I never cared for the clicking that the heel plates cried out with as I pressed my way to the front of the crowd. Some saw them as a sign of prosperity and achievement, I saw them as a way to lessen my steps. The crowd was pushing in hard today, the affects of the war were driving people mad at the hardships placed upon them. I was only able to escape the troubles of the lower classes because my job fed off the inequalities of society. If ever there were a chance at becoming king of the hypocrites, I would surely take the throne.
A quick check of my hand proved my press pass was still in place. It was my life, that small four by six card with red lettering on a golden-yellow background. How my life had changed since that night Mr. Jefferson offered me the job.
With my target dead ahead of me, there was no deterring my aim. I would have my questions answered so that others could twist them to suit their fancy later. It was a bittersweet relationship with the Global. A love affair that I dare not upset for fear of death. While they wouldn’t dare kill me physically, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill my reputation. In this day and age, a man’s reputation was worth his weight in gold if he could live up to it.
“Mayor Greggor!” He was ignoring my shout but I knew I had to pursue anyway. “Mayor Greggor! Is it true that you stand to lead the way in the war resistance?”
“I have no time nor comment for you, vagrant. Be on your way.” He never broke stride as he made his statement.
“Mayor, is it true that you are no longer supporting the war efforts?”
“It matters not whether I answer your questions truthfully. Media members always seek to undermine those in authority to improve their standings with the masses.”
I was about to fire off another question to try to trap him in his words when a fist collided with my jaw, snapping my head sideways and sending me to the blackest darkness of the deepest nights. I laid there half in the street and half lumped over the curb like another drunk that littered the streets of the city. No one thought anything of me for hours. The horse refuse that soiled my pant leggings proved this fact. That was the biggest problem with this city, no one cared for anyone else. I regretfully counted myself among this population as well.
The street lighter at least had the decency to wake me. Albeit with a nudge of his peg legs as he couldn’t bend down from his height. He was also the one that reported the dead to the street sweeper. I guess when I think about it, he was just doing his job.
I never felt so awful in my whole life. My head swirled as the migraine inside pounded away like the lively band at the local saloon. This was not a good start to the evening. Now I just hope I could survive the verbal thrashing Mr. Jefferson would pelt me with for being late to the office. The sound of hurried heel plates clicking on the brick street echoed through the night.
“Well, well, well. Look who finally decided to come to work tonight.” Everyone’s eyes turned on me as Mr. Jefferson chuckled lightly at his jest. “I hope you have a good story for being this late.” What ever they had been discussing before I got there was now sidelined.
“I was questioning Mayor Greggor about his involvement in the war. He didn’t give me anything to go on.”
“No. But somebody gave you something judging by that eye of yours.”
I hadn’t noticed that my eye was slowly starting to swell up. It must have happened when I hit the ground. “Someone caught me flat footed and laid me out on the street. These things happen.”
“These things do NOT happen. Not to my reporters. If you want to go back to lying on the streets, then be done with it. Otherwise, you will bring me my story, understood?” There was no arguing with this man, so I nodded with silent regret. “You are dismissed, Mr. Leigh.”
The walk home stretched out over time that night. Not that it was any considerable distance, but more due to the heavy steps that dragged along. My world seemed to be slipping from my grasp. Like being in the bottom of a well with the slimy muddy walls preventing me from climbing out. It felt as if the bottom of this pit were consuming me slowly without mercy.
“What’s the matter, tapper? Hard day at work?” Snickering followed the jest as I turned to face the voice I knew so well.
“What do you want, Broadbent? Nobody else smaller than you around to pick on? Or am I just lucky tonight?”
“Normally, I just jump people and ask questions later. So I would say ‘lucky’, for the moment anyway.” For being a large framed guy, his nasally voice never seemed to do him any favors.
“I’ve had a long day and I would like to be on my way, goodnight.” I managed to turn and get a few paces before Broadbent called out to me.
“Hey Tapper! The next time you talk to the Mayor, let me come along. I got some unfinished business with him.” I turned to question his motives, but he was gone.
My hand was fixed in the air as I hesitated to knock on the door. I was about to wake a sleeping bear and didn’t know if I would survive the anticipated outcome.
“It’s now or never kid. Either knock on the door and face your fear or run and hide from it.” I didn’t know the man that spoke those words to me that day. It was the first and last time I ever saw him at the office. Letting out the pent up breath I harbored, my knuckles fell heavy on the frosted glass of Mr. Jefferson’s door.
