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Sunday, November 10, 2013

(“She's some kind of demon messing in the glue. If you don't watch out it'll stick to you, to you, what kind of fool are you? Strange brew -- kill what's inside of you.”)…Cream

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Seventeen

San Francisco, California, 13 December 1968

“I don’t care what you stumbled on KC, I told you we haven’t the budget for witch-hunts,” Brian Williams shouted into the telephone receiver! The voice of his tenacious little wildcat of a news hound could be heard pleading her case from across the room, even with the handset firmly pressed against his aching ear! Brian took the phone and pounded the handset several times on his desktop and then returned it to his ear, his head resting in his free hand, his fingers slowly massaging his throbbing migraine.

“KC, KC, KC, KaaaCeee, will you let me get a word in edge wise, please, I’m exhausted just listening to you!” Brian said, imploring his favorite pain in the ass to shut up long enough for him to change his mind. The attack on his peace of mind was relentless and he knew that in the end he would find himself pleading her case in the big man’s office. Grover Cleveland Gateway, the founding father of their grand old publication, was still a pretty tough customer, even at the ripe old age of eighty-one.

Twenty years past the age of sensible retirement, the cagey old man had the energy and keen mind of someone fifty years his junior! He had made his bones in the newspaper business at the turn of the century, covering the assassination of President William McKinley on the sixth of September, nineteen hundred and one for the New York Times. Then after a twenty-five year career, moving back and forth between New York (Times) and Chicago (Tribune), his life took a major detour.

This was the time when he came into great wealth upon the death of his estranged father in nineteen hundred and twenty-seven. Timing being everything in life, he pulled the bulk of his father’s fortune from Wall Street and invested heavily in California real estate. Relocating his growing family to San Francisco, the jewel of the Great Golden State in nineteen hundred and twenty-eight, he started the San Francisco Daily News, establishing himself as editor and chief, it was a life long dream come true! As he was an only child with no surviving family beyond his own, he answered to no one for his actions or decisions. The fact that the fortune was his solely had allowed him to avoid the annoying pitfalls of dealing with nagging, criticizing, and kibitzing well-intentioned relatives.

The only criticism would come from the highbrow financial circles that he disdained anyway. And ironically, on his newspaper’s first birthday, he would report on the crash of the very market that they worshiped, their safe haven, the one that he had chosen to abandon against their counsel, leaving those arrogant fools behind to mock him. This was the man that Brian was going to have to negotiate with in support of his fledgling reporter’s hunch. But Brian knew KC well enough to accept the fact that she rarely cried wolf.

If there were a story of National interest to be found in Hooterville, she would nose it out, no matter how many people she had to drive insane in the process. He smiled to himself and picked up the receiver again, after having placed it under a magazine to mute her non-stop chatter while he gave the aspirin he had popped a chance to work it’s magic. He waited for the right moment, and when she paused slightly to draw a breath he jumped in.

“OK, OK, I surrender! Let me call you back in a half hour, I need to go see the old man on this one KC. You know he’s the only one that can over ride the bean counter’s edicts. Lucky for you he treats you like a kid sister, it must be that crooked little smile of yours,” he said, finally squeezing in a whole sentence before she started yammering again.

He listened to her impatiently as she offered him her advice on how to pitch the story. Brian checked his wristwatch, restlessly hemming and hawing as she spoke. He’d have to hurry up and end this call so he could catch GCG before he went into Chinatown for his daily dose of Chow Mei Fun. The old man was a well-known noodle fiend all over the city.

“Gotta go kid, I’m on deadline here, I’ll call you back at the hotel, so stay near a phone for the next hour or so,” he said quickly, his face following the handset to it’s cradle as he hung up the phone, his last word fading on the air. Success, he thought, he finally got the last word!

Brian exited the elevator on the eleventh floor and walked into the large reception area of the newspaper’s executive offices. He was greeted with a smile from a young intern named Abby, who was working the reception desk, and he returned her polite gesture.

“Good morning Mr. Williams,” the young woman said cheerfully.

“Morning Abby, how are things young lady?”

“Aced my Psych final,” she replied, pantomiming an over the top swiping of her forehead, indicating her relief.

“Good for you! I believe Mr. Gateway is expecting me.”

“Sure, I’ll just buzz Mrs. Harris and let her know that you are out here, just a sec OK?”

Brian nodded and relaxed in a slightly modified parade-rest stance, as his hands were folded in front of him while he waited to be waived on in. A minute later Abby answered the phone ringing in front of her and then looked up at Brian and winked, “You can go on in now, see ya round the water cooler,” she said sweetly.

“Thanks,” he answered back as he walked past her desk and into the long hallway lined in rich, dark mahogany.

He passed the power wall of framed front pages depicting several significant historical events of the last forty or so years. Brian paused a second as he looked at the most recent addition, the sorrowful photo of a dying Robert Kennedy, his bleeding head cradled in the arms of an unknown immigrant busboy on the kitchen floor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. His eyes traversed up the page to the headline that simply read, “NOT AGAIN.” Clearing his throat and straightening his tie, Brian walked up to the desk of Francine Harris, the long time executive secretary to Grover Gateway. She met his arrival with her usual professionalism, not too stiff, but not too casual either.

“Hello Brain, good to see you again,” she said greeting him.

“Nice to see you as well Frankie thanks for squeezing me in on such short notice.”

“Not at all, Mr. Gateway should be off the phone in a moment, have a seat.”

“Can I get you some coffee or tea?”

