The Newspapermen: Sources

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.

Chapter Nine: Sources

Henry felt his pocket, checking that his wallet hadn’t been lifted.

The chief told him to pick a reputable place for the meeting, but Henry knew this hole-in-the-wall café under the elevated street near Grand Central Station was a known police hangout. His potential source would feel as comfortable as possible before Henry turned up the heat. However, despite the police presence, the small counter offered plenty of opportunities for lowlifes, pickpockets, and assorted villains to apply their craft.

Henry signaled for a second refill. He finished his scrambled eggs half an hour ago. He was giving Detective William Beach another cup of coffee before doing down to his precinct to raise hell.

“Beach!” The short order cook said.

Henry didn’t have time to turn his head before the hefty gumshoe clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“Where’s Graham, yea marshmallow?” Beach asked.

“My name is Henry Jones. Mr. Graham sent me to talk to you because he’s busy with important City Scribe business.”

Beach grunted in response. He hung up his dark coat and sat down. He surveyed the menu for a moment.

“You paying for this?”

Henry mentally counted the money he had in his pocket and then straightened his tie.

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

“Steak and eggs, Charlie,” Beach said to the cook.

Henry felt his anger stain his cheeks, but remained calm. He needed this.

“What do you know about Hal Fintan?” Henry asked. He attempted to pull his reporter’s notebook out of his back pocket, but Beach grabbed his arm and shook his head.

“I’m off the record or I’m bailing.”

Henry nodded curtly.

“Fintan’s a choirboy,” Beach said. “In the eyes of the law at least.”

"How is that possible?" Henry asked. "He's about as clean as a sewer rat."

"He's a lowlife that paints this city with yellow ink," Beach said. "But he's never been arrested and no one has ever witnessed him in any illicit activity."

"Then he he's either greasing the right wheels or got friends in high places," Henry said. "Probably a few low places too.”

Beach shrugged and dumped more ketchup on his plate. Henry could see the detective's straw-colored hair was thinning and his waistline had grew since the department's charity baseball game Henry covered a couple of years before. His shoulders took up nearly half the counter, but his legs were pencil thin. Henry knew Beach was a clean as they could come around here, but Henry wasn't about to play nice.

"So you said you had names for us. Or did you lie about that to get a free meal?"

Beach devoured the last of his eggs as he slid a folded piece of paper under a napkin toward Henry. The cub reporter waited a moment before discreetly balling the note into his hand using the napkin to wipe his brow.

“You tell Graham that if he wants any more, he needs to show up himself,” Beach said. “How am I supposed to know he won't screw me if he's too scare to show his own face?.”

“Will Graham isn’t scared of anything!”

Henry leapt from his stool and defiantly stood above the hulking copper. Beach set down his mug and rose to his full six-foot, three-inch height.

“Word to the wise, son,” Beach said. “You keep following Graham blindly and you’re going to find out exactly what he’s scared of.”

 

Shirley finished the afternoon edition of City Scribe, folded it, and placed it in her lap.

The majority of the paper covered what little real news was buzzing around town. The mayor’s office had cancelled all press conferences and announced city business through stilted and hallow news releases. The minds behind them knew nothing about writing and even less about news. People started asking substantial questions and got even more vague and shadowy answers in return. All the newspapers had sold out to some extent, but she knew newspapermen of all stripes were working their informants and back channels to figure out what was really going on.

Shirley brushed her crimson hair from her face. She noticed a mother and young daughter enjoying a crust-less sandwich on a park bench not too far from her own. Shirley was long past the point of envy—her anger, angst, and aggression were reserved for memories of her father—but she couldn't help reflecting briefly on all she had lost. Her wistfulness was broken by Henry, walking toward her with this trench coat flowing behind him like a cape.

That man moves faster than his body can carry him, she thought.

“What did you find out?” Shirley asked.

Henry handed her a slip of paper.

“He didn’t give us anyone we didn’t already know about,” she said.

Henry nodded grimly.

“Were you followed?”

"Followed?”

“Excuse me,” a female voice said behind him.

 Henry sighed and Shirley rolled her eyes.

“Are you in need of directions?” Shirley said. She didn’t like this woman one bit. “We recently arrived in the city, so we wouldn’t be much help.”

“You two work for City Scribe, right?”

“Who wants to know," Henry asked.

“My name is Betty. I’m Hal Fintan’s daughter.”

Henry sat down on the bench leaving a space for Betty between himself and Shirley.

“And what do you want with the City Scribe?” Shirley asked.

“I overheard him talking about Hal in the coffee shop,” Betty said, motioning to Henry.

Henry took out his notebook and asked her to continue.

“My mother told me a few months ago that Hal Fintan is my real father,” Betty said. “He left my mother a few months before I was born. My mother wrote him tortured letters, but he never wanted anything to do with us. He used her and discarded her when he was done. When I found out the truth, and then I started to read his work. Now I'm glad he left us.”

Shirley gave Henry a quick smile. He looked up from his notes and returned it.

“So you came to the city to confront him?” Henry asked.

“I just wanted him to know who I was” Betty said.  "So I caught a bus from Albany only to have a door slammed in my face."

“And how does that place you at the coffee shop?” Shirley asked.

“I told his super I was his daughter and that he wasn't home, asked him where I might find my dear father. You said his name not five minutes after I sat down," Betty said looking at Henry. "I couldn’t help overhearing your the conversation with the flatfoot, so I following you here.”

“What are you looking to gain here, Miss…,” Henry asked.

“Lincoln. Betty Lincoln.”

“Miss Lincoln, what exactly do you want from us?” Shirley asked.

“I know Hal is involved in whatever you’re investigating. I want to help bring him to justice. No one but him knows who I am. I can be valuable. I’ll do anything you need me to do.”

Henry closed his notebook and exchanged a worried grimace with Shirley. Betty picked up Shirley’s discarded paper and started reading.

 

“Mr. Graham?”

Herman, City Scribe’s copy editor, occupied most of Will’s door frame and two or three feet on either side of the threshold.

“Herm, I’m 100% certain I used ‘arsenal’ correctly,” Will said.

He kept hammering away at the keys of his typewriter; careful not to type too much and have the piece of paper fold over revealing he’d been writing gibberish for 10 minutes.

Sobriety is taking its toll, he thought.

“You have a visitor.”

“I have a secretary for this kind of thing,” he said, instantly remembering he hadn’t had one since promoting Shirley. Will’s heart jumped momentarily at the thought it could be his wife and daughters. Herman’s dour, craggy face dispelled that fantasy in a hurry. “Not now. Have him write out a statement and provide contact information.”

“You’re going to want to meet this guy,” Herman said.

Will yanked the piece of paper out of the typewriter, crumpled it up, and threw it forcefully at his subordinate’s graying flattop.

