Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Delusions of Buck Williams, Part 2

“Global Weekly, this is Verna speaking. Hello, Mr. Bailey. Okay, what is it? Yes, you’ve told me. What? No, I just talked to him last week and he was fine. Arrogant, of course, but not crazy. You really think so? So he won’t be coming then. But why would we do that? We’re understaffed already without him getting in the way. Well, when you put it that way. All right. When is he coming? Couldn’t you have given me a little more notice? Yes, I have a desk for him, but…I suppose I have no choice, then. Yes, I'll have Jimmy handle it. Goodbye.”

Alice looked up curiously as Verna stepped out of her office, looking weary. “Buck trouble?”

“Cameron trouble, please. That nickname drives me up a wall. But it’s worse than that. I’ll explain in a minute, but can you get Jimmy for me?”

Alice nodded and dialed the intern’s extension. “Hey, Jimmy, Verna needs to talk to you.”

“Sure, just a minute,” came the reply. A few minutes later, a skinny, red-headed boy walked up, his thumbs hooked into the pockets of his jeans. Alice gave him an encouraging smile; Jimmy was shy to a fault and her abrupt summons had probably unnerved him.

“As you’ve probably heard, Cameron Williams is relocating to our office,” Verna began.

“Yes, I’m looking forward to meeting him,” said Jimmy.

“You say that because you’ve never met him,” Verna informed him. “But Mr. Bailey has just informed me of something disturbing. He says that he believes Cameron is suffering from post-Event delusions.”

“Cameron Williams? No way!” blurted Alice.

“I’m afraid so,” said Verna. “They’ve had a psychologist check him out and there’s no question about it. That whole big story he was chasing never existed.”

“Is it because of…” Alice asked quietly, and her boss nodded. She immediately felt awkward. An only child with teenaged cousins, she hadn’t lost any family members and only a few acquaintances, no close friends. People had been almost accusatory about this, as though her intact family was a failing of hers. But, in a way, it was: She couldn’t really understand what had happened. What would it be like, to put your baby down for a second, turn around, and find she was no longer there? The panicked search, the gradual realization that she was really gone, and then the waiting, hoping for the only thing left to hope for, hoping that the child would just come back the same way she had left. Alice had not been a part of it, and that divided her from most of the people left.

“So…” Jimmy began, looking a little lost.

“Mr. Bailey has always had a soft spot for Cameron,” Verna explained in a voice that made it clear that the publisher’s partiality was incomprehensible to her. “He wants to let him stay on here for a while. He wants one of the interns—that’s you, Jimmy—to write his copy for him and just give it to him for editing. Hopefully therapy will snap him out and he’ll be able to transition smoothly back into real journalism.”

Alice clapped cheerfully. “And in the meantime, you get a chance to put Buck in his place!”

Verna slumped a little and replied, “Now isn’t the time. We’ve been working double shifts to get the last few issues out. We just need to get back on schedule. There simply isn’t time for personal grudges. Jimmy, copy. I’m afraid you’ll have to pick up his big story about theories behind the Event, but the Weekly has been covering the investigative side since day one. I’ll tell you who to talk to and you’ll just need to do the writing. Alice, I know you’re busy, but it would be helpful if you could be Cameron’s babysitter. Just make sure he doesn’t get into trouble.”

“Of course,” said Alice with a nod.

“Thank you both.” Verna retreated back into her office, where she sat with her temple resting on her fingers, staring blankly at her monitor.

“Why would she need to get back at Buck Williams?” Jimmy whispered.

“Oh, well…he’s the old-fashioned type of journalist.”

“What does that mean?”

“Sexist.”

“Oh.”

Alice wet one finger with her tongue and began leafing through a stack of memos while she explained. “She’s a friend of his ex. He’s totally got it in for her. He’s been on her case ever since she got hired as Lucinda’s personal assistant. When he got promoted to editor, he came and totally shot her down just because he could. Told her she wasn’t going to replace Lucinda even though she’d been doing her job for a week.”

“Wow. And now she’s just going to let it slide.” Jimmy turned to look at Verna through her office’s glass doors. “She’s a saint.”

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