A poignantly moving story of a newspaper's last deadline and what if meant to Little Stanley, the man who couldn't write
FOR TEN years, Little Stanley had cherished a secret ambition—and now he would never realize it.
Ever since he was a cub reporter he had wanted one thing more than all others. Some men ask of life money or power; some will sacrifice everything, even honor, for the sake of a woman; others, a little mad perhaps, will risk life and health and home and friends to scale some lone pinnacle—to climb Mount Everest, to make a spectacular flight, or to split the atom. But Little Stanley asked for none of these. He was a newspaperman, and the thing he wanted was really quite a little thing. He wanted a byline.
Just to see his name—“By Stanley T. Reid”—on a story there on the front page of the Leader.
And now it would never happen.
Little Stanley passed his hand over his brow, and looked around the familiar city room. The reporters at their desks, their typewriters rattling madly, wads of copy paper littering the floor around them where they had missed the wastebaskets; the copy readers, with their green eye-shades, seated around the horseshoe desk, marking up copy with their big soft-lead pencils; Gus Edmonds, the night city editor, as tough and sarcastic as they made ’em but a “grand guy,” sucking on his pipe and shouting “Boy!” every few minutes; the roar of the pneumatic chute carrying copy to the composing room above; the muffled vibration of the presses turning out papers five floors below-—all this was unchanged since that night ten years ago when he had walked in as a cub reporter.
It had become part of him; just as much a part of him as his blue eyes, or his funny crooked mouth, or the “monkey” creases in His forehead which came from going without sleep too much.
Almost more a part of him. Because he hadn’t had any choice about his features really. 1 f he had, he'd have picked himself a prettier mug. But the Paper! If he had been given the choice of working on any paper in the world, the Leader was the one he would have chosen. The proudest moment of his life liad been when Gus Edmonds hired him. and ever since, through grinding hours and small pay and tough assignments and little appreciation, he had given the paper the unqualified, one-man-dog loyalty that only a newspaperman knows how to give.
And now -
Gosh, no use thinking about it!
Little Stanley stuck a fresh sheet of copy paper into his machine, and gave the roller a fierce turn.
Ten years! A lifetime while you were living it: hardly a minute when it was gone. Why, it was no time at all since he had been a cub
TN ALL THE long history of the Leader, “established
1872,” there probably never was a cockier cub, nor one more filled with headlong enthusiasm, than Little Stanley. Not that he had anything special to be cocky about. He was a little runt, with no background to speak of and an education which ended abruptly and joyfully on his sixteenth birthday, just in time to prevent him from flunking his English-composition examination. His father ran a small bakeshop, and his mother took in roomers to eke out an inadequate income. They lived in a house on a nondescript street on the wrong side of Drury Avenue.
When he was nine he started delivering papers in his own block; and at thirteen he was working after school for Joe Cusak, who had the newsstand on the corner of Drury and Eleventh, right across from the Leader Building. Being little for his age and having very fresh, rosy cheeks gave him an appealing, cherubic look which was very good for trade and helped him sell a lot of newspapers. During this period also, besides acquiring a most amazing vocabulary of gutter talk, he conceived the ambition to be a newspaperman.
Reporters from the Leader staff used to buy their copies of the afternoon papers from him. on their way into the office from their “beats,” and once or twice he gave them “hot tips.” notably the time the drugstore on the comer was held up by gunmen while half a dozen customers were being placidly served at the soda-counter. When he read the story in the paper next morning, he felt as though he had practically written if.
Everything about a newspaper fascinated him. He liked to watch the red vans, filled with their bundles of papers, come roaring out from the sheds at the back of the Leader Building. On his way home at night, he never could resist the temptation to go past the windows looking down into the pressroom, and watch the giant presses turning. But while the mechanical miracles of producing a daily newspaper thrilled him, he felt, as so many have felt before him. that the real romance and adventure of a newspaper lie in the editorial department. To dash out on strange, unknown assignments; to risk your life perhaps to get your story; to delve into the dark mysteries of crime; to fraternize with policemen and ward bosses: to bring in “scoops;” to see your name splashed on the front page under a streamer headline that was something. Little Stanley determined to become a reporter.