“Then get your fast ass out of the door and send him in!” Will screamed. “Jesus, go back to screwing up punctuation.”

Will didn’t have time to care about Herman’s wounded expression as a thin, well-manicured man entered his office wearing a suit that cost more than Will's annual salary.

“Right to the point,” the figure said. His airy voice crackled with entitlement and false confidence. “My name is Albert Moruzzi Jr.”

The Albert Moruzzi Jr.?”

“Indeed.”

“Listen, if this is some kind of shake down or extortion effort, our newspaper has never taken an unsubstantiated shot at your old man…”

Albert Jr. held his hand up.

“I need your help Mr. Graham,” he said. “I think my father is trying to kill me.”

TO BE CONTINUED...

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The Newspapermen: Midtown Suds

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.

Chapter Eight: Midtown Suds

By Sean Tuohy

EXT. CLUB 21-MIDTOWN-NIGHT

Post rain shower. Slick pavement. A line of New York City’s high society walk into a fashionable nightclub. Well-groomed women in dresses to kill for. Men suited up.

Hal walks past the club and turns right toward a back alley.

INT. CLUB 21-KITCHEN

Hal slips into the chaos of the kitchen. Sidesteps rushing waiters and bus boys. A heavyset CHEF barks orders to his overworked crew. Hal taps him on the shoulder.

CHEF
What the hell are you doin’ here Finton?

HAL
No hello?

CHEF
Hello. What do you want?

HAL
Seein’ my girl. Plan on taking her for a dance.

CHEF
Dance her with into the poor house. Only place your going.

HAL
I remember why I come here now. Your charm.

Hal breaks away and moves toward—

INT. CLUB 21

A band PLAYS from a stage in the dimly lit club. Booths line the walls. Tables ring around a dance floor. The floor is a sea of moving bodies.

Hal enters from the kitchen. Out of place in this refined establishment. Hal scans the crowd.

Finds SARAH, 20s, too much make up, dress too tight. She is charming an older gent.

WITH HAL

As he slices through the crowd towards Sarah.

AT THE TABLE WITH

Sarah, smoking on a long cigarette, as she chats up the OLD MAN.

SARAH
London? Never been myself.

OLD MAN
Lovely place. The food is far from—

Hal swoops in quickly. Picks Sarah from the chair.

HAL
Thanks, pal, but I got it from here.

A slack-jawed Old Man watches Hall takes Sarah to—

HALLWAY

Hal pins Sarah to a wall. Kisses her hard, full passion. Sarah returns it with less enthusiasm.

SARAH
I was working, Hal, I could’ve gotten something from that guy. See the way he looked at me?

HAL
Not the same way I look at you.

SARAH
I could have gotten some moolah from him. If I go back now maybe I can still win him over.

Sarah pushes past but Hal stops her.

HAL
I don’t have a boss anymore.

SARAH
What are you talking about?

HAL
I’m saying I’ve got some lettuce in my pocket.

SARAH
Yeah right.

HAL
I got something going on, something big.

SARAH
When I see it I’ll believe it. Right now I see an out-of-work newspaper man.

HAL
Look at this.

Hal slips out a fresh wad of bills. Sarah goes wide eye.

SARAH
Holy...

HAL
I got more suds coming for just the two of us.

Sarah takes the bills. Counts them.

SARAH
Hal, you’ve got over a grand here.

HAL
Enough for you and me to leave.

SARAH
What?

HAL
Get out of here, leave this city like we talked about. Starting up somewhere else.

Sarah looks at Hal and the cash.

SARAH
Scram, huh? How much is a lot?

HAL
Enough.

SARAH
Hal, where is it coming from?

Off Hal’s raised eyebrows—

INT. CLUB 21-FOYER

SHIRLEY AND HENRY check their coats and move to the dance floor. Shirley searches the crowd for faces. Henry sniffs the air.

SHIRLEY
You sure we can find him here?

HENRY
I smell steak.

SHIRLEY
You should smell the story, not the food.

HENRY
For your information, Red, they don’t serve the best grub in this joint.

Shirley rolls her eyes.

SHIRLEY
Use your head right now, not your stomach.

Henry searches the crowd. Stops on HAL.

HENRY
Hey there. I know that fella.

SHIRLEY
Who?

HENRY’S POV—

Across the room, Hal and Sarah rush back in, stuck in a heated argument.

BACK TO HENRY AND SHIRLEY

HENRY
Hal Finton. Crime beat report for the Post. Old school tough guy.

SHIRLEY
Why do I know that name?

HENRY
He’s public scumbag number one in this city.

SHIRLEY
What’s he doing here?

HENRY
Who’s the looker with him?

SHIRLEY
A lotta of questions. Why don’t we get some answers?

WITH HAL AND SARAH

Standing in the corner.

SARAH
Are you crazy? Do you know what they will do to you?

HAL
Nothing. They got nothing on me.

SARAH
They can kill you!

HAL
Than the pictures goes out to the public. Got them locked up nice and safe. No one can get to them.

SARAH
Where?

Shirley and Henry slide up. All smiles. Fake warmth.

HENRY
How’s it hanging, Hal? (Off Hal’s Puzzled Look) Henry, from the—

HAL
City Scribe, right! I read you piece on the captain out of the 17th Precinct last year. Good stuff. (To Shirley) And’s who this?

SHIRLEY
(Frosty) Shirley.

Hal is taken with her.

HAL
Does the lady have a last name?

SHIRLEY
Not for you, bub.

Hal smiles. Sarah frowns. Not pleased.

HAL
This is my girl Sarah.

SARAH
(Flat) Hello...

HENRY
What are you guys doing here?

HAL
Sarah works here.

SARAH
Sort of.

HENRY
Want to join us for a drink?

HAL
Maybe next time. I’ve got to see a man about a horse.

HENRY
Next time.

HAL
Yeah. (To Shirley) Next time maybe I can get a last name. See ya, all.

Shirley gives him an ice cold glare. Hal kisses Sarah and peels away. Sarah walks off.

HENRY watches Hal walk toward the kitchen.

SHIRLEY
Scum.

HENRY
He’s some kind of trouble.

SHIRLEY
Let’s get back to the chief and find out how much.

Off Henry’s concerned, yet determined look—

TO BE CONTINUED...

To download a PDF of Sean Tuohy's script, click here

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The Newspapermen: Sweet Dreams

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.

Chapter Seven: Sweet Dreams

By Daniel Ford

Will Graham’s key wouldn’t open his door.

He’d been at it for more than five minutes. The bundle of damp newspapers under his arm bled black into the white shirt he hadn’t changed in three days. Water drops fell from the brim of his fedora, blurring his vision and concentration.

Will stopped for a moment. His bones ached from the 18-hour days he’d been enduring. He pulled out his pocket watch and checked the hour.

“I'll be crucified for this,” he mumbled.

