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A Family To Call Her Own
By Irene Hannon
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Irene Hannon
All right reserved.
"That's a lie!" Zach Wright shot to his feet and glared at the managing editor, bristling with rage. He leaned on the desk that separated them, palms flat, eyes flashing. "That's a lie!" he repeated furiously.
"I'm sure it is," Ted Larsen replied calmly, not at all intimidated by Zach's threatening posture. "But are you willing to reveal your sources to prove it isn't?"
"You know I can't do that!"
Ted shrugged. "Then we've got to play it their way. For now."
"Why?" Zach demanded hotly. "I'm telling you, this information is solid. I wouldn't use it if it wasn't."
"I know that," Ted conceded. "But Simmons is getting pressure on this — bigtime. They're threatening to sue."
"It's just a scare tactic," Zach retorted scornfully, waving the excuse aside dismissively with an impatient gesture. "My information is good."
"You're probably right about the scare tactic. But it worked. For the moment, anyway. It's not easy being a lucrative publisher in this day and age, Zach. You know that. Simmons is just being cautious."
Zach gave a snort of disgust. "I can think of a better word for it."
"Look, we'll work this out. I know your information isn't falsified. We just have to prove it." Ted paused, as if carefully weighing his next words, anticipating the reaction. "And until we do, we're going to kill the series."
With a muttered oath, Zach turned away in frustration, jamming his hands into his pockets as he strode over to the window and stared out at the city streets. St. Louis could be a beautiful city, he thought. But on this dreary February day it was just plain ugly — the same as his mood. This whole experience was leaving a decidedly bad taste in his mouth. "Whatever happened to printing the truth?" he asked bitterly. "I thought that was our job."
"It is," Ted acknowledged. "But Simmons's job is to keep the paper solvent. He's not willing to risk a lawsuit."
"So we just let them get away with it?" He turned back to face the editor, his eyes still blazing. "Ted, the corruption in that office is rampant — misuse of public funds, a rigged bidding process based on nepotism instead of price, blatant bribery — what am I supposed to do, forget about it?"
"No. Just lie low for a while. In fact, why don't you take some time off? How many weeks have you accumulated, anyway? Five, six?"
"When was the last time you took a real vacation?" Zach shook his head impatiently. "I don't know."
"Maybe you're due."
"I don't want to take a vacation!" Zach snapped. "I'm not running away from this story, Ted! I'll stand behind my coverage even if the paper won't!"
"We're not asking you to run away," Ted replied evenly.
"Just give it a little time. If you don't want to take some time off, we can assign you to another story while we straighten out this mess."
Ted pulled a file toward him. "Looks like the St. Genevieve area is going to get hit with another flood. I need somebody down there to cover it."
Zach stared at the editor as if he'd gone crazy. "You're kidding, right?"
Ted adjusted his glasses and looked across the desk at the younger man, the sudden glint of steel in his eyes making Zach wary. Ted had come up through the ranks, done a stint as an investigative reporter himself before taking over the editor job, and his staff respected his skill and integrity. But they also knew that his usual affable, easygoing manner was quite deceptive. He could be unrelenting and as tough as nails when he had to be. And now, as he fixed his razorsharp eyes on Zach, it was clear that the conversation was over.
"No, Zach, I'm not," he said, his tone edged with iron.
"You're overreacting to this situation, whether you realize it or not. You need some time to decompress. Nobody can maintain the intensity, keep up the pace you set, month after month, year after year, without wearing down. You need a change of scene, a different focus, a fresh perspective. You can do that by taking the flood coverage assignment — or by taking a vacation. It's your choice. But those are the only options."
Zach frowned and took one hand off the wheel to flip on the overhead light, then glanced down at the map lying on the seat next to him. His city beat rarely took him more than a few miles south of town, and this part of the state was totally unfamiliar to him. St. Genevieve must be the next exit, he decided, though it was hard to tell in the dense fog that had reduced visibility to practically zero and obscured most of the highway signs.
Zach tugged at the knot of silk constricting his throat and drew in a relieved breath as the fabric gave way slightly. He didn't like ties. Never had. But dinner with the publisher was definitely a "tie" occasion. Even though dinner had ended late, he'd wanted to get settled in and start his interviews for the flood piece first thing in the morning.
At least Simmons had had the guts to discuss the situation with him facetoface, he thought grudgingly. The publisher had assured him that the paper stood behind him, that they had confidence in his reporting. But they'd still pulled the series. And as far as Zach was concerned, actions spoke louder than words.
Zach flexed the muscles in his shoulders and glanced at his watch. Ten o'clock. It had been a long day, he thought. A very long day. And the only good moment had been Ted's parting words.
"These setbacks happen to all of us, Zach," he said, laying a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Don't let it get you down. You're a good reporter. One of the best. We'll work this out."
Ted's compliments were rare, and therefore prized. It had been a satisfying moment for Zach. Maybe the most satisfying in his career for a long time, he realized with sudden insight.
Zach frowned. Maybe he'd just stumbled on the source of the discontent, the restlessness that had plagued him for the last few months. His satisfaction used to come from his work, the feeling that it was making a difference. And that's where it should come from. Not from recognition by his boss. Yet Ted's compliment had given him more satisfaction than any of the work he'd done for the past six months.
Zach remembered his early years as a reporter, when he'd fervently believed that he could make a difference, that his writing could right wrongs and make the world a better place. For the first time in his career he seriously questioned that belief, directly confronting the doubts that he now realized had been growing for quite some time. For fifteen years he'd devoted himself singlemindedly to his work — an insatiable, demanding mistress that took all the passion he had to give. And what did he have to show for his zeal and dedication? A few moments of satisfaction when justice had prevailed. But far more moments of frustration when some scumball shortcircuited the system through power, money or influence and walked away, laughing in his face.
And he certainly didn't have financial security. His meager savings were eloquent confirmation of journalism's reputation as a notoriously lowpaying profession. He had no home, unless you could bestow that generous title on the sparsely furnished onebedroom apartment he'd lived in for years. And he had no personal life.
All he had at the moment was a depressing feeling of emptiness.
Excerpted from A Family To Call Her Own by Irene Hannon Copyright © 2005 by Irene Hannon. Excerpted by permission.
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