Out of the thousands who apply to newspaper editors every year, only a few are chosen to become reporters. Newspapers can have their pick these days of college graduates. products of schools of journalism, trained specialists, and people with social standing and valuable contacts. Little Stanley had none of these qualifications, but he had
something else. He had endless energy and enthusiasm and a supreme self-confidence. He just knew he could be a reporter—and a dashed good one, too!
The night he chose to apply for a job was one of those July nights when, with the mercury over ninety, the heatladen air envelops you like a suffocating satin comforter which you can’t throw off. The reporters who had just finished writing their first -edition heat-wave stories were congregated limply around the telephone booths at the back of the room, their feet up on the shelf, their collars open. Pete Trumpour was threatening for the hundredth time to take his shirt off; and Slick Gurney was wishing, audibly but without result, for a nice long drink. The night city editor, his shirt clinging damply to him, as transparent as Cellophane, showing the deep-cut oval outlines of his underwear, was swearing over the inefficiencies of his wilted staff.
T ITTLE STANLEY walked in the door with that jaunty,
-one-sided gait of his, and stood there at the swing-gate, waiting for somebody to notice him. He had taken a good deal of pains with his appearance; he always felt that first impressions made a lot of difference. He was wearing a new grey suit ($22.75 he’d paid for it, and darn good-looking it was, too), a clean blue shirt and his Christmas necktie, a red-and-green striped one. He was pretty warm in this outfit; his face was very red; and he was perspiring copiously at every pore. In spite of all this, there was an aura of enthusiasm about him.
He was on the threshold of the great adventure at last. He was in the midst of that magic circle of hard, tough he-men who turn out the daily news. He looked about the city room with its glaring electric lights, its restless sounds and its pervasive smell of paste, perspiration and printers’ ink—and he found it good. He felt a deep conviction that this was where he belonged.
Nobody paid any attention to him, so after a while, he pushed open the swing-gate and walked over to Gus Edmonds’ desk. Gus Edmonds looked up.
“Whadya want?” he growled, without taking the pipe out of his mouth.
“A job.” said Little Stanley, “I want to be a reporter.” His eyes were shining with eagerness.
“Sure you want to be a reporter?”
“Oh. yes, sir!”
Gus Edmonds gave Little Stanley a long, appraising look. The kid obviously didn’t have much background, but he looked bright—and tireless. He’d be able to cover a lot of ground. The city staff was top-heavy with star reporters right now; they could use a good leg-man. Maybe this kid could be trained. Gus went on marking copy with strange hieroglyphics and puffing on his pipe. Just when Little Stanley thought he’d forgotten him entirely, Gus said abruptly: “Well, I’m probably crazy, but I’ll give you a trial. Report at two tomorrow.”
It never entered Little Stanley’s head, then, to doubt that he was headed for the very top of newspaperdom. Already he could visualize a long line of signed stories stretching indefinitely into the future.
T ITTLE STANLEY hadn’t been on the paper a week before he had become the standing joke of the office. It was then that they nicknamed him “Little Stanley”— partly, of course, because his name really was Stanley, partly because he stood only five feet four in his stocking feet, but chiefly because he was always rushing in excitedly with “scoops” which weren’t even news. It seemed so appropriate, somehow. Little Stanley, the Great Explorer Yes, it just fitted him.
He was the despair of the day city editor, old Fuss-and
Feathers Williams, but Gus Edmonds said you couldn’t fire anyone with that much energy, and besides it made life interesting to see what he’d bring in next.
The assignment he was given had nothing whatever to do with what he would bring in. He would be sent out to get a routine interview with a visiting lecturer; on his way to the lecturer’s hotel, he would hear the fire-reels and. without an instant’s hesitation, would dash to the scene of the fire. He would be slightly crestfallen when he discovered that the fire had so little significance that the police beat hadn’t even bothered with it. but these experiences never discouraged him in his sublime confidence in his own “nose for news.” And every so often he stumbled on a really good story. But when he did. another reporter was sent out on it immediately.
Irony did no good, nor sarcasm. It seemed as if Little Stanley just couldn’t learn. The other reporters did their best to take him down a peg—such cockiness was just “asking for it” guying him unmercifully. But Little Stanley never seemed to mind; he took it all in good part. In a way it was sort of a compliment, he figured.
It meant you were one of them one of the gang and fellows only kidded you like that when they liked you. Sometimes when he got fed up with being the butt of their jokes he would burst out. “Say, you guys make me sick. Lay off a fella, willya?” But he never stayed mad.
