Jan. 15th, 2007

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I

Last night, Lynn Vega took Knox out for a celebratory drink. He decided that it was a good time to tell hera bout his new (for lack of a better word) girlfriend. Lynn was quite amused at Knoxie's description - she sounded too good to be true, like something out of a story - but Knoxie did have a vivid imagination. And she was thrilled that he had finally found something (if a tad disappointed that he would probably turn down any suggestion of a little snuggling between old friends). Knox was, she told him, in the best mood he'd been in in ages. "Oh, that's for sure, Lynn." His smile was gleaming. "Life is good."

And of course he hid his worries. One column? That's nice? But what next? After he got home, Knox tossed for a while before sleeping.


II

The phone rang at 10:40 am, rousting Knox. He answered half-drowsy.

"Knox, it's Walt Villard."

The cobwebs fell away fast. "Hi, Walt. It's been how long?"

"Four years, I think." At a reporters conference. Or rather, in the bar at the hotel. Old Walt held court for three hours. "Did I get you a bad time?"

"Nope. What do I owe the call to?" As if he couldn't guess.

"That was some column. I don't agree than Borg has earned any more chances with this town, but you took a risk in even saying what you did. No one else wants to, it seems. And it was actually readable."

"Thanks." High praise indeed, coming from the old man of the op-ed in Gotham. "I'm gald you stopped to read it.

"Don't get so impressed, Knox. I read PM from cover to cover. Even the guest op-eds." Knox listened to hear if Walt sounded sick. But there wasn't any sign so far.

"Well, thanks for the mild praise anyway." Knox assumes that was all there was to it.

"You think I called just to stoke your ego? Give a listen, Knox. I think you have potential. You can write, you are a very good crime beat man, and Teller needs to be kicked in the butt every so often." How to respond to this? You don't. You let the man talk.

"I guess you heard I'm ill?"

"Yeah," Knox says softly.

"I'm quitting soon. Hopefully to get better. But my day is done. Might as well go out with the Cold War, eh?" He holds backa a laugh. "And I want you to take my slot."

How long can a silence last? Knox was quiet for maybe ten seconds. It felt like a week. Knox was totaly without a response for all ten seconds.

"C'mon, Walt. You have to be kidding."

"You think I'd be wasting my time calling a guy from the Globe if I were kidding? The paper needs new blood. Teller can't see it, but I can. And he thinks he can ignore me, but he won't."

"So I'm going to get the job?" He refuses to believe.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Bert's gonna find a way to make you swing some more." Everyone in the field, Knox thought, likes that metaphor. "He's probably offer you a couple more test pieces, and maybe ask you to do some beat work part time. And only after a couple of weeks of making you stew. So it can seem like his idea."

"I don't get it."

"What's to get, Knox? You do good stuff. And PM needs good stuff." Knox went silent again. This was too good to be true. OK, not all of it. But he didn't think he stood a chance. And now...

"No joke."

"No joke, Knox. Just don't count your chickens yet.

"No, of course not." He's smiling. Knox is smiling. This is real. This is possible. This can't be happeneing. This might be happening. "How are you feeling?"

"Took you long enough to ask."

"Wasn't sure I should." Wasn't sure he should be gracious till now, actually.

"Like I say, not well. Still hoping for a transplant. But I lived my life, and now I have face the results, and hope." What do you say to that? Again, Knox let the silence be his guide.

"I hope you get that liver."

"Gotta spare?"

"Wish I did."

"Ah, you're is probably as bad as mine." He could see Walt's crooked and cynical smile now. "Listen, after Teller calls you, come down to the paper when I'm there. I'll give you the lay of the land. You might like it where we are."

"I was there. It's too clean."

"Figures you'd say that. All your beat guys, you like the dirt. Anyway, I have to get back to my work. Deadlines."

"Hey, thanks for calling."

"Thanks for giving us something to talk about here."

After he hangs up, Knox sits down. He is stunned. Still in PJs, he goes to the kitchen, puts some water up, and lets it sink in. Walt Villard liked his op-ed. Walt Villard is going to bat for him. He might have a that column yet.

"Wow."

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