Author/blogger’s note: This is Chapter 5 of my unpublished little comic crime caper novel “Grabmore.”
In this chapter our narrator sportswriter “hero” meets his new sports editor. Also included is a sports department staff meeting where Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens are discussed and the staff is assigned a story on “prostrate” cancer.
Every Grabmore employee knows where he or she was the day they heard about O’Riley’s disappearance.
The dozen unfortunate members of the Tropical-Times sports department recall the day for another reason. It was the second anniversary of the infamous date Col. Longstreet brought in our new sports editor – Bo Lowe.
First name was Beauregard. Shortened to Bo. It was said he wanted it to be Beau but couldn’t spell that so went with Bo instead.
Last name Lowe. Not shortened to anything. Which was good because Lowe came up short in so many ways. Mentally, morally, ethically, journalistically.
We learned that in detail in the roughly two years between his hiring and the day O’Riley walked off his yacht and into some misty mystery, like some 21st century Judge Crater or Amelia Earhart.
It didn’t take long to take the measure of Lowe. We sized him up on his first day.
Col. Longstreet escorted Lowe into a sports department meeting. The sports staff sat at a round table in a square room. The previous sports editor, a former stripper named Brunhilda Borman, moved on to another paper, a larger paper, in the Grabmore empire.
We watched Lowe lurch into the room. He was about 5-foot-6, wearing khaki slacks, a polo shirt with some sort of golf logo and eyeglasses that might have seemed right for Clark Kent.
This guy wasn’t Clark Kent, and certainly not Superman.
Longstreet introduced his new sports editor and left the room and Lowe took over. Using some techniques he likely picked up in a management seminar at the country club where he got the polo shirt, he began by asking the staffers to introduce themselves.
To my left sat Tess Stanton, our boating writer. Lowe was curious about her first name.
“It’s Tess as in ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” Tess explained.
Lowe’s empty brown eyes didn’t register anything. Not a glimmer of recognition crossed his sweaty little face. His beady eyes were as blank and lifeless as the screen of an old television tucked away in grandma’s garage.
“The Darbeyvilles?” Lowe asked. “Is that a WNBA team?”
Tess chuckled, thinking Lowe was jesting.
“No,” Tess said, “that’s Tess as in Tess of the Thomas Hardy novel.”
“Yes,” Lowe said blankly.
“My parents were English teachers,” she tried explaining. “Especially English lit.”
Lowe stared. Nothing registered. His expression remained as blank as that TV still tucked away out of sight in grandma’s garage.
“Yes,” he said.
“Tess,” Tess said.
“Righty-roo,” Lowe said, eager to move on. “I have a video at home. It’s called Tess and Sweet Bess from Ole Miss Find the Right Mister. Anybody know it?”
The title didn’t register. Lowe looked around the room. We were silent, as silent as a D.W. Griffith movie.
So, Lowe moved on. As he no doubt was instructed to in one of those management seminars Grabmore loves.
“We’ll get around to the rest of you later,” Lowe said.
He eyeballed the room. Me. Tess. Cecil, the golf writer. Basil, who covered fishing and hunting. Anna Lee, who covered high school sports. Jimmy Golson, the sports clerk who answered the phones and was our first line of defense against paranoid and angry sports moms who are convinced their son would be an NFL quarterback if only we covered his Pop Warner games. We were exiling her son to a life of crime and degradation all because we don’t like his team. When he becomes a serial killer it will be our fault because we didn’t send a photographer to take pictures of the boy’s games.
Our fault. All our fault. Always. Perpetually. Junior, who stood 5-foot-8 as a high school senior and ran a 5.2 40 and wasn’t named our All-Area quarterback, which cost him a scholarship to Florida or Florida State.
Jimmy – God bless him – somehow was able to keep these calls down to 10 minutes or so. How he didn’t develop a drug problem is a testament to his, well, to his something. I’m not sure what.
Anyhow, Tess and the rest sported degrees from actual universities. Me? I barely made it through a college of dubious accreditation.
The pause continued. No doubt something else a fancy consultant taught the pipsqueak sports editor at one of those seminars.
“Now,” Lowe said, the pause over. “One thing I don’t cotton to in my sports section is starting stories with the word “it.’”
He was twiddling a Grabmore No. 2 pencil in his fingers.
“What?” I asked.
A brilliant question, if I don’t mind saying.
“No, it,” Lowe said.
I blurted out “It was the best of time. It was the worst of times. It was the epoch of incredulity.”
I couldn’t recall the entire opening paragraph of “A Tale of Two Cities” but got those three sentences out.
Lowe’s face remained impassive as ever. No glimmer of recognition. No life. No light. The eyes remained as dull as pond water on a still day.
This wasn’t going well. Well, few things were in the newspaper business. The economy wasn’t doing well. The Internet was sucking away readers and advertisers. And, somehow, newspaper chains kept promoting and protecting empty suits like Col. Longstreet and empty Polo shirts like Lowe.
“You know, Dickens,” I pointed out, thinking the reference to Charles Dickens, one of the most famous writers in world history might jog his addled memory.
Still, those beady eyes didn’t register anything.
“What paper does he write for?” Lowe asked.
“Ah, one of them London papers,” I said.
“Well, if he was any good he’d work for a Grabmore paper like the Tropical-Fish,” Lowe said.
“You mean Times,” I pointed out, helpfully. “Tropical-Times.”
“I still don’t like starting a story with it,” Lowe said, again. “Where is this Dickens guy? You got an email address for him?”
“Ah,” I said, another example of my quick wit. “He’s, ah, dead.”
“Good,” Lowe said.
A painful pause filled the room as we wondered, yet again, how people such as Lowe not only survive but also thrive in Grabmore. The rest of us, the ones with IQs in the more or less normal range, refer to them as Grabmorons.
More silence. More seconds passed as we sat there in shocked awe.
Finally, I, ah, asked Lowe what changes he planned to keep our section vibrant. He asked why I asked. I said it’s obvious. The newspaper industry is imperiled.
He asked if I was afraid.
Well, I replied, like “Franklin Roosevelt said, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.”
He said, “who?” I said Roosevelt, he was a president a long time ago.
“Oh, year,” Lowe said, nodding his head. “Wasn’t he the president who went up Bunker Hill in a wheelchair during the Civil War?”
I just nodded numbly and said, “something like that.”
Lowe wanted us to get to work right away on a big story. He said Col. Longstreet had told him that a famous football coach with local ties had just been diagnosed with “prostrate” cancer.
We had to do a local story.
“You got to find out,” Lowe said, scanning the department,” how many women get prostrate cancer.”
There was nothing to say or do. We slouched out the door and began researching our assignment: How many women get prostrate cancer?
That’s what the man said. The way he conflated prostate and prostrate and had us researching the incidence of women with the disease soon became a newsroom joke and eventually made its way to the Grabmore Blog.
No wonder the company has such a dismal reputation.
Thus began the Lowe Era in the sports department. Morale continued its death spiral. O’Riley continued pocketing millions thanks to layoffs, furloughs and no pay raises.
The resentment and anger mounted. People like Lowe and Mabel Borgia and Col. Longstreet thrived.
Each sample of Orwellian corporate mumbo-jumbo created more dismay and despair. The Grabmore blog was filled with more details of O’Riley’s compensation.
The free country club membership. The new cars provided. Free. The corporate chef conjuring up gourmet lunches. Free. For O’Riley.
So, maybe all the factors propelled me to conspire and scheme to someday dispose of O’Riley.
Meanwhile, the Fort Myers P.D. was on the case. Maybe Scotland Yard would break the case. Maybe. …
The lead detective, though, was somebody I knew and feared. …