“Oh no, I’m fine, please don’t fuss over me, really, I’ll probably only be a few minutes anyway,” he said, hoping that his assumption would not turn out to be prophetic. Frankie smiled back at him and nodded, and returned to her work. A minute later Grover Gateway appeared at the open door to the right of her desk.

“Brian, come on in son! Now what do we need to discuss so urgently this morning anyway,” he asked, placing his hand on Brian’s shoulder and leading him into his office.

“Frankie, make sure to hold all my calls until we finish. Oh, and call ahead to Wah Lee’s and order me the usual, OK?” Mr. Gateway said without looking back at his secretary, following his visitor into the room, closing the door behind him.

“Sit down Brian, sit down, and let’s chat about what that wildcat of ours is up to.”

“Well sir, I really don’t have all the details yet, but she is definitely excited about something. It's tied to this serial rapist case in Fresno. Honestly sir, you know how she is, sometimes I wonder if she’s worth the aggravation, and you can quote me on that,” the frustrated managing editor said.

“But, then again, we can’t argue with success, she’s become one of the best investigative reporters in the Bay Area, if not the State. You called that one sir I never would have believed that was possible. What exactly did you see in her that made you so certain that she could cut it? Grover Gateway leaned back in his big leather chair, it squeaked slightly as he rocked slowly and finally he answered.

“You remember the piece she did a couple years ago, when you had her working the entertainment desk? By the way, what were you thinking anyway, I meant to call you out on that one, you’re lucky I nap more than I used to!”

“Anyway, it was the story about that silent film actress who had been arrested for allegedly ignoring an enormous stack of parking citations, and then battled the SFPD physically when they came to serve her papers. KC could have had a lot of easy fun at that poor woman’s expense, just like everyone else in this town did. But instead, she treated her with respect, and stuck to reporting the facts in a light that subtly championed the cause of the aging and prideful actress. If I remember right, and I do, the city not only backed off on their right to prosecute, they actually went after the slum lord who owned the building where she lived and gently coaxed him into providing assigned parking to all tenants so that she could park her beat up, old Studebaker off the street,” Mr. Gateway concluded, snickering to himself, and slapping his open palm to his desktop to emphasize his point.

“RESPECT, that’s what I saw Brian, a genuine respect of others. I saw in her a sense of compassion that compelled her to avoid the easy angle on an easy mark, and instead, put her effort into ferreting out the real story, the more meaningful story. The one that all of the others had missed in their hurry to be first, in their hurry to scoop one another. And in their haste they missed the opportunity to be extraordinary, to write a piece that people would respond to, that would effect change.”

“Now that’s real instinct boy, that’s a heart that rules the mind,” Mr. Gateway finished, staring down his managing editor, giving him a single nod of his head. Brian was at a loss for words.

As usual his boss had sucked all of the energy out of the room and used it to build a soapbox to stand on. He fought the urge to roll his eyes at Grover Gateway’s lengthy retort, for Christ sake, he thought, the man could have just said that he liked her style, why did everything have to be… Brian shook off his mental detour and re-established eye contact with his boss.

“Yes sir, I do remember that story now that you remind me, it was a great piece. I don’t know if I’d go as far as getting KC fitted for a halo yet or dust off the mantel for her Pulitzer, but I do agree that she has turned out be something pretty special,” he said, studying Mr. Gateway’s face for a reaction. Feeling confident that he hadn’t been too flippant in his response, Brian started to continue with the purpose of his visit.

“And it's those instincts that you mentioned that have brought me here this morning,” he continued, shifting in his chair as he spoke.

“KC called in about an hour ago; very excited about something she’s uncovered while on assignment down in Fresno.”

“Fresno,” Mr. Gateway said raising an eyebrow. “Is she on that Katz case, the one where the sicko was attacked by one of his own victims?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Brian answered, not surprised at how current his boss was.

“Hmmm, go on then, what is she onto?”

“She got suspicious while pressing for details about the arrest and everyone seemed to clam up.”

“She found out that this Katz fella is in lock up at the hospital in a sealed off ward. Nobody goes in or out without clearance and escort, and no press is allowed anywhere near the place. She said it’s like a fortress over there.”

“Well, he’s probably in pretty bad shape given the fact that his victim set him on fire,” Gateway said sarcastically.

“Yeah, well that’s the thing, he should be, but KC seems to think that may not be the case.”

“And she knows this, how?”

“She met some nurse while having lunch in the hospital cafeteria, and the woman told her an interesting story.”

“Do tell…” Grover Gateway said, leaning back in his chair, touching his fingertips together lightly.

“Yes sir, well, the woman claimed to have witnessed something that she couldn’t explain.” “A real miracle she called it.”

“Oh please Brian, don’t tell me you’re spending my money on an excursion into fantasyland!”

“No sir, I don’t think so. Like you said earlier, KC has real instincts and she’s convinced that there is a much bigger story here.”

“When she called, she said that she had followed up on a few leads that she got from this nurse, and she hit pay dirt on the first call!”

“It’s a fascinating tale this person told her sir, nationally fascinating.”

“And Grover, nobody else has picked up on this angle, not anyone, not anywhere. We would scoop every paper in State, hell, the country!” Brian said, a sly grin projecting his eagerness.

He watched a smile begin to spread from corner to corner on Grover Gateway’s heavily lined face. Then he leaned back in his chair, relaxing for the first time since he arrived at the meeting, his own face beginning to mirror the same smirk that was beaming at him from across the desk between them.

“You know what, I’m famished! How do you feel about Chinese noodles anyway Mr. Williams?”

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