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Christmas Eve Conspiracy

Christmas Eve Conspiracy

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Christmas Eve Conspiracy

457 pages
7 heures
Apr 29, 2020


After losing his good name and a lot of his fortune in a bad banking scheme, international investment banker Martin is out of work, is running out of money, and has been blacklisted from the international banking community, making finding a job impossible. Battling against the recession of the early 1980s, Martin's cousin Jack, an office supply salesman, is struggling to make ends meet, while his business partner, Kenny, is in the same predicament, exacerbated by a disappointed wife and the allure of his family's business, which he has always tried to avoid. When Kenny's brother presents him with a very lucrative, if not very legal, "family" business venture, it brings the three together and begins a series of events that challenges all their intelligence, resolve, and tenacity, which will affect their lives one way or another, forever.

Apr 29, 2020

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Christmas Eve Conspiracy - MJ Zagoria

Christmas Eve Conspiracy

MJ Zagoria

Copyright © 2020 MJ Zagoria

All rights reserved

First Edition


Conneaut Lake, PA

First originally published by Page Publishing 2020

ISBN 978-1-64701-905-1 (hc)

ISBN 978-1-64701-904-4 (digital)

Printed in the United States of America

Table of Contents















Manhattan, 1983

Everybody liked Joey. Maybe it was his even disposition, or always present smile, or willingness to do favors, to help a fellow worker complete an assignment before quitting time. Or perhaps it was just the way he looked, kind of harmless, pudgy, and disheveled, like a giant teddy bear in adult clothing, huggable and safe when you needed comforting, content to sit in the corner, gathering dust, when he wasn’t wanted, waiting and ready to provide succor and protection from the boogeyman hiding in everyone’s closet.

All the employees at the Chase Manhattan Bank, where Joey worked, were fond of him, supervisors and subordinates alike. He had worked at the bank for five years, advancing through the departmental corporate maze to become Assistant Head Bookkeeper, a position that paid him adequately for his few needs, provided him with a title for his business cards (embossed dark-brown print on the thinnest, finest beige paper, his only extravagance), but had apparently brought his less-than-meteoric rise through the department’s organization chart to a, if not permanent, then at least indefinite, halt.

Unfortunately for Joey, the Head Bookkeeper, one Piers J. Lansing, had held the position for a decade and was still a long fifteen years from early retirement. Worse for Joey, although he was exceptionally competent at his job, Piers J was quite satisfied in his present employment and hadn’t any desire for a change, lateral, vertical, or otherwise, which was especially fortunate, or perhaps just intuitive, on ol’ Piers J’s part, for not even coming close to approaching the pitfalls and concomitant stress suffered by victims of the Peter principle, his ever-falling dandruff, constant eye twitch, and untrimmed, bristly nose and ear hair had long since caused Chase’s decision makers to determine that Piers J would best serve the bank hidden away right where he was on the fifth floor, doing his steady, fine work, unseen by both customers and the Board of Directors.

This arrangement suited everyone except the employees of the bookkeeping department, including Joey, for he was forced to spend much of his time dealing with problems that should have been handled by his boss. It seemed that absolutely no one in the department liked Piers J; not only did they find him unkempt and somewhat disgusting to look at, what with all that hair sticking out of holes where it shouldn’t have been and his obvious distaste for a bottle of shampoo, but trying to maintain eye contact with him while having a conversation was also virtually impossible. That goddamn twitch never stopped; even if you tried to look away, you knew it was still there, and morbid curiosity made you look again.

If these had been the only shortcomings of Piers J, perhaps his employees could have mastered their revulsion and brought him their problems of sick leave, vacation, late reports, and countless other minutiae, but alas, he had another failing that, in their untwitching eyes, was far more serious, one that had earned him the less-than-complimentary sobriquet of The Shadow. What evil lurks in the minds of men was the first motto by which Piers J ran his shop. He was thoroughly convinced that those who tallied for him were basically lazy, slovenly about their work, and if not constantly watched, might be so inclined to remove certain very portable items belonging to the bank, converting them to their own use.

To prevent the wanton and rampant mass exodus of Chase’s pens, pencils, accounting paper—and who knows, left unchecked, the epidemic could grow to include calculators or adding machines—Piers J was ever on the alert. From his glass-walled office, he maintained a constant surveillance, acrimony pouring forth from his eyes as he scrutinized his employees for any telltale bulges or suspicious mannerisms whenever they left the big, open work area that comprised the bookkeeping department.