Why should he? What if other reporters did have college degrees?
What if others could sling words like a Japanese juggler? Little Stanley was secretly a little contemptuous of reporters with a highbrow taint.
He never aimed at “littrachure:” he was a newspaperman. Within him burned the romantic passion for a “scoop.” He kept blithely, indefatigably on, convinced of his star.
It hurt him when the editor insisted on having his stories wTitten up by a rewrite man; he was a writer, not just a leg-man. These stereo typed desk-men didn’t see the ro mance, the excitement of a story.
They gave a hundred words to a
gripping taie or a struggle wnere me and death hung m the balance. “These street fights and dance-hall brawls don’t mean a thing,” they said—routine hack writers, that’s what they were.
At first, everyone said he wouldn’t last long. But weeks slipped into months and Little Stanley was still there. There was something about his energy, his willingness, even his misplaced enthusiasm, which was such a welcome contrast to the lackadaisical inertia of more gifted members of the stall. Atter all, even if he couldn’t write, he had his uses.
For one thing, Little Stanley had become very pally with the policemen. Like every cub reporter, he was sent down to serve an apprenticeship on the police beat, but where some found it a rather sordid grind. Little Stanley found it thrilling. He couldn’t stay away from the place. Long after the home edition had been put to bed. Little Stanley would still be hanging around the police station, swapping stories with the dicks or playing poker with the cops. Even on his days off, he couldn’t resist dropping in at a district station or a fire-hall, just to say “hello” to his friends and to see if anything was going on. He was just naturally friendly. Eventually, he had the largest acquaintance of policemen, firemen, janitors and doorkeepers of any reporter on the paper. He could get in anywhere. And his friends saved stories for him.
So Little Stanley became a permanent member of the staff, because he was so very useful.
■DOR THE first two or three years, Little Stanley pestered the city editor continually for a by-line. Whenever his stories, however rewritten and altered, made the front page, he’d tackle Gus Edmonds hopefully. And Gus, not even looking up from the copy he was editing, would growl out of the corner of his mouth, “Whaddayuh think yuh arc, a blooming prima donna?”
Once, he went to the managing editor about it. That was after he’d been on the paper two years and had become quite an experienced police reporter. He’d had real scoops aplenty that year—and still no by-line. It took courage to walk into the big oak-panelled office and face Harvey Roberts, the managing editor. He hated to go over the city ed.’s head, and all—but “dammit, a man had to fight for his due.” When a kid just out of university got a by-line in his third month on the paper, Little Stanley saw red. He walked right in to see the managing ed. and laid down the law. Was he or was he not worth anything to the paper? Gosh, that was a long shot—laying himself open like that ! Suppose Mr. Roberts had said. “Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, Reid, you’d better try another paper.” But the editor said nothing. Little Stanley grew bolder. “What about that story of the Blenheim kid? Who discovered that the old man was holding out on them? What about the Mendocio confession? Where would the Leader have been if my friend. Barney Kennedy, the assistant chief of detectives, hadn’t held the story until our time?”
“What do you want, Stanley?” Mr. Roberts said. “A raise? Well, I guess you’re worth it. Let’s see, you’ve been here two years. All right. I’ll put through five dollars a week for you, starting the beginning of the month. Not thinking of getting married or anything, are you? Well, that’s fine. Everything okay?”
The interview was over and Little Stanley was backing out, very flushed in the face, with a raise—a good raise, too, even for 1928 —but he’d never even had the chance to mention that little matter of a by-line. Gosh, they must think a lot of him to give him a raise, just like that, no argument or anything! If he'd only managed it right, to get in a remark about the by-line first.
Continued on page 65
Continued from page 13—Starts on page 12
Still, it couldn’t be long now, what with a raise and all those good stories. Little Stanley strutted around the office for several days and boasted about the raise to all his friends at the police station. He even presented the Chief of Police with a box of cigars on the strength of it. Some men passed out cigars when they were getting married or when their first baby arrived; but to Little Stanley, the paper was wife, mistress, baby.
