A tall, gray-haired man stepped forward to greet Sandra as soon as she stepped through the doors of the Global Weekly’s main office. “You must be Sandra Ramirez. I’m Stanton Bailey. I’m glad you were able to make it out here.”
A few weeks ago, such a statement would have been a polite formality, but now his words carried a serious weight. She had indeed had a lucky flight; just two hours of delays. She replied, “Thank you. I don’t usually travel so far to see a patient, but things have changed since the Event.”
Stanton replied to this almost ritual statement, “They sure have.”
There was a moment of respectful silence. Sandra broke it by asking, “Why did you want him treated at Jackson Park in particular?”
“Well, we wanted him to be near his ex-wife. She’s furious at him, but I’ve gotten in touch with her and she promised that she’ll help take care of him. Besides that, I’ve heard that Jackson Park has been expanding their psychology department to deal with the tragedy.”
“Yes, now that most of the emergencies following the Event have been dealt with, psychotherapy for former parents is one of the primary services we’re offering.”
“Well, come into my office and I’ll explain a little more about him.” Stanton waved for her to follow and led the way through the double doors that read STANTON BAILEY, PUBLISHER in frosted letters. He collapsed into a leather recliner behind an expansive mahogany desk while Sandra took a much more modest swivel chair. Clearly this man wasn’t afraid to use intimidation. He rested his head on one hand and sighed. “I just want you to know, he’s not that kind of person. He’s always been so grounded. Hell of a journalist. Pulitzer Prize winner. He was at Ground Zero during the attack on Israel. He was my top choice for editor when Steve left…”
Sandra interrupted gently. “Mr. Bailey, you don’t need to justify Mr. Williams to me. The Event effected all of us in different ways. A huge part of the population has some amount of post-traumatic stress disorder. There’s been amnesia—people completely wiping the Event from their minds. I’ve seen countless cases of delusions, everything from imagining their kids are still alive to seeing a fleet of alien spaceships coming to get them too. Most of these people never showed any symptoms before the Event. So please, stick to the pertinent details.” She pulled out a notebook and pen and looked at him expectantly over the tops of her frameless glasses.
“All right,” said Stanton with a slow nod. “He’s our top journalist, best we’ve got, so the instant this hits, Plank—that was our old editor—puts him on the story. But next thing we hear, he’s in London chasing some crazy conspiracy theory about the Jews. And then interviewing the President of Romania. We didn’t give him too much trouble at first because Carpathia has been shooting the breeze about all this and his theory was as good as any, but then he never gives us a story. The deadline comes and goes. The issue goes to print. Nothing. When Plank talks to him, he swears he’s onto a big story, but he has no sense that he’s ignoring the biggest story in history. And all this time—no copy. Not about the Event. Not about this conspiracy of his. Not a word.
“Finally, I tell him that he’s getting canned if he doesn’t produce something. He tells me that he’s got an invite to an exclusive meeting at the UN and promises that it’ll be the story of the year. I’ve got my suspicions by now, but he’s never let me down before. I let him go. And then I find out from some aides who were there that he spent the whole meeting in the bathroom, crying.”
“Mr. Bailey, that’s perfectly normal,” Sandra broke in. “We’ve all barely begun the mourning process. Breakdowns are prone to occur at any time. And, naturally, if he didn’t have control over himself, he couldn’t attend the meeting. You mustn’t be too hard on him.”
“But that wasn’t all,” replied Stanton. “At the press conference afterwards, he swore to me that he had been there, even though he couldn’t name a single person from the meeting except the ones he already knew. He had this cockamamie story about how Carpathia killed those two men who committed suicide. There was just no getting around it. He’d flipped. This whole time he’d been chasing a story that only existed in his head.”
“I see,” said Sandra, setting down her notebook.
“The thing is…” began Stanton, and hesitated.
“The thing is, I was hoping we could break it to him easy. I’ve got a ghostwriter who’s going to do his articles for him and we’ll just let him edit the finished stories so he’ll still be getting his articles in the Weekly. I told him he’s just being demoted and transferred to our Chicago branch office. I hope that’s all right.”
Sandra sighed. “What’s done is done, but you’re making things worse by playing along. Sooner or later we’re going to have to break him out of his little world. But I’d better see him for myself.”
Stanton rose and led her through the maze of cubicles to a desk where a man of about thirty sat, holding a phone to his ear. He was talking into it rapidly, brows furrowed in concentration, but when he paused to listen to the reply, Sandra could hear a familiar beep and a canned voice saying, “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again.”
“Buck—hey, Buck!” said Stanton.
The young man cupped a hand over the phone and looked up.
Stanton said, “I have a someone here I’d like you to meet.”
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