Apr. 24th, 2007

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I have cancer. Those were the first words in Walt Villard's column on June 23. The venerable old reporter went on to talk a little about being sick, and a lot about how he would be retiring from the column he had been writing for twenty years and from the business he'd been in since 1949. And Alex Knox read it and felt just a little guilty. For he really wished there was another way to get a column than taking Walt's place.

But Walt was the one who was making it happen. Alex knew that. And it was a huge honor to be pegged by Gotham's grand old curmudgeon as his heir. Still, he hoped that Walt would stage a miraculous recovery and take back the job.

The job, however was his. A fact he finally learned on the morning of the 24th.

"It's yours, Knox. With some caveats." The voice was that of Bert Teller, the balding, gruff and humorless editorial page editor of PM. Alex's new boss.

"That means strings."

"You start in six weeks. Two days after Walt leaves. One column a week for the next six months, and then we'll see about making it two. Full salary and benefits." He names a figure that is more than Knox was getting (not that Teller knows Knox has money to burn).

"And the string?"

"Tom Hemming just quit. He's off to Detroit."

"I'm not a crime beat guy anymore, remember?"

"We're short-handed. And paying you full-time money for one day a week. You want that money, you have to help.

"I'm not going on the beat again. If I wanted that, I would have stayed at the Globe." Knox could feel Teller pushing his buttons. A test of what Teller could get away with?

"We need you to lend a hand, not much more. No all-night visits to Crime Alley and Police HQ. But you'll work the phones a bit, use your connections for quotes, gather facts, like you would for your column. And you'll help the new kids."

"Ah-ha! You want me to do the legwork while your break in some punk out of J-school!" He knew this was fishy.

"We want you to teach a couple of young reporters how things work in Gotham. They'll do all the work, like you did when you were a punk kid."

"Are they J-school kids?"

There was a pause, and then a snarl. "Yeah. One's from King's and the other from Medill." At least Knox was sure that Teller didn't like journalism school grads that much either.

"Metropolis and Chicago...what on Earth are they doing here?"

"One's born and raised here, did college at St. Crispin's. The other...her fiancee got a job at Wayne."

"I'm not a babysitter. Or a mentor. And this town will eat them alive."

"And you can help them shamble along, Knox. Didn't anyone help you?"

"Yeah, but he wasn't a columnist."

"It's for six months. After that, we cut them loose from you. Or can them. On your say-so, by the way."

Knox went quiet and thought about this. He didn't like this arrangement. He worked well with others, but wasn't being a columnist about working on your own? He didn't love the notion of playing coach to anyone, especially overeducated out-of-towners. "And if I say no?"

"One column every two weeks, at a freelance rate, no benefits."

"Can't you find someone else to do this?"

"We're short-staffed, remember? And the city editor thinks we'd be wasting your skills."

City editor...Danny Nance...used to work the crime beat, and wasn't bad. "That's behind me."

"Take it or leave it." Knox could leave it. He doesn't need the money. Or the agita. But he would have to explain why he could walk away from the salary and the benefits. One way or another, he'd have to explain why he's doing to his friends and colleagues, and it would be easier to explain how he got shanghaied into babysitting duties.

"Take it. But I'm not starting classes till I start full-time, got it?"

"Didn't think you would. But you can start boning up. One of your charges is Casey Hornick, the King's boy. The other is Martina Yan. You can follow their bylines till then."

"Fine."

He hung up the phone and went looking for today's paper. No time like the present, he thought, to start getting caught up, and caught in his new job's rather odd net.

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November 2011

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