“Come in.” Twisting the handle, I entered the den and sealed my way of retreat behind me. His office was dark with the shades drawn and the only light in the room emanating from the lamp on his desk. The smoke trailed its way to the ceiling as he sat back in his chair and removed his glasses. “Mr. Leigh. What brings you here today? Reporters don’t clock in until five o’clock.”
The silence that stretched its wings in the room was unbearable. “I’ve come to turn in my press pass.” The tip of his cigar glowed as a red hot cherry while he contemplated what he heard.
“Do you smoke, Mr. Leigh?”
“I’ve never been able to support the habit, sir.”
With his cigar in hand he pointed across the room, “They’re in that box on the top shelf. Help yourself to one. You won’t find a better one in all the city.” Walking the short distance to the shelf, I felt his heavy gaze boring into my back. The thick smell of tobacco assaulted my nose as I gently lifted the lid of the box. I had seen people smoke cigars, but never had I seen such variety in one man’s possession. Long fat ones and thinner short ones lined themselves up at attention as I searched for the one that called my name. Knowing nothing of cigars, I blindly reached inside and felt for the first one.
Walking back to his desk, I felt his presence looming behind the desk as he ask the question I dreaded. “You smoked one before?” Dropping my gaze, I shook my head. “Hand it over.” How humiliating. I thought that I would finally stand up for myself today but only managed to fall flat on my face. Once he had the cigar in his hand he followed up his previous question with one of equal magnitude. “Have you ever dreamed, Mr. Leigh?” I couldn’t tell what he was doing as I tried to think of a coherent answer. I felt like a fool for letting the silence stretch on for as long as it did. Eventually a sharp snip was heard and he handed it back to me.
“Yes. As a boy I dreamed of becoming someone great. But, as I grew older, I realized that dreams are for children and the real world has a way of squandering one’s efforts for doing so. I don’t remember the last time I dreamed, sir.”
He slid open the middle drawer as he wheeled backwards. Removing a stick, he stood up and dipped it into the lamp’s flame. Another flame joined his brother in the room as he held out the stick for me to take. “Don’t light it directly. Let the flame do the work.” He sat back down and took another draw from his cigar without letting it leave his mouth. A small smile curled his lips.
I struggled to get the cigar to glow its tender cherry hue. After what felt like an eternity, Mr. Jefferson beamed with delight as I extinguished the stick. “Draw softly and don’t inhale the smoke.” I had never seen anyone so alive as this man was at the moment.
Releasing a puff of smoke into the air, I asked the burning question on my mind. “Mr. Jefferson, why did you ask me if I dream?”
“Mr. Leigh, I was once like you, poor and destitute. But I still had dreams.” He let that statement hang in the air as he puffed his cigar. I never knew that he came from such humble beginnings. “But, I was different than you. I reached out and embraced the dream, letting it pass through my inner core until I became my dream. I don’t believe that you have anything to grasp onto at the moment, do you, Mr. Leigh?” I didn’t know how this man could see right through me, but he could.
“You said that you wanted to become someone great. Someone that people look up to, right?” I merely nodded, afraid that my words would reveal too much of my inner fear. “Then let’s start at the bottom. It matters not where we come from, but where we are heading. Our dreams serve as our compass in this. If you dream of things above you, then keep your head up. Don’t lose focus of the target or you forget where you are going. To become someone great, you have to work at it slowly. Establish your roots, and stand strong.”
“Why me? Out of all the others that were there that night, why me?”
“I saw how you pushed and shoved your way to the front of the crowd. That is the kind of attitude I want in my reporters. You don’t let others stand in the way of what you want. That is why I chose you. Which surprises me that you want to turn in your press pass.” He picked up the card from his desk where it lay like an elephant in the room. I sheepishly avoided him.
“I don’t think I have what it takes to be a reporter. There are others that are more qualified than I am that should be given a chance.”
He flipped the card at me, “I refuse to let you quit. First off, you’re aiming too high for a story. I have ‘others’ that give me what I want to know about the mayor so leave him alone. What I want from you is to know what is going on with the people. You know the people from where you’re from, give me those stories. Show me the inequalities of the classes. You can become someone great by reporting on things of that nature. The people will see you as a hero for shining the spotlight on their troubles. That is how things get addressed in this city. Do you think that the politicians are the ones that fixed the war between the unions? No. It was the media that brought it to light that got people to discuss it among themselves. This is the job that I have in store for you. Bring me the news and I will change the city with it. But, if you still feel like you are ‘inadequate’ for the job, then turn in your press pass.” His hand lay open towards me. The decision of my life was now on the table.
Placing the press pass in my breast pocket, I looked him in the eye and said, “I have an idea.”