Authors: Jude Watson
“Two kids, Galt and Cara — hey, they’re our ages, thirteen and sixteen — and a wife, Debi Ann,” Dan said. He studied her picture. “Helmet hair.”
“He bought a newspaper and that’s how he built his fortune,” Nellie continued. “Look, this is standard PR stuff. It doesn’t give us the real deal. We’ll have to dig for that.”
“Look at the dates,” Dan said. “He bought that one newspaper ten years ago. But suddenly within the last six months he’s been acquiring things like magazines and TV stations and websites. . . .”
“You’re right, Dan,” Nellie said. “He built a media empire in less than a year. How do you do that? He must be a mega-genius.”
“A mega-genius who couldn’t make it through Harvard,” Dan said. “He finished up at Springfield Polytechnic Community College. Where his dad built the new state-of-the-art aqua center.”
“There’s plenty of information,” Nellie said. “But it doesn’t say much at all. And it sure doesn’t answer why he’s targeting you.”
Dan spun around in his chair three times. Then he stopped himself with one hand on the desk.
“We’re not going to find out just sitting here,” he said. “We should just ask the dude.”
“You don’t just get to a guy like that,” Amy said. “You have to go through about seven assistants and a bunch of receptionists, and then he says no.”
“So, we ambush him,” Dan said.
Amy nodded. “We’d have to track his routine . . . pick a likely coordinate. . . . It’s doable, but it will take some surveillance.”
“I love it when you talk like a spy kid,” Dan said. “Or, we could just show up HERE.” He reached over Nellie’s shoulder to enlarge one of the windows on the computer.
RUTHERFORD PIERCE TO LEAD REPORTERS ON TOUR OF FOUNDERS MEDIA HEADQUARTERS SITE IN DOWNTOWN BOSTON.
“Can we make it to Boston in time?” Amy asked.
Nellie grinned. “If I’m driving, we can.”
They jumped into the Jeep and Nellie gunned the car down the long, curving drive. She punched in the code and the electric gates swung open.
Cars were now parked on the grassy edges of the lane, slanted in crazy angles. Photographers sprang forward, their faces obscured by cameras.
The noise of camera shutters clicking sounded like hundreds of crickets on a still summer night. “Duck!” Nellie yelled.
Amy ducked, but not before seeing a camera snapping a picture of her frightened face.
Nellie gunned the motor and sped past them. Still clicking, the photographers ran for their cars.
“Can you lose them?” Amy asked. Her heart pounded. She felt hunted and trapped.
“Are you kidding?” Nellie sped down the street, then made a short right turn onto a dirt road. She squeaked past overgrown shrubbery to barrel down a driveway. “The Fieldstones won’t mind,” she said. “I gave Marylou my coffee cake recipe.” She swerved off the driveway, bumped over a grassy field, skirted a badminton net, then made a hard right onto a back road that ran along a lake. “We can get to the highway from here.”
Nellie made several fast turns and approached the highway. She swung the car into the turning lane under the
“You see?” she said confidently. “All clear.”
Dan twisted behind her. “Um, not. I think I see that red Toyota again. And a couple others. They must have made a guess that we might be headed to the city.”
The drive was short and tense. Nellie went as fast as she dared, but cars kept swerving close, trying to get a picture. The photographers cut across three lanes of traffic, hung out of windows shooting, popped out of sunroofs.
“There’s some hats back there,” Nellie said. “Try to cover your faces so they can’t take your picture. Maybe they’ll give up.”
Dan pawed through the hats. He held up a Mexican sombrero. “Uh, Nellie?”
“Free Hat Night at Don Jose’s Cantina,” Nellie explained. “You gotta try the chimichangas.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of Cap Day at the stadium?” Dan grumbled. He pulled on a plaid winter hat with earflaps and handed Amy a canvas beach hat. She pulled it down to her eyebrows. She couldn’t hear the clicking of the shutters but she felt their intrusive chatter hammering inside her brain.
