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.”