He pounded his fist on the door and didn’t stop until he heard locks being unlatched. Will braced himself for a scolding.

“What the hell are you doing at this hour?”

A fat, heavyset Italian man stood where his wife should have been. A pink robe failed to corral the fellow’s hair and flesh.

“Sorry, Mr. Mancinelli,” Will said. “Long day.”

“Jesus H. Christ, I thought you were my bookie,” Mancinelli said. “Haven’t been home in a while, huh?”

Will grimaced. He shifted the wet newspapers to his opposite arm. He tipped his hat, bid his neighbor good night, and shuffled to the correct apartment.

The numbers bolted to his door appeared alien, from another life. He’d been spending time with an assorted array of derelicts, shady city officials, and chatty drunks. He had plenty of sources, but no leads or useful information. All day and night, he thought about walking through this cheap piece of wood and have his two girls leap into his arms. Instead, another story was consuming him from the inside out, just like the one before it and the one before that. He didn’t know how many stories he had left and felt every past column inch of type weighing him down. Maybe this was the last straw. After this, he could start teaching the next generation how to deal with a broken marriage and cranky ulcer.

Finally he turned his key and walked in. He dropped his cargo as quietly as he could and draped his jacket on the radiator. It was a dumb thing to do considering they hadn’t been able to pay the heat or electric bill for months.

Will knew better than to expect leftovers. He had ordered his wife to keep the girls well fed as if they lived on Fifth Avenue. He was living off donuts and caffeine, but the thought of his healthy daughters kept him full.

He noticed a beam of light under his wife’s bedroom door.

Our bedroom, he thought.

She had a monastery’s worth of candles lit. She was propped up on all their pillows, her nose buried in a well-worn copy of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

“Hey, handsome,” she said without looking up.

“Evening,” he replied.

Will undid his tie and walked over to his side of the bed, eager to sit down and unlace his shoes. Before he reached his destination, he tripped over a large suitcase, and landed on the floor, wondering how he hadn’t ended up here sooner.

“Subtle, darling,” Will said from the ground.

“I didn’t want to bury the lead,” she replied. “I know you hate that, sweetheart.”

“I won’t be separated from my family,” he said, rising to his feet.

“Don’t call us that,” she said. “You don’t have the right to include yourself in my family. Pack up and leave.”

Will didn’t respond. The facts were as black and white as the print stained into his shirt. He grabbed the two shirts hanging up in the closet and a handful of socks from his top drawer. He collected his razor and aftershave from the bathroom. He buckled the latches on the suitcase and stood at the end of the bed.

“You fight for your reporters, you fight your publisher, you fight the outside world, and you fight for what you think is the truth, even when everyone tells you it’s a lie,” she said, finally putting her book down. “You never once fought for us. You stopped fighting for me the day I married you. You chase down the story, but you don’t know what to do with it once you land it. It makes you a crappy journalist and a piss-poor father.”

“You don’t know me at all,” he said. “You three are all I think about. The job doesn’t matter if I don’t have you and the girls.”

“You can think about us all you want, but that doesn’t translate into action. You don’t act if there isn’t a deadline involved, and you missed this one." 

Will nodded and turned to leave.

“I know what you’re doing, you know,” she said. “I’ve been following your column for weeks. This is a dangerous path you’re headed down and I won't put those two angels at risk.”

“Does that mean I can come home when I’m done?”

“You’ll never be done,” she replied, lifting her novel back up to her face.

“Sweet dreams, beautiful.”

* * *

Will faced another darkened door frame.

He felt shameful that this one was more familiar to him than his own. He could hear typing, which stirred his heart in a way his wife’s touch never could.   

He knocked meekly and the typing stopped.

“Password?” A female voice asked from the inside.

“Oxford comma.”

Shirley opened the door and pulled him in quickly. Will struggled to adjust to the heat and light.

“My god, you look like you’ve been spending time in a Chicago overcoat,” Shirley said. “The missus give you a few licks before making tracks?”

“Where’s Henry?”

Shirley motioned to the kitchen table. Henry’s was face down on his typewriter, his hand wrapped around an empty glass.  

“I’m going to catch some shut eye; you can fill me in on where we are later.”

Will dropped his suitcase and collapsed into the couch. He felt warm, protected, and awful. He felt sleep coming on, but pushed it away to arrange words in his head. He reached out for the notebook he had left on floor the night before. He came back with a wet hand. Will raised a glass filled with ice and clear liquid.

“Drink it down, boss,” Shirley said.

“What the hell is it?”

“The best dog soup this city has to offer,” she replied. “We need you sober for what comes next.”

“Oh yeah, what’s next?”

“The news, boss. The news.”

TO BE CONTINUED...

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The Newspapermen: Fit to Print

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.

Chapter Six: Fit to Print

By Daniel Ford and Dave Pezza

Heels in hand, scarlet hair beneath a brown fedora streaming behind her, Shirley led Henry out of the police station at a pace not conducive for a thin pencil dress. Henry held on tight to Shirley’s hand, clutching his side with his other hand. The cops had roughed him up after dragging him into the station. They left his face free of evidence, this wasn’t their first conspiracy. Henry was sure they had broken a rib and hoped it hadn’t punctured anything. But even at an arm’s length, gasping, he could smell her perfume, making each breath’s pain a little easier to bare.

Shirley had slipped the cabbie a sawbuck and a wink to keep the cab running, no matter what. She rounded the block and looked up toward the sky in relief, monochromatic yellow salvation waited at the curb.

“Henry, we just have to make it to the cab, okay?”

“Yeah, I see it. But…”

“We just have to get there, okay?”

“Okay,” Henry panted, barely audible.

Shirley threw open the canary yellow door and nearly dove head first into the cab’s black leather interior, her dress riding so dangerously high now. Henry in tow, fell sideways into the cab, wincing to shut the door. He landed on top of her, a searing pain barreling through him.

“Go! Go! Go!” Shirley yelled to the off the boat Italian.

“Andiamo! Andiamo!” The cabbie yelled back, the screech of tires and the smell of burnt rubber pervading through the getaway car.

Henry eased himself off of Shirley, aware of his heavy body on top of her. He planted a hand besides her head for balance, and, before working his sore body upright on the backseat bench, he stuck a solid one full on Shirley’s blood red lips.

“Thank you,” he said as he backed his head away from her, staring straight into her motives.

“No sweat, Henry. I can’t write this story on my own, now can I?” She asked grinning.

“I suppose not,” Henry replied.

His hat had fallen off of Shirley’s head during the dash into the cab, its top now crumbled. Henry gently stamped his fist into the fedora, its top regaining composure. Shirley had fixed herself up now, pulling down and straightening her dress, fixing her hair. Henry blew imaginary dust off of the fedora and gently wriggled it onto her head, messing her hair again. She looked over to him, scrunching her nose and mouth.

“Fits you better, I think,” he said.

