Jan. 11th, 2007

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I

The coffee was garden-variety newsroom sludge. Knox sat at his desk, waiting for George Taylor to arrive. Taylor had been his editor since 1980, and as editors went, he was almost reasonable. Which didn't mean Knox was looking forward to this. As he waited, co-workers - very few of whom he would call friends at this point - said hi and kept moving. Apparently, he wasn't missed that much while on his leave of absence.

He skimmed the morning paper, and took particular note of Assemblyman Hill's decision to run for mayor if the recall took place. Hill's name in the potential race would only make a recall more likely. And since Hill was reportedly close to Bruce Wayne, he'd be a shoo-in, Knox assumed. Borg, he was sure, wasn't going to make it, editorial support or not.

Taylor arrived at 9:30, and Knox didn't even give the man a chance to hang up his coat before barging in. "Knox. Didn't anyone teach you to knock?"

"Nope. I gotta talk to you." He smiled affably but Taylor most likely could tell he was nervous.

"Obviously. On both counts. At least let me get some coffee?" The editor pointed at one of his chairs, got some coffee, and returned, looking grumpy. "So what is it that demanded you show your face again."

"I'm quitting." It took Taylor a few seconds to process that.

"You? Right. What's really on your mind?"

"Really. Remember I said I wanted to get a column? Well, you had your chance."

"And someone's giving you one?" Taylor could see the doubt on his reporter's face. And vice versa.

"Sort of. But immediately. I need to quit effective now."

"What's this about?" Knox considered not giving his boss the full story, but it wasn't smart to burn more bridge than needed.

"Another paper offerd me a tryout. This week. On the condition that I was a free agent first."

"Teller." Knox stared for a moment.

"How'd you know?"

"I know the bastard. He likes to mess with everyone else's reporters. Didn't you know that?...No, obviously not. Well, well, and here I thought you knew all the gossip." Taylor smirked and sipped his sludge. "He's been doing that for years. Thinks it gives him a edge. But I think you are the first sucker I've ever met who he really got to quit."

"So he's going to screw me?"

"No, whatever he sold you is true. He'll run your precious column, and then you'll never hear from him again. And you'll be out a of a job here. Because I won't hire you back if this backfires on you." One thing about Taylor, Knox knew, was that he was a straight shooter. He would miss that about the Globe.

"Didn't think you would. But I mean it. I'm ready to do something new."

"You think this'll get me to change my mind? Forget it, bub. You want to stay, that's fine. Your spot on the crime beat is still waiting. But we aren't making you a columnist." Why? Knox hadn't a clue. But he knew that arguing wouldn't work here.

"My mind is made up, George. I love this paper, but I'm ready for more--"

"Yes, you gave me the speech already. Save it, Allie." Taylor shook his head. "Look, I do get that you are bored with your job. Nothing wrong with that. And while I really don't want to lose a reliable reporter, things change, and we live with that.

"But if you're really doing this, don't say I didn't warn you when Teller never calls you again. He thinks that because his paper is so utterly staid and calm that he can plays his headgames and look like an angel. Don't trust him."

"I never trusted you, George," Knox says with a friendly smirk. "And look how well it worked."

"It did, sometimes. You brought us the Bat, and the Borg story, and you get in where others don't. I'll give you that. I just don't see that as being enough to make you Lois Lane or Jimmy Breslin."

"I just have to be Alex Knox."

"Alex? Not Alexander?"

"Could be either. Just getting used to some friends calling me Alex, that's all." His smiled turned inward, and Taylor was left to ponder the oddity of Knox being cryptic. "And that IS all, isn't it?"

"Guess so. You'll clean out your desk before you leave?"

"Yeah. But all I have there are a couple of mugs, some photos, and a bottle of bourbon. Never did make this place like home."

It was home, once. Despite what he didn't have there, the Globe was where Knox spend his life, more than any place till he found the Bar. But these people here, they were never that close to him. Drinking buddies? Yeah. Valued allies in the battle against the machine? Always. Friends? Not really. But it took a long time for Knox to see that.

He stopped by the desks of a few of those allies and drinking buddies and just told them he was not sure when his leave would end. The whole thing was painfully awkward, and a couple sensed that he wasn't coming back. Not that anyone was heartbroken by the idea. And as he stepped out of the old building, he wasn't either. If anyone had told him a year ago he would quit his job at the Globe, and that he would leave just like that, he wouldn't have believed it. At all.

Things change.


II

The meeting with Teller was quick. "I quit my job. Now you do you part of the bargain."

"Bargain? I never agreed to a bargain. I'm just running a column by a former reporter from a competitor. Nothing more."

"You're a real jackass, you know that?"

"A jackass who is doing you a favor you don't deserve."

"Yup. Good thing for you that I'm a jackass too." In a way, he was glad that Teller would probably never be his boss. But at the same time, butting heads with a boss like that could be entertaining. If futile. "When you running it?"

"Two days. I held a slot."

"What?"

"There was no way you weren't quitting. I saw the look in your eyes. You want this so badly, don't you? Badly enough that maybe you have a hope of being good. And badly enough that I think you will stand behind every word here."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm doing this for us, not you. I want the controversy. It sells papers. But you'd better be ready to defend what you write. Because I won't." Teller's face remained blank.

"You're going to leave me to twist in the wind?"

"All good columnists do. Think of it as part of the tryout."

"You, Teller, are a jackass."

"You said that already."

"Just making sure you know."

He handed in the final version of his column, filled out the proper paperwork, and went out to meet with his lawyer. He didn't want to think about what he'd just done and was happy to talk co-ops instead of op-eds.


III

It was cold outside on this March night. So naturally, Knox's tiny apartment was stifling from the steam heat. He had all the windows open, and the creaky ceiling fan in his bedroom was spinning as fast as it could. But even if it hadn't been so warm, he wasn't sleeping just yet. He was just staring at that fan.

He did the math, and realized it was close to a year of days since he found the Bar. Only six months in Gotham time, but given how much Jack had grown, it had to be a year.

Everything was new now. He had money. He had something of a family, in Shufti and Jack and in Rachel. He had a love life, at long last. He was not entirely happy, but he wasn't standing still anymore. That was the big thing that the Bar had changed. For years, he did his job and lived his life and drank his beer and thought he was growing. Or more likely, never gave it thought. He was never one for thought. Not till recently. But when you hang out with Rachel, you have to think. You have to see things in a new way. (Oh, the fortune she could make if worked as a therapist full time!)

All the things he had now, all the things he valued - with the exceptions of his friendships with Vale and Vega - came from that impossible bar. Someone out there must like me, he thought. Why else did he get to go there at all? Then again, why not? He wasn't going to question it. He would revel in it!

Things were good. They were in flux, and who knew when he'd have a job again? But they were good. Any time he wanted, that door would open, and Rapunzel would welcome him with a wink and a kiss and a kind word and a night of delight (or movies). And Jack would welcome him with a gurgle and a smile and a hug. And Rachel would just tilt her head at him and smile that odd, knowing ancient grin. And where was always more, always something weird and wacky and amazing to see, someone new to meet. He could never report on it, as he once dreamed he might, but he could study it and let it study him, this place with the Jedi and the werewolves and the vampire slayers and the gods. And when he was ready, when he was recharged, he could come back here and make his city a better place.

And as he thought all this, he slowly drifted off. Soon there would be dreams of dinner and dancing with Rapunzel, of finally interviewing Batman and learning that the man under the mask was inexplicably Quinn Abercrombie, of a poker game with old friends from the FBI and also Bob Woodward. And as he slept, he would smile.

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November 2011

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