The directions to the Reynolds Tribune offices that Uncle Eric gave to Drew over the phone were so completely wrong that it seemed like he had been trying to get him lost on purpose. Luckily, Reynolds was too small of a town to get lost in and he managed to find the Tribune pretty quickly despite the bad directions.
The Tribune building was small, with the look of a place that had a former life as a fast food joint. Drew walked inside and saw that the place was inexplicably bigger than it appeared to be on the outside. He crossed the lobby, ignoring the receptionist as Eric had told him to do on the phone, and went down a short hallway that led to the main floor, where there were dozens of desks – each one occupied by a frenzied person operating at least three different devices – sitting in neat rows in the big open space.
Beyond the desks, in the back corner of the room, there was an office with a giant wooden door swung wide open. This was Uncle Eric’s office, and Drew spotted him in there immediately, pacing around, talking loudly on the phone (a corded landline), and taking gaping bites out of a giant sub sandwich. Drew started to cross the room, but he only made it a few feet before his Uncle saw him.
“Andrew!” Uncle Eric said, his voice thundering across the room. He hung up the phone, dropped the sub-sandwich onto his desk, lumbered out of his office, and greeted him with a bear hug that (almost) rivaled the Grandma Hug. “Holy crap, lookit you!” Eric said, releasing him from the hug, and holding him by the shoulders at arm’s length. “You were up to my balls the last time I saw you, and now you walk in here all grown up! But hey, down to business, right?” Drew was grateful for those words, relieved that he didn’t ask the questions about his arrival in town that he knew must have been on the man’s mind.
There were twelve employees at the Reynolds Tribune, and Uncle Eric introduced Drew to all of them. None of them paid him much mind, giving the quick greetings of people who didn’t want to be rude but had too much on their plate to bother with being polite. The mention that his last name was Crawford got a few looks – his family was a powerful one in town, so the name had weight to it – but not much else beyond that.
Unlike PeoplesPost, the Tribune wasn’t organized into departments of any sort. As Uncle Eric explained it, there was only one department he needed at his paper: the department of making a kickass newspaper, and everyone in the building was a member, including the guys who came in to clean the shitters after everyone left for the night. The paper was, however, divided into 13 beats: community, sports, education, food, faith, entertainment, jobs, technology, public life, government, public safety, health, and enterprise. Once upon a time, Eric said, he had four or five reporters on each beat but nowadays (“With the goddamn internet sucking all the money away,”) he couldn’t even afford to hire one separate person for each beat.
“That’s where you come in,” Eric said. “Let me show you where you’ll be working.” Where he’ll be working- as in, the job was officially his. Drew wondered if he had somehow missed the part where he had interviewed for the job - if only as a formality - but wasn’t going to go out of his way to mention it. Nothing like a little small town nepotism to get things rolling.
Eric led him out of the main room and down a hallway that was in the corner opposite of his office. It led to a smaller room, this one with three desks. These weren’t in rows like the ones in the bigger room, but instead were pushed up against one another, forming a sort of table group that reminded Drew of an elementary school classroom. Two of the desks were occupied, one was empty.
“The folks back there,” Eric waved a hand in the direction of the main floor. “They’re the ones who only have one beat on their plate. Back here are my people who have to pull double duty.”
“Or triple duty,” said one of the desk occupants – a girl about his age with horned-rimmed glasses and reddish-blonde hair tied up into a messy bun that sat on top of her head which swayed back and forth every time she spoke. Drew did a double take. Everyone else at the paper had been at least two decades his senior; it made his brain short circuit to suddenly see someone his own age.