The only place on the fifth floor safe from the prying intrusions of the Shadow was the ladies’ room, and even within the apparent safety of this pastel-colored, sweetly scented stronghold of office gossip and liberated militancy, there were those who weren’t certain and therefore were definitely uncomfortable whenever necessity required their presence. One persistent rumor had the Shadow measuring the thickness of the partially used toilet paper rolls at the end of each day to assure himself that there wasn’t any waste in any area of his department.

The greater the obsession became, the more work Joey was forced to assume. It became necessary for him to stay late almost every day in order to complete his own responsibilities, giving rise to an undertone of friction between himself and his boss. Joey reacted to each extra assignment from Piers J with a growing belligerency, causing his superior to develop an increasingly truculent attitude not only toward Joey but to everyone in the department as well. Even the most good-natured of us have a breaking point, and despite his easygoing personality, Joey was slowly approaching his.

He began to consider looking for a new job. He wasn’t anxious to leave the bank, for it had been his only place of employment since graduating from college and, if nothing else, he felt secure there, but he was at a loss to see another alternative. The bank didn’t have anyone to whom he could take his dilemma, the personnel department being job fillers rather than problem solvers, and with his lack of training or skills in areas other than bookkeeping, he wasn’t aware of any other position he could fill at Chase.

While he struggled and debated with himself as to how to proceed, the solution to his predicament, as with many resolutions to apparently unsolvable problems, came from an unexpected source, the Computer Department’s resident old maid, Abigail Cornwell.

It seemed that Abigail, though ten years Joey’s senior, had taken a certain liking for him of a somewhat-greater intensity than the feelings he was normally subjected to. Unbeknownst to Abigail, however, Joey was one of those few men whose antennae were not always trying to home in on interested and willing female partners, and so her suggestion was received as merely a friendly bit of advice instead of the beginnings of a nefarious plan on Abigail’s part to get Joey within her everyday work sphere. The better to woo you with, my dear.

The Computer Department was on the fourth floor of the bank, but contiguous to the Bookkeeping Department on Chase’s organizational chart. The two departments worked together constantly, with members from each continuously traveling between the two floors, riding the elevators or using the stairs, which, although faster than waiting for the always-busy elevators, was prohibited except in case of fire, nuclear holocaust, or other emergency. It was during one of these unauthorized stairwell sojourns, Abigail heading up, Joey going down, that the good Miss Cornwell (in her arguably narrow opinion, only divorced women should use the title Ms.) imparted her recommendation to Joey.

The Computer Department had been in a constant state of upheaval ever since its inception some twenty years previous. In fact, there actually wasn’t a number 2 man behind Mr. Rothbaum, the department head, due to retire in a couple of years. Someone who was looking for a chance to continue moving on up the ladder, Abigail explained with the most sincere facial expression she could put forth, would be wise to investigate the possibilities of a transfer to her department. She would even help that person learn the ropes, let him get some practice and see how the operation worked, from the inside, during their lunch hours, if such a person was really interested.

Joey, a cautious lad, did some investigating of his own, for number 2 was number 2, regardless of where you were, especially as he was already proficient at his job in bookkeeping, liked the people, and surmised that the powers that be weren’t going to approve too many lateral transfers for him regardless of his areas of proficiency. The looming spectre of the Shadow was not as distasteful as the unknown or the possibility of his taking a blind step toward ultimate unemployment.

Abigail, however, while operating from a devious base, had at least been accurate in her assessment of the department. There wasn’t a number 2, Rothbaum had announced his intentions of retiring in two years, and the field was wide open for a replacement when he stepped down.

Joey immediately applied for a transfer to the Computer Department, but large corporations, and banks notoriously so, don’t make many decisions in a manner that can be mistaken for fast. He would have to remain in bookkeeping until he completed computer school, and then a transfer could be considered. He enrolled in one of the mid-Manhattan technical schools that specialized in night classes for the improvement of the already gainfully employed. It took him six months to complete the course, but then what else did he have to do with his evenings? Better still, when he received his diploma, Chase reimbursed him for all his tuition and expenses.

