Friday, June 26, 2009

The Delusions of Buck Williams, Part 3

Buck Williams arrived two hours later with a briefcase in one hand, a laptop case in the other, and a phone cradled on his shoulder. The other reporters were giving him looks and smiles. Verna and Alice had shared a quick discussion on what to tell everyone else and had decided to explain Buck’s condition rather than leaving them to figure it out when he began explaining the Carpathia story. He noticed their undue attention, but just grinned and waved like a rock star getting off a jet.

Alice saw Verna put on her patient face to greet him.

"Cameron," she said in a carefully emotionless voice. "I didn't expect you till Monday."

"Just checking in," he said. "You can call me Buck."

"I'll call you Cameron, if you don't mind, and --"

"I do mind. Please call --"

"Then I'll call you Cameron even if you do mind. I’m a bit busy right now, so you’ll have to sit tight for a minute.”

He turned to Alice and winked confidentially.

"You can call me Buck," he whispered.

"Thanks," she said, pointing to a chair beside her desk. He sat down.

“Nice hair.”

“Thanks,” Alice replied, running a hand through her spikes.

“Does it take you long to do?”

“Not really.”

“It reminds me of a hedgehog. Do you curl up to protect yourself when you sense danger?”

“Umm…not usually,” she replied.

“Can I touch it?”

“I guess,” said Alice, and burst into uncomfortable giggles. Flirting hadn’t bothered her before the event, but now it seemed kind of wrong. Was it because flirting reminded her of dating, which reminded her of marriage, which reminded her of children? Probably not. It was just that it seemed inappropriate to have fun in the wake of so much tragedy. Buck was incorrigible, though, and kept the not-quite-funny quips coming even as she blushed and began shifting in her seat. She thought informing him that he’d been given the corner cubicle with the coffee maker might shut him up, but he only laughed and replied, “Ha! I bet I won’t be able to fit my designer desk in there. You should have seen my old office. It was huge, like a palace. Floor-to-ceiling window looking out over Manhattan!”

Alice felt a wave of relief wash over her as Verna opened her door and announced, “Cameron, I can see you now.”

Alice couldn’t hear the exchange taking place in the editor’s office, but she could see Buck’s dark eyebrows arching in exaggerated witticism and Verna looking at him over the imaginary frames of the glasses she didn’t wear but should have. Her expression gradually morphed from patience to tooth-gritting endurance, and she finally stomped out of the office with Buck in tow to show him to his cubicle. Alice almost offered to take him instead—she was his appointed babysitter—but Verna’s look of barely concealed rage quieted her.

As he followed, Buck made silly faces at the rest of the staff, imitating Verna’s walk and chuckling at his own antics. The others stared at him in bemusement, shooting looks at each other that asked whether it was okay to laugh at the mentally ill man. She heard one of the staff reporters whisper to another, “I guess he’s under the delusion that he’s funny?” and the other reply, “No, he’s always been like that.”

From the other side of the office, Verna mentioned something about insubordination and Buck exploded with a reply that the people on the street could probably hear. "No, Verna, what's out of the question is you trying to vent all your frustration from who knows where in one breath. You know as well as I do that no one with an ounce of self-respect would put up with this. If I have to work out of the Chicago area, I'm going to work at home with a computer and modem and fax machine. And if you expect to see me in this office again for any reason, you'll get Stanton Bailey on the phone right now."

Verna strode back to her office with careful composure, picking careful replies that would prevent another childish outburst.

"I will get Mr. Bailey on the phone if I can, but you realize it's late in New York."

"He's always there, you know that. Use his direct, after-hours number."

"I don't have that."

"I'll write it down for you. He's probably interviewing a replacement for me."

As she strode through her office doors, leaving them swinging behind her, she informed Buck, "I'll call him, Cameron, and I will even let you have your say, but I am going to speak to him first, and I reserve the right to tell him how insubordinate and disrespectful you've been. Please wait outside."

Buck emerged with a mischievous grin.

"Did you hear all that?" he whispered.

"I can hear anything I want," she mouthed. She knew that Buck loved phone gadgets, so she explained, "And you know those new speakerphones, the ones that don't make you wait till the other person is done talking?"

He nodded.

"Well, they don't make it obvious you're listening in, either. You just shut off the transmit button, like this, and then if something happens to hit the speakerphone button, oops, then you can hear a conversation without being heard. Is that cool, or what?"

“Yeah, that’s great! Turn it on,” he urged.

“No! Leave Verna alone,” she chided, but he had already leaned close to the speaker as though he was listening.

“Bailey’s answering and asking what she wants,” he whispered. “Now she’s saying she has a problem with me. And he’s telling her to leave me alone because I’ve got important assignments to work on.”

Alice looked at Buck in compassionate confusion. Was he just joking, or did he really imagine that he was hearing the conversation?

“She’s saying I’m insubordinate. He’s telling her to remember that I’m their greatest asset and to treat me that way.”

Alice couldn’t help a snort of inappropriate laughter and clapped a hand over her mouth, immediately feeling horrible that she found it funny to listen to Buck describing the fantasy conversation that only he could hear.

“She’s saying he should support her. And saying that I’m being inappropriate. And he asks—hee hee—if I made a pass at her! Can you imagine? And he’s telling her that this regional stuff is a waste for me and if she doesn’t like my attitude, that’s her problem.”

