Roger forgot about the coffee and made his way, however reluctantly, to the boss’ office. After plopping heavily in the leather chair, he massaged his temples and waited to see how this little vignette would play out.
Frank Danforth had always been the overlooked man. He was, in truth, several years younger than Roger; their time in college almost concurrent with Frank in undergrad while Roger took grad courses. After 911 deux, he had followed Roger’s rising star as a fellow alumni, garnering pride in each of Roger’s accomplishments. He recalled how he and his fellow students would toast Miller as one of the few journalists who asked probing questions and, in an atmosphere of fear resembling McCarthyism, waded into the political quagmire of fake news and unequivocal cascade of lies emanating from the Whitehouse status quo. When Frank graduated, it was with the sole purpose of following in Miller’s footsteps, he would be the hard charging young buck that made a difference. Unfortunately, by the time he showed up in 2015 the stratosphere in the journalistic circles had changed. After winning the award in 2017, Miller was buried further and further down the list of acceptable journalists and succinctly blackballed from the White House. Frank, on the other hand, had caught on in Santa Barbara, but his crime beat consisted of nothing more than a few meth houses and extremely polite rappers.
Frank’s life then took on the tale of so many dreamers without true talent and, through the persuasion of his wife; he had tucked his tail between his legs and came to his uncle for work at the tabloid—SCAB!. It was a compromise that he was sorely torn between—the prestige and security of associate editor against the idealized fire of true journalism. He told himself that he would change the focus of the tabloid, at meetings had insisted that the vacuum of real reporting created by the Whitehouse gave the tabloid the inside track and an obligation to begin tackling some investigative journalism stories per issue.
Throughout his battle with the board, he had kept an eye on Roger Miller’s career with a sense of envy and admiration. He and his buddies once again toasted Roger, as he languished in jail for his principles. Laughed at Trump’s tweets, watched the subtle descent as Miller was charged with a litany of offenses; browbeaten yet never giving in; finally, his dismissal from the Times along with the abandonment of the other journalism icons forced into retirement. He had been the one who pushed his uncle to hire Roger Miller, stroking the old man’s ego—an award winning journalist. Franklin’s vision had been to reshape a section of the tabloid to be concerned with legitimate newsworthy investigations and Miller would be the lynchpin and, as Frank told the board that day two summers ago, Miller will be the man to get the scoop.
“Where’s my scoop!” Frank’s hands trembled, belying the excitement he felt in outdoing the other three relations vying to take over the magazine. He knew if anyone could get that picture, Roger could. He watched keenly as Roger instinctively reached for his phone on the holster of his belt, then the hesitation, then came the slumping of the shoulders. “The story of a lifetime, right under your window,” Frank leaned forward in his desk, “I can give you the story, just tell me you have the photo of the century.”
“I was…” Roger looked at Frank pleadingly, “Frank, I just can’t do it.”
“Can’t or won’t,”
Roger knew who had gotten him the job; it was never mentioned, but he knew Frank had gone out on a limb. Most of the board was Trump supporters, blind to any realism that would thwart their view of him; knew that McNamara was not highly impressed, the libel case; knew from the direction of the interview that Danforth was on precarious ground. And, to be honest, aware that Frank was a little let down, when he finally met the man he had idolized in college.
“I just can’t sink this low,” Frank’s disappointment in Roger had developed from the ashes of his own dream mixed with the reality that Roger was a shell of the man they had toasted in their college watering hole. “I just can’t do that to the girl.”
“Things started out so well,” Frank flailed his arms in exasperation. “You write a goddamn horrorscope for god’s sake,” he turbined his arms. “How much further do you think you can sink?”
“I’m sorry,” Roger fiddled with the phone. “I have to hang on to what little integrity I still have.”
“You know this is your last chance,” Frank reached out his hand. “Give me the pictures and I’ll see what I can do. You’re not the hot shot reporter you once thought you were. I asked for a simple assignment from you. Find out what happened, get me an interview, find out all the incongruities,” he pounded the desk, “that’s what real journalists do. But not you, with that goddamn Webot and your crazy little horrorscope, get a second hand guitar you know I hate that damn thing, you’re lucky it amuses the boss’ wife.” Frank Danforth suddenly looked beat, his head fell into his hands; the wisp of hair pasted across his dome, the paunch of the stomach gave him the aura of a monk. “Plus, you’ve been out getting drunk every night on my dime.”
