Continued from here:
Chaos. The usual.
The room was cramped, for a start. Affordability was always a key at the paper and that translated over into what the facilities were like. The building was a low one, the area for printers took up enough of the space as it was, and that left the desks for the writers in the big newsroom to nearly abut each other, with barely enough room to get around them. It was perhaps a lucky thing that there were very few women who ever were in the room for business or work, if only because the potential for embarrassing situations was rife.
There were reports that in some newsrooms things were more open for that reason, but that did not apply to this one, and the idea that it could be otherwise did not seem to exist either in discussion or conscious thought. There was a standard and it was followed, the rest took care of itself.
Typewriters clattered, smoke hung thick. Barked curses were heard more than once as frustrations over deadlines, word counts, misspellings and more came to the surface. More than a few writers carried on full conversations while working, it came naturally and some days the copy could write itself.
A back door opened and the publisher emerged, followed by the editor. They nodded curtly at each other and the former left, leaving the editor to bark out one reporter’s name to summon him into the small editorial office in one corner of the room. A few looks were exchanged and dry chuckles could be heard, while in another corner one writer shook his head and paid out his bet to another.
“Would’ve been this afternoon any other day.”
“This morning, like I said. That story wasn’t going to be ignored. Surprised it ran.”
“You think the big boss heard it from the Board?”
“The Board nothing.” The second reporter scratched the back of his neck. “You know it was one of the bosses. It sure wasn’t the Mayor, he’s too old and too sick to care about anything but whether he can get up in the mornings.”
“Mmm.” The first reporter typed for a while, finishing up a story. A raised voice could be heard from the editorial office, tone and intent perfectly clear even in the noisy main room. “Think he’ll finally learn?”
“He’s the crusader, he’s supposed to be doing good in the City. He wants to be an idealist, let him. Maybe he’ll figure out he has to eat at some point.”
“I’m surprised the old man let him run the story in the first place.”
“You think the big boss didn’t shout at him even louder?”
The editorial office door opened and the reporter emerged, the look on his face somewhere between bravery and mortification. The door shut firmly behind him as he went to sit down and start writing, though it was some minutes before he did this.
McMahon walked down the street to the paper, whistling jauntily. It was a cold March day but his spirits were high – he’d had another pleasant evening at DuLac’s the night before, the drinks were of the best quality yet and the new girl he had asked for was either a natural at her art or else had been trained early on. In the previous week he had dealt with any number of stories to report – a gruesome murder or two towards North Beach, a fire near City Hall that was rumored to have been a cover for a robbery, the usual stock in trade.
He was proud of his work and abilities. The public might not know his name but they read his words, and sitting on a streetcar gave him the opportunity to see what others thought – if he saw them reading a copy of his paper, he engaged them in conversation, asked them for their favorite stories that day, and was often gratified that the choices were his own.
The people wanted stories of death and destruction, he would give it to them and be all the happier for doing so. It kept the coin running in and he spent it as he would, with thanks for it all. Humanity wasn’t going to cease in villainy at any point soon and there would be a need to talk about it, and why not, after all, get paid for it?
He recognized a street cop on his beat and stepped up for a chat, trading stories about the latest he’d had to deal with in his duties. The cop had little to say – drunks cleared off of the porches of bank buildings and the like – and was clearly itching for a transfer elsewhere.
“The docks, that’s where I’d go.”
McMahon’s eyes widened slightly. “A sign of a bold man or a foolish one. Not on your own?”
The cop laughed. “I’m a bold man, McMahon, but I’m not a fool. Have one of the guys with me who knows how to use a knife along with his club. We’ll put a few things to right, as we want to.”
“You’ll have all the ship captains and that sailor-catching mob after you in a day.”
“We’re not that dumb even if we do want to walk a beat down there. Those wharf rats won’t be missed by anybody, they’ll even say we really did clean up the place.”
McMahon smiled and shook his head. “Never tell me anything officially if you do get there – unofficially, I’ll stand for your first few beers one night.”
“Well thank ya McMahon, I’ll hold you to that.”
McMahon walked away feeling like he could burst into song. Future stories right there – mysterious murders down on the docks, no relatives to come around asking questions, nobody to care, and more than a few things to hear about well after the fact. He’d find a way to get the word on that and get more readers for the paper. That was simple enough.
He swung into the building and up the stairs to the writers’ room, entering to a chorus of greetings and making his way around the desks. He liked gladhanding when it came to those who got in and did the work like him, and those few he felt were taking the easy way through he ignored. They’d suffer enough and he’d want to avoid associating with them too much.