Shirley looked at him, a look outside of her past and her aspirations. Henry removed his notebook and pencil from his wrinkled suit jacket and began jotting diligently. Shirley checked the camera for damages, snapping a picture of Henry nose deep in paper and graphite.

Could she really have fallen for a newspaperman?

***

“True or false: One of your reporters broke another one of your reporters out of jail,” City Scribe’s publisher Montgomery Edwards said.

Will Graham observed that Edwards' three-piece suit was probably worth more than his entire wardrobe. For a big guy, he wore it well. Henry would have been impressed. 

That little pissant, he thought.

“False,” Will said.

“So you’ve just decided to lie to my face?”

“Shirley isn’t technically a reporter.”

“Is she technically a woman?”

“Yes.”

“A female employee of yours fired off a gun at police headquarters and then freed your cub reporter who had been hauled off to jail for causing a scene at the mayor’s press conference. Did I forget anything?”

“The press conference was about kittens.”

“I swear to God Will, don’t push me. Is everything I just said accurate?”

“Well, I wouldn’t write the lead quite that way, but you’ve nailed the essentials.”

“Will, you motherfucking twit! How are you going to fix this? Those two are fired immediately for starters. I don’t want to see them in this city ever again. You make sure they are good and gone. I asked you to cover one story. One! About kittens! And you use it to turn this already disreputable paper into a laughing stock. You know how many advertisers called me this morning? We’re barely above water as it is and you decide to set fire to the Titanic as it sinks!”

“They’ll calm down. They always do. We’ll cover the story and say we’re cooperating fully with the police department and the situation will die down. The kid tried to mess up the mayor’s hair a little, he didn’t kill anyone.”

“And where the fuck were you during all this?”

Having a scotch at my desk pretending I still had a shred of talent and dignity, Will thought.

“Well?”Edwards' asked.

“I was sitting on my ink-stained hands,” he said. “Someone has to edit and re-write most of the shit those advertisers want us to publish. We’re running an ad agency here, not a newspaper.”

“It’s not your job to determine what we are, Will,” Edwards replied. “Your job is to make sure the commas are in the right place and names are spelled correctly. That way enough money comes so we can keep the lights on and keep your sorry ass employed. Newspapers aren’t worth anything anymore. They were nothing more than a way for angry, repressed rich men to prove how smart and successful they were. Pulitzer. Hearst. They weren’t newspapermen, Will. Newspapermen are shadows that chase an elusive sun to justify their pathetic existence. The sun always sets, remember that.”

The large man took his pocket watch out and sighed wearily.

“Late for something, sir?” Will asked.

“This newspaper’s funeral,” Edwards said. “Fix it, Will. Fix it or it will be your ass.”

Will’s office door shook on its hinges as the publisher slammed it on his way out. The editor took a deep breath. He reached for his scotch bottle. He poured a thimble full into his empty glass and shot it down. He drummed his fingers on his desk. The piles of copy he was ignoring angered him all over again.

“Hey, boss, can we come out now?” A voice asked from the closet.

Will closed his eyes and shook his head.

“Boss? Are you still there?”

“I need another minute, you dimwits. I’ll let you out when I’m good and ready.”

“It’s getting a little stuffy in here,” Henry said.

“So you’re complaining about being locked in a closet with me?” Shirley said.

“That’s not what I meant!”

“What did you mean?”

“I want to get to work!”

“Should have thought about that before you got yourself arrested.”

“You were there, I was given a raw deal!”

“Now I’m the one with a raw deal.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

Will stared at the closet door incredulously. He took a drag of scotch right from the bottle. He walked over and unlocked the door. Henry and Shirley tumbled out. Will’s eyebrows raised as he watched Shirley don Henry’s fedora.

“I know, it looks good doesn’t it?” Shirley asked.

“Not going to look very good when the cops catch up you two bozos,” Will said returning to his bottle. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“Which one of us?” Henry asked.

“Even for a reporter, you ask too many questions. String a few statements together.”

“I was wrongfully imprisoned and Shirley freed me.”

“Shirley, where did you get a gun?”

“Are you kidding? In this city? The corner drugstore. A woman can’t be too careful in a town full of goons, trigger men, and crumbs,” Shirley said.

“You were right, boss,” Henry said. “Something is definitely suspicious. Lot of shady characters hanging around the mayor. There’s a story here, and we need to track it down!”

“Henry.”

“Yes, boss?”

“Is that lipstick on your collar?”

Henry’s mangled collar indeed featured a bright red pair of lips. The cub reporter pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and did his best to clean it off. Shirley blushed and shrugged.

“How are we going to get anything done when you two can’t keep your damn hands off each other?!”

The scotch was doing a lot of the yelling for him. In truth, he was jealous of their youth and vigor. Before they barreled into his office out of breath and grinning, Will had been face down on his typewriter. The worst part was that the piece of paper he had loaded into it was still blank. He hadn’t even had the creative energy to write his name. Henry was beat to hell and wanted to dive back into the story. They didn’t know the real dangers. They didn’t know how at risk they were. They were two dumb kids that only felt the thrill of each other’s skin and adventure in their blood. He knew they’d never be satisfied with anything else.

“You two are off this story until further notice,” Will said.

Henry and Shirley’s faces dropped.

“I know you’re mad, but…”

“No but. That’s it. Go home, discreetly, and get cleaned up. Henry, you need to go sit in a tub of ice for a variety of reasons. Lay low until you hear from me. Do not go outside. Understood?”

“Yes sir,” they said at the same time.

“Now get out of my office, I’ve got work to do,” Will said waving his hand dismissively.

Shirley mouthed “be careful.” Will nodded and pointed to Henry. Shirley got the hint and wrapped her arm around his shoulders as they made their way out.

Will sat down and looked at the blank page. The fear was still there, but there were words now. They were coming back to him one by one. He stretched out his fingers and reached for his bottle. He looked at it longingly. He took a deep breath. Will tossed it into his wastebasket and turned back to the typewriter.

“Time to set some fires,” he mumbled.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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The Newspapermen: Scum and Villainy

Chapter 5.jpg

I’ve been waiting patiently for Sean Tuohy to enter The Newspapermen fray since we published our first chapter. Sean lives and breathes noir, so I knew it was only a matter of time before he was inspired with an idea. He emailed me last week and said he had something in mind. A couple of days later, he sent me this script. The man never disappoints. Enjoy!—Daniel Ford

Chapter Five: Scum and Villainy 

By Sean Tuohy

EXT. NEW YORK SKYLINE-1939-NIGHT

Looming skyscrapers twinkle through thick down pouring rain. Lighting CRACKS against the darken sky. Thunder RUMBLES like an angry god.

We CRANE DOWN TO

EXT. STREET HELL’S KITCHEN -NIGHT

Gutters choked with runoff water and trash. Void of people, the city hides from the rain. A lone figure huddled in a soaked top coat walks the sidewalk toward the only lit storefront.

