Saturday, April 25, 2009

Meet the New Boss

The sound of the pistol shot was like a physical blow within the confines of the conference room. Buck Williams looked at the gun in his hands like he'd never known such things existed, watched as it slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor with a metallic clunk. Saw the gun lying there on the tiled floor, saw the thin streamer of blood flowing past it. His eyes followed the blood like tracing a river upstream on a map, until they reached the body of Nicholae Carpathia with a ragged hole in its chest. It seemed as though the blankly staring eyes were looking directly at him, as though the death rictus twisting the mouth was a grin, and Carpathia was sharing a secret joke.

"Jesus, Buck, what the hell did you do that for?"

Buck looked up. Every eye in the conference room was on him. He focused on the face of Hattie Durham as she spoke. "That was the frickin' Secretary General of the United Nations, Buck! What the hell were you thinking?"

"I . . . don't know," was all Buck could say.

Jonathan Stonagal's mouth was a thin, hard line. "I'm going to have to call the police, Buck."

The police! Buck felt the first twinges of panic rising. They would arrest him, send him to prison, perhaps even execute him! Did they have the death penalty in New York? As Stonagal pulled a cell phone from his jacket pocket, Buck blurted out, "No!"

Stonagal's hand froze, then slowly replaced the phone. His features smoothed out into an expressionless stare. "What should I do then, Buck?"

It took some time for Buck to realize what was happening. Stonagal was doing what Buck told him to do!

"Get out!" Buck ordered. "Get out of here. Go back to your office. Forget you saw anything happen."

His face still without expression, Stonagal rose from his chair and walked out of the room. To the others in the room, Buck repeated, "All of you, get out of here, and forget you saw anything happen!" Every face in the room mirrored Stonagal's blank expression as the others rose as one and walked out, ignoring the bleeding corpse on the floor.

When he was alone in the room, Buck looked back down at Carpathia's body. It seemed to him that he could hear the Romanian's voice. You have conquered, Buck. All that I had is yours. What is your will?

Becoming conscious of the power he now commanded, Buck Williams smiled at the thought that he would never have to sweat another story deadline ever again.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Working Late

Inspired by Fred Clark's most generous interpretation of Bailey's actions - I fear it may be obvious, but as we all know, it is the obvious things which LaHaye and Jenkins may be relied upon to miss.

May become a series or not, depending.

Eva Carlisle hit the "Send" button on the proofs she'd just finished and rubbed her eyes. Byline credit on a full feature article was quite a thrill for a college sophomore intern, but it took a lot more work than the background research and fact-checking she was doing three weeks ago, before. ("Before", she muttered to herself, and chuckled. Before and after were soloists, now, no need to mention the what.) Adding her classes and homework now that the university was back in session, and she was spending a lot of late hours in front of computers at Columbia and Global Weekly both. Leaving for the dorm at - she checked her watch - one-thirty-five was just normal. She pushed her glasses back up her nose and began quitting programs.

Suddenly, she heard a thump, and cursing. Her hand darted into her bag, and after a moment's fumbling came up with her revolver. Taking care to keep her finger off the trigger and the gun pointed in a safe direction (her roommate had been very emphatic about that), she carefully stood, slung the bag over her shoulder, and called out. "Who's there?"

The cursing trailed off into silence. It sounded like it was coming from Mr. Bailey's office. She walked carefully across the darkened floor to the door and listened for a moment. No sound. She wondered if she should go call the cops for a moment. Instead, she took her right hand off the gun and, covering the doorway with the revolver, slowly turned the knob on the door.

"Who is it?" came a voice from inside - Mr. Bailey, she realized.

"Eva Carlisle," she replied, quickly (carefully!) putting the gun back in her bag. "I'm an intern here - I was just about to leave when I thought I heard a noise," she continued, and opened the door.

The lights were out. Stanton Bailey was sitting on the couch in his office, his tie unknotted but his posture deliberately straight. A mostly-empty bottle of vodka sat on the desk with a shot glass next to it.

