Roger did not know what to expect as he pushed his way through the imposing oaken doors; the rumors that he was dying from some kind of cancer led him to imagine a hospital bed with air bags, sensors, the whole nine yards, but the man standing with his hands clasped behind him staring out into the beyond was the epitome a dignified man: late fifties—early sixties, handsome, robust, well-tanned, what hair there was was teased and salon groomed; dressed in a Brioni tonal striped two piece suit, his shirt and tie from the finest men’s haberdashery. As he turned, his face showed signs of aging and signs of fighting the aging process. In the light, his jowls assumed a sallow shade there were rumors suggesting an illness of some kind. Surrounding him much like the Alps surrounds Switzerland was positioned a Pont Lafayette u-desk, and behind that a Campanile hutch, Bartizan filing cabinets, long contoured planks of some sumptuous wood, teak or deep walnut. It was obvious the man enjoyed awing people with the pomp and prosperity of his office. He beamed at Roger, as Roger turned and took in the six plated panoramic landscape that could only be Los Angeles before civilization; the mural painting depicted scenes of rare and wonderful beauty; mountains, rivers, lake, meadow, winding lanes, trees and flowers—scenes which might have portrayed earthly views had they not been vibrantly depicted in opposing shades. As he maneuvered around the desk, Roger detected one note of vanity, a large belt buckle compensate much pointed out the paunch he had accumulated throughout the years.
“How do you like my dreamscape,” the voice seemed pleased, as one is showing off his prized possession; Roger continued his rotation, “I commissioned that piece years ago, while the memory was still fresh.” Roger followed the rolling hills until he came upon an orange grove on the brink of the ocean, and then, the real thing, the plate glass capturing the Los Angeles of today—garish reflections of concrete and glass, patterned asphalt roadways, the panorama from Santa Monica to Venice Beach and the ocean as far as the eye could see, all tinted by the ever-present smog. Roger couldn’t help but be impressed. And finally, upon a separate column at eye level, a glassless framed display of two fencing swords lay upon green felt.
“I see you’re admiring my blades,” McNamara made it around and reached a hand out to shake, but instead ensnared Roger in his arms, an old politician double clutch, “Ever do any sword play?”
“Well, video games and such,” McNamara pushed him forward towards the two crossed dueling swords mounted on the wall. “Not really anything…”
“Go ahead and grab one,” he went around his desk to an umbrella stand and extracted a saber, “Used to do this in boarding school,” McNamara bent the blade along with a froglike bend of his knees, “Great exercise.” Roger fumbled with the outlying epee unhooking it from its clasp and pulling it from the framed green felt canvass. The sword looked like the real deal—lethal, shiny with an intricate design for a bell guard: a serpentine serpent.
Roger pulled the epee down gripping the handle; he felt that the blade was intricately balanced and a shiver ran up his spine how cool is this along with a shit eating grin. He turned to see Mr. McNamara twirling the blade before him and with my boss and leaping froglike across the carpet. His imaginary foe vanquished, look into all possibilities McNamara turned to the young man that was the key to his redemption.
“So you’re the hotshot reporter my nephew is always going on about!” it was a bellow that was followed by a balestra then a lunge that sent Roger’s epee scarpering across the carpet, a fine line of blood across his wrist. “Grab the blade with authority,” McNamara stooped and, with a flick of the wrist launched the epee Roger’s way. Roger caught the sword in self-defense, took a practice swing. “Pretend it is an extension of your arm.” Roger turned his back and walked away swishing the blade, suddenly serious for a moment, fully aware the interview Elvis had just left the building had lost all sense of propriety.
“I don’t have all day, man.” Roger stepped forward with a false approach hoping to get a defensive reaction, but McNamara just smiled and executed a fleche barely recovered by Roger. His blood up, best meeting ever he maneuvered a Riposte as steel struck steel. “Goood!” McNamara countered with a parry and lunge. “You’re the one who saved the world from terrorists, 911 the sequel”, the blade came down sending a shiver through Roger’s arm as he repelled the thrust, “but then you got on the wrong side of the corporate powers.”
“Yes, sir,” Roger feinted then slashed with the blade, but was easily parried by McNamara, “Your golfing buddy, I believe.” McNamara chuckled.
“Good, I like employees that aren’t always stumbling over themselves trying to please me,” McNamara swung the overhead slicing it through the air. “I really hate that.”
“Yessir,” Roger braced for the next attack, “I mean I wrote the terrorist piece.”
“Then you did the piece on the Diamond girl?” this time McNamara approached with a stop hit stop cut maneuver that flummoxed Roger into backing up, McNamara fleched once more landing a direct hit upon Roger’s Septime, “that would have ended the match; we’ll take a break.” McNamara looked a bit pale, the exertion seemed to shallow his breathing. “Almost took a hit on that one, the libel suit.”
“Sir, there was no libel,” Roger stood indignantly, sword dangling at his hip, “I double checked every fact.”
