I sure as hell need a smoke right now.
I can’t even chew the gum I keep in my glove compartment because who’s going to take a person smacking on that stuff seriously? I wouldn’t. Plus, it’s just plain rude to chomp on a piece of gum and blow bubbles when I’m out on assignment. There’s just something so … so juvenile about it.
Ironically enough, I feel like I’m a freshman in high school again as I force myself to start walking toward the police tape and all of those gawkers. I look hard for a familiar face, any familiar face, and my eyes finally settle on Josh Isley, our head photographer at the Daily Herald.
It’s a running joke at the office that Josh was born with a police scanner in his brain, cameras in each of his eyes, a notepad in one hand and a pen in the other.
He’s been at the paper 15 years now, which makes him 37. I think.
Josh definitely must have been a Boy Scout growing up because he always is prepared for anything. His minivan has everything you possibly can think of stored in it, and then some. If World War III ever starts — not that I hope it does — he’ll be ready for it. No kidding. He is the epitome of what every Boy Scout should be, and that’s what makes him the best at what he does. We know it and he knows it, and the paper is damn lucky to have him.
The shit of it is, Josh looks nothing like a Boy Scout. He reminds me more of a hippy. He’s a tall, husky guy with nondescript features who wears his long, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. The most noticeable thing about him is his loud Hawaiian shirts. They’re his calling card. You can pick him out of a crowd almost immediately like I just did. Shirts like that tend to stick out like a sore thumb in Kentucky. This IS the South, y’know, and we just don’t do Hawaiian shirts.
Josh is sporting a red and white one today, reminding me –- sort of –- of my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide.
He takes one look at me with those eagle eyes of his and lets loose a loud laugh that makes his whole body jiggle.
I love that laugh, but I’ll never tell him why. It reminds me of my grandmother, may she rest in peace. She had this wonderful laugh that could make my most foul mood disappear within seconds, it was so heartfelt and joyful. I miss her, and my eyes mist a little at the memories Josh evokes with his uninhibited laughter.
“You look like you could use a good puking” is his greeting.
See what I mean? He misses nothing.
Subtlety isn’t one of his strong points, which is why we get along so well, although you might think differently if you ever listen in on our conversations. We’re a lot alike in that aspect — what you see is what you get, and neither of us hides it.
“Fuck off,” I say nervously for his ears only, trying unsuccessfully to brush his comment aside with my blatantly false bravado.
“Makes you wish you hadn’t quit smoking, huh?” he asks.
The smartass is a mind-reader, too.
“Ya think?” I snark at him.
I’m feeling more churlish and sarcastic than normal, but with good reason. I give Josh one of my famous go-to-hell looks and leave it at that.
“So, would you mind getting me up to speed?” I ask, all sober-faced and businesslike now. “I have no clue who to talk to, or even where I should begin. I feel so damn green. I really wish James was here. I’m just a sports writer, for crying out loud! James would already be driving back to the office right now, dictating the story into his tape recorder, or something. Where the hell is he?!”
“Guess you forgot, huh?”
I’m drawing a blank.
“Enlighten me, please.”
Josh shakes his head and rolls his eyes.
“Do you ever get tired of living in your own little world?” he asks.
I do tend to get so embroiled with work that I’m usually the last person to know all the latest office gossip, but I don’t have time for that shit. Unless, of course, it’s a bitch session involving Dickhead’s latest ruthless rampage. I always have time to bitch about him. No one despises him more than me.
Before I can reply –- or slug him –- he holds his hands up in mock retreat and refreshes my obviously blank memory.
“He took a leave of absence to write the book he’s been researching for the past two years,” Josh re-enlightens me
Oh, yeah. Duh me.
Nothing like a brain fart to make me feel like a Grade-A dumbass.
“Geesh, I forgot all about his book,” I say, recovering from my stupor of stupidity.
His leave of absence is effective today, which is a Friday. Only the fifth day of an already hellishly hot August.
Double duh on me!
James is writing a book about Kentucky’s politicians, but with his very own special spin on them. James is a highly intelligent guy. Same age as me. Glasses, skinny, thinning blond hair, shrewd eyes that never miss anything while always measuring everyone.
He’s a cross between Bill Maher, Dennis Miller and Richard Belzer, all of whom are, or have been, sharp-witted stand-up comedians and actors who know their politics frontward and backward. He has the same biting, sarcastic sense of humor and outlook on life as them and, really, the only way for James to go is up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins a Pulitzer Prize sometime in the near future. He’s already been nominated for a handful for his reporting, which is second to none.
Honestly, I’ll be surprised if he comes back to the Daily Herald at all.
And since we lost our sports editor two months ago when he -– Bob Gallant –- just up and walked out one day after getting bawled out by Dickhead one time too many, there only are two of us left to keep the department going. I don’t know about Jackson MacKinnon, the other half of our “dynamic” sports-writing duo, but I sure as hell am getting burned out doing it all AND putting up with Dickhead’s bullshit every day.
Something has got to give before we both work ourselves into the ground. I know Jackson already is at the office paginating — newspaper speak for putting together the sports pages — for today’s section in the paper.
“Hello? Anyone in there?”
Josh is waving his hands in front of my hazel eyes.
“Sorry,” I say, the heat in my embarrassed face covering my many freckles with a telltale shade of bright red.
I’m spacing out WWWAAAYYY too much today.
“Who’s in charge?” I ask him, switching back into my best reporter mode whether I want to or not.