After a little, he began to realize that he wasn’t going to get his by-line. Lie had gone so far; for some inscrutable reason that he couldn’t comprehend, he wasn’t going any farther. For the average run of reporters, the police beat was the startingin point, a passing phase in a long routine of beats and general assignments; for Little Stanley, the police beat was a permanency. He wasn’t complaining; he liked it. He liked the little cubbyhole of an office with the wooden shelf overlooking the police parking lot. (Very handy that was too, for many a time a friendly cop, who couldn’t tip him off to a story any other way, would make a great chugging getting started under that window.) Even the row of telephones, with the list of district stations, fire stations and hospitals hung up on the wall beside it, meant something to him. He enjoyed calling the rounds. Some people might think of those calls as routine, but to him there was a person, a friend, for every voice over the line.
The big bluff voice of Sergeant Wills: “Police precinct nine.”
“Hiyah, Jack? Any news tonight?” The rasping voice of Fireman Welsh: “Number three fire station.”
“Hiyah, Jim? Keepin’ warm? Any fires?”
The soft, feminine voice of Telephone Operator Clark: “St. Nicholas Hospital.” “Hiyah, Maisie—anythin’ doin’ tonight? Any suicides? Any accidents? How’s the boy friend? Say, you let me know if he don’t do right by you ! Well, s’long.”
Yessir, a friend in every voice—say, wouldn’t that make a swell slogan? He really ought to get out of newspaper work; try advertising; people said there was more money in it.
Oh, but you never knew when there would be news—big news-—and you’d be the very first on the story. Calling the city editor: “Attempted suicide out at St.
Nick’s—woman—yeah, white—good address—sounds pretty good. I’ll hop out in a taxi—yeah, call yuh in half an hour.” If the story was really good, though, the city editor always sent another reporter along. “Too much for one man to cover; they had to send Bill Strong along to help clean up the story,” he’d tell his friends, the cops.
Or: “They wanted me to arrange an
interview for little Sadie Green—feminine angle, y’know. Cute kid, but doesn’t know the ropes. She could never have got past the information desk if I hadn’t fixed things with old Pete at the emergency ward entrance.”
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It made him sore, though, the way every time he dug up a front-page story, Gus Edmonds let somebody else write it up. Even the time he got the wind up over the graft the clerk’s office was getting for doctoring the dockets in the big gambling cases. He’d dug it all out himself, with the help of a couple of dicks who were sore with the clerk for double-crossing them. It was the biggest local news in a month; carried streamer headlines for three days. But he didn’t get a chance to write a word of it himself. They kept him so busy getting fresh angles, he didn’t get eight hours sleep in those three days, didn’t have time to shave even (gosh, he must have looked a fright!) and of course, he had to telephone most of the stuff in.
Willison Winspear wrote it up—and got a by-line. Lord, he didn’t mind co-operating; you had to work together on papers, one person couldn’t get all the news and write it too. But what burned him up was that a big pipe-smoking, Dreiser-reading stiff like Winspear should get a by-line on his story.
AFTER THE first three years, Little - Stanley stopped asking for by-lines. Up to a certain point, he thought that when he “made good”—when he brought in a “big enough story”-—the by-line would come to him as his natural reward, as it did to others. Perhaps he had been a bit impatient at first, a green cub who thought he had a story when it was just a routine bit, he told himself. He tried to be reasonable. Lie had a great admiration and respect for the city editor; a devotion like that of a dog who licks the boots of a master who gives him an undeserved kick when least expected. Gus Edmonds liked him—he felt sure of that—but always with that faintly amused superiority. If he kept on trying, he could surely write a story that would bring the ultimate mark of approval—a by-line.
But it never came—and Little Stanley stopped mentioning it. Gus Edmonds thought he’d “got on to himself at last”— invaluable as a leg-man, but just couldn’t write. But inwardly, Little Stanley’s secret ambition never wavered. Like a bright, luminous, distant star which he might never reach, the by-line—“By Stanley T. Reid”-—always secretly dangled before him, led him on.
At the end of ten years, Little Stanley felt himself an old newspaperman. Cubs had come and gone—dozens of them. Mr. Roberts, the editor who had given him the raise, had died, and the whole staff had turned out to the funeral, not a dry eye among them. Little Stanley felt closer to the paper than ever after that. It was something you lived with and died with, not something you just worked for. The rest of the “boys” were closer to you really than your own family. You wouldn’t let them down; you’d lend them money when they were broke; you’d “cover up” for them when they were drunk. Gosh, a fella got sort of maudlin-like when he thought about it.