“Or triple duty. This is Emma Albright,” Eric moved behind her chair and put his hands on her shoulders. “Community, Education, and Enterprise beats.” Emma nodded a greeting at him and slithered out of Eric’s grip, who quickly shuffled over to the next desk. Here sat a giant of a man – also around his age, with maybe a year or two on the plus side – with long black hair and a short, choppy beard of the same color. “And Gerald Hyun,” Eric didn’t touch Gerald. “He’s the Entertainment beat and our tech guy.” Knowing how small Reynolds was, Drew was pretty sure that Gerald ended up being everyone else’s tech guy, too. “I put double duty folks back here to make it easier to focus, to get away from the chatter that goes on up there,” Another wave toward the main floor, this one with a touch of disdain. “None of you would get anything done. And another thing…” Eric let out a rattled breath. “With the guys on the main floor, it’s every man for himself. No duty sharing, no beat swapping – you stick to your job, and let other people worry about themselves. But when I have to start putting people on multiple beats, things need to get a little looser. Back here, you’re a team. You help each other out, have each other’s backs, swap things around however you need to get the job done. That’s how it has to be. Otherwise, you’d burn out and then you’d quit, and then I would go belly-up. But if I keep you up front, and let all those guys see how differently I let you do things, they’d start getting whiny, start talking about how ‘this that and the other’ wasn’t fair. So I keep you back here, so you can do what you have to do.”
Eric rambled on for a few more minutes – talking about the responsibilities of a journalist, and so on and so forth. His Uncle was of the sort that liked the sound of his voice a bit too much. Drew understood that working back here meant he too would be pulling double (or triple) duty and waited patiently for his Uncle to get to the part where he told him which duties those would be. Finally, the part came: Drew would be taking over two duties that fell under “miscellaneous.” One was a column called “Around Our World,” the other was called “Story Corner.” Around Our World was an open-ended op-ed sort of thing, which would feature a 1000 word opinion on a hot-button current event, and how it affected small towns like Reynolds. The Story Corner was a space reserved for multi-part serial style stories. Each week a new chapter would be posted of a big, interconnected story; it could be about whatever Drew wanted – just no sex, cursing, or anything else of the sort. They were popular features of the paper, Eric explained, and had been a part of the publication forever. But the writer in charge of them, an ancient man named Clayton Gibbons, had been on an Enterprise assignment for Gerald, interviewing a woman attempting to bake the world’s largest sugar cookie, and ended up punching the lady – breaking her face in several places – when she revealed that she used margarine in her recipe instead of butter. His wife was taking him to get testing for Alzheimer’s (“The man doesn’t have Alzhiemer’s, just chronic asshole syndrome,” Uncle Eric would say).
When Eric finished explaining to Drew what his role would be at the Tribune, he crossed his arms, and looked at his nephew through narrow eyes, a grin crossing his face.
“Lookit you, Mr. Grown up, standing here coming to work for me at my paper,” he started walking around Drew in a circle, crossed arms and shit-grin still firmly in place. “I was at his bris, ya know,” Eric said, addressing Emma, “He was just a tiny little thing – had the tiniest little pecker – and now he’s here working for me!” He let out a low, rumbling laugh. “I like this, some young blood in this place. But hey," he crossed his arms. "Don’t you two get to falling for each other, now,” He waggled his index finger back and forth between Drew and Emma, the shit-grin getting wider. “Don’t want any of that ‘the Office’ TV show nonsense happening in here.” Suddenly Drew wanted to melt into a hole in the ground; Emma looked ready to do the same. And then a pang of sadness hit Drew in the chest. Oh yeah, he thought, I’m single now. In the rush of excitement of getting to work with Uncle Eric, he had nearly forgotten that Sara had left him (or rather, told him to leave her).
Eric continued on, informing Drew that his first official day of work would be Monday – he could spend today learning the ropes, and the weekend thinking about his first assignments – and his pieces wouldn’t start appearing in the paper until the following week. Then he slapped him on the back, gave him another bear hug and (after awkwardly asking Emma if she wanted a hug too, in an “I’m joking, but not really” tone) left the back room and headed to his office on the main floor.
As soon as Eric was gone Emma popped out of her chair – her hair bob threatening to come undone – and practically jumped out of her desk.
“Ohmygosh sogross ew,” she shivered and brushed herself off. “He comes back here, and he touches me, and says things that are ew, and now it feels like I’m covered old-man sweat.” Emma looked at Drew, as if noticing for the first time that he was standing in the room. “Hi. He’s your Uncle?” Drew nodded. “So you’re a Crawford? Like…a Crawford, Crawford?”
Drew nodded again, and said “Though I only kinda-sorta know what that means around here. I just got back into town like two hours ago. Haven’t lived here since I was a kid.”
