Authors: MK Alexander
“A Camaro, I’d guess.”
“You want to put a ten spot on that?” Durbin asked.
“A ten spot? What do you know that I don’t?”
on the key.”
We said little more and carefully retraced our steps to the boardwalk. The sky opened up and big raindrops started to plunk down, thudding gently into the sand.
“Should I follow you back?”
“The photographs… how do you want them?”
“They’re on the memory card. I can download them to your computer.”
“I’ve got to wait on Doc Hackney. Can you drop ’em off to Manuel? He knows how to download stuff.”
“Sure… talk to you later, I guess.”
“And Jardel, don’t mention any of this yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s under wraps for now.”
“For how long?”
“Let me talk to the chief. I’ll give you a call in a couple of hours and let you know.”
Durbin tried to smile but the corners of his mouth barely turned upwards. I realized he was under some pressure. Two killings in as many weeks. These crimes would have to be solved before the season hit, or he’d never hear the end of it. Murder in a resort town was positively bad for business.
I work for the
, Sand City’s only newspaper. I am a reporter plus. I do all the main news stories, hard news, if you could call it that, oh and some of the photography. Everyone on the staff takes pictures, it’s a requirement, and there is no easier way to fill a paper. I have an op ed piece every week, a couple of features, and I even scribble the odd editorial cartoon once in a while, in my minimalist, cramped drawing style. Though not named on the masthead, I guess I’m the assistant editor.
, founded 1873. Speaking of the masthead, there’s the Editor-in-Chief, and Publisher, Eleanor Woods, who I mentioned before. I’d say remarkably spry for a woman of her age. Clearly though, she should be long since retired or even dead. Neither was the case— still hard as nails and a holy terror with her blue mark-up pen. Eleanor did not inherit the paper from her late husband Caesar. He was a Moriches. She was a Woods from an old Sand City clan, and she kept her maiden name since it still carried a fair bit of sway in town. The newspaper was hers from the start as well, a long-standing family business, but to her credit, she did keep it alive. No easy task these days. Of course the paper had undergone many changes over the years, from a daily to a weekly; from a broadsheet to a tabloid, from gray to color, and from paper to pixels.
Eleanor was one tough cookie, but she was easy to work for. Blunt, honest, and she only had one hard, fast rule: Making fun of Great Caesar’s Ghost was strictly forbidden. That was the running joke in the office. I never really understood why. There was an unspoken rule too. Eleanor had a daughter who had died tragically many years ago. Her picture was on the old desk, but no one ever talked about it— an old portrait-studio shot, all air-brushed and posed, and in soft focus. She was a plain looking girl with sad misty eyes, probably in her mid-twenties, and sitting in front of a very large piano. I think her name was Helen.
, not the
, founded in 1873 by Valmont Dubois. He was perhaps a distant relation to Eleanor, at least by marriage. Dubois, however, was best known as a crazy botanist who settled in Sand City about a hundred and fifty years ago. It wasn’t called that back then, like I mentioned. Not only did he bring the newspaper to town, but a bunch of foreign plants from all over the world. Weird bushes and ornamental flowering trees, such is his legacy. It still gives Sand City a distinct character, almost a Disneyland thing… like the small bamboo patch that had spread invasively and was now a virtual jungle along parts of the bay. There was the rhododendron grove too, up at Sunset Park. Willows all over Bayview, even a few cypress trees, though most of those had died out long ago. Flowering shrubs, jasmine, eucalyptus, Dubois had planted them all. Orchard trees, Japanese maples, white, red, yellow and blue ones, well maybe not blue ones. I’m not really up on my plants. And the woodlands, a patch of forest still existent, sprinkled with beech trees and flowering dogwoods. Their white bark could be seen for miles. Not to mention acres of thorny rose hips, holly, brambles and heather. I did a nice page three feature on him once.