HAL FINTAN, 40s, slept in clothes, unkept, eyes shine with cunning. Steps in to light. He hurries down the street.

EXT. ALBERT’S CAFE

The name printed proudly against the recently cleaned window panel. Inside the small cafe is empty besides a TENDER behind the counter cleaning and a heavy set man reading a newspaper at a table.

Leaning in the doorway out of the rain is the DOORMAN, a thug in a cheap suit. Hal steps up to him, smiling.

HAL

Hellva night.

DOORMAN

Yeah. I saw your article, newspaper man.

HAL

Oh yeah. That’s surprising.

DOORMAN

Why?

HAL

I find it hard to believe you can read.

Hal tries to walk past the Doorman. He’s blocked.

HAL

Guess you haven’t notice it’s raining tonight and I’m in need of a cup of coffee.

DOORMAN

Get it somewhere else.

HAL

But I like it here.

DOORMAN

(Helpless shrug) Get it somewhere else.

HAL

Well, I’ve got to talk to the big man and he needs to talk to me.

DOORMAN

He’s not seeing anyone tonight. Try again tomorrow.

HAL

Naw, he needs to see me tonight. If he knows what’s good for him he’ll see me right now.

Hal and the Doorman lock eyes. The Doorman steps up, nose to nose with Hal. Hal’s gaze never falters.

HAL

Unless you plan on givin’ me my goodnight kiss you best get the big man to talk to me.

The two square off. The Doorman can read something in Hal’s gaze. Something that is off.

INT. ALBERT’S CAFE-MOMENTS LATER

ALBERT MORUZZI, 50s, heavyset, well dressed, is in the middle of sipping coffee and reading that evenings paper. He looks up at the sound of the door opening. His face unreadable.

ALBERT

You come here for a quote?

Hal shakes off his wet coat. A puddle forms at his feet.

HAL

You got somethin’ special to say today.

ALBERT

Yeah. Beat it. I’ve got some readin’ to do. (Holds Up The Paper) From your competitor no less. They don’t print garbage.

HAL

You didn’t like my piece of Vinny last week.

ALBERT

You made him look like a rat and a killer.

HAL

So I did my job.

Hal moves with a confidence that most men don’t carry around Albert. He slides in to a chair across from Albert.

ALBERT

I don’t remember inviting to sit with me.

HAL

You’ll be happy that I did. (To The tender) I’ll have what he’s having. (Back to Albert) How’s the wife?

ALBERT

How’s the whore?

Hal’s face cracks; that touched a nerve. He pushes it aside.

HAL

Susan is fine and dandy.

ALBERT

She’s a whore. I’ve seen her at Club 21. She likes her men with thick wallets. What she see in you?

HAL

My charm.

ALBERT

(Snorts) You got balls, Fintan, balls of steel. They’re gonna get you killed.

HAL

Until then...

ALBERT

Stop wasting my time. Why are you here?

HAL

I’m here to collect.

ALBERT

Collect?

HAL

What’s owed to me, Albert.

Albert face goes flush.

ALBERT

That mouth of yours is gettin’ loose. You better watch it.

HAL

I’m not going to waste time here. I’ve got something you want and need and I need you to pay me for it.

ALBERT

And what’s that?

HAL

Junior.

Albert stares blankly at Hal.

ALBERT

That mouth of yours. My son is-

HAL

A good ole college boy. Nothin’ like his pops. He’s staying out of trouble. Good for him. I’m glad to see he’s doing well. But I had this feeling that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. So I followed the boy around. Just makin’ sure he’s stayin out of trouble.

FLASH CUT TO-NEW YORK COLLEGE NIGHT

ALBERT JR, 20, lanky, walks campus with his friends one night. Hal follows them.

BACK TO SCENE

ALBERT

You son of-

HAL

Hear me out, Al, before you get all steamed. Your boy is staying out of trouble. I made sure of that but I did find something else out. He has some great taste.

FLASH CUT TO-NEW YORK COLLEGE-DAY

A narrow alley between two brick buildings. Albert JR pulls a YOUNG MAN in to the alley. Against the wall the two kiss.

BACK TO SCENE

Hal pulls a folded photo from his pocket. Slides it across the table top. Albert opens it and his eyes go wide. He shuts it. A million emotions running across his face at once.

HAL

Like I said he’s stayin’ out of trouble because he’s always with his friends.

Albert is deathly still. He snaps. With a roar he is on his feet THROWING the table against the wall. Before Hal can react he SLAMMED against the wall. Albert’s hands around his throat. His feet kick off the ground.

ALBERT

SCUM! SCUM! SCUM!

Hall’s face turns blue. He struggles but it’s all in vain. He’s able to let out:

HAL

...More...pictures...out ...there...

Through his rage Albert hears the words. Fuming he drops Hal to the ground. Hal sucks in air. Staggers to his feet. Hacks up a lung as he speaks.

ALBERT

I outta kill you now. Right now. End your scum life right—

HAL

I die the pictures go out to the public. The world learns your son’s a queer. (Hacks) 'Crime lord Son Found To Be A Fairy'

ALBERT

Scum.

HAL

I get my cash. I go away. (Hack) I don’t get the cash. I stay here and only bad things happen if I stay here.

Albert’s gaze hardens. He’s torn; he wants to kill this man more than anything else. He’s shoulders sag, defeated.

ALBERT

How much?

OFF Hal’s winning smile

TO BE CONTINUED...

To download a PDF of Sean Tuohy's script, click here.

FULL NEWSPAPERMEN ARCHIVE

The Newspapermen: Lady

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.

Chapter Four: Lady

By Daniel Ford

Be a lady, Shirley thought. Don’t cause a scene.

She stood at the local police precinct’s front desk. Her camera hung on her hip and she was wearing Henry’s fedora. It was a size too big, but it made her feel official and intrepid. It wasn't likely she'd return it. 

The press credential stuffed in the hat’s brim wasn’t doing her any favors. Not even the well-coiffed secretaries would give her a second glance. She calmly rang the bell on the desk and impatiently waited for nothing to happen.

Nellie Bly never had to put up with this shit, she thought.

“What can I do for you little lady?” A burly sergeant asked. “Is your kitty up a tree?”

“If that was the case, I’d be at the fire department, wouldn’t I?”

“You’re one of those uppity dames, ain’t cha?”

“I’m here on official City Scribe business.” She pointed to her hat. “I need to speak to Henry Jones immediately.”

The copper’s face turned to stone. He didn’t say anything else as he walked by her.

“You’re going to be a lot more talkative when I shove my heel up your ass!”

A few heads turned, but for the most part, her moment of rage passed unnoticed.

Be calm, she thought. Try to be a lady.