Abigail kept her word and worked with Joey during their lunch hour several times a week. She even began to bring a sack lunch for the two of them to obviate having to waste time running out for sandwiches. Unfortunately for Abigail, Joey never realized the direction she was so desperately trying to move him in and she was too much the lady to make the first overture.

Besides, the years had taught her a great deal of patience.

By the start of the football season, Joey was thoroughly familiar with the procedures of the computer department and had been assured by personnel that a transfer would soon be forthcoming. He loved operating the bank’s computers with their speed, their accuracy, and the tremendous feeling of competence he enjoyed whenever he sat at the keyboard.

If he could have understood the future significance of this newly acquired knowledge, perhaps he wouldn’t have been so enamored with the computers, for although they weren’t to be the root of any problem, they surely would qualify as the trunk.

As with most of his fellow humans, Joey meandered through the days making tiny, seemingly innocuous decisions that hadn’t any apparent significance to the overall pattern of his life. When the days gather together, transforming the future into the present, confronting us with a major obstacle, an absolute, a Which way will I turn my life? we are only aware of the influences being exerted upon us from the present, applying pressures in the different directions, of which we must choose one to follow. We have forgotten all the past judgments that color our current understanding, shade the choices, weighing some more decidedly than others until that which we resolve to do is not so much predicated upon the current circumstances, or future opportunities, but upon the small, forgotten calculations of our past.

We are truly masters of our own fate. Although we would prefer to believe that bad luck is brought by events beyond our control, the fates, as it were, and good fortune, by our own foresight, hard work, and intelligence, in fact we determine our future tragedies and happiness by the accumulative effect and results of our past decisions and choices, primarily the trivialities, which seemed, at that time, unimportant, not worthy of considered debate or lengthy evaluation, and never to be remembered when the time to account for them arrives. We control our own destinies but simply choose to forget, or perhaps simply cannot recall the insignificants of the past when confronted with the disagreeable monstrousness of the present.

Despite having been married once, Joey had never exhibited any particular interest in the opposite sex, nor was he possessed with what the psychiatrists like to refer to as latent homosexual tendencies. He was, for the most part, simply neuter. This nonpartisan attitude stemmed from the fact that he wasn’t exactly dating material, being pudgy, cumbersome, and behind his always-present good humor, a definite, very shy introvert. If anyone had invested the time to actually analyze Joey during his teenage years, they would have discovered that he was liked by everyone, befriended by none.

Not that Joey particularly desired the companionship of his fellow adolescents. His time was very happily occupied by his one great rapture, a love just as pure as any he could have found with some teenage girl, but without question no less trying, traumatic, or rewarding—he was, from his earliest recollection, a sports fanatic. The unbiased and painfully accurate observation that he couldn’t hit a baseball, catch a football, or shoot a hockey puck was absolutely no impediment at all, for he had a mind for statistics, a feeling for the nuances, an almost-total recall for every play of every game he ever listened to or watched.

He devoured sports like a connoisseur savors wine, aware of every subtlety, every texture, every perfection, all mistakes. The players were his heroes, his friends; he shared their triumphs, wallowed in their defeats. His entire life revolved around the teams he so dearly loved. His year was divided into seasons which didn’t rely upon the Earth’s revolutions to announce the passing of an equinox, the coming of a new solstice.

October was his favorite month of the year. With all his favorite teams in action, there were so many games to watch—he could hardly stop to eat the meals his mother lovingly prepared. At times he would have to choose between several events being broadcast simultaneously. Two weren’t a problem—he watched one, listened to the other—but three nearly drove him to distraction. He’d watch one on the television, listen to another on his big transistor radio with its ultrasensitive earplug, and try to hear the third with his parents’ cheap little transistor plugged into his other ear.

Ah, October, the Jets, Giants, Syracuse, and Notre Dame football; Ranger and Islander hockey; Knicks and Nets basketball, and God save him if the Yankees or Mets made the World Series, necessitating the extension of their season into October. It was almost unbearable, the ecstasy too extreme, too much, but for Joey, it was never enough, never enough. In retrospect, if cable television had been available when Joey was a teenager, his parents would probably have had to lock him in his room for days at a time. As it was, sports were such an all-encompassing aspect of his existence that he never renounced his first great love, never let it weaken or be replaced, but kept it close to his heart through college, marriage, life.

