What do they call it when you put your glasses together for a toast and they make that tinkling sound? Is it “clink”? Whatever the word for it, that’s what Jake and Curtis were doing right now.
“Congratulations, man,” said Jake LeCarré. “It’s a hell of a publication.”
It actually wasn’t all that great a publication that had just hired his friend Antoine Lamarr Curtis–if anything, it was a rag, a fluff vanity called Zealot Magazine run by a tycoon who’d come out of nowhere determined, it seemed, to make himself heard and make money in the process. But it was money, an actual job in journalism, or something like it, which was more than Jake could boast.
“Thanks, man,” said Curtis, “That means a lot coming from you.”
“Hey, hey, settle down now.” The fact that he still hadn’t managed to land a steady job was somewhat of a sore spot for Jake. Not that he wasn’t good—he never questioned that. He’d even had offers—plenty of them—but he turned them all down on principle. Jake’s research skills were exceptional and he loved putting them to work at finding connections between the bigwigs in charge of the newspapers and the bigger whigs in charge of everything else. And it turned out, pretty much everyone was in somebody’s pocket. Everybody but Jake’s white whale: the Sunday Monitor.
“No, I know it’s a gig,” Curtis added, perhaps by way of apology for the subtle dig. “I know it’s not gonna do much other than line my pockets and clutter my portfolio with fluff.”
“Hey, man, if you’re comfortable with that…”
Comfort didn’t have anything to do with it, and Jake damn well knew it. They’d had this conversation before, about how privileged it was to act solely out of “principle”, to be able to afford to.
“That’s why I do it, though,” Jake always insisted when it came up. “I’m not telling you it’s what you should do, but considering I’m in a position to, I figure that’s what’s right. You know?”
Still, it was a point of contention between them.
“Hey, babe,” said Nancy when Jake got home. “How was it?”
“Great,” he said, in a tone that said “We didn’t fight or anything!”
“Good,” she said. “You two should hang out more often. You have so much in common.” She wasn’t saying this (just) to be patronizing. They actually did have quite a bit in common, even beyond journalism. Similar levels of intelligence, similar tastes in music and art. And women.
“Sure,” Jake agreed. “When we have time.”
A lot happened between then and the next time both of them “had time.” Jake had been freelancing and he continued to do so, selling his investigative think-pieces to anyone who would give money for them. He refused to start a blog. He claimed it was because he didn’t trust them and no one should, because there wasn’t any vetting process going into it, but Nancy secretly understood it was because he hated the ass-kissing that goes into marketing almost as much as he hated the idea of being a corporate shill.
Curtis, meanwhile, got some positive attention at Zealot, hooked up and broke up with a number of girls who never quite seemed to make the right noises, until he found one who did. He moved out of estate, traveled out of country, came home.
The biggest shifts, though, were for Nancy.
Nancy Pribess was an artist. Photographer, mostly. She’d had some shows, sold some pieces, balked at more modern technologies. She didn’t have the same relationship with words that Jake did, or Curtis. Maybe it was because words are too easy to lie with.
But then her sister died. Wendy Pribess, known to her colleagues as the “Spyder”, was a special agent in the FBI. She’d tracked a serial killer who called himself Kaman Set on a rampage across seven non-contiguous states to his hometown of Trinity’s Field, NC, and there, in accordance with horror-movie logic, she got caught up in the action and killed in the crossfire.
Nancy started to show the signs of grief pretty immediately, but she must have gotten caught up somewhere in the middle. “Something doesn’t add up,” she insisted every time she went over the police reports, the witness accounts.
“It does,” Jake assured her, and he tried to explain, but—
“No,” she would say. “No, no, it just doesn’t feel right!”
She started looking into it, the whole case. She had, at last, become somewhat a journalist in her own way. Just maybe not the right way. “I’m telling you,” she’d say, “there’s something more going on here!”
“And I’m telling you,” he’d retort, “even if there is, you can’t go anywhere without evidence!”
Still, she persisted. They broke up, but not until after she’d gone down to Trinity’s Field herself, moved there to be closer to the investigation. What she found there frightened her, but that only made her more desperate to discover (and reveal) the truth.
Jake, meanwhile, stopped thinking her obsession was cute even long before she started her blog on how supernatural events had shaped the small town’s history. But he couldn’t help but visit her when he found himself out on a story he thought for sure was unrelated.
“Does he work for Alchemyne?” she asked him, concerning the man he was coming to interview.
“I guess most of the people here in town do,” he said, not wanting to give anything away if he could help it.
“All the sketchy people do,” she said. “And a few who aren’t, but they eventually figure out what’s going on and then a lot of them disappear.”
Well, that sounded like bullshit.
Until he actually talked to the guy who’d called him, heard what he had to say (still thinking it was bullshit) and then what happened happened and the guy and his family were never heard from again.
“Sure lends credence, doesn’t it?” said Nancy.
“It doesn’t prove anything!”
“But it should still be reported!”
“People go missing every day!”
“Whole families? And all in the same situation?”
Then she called Curtis. Zealot, as it turned out, had it in for Alchemyne, had been looking for something like this for months, and now Nancy had brought it to them. Curtis launched an investigative report on Alchemyne Industries, their chemical manufacturing practices, their Human Resources Controversies and opposition to Affirmative Action or even color-blind hiring practices, strange unexplained disappearances and deaths in their offices all over the world, as it turned out.
The public ate it up. Everyone loves to attack Big Business, and Jake LeCarré rolled his eyes. There just wasn’t enough evidence. All these people screaming to prosecute, didn’t they understand the proceedings would be subject to due process? There just wasn’t enough evidence to bring it to trial, let alone convict. “You’d only be hurting your own case.”
But Curtis still got rich writing article after article for Zealot. “Hey, man, it sells. People want to hear it. And it’s not like we’re lying.”
“You’re just drawing conclusions from incomplete information.”
“And we’re admitting to that: look—“
“They are still reading it as fact, Curtis.”
“But what if it is true?” Nancy pointed out. “Look, if it’s not true, we will have taken down one horrible, horrible company that acted within the law to do horrible things—“
“And you will have lost thousands of people their jobs—“
“But if it is true… can you imagine? Jake, we could be saving the world.”
Jake shook his head. “I’m not buying it.”
“Is that because the evidence isn’t overwhelming enough, or because you support the free market?”
“I’m not saying that they’re not evil, I’m not saying they wouldn’t deserve it, but dammit, Nancy, there is a process!”
That’s when Nancy stopped talking to him.
“Can you blame her?” said Curtis.
“She’s not a journalist,” Jake insisted.
“Neither am I, by your standards,” Curtis pointed out. “And you? You’re freelance!”
“There’s something wrong with this country.”
“I won’t disagree,” said Curtis, “but that doesn’t mean there’s not something wrong with you, too.”
“I just want to tell the truth.”
“So does she.”
“But I want it to matter!”
Curtis took a deep breath. “What matters, Jake, might not be for you to decide.”