“He’s in Tahiti,” says Loop Lonagan. “Dat’s where Jonelis is. Them guys at Heartland Angels oughta know.”
Speaking strictly for myself, I see no excuse for a man like Lonagan and place no weight on his opinions. I may fire him—I have not yet decided. After all, Jonelis ain’t here. He announced a sabbatical and disappeared. That is correct, sir! I am in charge! That is my hat on the hook. Those are my boots resting on the WWII Air Force desk. I will take this opportunity to exercise my power as I see fit. Any fool that criticizes my splendid white suit or magnificent mustache may face instant dismissal!
“I dunno….” Big Bill Blair’s deep bass rattles the desk drawers. “I bet Mr. Jonelis is just…I mean prob’ly just…just holed up someplace on a binge. That’s duh way I’d play it. I mean with a bottle and a broad—” Bill stops, puts his huge hand across his mouth, lazy eyes locked on Janet Case—the only woman in the room. Perhaps Bill is experimenting for the first time with some form of deep thought. Then he seems to come to a decision: “Well he’s just holed up, see?” He sets his jaw. I consider it providence that he does not utter any more lewd speculation. Even a giant must take account of the moral sensibilities of others.
Bill is so big we built a special chair for him out of packing crates and lumber. It keeps him in one place. Better that than permit him to roam the office like a rogue elephant, knocking over boxes and squashing feet. It is true, there is plenty of space in the back room of Ludditis Shots & Beer, but Bill is a large and powerful man and rather clumsy. Perhaps this is not your plush corner office but while I’m in charge, I insist on keeping it neat!
Donatas Ludditis breaks out in a big Lithuanian grin. “I take sabbatical too, some day. On yacht maybe—all alone. Ride ocean waves. Snooze away in peace. Fight sudden squalls. Fish for meals.” He sighs happily and settles back. “Is good. I think Yonn think same way as me.” I grant Ludditis his opinion. He owns this bar and is technically our magazine’s landlord, but at his age, I would advise him to consider that trip right quick.
The sweetest part of my new situation is that Jim Kren, the insufferable toady, remains Assistant Editor. Now he is my toady—mine, I say!
“Jonelis isn’t the yachting type—he’s a pilot,” Kren says peevishly, then points to a photograph hanging from a nail, depicting John’s yellow Stearman biplane in flight. “He always talked about making a flight across the Atlantic. That’s what he’s doing now.”
“In that crate?” Lonagan grabs the photo and studies it closely. “Where’s he gonna store the extra fuel?”
A feminine voice cuts the air. “Strike the airplane. What kind of idiot would cross the ocean in an open cockpit during winter? The only place to refuel between here and the British Isles is Reykjavik, Iceland.” This is Janet Case talking, a professional correspondent that Jonelis hired prior to leaving. She slips off her horn rimmed glasses and speaks in precise diction. “Put away the sailboat. John gets violently seasick. You can forget about Tahiti, too. I happen to know he won’t be caught dead on a beach.”
“Maybe it’s one o’ dem nude beaches. I’d kinda like—”
“Lonagan!” At my shout, he abruptly stops. That man is execrable. “Have the decency to let the lady speak.”
Janet inspects Lonagan from a distance, as she might a fungus growing in an unexpected place. “That’s ridiculous. The man can’t tan. Twenty minutes in the sun and he’d fry to a crisp. Ugh! What a repulsive thought! I regret bringing it up.”
I shudder at the image as well. A fully exposed over-plump torso, red as a rotting apple crawling with flies. Intolerable!
Lonagan plunges into further speculation and the others add their opinions in rapid fire: “Maybe he’s opening a casino. Hitchhiking the continent. Climbing Everest. Racing the Iditarod. Spearfishing for Great Whites…” The room is loud with the shouting of opinions.
For my part, I can think of no better sabbatical than rafting the Mississippi. Knowing John, I figure he’s in a comfortable houseboat or cabin cruiser, swaddled in a comfortable chair, sipping a hot coffee, reading the collected works of America’s greatest author.
Perhaps one day we will know the truth. ■
Photos of bar by John Jonelis. Stearman from Wikipedia. Others public domain.
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