Wednesday, July 28, 2010

'Wu-dunit': Chapter 2, part I

Chicago managed to take in a 2 hour nap after arriving to the newsroom

It was 7 a.m. when he woke up. Like Chicago, much of the newsroom staff had come in early that morning, preparing for a hectic day. In fact, things had already started to get crazy.

The newsroom was a large, open office space tucked away at the top of a 40-story building in Downtown. Windows, revealing the view of the city, stretched around the bright room. Flat-screen televisions were mounted everywhere. Most were turned to local news stations as the writers waited for possible leads on the Wu murder. An assortment of cubicles and metal desks filled the center of the space.

There were also private offices along the north side of the room. They were moderately sized with large black desks and chairs. These offices were reserved for the editors and star reporters. They had glass windows so the editors could observe the newsroom and so the newsroom staff could watch the editors and dream of someday being one of them. Chicago had his own office.

He lifted his head from his desk. The sun had finally come out, though, with his blinds closed, Chicago could barely tell.

He glanced at the clock on the desk. Perfect timing. At some point in his life Chicago had learned that if he’d tell himself before drifting off how long he wanted to nap, his body would somehow wake up accordingly. He was so used to being deprived of decent sleep, he became quite skilled at being somewhat consciously aware of sleeping and could wake himself up.

He opened the window blinds and let the rush of white light fill the metallic office. He opened the bottom drawer of the desk and yanked out one of his spare button-ups. He slipped the ironed, striped shirt over his t-shirt and buttoned it. He then removed a pair of slacks from the drawer. He quickly took off his shorts and slipped the pants on.

Neatened up, Chicago walked toward the newsroom and opened the office blinds and was surprised. When he had come in at five only a couple editors were in. Now, half the staff was there and no one was smiling.

A couple people ran by his door. The televisions were all on and he was sure the volume was raised, which only happened on “special occasions.”

‘You’d think someone died, the way everybody’s looking,’ Chicago joked to himself. ‘Oh, wait…’

Patty Hutchinson was a fellow columnist. She walked briskly by Chicago’s door, barely noticing him. A few seconds later she paced back to the door and swung it open.

Patty was nearing 60 and was considered a “veteran reporter.” She was a healthy sized brunette and had mostly a no-nonsense flare with a touch of cynical humor. Many journalists shared this trait, but it suited Patty rather well. She was wearing one of her dark gray skirt suits and white blouse.

“Oh good, you’re up,” she said, breathing harder than normal from the speed walking around the newsroom. “News conference in...”

She took a quick glance at her gold watch.


Chicago looked at his department store watch.

“Oh boy,” he said sarcastically. “Thanks Patty.”

Patty waved her hand as she paced out the door, leaving it open. Chicago decided to enter the battle field. Even a couple of interns had come in early. They’d need to pick up some of the slack while the others focused on the mayor.

While there was little talking, the room was quite loud. The flat-screens were blaring, mouses were clicking, keyboards ticking and feet stomping.

“Chiiiiiic!” sang a voice.

Daisy Flores was a fashion writer and perhaps the first of a number of people Chicago expected would come up to him to get details about the mayor. She walked with a dancing stride. Her shoulders swayed dramatically back and forth as her flowy green skirt flapped in the air. She wore a ton of makeup, but always made it work for her. She stopped and stared at Chicago.

“So what happened?” she asked in her nosey tone.

“I know about as much as you do, Daisy,” Chicago answered.

“Well, that’s not good,” Daisy retorted. “Did you see the body?”

Chicago smiled.

“Not this time.”

Daisy sucked her teeth and bit the side of her cheek. She put her hands on her hips, showing off her nails. If one didn’t know any better, one would think every move Daisy made was to show something off.

“Well, I don’t know. Was it an assassination or something?” She said. “I mean, she was perhaps one of the best mayors we’ve had in a loooong time, no? Who’d want to kill the girl?”

Chicago shrugged. He searched for an answer.

“Well, the-“

“I mean, sure, she was tough on the criminals and all,” Daisy continued. “But why would anyone want her dead?”

“You’d be surprised,” Chicago said. “A lot of us have enemies we don’t even realize are our enemies until-“

Daisy was uninterested in Chicago’s desire to flaunt his philosophical observations. She looked away.

“Well, whoever did her in, surely our very own Chicago Robinson will catch the culprit,” she said in a cheery tone. “He always does.”