It should therefore be quite understandable why in his entire life Joey had had only two dates, neither of them of his own choosing.

Oh, Joey, if you had only chased girls instead of Namath’s spirals or Seaver’s fastballs or the GAG line’s latest stats, if only you could have slow-danced to the Beatles, petted to the Stones, or got turned on and tuned in at Woodstock, but no, the acrobatic grace of Agee and Jones, the mesmerizing love song of Marv Albert from the Garden (Frazier along the right baseline, turns, jumps, shoots—yes!), and the butterfly ballet of a black from the ghettoes of Louisville were all too strong, too perfect, too permanently fixed in time and place and need for you. You refused to experience the softness of feminine silk, denying yourself the joys of neurosis, paranoia, and schizophrenia that the rest of us tried to cope with daily as we marched throughout those great, formative, only really true American experience years of high school. If only you had succumbed, maybe when the future became the present, we all wouldn’t be where we are today, and you, having known and adjusted to these very real psychoses, would have been able to resolve the problem based upon some memory, some experience, which, although not identical in nature, perhaps would have sufficed, instead of the gut-instinct, stomach-wrenching panic you resorted to.

Joey had his first date at the age of fifteen, with his sixteen-year-old cousin from Chicago, Marsha.

Joey, look who’s here!

He was lying on his bed, reading the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. He put the magazine down and looked at his mother with a pained expression on his face; her voice had been too enthusiastic, an octave too high for his immediate safety. Who? He tried to portray supreme disinterest.

It’s your cousin Marsha!

His mother’s pronouncement was uttered with all the dramatic flair of Ed McMahon’s Here’s Johnny! and as if knowing the beat of the same drummer, Marsha entered the room as if on cue.

He was somewhat taken aback by the view. Marsha was tall, dwarfing his mother, which meant she would tower over him as well. She had long braided brown hair held in place by a headband comprised of turquoise beads. She wore oversize granny glasses and was definitely dressed for peace: Army fatigue jacket, a Stop the War T-shirt, faded and patched-with-peace-symbols jeans, and tank-tread sandals encasing large less-than-clean feet.

What impressed Joey the most about his cousin, however, and which immediately drew his unwavering attention, was the undeniable fact that she had the largest set of knockers he had ever seen on a teenaged girl. Not having an interest in dating had not prevented him from acquiring an appreciation of the finer attributes of the female of the species.

Hi. Marsha sounded bored.

Hello. Joey sounded defensive.

Well, I’ll just leave you two alone to catch up on old times. Have fun! His mother’s voice remained shrill. She started to leave the room, gave her niece an appraising stare, looked at her defenseless son, and decided it would be prudent to amend her last statement. Be good, behave yourselves. She giggled nervously.

I’m always good. Marsha’s double entendre was perfectly inserted.

His mother giggled again, her voice attaining new heights, but she said nothing further before leaving the room.

Marsha sat on the end of Joey’s bed, forcing him to move his sweat-sock-clad feet. She glanced around his sports-memorabilia-cluttered room with undisguised disgust.

What do you do for kicks around here? She finally looked at her cousin, immediately realizing where his gaze was resting.

Hey! she yelled.

His entire body snapped to attention like a recruit responding to a drill sergeant’s command.

They’re real, all mine, so keep your ideas and every other goddamn thing to yourself, or I’ll beat your ass.

Her acidic tone left no doubt in Joey’s mind that she was very capable of fulfilling her threat. So much for peace. He began to blush, felt his heart thumping and his body temperature rapidly rising.

I’m sorry, he stammered. I mean…I’m not usually so crass. I didn’t… His mind refused to provide the words necessary to hasten a graceful retreat. When it went completely blank, he stopped stuttering—the red face remained.

Well? Marsha demanded.

He understood that he was supposed to say something, but he wasn’t sure what.

I don’t know what you asked me, he said weakly.

She exhaled the sigh of every martyr who had ever been confronted by unenlightened persecution. Is there anything to do around this place besides staring at jocks? Her eyes made a quick once-over of his room.

I don’t really go out much. He was badly intimidated. What did you have in mind?

I haven’t the foggiest, but you better come up with something good, or I will. You haven’t heard? She smiled sarcastically. The old folks are going out tonight, and they’ve decided that you’re to entertain me. Her short laugh was even more derisive than her smile.

