit that he cared enough to ask questions. She, by
presenting a lame story, was implicitly asserting that she didn't care
either. They had often had a competition to see who could care the
least, but, in the past, there had always been some event, usually a
humorous one, which had allowed them to call it a draw and quit.
Miller Muggins entered the dingy, not to say dirty, cafe with misgivings, but out of a sense of duty. He then took a seat at a window table because it provided a good view of the doorway across the street. The doorway happened to be that of Jethro and Melissa.
Miller was unhappy with his present commission, that of spying on Melissa. Moreover, he didn't like being surrounded by alcoholics, beggars, and others who might usefully be put to sleep in a humane, albeit permanent, way. He was still less happy when Sergeant Evans came in, recognized him, and sat down opposite. The latter asked, in his usual pleasant way,
"Are you at work or play, Miller?"
Miller actually liked Evans, and was generally willing to talk with him. But this wasn't a good time. When Miller suggested that he was doing nothing more sinister than having coffee, his companion smiled broadly.
After a minute of rather strained silence, Miller caught sight of a large man with a hat pulled low over his face coming out of Jethro's building. Jethro liked to pull hats down over his face for God only knew what reason. Anyhow, it wasn't Jethro. It took Miller only a fraction of a second to realize that fact, but, at the same time, his good peripheral vision caught Evans looking at the man. It took a little longer for Evans to look back at Miller, and, when he did, he laughed and said,
"You caught me. But I caught you, too. You're at work, Miller."
"Okay, but why are you?"
"Well, I'm not really. Jethro hasn't recently been accused of any crime, and I wouldn't bother to put a man on to shadow him. But I have some idle curiosity."
"Arising, no doubt, from some arrangement you have with Jethro. But I do know that you wouldn't conduct business here in the cafe, or even allow yourself to be seen with him."
"But you can be seen with him. If you want to see him, all you have to do is go up and knock on his door."
"Yeah, maybe I will later on."
Evans made a noise of disbelief and replied,
"You're here because you don't want him to see you. Or perhaps because you don't want the girl to see you."
"You might know more than I do. Perhaps you can explain it all to me."
Miller smiled winningly and Evans replied,
"We both know that Jethro lives on the edge, and the edge is thinner than ever. If you have a commission from a certain quarter to watch Jethro, and you were to make a certain report, a lot of blood might get spilled."
"I don't have a commission to watch Jethro."
"So it's the girl! It's only Jethro that would want her watched. I didn't know he had enough money to pay you to do it."
When Miller mumbled non-commitally, Evans concluded,
"So it's a favor. You're too generous, Miller."
"You're not the only one to try to head off bloodshed, sergeant."
"I see. That girl, Melissa, could have affairs all over town. She's really great looking. It's too bad she's crazy."
"She's not crazy."
"Living with Jethro?"
"Well, that may be the only really unwise decision she's ever made."
"I dare say he can put it to a woman. Is it sex?"
"Not just that. It's love. Whatever that is."
"Yes, whatever it is. I'm not the one to ask about that."
"Neither am I. But, even if each hates most things about the other, it keeps them together."
It was just then that Melissa came out of the door across the street, improbably attired in a dress, high heels, and a backpack. As Miller got up to follow, Evans said,
"If you do catch her with someone, make up a story for Jethro. He'd be likely to kill her."
"Or him. Or both."
The tricky part came when it was time to board the airport bus. Melissa was right up next to the hotel doorman, and there was no way for Miller to get on ahead of her. Then, as he feared, she took a seat near the front.
Miller took time out to be irritated at Jethro. He had been mysterious, saying only that Melissa would be going somewhere. Very likely, he had known that she was going to the airport, but, wanting an independent check on Miller, hadn't told him so. It was typical of Jethro, and it made things unnecessarily difficult.
Aware that persons like himself didn't ordinarily go places by airplane, Miller nevertheless prepared a story. He then boarded next to last, hoping that the large funny- looking man behind him would draw Melissa's attention. In the event, she was looking out of the window, and he slipped by easily.
The real surprise came at the airport. There was Jimmy Pickersgill, with a smile as wide as that of a baboon, waiting at the TWA desk. He didn't actually embrace Melissa as she hustled up, backpack in one hand, but he did slide his arm around her shoulders. He made his mistake when he tried to relieve Melissa of the pack, and almost fell flat. They both laughed.
Miller had now to keep definitely to the back. But, after Melissa and Jimmy had left the desk area, Miller was able to sidle up, trying to look like a red cap who had pawned his cap. Prepared to pretend that he had been sent in search of a stray piece of baggage, he looked at the tag on Melissa's pack. It was checked through to London. Miller knew of a London, Ontario, not to mention London, Kentucky, but, given Jimmy's origins, this looked like the big one. And, of course, it wasn't just the meeting and the destination. Miller could tell at a glance when couples were getting organized for some serious sex.