BECK’S RULES

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Chapter 1

The newsroom buzzes with the 24/7 activity of a daily newspaper—the non-syncopated tick, tick, tick of many sets of computer keys, random odd conversations from police and fire scanners, phones ringing in a cascade with hot tips, and reporters mulling about scouring their notebooks and calling sources for something to write about. Yeah, I’m dating myself. Nowadays reporters surf the world wide web looking for leads. But I can’t help it. I’m old school. I still wear a fedora and suspenders everywhere with my oxford shoes and double-breasted suit with cuffed hems. I use a notebook and a phone. I just gave up my trusty old Smith-Corona typewriter for a computer keyboard that I barely use. But only because the typewriter fell apart.

I wouldn’t trade my decades of newspaper instincts and nose for news for any internet, Facebook, tweety-bird, or insta-whatever.

I love a busy newsroom, but today’s a little slow. Monday morning is always as quiet as a dead man’s rattle at a pauper’s funeral. With everyone recovering from the weekend, it’s the only slow day of the week. Time to get a strong cup of joe and beat up on my newbie cub reporters. I don’t really beat up on them, but I have to prod them a little to ensure they go out and dig for the stories. Seeing the news through a monitor or cell phone doesn’t promote the best newsman’s, sorry, newsperson’s acumen. For over a hundred years, The Daily Bugle fed the essential and crucial news information for the curious appetites of the nearly 200,000 people in Holden, a medium-sized town near the big city of Chicago. A far cry from its big-city neighbor, it also had its nonsensical politics and worthless, ego-driven politicians, and some crime, mostly from some unimportant gang-banger wannabees. Everywhere in any town USA has the same problems, big or small. Day in, day out, 24 hours, 7 days a week, we cover it at The Bug, as we fondly call it, Holden’s most reputable and only source of daily news.

I’m Clarence Edwards, City Editor, but everyone calls me Buc. Not like I’m really impressed with the title, it could be dog catcher for all the power and respect I get, but it has paid the bills for over fifty years. Ah, let’s face it, I have newspaper ink running through my veins. I couldn’t give it up if I tried. And believe me, I’ve tried 19,710 times. Every day I tell myself this is the last day. Every day after someone calls or emails with some gripe or a reporter gives me grief about cutting their story and “compromising the integrity of journalism,” I take my hat off my duct-taped wooden hat rack, swear off the old Bug and open that door to chuck it all. But then I look at the active newsroom, think about my empty apartment, slug down two more bad cups of stale joe, and start all over again. Like May used to say, Rule #1, Stop whinin’ and get on with it.

After all, there’s always the promise of the big megillah. The story that makes you sit up off your butt for a change and actually listen. That day came today. It’s about May.

Ernie, the cop, calls me to say that one of his former informants, Lucky Lou, is dying. He went to see him and on his death bed. Lucky said he wants to set the record straight. Normally, I wouldn’t put my hat and shoes on for an informant’s death bed confessional. After all, when since Watergate did any of them want to set the record straight. But it’s about May, so I have to go. 

“Across town,” I tell my trusty old blue Chevy Impala. I always talk to my car, just like the Lone Ranger told Silver where they were going. Too many matinees as a kid, I guess. I call her Blue Beauty. She isn’t such a beauty anymore. If she were a horse, she would have been put out to pasture long ago, but I will do anything it takes to keep her with me.

I pull up to a small beige one-story brick building, which describes practically every low-visibility public place in the country—drab and boring. Sunnybrook Nursing Home is for the happy and active old farts ready to romp down the long and winding road to death. It seems so wrong to struggle through life for it all to end up in a bland, hopeless building and then have your life summed up by who survived you in a two-inch fifty-word obituary.

But I have a job to do. I need to see what old Lucky has to say. 

I walk down the putty-colored hallway to find his room. There he is. He looks like hell, gaunt and chalk-colored just lying there with the priest on one side and the death coach on the other. The grim reaper’s just waiting with the meter running for his passenger. It just shows you how life pulls a punch. Fifty years ago, this guy had the skeleton keys to every closet in the city, but now he’s hooked up to more machines than it takes to light up State Street at Christmas.

“Hey, Lucky, how’s tricks?” I give him a clay smile. He musters part of a smile in return. He seems glad to see me, a friendly face, or maybe just his last. 

His breathing machine has almost a rhythmic cadence, punctuated abruptly with violent coughs taking it out of sync. “I couldn’t go yet, without telling ya,” he says with a shallow and breathy voice. “Something ya need to know…cough cough, about May….”

Frozen in suspense, I intently hang on every syllable he spews out. He grabs my tie and pulls me close. “Center Street…Sorry.” He coughs out the words and then snaps back down on the bed. And just like that, he’s gone.

“Rest peacefully, Lucky, your car is here,” I whisper. I shoot him a finger salute as I leave the darkened room into the drab corridor. There’s nothing more to do.

This work is copyrighted (c) 2020 Suzanne Rudd Hamilton, all rights reserved.

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