You’ve got to be kidding! Whatever was in his stomach was quickly heading for his throat. He swallowed hard, stopping everything midway, causing himself immediate heartburn.

Listen, creep, I don’t like it any better than you. In fact, I’m positive that I’m getting the longer end of the shaft, but I’m not hanging around this dump, watching you get off over some muscle-bound idiots who can’t even spell their names. I realize this isn’t the city, but there has to be something we can do besides going to a movie or bowling, so think of it. She left the room before he could respond with further protests.

In five minutes, his day had been totally traumatized. Not only a date, but a date with gargantuan, beat-your-ass Marsha.

So much for his plans to watch the Knicks play the Celtics and listen to the Rangers from the Garden against Montreal. He cursed his bad luck, wished ruination on his uncle Dave and aunt Bea. Why did they have to visit anyway? They had stayed away for five years; another five would have been perfect. Or they could have come just by themselves, like the last time, when Marsha was at summer camp and not brought along to transform his life into a cluttered cesspool of misery.

At seven thirty, he was still lying on his bed, praying that Marsha would continue to ignore him.

Joey, his mother called, Marsha’s waiting for you!

Never had a condemned man on his way to the gallows moved any slower than Joey. He put on sneakers, picked up a jacket, and trudged to meet his executioners. They were waiting for him at the front door.

Where are you two going, Joey? His mother was all smiles.

To the movies, Marsha quickly interjected, giving Joey a look that clearly told him to keep quiet.

Oh, that’s nice. Well, take care and have fun. His mother cautiously avoided leaving Marsha any openings for snide retorts. And be home by twelve, she babbled, her voice still somewhat higher than normal.

They walked in silence to the bus stop.

What movie are we going to see? he asked while they waited for the bus.

We’re not going to see any turkey movie.

We’re not? Where are we going, then?

To Pablo’s.

Pablo’s? What’s Pablo’s?

It’s a nightclub for teenagers, live music, dancing, supposed to be the place around here.

I’ve never heard of it. He was suspicious.

I didn’t think you had.

How’d you find out about it?

You’ve got some real hip kids living in your building. You ought to try to meet some of them. They’ve never heard of you.

Marsha was gleeful in her sarcasm.

Do they serve alcohol there? He was too upset over Pablo’s to respond to her taunt. Anyway, he was sure that anyone whom Marsha liked could be no friend of his.

No, they don’t serve any booze, and I don’t drink anyway. I carry my own smoke.

You smoke cigarettes?

Not cigarettes, nerd. Hey, here comes the bus.

They rode the bus in silence, Marsha restless with anticipation, Joey anxiously trying to awaken from what had to be a bad dream.

Pablo’s was all it was recommended to be. If there were any teenagers in Queens who weren’t jammed between its dark, strobe-lit walls, you could have easily fooled Joey. Everywhere he looked, he was confronted by a mass of bodies undulating beneath a hazy cloud of pungent blue smoke that was automatically providing anyone entering the club with an immediate contact high. The noise was shattering, rolling, and building upon itself as those who were trying to talk had to shout to be heard above the deafening hard rock being played by a band that had mistaken volume for quality.

It took Joey five minutes to fight through to the bar, where he secured two Cokes. It took Marsha even less time to find someone to dance with so that when Joey returned to where he thought he had left her, she wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

He began to wander around the club, praying that he would locate his cousin. He was constantly jostled as he tried to squeeze between the almost-solid wall of people, causing the sodas to splash on himself and everyone he passed, producing a succession of hostile looks and barely audible but nonetheless comprehendible obscenities. He finally drank what was left and put the empty glasses in his jacket pockets.

It was impossible to find Marsha. He couldn’t see past the immediate faces surrounding him and, in addition to his wet clothing, was beginning to feel claustrophobic. Cutting across the dance floor, he found an unoccupied section of wall and claimed it for his own. From there he maintained a constant vigil, hoping she would miraculously appear from the shadowy swarm of gyrating arms and legs.

It didn’t take long for the noise, heat, and marijuana-laden air to make him disoriented. The sounds, the shadows, the pulsating effect of the strobe lights kept beating at his senses, adding dizziness and nausea to a mounting panic that he wouldn’t survive the evening.

Joey slumped to the floor and closed his eyes. His head was filled with exploding colors, strange, unrecognizable images, and the incessant beat of the music. Every so often he would stare at the dancers with the deluded expectations of seeing Marsha.

