Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
(page 12 of 15)
Ray found the bus stop at the edge of town. He waited about a half hour and then hopped on the Miami bus. The driver said it would take about two hours and he had to transfer twice to get downtown. He sat in the back and watched as Route One filled with junk food joints, Blockbuster videos, Rite-Aids, Eckerds (always across from each other), Home Depots, and Wal-Marts. Every ten or fifteen miles the chain stores would repeat themselves. Wearied by the monotony, Ray closed his eyes and continued chasing the Senator's daughter.
Six hours later that same day he was back in Moe's office.
“Then go with what you've got, Ray.”
“I don't have anything.”
“Yeah you do, you've got the friend.”
“She said we couldn't use it.”
“You talk to her?”
“Yeah, for almost an hour. No good. She won't budge. She's no dope. She knows how bad it looks.”
“Do you believe her—about the drinking?”
“Yeah, of course. The kid's all tore up.”
“Then let's go with it.”
“—Not under my byline.”
“Fine. Send it over to me. I'll clean it up. How much do you have?”
“I don't know. About twenty inches, fifteen good.”
“Did you find any art?”
“Yeah, we had a file photo of her at the state science fair. She won an award for something a couple of years ago.”
“Good. Send it down—and I need a headline.”
Ray sat in front of his terminal thinking about the thousands of stories he had sent to Moe's queue. But this story seemed to encompass every pernicious thing he had ever submitted. He typed the headline:
Spoiled Rich Girl Drives Car Up Tree
Moe will shit himself when he sees that, he thought. He tapped the key and sent the story with the headline. He pulled up the photo. He stared at the girl's smiling face, her slender arms holding the ribbon. Diana was only fifteen then. Braces. The small breasts. Skinny legs. A pimply-faced boy was standing next to her. He cropped it close, cut the award and the kid; zoomed in on her smile. He wrote the cutline:
Better Days for Dead Girl
He tried again, cutting and pasting:
What Are You Waiting For?
Ray could do nothing but stare at the screen as his mind raced in search of a rationalization. Who cares? Who cares if a senator's daughter gets drunk and kills herself? In the back of tomorrow's paper will be the death and suffering of a million refugees in Afghanistan; the walking dead of Africa—40 million AIDS victims without access to medicine; 800 million people starving to death in India; entire populations being poisoned by greedy corporations; tens of thousands of campesinos in Colombia dying at the hands of paramilitaries armed with automatic weapons supplied by US taxpayers; Palestinians fighting Israeli gunships with fistfuls of rocks. All of them getting less coverage—or interest—than Diana Tortelini's Last Joyride. If Diana had gone to Africa to save lives instead of bingeing with her friends they would have required nothing of her. Moe wouldn't have given her an inch on 14B. Yet a mistake—a tragic, foolish, youthful mistake, and for that the inkwells run dry and the forests fall. Give the people what they think they want.
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part III continues...