O’Bric sighed, wondering how things had gotten so screwed up. He spun his chair a half-turn, and pulled out his keyboard. Time to get to work.
A note sticking to the monitor interrupted his train of thought. Hammond’s unmistakable scrawl said: O’Bric–See me in the conference room the moment you get in. –PCH
“Yeah, right,” O’Bric grumbled. “You got legs. How about you seein’ me, Clety boy.”
He ripped up the note, tossed it over his shoulder, and turned on the computer. After keystroking a catchy lead, O’Bric scooted his chair back to read what he’d typed.
“Pretty good. Pretty damn good.”
He glanced around the dugout. None of his reporters had arrived. Curious, he rose to check the assignment book on his assistant’s desk at the far end of the department.
Halfway there, O’Bric stopped, smiled, and slapped his thigh. Of course, you jerk. It’s your birthday.
The whole crew was probably crammed into the conference room, waiting to yell, “Surprise!”
That’s why P. Clete had specified their meeting take place in the larger room and not his swanky office. Come to think of it, Thorny had mentioned a big surprise when O’Bric returned from Florida…before their blow up.
Mustn’t keep your fans waiting, Birthday Boy.
He headed for the conference room, starting to salivate as he thought of the gooey cake the management usually provided for such auspicious occasions. The gooier the better.
O’Bric paused outside the door, wondering whether to knock or just barge in as he ordinarily would. He would have to fake a shocked look. After a moment of practicing his best surprised expression, O’Bric gave three sharp raps on the walnut door.
Clete responded with a pretentious, “Come,” which irritated O’Bric in much the same way as fingernails scratching a blackboard.
Today, however, he’d give the prima donna a pass. “Keep smiling, Quade, it’s your birthday,” O’Bric mumbled, and threw open the door.
P. Cletus Hammond sat alone at the conference table, writing with his fancy, ebony Mont Blanc Diplomat fountain pen. O’Bric hated that, too. Damn snob.
Without glancing up, Hammond said, “Have a seat, Quade.” He continued writing. A stack of mint-green personnel file folders sat at either elbow.
O’Bric stood with one foot inside the room, momentarily confused. He stared down at the top of Hammond’s balding head, and found himself counting the sparse brown strands.
Hammond made tick marks on a paper in one of the file folders, and O’Bric gave an internal groan. Ah shit, just what I need. Annual review time.
In the past, Thorny Thompson himself had gone over the year’s work with each editor, in his plush office suite; then he’d give each of them their raises and a list specifying their staffs’ raises. O’Bric’s review usually consisted of a pat on the back with a hearty, “Good job.”
With all the belt tightening, Thorny probably didn’t have the heart to face not giving them out, so he’d called in Captain Bligh to do the dirty work. O’Bric felt sorry for the good old guy.
He blew out a breath, determined to get the unpleasantries over with as quickly as possible, and entered the room. The nightcap at the Log Cabin he’d planned for later might run into two or three.
Hammond closed the folder and placed it on the stack at his left elbow. “I wish you’d sit for this, Quade.”
Did O’Bric detect a nuance of humanity in the managing editor’s voice? Probably not. He remained standing. “Look, Clete, I don’t have time to chitchat. I got a column to get out.”
Hammond lifted a folder from the chair next to him and placed it on the table. He didn’t open it. “I’m trying to make this as painless as possible–for both of us.”
“Yeah, you’re a regular Mother Theresa. So we don’t get raises this time around. So what? Thorny will make it up to us when Thom-Com has a good year. I’m not worried. None of my people will quit over it–guaranteed.”
“Your guess is a good one, but not the right one, Quade.”
“Listen, I got a lot to do. I’ve been gone for a few days–or didn’t you notice? Cut to the bottom line.”
“Okay. The bottom line is, not only no raises, but Thom-Com is downsizing its operation in this city.”
O’Bric stared out the window behind Hammond, hardly noticing the spectacular view of the city lights. It took him a moment to digest the managing editor’s statement. Downsizing. The word hit him like a punch to the gut. So now, what? Did Hammond want O’Bric to single out which of his reporters to ax?
He twisted a swivel conference chair around, dropped into it, and swung to face Hammond. “That’s a whole ‘nother ball game. If you think I’m gonna tell some of my people, ‘no raises and, by the way, you’re fired,’ think again. You’ll have to do your own dirty work, Mr. Big Shot. Most of them can’t stand your guts, so you’re not risking your popularity with ‘em.”
O’Bric pushed up from the table, and started for the door. “I got a column to write.”
Spiteful gravity edged Hammond’s voice, “You won’t let me do this the easy way. I knew you wouldn’t. Okay, Quade, I’ll be blunt.”
O’Bric stopped with his hand on the doorknob, and turned. “Okay, be blunt.”
“You won’t have to write your column tonight or ever again for this newspaper. The board has decided to shut down the Press-Journal, immediately.”
O’Bric stood slack-jawed in stunned silence.
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