When he absolutely couldn’t absorb any further abuse to his exposed, exhausted nerves, he staggered to the door and went outside. His watch informed him that the troubles were only beginning. It was eleven thirty, a time to decide one’s fate, whether to leave without Marsha or continue waiting and get home after midnight. Regardless, he realized happiness would not be attending his arrival.

He never could remember choosing to abandon Marsha, but somehow he managed to find himself inside his warm, quiet, secure apartment. The adults hadn’t returned, and he instinctively knew his cousin was also among the missing. He undressed and fell into bed, intuitively surmising that he would be awakened before morning.

His premonition proved to be unerringly accurate; someone was roughly shaking him awake. He opened his eyes to see that his alarm clock read one fifteen, rolled onto his back, and recognized his father’s darkened outline in the light from the hall.

Where’s Marsha?

He had never before heard such vehemence in his father’s voice. He was confused, scared, and still a little stoned.

I don’t know, Dad. You see—

You don’t know! Goddamnit, what do you mean you don’t know?

He started to stammer, felt the hot tears of embarrassment, fear, and hopelessness fill his eyes, close his throat. His father continued yelling. Joey prepared himself for the thrashing he expected to receive, but it never came. His father seemed to be stumbling backward, out of the room. Someone closed his door, and he could hear the sound of muffled voices just beyond. He wasn’t positive, but it occurred to him that his uncle David had just saved his life, not to mention some of his love for his father. He fell back to sleep with tears squeezing at the corners of his eyes.

Sometimes our intuitions can be too precise. At five thirty, he was awakened again, this time by the sound of several voices all raised in hostile, violent argument. He listened for a few seconds before smiling to himself. In the dark, the loudest voice was definitely Marsha’s.

He was eating breakfast and reading the Times’s sports section the following morning when his mother walked into the kitchen. Well, your aunt and uncle took Marsha home this morning. Your father drove them to the airport to catch the early bird.

She stood before him, waiting for a response, but he had nothing to say. He was glad to see Marsha gone, although he would miss his uncle and had a strong desire to thank him for understanding (or at least knowing his own daughter). He really didn’t want to think about last night; he was already depressed enough, with both the Knicks and Rangers having lost.

If Joey’s first date was a disaster, he could at least be thankful that it had been a short affair. His second date came about in a very similar manner. The results, however, were dramatically different: he married Francine.

I suppose the original blame for Joey’s finding a wife should rest with the Admissions Committee of the University of Notre Dame. The South Bend school was the alma mater of many of Joey’s heroes, and it was where he had decided to continue his education. The college, though, had already filled its quota of nonathlete, non-Catholic, non-potential-Rhodes-scholar students from Queens before receiving his application and, therefore, summarily rejected him. The result of their subjective snobbery was that Joey settled for his second choice, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Syracuse University accepted him.

His four years of higher education were not unhappy ones. Thanks to a surprisingly good local newspaper, a powerful radio, and the numerous network Games of the Week, he was able to maintain close-enough contact with all of New York City’s professional sports franchises to be relatively satisfied. The disadvantages he experienced by this long-distance rooting were all but completely ameliorated thanks to his involvement with the university’s abundant athletic program.

He went to virtually every home varsity football and basketball game, getting full use of his student activity card. The observation that the teams were not as successful as he might have liked was of little consequence to his attendance and loyalty. Joey was a pure fan; a team’s win-loss record was not the barometer by which he measured his interest. To him, anyone could cheer for a winner, it was painless, nondemanding, hedonistic; but only the true devotee would follow the mediocre. Besides, a good team has more fans than it needs, while the losers can use all the support they can get. His philosophy on sports was remarkably similar to his definition of a patriotic American.

His only major disappointment while at Syracuse occurred during his freshman year. He had decided to major in journalism, with a minor in broadcasting, in order to prepare himself for his lifelong desire to become a big-time sports announcer. When he discussed his career objectives with his adviser, the man gently tried to change Joey’s mind. He was adamant, however, and the professor finally sent him to speak with old Dr. Anderson, head of the journalism department. Doc Anderson was a bit of a sports nut himself and every so often would do a broadcast of one of the school’s lesser sporting events on live radio. Years of listening to would-be announcers had given him an ear for those who had it and those who didn’t. He recognized almost immediately that Joey’s voice didn’t, but he also comprehended the young man’s fervency. The only solution the old professor knew was to have Joey make a tape and force him to objectively listen to his own voice. Joey listened to the recording and, the next day, became a business administration major. To this day, however, he still isn’t completely positive it was his voice he had heard on that tape.

