Reality hit Drew like a bucket of ice water as his Uncle’s response played out in his head over and over again. The world was in focus again, its edges sharp. Two things were now abundantly clear: one, that his uncle was one of the last people to see Charlie alive, and two that he himself had seen Charlie on Friday night, most certainly not alive. A ghost? A zombie? Drew couldn’t yet wrap his brain around either of these concepts but he knew he would have to if he wanted to break this story. Because that’s what this was, Drew realized, his mind scrubbed clean with a new clarity. It was the biggest story of his life. It was the reason why God or the Universe or Whatever Force Was Keeping Score had allowed him to see Charlie that night.
His college journalism professors had taught him constantly not to get involved with personal stories, that being too close to something took away a reporter’s ability to stay objective. But being in the field had taught him that that lesson was a crock of shit. Every story became personal, and if it didn’t then you weren’t doing it right. The trick was to remain objective regardless of how heart wrenching or soul shattering the thing you’re trying to bring to light may be.
One of the earliest stories he worked on for PeoplesPost.com was a piece on human trafficking. The first draft he turned in was an emotional piece of garbage about the horror that the victims went through and how their lives were ruined. His editor – the one before Oswald Glasser came along and fast tracked him to temporary stardom – ripped it in half in front of him.
“Anyone with a free blog and free time could write this. Dig deeper,” He said. “Write from every angle, not just the obvious ones.”
So Drew dug deeper. The second time he handed in the piece it featured not just accounts from the victims of human trafficking, but also from those who helped perpetrate the crime. Most of the people responsible for finding and abducting other people were themselves victims as children, groomed from the time they could walk to find other kids and exploit the very innocence and trust that their own captors squeezed out of them. It was a horror show. Not just from the victims’ point of view but from every point of view.
So Drew would dig deep again. He would look at every single angle of his brother’s death. And when he finally brought to light the truth behind the ugly crime that scarred his family forever, he would make sure that the whole damn world knew about it. He thought again of his Uncle and knew automatically that this would not be a piece for publication in the Reynold’s Tribune. This story would require him to go places that his Uncle Eric wouldn’t like, places that could implicate him in the crime. He also knew that he would need help.
It was one thing to know in his heart that he was capable of writing this story with complete objectivity, despite its personal nature. It would be another thing entirely to convince the editor of any publication anywhere of that fact. There needed to be another name on the byline, another set of eyes to keep him from getting tunnel vision.
This story was insane. He would need to be completely honest with whomever he worked with on this. He would need to tell them about seeing Charlie. Another thing he had learned in the field was that when working with a partner they needed to be just as hooked into the story as you were. That means no hiding sources from each other, and no hiding motives. It was impossible to work effectively with another person any other way. He had no intentions to insert the incident with his dead brother into the story itself, but that was still the starting point, and that had to be the starting point for the person he chose to work with him.
None of his former coworkers from PeoplesPost would do. Glasser had managed to turn all of his friends against him in the final months of his employment there. Those people would laugh in his face. And besides, all of the people at his former job were journo-bots. Outside of work they had no lives or personalities to speak of, no real thoughts or ideas about much of anything. For this story he would need someone different. Not merely an outside of the box thinker, but someone who didn’t have a box to begin with. Someone open to all things, especially things of the paranormal variety.
But who? He asked himself again.
As the thought crossed his mind the Universe gave him an answer. Emma and Gerald walked into the office and plopped down at their desks. The two immediately launched a conversation about a show they both watched over the weekend – a post apocalypse vampire zombie sort of thing – that quickly turned into a musing on how interesting it would be if all fiction writers were actually channeling psychic memories from parallel universes, and merely thought they were creating original ideas. Toward the end of the conversation Emma swiveled her chair toward Drew.
“What do you think?” she said. “I mean if every possible version of the world exists somewhere, who says vampire zombie apocalypse world isn’t out there somewhere?”
Drew laughed, and said, “I think it’s awesome that you think that’s possible.” The answer to his question had fallen into his lap, it seemed. Emma and Gerald had just proved they were exactly the sorts he was looking for, and had done so with idle Monday morning chatter. A chill traveled down his spine at the thought of either of them firing on all cylinders.
But which one of them? It couldn’t be both, at least not yet. He had to start small, and with the person he could trust. In this case, the person he could trust to actively investigate whether or not their boss was involved with the murder of his own nephew. He barely knew either of them, so Drew thought about what limited interactions he had had so far. Gerald was intelligent in a humble sort of way. He didn’t show off his smarts, they were simply there for all to see. Yet at the same time, he had played it safe on Friday at the mere suggestion of curfew. Emma on the other hand, had literally laughed at curfew. What’s more, she had been the one to take him on the secret tour of the Tribune, showing him every way imaginable how to break the rules without being noticed. And she had given this rule breaking advice to him, her boss’s nephew, a thing that could easily have blown up in her face had Drew been a different sort of guy. So she was not only intelligent and a big thinker, but also a rule breaker and a risk taker.
So it would be Emma. Though he had no idea how to even begin introducing the idea of this story to her.
“So hey, I was talking to my dead brother on Friday after you went home,” He imagined himself saying to her. “And I was thinking maybe you could help me write about it?” He shook his head at the thought and decided to wait for the opportunity to present itself. He had to do this carefully if he was going to do it at all.
But there was no harm in a little friendly conversation, right?