“OH, oh oh. So you’re the one that left when you were little, but now here you are back in town for some reason.” Drew cocked an eyebrow at her and smirked. Small towns. It was gonna take a bit to get used to this sort of stuff again. “Yeah, being a Crawford," she said, pausing and waving her hands in front of her. "Well, it means you’re ‘one of the Crawford’s,’” she threw up air-quotes with her fingers and lowered her voice with those last words.
“Means that he’s probably gonna put you in charge of the place in a year or so,” Gerald said from behind the glow of his computer screen, in a soft, tender voice that didn’t match up to his size.
Emma nodded and said, “So he gave you the tour, right? Where he brought you around to everyone’s desk out there, and introduced you all mega-awkwardly like you were ten years old and coming here for career day?” He had, Drew told her. “Okay, so how about now we show you around for real?” She stood on her toes and craned her neck, peaking down the main hall to make sure Eric was out of sight. “Gerald, stay here. If he comes back, say that I had to Pee and that he…also had to pee…and that we’re both peeing. But not together! Because, ya know, insinuations…and…” Her cheeks glowing red, Emma cut herself off and shook her head. “Just, say stuff, okay?” Gerald nodded and waved them away.
Drew followed Emma’s lead as she walked down another hallway (how is all of this fitting into a tiny little building? Drew thought) that was lined with small, poorly painted doors. She stopped at a door labeled “STORAGE 1-B,” and opened it up to a room dimly lit with old fluorescent fixtures. There was a card table in the corner of the room, a dusty couch pushed up against the wall adjacent to the door, a few beanbag chairs, and a refrigerator that looked older than his Uncle Eric.
“This is our break room,” Emma said, walking to the middle of the room and plopping down in one of the bean-bag chairs. “Just for us lowly back-room people, and non-lameass front room people. Eric doesn’t know about it.”
“He doesn’t know about it? How does he not know about an entire room?”
Emma pushed herself up from the bean bag. “Eric barely knows that Gerald exists. And that’s only because his desk is next to something young, with long hair and boobs. If it was just you two back there, you’d both be invisible. Eric only sees things that directly affect Eric. He likes going around town, and shaking people’s hands, and being,” She puffed up her chest and lowered her voice, doing her best Eric Crawford impression, “the Big Famous Newspaper Man. We could start cooking meth back here and he wouldn’t notice. Unless we used company funds to do it; then he would be back here in a split second.”
They left the room and Emma led him further down the hallway, stopping at a room a few doors down. A gold nameplate was posted on this one, with the name ‘Floyd Peavy, Jr.’ etched in small white letters. Emma knocked softly and placed her hand on the doorknob.
“Mr. Floyd?” A soft, thick voice came from the other side door saying to come on in. Inside was an office roughly the same size as the break room. The walls were covered with award plaques, framed articles, and motivational posters. A mammoth oak desk was in the center of the room – the sort of thing that belonged in the President’s office rather than a dingy small town newspaper – and sitting at it was tall, thin man scribbling notes onto a yellow legal pad. Seeing Emma and Drew enter, he put the pad aside and stood to greet them. He looked familiar in a way that he couldn’t quite place.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Ms. Emma?” In a quick, fluid motion the man moved out from behind his desk and across the room. Drew could see that this man was much older than his Uncle, yet something about the way he moved made him simultaneously seem younger than Eric by decades.
Emma blushed, and said “Showing the new guy around – giving him the parts of the grand tour that Eric left out; this is Drew Crawford, he’ll be working in back with me and Gerald.” Emma turned to Drew. “This is Mr. Floyd, he does a daily column about car maintenance and other dude-type things, and he’s the guy to go to if you have computer problems.” Drew shot the two a confused look. Emma, as if reading his mind, said, “Gerald doesn’t know a damn thing about computers. A few years ago he helped Eric set up his iPhone, and after he finished he gave him the title ‘Technical Services Manager,’ while loudly proclaiming that ‘you oriental types are good at all that computer stuff anyhow, right?’ And then shoved him in back with me. So yeah. If your stuff breaks, go to Floyd.”