The pain of leaving one lifelong dream was soon overridden by the joy of realizing another—he became a participant.

Syracuse had an intramural athletic program which for many of its students, held more interest than the intercollegiate teams. Thousands of young men were involved, most of whom approached the games with an intensity and pride far exceeding their feelings for the varsity teams. The trophies awarded to the winning teams and individuals were proudly displayed, while along fraternity row it was a matter as serious as being out of beer. A member of one of the school’s teams might see his opponent once or twice a year, but an intramural athlete was in constant contact with the opposition, producing a fierceness of competition perhaps even greater than the scholarship athletes knew.

The program was administered by the Intramural Council, which had as one of its responsibilities the securing of students to officiate the games, a job made somewhat more difficult by the infamously well-known abuse directed at the referees by the players and the paltry two dollars the striped shirts received as recompense.

When Joey saw the notice for officials on the dormitory bulletin board, he immediately volunteered and was accepted even faster.

To everyone’s surprise but his, he was an exceptional referee. His unabridged knowledge of the rules, coupled with his almost-nonexistent temper, made him the most requested and respected of all the officials. He became so popular that by the end of the basketball season, he was made a member of the council and placed in charge of the referees, much to the collective sighs of relief of the other council members.

Indirectly, this made him a marked man, for every fraternity sought an edge in the intramural wars. Not that any of the fraternity honchos even knew his name; to them, he was simply the little fat kid with the good whistle, but to have the head official as a member of the family was too good an opportunity to overlook. They would never attempt to directly compromise his integrity, oh no, but then again, who could deny the power of loyalty and brotherhood when a trophy was on the line?

The Kappa Sigs struck first. They were the largest and, until recently, the most successful intramural team on campus. The past few years, however, had seen the emergence of the Sigma Chis as a usurper of the throne. The two frats were in a dead heat for the largest, most prestigious trophy, that of overall intramural champion. Tennis, golf, softball, and track were still to be decided, and the Kappas were determined at all costs to return the overall trophy to its rightful place in their already-overflowing case.

There are already too many clichés lauding the rewards of being first to attempt to add a new one here. Suffice it to say that Joey, being ignorant of the rules of the auction, never got passed the first bid; he became a Kappa Sig.

It was the spring of his senior year before Joey fell victim to his second date.

He was quietly sitting in his room, reading his business law textbook, when he heard the unmistakable bellow of his roommate, Ty Quick Fly McDonald.

Joey! Joey!

Joey knew immediately that the matter must be urgent, for Ty was too much the gentleman to disturb the entire house over a mere triviality. He put down the book, thankful for the break, not being particularly fond of business law—or business, period, for that matter.

Ty entered the room without his customary charming smile adorning his face. The problem must be serious, Joey thought. Joey, I’ve got a serious problem, and only you can help me. Ty spoke in a rush of words and breath.

Joey smiled. Let me guess, it wouldn’t have anything to do with a girl?

Ty’s nickname was, by rumor, at least, genuinely deserved. He was the fraternity’s reigning cocksman, and few would argue his claim to the campus title as well. He had supposedly sampled all the stuff he was even remotely titillated by from the upper classes, and a lot that he insisted he wasn’t interested in but which had been forced upon him. Of late, he had been making his way through the more nubile members of the freshman class.

This is serious, Joey.

I’m being serious. I always take your problems seriously.

Then stop smiling. I have to talk to you.

With a maximum effort, Joey removed the smile from his face. Better?

I’ve got a date—

When has that ever been a problem?

Listen, will you? It’s with Brigette Berson.

Joey whistled a low, tuneless sound. Frigid Brigette?

Brigette Berson, although just a freshman, had already become something of a campus legend. Blond, blue-eyed, beautiful, and put together better than a ’56 Chevy, she had refused to date anyone the entire year. Every eligible Kappa Sig, except Joey, of course, had asked her out only to feel the cold aloofness of her instant rejection. The more bitter of the

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