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Authors: B. David Warner

Tags: #mystery, #action thriller, #advertising, #political intrigue

Freeze Frame (8 page)

BOOK: Freeze Frame
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Higgins exhaled. "Okay, okay. Anything’s
possible. But it’s obvious to me Carter left the disc on the
elevator and is afraid to admit it. One of Bacalla's people found
it, just as he said."

It sounded like BS to me, but before I could
say so, Higgins turned to leave.

"I'm glad your imagination is working," he
said over his shoulder. "But try to keep it focused on the
Ampere."

2
6

11:14 p.m.

 

Hello?

Dad, it’s me.

Kit! How are things in the Motor City?

They’re great, advertising wise.

What do you mean?

The campaign we’re working on is coming along
well.

Then why the hesitation in your voice?

Dad, there’s something going on here I don’t
like. Something besides the two murders I mentioned the last time
we talked.

What do you mean, Kit?

I wish I knew. There are some people I’m
convinced are up to something, but I’m not sure what it is.

Your hunches have always been good.

That’s just it. I wish I had a stronger
hunch.

What’s your guess?

I think they might be working for another
agency, one of the companies we’re pitching against. They may be
trying to get information on that campaign we’re crashing.

Industrial spies?

Something like that.

Kit, you be careful.

I am, Dad. I go home after work every
night.

I hope you find some time to enjoy
yourself.

I haven’t gotten out at all. But I’ve been
playing a little Gershwin on the piano. It helps me relax.

You have a piano?

Yes, and what a surprise. It came with the
house the agency found me in Indian Village.

Indian Village? What did they find you, a
teepee?

No. Indian Village is a small community on
the east side of Detroit. Mainly professional people. The homes are
older. Mine was built in the Twenties.

And it’s still standing?

The homes are older, but they’re kept up very
well. Like a certain gentleman I know.

Hey, I’m not that old. At least Melanie
doesn’t think so.

How’s Melanie doing?

She sends her love. And I hear her calling.
It’s time for bed.

Tired already, Dad?

Who said anything about sleeping?

Don’t ever change, Dad. I love you.

I love you, too, Kit. Goodnight.

27

Now

It was nearly noon when Higgins finally found
the dirt road that led to his uncle’s cabin. We drove down a narrow
trail past a number of cottages boarded up for the winter. Higgins
explained the majority of the lake's residents were seasonal.

It occurred to me that we were isolated from
ninety-nine percent of the state’s population, and my ex-husband’s
warning came back to me. I didn’t know Higgins well, but I felt
certain he was incapable of murdering Darren Cato, no matter how
much he disliked him. I tucked the thought away.

As the Avatar pulled into a sandy drive
bordered by pines on both sides, I found myself facing the back of
a small, red aluminum-sided cottage with a gray shingled roof and
an attached garage. It lay among a grove of oak, birch and northern
pine, and through the trees I saw the bright blue waters of a
lake.

Higgins found a key under the porch. Carrying
large grocery bags in each arm, I followed him through the back
door, through a bedroom and into the living area of the cottage.
Higgins opened the blinds covering the front window, and revealed a
picturesque view of Lake Manuka. Vibrantly colored cottages ringed
the far side a half-mile or so across. The quiet beauty reminded me
of a Worthington Whittredge landscape.

The living room featured comfortable
furniture, chosen for utility rather than decoration. A huge stone
fireplace nearly covered the wall to my right, its blackened
interior evidence of crackling wood fires on cool evenings
past.

The cottage was rectangular, three bedrooms
and a bathroom taking up the back half. The front comprised a
living room, dining area and kitchen.

I set the grocery bags on the kitchen
counter. Through a window over the sink I saw a white cottage on
the lot next door, just beyond a clump of pines. An elderly woman
raked leaves in the yard. Higgins saw me staring and walked
over.

"I'll be damned," he said, "Mrs. Gordon is
still alive.”

"She looks ninety years old."

"She looked ninety years old when I was a
teenager. She and her husband must have moved in just after the
glaciers that dug these lakes receded. Mr. Gordon used to take me
squirrel hunting.”

He smiled. “You had to be a great shot to
hunt with him."