Floyd turned to Drew, smiled, and shook his hand with a vice grip. “Nice to meet you – and I don’t know if you remember, but you and me used to hang around back in the day when your Uncle would bring you around for a visit. He would always get busy and lose track of you, and somehow you’d always find your way back to me.” Mr. Floyd pointed to an old, worn chair in the corner of the room right behind his desk, and laughed. “You would walk in and plop right down in that chair and ask me a million questions about every little thing I was doing.” Mr. Floyd’s smile thinned into a smirk. “You remember that?” Foggy memories surfaced in Drew’s head from a time when he was very small – years and years before the death of his brother. He said this to Mr. Floyd, and Mr. the man’s smile thinned into a smirk. “You remember why he stopped bringing you around?”
Suddenly the memory snapped back into his head. He had been sitting in Mr. Floyd’s office – posted at his usual spot at the chair behind his desk – when Uncle Eric came into the office with a big, stupid smile on his face, and informed Floyd then on, his new job title would be “Black Culture Specialist.”
“I ask you one question about Black History Month, and this is your response?” Drew remembered Mr. Floyd saying to his Uncle. After that Eric made a comment about how he just wanted stories about black people to be authentic, and that this sort of thing would be a better fit for him anyway. This made Mr. Floyd mad. “So because I’m a black guy that means that I don’t know how to write about anything except other black people?” To that, Uncle Eric said that he didn’t understand why he had to pretend why Mr. Floyd wasn’t a black person. After that, the two argued for a while longer, but the argument was stopped cold when Drew – tiny for his age – stood up in his chair, and butted into the argument
“Uncle Eric, I think you’re mixed up,” he said. “Mr. Floyd isn’t a black person, he’s a brown person.” Both men stopped arguing immediately. Uncle Eric, who hadn’t realized that Drew was in the room, looked at the boy, turned bright red in the face, said a few jumbled words about needing to make copies, and then left the office as Mr. Floyd let out a booming, low-pitched laugh.
There was another part to the memory, something bigger – whatever it was, Drew sensed it was the reason why he never came back to the Tribune offices after that, save for school trips – but it was buried just a little bit too deep. He let it go and told the part of the memory he could access to Emma and Mr. Floyd, surprised that he could remember as much as he did.
When the story was complete Emma doubled over into a fit of laughter, her face turning red, the hair bob atop her head shaking wildly. “Usually he leaves Floyd out of the Grand Tour because he hates him,” she said between giggles, “but yeah, that probably had something to do with it.”
Floyd nodded, a look forming in his eyes that seemed far away, and said, “That was definitely part of it.” Then he let out a laugh and shook the look out of his eyes, as if he hadn’t meant for Drew to see it, and patted him on the shoulder. “Glad to have you back. And if you ever need anything – even if it’s just to escape for a while - your old spot is always open.” Drew shook Mr. Floyd’s hand one more time, then followed Emma out of the office. The missing part of his childhood memory tugged at Drew as he left the room as if the fog clouding the recollection was grabbing hold of him, beckoning for him to go back into the office to look for whatever piece of it his mind was missing. But he was used to this – after his brother died there were a lot of these sorts of memories. Memories that were so powerful, so painful, that they took up his entire being. So he covered them in fog, forcing himself to forget so that he could escape from paralysis. It had been hard at first; the memories were so intense that they tugged at him, begged him to pay attention even as he suppressed them. Eventually, it became easy to ignore. So as he followed Emma out of the office and suddenly felt that familiar tug, he shook it off without effort; a response so natural it was a part of his programming.
For the next stop in Emma’s tour, she took Drew to the end of the hall, where there was a staircase that led upward to another short hallway. At the end of this hall, there were two doors. One was at the end of the hall, marked “ROOF ACCESS,” the other was on the adjacent wall, marked “ARCHIVES.” When they reached the doors Emma stopped walking and spun around to face him.
“Now I’m gonna show you some places to go when you need to escape.” Emma paused, put her hands on her hips and huffed out a sigh. “Though Mr. Floyd kinda stole my thunder by revealing himself as your long lost special friend and offering the same thing…” She paused again, letting out another sigh, then straightened her arms and slapped her hips. “But whatever! Here are a couple places for when you’re not in the mood to be a creeper in Floyd’s office.” She turned to the left, opening the “ARCHIVES” door.
