There are wine tastings and cheese tastings and sneak peaks. Today I decided to give you a small sneak peek at a work-in-progress.
The working title is Ian’s Trust. So without further ado, please enjoy this sneak peak
Angry and distrustful after his parents are Taken, Ian must rely on his best friend’s help when he and his siblings hide in the Smokey Mountains. But if Ian doesn’t stop their pursuers, the Cleaners, he and his siblings face re-education or death.
Ian Henry Hobart breathed in the odors of rank sweat, burnt coffee, and sweet ink. He loved the tiny newsroom and not just because working as a copyboy took him out of high school for half the day. This afternoon the room pulsed with twelve loud-talking men and the clack, ratchet, and ding of typewriters. Under it all the rumble of the presses downstairs sent vibrations through the floor, through Ian’s shoes, and into his bones. The Ambrose Chronicle served the community of Ambrose, Virginia and the surrounding area. The next closest city with a newspaper was Lynchburg.
“Hey, Ian.” Montgomery Jones, Ian’s best friend and the second copyboy at Ambrose Chronicle, sat on the copy bench next to him. He wore the required white shirt and red necktie, one of the latest skinny styles. Ian’s broader necktie was a hand-me-down from his older brother.
“Did I tell you that I’m going to the Shaming in Lynchburg tomorrow?” Monty laced his fingers together and put his hands behind his head, jutting his elbows out on each side. The move showed the cords of his neck, cords developed by hours of weightlifting.
“Yeah, Monty, you told me.” Ian was glad it was Monty going and not him. No one liked going to shamings, but Monty wanted to be a photographer. That meant he never turned down a chance to go on assignment with one of the paper’s two photographers.
Ian would never admit it to Monty, but sometimes he imagined himself and Monty as a reporter-photographer team for the Washington Post or Life Magazine.
“Wesley told me I could bring my camera,” Monty said. He’d talked his dad into getting him a professional Speed Graphic Press camera. “I might even get an uncredited photograph in the spread. I—”
“Boy!” The shout came from Claude Collins, the Chronicle’s feature reporter. Ian hopped off the bench and hurried to the desk in the back corner. Collins’ “office” consisted of his desk, two four-drawer filing cabinets, a bookcase, and a Royal typewriter on roll around stand. Stacks of old newspapers, two rolodexes, a six-line telephone, and a celluloid Donald Duck nodder crowded his desktop.
Collins had the phone receiver pressed to his left ear. His right hand scratched a pencil across a yellow paper pad that wobbled atop a stack of newspapers. “Uh, huh. Yeah. I got that.” Collins’ put the pencil behind his right ear. “I owe you one.” He hung up the phone and looked up. “Good, it’s you.”
Ian bit the inside of his cheek. Had Collins read the article Ian had written? “Yes, sir. What can I do for you, sir?”
“First, I told you to stop calling me sir.”
“Yes sir—I mean, Mr. Collins.”
“Don’t—aw, never mind.” Collins ran a hand through his pale blond hair, then rubbed his chin.
“Look, kid—Ian, right?”
“Yes s—Mr. Collins.” He knows my name. Pop was right. Giving him an article I wrote helped.
“I read your copy—”
Ian sucked in a breath. Hope bubbled up.
“Your reporting stinks.” Collins eyes twitched downward.
All the air inside Ian whooshed out. He hates it.
“You need to learn to ask more open-ended questions, to challenge the people you interview, and go at them hard.” Collins locked eyes with Ian and turned his head slowly to the right, then the left.
Confused, all Ian could think to say was, “Yes, sir.”
Collins picked up a few pages of typewritten copy and handed it to him.
It was his story. Red ink practically covered the page with questions and corrections and comments. “Thank you, Mr. Collins,” Ian stammered. He’d figured that Collins took the article to shut up a pushy kid. But he’d read it and edited it. “I’ll rewrite this right away and get it back to you.”
“Look, kid. You got potential, but you’re green.” Collins did that head shake thing again. “Go to college. Then you’ll be ready to be a junior reporter.”
Ian swallowed his disappointment. He pressed his lips together and looked down at his shoes. “Yes sir.”
“Take this to Leland. He’s probably in the dark room, so leave it in the in-box and put the flag up.” Collins handed him a bulging 5×9 manila envelope and swiveled his chair to face the typewriter. The shrill ringing of his telephone punched through the air. Collins turned, picked up the phone, and glanced at Ian. “Well? What are you waiting for?”
“Leaving now, sir.”
Ian trotted downstairs to the basement. The clatter and thunder of the printing press filled the air with vibrations and the overpowering smell of ink. Ian circled behind the press and passed a half-dozen storage rooms and supply closets. The red “Do not disturb” light above the darkroom door was on. A wire basket attached to the door was labeled “inbox.” Below it hung an identical wire basket labeled outbox. Ian dropped the envelope into the top basket. He found the inbox flag, a three-inch wide American flag magnet, attached to the outbasket instead of on the metal plate above the inbox. A large manila envelope labeled “Dale” stuck out of the basket. I’ll save myself a trip and take that upstairs now. Dale was one of the sports reporters. The one who always chewed copy boys out about how slow they were.
Ian turned to leave and almost body slammed Collins. “I didn’t hear you coming,” Ian shouted above the thunder of the press.
Collins quirked his head and gave Ian the kind of look that said, “follow me.” He led the way into a storage room crammed full of gigantic rolls of newsprint. Closing the door behind him didn’t dim the press noises much. He led Ian to the back of the room where the noise dulled to the point conversation was possible and gave Ian a wry grin. “I don’t think you picked up on the hints I was giving you upstairs.”
Ian blinked at him. The head shaking was hints? At what—how bad a reporter I am?
“Ian, you can’t be so naivé that you think the investigation you’re doing is safe?”
Crap. Ian pulse rocketed. I thought I could trust Collins. Gotta play it safe. “I don’t understand.” He held Dale’s envelope against his chest, his arms folded over it.
Collins studied him. “I know your parents believe the Fellowship could be doing some things differently. But they, and you, are treading a dangerous line.”
Ian didn’t have proof yet, but there was something corrupt going on between the Lynchburg Fellowship Church and the Wagner Quarry. “The truth shouldn’t be dangerous.”
Collins sighed. “You’re right. But in this day and age, it is. Look, you’re good.” He gave Ian a lopsided smile. “You remind me of myself. I want to take you on as an intern.”
“Really?” Ian hadn’t dared hope.
“But you have to promise me you won’t pursue this story.”
Ian hesitated. Is this some kind of test? Ten years ago Collins didn’t give up on his story about graft in city hall. That story got reprinted by New York Times. I’m not going to take a chance. He loosened his crossed arms a bit so his right hand was hidden under his left elbow. Fingers crossed, he said, “I promise.”
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak at a work-in-progress. It’s a tiny piece of the story. I’m projecting that this will be a short novel of about 40,000 words in length. What do you think? Would you keep reading? Do you like getting a sneak peek at a work-in-progress? Or would you rather not know until you get the whole story?