Josh smiles and then points to a youngish-looking plainclothes guy yapping with that what’s-her-face bitch from WBIT-TV who thinks she’s all that and then some, and that antiquated son of a bitch from WSOB-AM talk radio who thinks all women should be barefoot and pregnant, hence my nicknames for them: Bitch Face and Antique Man.
Great, just great. This day can’t possibly get any worse.
“Thanks, buddy,” I say with a hint of sarcasm as I start to walk away from him, trudging slowly to the people I’m going to start referring to as the “Three Musketeers.”
I’m beginning to feel more and more like I’m awaiting my turn at the guillotine in the midst of the French Revolution.
I really, really, REALLY do not want to be here.
“This really is going to be a fucking long day,” I bitch to myself.
“And, no,” Josh calls after me, “they haven’t released any details whatsoever. Just in case you were wondering.”
He always has to have the last word.
Of course, I meant to ask. I just forgot. Again.
I give him the middle-finger salute behind my back.
Everyone surely can hear his ensuing guffaws for miles.
Oh well. I never claimed to be perfect. But it’s not normal for me to be so … so completely out of it, so slow on the uptake. What the hell is going on with me?! I really must be out of sorts having to step out of my comfort zone, but then again, who wouldn’t be?
I keep going until I reach the plainclothes guy. He’s still talking to Bitch Face and Antique Man, but I apologetically — sort of — interrupt them long enough to introduce myself to Plainclothes.
“Aren’t you a sports person?” Bitch Face asks, a bored expression on her face.
Antique Man just stares at my breasts with blatant interest. Figures. What a pig!
I ignore them both because I know myself too well. Under normal circumstances, I’d say something sarcastic. But today isn’t normal, and I don’t have time for their petty crap. Well, let me amend that I’m trying to block them out. It’s working. Kinda-sorta.
Plainclothes holds out his hand.
“Piccolo, it’s nice to finally meet you,” he says, shaking my hand firmly. “My name is Jason Stuart. I’m the media liaison for the Bluegrass Police Department. I read your stories all the time.”
Great. He’s a sports fan. Yippee.
You can tell a lot about people just by shaking their hands. His are very strong, very dry. Good. That goes a long way with me. There’s nothing I hate more — unless we’re talking about Dickhead — than limp, sweaty handshakes. They’re just CREEPY.
Maybe we’ll get along famously. Still, I cross my fingers in case I’m wrong.
Sometimes, you just can’t read a person by their handshake. Cases in point: Coach Smith and Dickhead. Both have, uh, had strong, commanding handshakes. The rest, or at least the bare bones of each relationship, you know. But more on those later.
“Nice to meet you, as well,” I reply.
Jason doesn’t seem to miss James at all. It’s almost as if he’s been expecting me. That can be a good thing. Maybe.
“So,” I continue, “do you have any details involving Coach Smith’s death? Has it officially been ruled a homicide? Anything at all you can tell me would be great.”
My voice is on an even keel, leveling out, concealing my attack of nerves. Perhaps I’m starting to get the hang of this, I hope.
I perch my pen on the first page of the brand new reporter’s notebook, ready to start scrawling all over it — illegibly to everyone but me — as soon as Jason gives me some useful information.
“Yes, it is definitely a homicide,” he says.
No kidding. Really?! I kind of figured as much.
Still, I wait.
“But we’re not disclosing any further details right now, other than to say that the police department’s crime-scene technicians are gathering evidence to help with the investigation,” he continues.
Back to Square One. Thanks for the helpful info, asshole. Now, how about giving me something USEFUL.
“Sorry,” he tacks on meaninglessly.
OK, so maybe I’m wrong about the getting along part. He does have a nice handshake, though. I’ll give him that.
“No problem,” I say through clenched teeth, struggling with all of my might to keep my sarcasm at bay, although I’m sure my facial expression is giving me away since I’m the world’s worst liar. “Thanks anyway.”
It’s impossible to fake sincerity when all you really want to do is smack someone upside the head, so why bother trying?
“Do you have a cell number so I can contact you when we do have more information to release to the media?” he asks, almost as if it’s an afterthought as he turns back to Bitch Face and Antique Man.
“No, I don’t.”
I leave it at that. What else is there to say? He’s no good to me, regardless. But the look on his face is comical, as if he can’t believe that there still is someone on this planet who does not own a cell phone. I don’t believe in them, never have. I don’t want one. I don’t need one. If you want to reach me, call me on a landline phone. Otherwise, fuck off.
He recovers enough to hand me his business card. That’s something, at least, for all the good it will do me. Useless, but better than nothing, I suppose.
I just give him a half-ass smile and shrug as I go about my business. Now that I know his job is nothing more than to be a useless piece of shit wasting precious taxpayer dollars, I’m going to have to get my story the hard way.
With some trepidation, I expel a sigh as I steal a glance at the group of rubberneckers.
It’s as good a place to start as any. Someone around here has got to know SOMETHING.
I head toward them, not sure what to expect.
I need answers. Fast.
I’m running out of time, a luxury not afforded to the newspaper business when you’re on a tight deadline and everybody is breathing down your neck, awaiting the final story to go in that day’s edition so we can put it to bed, or, in layman’s terms, so it can go to press.
I can just feel Dickhead’s dragon breath on the back of my neck as I race to write Coach Smith’s story. IF I ever DO get something worth writing. Otherwise, the story is going to be a bunch of platitudes from his assistants and the school administration. In other words, a useless pile of shit.
And with those final foreboding thoughts, I really CAN use a good puking, after all.
And a smoke.
I hate it when Josh is right.