The paper was there like some great enduring rock. The paper stood for something big, and you stood for the paper, and somehow that made you bigger, more of a somebody than you could ever be by yourself. Even to do just one thing on the paper year after year was worth doing because it was for the paper. What he didn’t tell those smark-aleck kids who came on from college, thinking they knew it all, and talking about a controlled press and all that bunk; what he didn’t tell them!
“The Leader is the finest paper in the province,” he told them. “I shouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t the best paper in the country. It covers the news and it gets its facts straight. It isn’t afraid to expose any graft, no matter how big. And the editors who run this paper are the grandest guys you’ll ever find to work for, any place.” Ten years—gosh, what a lot had happened in ten years! He’d been on the Bertram murder case in 1928 and the Lessing kidnapping in 1929; the police court clean-up in 1930; the big drug-ring exposé in 1931; the jail-break in 1932; the Wessels triple murder in 1933; the Flame Murder in 1934; and the Tremont suicide investigation in 1935.
He hardly ever wrote his stuff now, just phoned it in. Green kids could write it up. They had the “smooth lingo,” lie told his friends, the cops, “but it takes experience to dig those things out.”
Gus Edmonds didn’t laugh at him so much any longer. He was managing editor now, but he hadn’t lost touch with his reporters. He’d call Little Stanley into his office (that same oak-panelled room where Stanley had faced old Roberts) and say in a confidential voice, “Now, let’s have the low-down on this story.” And he told all the cubs that Stanley was a “veteran police reporter” and they could learn more about getting news from him than from any fouryear course in journalism—but, for heaven’s sake, not to follow his style ol writing.
Stanley was a personage at the Leader now, and he took a lot of pride in the way the cubs would look at him respectfully and say, “Gosh, you must have seen a lot !”
“Oh, it’s nothing, really,” Stanley would reply modestly. “By the time you’ve been at it as long as I have, you’ll get the hang of it too. It’s all a matter of making contacts and keeping at it.”
Yes, Little Stanley filled a niche of his own at the Leader. Nobody else could fill it as he did, and he was happy in that knowledge. He hardly ever thought about that by-line now.
' I 'HE BIG Windermere murder happened on Tuesday night, and Stanley was out with the dicks twenty-eight hours on a stretch, so he didn’t hear the news until nearly midnight Wednesday, just before the paper went to press.
In spite of the fatigue which comes only from sleeplessness and keeping going on coffee and cigarettes for so long, there was some of the old gleam in Stanley’s eyes when he came into the office.
Little Stanley didn’t have to come into the office. He could have phoned his story in, and gone home to bed; but he was feeling all the old excitement of a “big story.” They had just tracked down the murder suspect after a long, exciting chase. What if his eyes did feel like marbles? What if he was so tired he could hardly stand? He felt the need of an audience; he wanted to tell his story himself. “Just as we came round the comer, we spots this guy,” he would begin. Gosh, he was tired, but what a story!
The first hint he had that anything was wrong was when he was riding up in the night elevator.
“Hiyah, Jim?” he said to the elevator boy.
Boy! Heck, Jimmy was getting on, he thought. He’d never noticed those grey hairs near his temple, nor that pinched look around his mouth, before. Well, Jimmy had enough to worry about with a wife and three kids. Still he was always ready to josh a fellow. Stanley wondered if he’d had a piece of bad luck.
As he walked down the long corridor to the city room, he was suddenly conscious of the sound of his own heels clicking along the hard floor. Funny, he’d never noticed that before. There seemed to be a kind of hush over everything, like at a funeral. That’s what came of going without sleep; you got to imagining things.
Coming toward the city room, he could hear the roar of the pneumatic chute and the pounding of typewriters. Good old city room, full of life and light and noise; nothing spooky there. Yet when he came into the room, he knew instantly that something—something terrible—had happened. For one thing, everybody was there; the day staff hadn’t gone home. Gus
Edmonds, the managing editor, was there, and the editorial writers and special-column men, and all the people who rarely came into the city room except on the nights of elections or the big fights. Only then the atmosphere was electric with excitement, the men’s faces alight and eager as a small boy’s. Tonight, the men’s faces were set and strained. Some of them looked frightened; more of them looked dazed, as if they had received a blow which they could not yet comprehend. Sadie Green, the girl reporter, had been frankly crying. Her eyes were red-rimmed and her face blotchy. Some of the older men seemed actually to have shrunk all of a sudden. Gus Edmonds had lost all the ironic twist to his face. He just looked infinitely sad and kind and gentle—and years older.
