Once upon a time there was a beautiful mapmaker. She made maps for kings and travelers and landowners. She loved her work because making maps made her dream of the world outside her shop. Many men courted her, but none won her hand, for they loved her for her beauty, not her maps.
—The Tale of the Beautiful Mapmaker
BRAND O’MALLEY MAP COMPANY BOARDROOM,
PITTSBURGH, PRESENT DAY
“What is it men see in maps?” Joss O’Malley asked fondly as she watched her friend’s four-year-old son, Peter, staring intently at a framed antique map from his not-quite-steady perch on the top of the credenza.
Diane Daltrey, the former chief financial officer of Brand O’Malley Map Company and Peter’s mom, lifted her eyes for a moment from the quarterly cash flow statement over which she was poring. “Key to the past?”
Joss thought of her own fascination. “Hints of the unknown?”
“Does this have a Skull Island?” Peter said enthusiastically, scanning the hand-colored paper. “I want to fight Hook to the death!” He growled and thrust his light saber in the direction of the conference table. Marty, the map tech, who had just unfolded himself from plugging in two laptop projectors, ducked to avoid being skewered.
“Or perhaps something slightly less poetic. Speaking of which”—Di let her fingers come to rest on the calculator—“things aren’t looking so good here.”
“I know we’re a little strapped for cash,” Joss said, biting a nail, “but that’s not so bad, right?”
“Right. How important is money?”
“I’m heading up to see Rogan. I need a number.”
“It’s not a loan exactly.”
“Honey,” Di said, “when a man’s already agreed to the price for the company and you’re going back to ask for more, that’s either a loan or insanity. Peter, please take the highlighter out of your mouth. Your little brother was playing with it.”
Peter, who had jumped off the credenza, sighed and, with a Day-Glo green pout, handed the marker to his toddler brother, coincidentally named Todd.
Joss frowned. “Should we—”
“Not poisonous,” Diane said without looking up. “Well, not too poisonous.”
Marty extracted the projector’s power cord from the grip of the third Daltrey brother, a baby in a portable car seat at Diane’s feet.
“Do you know if this next one’s a boy, too?” Joss gestured to the Epcot Center–sized ball under Diane’s sweater.
“I told my obstetrician I’d kill him if it was.”
“I wasn’t great at college biology, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the one who decides.”
Peter tugged Marty’s pant leg. “Did you know if you suck enough highlighter your pee turns green?”
Marty pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Actually, I didn’t know that.”
“It’s true. Green works best.”
Di flipped the page of the report and, without looking up from the paper, deftly dropped a Tory Burch–clad foot on the leash attached to the two-year-old’s ankle, bringing him to a dead halt just out of reach of the stapler on the table.
Joss, who had long ago decided running a barely surviving company was nothing compared to raising three boys under the age of five, said, “I really appreciate you coming in.”
“Oh, please. If I didn’t get out of the house sometimes, I’d go nuts.”
“I can see where trips like this would be pretty relaxing.”
“I’m almost ready,” Marty said to Joss.
“Go ahead. Di can work the numbers while I take a look.”
He flipped a switch and one of the projectors filled the far wall with a huge gray map of straight and curving streets, some blue, some yellow, some white, each with its own name printed in tiny Helvetica caps.
“Cool.” Peter let the saber fall to his side.
“City?” Joss asked Marty. If she’d had more time, she’d be able to figure it out on her own. One of the benefits of owning one of the world’s largest printed map companies was that every city felt like home.
“Ah. City of Brotherly Love.”
Marty grimaced. “Yeah, well, unless brotherly love includes free use of intellectual property, we got a problem. Here’s the map from our favorite competitor, Duncan Limited.”
Marty clicked the On button on the adjoining projector. A second map, light blue instead of gray, and with a Garamond typeface, was projected directly over the first. It, too, was a map of Philly, and when he adjusted the width, height and area of the display, the streets lined up exactly with the first. Not a problem in itself, Joss thought. Street maps, after all, were supposed to give you a nearly accurate representation of the area in question, and even a competitor like Duncan Limited could be counted on to represent the area correctly. The problem occurred when a competitor didn’t bother to do the survey work to identify the streets themselves, and there was one sure way to find that out.
Joss typed a few commands into her laptop. “I just checked our database. We have three trap streets in Philly.”
“Yep,” Monty said. “Cranberry Lane, Hastings Drive and Compass Rose Alley.”Compass Rose Alley.
Joss smiled. That was so her mother. “And?”
“And”—he walked to the wall and touched different places on the Duncan Limited map—“we have Cranberry Lane, Hastings Drive and Compass Rose Alley.”
They were called trap streets for a reason, Joss thought. You couldn’t find them anywhere in Philly—not the real Philly, at least. They existed only on maps produced by Brand O’Malley, and they were put there to catch the plagiarist mapmakers of the world, who found it easier to copy someone else’s maps than survey their own.
“Call our attorneys,” Joss said.
Di held up a hand. “You can’t afford an attorney—unless it’s a pro bono one.”
Joss sucked her lip and gave her friend a beseeching look.
Di rolled her eyes. “I’ll talk to David.” David, her husband, was a lawyer.
Rogan’s admin stuck her head in the door. “Mr. Reynolds will be ready for you exactly at five.”If only I’m ready for him
, Joss thought. She gave Di a look.
“I’m close. I’ll have it by the time we’re up there.”
Joss grabbed Luke, the baby, and Todd-ler. Di tucked the report under her arm and kept her fingers running furiously over the calculator. Peter trailed behind, protecting the rear from pirates and Sith lords. If Joss couldn’t make payroll, she’d have to lay people off. Di had been the first to go six months earlier, raising her hand to save the jobs of others. Now Joss paid for Di’s time by the hour and used her only when she could afford to. Joss remembered a time when the world had seemed effortless to her. She’d lift a finger and a maid or driver or chef would rush to do her bidding. Now she worked ten-hour days, six-day weeks, to keep the company afloat. Had the world really been that easy, or was that just the sentimental nostalgia that all people had about their childhoods?
They reached the elevator, and Joss put down the car seat so she could lift Peter high enough to press the Up button.
She prayed Rogan would be amenable. He’d been looking only to buy her father’s company, Brand Industries, and the name of her mother’s—Brand O’Malley, the most famous name in maps—for use on his GPS devices, but he was a great guy and he’d understood Joss’s desire to keep her twenty-three-person business, her only inheritance from her mother, running and under her control.
What Rogan paid for Brand Industries, though more than he should have, would still barely cover the debt her father had run up before his death three months earlier, so Joss would see no money from that, nor from his personal fortune, which he had thrown into his failing company’s coffers in an attempt to save face among his peers in the business world. And her mother’s much smaller company, which had been more practically run while her mother was alive but neglected under her father’s subsequent guardianship, had spent the last few years teetering on the edge of insolvency.
Joss felt like her life since her mother’s death, not long after Joss’s eighth birthday, had been laid out strictly to ensure she’d be able to assume control of the mapmaking company when she was old enough. Despite being a lover of literature, she’d applied to and gotten into a math and science high school so she could study geography. In college, she’d pursued a dual major of business and geography while she worked full-time at Brand O’Malley, learning the ropes from the very able managers there. At twenty, even before she’d graduated, she’d accepted in practice what she’d already had in theory—the top executive role—and for the past three years, as the sales of paper maps dropped like a lead printing press, she’d been doing everything she could to keep these fine, hardworking people—and herself—employed.
The memories of yachts, stretch limos and happy times over salmon en croûte
at midnight were long gone, having followed her mother, the family money and, finally, her father out of her life. And w...