Through the door was a room that – like the rest of the place – looked much too big to fit inside the Tribune office. Lining the walls were filing cabinets nearly as tall as Drew, and everywhere else were boxes of varying sizes, separated into dozens of stacks, and at least seven different types of desks, placed haphazardly throughout the floor. All of it was covered in dust, and the second that Drew walked inside and took a breath, he immediately began to cough.
“So, the place for escaping and also the place for developing a respiratory infection?” Drew said, laughing between coughs.
“You’ll get used to it,” Emma said as she walked over to one of the desks and sat on top of it. “So, despite the fact that we have a website with a massive online filing system, we still have to make paper copies of everything, because your Uncle is a cranky dinosaur who thinks the magic computer box is out to get him. So anytime we do anything, for any reason – a story, interview notes, purchase receipts – we have to make a copy of it. And all those paper copies go up here. It’s a pain in the ass. But secretly, it’s awesome. That cranky dinosaur-ness that makes your Uncle insist on keeping this room around also prevents him from knowing a damn thing about how our computer filing system works. Any time you need a break from having to interact with humans, all you have to do is tell him that the filing system is on the fritz again, nod your head empathetically as he bitches about how much money he pays for the system, then proclaim that you’ll ‘just go and find it up in archives.’ And then, tah-dah! Free pass to come up here and get stuff done in peace.”
“What if he comes up here and sees you?”
“He won’t. Eric is barely in shape enough to walk himself to the other side of a room, let alone up a flight of stairs. Gerald comes up here once a day and takes a nap. One time he came to work sick, conked out up here for three straight hours, and nobody noticed. So trust me: this place is safe.”
Emma hopped off the desk and led Drew back out into the hallway. “Okay – grand finale time.” She turned around slowly, and opened the door marked “ROOF ACCESS”. She held the door open and practically pushed Drew out ahead of herself. There was a retaining ledge about four feet high surrounding the roof; he walked up to the section closest to him and leaned on it. The Tribune office building wasn’t tall by any stretch of the word, but because it sat at the top of a hill – the highest point in town – Drew could see almost all of Reynolds stretched out below him.
The town’s smallness seemed exaggerated from this high up, looking as if it were a table-top miniature built to accompany a model train set. Of course, it was a small place to begin with, even from a worm’s eye-view. There were only two main roads, which crossed each other at mid –point, forming an ‘x’ shape and dividing the town into four wedges. Both of the main roads cut into a dense circle of forest that surrounded the whole of Reynolds at four points, the only breaks in the massive wall of leaves and wood. Dozens of smaller roads branched off the main roads, spilling into the wedges of town like a pile of snakes. The four wedges all had unofficial names; North Town, South Town, East Town, and West Town (They had been four separate townships once upon a time, Drew remembered learning in school, not incorporating into a single town until Henry Ford unleashed his Model T onto the world). The Tribune offices were located in the middle of a small cross-hatching of roads lined with shops and restaurants, a part of South Town which Reynolds residents called simply “the Hill.”
Emma walked up next to him and waved her arms over the city like a game show host. “The roof,” she said. “For when writer’s block hits. Mr. Floyd brought me up here a few months after I first started.” Emma walked backward along the ledge, trailing her fingertips over the stone and staring out at the town. “I was freaking out over this assignment that was like, three seconds away from deadline, and I had finished literally none of it. So I go back to Mr. Floyd’s office, figuring that he was the resident wise-old-mentor type, and just spill my guts out to him. He puts his hands on my shoulders, tells me to hush my mouth, brings me up here, and tells me to look out at the city. And I’m feeling stupid because I just threw a grown-up temper tantrum, so I’m just standing there staring off into space, right? Well, Floyd walks up behind me and points to the middle of town and asks me what I saw – here, you do it; lean over there, just like you were doing.” Drew listened and leaned back up against the ledge; Emma took a step closer to him. “What do you see?” Drew looked at Emma from the side of his eyes, waiting for her to tell him what she said to Floyd, then realized she was waiting for his answer.
“I see....” he stared out into the town, suddenly feeling stupid. “I don’t know, buildings and stuff.”
Emma sucked her teeth and crossed her arms, “Oh come on, don’t be lame; really tell me.”
