Corrections or additions?

This column by Richard Rein was prepared for the July 28, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Charlotte’s Web: Part III

It was a dark and stormy night – or was it? The truth was that the bay

was pacific-calm, the water was warm and flat as a parking lot at the

mall. But for the purposes of the beleaguered editor, the aura of a

dark and stormy night was perfect. And since his devious little scheme

was being played out off the coast of Where TK, as close as you could

come to the heart of the Bermuda Triangle – according to the locals –

who would ever know if it was all that dark and stormy or not. The

weather on this night at this point in the Bermuda Triangle would defy

verification by the most zealous fact checker at the New Yorker. The

Triangle was a place people could only imagine; the only ones who ever

really went there never came back.

Our writer-hero stopped typing long enough to slurp some more coffee

and review his work. Yes, this was fiction – remarkably close to the

truth – but still fiction and he should just wing it, nevertheless.

The exact location in the Caribbean referred to as "Where TK" above

could be figured out or simply made up later. The important thing was

getting this piece of work out of the word processor and into the

pages of the Route 1 newspaper’s annual Summer Fiction Issue. This

time, for sure, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The suits who had gained control of the newspaper after the founding

editor had died (or more properly after he had been declared dead

after disappearing on a snorkeling expedition during a long-overdue

vacation in the Caribbean) had trashed most of the paper’s editorial

content. But the fiction writers and poets had been so vociferous in

their appeals that the suits decided to keep the old man’s Fiction

Issue (though, as everyone noted, they eliminated the hors d’oeuvres

at the writers’ reception in a round of budget-cutting).

Our writer-hero’s piece had been put off until the last hour and now

he was scrambling to get his words in order. The piece was important

not just because it filled the old man’s space at the back of the

paper (who else would want to be in this god-forsaken space – no one

ever reads the back pages of a newspaper), but also because, it was

rumored, the Fiction Issue was being used to channel some bits of

reality back to the old man’s survivors in Princeton.

So our writer-hero screwed himself back to his thumbtack of a stool

and hit the keys:

The beleaguered editor put his 12-foot skiff into the water and headed

toward the open sea. "Damn it," he hissed, now regretting the rental

of the boat with purchase of the 4-horsepower electric trolling motor.

He had gotten it precisely because of its quiet operation and now he

needed just the opposite – an attention grabber.

"How you doing?" he called out cheerfully to an older couple cruising

in the same direction in a modest-sized inboard. He figured they could

hear him over the purring engine. Now he just needed to make an


"How’s with you?" the man shouted back.

Normally the editor would cut this conversation off at the pass, but

this time he settled in for a chat. "I dunno, got a little heartburn

today. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get my prescription refilled. Damn

health insurance wouldn’t cover Prevacid – said it wasn’t on the

approved list. But it’s not bad enough to keep me from snorkeling –

been looking forward to this for too long."

That one seemed to register with our senior citizen sailors. Then the

editor threw out one more line. "Hey, you’re not required to have a

life jacket on board a boat with an electric motor, are you?

"Sure are," pops replied.

"Oh boy, hope I don’t get stopped. Next time," the editor shouted

back, as the distance grew between their boats. He looked down under

the seat and smiled. His new vest, rated for survival in high seas,

was stowed out of sight but not out of mind.

He could practically write the story himself for the crappy little

throwaway paper that served this seaside resort: Vacationer Lost,

Feared Dead. A 57-year-old man from New Jersey failed to return from a

late afternoon snorkeling expedition. The man, who had a history of

heart trouble and had complained of heartburn symptoms before leaving

the bay, was boating without a life vest. "We warned him," said Beulah

Butts, 78, a retired schoolteacher who now lives here year round.

Our writer hero scrolled back up and down the computer screen. Yes, he

thought, this should get the word out to those who needed to know. He

checked the time: 15 minutes until the deadline. He’d throw the column

onto the page with about five minutes to go – none of the suits would

even think to read it before it went to press.

And in a year he would follow it up – with that surreal scene from the

Princeton University Chapel memorial service.

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