"Why was that?"

"His rifles were both single-shot
twenty-twos. If you missed, the squirrel was in the next county
before you could reload.” Higgins rubbed his stomach. "Enough
history. Let's unload the car and eat."

I followed him outside. It was warm for a
Michigan October, in the high sixties. Indian summer. I kicked off
my shoes and enjoyed the feeling of cool, sandy soil oozing between
my toes. A gentle breeze blew off the lake, rattling dry leaves
clinging to branches overhead. An outboard motor purred
somewhere.

I carried two bags filled with clothes into
the corner bedroom. Returning to the back porch, I saw Higgins back
a faded blue Chevrolet Lumina out of the garage into the sandy area
behind. He replaced it with the Avatar and closed the door.

“If we go anywhere, this old Lumina is going
to attract a lot less attention than the Avatar.”

We carried the last of the grocery bags into
the cabin and I went into the bedroom to unpack. When I came out, I
found Higgins standing over a frying pan.

"How do you like your burgers?"

"Right now, I'd eat them raw.”

We ate on the wooden deck in front of the
cottage beneath a sky of brilliant blue, bothered only by an
occasional cloud. A light October breeze stirred up small ripples
on the lake, and brought the pleasant aroma of burning leaves from
Mrs. Gordon's lot. But it wasn't long before the conversation
drifted back to Detroit.

Higgins looked at his watch. "Two-thirty. The
Ampere pitch should be over. Let’s call the agency and see if
there’s any news.”

“Speaking of news, how do you think they’re
taking the news about us and that policeman being shot?”

“You don’t think anyone there actually
believes we’re guilty?”

“I just think we have to be careful who we
talk to.” “How about Ken Cunningham?”

“I trust him.”

“So do I. Let’s call.”

But both phones, in the kitchen and my
bedroom, were dead. "Turned off for the winter," Higgins said. "I
should have thought of that."

"What now?"

"I'll go next door...use Mrs. Gordon's phone
to call Cunningham, then call the phone company to get ours turned
on.”

I watched Higgins through the window over the
sink. He approached Mrs. Gordon, talked for a moment, then went
into her cottage. He was back in ten minutes.

"Cunningham said AVC management loved our
presentation. But he doesn’t expect a decision from AVC until at
least tomorrow. Apparently the other two agencies are presenting in
the morning.”

“What did he say about our situation?”

“He still thinks we ought to give ourselves
up. But he’s not going to tip the authorities. He’s taking a
chance, you know.”

I felt relieved...with both Ken’s reaction
and AVC’s acceptance of our magazine ads and TV commercial. But the
reality of our situation couldn’t be denied: Even if we won the
business, we’d be doing our jobs from behind bars if we didn’t get
out of this mess.

28

Thursday, Oct. 14 11:00 a.m.

The morning began with a message that Ken
Cunningham wanted to see what our creative team had accomplished so
far. The request seemed highly unfair after just two and a half
days of work. But at eleven a.m. Team Ampere streamed into the
eighth floor conference room with layouts, print copy and a
television story board – all in their most embryonic stages.
Cunningham, Higgins and Lyle Windemere sat around the large
mahogany table. Cunningham didn’t waste time.

"Thanks for coming. I apologize for
interrupting your work with this impromptu meeting. But the reason
will become obvious.

"First, we -- Sean, Lyle and I -- would like
to see what you've done so far."

"Ken, we've just..." I cut my protest short
as Cunningham raised his hand.

"Believe me, I know you’ve had no time at
all. I merely want to see where we stand.”

For the next few minutes I offered a
capsulated version of the concepts the group had created.
Cunningham seemed pleased.

"I like your thinking," he said. "And your
plans for the Internet are right on target. But my main concern is
television. How are you doing there?"

"I think we've come up with a pretty decent
approach." Then, looking directly at Cunningham: "Given the
limitations."

"I know I’ve limited your alternatives. But
you'll understand in a moment. Let's see what you have."

I turned the floor over to Stankowski, Carter
and Rodriguez, who ran through their television concept.

In the end, Cunningham was smiling. "I like
it," he said. "How long will it take to get it ready to air?"