“Libel is only libel if a court determines it is,” McNamara took up the en garde position, “and the court said no libel.” McNamara smiled like a boy dissecting a fly, “Did you catch the tits on that woman? What a sight!” Roger disengaged himself by stepping away, still holding the blade defensively. “They all run together; sometimes I feel I have measured out my life in courtrooms.”
“Um, yes,” Roger returned the en garde position with trepidation, “and no. I mean yes to the tits, no to the courtrooms.” Roger lunged forward his blade ahead causing McNamara to chuckle once again and thrust in opposition, nearly wrenching the sword from Roger’s grip.
“And like my nephew,” McNamara lunged and parried. “You think the magazine should take some kind of stand, promote some well-being?”
“Sir, I do the horrorscope section in your magazine, sir,” Roger prepared for McNamara’s parry. “Yeah, my wife loves that,’ He thrust once again, “I’m not a big fan.” Roger barely deflected the next parry, “Is that not just the most boring as hell job created by man?”
“Sir?” Roger still fiddled with the epee, not sure how to use it, jerked his head around. “Uh, well sir, I’m correlating certain events that correspond with… “
“You did the Diamond girl’s sister, right? Well, I have something even better, a real mystery.” He flipped the sword handle up then down again almost tearing the epee from Roger’s grasp. “I’m looking to do a story so sensationalistic, so eye-catching that every little old lady and housewife will crawl on broken glass to get it, got it. You know what’s on my desk there?” His hand swept over towards his desk and Roger spied a cardboard box just as another slash of the sword wrenched the epee from his grasp, sending it flying across the room.
“Need to keep a firm grasp on the hilt,” McNamara loved this part of his job. “Secret’s all in the wrist,” he flashed the blade, “see what I want to do is different, you see a different twist,” McNamara turned to glare at Roger, his eyes blazing. “Our entertainment section ran a story, last issue about this rock star from the last millennium. Ever heard of Dallas Richards?”
“Dallas?” Roger was riveted now; Dallas the waitress came to mind. He parried another thrust from his boss. “Heard the name, sir.”
“Keep the blade up, like this,” McNamara came down with a swooping stroke almost dislodging the epee from Roger’s hand, once again. “Never liked his music, the shallower the better I say.” McNamara faked a feint, backed up, then doubled his attack with three swift strokes as Roger held him off, but now the blade was coming down hard. “This guy came out of Texas in the nineties,” the blade crashed close to Roger’s head, “made a splash with a band in LA,” McNamara brought the blade down as Roger fell back against the desk, barely able to ward off the blows, “then some clusterfuck about a stolen painting,” McNamara was now out of control slamming the blade down at Roger, “there was talk that he double-crossed the mob millions in coke and some kind of money train heist, then whoosh,” He crashed the blade into his desk lodging it there next to Roger’s head, “suddenly disappeared.” McNamara dislodged his blade and flustered smashed it down once again; the two blades screeched as Roger shifted out of the way. “Literally burnt up in thin air or so the news all said. And here’s the kicker, everyone assumes the guy is dead, so we do our usual.” Another feint and another three stroke attack, this time landing the flat of the blade on Roger’s wrist and dislodging Roger’s epee. The blade flew across the room, lodging itself in a sea bass mounted on the wall. “All of the sudden, emails start popping up,” they both gaped at the epee lodged in the fish, “seems not only is the guy not dead, but apparently he’s everywhere.” He finally lay his blade across the desk, “So, we have a follow up.” He took hold of the box. “Next thing you know emails start pouring in telling us how this Richards character either saved their homes from the bad bank man or saved their farm, hundreds of them.” He rifled through the box. “So I get to thinking, this guy is some modern day Robin Hood, a real folk hero, just what our depressed society needs, someone who we can promote, to glean some hope with, and you, my boy, are going to be the one to find and interview this sum bitch.”
“You don’t need to thank me.” McNamara clapped Roger on the shoulder, “Now go pick up that epee, we still have a round to go.” Roger walked to the mounted fish and struggled to extract the blade without gutting the bass. “Sir, the spontaneous combustion…”
“You know who said, most men live lives of quiet desperation?”
“Thoreau?” Roger, perplexed, lowered the epee.
“Really, that so?” McNamara crouched in a fencing stance. “You understand that the world has changed in the last five years. You know what President Ronald Reagan said about facts?”
“He didn’t like them?”
“He said facts are stupid things, they get in the way of the message and we are a society built upon the message rather than the truth. Most of our subscribers are bored, lonely and frustrated housewives. LA ex-trophy wives searching for some excitement and leeching on other people’s lives that they think is either more glamorous or more depressing; with the sole purpose of making their lives a little more bearable. So I want you to hit the reader’s emotions don’t worry about the facts I want every housewife in America prepared to crawl across broken glass for the next issue of SCAB! The more outrageous the more exciting,” McNamara attacked again, warning Roger by swinging the blade twice over his head before chopping down; Roger raised his blade repelling the sword, just in the nick of time.