Nellie jerked the wheel suddenly to the right and exited off the highway, leaving two cars full of photographers zooming past, comical looks of surprise on their faces.
“See ya, suckers!” Nellie called as she gunned through a yellow light, made two successive quick left turns, and then plunged into the notorious Boston traffic.
After a few minutes of combat driving, Nellie pulled up in a bus lane with a cry of satisfaction. “I rule Beantown!”
They craned their necks and looked straight up at the skeleton of a skyscraper across the street.
A bus driver leaned on the horn behind them. “Text me when you’re done,” Nellie said. “I’ll meet you right here.”
Ignoring the blaring horn, Nellie scanned the sidewalk. “There’s a lot of security. How are you going to sneak in?”
“Just follow my first rule of life,” Dan said as he slid out of the Jeep. “Everybody’s gotta eat.”
Fifteen minutes later, Amy and Dan walked to the side construction entrance, both carrying bags from Brown Bag Subs. The tantalizing aroma of meatball subs snaked up from the bags.
Three construction workers sat on a makeshift bench of two-by-fours and bricks, right outside a door marked
: DO NOT ENTER.
“You guys know Joe?” Dan asked, holding up the bag. “This is his order.”
“Just go through the door and yell,” one of the guys said. “He should be in the office.”
Amy and Dan pushed through the door. “How did you know a guy named Joe worked here?” Amy asked as they dropped the food bags on a table.
“That’s my second rule of life,” Dan said. “There’s always a guy named Joe.” He grabbed a yellow hard hat and tossed one to Amy.
“It’s starting to scare me how much you know about breaking and entering,” Amy observed, putting it on.
They stood in the hall, wondering which way to go. The building had girders and beams and drywall that marked a few rooms. Stacks of wood and glass littered the space, along with rolls of insulation and long snakelike bundles of rebar. Plastic buckets held empty coffee cups and scraps of metal and wood. Spray-painted in orange on the walls were mysterious letters and numbers. Large concrete columns marched down the space, and the dust spiraled in the air through the beams of light.
“I smell something,” Dan said.
“Danger?” Amy asked.
“Does danger smell like cookies?”
Amy sniffed the air. “And coffee.”
“If there’s a tour, there might be coffee for the press,” Dan said. “Maybe we can mingle and we won’t get noticed.”
Following their noses, they moved toward the front of the building. Soon they could hear murmuring voices.
“These are stale,” someone said.
“Hey, they’re free. Coffee’s not bad.”
Amy and Dan peered around the wall. About a dozen reporters stood scarfing down cookies and gulping coffee out of paper mugs.
They sidled in and lingered at the edge of the group.
“Where are you from?” one of the reporters asked Dan. He had spiky red hair and looked almost as young as they did.
“Uh . . . a national kids’ magazine,” he answered. “
The guy nodded. “Sounds cool. Wish I’d been homeschooled. Just not with, you know, my own parents. I’m with the web ’zine
“Isn’t that owned by Founders Media?” Amy asked. “So, Mr. Pierce is kind of your boss?”
He shrugged. “We’re all part of the company. Your magazine, too — you just don’t know it. You think this guy wants bad press? He’s already got a stack of violations on this building. He’s throwing shade on a community garden — did you see the protestors? And some poor construction guy got killed last month. They’re putting this up so fast they’ve got safety inspectors breathing down their necks . . . but then they mysteriously go away. Hey, do you have your question ready? We’re only allowed one each, you know. I’m going to ask what color pajamas he wears.”
“You’re going to ask about
?” Dan blurted.
“I’m not going for a Pulitzer here, buddy. I just want to keep my job. If Pierce says polka dots, I’ve got a headline.”
“Love that hard-hitting news,” Dan muttered.
A trim young woman in a red suit entered the space, her high heels clicking. She was wearing, Dan noticed, a small headset tucked under her hair, a slender silver wire hovering near the corner of her mouth.