Her mother was a lady. Prim. Proper. Knew her place. All it had gotten her was repeated beatings from her lout of a husband. No one told him he had to shape up, put on a clean shirt, or comb his hair just so. The little money the family made financed the tavern down the block. Everyone cheered when he walked in the door. His stories might have been full of shit, but they kept the patrons in stitches until they all stumbled out into the night to beat the missuses. It was all fun and games until Shirley’s father told the wrong story to the wrong drunk. He went head first through the bar’s front window and then had his head bashed in by broken bar stools. Shirley’s mother handled it relatively well, considering. She dressed to the nines and put a bullet through her mouth. It was a closed casket, but the undertaker had given Shirley a glimpse right before he shut it. Her mother looked as prim and proper as ever, just without a face.

“Were you born useless, or does that lesson get beat into you at secretary’s school?” Shirley said to one of the hairdos typing away a few feet from her.

The woman didn’t stop typing. Her eyes remained glued to her piece of paper. It fueled Shirley’s rage. She had been ignored at the orphanage. She had been ignored by her dreadfully boring and religious foster parents. She had been ignored by all the boys at school because she liked to read and voiced her own opinion. She was done being ignored. Her editor had given her an assignment and she was going to damn well do it. Besides, she may have inherited her red hair and good looks from her mother, but her temper was forged by her alcoholic father.

You asked for it, she thought. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Shirley discreetly pulled a small .22 pistol from her bag. She angled her back to the mindless secretarial drones. She aimed the gun at the stack of magazines on the table in the waiting area. She counted to three and pulled the trigger. The bullet burst through the stack of glossy paper and lodged itself in the floor boards. The pistol had produced a small puff of smoke and an almost inaudible “pop,” but it was enough for all of the secretaries to faint out of their chairs. A mix of coppers and flat feet flooded into the room with their guns in the air. More shouting and finger-pointing ensued after they noticed a pile of dames on the floor. In the commotion, Shirley was able to slide her pistol back into her bag. She sat down with her back of the desk, took Henry’s hat off, and rustled her red hair. She put on the most distressed face she could muster.

“Which way did he go, ma’am?” A police officer asked her.

Oh, it had to be a he, huh? Shirley thought. Couldn’t have been a disgruntled housewife? Or a poor street woman tired of never catching a break? Or a love-struck lady of the night?

Shirley dramatically put her hand to her forehead. She wearily pointed out the door.

“Did you take a photo of the guy?”

“It all happened so fast,” she said. “He was too fast. Go catch him! There are righteous women in here that need protection and justice!”

“Pft,” he said. “Dames.”

A swarm of armed blue, black, and khaki rushed past her and left the precinct deserted. Shirley got up, smoothed out her skirt, adjusted her heels, and rang the bell on the desk as she made her way toward the holding cells.

“Nice hat,” Henry said.

His jacket and vest were neatly folded next to him on the bench. His shirt sleeves were rolled up. He looked a little bruised, but on the whole, no worse for wear.

“You ready to get out of here?” She asked.

“Now, I don’t want you getting in trouble on my account…”

“Save your lecture,” she said. “We’ve got work to do.”

Henry eagerly collected his things and waited by the cell’s door. Shirley paused a moment before turning the key. She grinned at him mischievously. He gave her a grin that suggested he’d be perfectly fine if she joined him in the clink for a little pitching woo.

No time for that, she thought. There was a story to track down,

Shirley opened the door, took off his hat, and gestured for him to lead the way.

“I’m not getting that back am I?” He asked.

“Not a chance.”

TO BE CONTINUED...

FULL NEWSPAPERMEN ARCHIVE

The Newspapermen: First Date

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.

Chapter Three: First Date

By Dave Pezza

Henry woke up, head pounding. The bourbon, his dearest friend the night before, had turned hostile come the morning hours. The press conference was at 9:00 a.m. at city hall. Henry's clock read 8:10 a.m.

“Shit!” He hissed. 

The bed stirred as he dropped a white tablet in the glass of water on his nightstand. It fizzed on contact. He seesawed his body off the mattress, rested his feet on the floor, and put his head in hands.

“You better move faster than that if we’re going to make that meeting,” a voice called from behind him.

His head perked up. He’d almost forgotten she was there. He turned his body and smiled wildly at the sight of Shirley’s blue eyes staring up at him from his pillow, her dark red hair streaming over her shoulder and onto the mattress, covering the soft white skin of her chest. He bent down and kissed her long and hard, slipping his hand behind her head. Shirley smiled through the kiss and looked up at him once their faces parted.

“Henry…do that again!”

Henry obliged, ending the kiss quickly so he could look at her comfortably tucked into his life on this brisk fall morning, before the chaos before him.

“Okay…,” she said while stretching, careful to keep the cover above her chest. “Now we can get going.”

“Is your head not killing you?” Henry asked incredulously.

“Honey, I didn’t hit the sauce as hard as you. Made you an easy target,” she said with a wink.

“Damn,” Henry said aloud, unintentionally.

They shuffled into a taxi outside Henry’s block. He was wearing a newly pressed French-cuffed shirt, crisp khakis, and a grey suit jacket, a press tag sticking in the ribbon of his fedora. Shirley wore her dress from the night before, hair made up in a bun with a cardigan covering her vanilla white shoulders.  Shirley looked like a movie starlet who was scrubbing it with a local. The driver asked her where she’d like to go.

“City hall, please. And we’re in a hurry.”

 

Henry looked up from his notebook, not quite sure what to think.

They were too late to find seats, Henry and Shirley had to stand in the back, Henry with his hat tipped back and Shirley with Henry’s camera poised and finger on the trigger.

“How is this placed packed? This is a fluff piece. I thought we’d be the only paper desperate enough to run a story like this.”

“Even the radio guys are here. This feels odd,” Shirley added, snapping some practice pictures.

The mayor took his place at the podium.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the great city of…”

“The DA, the police chief, even our state senator. What the hell is going on?” Henry whispered in Shirley’s ear, closer than he should have in public.

Shirley didn’t mind. She was snapping pictures and trying hard to consider what all of this meant.

“These reduced crime statistics offer a rare look into the good and decency that this fair city prides itself on. Representatives of the city’s law enforcement received a call early yesterday morning from a good Samaritan who found a box of abandoned kittens by the river…”

“This is ridiculous, something is up, Shirley.”

“Henry…I think you might be right,” Shirley said as she snapped a picture of a tall, pale man with dark, slicked back hair standing off to the mayor’s right.

“I’ll take questions from the press now”

A dozen hands and voices shouted up into the air.

Did I miss the free lobotomies at the bar last night? Henry thought.

“Yes, all of the kittens are in good health,” the mayor answered.

Another reporter was called on.

“The good Samaritan wished to remain anonymous. He didn’t want any recognition.”