Carter started thinking out loud: "Computer
animation... recording music...videotaping singers...I'd say three,
four weeks."

"Can it be done faster? Say a week and a
half?"

Carter whistled. "You’re talking a ton of
overtime and money, Ken. But sure, it can be done."

Cunningham leaned forward, elbows on the
table. He lowered his voice. "Okay. Here's why I called this
meeting.

"AVC isn't expecting anything for three
weeks. And, until I saw your ideas, I figured we'd have to stick to
that schedule. Sean and I reviewed Baron Nichols' group earlier
and, frankly, they're nowhere near as far along as you are."

I couldn't help smiling. Winning the AVC
business couldn’t possibly feel any better than showing up Baron
Nichols.

"Because of what I see here," Cunningham
said. "I'm going to call Bill Kesler this morning and tell him we
want to present our campaign early. Next Monday."

Next Monday? I couldn’t believe my ears.

“Ken you can’t be serious.”

"Serious enough to gamble the entire American
Vehicle account. Look, as it stands we have one chance in three of
winning the business. That's not good enough. I'm a firm believer
that when the odds aren't in your favor, change the game.

“Here's my plan: on October 25, exactly a
week and a half from now, the New York Jets play the San Francisco
Forty-Niners on ESPN’s Monday Night Football."

"That's going to be a hell of a shoot out,"
Bob Roy said. "A rematch of last season's Super Bowl teams."

"Exactly," said Cunningham. "And the Super
Bowl ended on a disputed call in overtime.”

"The build-up for this game has been huge,"
Higgins said. "You’re talking a Super Bowl size TV audience."

"Right," said Cunningham. "AVC's a regular
sponsor; the people over there are beside themselves. They own two
prime spots during the game, and that’s the reason for this
meeting. I'm going to roll the dice."

I looked over at Higgins. The slight smile
curling his lips said he knew what was coming.

"AVC plans to run its usual Avion spots on
that Monday night, ten days from now," Cunningham said. "But we're
going to surprise them.

"I'm going to guarantee we can put them on
air with the Ampere."

***

The meeting had been a two-edged sword.

Beating out Baron Nichols gave me more
satisfaction than I wanted to admit. But Cunningham's move left me
with an antsy feeling. It was gutsy, all right, but also
reckless.

It reminded me of "Tonk," a card game I
played as a child. Everyone started with three cards and continued
to draw and discard, until someone thought he or she had the best
hand. That player would "tonk," knock on the table. The others then
drew a final card, and laid down their hands. The highest three
cards won.

Once in a great while a player would refuse
to draw any cards, tonking immediately after the deal, gambling his
original three cards would be good enough to win.

Ken Cunningham seemed to be playing that game
now -- calling in the cards, betting that his company's campaign,
as it now stood, would beat anything the other two agencies were
holding. He was forcing their hands by readying A & B's Ampere
commercial in time for the year's biggest television audience.

If right, A & B would keep its current
AVC business, and rake in another nine hundred million in
billings.

If wrong, the agency's largest account, one
it had held more than ninety years, would be lost.

And with it, a few hundred jobs.

29

2:47 p.m.

I was filling in start times and due dates on
the chart in my PC that inventoried the group’s print and
television ads when the phone on my desk rang.

"James."

"Miss James, this is Marsha Tower, Mr.
Rathmore’s administrative assistant." Her voice had a curt, take no
prisoners quality.

Her formal tone didn’t intimidate me. "Yes,
Marsha?"

"Mr. Rathmore wants to see you. He asks that
you be in his office at three o'clock. Sharp."

A click sounded at the other end of the
line.

***

Marsha Tower turned out to be a trim blonde
in her late fifties with a carefully manicured coiffure.

"Mr. Rathmore is meeting with Mr. Adams," she
said, ushering me into the office of A & B’s Board Chairman.
"He'll return shortly. You may wait here."

Left alone, I looked around Rathmore’s
spacious office. Through the full-length window that made up the
far wall, I could see east, past Belle Isle and almost to Lake St.
Clair. To the right, across the River, lay southern Ontario.

BOOK: Freeze Frame
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