As he put his coat on the back of his chair, he looked up to see editor Thompson sticking his head out of his office. He jerked his head at McMahon, who raised his eyebrows but grabbed a spare pad of paper and a pencil in case he was about to get a new assignment.
Thompson’s office was if anything even more cluttered than the main room, and McMahon was constantly impressed that in case he ever needed to find anything he seemed to know exactly where to look. Mostly he seemed to use it to hide away from the world, though, and McMahon had to wonder sometimes how he had gotten to be editor when he never seemed like he would have been at home being a reporter.
Thompson leaned back in his chair and looked over at McMahon, asking him to sit with a glance. He coughed, then said, “That damn fool Garner. I knew I shouldn’t have run his story.”
McMahon frowned, then remembered the story in question. He refrained from a smile, reading Thompson’s mood as best he could. “He’s naïve.”
“He’s worse than that, he thinks he’s an expert because he’s so naïve. God help me where they get these ideas.” Thompson spat on the floor, coughed again. “God help me where I’m not getting all I need at once. You have any good cigars on you, McMahon?”
McMahon had already coolly drawn out his container before the question was complete. “I couldn’t report without some. How else do you persuade a man to talk without this and a stiff drink?”
Thompson’s face twisted into a rare grimace that approached good humor. He lit the cigar and said nothing for a while, then looked fully into McMahon’s face. “You go to the Barbary Coast at all?”
McMahon started a bit. “I’m not living in my own slops and chasing after pennies to drink rotgut.”
“Mm.” Thompson took a puff. “I thought you wanted a life of adventure in the City.”
“A life. Not a death. The Tenderloin is far more appealing me in all its ways.”
Thompson nodded. “Yes, I heard you mention once you had a favored location.”
“For now. She does good business and she knows where to grease the palms, or more.”
“Understandable.” Thompson coughed again, leaned forward. “This is the deal, McMahon, and if you don’t think it’s worth your while, you can say no, but I think it is, and maybe a little more cash is needed for you to see how worthwhile it is. Garner’s being an idiot is one thing, but figuring out another way to make a little something out of his ideas is another. He wants to talk about what exact interests are in the Barbary Coast, he can do that on his time and to whatever moralists he thinks will listen to his outraged innocence.”
McMahon had to smirk. “I’m sure he can find a lecture hall to fill somewhere.”
“Perhaps he can, two hundred miles from here where every last hayseed wants something to listen to make themselves feel better.” Thompson took another puff. “Mm…good stuff, McMahon.”
“I make it my business to get the best around. Shipments from Cuba arrive every so often.”
“Anyway,” said Thompson after another, “So Garner will be reporting on the type of stuff he deserves – missing dogs and things like that. Keep all the ladies in the tea rooms happy when they’re all talking about doilys. We know what the rest of our readers want, though, and it’s been a while since we had something to say about the place. Get down there and get me some stories, any new venues, any new rumors. They’re talking about white slavery now, find out if there’s any there.”
“There? Not Chinatown?”
Thompson waved a hand. “The only ones there are the ones they bring in themselves. Just talk about it all and get something together that’ll make people glad about how they live in a safer part of the City, that’ll get the men wishing they could be there and even the women too.”
McMahon scribbled down some notes. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, like I need to tell you.” Thompson spat again. “You find out who’s really running some of the places or who’s getting paid off, you ignore it.”
McMahon looked over at Thompson with what he knew was a huge smirk. “I already know, you already know. Why do I need to be reminded?”
“Because I wouldn’t want to waste my time trying to edit even a small reference out, not after Garner’s being a fool wasted my time and more.”
“The Barbary Coast isn’t going anywhere. Just write a few as you feel like so long as you do your job otherwise.”
“A little extra cash is good.” McMahon stood. “And I won’t have to spend too much when I’m down there.”
“If you bring any more money down there any time beyond what you need to get out you’re a bigger fool than Garner.” Thompson lost himself in some papers and McMahon took it as a cue to leave.
As he walked to his desk he passed by Garner’s, where he sat typing something in apparently righteous indignation, if the look of wide-eyed anger on his face was any indication. McMahon considered briefly if he should let Garner know exactly how much he detested his attitude towards life, then shrugged. Let him preach.
McMahon settled at his desk and considered pleasanter possibilities. The Barbary Coast, eh? He got out his notes for his latest story and began to type.
Perhaps I’ll have to engage a room with a bath at DuLac’s for some extra care. I’ll need to clean the scum off myself every time I visit the Coast.