“Hi, guys! I’m Arabella Kessler. I’m Mr. Pierce’s personal assistant, and I’ll be escorting you from the hospitality suite to the reception suite.” She waved her yellow hard hat. “Let’s all put on our hats! Now follow me to the sixty-fifth floor!”
They followed Arabella Kessler and her clicking heels to a large cage elevator on the side of the building. The reporters filed inside. The cage rose up, up, high over the city. A gust of wind shook the wire mesh cage. Some of the reporters turned green. “Best view in Boston,” Arabella said, and pushed open the door.
They filed out into a space similar to the ground floor. Concrete, piles of stacked glass, machinery lying idle. Wires hung down from the grid of the ceiling, coiled like snakes about to strike.
A room had been framed out with metal columns. At one end a podium had been set up, with red drapes hung behind it. The wind blew through the open space. Even though they were nowhere near the edge, Amy shivered. The reporters clustered together nervously. Everyone felt exposed, so high above the city, with no walls for protection.
Arabella Kessler stood behind the podium and spoke into the microphone. Her voice echoed and bounced from one concrete pillar to another.
“Welcome to the sixty-fifth floor of the new headquarters of Founders Media, the number one media conglomerate in the United States!”
There was a silence, and then a few claps began. Apparently applause was called for.
“Yes, isn’t it thrilling! The innovative design of Founders Media headquarters will include a one-square-block complex with three separate buildings, all joined by pedestrian bridges! The buildings will offer offices, retail, restaurants, and the Founders television studios. After a short press conference during which you can ask your preapproved questions, you will get a personal tour of the new Founders Media headquarters by J. Rutherford Pierce himself. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you J. Rutherford PIERCE!” She almost screamed his last name.
A tall man with silver hair and a movie-star smile strode through the curtains. The lights bounced off his burnished skin. He looked glowing and healthy and ready to take on the world. “So happy to be here today, my friends!” he said, taking his place at the podium. “I’ll take a few questions before we start the tour.”
“What is your secret to success?” someone asked.
“Work hard and love your country.”
“What do you like to do on your day off?”
“Play with my dog, Sport, and grill some good meat!”
“As long as he doesn’t grill Sport,” Dan murmured to Amy. The reporter standing next to them overheard and chuckled.
“How do you account for your spectacular rise?”
“I worked hard and I love my country.”
Dan groaned into Amy’s ear. “Talk about puffball questions. How are we going to get to talk to him?”
“On the tour,” she said.
“Not with all these handlers around,” Dan said. “I say we shake things up.” He raised his voice. “How much does it cost these days to bribe a safety inspector?”
The reporters instantly went quiet. The red-haired reporter turned and frantically motioned at Dan to shut up.
“I mean, does the cost go
, depending on how close you are to finishing the building?” Dan asked.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Pierce peered over the crowd but couldn’t see Amy and Dan, who were standing behind the taller reporters. His eyes cut to Arabella Kessler, and her sharp gaze raked the crowd.
“Any other questions?” he asked.
“What about the worker who was killed?” Amy asked. “Is it because you’re cutting corners on safety?”
The red-haired journalist gave Amy and Dan a look of admiration. Amy saw him square his shoulders. He raised his hand. “And where did his widow get a million dollars, when he didn’t have life insurance? Was she paid off?”
“Care to comment on that?” someone else yelled.
Pierce blinked once. Twice. His smile didn’t wobble. He swiveled toward Arabella Kessler.
She moved forward quickly as Pierce disappeared behind the red curtain. “We’re out of time!” she called cheerily. “Something has come up, and Mr. Pierce must leave us. I’ll conduct the tour.”
Amy called out, “Hey, what about the photo op?”
The reporters took up the question and began shouting at Arabella Kessler. Amy and Dan quickly moved forward and stepped behind the curtain, looking for Pierce.
“There he goes,” Amy whispered.
Just behind a concrete column, they saw Pierce picking his way around a pile of stacked wood flooring.