“Look, Frank, I need your back on a story.”
“Now he wants my back on a story,” Frank’s hands went straight up, “a pox on all washed up journalists. But let me get this straight,” he moved his elbows forward on his desk, “you did get into the room, you did see the girl, you did take a picture on that phone, now all you have to do his hand it over to me.” They stared at each other. “Lookit, I’m not going to say I am not impressed,” Frank leaned back in his chair. “How you managed to get past the police, past the nurses, get in her room and get out again is impressive, but no one is going to know unless you give me the gaddamn photograph.”
“But this other thing is more important,” Roger leaned forward across the desk, “I have the perfect angle on the spontaneous combustion cases,” Both leaned mere inchers away from each other, “an actual eye witness to the bum burnings.” He looked into Frank’s eyes but did not see any excitement. “And I’m working on a connection between that and I think some testing the Nazi’s conducted in Dachau during the war; it’s gonna be great.” He looked again, but Frank appeared to be looking through him.
“More important than the harrowing story of our favorite socialite almost wiped off the face of the earth in an inferno of blazing death,” Frank went to bump phones, “The pictures and we’ll talk.”
“I give you the pictures,” Roger held the phone back, in his pocket he fiddled with a remote Jose had jerry-rigged for him. “You give me the combustion story.”
“I give you the fabulous Cazz Diamond story, again.” Frank snatched the phone from Roger’s hands, “You know they sued us for a million,” pulled up the photo gallery. “But we made over six millions on the sales,” scrolled through the shots, “McNamara was more than happy, chances are you could go far said the mother was a real piece.”
“That’s nice, Frank,” Roger toyed with the remote in his pocket, “but don’t you think the girl has been through enough?”
“What kind of shit pictures are these, I can’t even tell it’s Diamond, it looks like that fucking mummy from the Twilight Zone,” Frank squinted up at Roger.
“The combustion cases,” Roger pulled out the remote and pointed it at his phone, “or no deal.”
“I have Houghton on that one,” Frank clasped the phone in his hand and looked down at a memo on his desk.
“Are you nuts?” Roger approached the desk on his elbows, “Frank, I’m telling you I have an eye,” he pointed to his eye, “fucking witness to what three spontaneous combustion cases.”
“You didn’t hear? To busy boozing it up with your pals,” Danforth rose in his seat, “Look at you, you even stink of it, your eyes look like you’ve been swimming in chlorine, the pot hangs on your clothes, and your breath smells like kerosene. You want to do a story, get the scoop, have you considered that Cassandra Diamond is an actual fucking eyewitness,” he stood all the way up. “She’s been moved now from Sinai to some god forsaken private rehab center with real security, totally off limits to the press and public,” he sat again looking tired, “And we have the only pictures of the little bitch in the world, a total exclusive.” Frank swiped through them, “Forget what I said, I like the grainy look,” Frank opened a drawer in his desk. “I’m thinking of a number.”
“I want the story.” Roger toyed with the remote, Jose had set it up for him, in case the cops busted him, a zap app. “C’mon Frank, it’s important to me. I need another chance.”
“No can do,” Danforth pushed himself forward in his chair. “Lookit,” Danforth gave his best professional look. “I got a call from the big boss, McNamara; he wants to see you in his office,” his look turned apologetic. “You know I try to cover for you guys as best I can, but you’ve been slackin off way too much lately. I guess he got wind of it.” He swiveled mechanically in his chair. “Maybe he’s fed up with that horrorscope, too.” Danforth fell back into his leather seat. “On your way back tell me what it’s about and I’ll be sure to give ya a good recommendation. You used to be somebody.”
Roger stood before the desk, not believing how quickly his future had dissolved, first Terrasea now this, even this shitty little job with an unreputable rag was better than going back to that empty apartment. His entire life flashed, if you get in with the right kind of fellows then fizzled before him. He got up and on the way out; he turned, aimed and fired the remote, wiping out the photo gallery. “See ya, around Frank.”