Henry and Shirley sat through fifteen minutes of softballs, the mayor crushing them out of the park like a kid taking a test with all the answers in his pocket. Henry waited until the mayor had said that was enough and began to collect his notes from the podium. Henry pushed his way almost to the front and yelled,

“Mr. Mayor, Henry Jones from City Scribe. Why have you called a major press conference with all the major papers, the city’s police chief, and the district attorney, for orphan kittens?”

Even the crickets were silent. Other reporters looked up, scratching their heads, thinking, “Huh, good point.”

The mayor’s eyes brought down brimstone upon Henry.

“Mr. Mayor, any comment on your chief of staff’s resignation last week? Or the state cutting off aid?”

Murmurs began in the crowd and men in pitch black pinstriped suits began making their way from the podium’s platform.

“Mr. Mayor! Any response to your Republican opponents who claim you have the city council in your pocket?!” Henry yelled as a whoosh of black fabric and muscle dragged Henry out, Shirley snapping off pictures as fast as she could.

She noticed Henry’s fedora on the floor, its brim and press tag trampled. She picked it up and stuck it under her arm as she walked out the door.

TO BE CONTINUED...

FULL NEWSPAPERMEN ARCHIVE

The Newspapermen: A Connection Home

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.

Chapter Two: A Connection Home

By Daniel Ford

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Henry asked.

“I’m afraid I am,” Will replied.

“I mean, I’m game for anything Bossman, 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?”

Will swallowed half of his new bourbon. Instead of a warm glow, it felt like it turned a flamethrower loose down his throat.

Cheap bastards, he thought. Can’t even lube us up with proper booze.

“I told him we weren’t going to run it,” Will said.

“Whew. You had me going there for a little bit.”

“But we’re going to run it.”

“Wait…”

“For some reason, this town is in love with the police. The mayor is having a press conference about crime stats they pulled out of thin air.”

“How much of that rotgut have you had tonight?”

“You don’t see where I’m going with this?”

Will knew the kid would get to where he wanted him to go eventually. He didn’t have the instant instinct yet.

I’ll keep beating the reporter skills into him until I don’t have to call him into my office every five minutes, he thought. Maybe every two minutes now that he’s got his eyes on Shirley.

“The mayor is going to field a lot of softball questions. 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 asked.

Will hadn’t realized Shirley had been eavesdropping on their conversation. He’d be making his own coffee sooner than he thought.

“Exactly,” Will said, forcing down the rest of the awful liquor. He picked up a flute of champagne and quickly downed it to cleanse his 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?”

“Yes,” Henry said weakly.

He didn't look good, like someone just pantsed him at his own birthday party. Will felt bad, but some lessons are best learned the hard way. His father instilled that in him while he was wailing away on his hide.

“What should I be asking?” The young gun asked. There was an edge to his voice now, like he was trying to get his bearings back. He straightened his tie and unrolled his shirtsleeves.

“We can talk more about it in the morning,” Will said. “There’s something fishy coming out of that office. Been quiet for weeks. Now this? What kind of dander are these fur ball stats covering up? We're going to find out. We can strategize in the morning. You two have fun."

"Where are you going?" Shirley asked.

"Home," Will said. "Kiss the wife. Check the kids."

"Say hi for me, Bossman."

"Shut up, Henry. Shirley, go easy on him. You might be dealing with a first-timer."

* * *

Will felt at home when he walked through the door. The empty desks and abandoned typewriters were good company on a night like this.

He pulled the chain on his desk lamp. Nothing happened. He leaned back in his chair and reached for his bottom drawer. He wrapped his fingers around the neck of his emergency bottle of port. He poured some into the paper cup that his morning coffee spent half the day in. His first sip was heavenly.

He picked up his phone.

"Another late night for you,” The telephone operator said. “Remember what your wife looks likes, Mr. Graham?"

"Funny,” he replied. “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. He wished the line didn’t take forever to connect. He knew his wife's tired voice better than he knew her figure, which was never a good long-term strategy.

"You going to beat the milkman to our doorstep tomorrow?" She asked when the connection went through.

"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?"

"What's that?"

"Never mind. I love you."

She didn't wait for a return "I love you" before hanging up.

Will stuck a cigar in his mouth and lit the end of it. He inserted a fresh piece of paper into the typewriter. Guided by the red glow at the end of his stogie, he started writing.

TO BE CONTINUED...

FULL NEWSPAPERMEN ARCHIVE

The Newspapermen: Ink and Drink Club

Writer’s Bone essayist Dave Pezza walked into my office today seeking encouragement to buy a 70th anniversary edition of “Casablanca.”

It was an easy assignment because the classic film is one of my favorites. I became even more enthusiastic after finding out that the set included a movie poster and coasters that looked like Humphrey Bogart’s poker chips.

Following this round of Thursday morning retail therapy, we started discussing what it would have been like to be a newspaper reporter in the 1930s and 1940s (while listening to the some of the era’s biggest hits including “Route 66” by Nat King Cole and “Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway). It didn’t take us long to realize we were born in the wrong era.

So slip into a white tuxedo jacket, tell your significant other to shoot you in the chest, and enjoy some of the things Dave and I would have been up to if we hadn’t been born into this era's capitalist purgatory. Remember to tune in next week for the second installment of The Newspapermen!—Daniel Ford

Prologue: Fedoras, Cufflinks, and Bourbon

By Dave Pezza

Currently, Daniel and I are displaying the corporate uniform of khakis and dress shirts (sans tie and sports coat). We were told day one such accoutrements were unnecessary and should not be worn.

However, if we had been born during the magical time of the 1930s—and lucky enough to still have been employed—we’d be dressed quite differently. Hanging on the coat rack just by the front door to the newsroom offices would be fedoras. Mine would be the black one with the brim dipped low. A trench coat or two would complete the rack as there is a chance of rain today. My suit jacket would be draped upon my chair to avoid wrinkles.

I’d be typing, straight backed, in the remaining gray pieces of my three piece suit. Underneath the vest is my French cuffed white pinstriped shirt with simply silver cufflinks, given to me by a crimson-haired newswoman in New York City. We still write. When I rise to deliver my copy to the editor, my brown wing tip shoes glisten with a fresh shine from the street corner stand, which I visit first thing every Monday.

Around quitting time, I’d check my silver pocket watch, hanging casually from my vest pocket, before I lit a cigarillo from a small silver case with my matching monogramed zippo lighter, a gift from my brother. I open my desk drawer and uncover a bottle of small batch bourbon (they are all small batch bourbon) with two glasses, adorn my jacket, and march into Daniel Ford's office to begin a proper happy hour.—Dave Pezza

Chapter One: Ink and Drink Club

By Daniel Ford and Dave Pezza

Editor-in-chief Will Graham took off his fedora as he walked into the newsroom. He tossed it on the hat rack, walking briskly to his desk. Despite the early hour, there was an uneasy energy growing in the office. He doesn’t hear the sound of typewriter keys. He heard the sound of asses puckering trying to make a deadline. A daily deadline. Every day column inches are built, destroyed, re-built, and sent out into the wild. It never stopped. The world kept getting faster, so the paper had to follow suit.

