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...