The odor of Harold Black’s cigar smoke still lingered inside the editor’s office. After Bill took over as editor he often complained how badly the room needed a fresh coat of paint, but over the months to follow he must have grown accustomed to the smell because he still hadn’t contacted anyone about painting. When the fax machine went on the fritz on the sports desk it took two months to replace it. Maybe it came down to a financial decision and Bill opted for a fax machine instead of a paint job. It wasn’t like this under local ownership, when something needed replaced, it was replaced. Under corporate ownership, new purchases are made only when absolutely necessary – they know how to pinch a penny, and they know how to get the most out of their people.
I was seated at one end of a long table in Bill’s office. Lilly and Shelly were seated to my left and the two sports reporters were seated on my right. The other two news reporters, Doug and Kerry Singleton were seated near the opposite end of the table. Lilly and Shelly were trying to hold a private conversation. The sports guys were going over last night’s prep scores, Kerry was staring at the ceiling and Doug sat leaning toward the two gals in an effort to hear what they were saying. I watched all this in amusement while tapping my fingers on the old mahogany desk waiting for Bill’s entrance.
Bill was running late; it was five minutes after nine. Five minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but Bill was a very punctual person that expected as much from his employees. Six minutes after, then seven.
“Where in the hell is Bill,” I said aloud.
Everyone stopped what they were doing for a moment and glanced at the clock.
“It’s not like him to be late,” Lilly remarked as everyone shook their heads in agreement.
“No,” I said.
“Should I go look for him,” Doug asked.
“Unless he’s been run over by a truck, he’ll be here. Just hang on Doug,” I told him.
It was too late; Doug was already standing as I finished speaking. He lingered nervously for a moment, as if to see if anyone would encourage him, then he stepped toward the door. As Doug reached for the doorknob, he heard footsteps from the other side. Doug almost tripped over his own feet trying to get back to his seat before Bill opened the door and entered the room.
“Good morning everyone,” Bill said with his usual business-like tone of voice. “Sorry I’m late, but it’s the first of the month, as well as the first of the week and, well, there’s a lot to do.”
“How’d the Spartans do in that game last night, Bill asked?
Dick Chapola, the sports editor, gave him the thumbs- up sign and Bill smiled.
“How many did the Miller kid score?”
“Ah, that’d make some locals happy,” Bill said as he sat down at the other end of the table.
Bill always showed a passing interest in high school sports. “It’s good for the morale of our readers,” he often said. Everyone sat silently as Bill began to look over his notes.
“Doug, I want you to take the police beat this morning – you might go over it with Jack before you leave. Jack, I’ll want you to cover the rotary luncheon today. Senator Arnold will be there and we’re anxious to hear about that corridor plan for the new road.”
“I didn’t know they made a decision about that,” I remarked.
“Well, that’s what I want you to find out Jack.”
Shelly, you have the school board tonight, right?
Shelly nodded in agreement.
“Kerry, get with Lilly ok? She has some faxes with info that may help you with that pumpkin fest feature. Am I missing anything,” He asked dismissively as he began to stand.
Bill’s meeting was shorter than usual, which I normally would have been thankful for, but on this particular morning I needed an answer.
“Assignments for the rest of the week, other than your normal ones, will be handled through Lilly. If we need another meeting, I’ll call it,” Bill said as he waved us toward the door.
“Who was the odd ball that visited you this morning, what did he want,” I asked.
“That was between the two of us and it didn’t have anything to do with newsroom business,” he said curtly.
“Lilly and I thought he look familiar.”
“Oh, how so?”
“You know, we’ve seen him around,” I said.
“The meeting’s over. Let’s get to work,” Bill said as he turned and walked toward his desk on the other side of the room. I remained in my seat. If Bill’s business with the strange man this morning was personal, that’s one thing, but if it wasn’t I wanted to know more about it. Bill had reached his chair before noticing I was lingering behind.
“What is it now Jack?”
“The man that was in to see you this morning.”
“Yes, what of it?”
Did you know he was looking for you on Friday,” I asked.
“Yes, Lilly told me.”
“He acted strange. He acted, well, like he was afraid of something.”
“Well, he has no reason to fear me, so what are you getting at Jack?”
“I don’t know. I just get the feeling that there is more here than meets the eye.”
Bill sat down and stared at me for a moment, not at me exactly, it was more like he was trying to look past me. He shrugged and shook his head.
“Jack, let’s just say he’s a crazy man who has come forth with some cockamamie story that would hurt this newspaper. Let’s leave it at that for now.”
I began to say something and Bill held up his hand to stop me.
“If he comes in again, we’ll both sit down and talk to him together. How does that sound to you Jack?”
“Fine,” I said, “I’m just trying to do my job.”
“I appreciate that,” he said, “so see if you can find out about the corridor. That would be doing your job.”
“You know Bill, sometimes doing our job means we have to tell the public things they would rather not know.”
Bill leaped from his chair and was half way around his desk before he realized what he was doing. He stopped and pointed toward the door. “My name is not Harold, so don’t preach that old school journalism crap to me about our appointed role in keeping the public informed. Get the hell out of my office!”
I stood up from my chair, picked up my notebook and walked toward the door. Just before I opened it I said, “For someone who doesn’t think highly of Harold Black, you’re starting to act an awfully lot like him.”