Jake called the Windy City Ice hotline. His grandfather’s voice answered. “If your Windy City Ice machine is currently malfunctioning, leave your name and contact number after the beep. Our licensed service technician will contact you shortly. Windy City Ice is a family-owned company, and we care about our customers.”
Jake hung up and returned to writing The Siren Under Highway D. Writing was an escape from his father. After grandfather's passing, the company's accountant made it clear that Windy City was heading toward bankruptcy, and Dad was imploding under the pressure.
The darkness was so thick that one could slice it with a butter knife. He found himself cowering beneath the Highway D bridge, where the concrete behemoth towered above him like a giant ogre. The catchment gully below was swelling from the incessant rain, threatening to wash him away like a mere speck of dust. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck with a deafening crack! And there she was: a coyote with the face of a bewitching damsel…
Jake had just printed out a hard-copy to check for errors when his father walked into the basement den. Dad grabbed the page off the printer and scanned the lines.
“This is, without a doubt, the worst story I’ve ever read.” He crumpled the paper into a ball.
"What did you do that for?" Jake uttered, knowing he was powerless to stop his father.
Dad threw the crumpled page into a trash can. “When you write something decent, I’ll introduce you to your grandfather’s ghostwriter. Otherwise, focus on your work for Windy City.”
“You never listen to my ideas at work, Dad. And Grandpa is dead.”
“Grandpa’s ghostwriter is very much alive.”
The book was on the shelf. Grandpa's memoir was a fairly dull read about an immigrant Midwestern businessman growing a business, whilst always making the right decisions. Jake wondered what was left out. They say every large company began with an act of crime. Jake was not sure what crime his grandfather committed, but Windy City Ice held a monopoly on the Midwest ice machine business. A monopoly that seemed to be rapidly melting. Grandfather was the fixer, and now that he was gone, unresolved problems were piling up. Traffic accidents, thefts, lawsuits, defective parts.
“Come back Grandpa. We need you.” Jake kneeled in front of Jake Jensen Senior's tombstone the next morning. He closed his eyes and imagined everything he could about grandpa. His voice, his mannerisms, his way of speaking. It gave him strength. When Jake Senior was sitting at his desk at Windy City, no problem had seemed too large.
An hour later, Jake was at the corporate office typing an endless stack of invoices into their accounting system. He brushed off junior salespeople. They acted as if they still hoped Jake would put in a good word to the old man. The ghost of Jake Senior haunted the halls of Windy City Ice.
After work, he spent two hours writing. He was working in a new genre, one that his dad didn't have much to say about.
Jake pleaded for an introduction, and a month later he presented the first draft of a children’s book to his grandfather’s ghostwriter, Cathy. She studied the first page:
This is a tale of two kittens. Lord Fuzzypants walked across the desolate desert landscape when he spotted something. That’s not supposed to be there! It was Professor Fuzzypaws’s…
“This has real potential,” she said, taking her eyes up from the page to peer into Jakes. “I’ll have my best development editor give it a read and get you some feedback soon.”
A month later, he hadn't heard anything back. He returned with a new work to Cathy’s office.
Myself and the stoical old man walked across the empty industrial lot, and then down the pathway we knew so well. Dry autumn leaves whisked about the pavement like guppies in a fish tank. When we at last reached our destination, the old man vanished in a puff of smoke…
“This reminds me of a Keane song,” Cathy said. “Are you an INFP?”
“Yes,” Jake said. “And no. I thought of it myself.”
“I felt traces of your grandfather in this,” Cathy said. She chuckled, as if a new insight had struck her. “People say write what you know! How about you write something about your grandfather next?”
"Why would I do that?"
Cathy's eyes narrowed at the new author in front of her rejecting her advice. "And how are things at Windy City these days?" she asked.
Jake's sat back in his chair and silently studied the steely eyes of his inquisitor. Dark pupils that didn't show a flicker of interest. A sudden feeling of clarity that he might never make it as a writer overcame him.
That night, he found writing about a family member an odd idea for an aspiring novelist, but Jake subdued his showy literary flair, and channeled his grandfather's brusque way of speaking. It was a voice he knew well from the stories he told at the dinner table countless times.
Diary of Jake Jensen Senior
When the idiot driver came into my office, furious about the injustice of being put on the early morning shift, I listened very carefully for what he was actually angry about. I dug into it like a journalist digging out the buried turd of a story. I told the driver I was on his side. I was a working man too after all. And then I threatened to destroy him and his family, and eliminate any chance he gets a job in Chicago again. He quickly agreed on a compromise. We became friends and he came to my daughter’s wedding the next year.
