Hindsight and gossip

Posted: 2011 in Post 1.6
Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, March 22, 11:53 a.m.           

Trapped within the cubicle by his subordinates, twenty-nine year old Deputy Assistant Editor John Whiteclay, boss of veteran crime reporter Jack O’Lies for barely five months, makes steady managerial eye contact, then bravely invites his disgruntled employee to discuss his grievances “in the privacy of Conference Room B.” I take this to mean that the Washingtonian’s deputy assistant editor had aught but a cubicle to call his own. Even I have an office with a real, closable door. I have no staff to reprimand behind it, however.

I admire his spunk.

“The web designers are using B. They booked it for all day,” the cubicle owner, seated in front of her computer, meekly volunteers.

“Jack, why don’t we grab a cup of coffee?” John Whiteclay suggests redundantly, given the full cup he holds in his hand.

I already spent time in The Chief’s coffee-having employee lounge of disrespect. Jack O’Lies appears to be wise as well. He stares at The Chief—can a stare be slurred like speech?—in a slurred manner.

“I gotta go to the can,” he announces.

Jack O’Lies stalks off.

John Whiteclay, award-winning journalist turned editor, elbows his way out of the cubicle with mutters of, “Pardon,” and “excuse me, please,” and follows Jack as he wends his way through the maze of cubicles toward the men’s room.

Later, much later, I learned what happened after Jack stalked angrily away with his young editor in hot pursuit. At the time, I remained ensconced within the cubicle of Washingtonian staff writer Bididiana Gomez, chatting with her awkwardly about meteorology (whether the weatherman on KING 5 TV was hot or not).

Out of eyeshot and earshot, John Whiteclay was closing in on his retreating reporter.

“Jack? Jack. Jack!” he said ever more insistently, as Jack approached the same men’s room I’d caught him immerging from earlier.

Young Mr. Whiteclay told me this later. Much later.

“Jack, you and I need to have a conversation. Immediately. And probably with the legal department involved.”

Jack made a derisive grunt, rolled his eyes, and shoved the men’s room door open with his shoulder.

The Chief followed him. Jack repaired to a stall and slammed it shut.

“Fine,” said The Chief. “You think this is the first time I’ve debriefed a writer in the Cone of Silence? You can’t hide in there forever.”

He started to drink his coffee, decided it was gross to do so in the john, set it down next to the sink, then picked it up and drank anyway. Jack began to throw up loudly within the stall.

Jack told me this later. Much later.

“Jeez! Are you okay, Jack? Jack?”

A reporter entered.

“Out!” barked The Chief.

“I gotta—”

“Use the ladies’ room.”

“What? Hey, who’s yakking up?”

“We’re having a meeting. Use the ladies’ room.”

“No way, Chief!”

“They won’t care. I’m in there all the time when I’ve got to have a private conversation, because I’ve got no damned office and the damned web jack-holes are in Conference Room B again, and we can’t use Conference Room A because of the asbestos, so use the damned ladies’ room!”

The reporter retreated. Jack emerged, his face almost as white as it had been on the blogger’s video. He bent over the sink next to The Chief and washed his face.

“Are you sick? I mean, with the flu or something?”

“It wasn’t the crime scene,” Jack said. “I’m hungover as hell. I spent an hour in traffic with no coffee. I will not take shit from a J-school dropout blogger who thinks a three-month internship here qualifies him to write news.”

“He used to work here? Jack, we’ve got to go talk to legal immediately.”

Jack shook his hands dry, then wiped his palms over the back of his pants.

“He’ll get over it.”

“He’ll sue us, is what he’ll do! I would,” said The Chief.

Jack briefly eyed his boss, some sixteen years his junior.

“File the damned copy and leave me alone,” Jack said.

He shoved the men’s room door open with his shoulder and exited.

“It was shockingly good copy,” The Chief told me later. “He knocked it out in twenty minutes. It was all gold—I fact-checked it myself. His quotes were exact. I watched about three hours of TV footage to be sure. He did it without a recorder. Just a notebook and a pencil. Damn.”

Maybe I shouldn’t include the deputy assistant editor’s involuntary “Damn.” But unlike Jack O’Lies, I was doing it with a recorder. I like to be accurate when I transcribe an interview.

As The Chief slunk off to his cubicle to fact-check and copy-edit Jack O’Lies’ 850 words on the Lake Washington body discovery, I decided to risk a shove and confront my illusive interviewee.

 

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