But I was talking about Eleanor, wasn’t I? Well, she was savvy. She saw the writing on the wall thirty years ago. Back then, just when I was born, she had embraced the new technology as soon as it came out in the mid-1980s. She didn’t buy some crappy Atex machines, but went right for the Macs that had just hit the market. We’re talking Pagemaker one point two. And it had paid off. We could layout the paper and get it to the printer in a single evening. When color got cheap and available, the
was first to splash it across the front page, even before the Fairhaven
. And when the world wide web hit, Eleanor was on top of that as well, though she embraced it with a little less enthusiasm. Browser was a derogatory term. Text was not a verb, and I sincerely doubt that she would ever utter the words
unless she was referring to something in the National Audubon Society newsletter.
Dragged kicking and screaming into the land of email, Eleanor actually hated computers. There was one on her desk, marginally, tucked away in the corner— a small screen and a keyboard. It was idle most of the time. She only used it to look at pictures nowadays. Eleanor was not a screen reader. She insisted on print outs. Everything had to hit paper, just so she could mark it up and give it back. Just like a teacher grading homework. There was a framed sign behind her desk. It read:
We are not measured by words but by deeds.
was crossed out and
was written over top with a little carrot mark. Editor humor. Eleanor also held on to the archaic practice of pasting up the paper every Thursday in the back room… like in the days of hot type.
Those days were long gone of course, but I had heard all the stories: one-point sticky tape, ruby-lith, non-repro blue, wax machines, line lengths, specing headlines on the fly, and overset cut from the bottom with a razor knife. None of this was relevant anymore, it was a faux paste-up process. Eleanor would mark up the flats, the physical pages that we printed out for her, but the real edits were always made on the computer.
And, we were completely online now. I bore the brunt of that, safe to say. I was responsible for our daily online edition and despite myself, became quite an expert at writing html code, among other things. I actually have two bylines, one real and one not, just so the casual reader might think our staff is bigger than it is. One name for print, the other was virtual, and I only used it online. All the locals know that they are both me and I get kidded about it a lot. Most of the tourists are none the wiser. I’m not going to tell you what my other pen name is, so don’t even ask...
We hit the newsstands every Friday and there’s a weekly rhythm to our lives. Friday is almost like a day off, but by Monday we were back in full gear. What’s today? Monday, right...
I pulled up and parked in front of the
Sand City Chronicle
. Circulation: 6,000. It stood on Captain’s Way, the main drag that cuts through the middle of downtown, the Village. Our offices were squeezed between the Candle Factory outlet, and an ice cream shop with a friendly cow on its sign. It had a name that sounded something like “Moo.” Fair weather friends at best— both places were closed for the off season. Number forty-seven must have once been a big old manor, maybe a rooming house or a tiny hotel from a hundred years ago. Two floors and a basement. Upstairs was storage, the archives, the morgue. I constantly worried that the creaky old floor was about to give way. It would all come crashing down some day, I was sure. And I’d be buried alive in stacks of faded newsprint. I was also sure we were the only newspaper in the country that had their morgue in an attic. An Attic? Whose idea was that? It was supposed to be in the basement. On the main floor was reception, two offices, one for edit and one for advertising, our break room and the studio out back. The basement was Jason’s. A dank place with a single server tower, a bunch of broken computers, and an old darkroom that nobody but me used anymore.
Miriam looked up and grunted when I walked through the front door. She was our gatekeeper— no one got by her… She would probably use the word receptionist or executive assistant. Still, Miriam was gossip-and-chief, and mom to us all. Or maybe more like an annoying aunt. She was somewhere close to fifty years old, and no doubt Miriam had a last name, but I’m at a loss to say what it is. She always wore a colorful blouse and a skirt, or a decidedly polyester pants suit. To say she was blimp-like would be cruel. She had short dark hair in an almost manly cut, though she wore many hats: answering the phones, taking classifieds, the billing, subscriptions and counting newsstand sales. I swear she was made out of balloons. Short and squat, it seemed like she floated from place to place rather than walked. She followed me to the break room.
That was my other job at the
: coffee maker. That wasn’t on the masthead either. I probably made it a little too strong but no one ever complained, at least not to my face. And everyone drank it, obviously, the pot was always empty. But only I ever made it. I liked my coffee strong with sugar and half-and-half.