Jake’s father grabbed the page off Jake’s desk. “What is this?” He studied the paper. “This isn’t your writing.”
Hearing the accusation in his voice, Jake instinctively agreed with his father, as he always did. “I retyped something I found in one of grandpa’s old journals.”
“Interesting,” Jake’s father read the page carefully. “This is good.” Jake overheard Dad calling his secretary and asking her to set up an appointment with one of his drivers.
As the problems at Windy City kept rolling like waves on the Lake Michigan shoreline, Jake kept writing. He took the anecdotes of dozens of business management books he read, and melded them with the voice of Grandfather. A voice he could still hear whispering in his ear at every quiet moment.
Diary of Jake Jensen Senior
When the assholes at Bayside Metalworking started putting our work behind everyone else’s, and our machines came back late, we had angry customers calling. I realized shouting at Slippery Stan, my salesperson at Bayside, wasn’t going to work anymore. I had been shouting at him for years. I called up one of Bayside’s competitors in Chicago. Then, I calmly explained to Stan that George at Island Drive Industrial was happy to put our work on top priority, and that they had a dozen welders on payroll. His decision. Slippery Stan folded, almost started crying on the phone, and our work was never late again.
Jake’s father grabbed the page off Jake's desk.
“You found another one?” he asked.
“Grandfather left mountains of correspondence.” His father wasn’t a literary sort of man and had never looked at grandfather’s stacks of journals. With the countless fragments of names and details contained within them, Jake possessed a literary license to rewrite the past.
A plot twist arrived the next afternoon in the Waukegan offices of Windy City Ice. Jake looked up from the day's invoices and saw father looming over his desk.
“Jake, there's a female customer in my office, and I can't understand what she's yelling at me about.”
Jake normally wasn't called into business meetings.
“Well, get up,” his dad said.
In dad's office, there was a woman dressed head to toe in Lululemon stretching on the Persian carpet. She stood up, and ignoring Jake after a cursory glance, turned her attention back to Dad.
"My problem with your company," she said. “Is that at Yoga Utopia, we can't be serving clients $10 cucumber waters with ice cubes that look like they are from a Motel 6. I've put in a call to Empire Ice, and they said they could ship us their new model machine from New Jersey."
"Empire doesn't have any maintenance staff in the Chicago area," Dad said.
Her eyes narrowed. "We need the ice cubes to be heart shaped."
"I've never heard of heart shaped ice cubes."
From her bag, she pulled out a rubber ice cube tray. Her fingers pointed at the heart shaped indentions.
"My employees have to squeeze hundreds of hearts out of these a day. Can you change your machine?"
“Impossible.” Dad said.
Jake leaned over and look at her gadget. "I've seen those at the Ikea in Schaumburg. We'll look into it.” His mind was already moving, thinking of ways to install a new tray into their mainstay machine.
"Thank you, young man.” She handed business cards to both Jake and his Dad before leaving.
“How many yoga studios can there be in Chicago?" Dad asked, in a dismissive tone.
Jake stayed quiet with his opinion about the vast number of yoga studios there might be in Chicago, Milwaukee, and the greater Midwest region.
After dad started on his nightly glass of Jonnie Walker (with rocks from a glacier in Greenland), Jake went downstairs and opened Grandpa's journals. He quickly found a prompt for a new story.
Diary of Jake Jensen Senior
Business has been booming in 1993. I know we're not supposed to swear in print, but it was fucking unbelievable. After the introduction of Zima the demand for new ice machines went through the roof. A girly drink. Who would have thought? I've been pondering our future. The numbers show women control two thirds of ice-linked spending. Who knows what new trends could pop up. The technology doesn't allow it now, but someday in the future, I can see us selling ice in all shapes, sizes and colors.
The next morning-Jake intentionally left the story in the printer-Dad picked it up, and Jake hovered.
"I didn't know Dad could see so far into the future," Dad said, looking at the page.
"Granpda was amazing, wasn't he?"
Dad's eyes continued to scan the page, his face deep in thought.
"Keep up the good work, Son."
That week, Dad immersed himself in meetings with the engineering staff. They developed a new plan for specialist ice machines for the health, beauty, and fitness markets. It was an immediate success and Windy City began a nationwide expansion. By the end of the year, it was clear that the ghost of Jake Jensen Senior, as channelled by Jake, was the guiding force of Windy City Ice.