Little Stanley steadied himself against a desk, and lifted questioning eyes to Gus. He’d forgotten all about the Windermere murder.
“You haven’t heard?” Gus asked in a low voice.
Stanley shook his head, staring at him dumbly.
Then Gus told him. The Leader had sold out to the Phoenix. There was to be an amalgamation. Of course, they would take care of as many of the men as possible. But after Saturday, the Leader would cease to exist.
The paper! No more paper, ever, any more !
Little Stanley tried to light a cigarette, but somehow he couldn’t make his hand work right.
In a leaden voice, he told the story of the Windermere murder suspect to a rewrite man. He couldn’t look into the stricken faces of his friends. Silently, heavily, he dragged himself home to bed.
'T'HOSE NEXT three days had been the
worst he ever remembered; worse than anything, in all his cheery, cocky life, he could have imagined. Going through all the usual motions, but with that awful blank feeling of unreality. It was like being dead, and not dying. No, not like death—he had seen plenty of death on the police beat; that was a clean wound, quickly healed. This thing kept coming at you. You didn’t take it in all at once. Everything still looked the same—real, substantial, permanent. The little cubbyhole of an office at the police station—why, he’d gotten to feeling that spot was his. Then he’d start calling the rounds— “Hiyah, Jack? Hiyah, Jim? Hiyah, Maisie?”—and all of a sudden it would come over you with a rush, “After Saturday, I won’t be doing this any more.” The police precincts, the fire stations, the hospitals, all would be unchanged—but somebody else would be calling them. Down here at police headquarters, everything would run along the usual routine. The emergency squad would go rushing out in police cars, sirens blowing; the vice squad would bring in the usual line-up of dopes, drunks and street-walkers; the detective bureau would go on digging up fresh clues, fresh suspects in the Windermere murder. His friends, the cops, would come on their regular shifts, buttons shining, always joshing one another, always telling the latest story, “Say, have you heard the one about ... ?” Only he wouldn’t be there.
Oh, of course, he could drop in to see them once in a while. They were his friends, weren’t they? But he’d seen old newspapermen, out of a job, hanging around the police station, around newspaper offices—anywhere that they could talk to newspapermen—trying to keep up* the illusion that they were still buddies. Pathetic, he’d always thought them, and a nuisance when you were busy. No, he didn’t want to get like that.
But back here in the Leader Building, it was the worst of all. The big electric sign, “The Leader,” across the top of the building, still blazed into the night, visible for miles around. He’d always felt a thrill of pride when he’d chanced to look up at the sky and see that sign. It had all the
other constellations beat a million. The giant presses were beginning to turn down in the basement; the paper was flowing like a long ribbon over the mammoth cylinders into a neat triangle where the machine miraculously folded it, ready to be picked up with your morning cup of coffee. But tonight, when the presses stopped, they would never start again; not to print the Leader. But until the last paper was printed, the pressmen must carry on as usual.
It was a ghastly business, this continuing to get out a paper that you already knew was dead. At least the business and advertising departments were through with that. At five o’clock those staffs had cleaned out their desks and filed out of the offices for the last time. Whatever fear, worry, despair they had taken home with them, they were over the worst of it—they had said good-by.
"DUT, UP PIERE in the city room, the overhead lights glared down on rows of grim, tense men, steadily, efficiently turning out the day’s news. You didn’t dare let yourself relax for fear you’d go to pieces. And you mustn’t do that. Whatever else you did, you mustn’t do that. “We’re all in this together. It’s a lot tougher on the old fellows. If they can take it, so can the rest of us. You just have to keep a stiff upper lip.”
But, lord, how can you think about what you are writing?
Little Stanley stared at the blank paper on his typewriter. Any other night, he would have thought he had a good story. But what difference did it make tonight that a man had shot himself and his wife? Even an important man like Senator Brown. Just after dinner, the call had come in to the police station from a frightened maid at Brown’s home. Little Stanley had been out there with the first cop. He’d cleaned up on the story; then he’d come back, reluctantly, at last, to the office. For once, there was no rewrite man put on his story. Every man was to write his own stories tonight, Gus Edmonds had decreed.