The intercom buzzed for real. "Alice, send him in."

The exchange was short and appeared more polite than previously. Buck left Verna’s office, pausing to tease Alice’s hair annoyingly before picking up his briefcase and laptop and sauntering off.

Alice knocked quietly on the glass doors. Verna looked up and wearily called, “Come in.”

“Is there anything I can get you? Like another cup of coffee or something?”

The editor shook her head silently. Alice looked at her and thought of how Buck had laughed at the idea of anyone finding her attractive. She wasn’t old and she had fine, if severe features. She wore a beige pantsuit and kept her honey-blond hair pulled back in a knot, which, along with her sharp gaze, gave her a no-nonsense air, but none of that was the problem. The problem was that she was exhausted. After Lucinda’s disappearance, she’d pulled an all-nighter, along with most of the fragmentary staff, just to get things organized enough to begin thinking about what needed to be done. Since then, she’d been doing the work of two while trying to cover the biggest story in history in the midst of Chicago’s barely controlled chaos. Her eyes were sunken and her face had a drawn look. Buck had come bursting in looking fresh, like he’d just finished a light workday after a good night’s rest and a hot shower. It felt like an insult to everything they’d been through.

She asked Verna, “What did Mr. Bailey say?”

Verna replied, “I told him that, for the first five minutes he was here, he had been not only constantly impudent and disrespectful, but also loud and disruptive. I told him that Cameron was going to need constant supervision simply to allow the other reporters to work. He told me that he didn’t want to fire Cameron after already penalizing him, even if he had already been effectively eliminated from the staff. I mentioned that Cameron wanted to work from home. He said that would be fine.”

“So Buck won’t be back in the office?”

“Hopefully not. If you could go tell Jimmy that he can email Cameron his stories, that would be helpful.”

“Of course, Ms. Zee.”

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?”



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.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Delusions of Buck Williams, Part 1

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.”

“Of course.”

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.”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

UN Dungeon Crawl: Scene the First

The party:
Buck (Half-Elf Bard)
Rayford (Human Fighter)
Steve (Dwarven Rogue)
Chloe (Human Cleric - lawful good!)
Bruce (Human Mage)

DM: Okay, guys. You're standing at the entrance to a colossal, monolithic fortress of the Assembled Kingdoms in the heart of New Y...Waterdeep, this is. Or Schmew Mork. Whatever. It's a phenomenally ugly building, the infernal architecture hinting at the terror that lies within the walls. What foul excuse for government goes on here! And how can the populace remain so blind to its fiendish purpose? But you must enter! You know that this is the headquarters of the evil wizard Nikolius Alpsius, and that he's incredibly close to seizing control of the whole world. What's your plan?

Bruce: My Scroll of Immutable, Infalliable Prophecy says that the "Agent of Bane" -- Nikolius, obviously -- is unstoppable, except after seven years when the messiah... wazziz his name in this game? Baldur? When he comes back to kick everyone's ass. So really, there's not much point in storming the castle.

Chloe: Dude, we're supposed to be heroes. If we don't try to stop Nikolius, he'll walk all over everyone. We have to try. Oh, and Daddy? Could you mention to the Bard that he could maybe ask me out if he wants?

Rayford: Why don't you tell him yourself? Wink, wink...

Chloe: I think my god wouldn't approve. I'll never level up if I incur the wrath of my deity by speaking to an older man about romantic topics.

Rayford: Good point. Hey, Buck, I notice you seem to be quite taken with my daughter.

Steve: Wait. Is she your daughter in-game too? Because that's sort of weird.

DM: Excuse me, can we play? How are you all getting into the Assembled Kingdoms building?

Steve: Well, the wizard thinks that our bard is his agent, so why doesn't he go in first and check it out?

Buck: But.... but we'll be separated then. I'd rather not be alone. I need to have protection--

Chloe (aside, blushingly): Oh, he is soo thoughtful.

Buck: --from the guards. Can someone come in with me?

Bruce: No, you'll be fine. The wizard even gave you an invitation to the meeting he's holding. If you get into that, you'll see everyone who's involved and you can write a song about it later so the whole world will know about the evilness of the wizard.

Steve: Good luck with that.

Buck: What do you mean?

Steve: It's just that you've never done, you know, the bard thing. When you tell people things that you know? And they listen to your skillful rendition? I've heard of it, but I've never seen it.

Buck: I sang in that pub just the other day!

Steve: Yeah, but you sang some incredibly old song that everyone already knew. You only got a few coppers from the drunk who felt sorry for you.

Chloe: Well, I'm sure you could make up a really good song anytime you wanted. Because everyone says you have like a super high intelligence and charisma score.

Buck: I don't like to brag...

Rayford (chuckles): No need to, Bucky Duck. You're obviously very...skilled.

Bruce (clears throat): Umm...

DM: Right. The bard approaches the entrance first? Is that what's happening?

Buck: Well, okay. But we need to communicate.

Bruce: Okay, everyone pull out your Tenser's Tiny Enchanted Earhorn! Remember, we can use them to talk with anyone from the party, but they have limited charges. Use them wisely.

Buck: YES!!!!!!

Rayford: YES!!!!

Steve: YES!!!!!

Chloe: YES!!!!!

Bruce: YES!!!!

DM: Jesus Christ.

( End scene. Pause play for Doritos and Mt. Dew.)