His hands were already ink-stained from reading the morning edition. He found more errors. The editor’s curse. He couldn’t turn it off.

News was grim. It had been for a decade. Famine. Poverty. Looming global hostilities.

And people still complain about our pay, Will thought. Softies. My kingdom for The New Yorker’s Joseph Mitchell to walk through my door.

New girl had coffee on his desk waiting for him. He made a note to give her a raise. Maybe put her name in the masthead. She could probably out-write most of the men here.

She’ll get her shot, he thought. She’s too good to be getting me coffee and pastry.

He took a deep pull from the steaming cup. She made a damn fine brew.

He glanced at his white tuxedo jacket hanging up behind the door. His black shoes collected dust in the corner. It had been a while since his last rub and tug event. He was in charge of making nice with the financiers tonight. Nothing, not even bad news, stopped the well-off from having a good time. He wouldn’t mind drinking their booze to get at the riches in their pockets. They still weren’t convinced what his reporters did was important, but people still gave up hard-earned coin to buy words, so they kept the lights on.

“They can kill us another day,” Will mumbled to himself.

He thought about the new stringer, Henry…Something, on the payroll. His suit came in three pieces like he’s some sort of big shot. Will knew he’d learn. He wouldn’t be able to afford his dry cleaning after a couple of months working here, so his threads would become as thin and patched as the rest of the paper. Will contemplated assigning him to the docks to speed up the process.

Kid does have great taste in bourbon, he thought. I may have to wait until the bottle is finished.

Will threaded a clean piece of paper into his typewriter. He eyed his fraying notebook. A picture of his wife in a cocktail dress fell out as he retrieved the additional notes he had in his back pocket. He smiled at how happy and carefree she looked. He never had a chance back then.

He took a deep breath, stretched out his blackened fingers. The first couple of clicks were slow, but his body caught up to his brain. In an hour, he made the news.

* * *

Later that evening, a gin and tonic proved a nice change of pace. It didn’t quite match the cigar Will would enjoy later, but he made do.

His staff was imbibing the free hooch liberally. The corporate stooges took every chance to input shitty story ideas into people’s heads. A smoke cloud hovered near the chandelier. The band was on its third request for “In the Mood.” Everyone in the room was in the mood. The smell of men lusting after every up-do in the place was overpowering.

Will sat down down at a table alone. The suits would find him soon enough. He needed a chance to catch a buzz without having money, bad ideas, and the threat of non-existence being thrown in his face.

The late edition crossed his mind. He knew it didn’t land the right punch. It had substance, but it wasn’t going to resonant with anyone. There hadn't been enough coffee to get his mind past the mental roadblocks today. He just had to hope the facts were good enough to stand on their own.

Maybe I really am in the wrong profession, he thought.

The obese publisher, Montgomery Edwards, oozed into the seat next to him. He could feel the slime slide off of the man as he extended a hand. Will shook it and waited patiently for the request. It came in short order.

"You want me to write about what?" Will asked.

"You heard me," Edwards replied snidely.

"Not going to happen."

"You like having the ability to print out the rest of the crap you put out there?"

"The stuff that's actually going on in the world?"

"It's one story."

"Taking space away from a story that real people need to know about."

"They don't need to know about everything every day. The people need a break from all this bleakness."

"And a story about a phony crime reduction is going to do that how exactly?"

"Give people a little hope and cheer."

"You know how I know you never owned a paper before?"

"How?"

"You’d know happy news doesn't sell. And people don't give a damn about trumped up stats when they can’t feed their kids."

"Think about it."

"I'm going to think about my next drink,” Will said, standing. “Excuse me."

Will noticed the stringer with a handful of dames. He was doing well for himself. He almost felt bad about breaking in to have a word, but he paid his salary, so that feeling was fleeting.

* * *

Henry Jones saw his editor-in-chief wearing a white-on-white tuxedo from across the room.

He’s dressed like the paper booked a booze and schmooze shindig in the Caribbean, he thought.

Although he wasn’t one to talk. His outfit doesn't match the event, but he hadn’t had time to change.

He had seen Will's heated discussion with the publisher. He watched every head shake and pointed finger. It seemed like there was yet another story he didn’t want to run. Henry knew he’d give in. He didn’t bite the hand that feed the paper.

Henry threw Will out of his mind after Shirley, the new girl, came over. She cleaned up real nice. He could hardly remember his own name when she walked over, asking how he was.

“It’s a little odd seeing everyone out of the office, you know?” Shirley said, touching his shoulder for a just a moment.

“Nah, you’ll get used to it,” Henry stammered. “These go down more often than you would think. Enjoying yourself?”

“Oh yes! Everyone’s been so nice since I started last week. I hope it keeps up,” she said with a wink.

Taken a little aback, Henry found himself quickly shooting back,

“It will on my end, that’s for sure. Can I buy you another…”

“…champagne cocktail…”

“…another champagne cocktail?”

“Isn’t it open bar?” She asked, squinting her eyes in mock suspicion.

“Can’t a guy get some credit for at least asking?”

“What if I took you up on that sometime soon during a private party?”

“I think I could let a classy gal like yourself take me out on the town,” he said with a grin.

Just as he was about to ask Shirley if she was going steady with anyone, Henry felt a tap on his shoulder. A blazing white figure stood before him with an empty rocks glass and a weighted demeanor.

“You’re dry, Bossman,” Henry said. “We can’t have the heart and soul of this paper lacking in social lubricant, especially with all the damned advertisers around.”

“You’re all right, kid, but it’s gonna take more than filling my glass and kicking my ass to get you out of this one.”

“What I do this time? Is it that Oxford comma again?”

If I can get just a smirk, Henry thought, “I’ll know it isn't something serious.”

Will smirked.

“Publisher has another story idea,” he said. “I figured you’d like to jump all over it. I’m sorry Shirley, didn’t see you there. Pardon my language earlier. Enjoying the party?”

“Yes, sir,” she said. “It’s very nice of the paper to treat us all like this.”

“Just some perks of the job.”

“I think I’m going to go find Janet and powder my nose.”

Shirley scampered away.

“Shirley, huh?” Will asked.

“She started it all, I swear,” Henry replied.

“Offer to buy her a drink at an open bar?”

Henry cheeks reddened.

“Smooth,” Will said. “I tried that a time or two while I was cutting my teeth in the city. You know she's smarter than you, right?”

“So what’s the story?” Henry broke in, trying to get off the subject of Shirley.

“Does it really matter?” Will asked, plucking another glass full of whiskey off of a passing waiter's tray.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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