Sitting Sixteen

The editor sat, staring her in the eyes. He refused to avert his gaze, so she continued hers, hoping to win the standoff.

She could hear herself breathing. The quiet between the two of them made it possible for her to feel her heart beating.

After a moment, he leaned back in his chair. “No,” he concluded. “You’re wrong. The truth is, we don’t ‘got to do’ anything. Just because you’ve lost your objectivity doesn’t mean I’m going to follow you over the cliff.” He shook his head. “Young lady, you’ve got to remember what your job is. I just hate it when people try to do other people’s jobs. Hell—I don’t want my butcher talking to me about tomatoes, and I’m not particularly pleased to have my dentist comment on my haircut.”

He continued. “Here’s the thing. I don’t want my reporters, or in this case, you, pretending that she is really privately working as a social services agent. You’re a reporter, so start acting like one.”

Karin stood tall, walked over to the chair and sat down. “A reporter’s first duty is to find the story,” she said. “Try finding a story without becoming involved in the lives of the people who are dictating to you what you must write on the page. How antiseptic do you think you can become before doing all your work wearing kid gloves? Yes. I won’t deny it. This story reaches me. I guess from your perspective, you would claim it’s dirtied me. But nevertheless, it is a story. If you think I’m too passionate, edit my copy. Or isn’t that what you do?”

He smiled. The editor was always amused at Karin’s spunk—sometimes even drew it out or exaggerate it by generating fictitious conflict. He waved his hands in the air as if surrendering and said, “Okay. What’s your angle?”

Karin paused. She didn’t want to come across too verbose, or worse, off-point. What was her angle? She had already lied and had appeared too high-strung. So where did she intend to go with a story like this one, which was begging to become an obsession?

“Let’s help them.” That’s all she said.

The editor ferociously shook his head. “There you go again, back to saving the world. Don’t you understand, girl, if the world were to blow up tomorrow, I would put out my last edition of the paper ten minutes before the explosion, and have my sales team on the street drumming up advertising—until we were all dead.” He pointed at her. “I’m a newspaper man. I don’t care about solutions. Sometimes they get in my way. I know you don’t want to hear that, and if you ever told anyone that I said that, I’d call you a disgruntled employee and a liar. But I don’t dare care about solutions because if I do, I’m gonna miss the next juicy problem that needs to be addressed. It is not my intention to give you a sermon. I’m just trying to get your head back on straight. I need my good reporter back.”

Karin felt a quick flush of pride over being dubbed “good.” The editor’s compliments were infrequent. He was as cheap with his praise as he was with his pocketbook. But she pressed on.

“Let me go back out there. How about this? Let me see who comes to them. Let me just report how it plays out without trying to affect it in any way.”

“What is it they want?” the editor asked.

“I thought you didn’t care,” chided Karin.

He snorted. “Isn’t what they want part of the story?”

Karin sucked in a deep breath. Maybe she was tired. Maybe it was her religious training. Or maybe she was just being softened by the editor calling her a good reporter. Who could say? But she was plagued by a guilty conscience. She couldn’t go on. Her presentation to her boss was built on sand—the granules of a lie. She had to tell him the truth—so Karin took a few minutes to relate the whole story—the broken-down vehicle, the angry sergeant, the boys, the hand grenade, the confrontation and the fact that the weapon ended up being a dud.

She explained that the grenade was buried in the desert, and how the one boy seemed plagued with some craziness. She finished up by describing the wrestling match and the ride back to the city.

The editor listened quietly and carefully, conscious not to appear alarmed or disapproving.

“So you see,” Karin concluded, “I feel a little responsible for the two fellas. I know there’s a story here, but God forgive me, I need to be part of how this story pans out.”

The editor eyed her for a lengthy span of time. While he mused, she offered one afterthought. “Let me take it just a little further.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head, but then changed it to a nod. He grumbled, “Let me make some calls.”