Little Stanley stared at his typewriter, struggling for words. Gosh, he was rusty; just couldn’t seem to get the swing of it. Why had he ever thought he could write, anyway? Lord, he’d been a conceited kid!
“Crazed by frustrated love . . . ” he began.
No! That sounded like a sob-sister. Why go sentimental just because a man shot his wife? There were worse things, weren’t there? How must a man feel to do a thing like that?
How awful old Fuss-and-Feathers Williams looked ! All his plumpness had sagged in a dreadful kind of hopelessness. Old Fuss-and-Feathers had always irritated him, with his nagging, fussy ways. But he had a sick wife, Stanley remembered, and a lot of responsibilities. He’d probably been fussy because he was afraid of losing Ids job. And now desperation stared him in the face. He wasn’t one of the men to whom the Phoenix would offer even a little job.
How did a man feel when he shot his wife?
No use. Stanley couldn’t pump himself up to put any pep, any feeling into the story—not the way a big story like that ought to be written. Maybe Willison Winspear wasn’t such a slouch of a writer after all.
Gus Edmonds had been right. He just didn’t have any knack for words. And what difference did it make now, anyhow? Get some kind of a story in to the desk— that was the main thing. Just tell it— plain, straight ahead, the way it happened.
“Arthur Brown loved his wife. That is why he killed her,” Little Stanley wrote.
“Servants at Senator Brown’s house said
nothing unusual occurred at breakfast time. He kissed his wife when he left the house in the morning.
“His wife had asked him for a divorce some days before, according to close friends of the family. He had seemed to take it very well at the time, they said.
“When Senator Brown returned home at dinner time, he went directly to his wife’s room. A few minutes later a shot was heard.
“Servants running into the hall saw Senator Brown coming down the stairs, a revolver in his hand.
“ ‘Go back into the kitchen,’ he said quietly, and went into his library and locked the door.
“He went to his desk, sat down and placed his wife’s photograph directly in front of him. Then he shot himself.
“When police broke in the door to the library, they found him with his head on the desk, his hair just touching the breast of the woman in the picture.
“Police declare it to be a clear case of murder and suicide. There was no need to search for hidden motives.
“Arthur Brown loved his wife. That is why he killed her.”
O LOWLY, Little Stanley picked up his ^ copy—his last copy—-and took it over to the desk.
Then he went back to his own desk, and began to go through the medley of junk in his drawers—a dirty towel, a cake of green soap, thirteen yellow pencils, a pile of copy paper, clippings, notes, a dilapidated pack of cards, an old key-ring, matches. Most of it went into the wastebasket; there was nothing to keep that meant anything. He wondered dully why he hadn’t cleaned out his drawers before.
His hands were filthy when he finished, so he took the green soap and the towel into the locker-room and washed his hands. Walking slowly—postponing the inevitable farewells as long as possible.
Finally, there didn’t seem to be anything else to do. He closed his desk. It was almost midnight. Everyone would be going home now in a few minutes, except the few men on the night shift who would still be here until four a.m. Yes, all the copy for the home edition had gone up. The other boys were all cleaning out their desks too. One by one, they started to go.
“Well, s’long Joe.”
“Good luck, Pete.”
“See you in jail, Steve.”
Gus Edmonds was standing by the door, shaking hands with each man as he went out. Little Stanley went over to him, and held out his hand. He tried to speak, but the words choked in his throat. He felt his eyes filling with tears. He gripped Gus’ hand hard—and went out, without a word.
Down on the street, he leaned against the cool stone of the building for a minute. Several of the boys were still hanging around, waiting for the paper to come out. They went around to the back of the building, where the papers were beginning to come down the chutes, ready to be loaded into the trucks.
The last paper !
Little Stanley took his paper and turned away, so the other fellows wouldn’t see his eyes were blinded with tears.
Dimly, through the blur, he could see the headlines: Senator Shoots Self and Wife. Then, slowly, his eyes focused on the copy underneath.
And there it was !
He blinked furiously, uncertain that he was seeing right.
Yes, there it was. There was no doubt about it.
“By Stanley T. Reid, Staff Writer of the Leader.”
Now he had something to take away with him.
Little Stanley had his by-line at last!