Catherine was covering the newspaper this Sunday. “Hey, Annie, Andrew,” she said in a loud, cheerful voice, taking Chloe’s leash and giving them big, round eyes.
Ordinarily, the three couples would have met at the conference table in an alcove upstairs, but today the six of them crowded into the office that Wendy and Tina shared, the door closed against Catherine and two others working on the floor below.
Annie took what was known downstairs as the Electric Chair, next to Tina’s desk. The three men perched on secretarial chairs.
“We want to be sure that we all share the same information about what happened to Annie’s car Friday night,” said Wendy. “Why don’t you start.” She turned her gaze to Andrew, as if she were giving him a gift.
Andrew looked at Annie, next to him, and she replied. “Thank you, Wendy, that’s what we want too. Does the newspaper support us?”
“—We deplore the crime, of course,” said Tina, her brow creased, as if she might, genuinely, be concerned. “It’s front page for Monday’s paper. But why did they target you?”
Wendy pursed her lips. They must have already gone off course.
“Off the record and not for attribution” said Annie, resisting a grin. “If you report anything we say in this meeting, we will deny it.”
“Think of it as an executive session,” said Wendy.
“They’re trying to scare us,” said Annie.
“Who? Who’s trying to scare you?”
Annie looked at Andrew. “Schuyler’s little drug cabal,” he said. “I’ve been researching them for—months.”
“They’re trying to scare all of us,” said Wendy.
“Are you scared?” Andrew asked.
“They did a violent act against us, by way of Annie,” said Tina, again looking as if she cared. “We don’t want that to happen again, to any of us.”
“You’re a newspaper, Tina,” said Andrew. “You founded and you run a successful newspaper. Sometimes, this kind of shit goes with the territory. The car was in a parking lot at three o’clock in the morning. Empty.”
“We founded a community newspaper,” said Wendy. “And a business. We founded and we run a successful, community, business.”
This silence lasted two seconds. “Go on,” said Annie, trying to sound encouraging.
“If I could say a couple of things here,” said Lewis, Tina’s husband, in such a way that you knew he would.
All four of them, the women in their bright winter cashmeres, the men just a shade quieter in tweed, looked amazingly healthy for January, thought Annie, after week golfing in Hilton Head. And each of them was used to being boss. So far, she and Andrew had not been flattened by the Witches. But she wished she could hold his hand.
Lewis was talking. “Annie, every article you write for the paper is a pleasure to read.”
“Thank you,” she said, taken by surprise. She had had two conversations with Lewis in her life, at staff holiday parties, both about music.
“Andrew, I admire your work,” Lewis continued. “I’ve read your book, and I think I’ve read every article you’ve ever written. I know there’ve been some questions, in the past, about your coverage of Cuscatlán. But I—and many others—consider you one of the best journalists working today.”
“Thank you,” said Andrew, waiting for the “but.”
“But,” said Lewis, “this—the Hudson County Observer—is a small—a very small—enterprise. We don’t have the financial, and other, backing of the Times or Rolling Stone, or even Pacifica. We have only us. The four of us have put everything—everything that we have—into this. To the world, we’re tiny, but to us, it’s enormous. Either way, it’s easy to bring down.”
“We told Annie when we first met her that we have nothing in our lives but this newspaper,” said Wendy.
“You didn’t say financially,” said Annie.
“Well, that’s part of it,” said Wendy.
“You could have opened a restaurant,” said Andrew. “Or a dry cleaner. You didn’t. You opened a newspaper.”
“A community newspaper.”
“I haven’t offered you this story,” said Andrew. “I can take it elsewhere, as I did last fall, with the political story.”
“But through your private life—which is yours—you have entangled us in the story,” said Lewis.
“Who called you?” asked Andrew.
“No one,” said Wendy. “It’s not a matter of overt threats.”
“They firebombed our reporter’s car!” Tina burst out. “She had nothing to do with this except she slept with you!”
“—You have a way of putting things Tina,” said Andrew. “Now Monday’s paper goes out with a firebombing on the front page. The papers fly off the shelves—every single distributor sells out, and you tell me your advertisers don’t want that?”
“No comment,” said Wendy.
“The chief would cut off your advertising?” said Andrew. “Who? The car dealerships? The hospital?”
In the case with his laptop Andrew always carried a small black notebook. What a jerk he was, he should have taken it out as soon as he sat down. His hands itched for it now; he clenched his fists, took a breath, opened his hands again.
“That is such a great story,” he said.
“We are not the story!” snapped Wendy.
“You are the story,” said Andrew. Now he was gritting his teeth. He took another breath. “Let me look into it.”
“No! I have not given you permission to research that!” Wendy even shook a finger at Andrew, then lowered it. “And you’re going to do it anyway, aren’t you? That’s your problem, Andrew, you’re a rogue reporter, operating with your own agenda. That’s why the Times fired you, why Pacifica let you go—“
“I’m on leave from Pacifica,” said Andrew, “and you need an investigative reporter. Otherwise you just feed the public what’s fed to you. Sorry, Annie.”
Annie waved a hand, fascinated.
“Everything I have is corroborated, at least once,” said Andrew. “I need one more interview, and I’m going to get it.”
“Do you know who set Annie’s car on fire?” asked Don, Wendy’s husband. He’s a lawyer, Annie had told Andrew, but really, he’s a banker.
“I have a name,” said Andrew. “Do you know?”
“Our information is that someone will be charged this week,” said Don.
“Will he bring down everybody? Or take the hit.”
The room was silent.
“I can find out,” said Andrew. “Or, the other thing I can do is train someone here to be an investigative reporter.”
* * * *
“Not much of a salesman, am I.”
They had pulled into the parking lot of East Wynham’s diner, around the corner from the office, so that Andrew could have a cigarette and Chloe could take a walk around the car.
“Don’t fish for compliments,” Annie took his arm. “You didn’t go ballistic on them, and you’ve sold yourself to just about everyone else in Hudson County.”
“But not those four.”
“They’re bastards. Even Lewis.”
“But he’s read my book,” said Andrew, unable to resist a tiny smile. “That makes two of you.”
“Twelve of us. Word on the street is that he’s former Maoist. I know he worked with Doctors without Borders.”
“Has anyone ever written about him?”
“Ask him. You’ve got the contact now.”
Copyright © Debby Mayer