The photos were trappings of an earlier life, like the deactivated police scanner that sat on a file cabinet beneath them. Listening to police or fire reports had been a way of life once. No bona fide newsroom was without one. So he had started his tenure at Lake News by setting one up, but static without voices for hours on end had grown old fast. Besides, he personally knew everyone who would be involved in breaking news. If anything happened, they called him, and if he wasn't at his phone, Poppy Blake knew where he was. She was his answering service. She was the answering service for half the town. If she didn't find him one place, she found him somewhere else. In three years, he hadn't missed a local emergency. How many had there been...two...three...four?
Nope, no big best-seller would ever come from covering emergencies in Lake Henry.
With a sigh he dropped the phone into its cradle, pulled a doughnut from the bag, added more coffee to his mug, and tipped back his chair. He had barely crossed his feet on the desk when Jenny Blodgett appeared at the door. She was nineteen, pale and blond, and so thin that the big bulge of the baby in her belly looked doubly wrong. Knowing that she probably hadn't eaten breakfast, he rocked forward in the chair, came to his feet, and brought her the bag.
"It isn't milk or meat, but it's better than nothing," he said, gesturing her around and back down the stairs. Her office was on the first floor, in the room that had once been a parlor. He followed her there, eyed the papers on the desk, thought he detected what may have been separate piles. "How's it going?"
Her voice was soft and childlike. "Okay." She pointed to each of those vague piles in turn. "This year's letters to the editor. Last year's. The year before's. What do I do now?"
He had told her twice. But she worked sporadic hours, hadn't been in since the Wednesday before, and had probably lived a nightmare since then -- or so the rationale went. She wasn't exactly competent, had barely made it through high school, and was trained for nothing. But she was carrying his cousin's child. He wanted to give her a break.
So, gently, he said, "Put them in alphabetical order and file them in the cabinet. Did you type out labels for the files?"
Her eyes went wide. They were red rimmed, which meant she had either been up all night or crying this morning. "I forgot," she whispered.
"No problem. You can do it now. What say we set a goal? Labels typed and stuck on file folders, and letters filed in the appropriate folders before you leave today. Sound fair?"
She nodded quickly.
"Eat first," he reminded her on his way out the door and went to the kitchen to collect the contents of the bins.
Up in his office again, he ate his doughnut at the window overlooking the lake. The Woody had disappeared and its wake been played out, but the water had lost its smoothness. A small breeze ruffled it in shifting patches. Beneath his window the willows whispered and swayed.
Shoving up the screen, he ducked his head and leaned out. Corned beef hash was frying at Charlie's. The breeze brought the smell across the street and down to the water. On his left, half a dozen old men fished from the end of the town pier, which jutted from a narrow swath of sandy beach. On his right, yellow-leafed birches angled out over low shrubs that led to rocks and then water. There were houses farther on, year-round homes too stately to be called camps, but most were tucked into coves, hidden around bends, or blocked from view by islands. He could see the tips of a few docks, even a weathered raft still anchored to the floor of the lake. It would be hauled in soon, and the docks taken apart and stored. The lake would be bare.
The phone rang. Letting the screen drop, he waited to see if Jenny would answer it. After three rings, he did it himself. "Lake News."
Copyright © 1999 by Barbara Delinsky
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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