Writer’s Bone’s ongoing fiction series The Newspapermen follows the tireless reporters of a major metropolitan newspaper in the late 1930s. If you need to catch up, order a stiff drink and read Chapter 1: Ink and Drink Club.
By Daniel Ford
Chapter 2: A Connection Home
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“I’m afraid I am.”
“I mean, I’m game for anything Boss, but this...”
“I know. It’s lower than low.”
“And you agreed to this?”
“Not agreed so much as indignantly walked away. I think he knows from my stern stomping that I was protesting the order.”
“But you’re going to make me write this…fluff piece anyway?”
I swallow half of my new bourbon. Harsh. Hurt all the way down. Instead of a warm glow, it felt like it turned a flamethrower loose down my throat. Cheap bastards. Can’t even lube us up with proper booze.
“I told him we weren’t going to run it,” I say.
“Whew. You had me going there for a little bit.”
“But we’re going to run it.”
“For some reason, this town is in love with this pile of kittens. The mayor is having a press conference about them. I never liked cats much. I’m more of a dog guy. If this had been about a couple of mutts, I would have given the story column inches on the front page. Below the fold of course.”
“Boss, how much of that rotgut have you had tonight?”
“You don’t see where I’m going with this?”
“You want to adopt a puppy? I don’t think the missus would approve.”
He’ll get to where I want him to go eventually. He doesn’t have the instinct yet. He’s got the writing skills. I’ll keep beating the reporter skills into him until I don’t have to call him into my office every five minutes. Maybe every two minutes now that he’s got his eyes on Shirley.
“The mayor is going to field a lot of softball questions about these kittens. You’re going to be the only one asking about policy. That is until he throws you out. Is that about right?” A female voice said.
Speaking of Shirley. I hadn’t realized she had been eavesdropping on our conversation. I’d be making my own coffee sooner than I thought.
“Exactly,” I said. I force down the rest of the awful liquor. I pick up a flute of champagne and quickly down it to cleanse my palette. A man can’t possibly be expected to think clearly with bad hooch in his gullet. “Kid, you’re going to take Shirley with you so she can get pictures of you getting thrown out on your ass. You can take pictures can't you?”
The cub didn't look good. Must be feeling like someone just pantsed him at his own birthday party. I felt bad, but some lessons are best learned the hard way. My father instilled that in me while he was wailing away on my hide with his belt.
“What should I be asking?” The young gun asks. There was an edge to his voice now. Trying to get his bearings back. He straightened his tie and unrolled his shirtsleeves. He’s starting to think now. I could see it. He was already a few steps ahead of where I wanted him to be. Never a bad thing.
“We can talk more about it in the morning. There’s something fishy coming out of that office. Been quiet for weeks. Now this kitten story? What kind of dander are those fur balls covering up? We're going to find out. We can strategize in the morning. You two have fun."
"Where are you going?" Shirley asks.
"Home," I say. "Kiss the wife. Check the kids."
"Say hi for me, Boss."
"Shut up. Shirley, go easy on him. You might be dealing with a first-timer."
I felt at home when I walked through the door. The empty desks and abandoned typewriters were good company on a night like this.
I pull the chain on my desk lamp. Nothing happened. Lean back in my chair. Took a deep breath. Reach for my bottom drawer. Wrap my fingers around the neck of my emergency bottle of port. I pour some into the paper cup that my morning coffee spent half the day in. First sip was heavenly.
I pick up my phone.
"Another late night for you. Remember what your wife looks likes Mr. Graham?"
"Funny. Can you patch me into the homestead Marie?"
"You're not waking her up are you?"
"She'll be awake."
"If you say so."
Silence. I wish the line would take forever to connect. I knew my wife's tired voice better than I knew her figure. Never a good long term strategy.
"You going to beat the milkman to our doorstep tomorrow?" She asks.
"Are the bets in yet? Can I still make a wager?"
"Will, you're a writer. We don't have any money to gamble away."
"Damn. Always something."
"Don't work too late. Girls missed you tonight. They want to know what happens to the princess after she escaped the dungeon."
"I'll be home in a bit. Something big about to go down. Need to be ready when it does."
"You heard what I said about the girls right?"
"Never mind. I love you."
She didn't wait for a return "I love you" before hanging up.
I stuck a cigar in my mouth and lit the end of it. I insert a fresh piece of paper into my typewriter. Guided by the red glow at the end of my stogie, I start writing.
To be continued...
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