Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part III

A Novella in Four Directions

Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
by Bill McLaughlin,
208 pages

(page 14 of 19)

“What about the family?”

“The family?”

“Goddamn right the family. That fuckin' sleaze bag calls me up looking for publicity every time he helps a goddamn old lady across the street. Now suddenly he's shy? That's bullshit, Ray.”

“Yeah, but...”

“I want the family goddamnit! Who was this girl? And I don't want her goddamn first grade report card or whether or not she was on the fuckin' yearbook staff!”

“I called but they're all very insular. It just happened last night. They're still in shock.”

“Insular! I don't give a shit if they're frozen in fuckin' Arctic pack ice! Talk to them Ray! Talk to them!”

Back in his cubicle, Ray finally succeeded in reaching a friend of the Senator's daughter on the phone.

“Hi Meagan, this is Ray Waldron at the Ledger. I'm really sorry to hear about your friend Diana. I heard you wanted to talk to us about her.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I just don't want you to say awful things about her. She was an awesome person. Everyone loved her. I mean really loved her”

“We've learned that she was...well, that she had had a few drinks. You were with her last night?”

“Yeah, we went to the city. Her father had just given her that car for her birthday. Listen, I'm telling you this but you can't use it okay? I mean, I just want you to know that Diana wasn't like a lush or something. We were just celebrating, that's all. You can't use this or my name either, okay?”

“What time was it when she left you?”

“I'm not sure; after one I guess.”

“Did you notice whether she was all right when she dropped you off?”

“I told her not to drive home. I told her to stay at my house. My parents love her. She's stayed over lots of times.”

“So what happened?

“She just laughed and said she couldn't get a ticket in this state if she robbed a bank. You know, 'cause of her father. She made me laugh—I was pretty high myself—and that was it. She was gone.”

“How far is it from....”

“Listen I...I gotta go. I can't talk about this anymore, it's too sad. She was a good person, a really good person. And remember, you promised.”

Ray dialed the Senator's home number again and was surprised when someone, a woman, answered.

“Hello, this is Ray Waldron from the Ledger...”

“Who? I'm sorry, I don't understand.”

“I'm from the Ledger and I'm covering the accident. I'd just like to say that I'm very...”

“You bastard! You son of a bitch! My baby's dead and you... Who's that? What's going on Carol? ”

“Who is this!”

“Hello, Senator? This is Ray Waldron from the Ledger and I just wanted to...”

“You filthy son of a bitch! Leave us alone, do you hear me! Leave us alone!”

Ray knew enough not to take the anger personally; he had heard it too often. Rather, it was directed at them all—particularly at the rag for which he worked. This was the worst part of the job: calling on the dead. He could still hear the corporate rationalization: 'we're going to write about them anyway, we're just giving the family a chance to say a few words about the victim.' Like it was some magnanimous gesture instead of shameless, despicable capitalism. He thought about how the paper had once been something he was proud of. But a new corporate owner and the ensuing budget and personnel cuts quickly sent the entire enterprise rocketing toward mediocrity. There were now more computer people on staff than journalists, more sports reporters than news reporters. No one had time to do any real investigative work. “We're just here to fill the space between the ads,” Moe had told him. At least, he thought, Moe was honest. But they had missed too many good stories. The year before, Ray had begun a conversation with an informer—a whistle blower—from one of the state's largest pharmaceutical companies. Moe killed the story before Ray even had a chance to flesh it out. The company was a big employer—and a big advertiser. Moe had called Ray into the fishbowl to give him the skinny: the paper's bean counters weren't willing to pay for the lawsuit that would have surely arose. “The financial guys'll cut my balls off,” Moe told him. Ray pleaded the case for weeks, the informer sacrificed his job and even the safety of his family. Finally, a carton of documents arrived in the mail followed by an urgent phone call.

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About Bill McLaughlin

6 1
Bill McLaughlin was born in the later half of the last century. He has worked as a freelance journalist and independent radio producer. After spending more than a decade as an itinerant writer and gardener, living and traveling in a 1973 VW camper bus, he now homesteads in upstate New York where he hauls water, more chops wood, and ponders the Rights of Nature, late frosts, and black flies.
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