“I just got off the phone with Frank before you walked in. He’s on board one hundred percent; of course, what choice does he have, if he wants a piece of the paper. Everybody plays ball with me, boy.” Another foray, which Roger repelled getting the hang of this as the backhand swipe stole the hilt from him once again. “What you’ll do is a running account of this search. We’ll call it the Search for Dallas Richards, or the Search for the Everyman Hero. Whatcha say? You with me or are you fired.” Roger stooped and flicked the epee quickly, close to getting past McNamara’s blade. McNamara feinted then went for the kill; Roger twisted away from the thrust. “Good move,” McNamara and Roger traded blows, “You’ll take Peters with you for whatever it is that he does, Jose will be your point man,” the blades flashed in the fluorescent light. “Frank tells me you worked with both before.” McNamara’s voice was beginning to weaken from the strain of battle. “I want all of our subscribers following your every move. I want interviews with the people he saved; go to the farms and let then tell you their hard luck story; then boom find out how he saved their farms.” McNamara pulled his sword erect, bowing, and signaling to Roger the end of their foray. “Help our readers to see a little light at the end of their miserable tunnels. When you’re finished with them, I want every lonely housewife willing to crawl across broken glass to get the next issue.”
“Yes, sir you said that,” Roger noticed that McNamara had tired quickly. “No depression, my ass. Let every subscriber relive the monumental feat,” McNamara swung the blade frailly, “let them get to know what a swell guy this Richards really is.” McNamara reached for the epee and Roger released his grip on the hilt. “That means lie if you have to.”
“I want you and your team to go through these emails and build a trail; look for the most recent and plot a line to it; have Jose set up a webpage dedicated strictly to Dallas Richards; which means, I want something written every day, even if you have to make it up. I want every subscriber forgetting about their rotten lives once they get a whiff of the trail. Let’s find some photos of Richards, the more flattering the better. Our lawyers have been putting out calls to reach him, give him a huge payout, but so far, nothing. Each issue you’ll get the center spread, so don’t find him too quickly, the point is to string our readers along.” He absentmindedly ran his thumb along the length of the blade. “Ever been deep sea fishing?”
“You got to hook ‘em quickly, but then let them run with the line.” McNamara flexed the blade. “It’s all about timing when to pull them in, but find him quickly and get back to me, I figure we can make all the arrangements and still drag it out, but we can’t risk someone else finding him first. Kapische.”
“But what about the bums…the horrorscope,” Roger became tongue tied, “I was just making a few connections…”
“Fuck that thing,” McNamara looked at the sheen of the sword, suddenly feeling more tired than he should. He teetered for a moment; Roger reached out for him exposing the burn mark across his wrist. McNamara started for a moment, and then shook Roger off. “That should have ended in 2012, anyway. It was just those stupid scientists that dragged it out for their own ratings on the Syfy channel.”
“It’s just that,” Roger parried verbally, “I was writing up something about the spontaneous combustions.”
“Great link it all together, I don’t care,” He gazed hard at the youth’s eyes, but there was nothing telling there, at least nothing discernible. “We’re looking for about a two page layout every issue, 1,500 words a good crisp prose. You look through the emails; coordinate them with Jose, then come back with a pitch and I’ll tell you if it flies. You have two days.” McNamara slumped back into his handcrafted luxury leather chair, “I’m counting on you to do a bang up job; you’ll get a pro diem. I heard about your situation and it seems to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to get away for a little while. Well, what do you think? Our last word is that he’s around here somewhere, hell maybe right under your very nose.”
Roger was speechless right under my nose. Ten minutes before, he was working his resume out in his head, counting imaginary dollars to determine if rent could be paid. And now, with the slash of a saber, he could see where this could take off and go viral, this could be his break to reintroducing himself as a member of the fourth estate. A power broker in the new world of news, controlling the masses. He was ecstatic but wary, a twinge in the beginning was a twinge of doubt surfaced for an instant.
“Thank you, sir,” Roger had to get out before he started gushing, “and I’ll do the best job…” he reached out his hand, but there was no reciprocation.
“Just get the job done, no matter what,” McNamara suddenly felt a little gray maybe it was just a trick of the lights maybe as deep as bone marrow, maybe something even deeper than that. “But remember; find this Dallas Richards before anyone else. If there’s a circus I want it to be my monkeys.”
Roger stood stockstill, as a thought echoed in a chamber of his brain I must leave you for a brief time. Roger came out of his revelry. “I’m sorry, sir,” Roger queried, “You’re leaving?”
“How did you know?” Now it was McNamara’s turn to stare stock-still, “it’s just for a rest, a few days.” He held the young man’s eyes in his gaze for a moment, then looked away; a twinge of regret caught him but he regained himself. Such a small life, such a small price to pay for the key to happiness is this not correct provost, yes a small price. He couldn’t keep some emotion out of his voice as he rebounded once again out of his seat, then took the young man’s hand in his, see the medicine man, he will know how to find me wished him well, walking him out, telling him that they would have lunch when he returned with his Pulitzer ha! ha! those eyes, eyes that, if things went to plan, would gaze out across his beloved orange grove, eyes that would never be the same again.
“Here take these,” McNamara waved to the overflowing pile of emails and letters and workin overtime in the box, “they might come in useful.”