“Mr Chamblis was here this morning. He’s not at all happy about his green,” Miriam told me as I started rinsing out the carafe.
“His green? His golf course? Or his yacht club?” I asked. Charles Chamblis was not my favorite person in the world, to say the least. If I had a nemesis he would be it. Almost lost my job a couple of years ago because of him… but that’s another story. I found the filters and added a couple of scoops of coffee.
“His color green, in last week’s real estate ad.”
“So?” I said and poured in some water; the machine started making slurping noises.
“So, somebody has to fix it. He’s running six more times.”
“Talk to Jo.”
“Jo only sold the ad. She has nothing to do with the color.”
“Did you mention it to Amy?”
Miriam rolled her eyes. “Amy does not make mistakes. You talk to her.”
“In the studio yet?”
She just nodded, then added, “Unless she snuck out the back door again.” Miriam floated off to her reception desk.
“Alright, maybe I’ll call the press guys. I’m sure it’s no big deal.” I poured a cup of coffee and walked to the back room, the studio. It had been recently renovated: a new window for lots of natural light and a nice plush carpet on the floor. The drawing tables were still old but also recently refurbished. They just didn’t make tables like this anymore; they stood at the perfect angle for our paste-up sessions. They ringed the entire room except for the corner where the computer desk was.
Amy sat against the far wall hunched over a drawing table with an exacto knife. In years past she might have been called a production artist or maybe a typesetter. Amy Webb was of course a computer software expert, an InDesign jockey, fluent in that page program. She seemed able to effortlessly produce all the ads, layout the final pages with a bit of direction, and get the paper to the printer every week with remarkable ease. Amy also seemed to know every typeface known to mankind, from Aachen bold to Zapf Dingbats. She could spot any of them from a mile away. I have to say though, there was something odd about Amy. She was nice and all, but every time you walked away from a conversation, you felt exhausted, emotionally exhausted. I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly, but I know I wasn’t alone. Miriam, Eleanor, even Melissa would back me up on this. Frank, Donald, Joey and Evan were all a little less objective about Amy, absolutely ready to give her the benefit of the doubt. Jason had yet to voice an opinion.
“Hey Amy, how’s it going?”
“Hi, Mr Jardel,” she said and looked up from behind her over-sized glasses. I always thought Amy could put Jo and Melissa to shame. When she sat up straight and took her glasses off, she was a real beauty. Young, maybe twenty five or so, with shoulder-length dirty blond hair cut in bangs that fell nearly to her eyes. Most of the time, it was tied back in a ponytail. There was also the black nail polish and the diamond stud in her nose. Tattoos too, probably, though none were visible yet. I wondered why she wasn’t at her computer.
“Patrick is fine. No Mr Jardel, okay? Anyhow, what— I’m like five, six years older than you?”
“Yeah, old and creepy.”
“Thanks.” I tried to smile but couldn’t. “Anyhow... Amy, just wanted to say what a great job you’re doing. Everyone is real happy… well, except for Mr Chamblis.”
“Oh, I heard. That’s not my fault. He chose Pantone coated number three-thirty-nine.” She opened a drawer and took out a sheet of stationery and a business card. “See? It matches exactly.”
“Right. And you checked it with Jason?”
“Arg, Jason. Talk about creepy and old. I hate that guy.”
“Amy, he’s like two or three years younger than you.”
“No, he’s already an old guy.”
“Well you better learn to like him… especially if you want to learn how to code.”
“Well yeah, you said you were getting bored, so we’ll train you on how the website works. You can help out there too.”
“That would be fantastic.” Amy shifted in her seat and decided to give a big stretch. She put her glasses up on her forehead, raised both arms, and arched her back.
I tried to look away. “Guess I’ll give Jackson a call over at the press. It was probably their f— up, anyway. Did Pagor give you his pick ups?”
“Got the list right on schedule.” She went back to her cutting.
“Amy, what the heck are you doing anyway?”
“Making clip art for Saint Patrick’s Day.” She paused for a second and looked up. “Hey, is that your birthday or something?”