Alfred Lambert 64

Alfred retired two months before his sixty-fifth birthday. He was at home watching Good Morning America in his new blue chair when Mark Jamborets, the Midpac’s retired corporation counsel, called with the news that a sheriff in New Chartres (pronounced “Charters”), Kansas, had had himself arrested for shooting an employee of Orfic Midland. “The sheriff’s name is Bryce Halstrom,” Jamborets told Alfred. “He got a call that some roughnecks were trashing the Midpac signal wires. He went over to the siding and saw three fellow ripping down the wire, smashing signal boxes, coiling up anything copper. One of them took a county bullet in his hip before the others made Halstrom understand they were working for the Midpac. Hired for copper salvage at sixty cents a pound.”

“But that’s a good new system,” Alfred said. “It’s not three years since we upgraded the whole New Charters spur.”

“The Wroths are scrapping everything but the trunk lines,” Jamborets said. “They’re junking the Glendora cut-off! You think the Atchison, Topeka wouldn’t make a bid on that?”

“Well,” Alfred said.

“It’s a Baptist morality gone sour,” said Jamborets. “The Wroths can’t abide that we admitted any principle but the ruthless pursuit of profit. I’m telling you: they hate what they can’t comprehend. And now they’re sowing salt in the fields. Close down headquarters in St. Jude? When we’re twice the size of Arkansas Southern? They’re punishing St. Jude for being the home of the Midland Pacific. And Creel’s punishing the towns like New Chartres for being Midpac towns. He’s sowing salt in the fields of the financially unrighteous.”

“Well,” Alfred said again, his eyes drawn to his new blue chair and it delicious potential as a sleep site. “Not my concern any more.”