Nuclear Romance Excerpt 4
October 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
The high-pitched squeak of sneakers scuffling on the gym floor punctuated the shouts and jeers as the visiting team scored. It was the end of the season for the local college basketball team, and they were down forty points. Every point scored by the opposition prompted a cacophony of boos and catcalls. It was a scene Lou Padera loved, and he furiously jotted down notes in his reporter’s pad.
Lou was senior sports reporter for the Daily Suburban, a major newspaper in WestchesterCounty, just outsideNew York City. At thirty-nine, Lou had been on staff for over a decade. His byline was popular; his stories were an exciting play-by-play description that read like a quick-action adventure story
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Later that evening Lou sat at his desk in the newsroom banging out the story. His headline read “Home team dunks a loss.”
A few other reporters were also working late, getting their stories in for the morning paper. Over the last six months the large room of wall-to-wall desks had become empty. Newspapers were struggling to beat out Internet news, watching sales and subscriptions plummet, regular advertisers pulling out ads. The upshot: reporters were being laid off.
Now, a lingering echo of a few clacking keyboards hung in the air. Tom Wilson, a heavyset reporter sat across from Lou, jerking a toothpick as he spoke.
“You gonna make deadline? The boss is chafing at the bit.”
Lou nodded and looked down at the end of the newsroom where his editor, Owen Marks, sat in a glass-enclosed office. Skinny and nervous, Owen was a young editor who also doubled as a reporter under the new austerity budget. From his desk, Lou could see Owen’s back and heard him barking into the phone.
Tom leaned over to Lou, his voice low. “He ask you to cover other stuff besides sports? The little bastard has me writing obits and the cop blotter. Sucks.”
“Nah. He’d never ask me. I’m his ace sports reporter. He’d be wasting his time trying to get me to cover other stories. He knows that.” Lou furiously typed his kicker line to end the story.
“Get real, Lou. Have you looked around here lately? See these empty desks? Newspapers are dinosaurs—only difference is no one will ever dig up our relics for posterity. We’ve lost out to the Internet. This baby could close down any day.”
“Jeez, Tom. We’re the largest daily paper outsideNew York City. We’ll never fold. Just going through a tough phase is all.”
Owens’s voice rasped out over Lou’s intercom.
“You got that story for me, Padera? The printer is holding up the works just for you, Lady. Why didn’t you file earlier, as soon as the game was over?”
“Sorry Owen. Was interviewing a nice single mom of one of the players. Could make an interesting side story, you know? The struggles of a mom raising a son-athlete by herself, in a male-dominated game.”
“You’re out of control, Padera. File that story and get in here, will ya?”
Lou lost his smile.
“All in good time, boss.”
Tom shook his head. “Could be your turn now, Buddy.”
Lou tapped out a few more words and leaned back. He searched through a heap of scribbled notes where he usually jotted down story ideas to pitch to Owen, just in case he was asked to cover something else, as Tom predicted. But he came up empty-handed. Finally he sauntered down to the editor’s office, knocked on the glass door, and walked in. Owen, sunk in a canyon of folders and stacks of paper, motioned him over.
“Sit down, Lou. I need a favor.”
Lou remained standing. “I’m good. What’s up?”
Owen angled back in his worn swivel chair, and a plaintive creak sliced the air. He looked weary and older than his years.
“Look Lou, you’re one of my best reporters, and we know you can write about pretty much anything. Agreed?”
Lou nodded. His throat tightened.
“Okay. We’re spread thin, and you know that. I need you to cover another story—not sports related. Up until now, I’ve tried to spare you, but you’re the last man on the totem pole not covering other beats. Time you did what we’re all doing, Princess.”
Lou frowned. He placed his hands firmly on the back of a chair. Then he slowly sat down.
“Sports is all I know, Owen, and I’ve been taking on more, from derby bouts to the majors. I’m doing more than my share. I really object to this.”
“Wake up and smell the coffee, Your Highness. We’re all scrounging to keep our jobs. I have the paper’s owner on my ass, and the bottom line is you want to keep your job, you take more work. I’m rewriting fat-free cookie recipes, for God’s sake.”
“And when do you suggest I take on more? In the goddamn middle of the night?”
“Yes. If you’d let up on your gallivanting bachelor escapades, you’d be amazed how much extra time you have on your hands.”
Owen wrote something down on a scrap of paper and handed it to Lou. He read the note and worked his jaw.
“Who is she?”
“Jen Elery. It isn’t pretty. Just lost a young daughter to some freaky illness. The school community is grieving to the hilt. It’s emotions on steroids. They’re holding a vigil for the girl tonight. I want an exclusive interview with the mom. Do a good job, and I’ll get you front page billing. Go.”
Lou scowled at the paper and then glared at Owen. He stood up and whipped out the door.