By way of a teaser, here’s the preface to Babe in the Woods, a novel.
March 24, 1995
It was about six when I walked into the newsroom, a typical Friday night in progress. Joe Lampman looked up from his keyboard, saw me, and said, “Well! Back from the dead! How’d it go, Ace?” I grinned at him and made a waffling motion with my hand, and didn’t even slow down. A couple of other reporters and I exchanged nods, and then there I was at Charlie Reilly’s desk. I’d seen him glance up and register my presence and then go back to whoever’s copy he was editing. By the time I sat myself in the chair next to his desk, he had already saved the copy and was giving me the usual – the piercing appraisal, the challenging grin with the sparkle in his eye, the indefinable attitude that made him look like reporters must have looked 50 years earlier. He should have been wearing a battered fedora, cocked back and to one side, maybe with a little feather in the hatband.
“So, Angelo,” he said. “We friends again?”
I was biting down on my own grin. “Yeah, you’re forgiven, maybe.”
“Do we have a story?”
“I do believe we do.”
“Do we have a good story?”
He pursed his lips in that funny way of his, thinking. “Maybe a six-part series? Enough material for that?”
“Ohhh yeah, plenty of material — if I can get it out.”
He shrugged. “If you’ve got the material, you’ll get it out. That, I’m not worried about.”
I looked at him, startled. I started to say something like, “since when the compliments?” Then I thought, Charlie’s tough, but he’s never torn you down. Maybe this is something else you’ve been missing right along.
“Can you tell me something about it, or would you lose the steam do you think?”
I shrugged. “I been doing this a long time, Charlie.”
He swiveled around to Jack Henderson. “Hey Jack, take over for a few minutes, okay? I’ll be down in the cafeteria if you need me.” He swiveled back to me, getting to his feet. “Let’s go get some coffee, Ace. You do still drink coffee, right? Haven’t given it up and gone natural-foods on us?”
I grinned, mostly at a memory. (“C.T. smokes?”) “Still with you, Charlie. You’re buying, I presume.”
“I’m buying? After I send you on a full week’s junket?” We set off down the hall back toward the elevators. “But, Angelo, you got the scoop on Bowen? Is he the real deal, do you think? And what about Merriman? Did you ever talk to him as a reporter, or did you just go through the program like anybody else?” He made an impatient motion with his hand. “Forget all that, I’ll read your story when you file it. What I want to know is,” – pressing the elevator button – “what did it do to you? Because I’ll tell you one thing for free, Ace, whatever happened down there, I saw it the minute you came in.”
The doors opened and we got in. Charlie hit the button for the second floor. “Well?”
I was still hesitating. “It isn’t that I mind telling you, Charlie, but there’s a lot of threads to it. I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to separate them all out.”
“Start somewhere and see what happens.”
“Charlie – last week, what’d you mean when you said this could be my ticket? Why did you say that?”
The doors opened and we walked down to the cafeteria. “You want it straight, I take it?”
“Yeah, as usual. Well – you were going stale, Angelo. You’d started settling for just going through the motions.” He waved me off. “And don’t tell me it’s because you been doing this a long time, and you’re in your fifties and that’s what happens to old firehouse horses, or whatever it is you’ve been saying lately. The fact of the matter is, I figured, if there was a chance of knocking you out of your rut, I was going to take it.”
I thought, He thinks of me as a friend. How could I miss that all this time?
“So what happened? You fall in love or something?” Then, startled: “You did! Man, and on the paper’s dime, that’s got to be a first.” Cautiously, “Not going to make the home life any easier.”
I sighed. “No, it’s not.”
“Any future in it?”
I shook my head. (“We’re not alone, even when we feel alone. I’m going to hold on to that.”)
“Makes it hard.”
I nodded. But, I thought, better at least to know it. (“Angelo, This is your real life. What’s so real about being unable to feel?”)
“Anything else important happen?”
“Charlie, you’re entitled to rub it in for a while, I suppose. You want to let me know when you’re done, or should I give you hints?”
He made a conciliatory motion with his hands, as if he were Italian instead of Irish. We got our coffees and sat down.
“I will say this, though,” I said. “I’m well aware that the only reason I did the program was because you pushed me. Thanks for doing that.”
Again I’d startled Charlie. (It’s going to be a shock for everybody I deal with. How have I gone so many years without telling people thank you?) “So tell me about the program,” he said. “How’d it go?”