Bridge over Troubled Water
AUTHOR NOTE. This is most likely the prologue to the second book of a series of crime novels following an investigative journalist, Jack Rawls, and an orphaned teenager he befriends and later adopts named Angel. This project is pretty far off, but will be loads of fun to write. Hope you like this sneak peak.
Jack Rawls entered the conference room at the Daily Chronicle, looking down at a rush copy of his story. It was front page, dead center, extending down the front half, and continuing on page 3-B, in the editorial section. He had been working on the story for almost two months, it was his first story after satisfying an ultimatum that lit a fire under his seat at the Daily Chronicle. His editor, Frank Darabois, had delivered the ultimatum. He was also the one who had recruited him straight out of journalism school. It was a job Rawls was eager to take, as a paycheck until he got a publisher to pick up his novel. He had originally intended to have his book finished, and published, within five years. A meager plan, but he tried to be diligent. It had been seven years since he started at the Daily Chronicle, and he still hadn’t finished the first rough draft of his novel. Motivation was scarce these days, and writer’s block was a beast.
Darabois had been straight-forward one year ago, he had said, “... if your story blows, you’re gone... Impress me.” But if he had writer’s block on his novel, he just flat out couldn’t write journalistic anymore. He was just going through motions, pushing out mediocre stories, with little thought and even less passion.
But that was before Taos, before he met a fourteen year-old orphan girl with a chip on her shoulder, and solved a case of murder and the bizarre. The story in Taos, originally described by Darabois as a 'White Man Kills Black Man, No Arrests' story, had sent him on a wild goose chase that almost cost him his life a few times. In the end, people were in jail, and a cult called The Order of the Dragon was all but demolished. At least censured for now.
The original Order of the Dragon was founded in 1408 by King Sigismund of Hungary, with the purpose of defending the Cross by fighting the enemies of Christianity, namely the Ottoman Turks. Needless to say, the practices and purposes for such an organization had evolved with time, but the core idea was the same: Defend the Cross at all Costs.
His detailed uncovering of the organization, and unveiling of evidence that lead to arrests in the murder case of one Tyrone Mills, lead to renowned interest in his career. Darabois smiled and patted him on the back the day it went to print, and gave him a raise the next day. Rawls had gotten the itch back, and was now more than happy to be given the task of investigating a local political scandal. This case was not near as complicated, or bizarre, but in the end brought to light many a fateful blows to the local democratic party. It was going to be a fantastic exhortation on corruption, and he couldn’t wait to see the faces of scrambling politicians as they offered excuses, explanations, and half truths on the local news stations. Inevitably, his phone would be ringing off the hook again, and he would endure a slew of profanities from this one and that one, and receive a few threatening letters in his post office box. In time, this was going to become the norm he figured, and he didn’t mind. He liked digging up the dirt on fakes and flakes.
Darabois entered the room, patted him on the back, but he wasn’t smiling this time. He looked concerned. He quickly sat in his normal place at the table, and before Rawls could question what was bothering him, the other editors, the president and even the lawyers came hustling through the door. After they made a few halfhearted greetings, how’s the kids and such, they seated themselves and turned their attention to the copies of the story they had and then to him.
Milton Princeton, chief editor of the paper, spoke first. “This is quite a piece of investigative journalism. And the sources, will they stand their ground if they get pressured?”
“Firm as boards.” Rawls replied.
President Lucas Nader sighed loud, it was his way of gaining the floor, and then he leaned over the table, looking at the copy over his glasses which were barely hanging on to the tip of his nose. “We have some concerns about...” he looked up, “Fairness.”
Rawls looked at Darabois, who held his head down and twiddled his thumbs. He looked back at Nader. “Fairness?”
Nader slid his glasses up to look through the lenses at him, this meant business. “Yes, fairness. And balance. At the Daily Chronicle we pride ourselves on being fair and balanced. If we publish this story as is, we will incontrovertibly be sending a message that our allegiances lie with the right-wing conservatives. We need to make sure that it’s clear we’re not taking sides here.” He squinted and asked in a serious tone, “We aren’t taking sides, are we, Mr. Rawls?”
“Fair and balanced?” Rawls asked this rhetorically to himself out loud. “My story is fact, it’s accurate. There’s no question of fair and balanced.”
Princeton’s eyes lit up. “Are you saying this story is not fair, that it is not balanced?”
“No.” He shook his head in disbelief. “This is the story. I’ve checked every thing countless times, with multiple sources. This is solid. There is no question as to its accuracy.”
