"Did you see it?" Lois asked me, in an ursine growl. She knew, of course, precisely where I had been during my break. After all, I rarely leave the premises of Hancock Fabrics during the day; I've been known to unpack new shipments of novelty yarns during my tens, or to re-organize the children's patterns at lunch. This, mes amis, is a sickness, I know.
"I sure did," I replied. "And frankly, I don't know what the big deal is. It's obvious that Jo-Ann doesn't know even a tiny tidbit about car restoration. Barlow is trying to ride our coattails, but I'll bet you a bonbon that her scheme doesn't last two weeks."
"But, our idea!" wailed Suzette.
"Suzette, ma petite chou, there's nothing to worry about. I'll start worrying when Jo-Ann starts hiring someone other than gum-smacking troglodytes to man the cutting tables." At that Lois shot me a sharp glance, and I knew that she knew about Barlow's job offer. Somewhere, in her manager's heart, she had felt the twinge of an employee being lured away.
Taffy drew herself up and declared, "I think Mrs. Filthy is right. Once we get the new line on display, we'll be fine. People will flock here like seagulls on a Frito factory." After a pause, she turned to Lois and asked, "Where is the new line?"
Lois gulped. "Karl has it, or at least he said he'd sign for it. It's supposed to be out this month." Her voice trailed off, and the atmosphere in the room plummeted to chilly. Karl, who perhaps wasn't feeling too friendly toward Arvada at the moment, held our fates in his well-manicured hands.
Then some customers came in, and all other discussion of our futures had to be put off until the next lull. Every once in a while, while I refilled the button racks or measured some forest green velour, I could catch Lois regarding me with an anxious stare. I wanted to put her at ease on my account; I would never jump ship, especially if the alternative was the S.S. Jo-Ann.
At my afternoon break, I was idly flipping through the cross-stitch books, which is to say that I was eavesdropping outside Lois' office. I had to know if we were on the outs with Karl, or if it was just my imagination that he harbored no good will toward us.
"Yes, this is Lois ---. I'm calling for Mr. Sittenzeplatz," I heard her say in her best charm school voice. "Oh, I see. Yes, please tell him to call 555-1212 when he gets in. Thank you."
I thought that was the end of a completely unremarkable phone message when Lois spoke again. "What's that?" Her voice spiked with alarm. "No, I haven't seen him at all today. I wanted to meet with him again about the fall line and our summer classes, but I haven't been able to get a hold of him." She listened some more and then signed off, but her charm school voice was gone, replaced by something much more melancholic.
When she put down the receiver, she did it gently, but a curse audibly escaped from her mouth. I poked my head around, not caring if she knew I had heard the whole thing. "What's wrong, dearie?"
"Karl hasn't checked in with headquarters at all today, which is very odd for him. And his hotel hasn't seen him since yesterday afternoon. What's happened to him?"
I could understand Lois' fear. The mean streets of Arvada could certainly tear a man like Karl apart. We would have to find him.