She didn’t wait for a response and started on her way. She then stopped and turned.

“I guess you’re happy,” she said. “Your paycheck’ll be written with her blood.”

Daisy turned on her high heels and switched away.

It was comments like those that Chicago resented. While solving murders with his reporting had earned him recognition and money he did not see himself as cashing in on someone else’s death; even though deep down inside he knew he was. He tried to think of it as a service to the community.

Chicago wanted to make it to the conference room before anyone else would bother him. He walked hurriedly across the room and to the short corridor that led to the conference room.

The writers called the corridor the “conference hall.” Along each side of the hallway were three small rooms in which reporters would have private interviews and meetings. At the very end was the large conference room where the editors would have news meetings.

Chicago walked down the hall and to the room. He could see a few people through the sidelight laughing. He opened the door and the laughter grew louder.

“Well, she didn’t really kick the bucket,” said Fred, the news editor.

“She just sort of…kept her head in it,” Hans, the managing editor finished.

There was a collective laughter from the editors sitting around the l0 person conference table. All but one seat was taken. This seemed odd to Chicago as there were a couple reporters sitting along the walls in “overflow seats.”

Martin was sitting at the head of the long table. Few people seemed to notice Chicago until Martin looked up and gestured at him.

“Ah, Chic, we were waiting for you,” Martin said as everyone in the room either turned to or looked up at Chicago. “Have a seat.”

The empty seat was reserved for him. Chicago walked around the table and to the chair. He was glad he could sit with his back toward the huge window and avoid the sun shining in his face. Patty, who was sitting in one of the overflow seats, got up to lower the window shades.

Chicago was surrounded by editors. With the Courier being the largest paper in the city, there were a lot of editors. And this wasn’t all of them.

The room was quiet now. Martin straightened up.

“We all know why we’re here,” he started, glaring around the table. “The office is holding a press conference at 9. Chicago, I need you there with a couple guys from News.”

Fred, the news editor, began scribbling things down on a legal pad.

“Front page story looks okay, but we’ll put out another edition as soon as the press conference is over.”

The Courier stopped printing two editions of the paper several years ago to save on costs. Second editions were only printed on special occasions and emergencies.

Fred looked over the rims of his glasses. He was an attractive 40-year-old father with a rather twisted sense of humor. So many terrible stories had come his way that he had begun to take situations like murder lightly.

“Well this conference is gonna suck,” Fred said. “She had no known enemies. They’re just going to give us the same BS. ‘We don’t know what happened. Police are still investigating’…blah, blah, blah. I wouldn’t be surprised if they say she slipped and fell and hit her head on the granite counter. We could simply not show up and still write the story and beat the other guys to the punch with the afternoon edition.”

Sometimes Fred annoyed Chicago.

“Well, I have a feeling there was more to the mayor than we’d like to think,” Chicago said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we could dig up some good information from this conference. No one just slips and falls head first into a tiny bucket. Someone sneaked into the woman’s house and killed her. And we need to be there when the Mayor’s Office admits that. They might even have a lead.”

“I doubt it,” Fred said, staring at his pad.

Martin took a breath.

“Nobody’s writing anything until 9:30 when the conference is over,” Martin said. “I’m with you Chic, there’s another side to the story that might be revealed there.”

“So what happened exactly?” asked Mary Jones, the features editor.

Martin began to speak, but Chicago butted in.

“One minute Mayor Wu is scrubbing the floor, the next minute her head is submerged in a bucket.”

Mary chuckled halfheartedly.

“Well yes, but how? Who? Why?” she asked.

“Someone finished journalism school…” Fred sang.

Chicago ignored the comment as Martin answered Mary.

“Well we know she drowned-“ Martin started.

“Not exactly,” Chicago said.

“What do you mean, ‘not exactly’? She was found with her head in the bucket of water.” Martin stated.

The room was all ears. Chicago leaned forward with his wrists on the edge of the table.

“Actually, bleach is what was in the bucket,” Chicago said. “And judging from the small bottle of ammonia I saw on the kitchen counter, I’m willing to bet Mayor Wu’s inhalation of the toxic mixture of bleach and ammonia is what killed her, not drowning.”

“You’re saying she killed herself.” Fred stated. “By mixing the two together… by mistake.”

“No,” Chicago said. “Maybe that’s what the killer wants us to think.”

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