"Vodka? I thought whiskey was traditional in the news business," Eva joked, and blushed at her temerity. I'm not even being paid, she thought, and I'm cracking wise with the publisher?

"I prefer vodka," Bailey said, enunciating very precisely. His eyebrows twitched for a moment, and he checked his watch. "Working late?"

"Uh, yes. I was just heading out - do you want a ride home?"

"No," he said, quickly. "No, I'm just going to lie down on the couch here. I don't want ... I mean, I don't ... see a reason to go back and forth when I have to be here early. I'll just sleep on the couch, here."

"Okay, sir," Eva replied. She noticed his clothes were wrinkled, as if he had been sleeping on the couch for days. "Good night, then."

Bailey nodded stiffly. Eva backed out of the room and shut the door.

She paused for a moment outside his office, thinking. Then she borrowed his secretary's address book and brought it back to her desk, where a few minutes searching came up with his home number. The phone rang four times, and kicked over to an answering machine. It was a woman's voice.

"Hi, you've reached the Baileys. We're not home right now, so please leave a message with your name and number at the beep. God bless!"


She hung up.

Then she put her head down and cried.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Getting things straight

[So I was thinking: could I make Buck sympathetic?]

"Well, well, well." Verna looked Buck up and down twice. "I never thought I'd see the great Cameron Williams screw up like this."

Buck swallowed. When Bruce Barnes had talked about the terrible things the Antichrist would do to anyone who opposed him, Buck had thought he was talking about physical dangers. His new faith had brought new courage, and the prospect of physical danger didn't frighten him. He hadn't expected this battering to his professional pride.

Everyone thought he'd screwed up. Every attempt he'd made at an explanation just sounded like a particularly incoherent excuse, and in the end there was nothing he could do but bow his head and let them go on thinking that. The worst part was how many people seemed happy to see him in disgrace: his old attitudes had rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

"Just show me where my desk is," he said. "The sooner I can get settled in..." He left the sentence hanging in the air. Getting started early had seemed like a good idea - it beat hanging around on his own, nursing his injured pride - but from the look on Verna's face, she didn't care what felt best for him.

"Not so fast, Cameron," she said. "First of all, we need to get a few things straight."

"Buck," he said. "Please call me Buck - no-one's called me Cameron since my mother died."

"I'll call you Cameron," she said. "It's the name on your driver's licence, isn't it?"

"Yes, but no-one calls me it. Seriously, Verna-"

"I expect my subordinates to call me Ms Zee."

Buck winced as he remembered the way he'd spoken to her last time he was in the Chicago office. He'd acted like a complete dick, throwing his weight around and telling her off for doing the best job she could. Now, she was the one in charge, and she was getting her own back. "I see."

"I hope you do see, Cameron. I don't want any of your stupid alpha-male antics disrupting things here. It's hard enough now Lucinda's gone, without you adding to it. And if that doesn't motivate you, remember I just have to tell Stanton Bailey you're not up to the job."

She didn't trust him, and probably for good reason. It wasn't just the supposed screw-up: for years, he'd put his ego before his work. He was trying to change, but Verna had no way of knowing that.

"I understand," he said. "I won't give you any problems."

"You'd better not."

"Would you show me where my desk is now?"

She smiled. "We don't have a desk to spare for you just at the moment. You'll have to share with Alice."

That couldn't be right - surely there would be at least a few spare desks that had belonged to disappeared staff? But the smile, and the look in her eyes, explained it. This was another way of putting him in his place. "OK. What's my first assignment?"

"Assignment? Oh, Cameron, you really don't understand, do you? You can't be trusted with assignments. You'll be helping Alice with the filing and coffee for a few weeks. If you do a satisfactory job of that, I might let you do some background reporting - without a by-line."

The worst of it was, he couldn't blame it all on Carpathia. If he hadn't antagonised Verna so badly, she would have found him a few hard-to-screw-up assignments and let him work off his disgrace naturally. This was just the consequences of his own actions, coming back to haunt him.

He sent up a silent prayer for humility as he followed Verna to his new desk.