Drew turned toward Emma and said, “What would you do if you found out that was true? The psychic memory thing? Or like if you saw a ghost or something. How would you react if something totally crazy and impossible happened to you?”
“Easy,” Emma said, without missing a beat. “I’d write about it. Just to get the whole thing down, lay it all out. That’s the only way I’ve ever been able to work through the hard stuff. Just writing everything down, and reading it all back like it was happening to someone else. Then, when there was enough distance, I’d get to work and figure out the ‘w’ questions. And then, because I’m me and I’m crazy, I wouldn’t stop until I had every single possible angle of the situation figured out. Even if it took years.” Drew paused and cocked his head at Emma. Her answer came too quick, and was a bit too specific.
“The ‘w’ questions?” he said.
“Oh please,” She said, “I know for a fact you went to the University of Missouri, which is the best Journalism school like, ever. If you don’t know the ‘w’ questions then I think your parents wasted their money.
“Yeah, yeah, I know; who, what, where, why when. It’s just…You talk like you’ve done this before with a crazy situation or two,” Drew said.
Emma smiled and crossed her arms. “Maybe,” She said. “You’d have to come drinking with me a few more times to get a story like that out of me.”
“Well then that’s what I’ll do,” Drew said, the words slipping out of his mouth before he had any time to think them over. “Come out with me this Friday.” Emma raised her eyebrows and leaned back in her chair.
“Are you asking me out?” She said, her lips pursed into a smirk.
Drew wasn’t sure what to say. He hadn’t asked anyone out on a date in two years, which was when he asked Sara out for the first time. And before Sara there had only ever been his girlfriend during college, and the one from the last two years of High School. Drew cleared his throat and said the first thing that came to mind.
“Well, It’s been a while since I’ve been in town,” he said. “Everything is weird and different, and I kind of feel like an alien here. You did pretty good giving me the unofficial tour of this place. How about you finish the job, give me the tour of the rest of town?”
For a moment Emma stared at him silently, still smirking, tapping her fingers on her desk.
“Okay,” she said, “So, Friday, then.”
“Friday,” Drew said, “We’ll meet at McCormick’s, and then go from there.” But then his face felt hot at the sudden realization that he had a date, with a new coworker, in his near future. He hadn’t been on a proper date in longer then he could remember; the last stretch with Sara hadn’t exactly been fun-filled. A feeling of guilt washed over him, suddenly. He was supposed to be on a mission. Figure out what happened to Charlie. Break the story. But then, he thought, that’s exactly what this date will be. An entire evening to slowly try to get her on board for the story. It was a cold thought, but it was true.
And then all at once he became intensely aware of Gerald, who was looking back and forth at the both of them, with a big grin on his face.
Drew looked at him and opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came. Perhaps he had ruled him out of the running to help with the story too quick. Perhaps, he realized, he shouldn’t put all of his eggs in the Emma basket. If she turned out not to be ‘the one’ to help him then the date could just be a date. That would be well and good for his personal life, but then he’d have to start over and try out Gerald for Charlie’s story.
Drew turned to Gerald and started to say, “Hey so, do you wanna hang out, or…” But before he could finish Gerald laughed and cut him off.
“No need for the awkward invite after asking out my female friend coworker in front of me,” He said, still smiling. “I’ll do it for you. I noticed the Star Wars shirt you were wearing on Friday, and the Voltron shirt today. So, into geek stuff, I take it?”
Drew looked down at his shirt. He hadn’t thought much of either of the shirts Gerald was talking about but the guy wasn’t wrong. He was definitely into “geek stuff,” something every girlfriend he’d ever had had rolled their eyes about whenever they first realized Drew’s love of Star Wars went somewhat beyond a typical person’s appreciation. After explaining all of this to Gerald, Emma cut into their conversation.
“As a geek girl I feel it’s my duty to say that girls like that are the lamest ever,” she said. “Geeks are sexy,” Drew blushed, and wondered inwardly how he had managed to get a date with this girl.
Gerald pointed at her and said “Damn straight,” then turned back to Drew and said, “So, then you are coming with me and Floyd to the movies on Saturday. He got sneak peek tickets to ’Power Stone.”
“The one with the aliens and the super powers and that one girl from that one show?” Drew said, relieved that he now had a back-up plan incase Emma didn’t work out. “And Mr. Floyd? He’s into that sort of stuff?”
“Oh yes,” Gerald said, “Floyd is an original gansta nerd. He waited in line all day and night for the first Star Wars flick back in ’77.”
Drew’s spirits lifted even higher at the thought of spending time outside work with Mr. Floyd. The man was the only employee left at the Reynold’s Tribune who was working there when his brother was murdered. He would have been on the ground trying to break the story back then. And if his Uncle Eric really was involved, a man like Floyd would have caught that trail somehow. And as this thought crossed his mind, Drew realized that it must have been Floyd who leaked the story of Charlie’s murder to the national media outlets. It wouldn’t have made much sense for Eric to do it; if he really was involved, then the entire country being aware of the story would be the absolute last thing he would have wanted. And if Floyd had been onto his Uncle back then, then maybe he had information, leads, sources; things that he could pass on to Drew to finish the story.
“Well that’s awesome, man,” Drew said, “I’m definitely down.”
Drew sat back in his chair and let out a soft sigh. Not only had he taken a giant step forward in his story, but he had also gotten a Date with Emma, which was a pretty huge step toward getting over Sara.
Suddenly the world didn’t seem quite so bleak.