Part 3: The belly of the beast
The Greyhound bus nosed through a darkened landscape as flat and barren as a corporate vice president’s conscience. The ride had lasted most of the night, with stops at one-horse burgs long enough for a stretch and a cup of coffee. Copy editor coffee: weak but bitter.
We rolled into Springfield a little after dawn. It was a two-horse town, and I laid siege to a booth in a diner to nurse more copy editor coffee and wait the day’s shift to begin.
Ambling over to the newspaper building, I entered and told the security guard at the front desk I wanted to take out a classified ad. She directed me to a counter, and I pretended to write on a form and waited. Within a few minutes—you can always depend on it—a homeless man wandered in, FedEx guy tried to deliver a package, and an elderly lady started screaming in fury about her subscription. I slipped past the guard and found a sign pointing to Production Hub.
It was a fetid basement room with narrow aisles between rows of desks, each desk with a computer terminal and a harried editor. Striding up and down the aisles like a bantam cock was a short, stocky man, some kind of straw boss, who would periodically shout, “Runnin’ out of clock, runnin’ out of clock!” Then a buzzer would sound, and he’d shout, “Hillsboro deadline!” or “Evansville deadline!”
Then a lull descended, and he took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and marched purposefully to a door at the other end of the room.
Peering around the doorway, I could see that the desk nearest the door was occupied by the specimen I was seeking. Skinny, hair parted in the middle, thick eyeglass lenses—the weedy figure who had inexplicably stirred passion in the impressive di Plossis bosom.
“Hearst!” I hissed. He looked up.
“Who are you?”
“Never mind that. I’ve come for you.”
He shook his head. “I can’t go.”
“Because I do not hope to turn again.”
“Because I do not hope to turn—”
“Snap out of it, sunshine. I’m working for Anna. You’re just a damn copy editor, and out there there’s a sexy woman who, out of the unfathomable and imponderable vagaries and caprices of the human heart, wants you.”
“You can’t get me out of here. They monitor us with cameras. We have to sleep on bunks in a dormitory upstairs. They pay us in scrip, and we have to get our food at the company store. There’s a bracelet on my leg that sounds an alarm if I try to leave the building. You can’t get me out, and you’d better get out. He takes less time to smoke a cigarette than you would have thought possible.”
“Anna wants you back, and she sent me to fetch you. One way or another, I’m fetching you.”
A meaty hand grabbed my shoulder, and the straw boss’s hoarse voice said, “You’re not fetching anybody, you stinking peeper. You’re going to see The Chief.”
Next: The Chief