Nader sighed again. “But you have to admit, if we publish this we will be gravely dealing a blow to the democratic party, and leaving the republican party wide open without ridicule.”
“No political party is without ridicule. I’m sure I’ll be writing about them soon, too, but this story is tighter than your grandma’s underpants.”
“Jack.” Darabois reprimanded mildly like an understanding father.
Rawls rolled his eyes at Darabois, who was obviously not going to be of much use to him during this meeting. “Look, let’s not fall prey to the old fair and balanced act. It’s a nice thought. But the fact is that sometimes a story isn’t fair, sometimes it’s unbalanced. Why? Because sometimes the story only has one perspective, sometimes the democrats take campaign money they shouldn’t have, and a democratic candidate uses that money to pay for sex from a male prostitute, and that has nothing to do with the republicans, so in that respect the story is unfair and unbalanced, because it only brings to light one person or party of persons. But the point is... the real stickler is that we’re journalists. We’re supposed to be reporting facts, truths. Sure, I’m an editorial staff writer, which in this day and age means I’m full of opinions, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You’ve read my story, I make no assumptions, no unproven accusations, no assertions as to what should happen next. I just tell it how it was, how it happened, how it is. What happens after that, whether a reader believes it, whether there are ramifications, only time will tell, but the important thing is that it was true... it was accurate. Maybe two months from now I’ll be writing about how the republicans are going back on campaign promises, or how the Tea Party took things too far at a rally, or whatever. But who knows? I can only report what I know to be true, and I most certainly can’t refuse to print something that is true, just because I didn’t deal an equal amount of blows between the two parties. Was I unbiased in my investigation? Yes. Absolutely. Is the story fair to democrats? No. Is it balanced in it’s wrath? No. But this story isn’t about the republicans, it’s about democrats, and a select few of them at that. So please, let’s not play this game.”
There was a silence in the room, which was broken by a long sigh from Nader, who turned to Darabois. “Is Finkle still working on that story about republican representative Martin?”
“How far along is the story?”
“Not very. He just started it yesterday.”
“Can we get some dirt on Martin?”
“I don’t know, Finkle just got the assignment yesterday, we don’t know where it will lead yet.”
Nader turned around again, and looked down at the story in front of him. It had a picture of his good friend Robert Livingston directly under the headline, and it was of course an unflattering one. The headline read 'Dems Take Illegal Campaign Money, Livingston Prostitution Scandal Uncovered'. He didn’t think he could buy Livingston much time, and had been warning him over the past few days to leak the story himself somehow, though with a lighter tone, own up to it and thus downplaying Rawls’ story. But, Livingston had no desire to be outed as having taken illegal campaign money, and then used it to pay for a night with a seventeen year-old male prostitute. He had to kill the story at all costs.
“Might I make a suggestion?” Nicholas Watson, one of the company attorneys took the floor. “If Finkle is working on a story that could expose a republican scandal, then maybe we should wait on this one until Finkle’s story is finished. And then publish both in the same issue.”
“So we’re suggesting we suppress the story?” Rawls asked, already knowing the answer, but he just wanted to make it clear to everyone in the room what was really happening.
“No, Rawls, not suppress the story, just wait for a bit.” Watson replied.
“And what if someone else gets a hold of the story before we print my story? What then?”
Nader sighed, and all eyes returned to him. “This is the only course of action. We have to consider the reputation of the paper.”
“This isn’t journalism.” Rawls quickly interjected.
“Jack.” Darabois spoke even quieter this time.
Nobody in the room could miss the stares that were being exchanged between Rawls at one end of the table, and Nader at the other. Nader did not like being challenged, and Rawls didn’t like being pushed around. It was a match made in heaven, and if there had been tickets for the event, it would have raked in a fortune.
Without sighing this time, and keeping his eyes locked on Rawls, Nader gave the decision. “We will hold Rawls’ story until the Finkle story is complete. No questions. I will not sink this ship, because of one lone crewman’s haste to set sail.”
Princeton cleared his throat and agreed with the judgment.
Darabois reluctantly and quietly resigned. “OK.”
“This meeting is adjourned.” Nader concluded, and slowly stood to his feet. Everyone else followed suit.
But Rawls was still sitting, and glaring, his brow scowling. He looked up to Nader as he passed, and grabbed his arm. “Where’s the storm, Captain? From where I’m sitting the skies look fine.”
Nader’s nerves kicked up, and he wondered if maybe Rawls hadn’t found something on him in the process. But he just corked a smile, and left his grasp. “That’s the problem with you upstarts, you’re always looking at the sky, and never heeding the weather reports.