Monday morning the rain came down at a steady pace as I drove to work. It was a dark day with low hanging clouds, the kind of day that made you wonder if the sun would ever shine again. As I pulled my car into the newspaper’s parking lot I saw that man again, the nervous one who came in Friday and asked to see Bill. He was standing on the sidewalk leading from the front door in the rain with an umbrella tucker under his arm. Beads of rainwater ran off his short dark hair and streamed down his face; rain was dripping off the end of his nose. He acted like he was in a trance.
I got out of my car and began running toward the shelter near the back door of the newspaper office. The man did not move as I approached him running for the door; He just stood there in the rain staring off into the distance.
“Think it will rain today,” I yelled as I ran by him.
I thought he was going to jump out of his skin at the sound of my voice.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Then he began to walk away, with his umbrella still tucked under his arm. I stood with my hand on the door and watched him curiously as he crossed the parking lot and disappeared around the corner. Stomping the rain from my shoes just inside the door, I paused for a moment and gazed out at the rain and wondered if this strange man I had encountered was playing with a full deck.
Once inside I could hear Bill Donavon’s voice barking at someone from the other side of his office door.
“What the hell was I supposed to do after he came in here with such a wild ass story,” I heard him scream to the person on the other end of the phone. I figured he must be talking to our publisher, or maybe one of the advertisers, but whoever he was talking to was apparently upset with the way he had handled something. It was Monday and we always held a reporter staff meeting on Monday. I seldom looked forward to those meetings, but on this day I had a feeling there would be more substance than the usual pep talk about what our readers and advertisers expected from us.
As usual I was the first reporter to arrive. Lilly was already at her desk as I walked through the glass doors leading to the newsroom.
“Good morning,’ I said.
She nodded at me and went back to whatever she was doing. I continued my morning routine and went straight to the break room where I plucked a cup from the cupboard and began to pour the steaming brew from the pot. Early mornings were the only time you can get a fresh cup of coffee here, and I liked my coffee fresh. As I sat the pot back down again it dawned on me that Lilly had not answered me in her usual way. Normally she would respond with “Good morning to you too Jack, “but today she only nodded, as if her mind was on something far more important than my arrival and greeting.
I picked up the cup of hot coffee and headed back through the newsroom. Shelly Jacobs was walking through the door as I passed. Shelly was an attractive woman who I felt possessed the qualities of a good reporter –given a little mentoring. She was a bit of an enigma to me because I knew she had passion for the business, but never seemed to put forth the effort when the opportunity presented itself.
Shelly sat at the desk just to the left of mine. A fax machine – we had two in the newsroom – sat on a small table between us.
“Morning Shell how was your trip this morning”?
“Wet, the same as yours I guess.”
“Ready for the meeting this morning,” I asked irreverently.
“As ready as you are I suppose,” she quipped.
I winked. She smiled. Lilly finally lifted her head from her work, stood up from behind her desk and headed toward the break room. I followed her.
The break room was long and narrow with a table opposite of the entry door and a counter that stretched the length of the room. A sink with an overhanging cupboard was situated in the corner; on the other side, an old beat-up looking refrigerator stood next to a candy machine. This is the room where we congregated for bitch sessions. Many of us, those who smoked anyway, usually headed for the parking lot to take a break. Lilly didn’t smoke, so the only way to corner her was to catch her in the break room.
I gently placed my hands on her shoulders and asked, “Are you all right Lilly”?
“I’ve been better,” she said.
“What’s going on”?
That friggin weirdo that was in here on Friday was in again and insisted on seeing Bill, and you know how Bill hates seeing anyone on Monday morning.”
“Yes,” I said, “so what happened?”
“Oh, you know Bill and his temper. After that man left the office he came out red-face and screaming like a crazy man.”
“I’m sorry Lilly, but you know you have to take him with a grain of salt,” I replied emphatically.
“Yes I know, but he was livid.”
“What do you mean, isn’t he always?”
“Yes, but more so than usual. He came out cussing at me,” Lilly told me with a teary-eyed look.
Lilly was usually a pretty cool customer, and as most people in the news business are, she had a thick skin. Yet, at the same time, Lilly could be fragile. She didn’t like being yelled at and she didn’t like cussing in the news room. She was kind of prudish that way. I didn’t take her for a religious person, or at least not the kind that preached or wore it on her sleeve, but she was sensitive.
I placed my arm around her shoulder and told her to let it go. “That was probably the low point of your week Lilly’ it’s all downhill from here.”
“I certainly hope so,” she said.
I headed back into the newsroom as Lilly prepared a cup of coffee. “Typical Monday morning,” I said as I walked past the filing cabinets.
“What’s that,” someone asked?
I turned and saw Doug Emery standing in front of one of the filing cabinets with one hand in the drawer, as if he had been looking for something. Doug, one of our new staff writers, always seemed to be hanging around listening to other people’s conversations. That’s not a bad thing for a newsman, but he was sneaky about it – he kind of gave me the creeps.
“You spying on me again Doug,” I asked.
“No, not at all,” he shot back.
“That’s your story and you’re sticking to it, is that what you’re saying?”
“I couldn’t help seeing the two of you through the break room door window,” he said with a smirk on his face. “You had your arm around her shoulder, is there something going on between you two?”
“You caught me,” I said sarcastically. I went back to my desk and left him standing there; his hand still in the file cabinet drawer.
I could write a book about the people in this news room, I thought to myself as I leaned back in the chair behind my desk.