Drew shook his head and said, “I get it, you felt on the spot, he was trying to calm you down, just get to…” Emma interrupted him with an exaggerated sigh, then dropped her shoulders, tilted her head to the side and made a mock sad face, jutting out her lower lip as far as it would go. Drew stepped back from the wall, smiling and shaking his head. “You’re trying to make me feel stupid.”
Emma took another step closer, leaving barely an inch between them. The scent of her perfume filled his nose. “Pweeeease?” she said in a high pitched, child-like voice.
Drew felt an involuntary blush spread across his cheeks. He rolled his eyes – unaware of the goofball grin forming on his face – and stepped back up to the ledge. “I see a weird, tiny little town that seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid,” he said.
Emma squinted her eyes at him, trying to hold back a laugh, and said, “God you suck; seriously, just shut up and look.” She took one more step closer to Drew, putting one hand on the small of his back, and the other lightly on his cheek. “Right there, just look.” The light warmth of her touch spread across Drew’s face, and her perfume suddenly seemed more intense. He felt the blush grow bigger, creeping down his neck and making his entire face feel hot. He looked at the city blankly, forgetting for a second what he was doing. Not knowing what else to say, he described exactly what Emma was directing him toward.
“The park,” he said. Directly in his line of sight was Alcott Park, a small stretch of wide open grass in the middle of Northtown. Drew could see a group of kids tossing around a football, a young couple having a picnic, a man in a black suit sitting on a bench. He described this scene to Emma. She smiled and patted him with her right hand, which was still on the small of his back.
“And did you ever play at that Park as a kid?”
Drew nodded. “Yeah, me and Charlie – my little brother. We would go down there for hours, not even doing anything really, just messing around.” He paused for a second then, and without thinking added, “last time I ever saw him was at that park, a few minutes before he was kidnapped.” As soon as he heard the words come out of his mouth, he felt a wave of confusion. “I don’t know why I said that. My brother passed away when we were kids, but…” But that last part didn’t happen, Drew wanted to say. On the day that Charlie was kidnapped, neither one of them had been anywhere near the park. Charlie had been taken from the school playground in the middle of recess by a man who was never identified; Drew was sitting in class taking a math test as it happened. The last place he saw his brother was at school that morning after they were both dropped off by the school bus. He had turned the memory of that day over in his head thousands of times in the years following Charlie’s death, pouring over every last detail, questioning every second of his recollection. Had he seen anything strange as they walked off the bus? Anything different than ordinary as he walked Charlie to class? A person that didn’t belong – didn’t feel right – as he walked on to his own class alone? Of all the memories he had learned to shroud in fog, this had never been one of them. And yet…
And yet there was another memory playing through his head – clear as the one he knew to be real, but in pieces that didn’t connect together. Flashes of images, strung together out of order to form a choppy motion picture. He tried to hold on to the images, knit them together and turn them into something that made sense. But the faithful old programming kicked in and rushed to cover it all up with the familiar fog. The programming was strong.
Drew tried to speak, “My brother…” But the words were falling out of his head. What was I just saying? He thought. Something about Charlie. But it had left Drew’s head, so he let the errant thought slip into a dark corner in the bottom of his mind, where so many other things about his little brother had been laid to rest.
Emma removed her hand from his cheek but kept the one on his back firmly in place. “That’s okay – I remember,” she said. “You don’t have to explain.”
Drew looked at her blankly. “You remember?”
“About your brother - I remember when that happened. I mean, I was only like 10, and I had never even met him…but small town, ya know? Things were crazy for a while.”
Of course she remembers, Drew thought. Everyone in town remembers. Besides the fact that his family was one whose name held a certain amount of celebrity (something he had only ever been vaguely aware of as a kid), the national news had gotten ahold of the story of his brother’s kidnapping almost immediately after it happened. Reporters and news crews from all over the state converged on their little town, and when Charlie turned up dead, the story went nationwide. Thinking about it in retrospect, Drew realized that his Uncle Eric had probably been the one to leak the story to the press – the very first bit of TV coverage about Charlie had been an Interview with Eric, filmed in the Tribune offices.
“And that was Mr. Floyd’s point: you look at the park, but you don’t just see ‘a park,’” Emma said, continuing her story and snapping Drew out of his thoughts. “You see a personal moment that’s happened at the park. That’s what Floyd said to me when he took me up here, and made me stare at the Park. And then, just to finish off the hallmark movie of the week moment, before peacing out and going back downstairs this is what he says to me: ‘It’s easy to get stuck when you’re writing a story down there in the trenches. But there are stories all over Reynolds. Sometimes to find them, all you gotta do is change your perspective and look.’”
Drew laughed. “And let me guess: looking down at the park, the power of childhood memories magically gave you an idea for the perfect story, and everyone lived happily ever after.”
Emma scrunched up her face and clasped her hands together in mock adoration. “Oh ha-ha, Drew Crawford, you’re s-o-o-o funny. No, I still blew my deadline. Eric screamed at me, and then the next day he moved me back to the ‘double duty’ office so I could ‘learn about work ethic first-hand.’ But coming up here actually does help, so long as it’s not five minutes before I have to turn in a story.”
Drew leaned against the ledge and looked out at the town, the houses and buildings becoming more and more distorted the farther away they were, blending together into a mosaic of shingles and lawns and brick. “It is a pretty good view…Never seen it like this before.” He turned his gaze back to the park and thought of Charlie, knowing there had been something important he had wanted to say to Emma about him just a second ago. The words had been on the tip of his tongue, but now they were gone, and even the thought that inspired them had slipped away.
A feeling of weariness overcame him, as thoughts of Charlie began creeping into his mind, echoes of painful inner voices that had lain dormant for longer than he could remember.
“You okay?” Emma said. “You’re starting to go all glassy-eyed on me.” She paused, then crossed her arms. “Hey – did I hear you right earlier when you said that you’ve only been in town for two hours?” Drew nodded. “So you drove up here all the way from St. Louis – which is like a five-hour drive – and decided to just come straight here and get to work?” The drive was only four hours, Drew told her. Emma scoffed. “Dude, you’re a crazy person – you could have maybe…taken a breather for a few minutes…or hours.”
Drew shrugged and puffed out his chest. “What can I say? I’m hardcore like that,” putting on a fake tough-guy voice and winking at her.
Emma smirked and rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah, that was real hardcore how you almost just passed out and fell off the building; you’re so cool. But I’m thinking you’re still gonna need that breather – So tonight you’re gonna come out with Me, Gerald and Mr. Floyd. It’s a Friday thing; every week we go to McCormack’s. It’s a pub right down the road.” Emma leaned over the ledge and pointed. “It’s that one right over there, see?” The Tribune offices were located on a street that – like the rest of the streets on the Hill – was lined dozens of specialty stores, mom-and-pop shops, and small local restaurants; Drew spotted the building Emma was pointing out on the other side of the street, wedged between a comic book shop and a dry-cleaners. The place was made of weathered, cracked bricks mortared together at odd, misshapen angles, and had a bulging, crooked roof with poorly aligned shingles that looked to be on the verge of falling off. Posted above the entrance was a long sign with “McCormack’s” spelled out in bright green letters. He felt a tinge of recognition, then, realizing that somehow he knew this place, though he had no idea how.
“I’ve heard of it,” Drew said.
“Well, good – because you’re coming out with us, and you’re gonna drop the ‘man of mystery who mysteriously came back in town’ crap, and you’re gonna stop worrying about the thing that mysteriously brought you back into town, and you’re gonna have fun.”
“Oh wow, all those things – should I have been taking notes?” Drew patted his pants, miming a search for a pad of paper. “Anything else that I should add to the list?”
Emma crossed her arms and tapped a finger to her chin in feigned concentration. “Hmmm very good question Drew Crawford; I’m sure I’ll think of something,” she said, and then returned his wink, spun around, and headed back inside and down the staircase that led to the first floor of the Tribune offices. Drew followed her, unsure of what to think about the tornado of a woman that he had just met. Fast talking, quick with the sarcasm, and no qualms about sharing employee secrets with the boss’s nephew. As he headed down the stairs after her, the PeoplesPost.com and Oswald Glasser were absent from his thoughts completely for the first time in two years.