The mysterious note said a body had been found in Dogpatch. Divine Fury. Episode 3

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Episode 3

ENZO LEE HAD just finished a story about a young man’s third month of meditating alone in a stark Mount Tamalpias cabin, aided only by daily food deliveries left outside his door.  (“‘Ohmmm’ is the loneliest number that you’ll ever hear…,” the story began.)

His phone rang and Lee picked it up to hear the voice of his city editor.

“Hey there,”  she said.  “Come on over here for a minute, will you?”

Lee rocked back in his chair and scanned the far side of the San Francisco News’ newsroom.  Through the window of her office that overlooked the reporters whom she supervised, Lee could see the diminutive Lorraine Carr barely visible behind her desk.  She was leaning away from her computer monitor, clutching her phone in one hand and waving the other at him as if she were hailing a cab in a rainstorm.

He had to laugh as he hung up his phone, hit the button that sent the meditation story to the copy desk and began the circuitous route to Carr’s office.  The newsroom’s gray industrial carpet had faded from dark to a lighter sheen that now showed where the coffee-addicted news staff had splashed their cups of caffeine over the years.  OSHA inspectors had trimmed the stacks of old newspapers maintained by some reporters to waist-high piles.  They had only shaken their heads at the strips of brown plastic on the floor that covered the phone, data and electrical wires that crossed the newsroom.

In addition to the newspaper hoarders, there were other signs of journalists’ idiosyncrasies.  One reporter had a dozen campaign bumper stickers covering the top of his desk.  Another had a collection of snow globes from around the world on her file cabinet.

One hyperactive reporter with only one working eardrum had installed a disco ball atop a pole on his desk that spun when his phone rang, so he no longer had to race across the newsroom when a call came in for someone three rows away.  It worked but he’d gained 12 pounds in the six months since the innovation halved his newsroom mileage.

“Hiya,” Lee said, as he arrived at Carr’s office and sat down in the chair across from her.  Six months earlier, the News had promoted Carr from her job covering the high-tech businesses in Silicon Valley to the city editor’s job.  Her predecessor, Ray Pilmann, had been promoted to Assistant Managing Editor.  The change had rescued Lee from nearly constant conflict with Pilmann.

“Hi, yourself,” replied Carr, giving him her radiant smile.  Her black hair was mostly in a small loose bun in the back with some on the sides hanging down, a little below her chin.  It was a planned tousled look.  Lee wasn’t sure what hairstyle to expect from Carr when he arrived in the mornings.  Curled and tinged red one day.  Fluffed the next.  Moussed and combed straight back on the third.

Carr was attractive with high cheekbones, a heart-shaped face and smile dimples that reached her eyes.  Her black hair and dark eyebrows contrasted with her pale complexion.  Her lower lip – colored a deep red today – had just a touch of extra thickness, enough to suggest a pout on the way.

“I’ve got one for you,” she said.  Carr handed a pink telephone message slip to him.  He studied it for a minute.  It was in Carr’s handwriting and indicated it was a message from Duffy, the News’ police reporter.

“Body found.  Toyota in Dogpatch,” the note read.

“Can’t Duffy cover this?” said Lee.  “He’s working today, right?”

“He’s up to his neck,” said Carr.  “Murder-suicide in the Sunset.  And a wife killed her husband in the Richmond.  C’mon, Enzo.  I know it’s not your usual fluff stuff.  I need some help here.  Please.”

Lee hesitated.

Although he’d been a highly regarded investigative reporter early in his career on the East Coast, Lee was happy with the niche of light, frothy features that he had carved out for himself at the News.  He gave the editors a stream of fun, readable stories they showcased on the front page and he left the job behind when he walked out the door every evening.

He enjoyed having less stress in his life and not having to worry that a mistake might make the world cave in on him.  Pilmann, the previous city editor, hadn’t understood that and constantly hammered him to take on whatever businessman or politician Pilmann had decided to take an ax to that day.

During his seventeen years in the news business, the traditional passive-aggressive relationship that reporters have with editors had served Lee pretty well.  He knew that the more prickly the interactions, the less likely an editor was to assign you a story you didn’t want.  It was human nature, taking the path of least resistance.

On the other hand, Lee liked Carr.  They had worked a few stories together when she was a reporter.  Plus, she was young, idealistic and determined to pull the News up a few rungs in the journalism world through smarts and energy.  Lee had seen the fever before and guessed the outcome.  It was hard to inject new life into a newsroom accustomed to mediocrity and carrying as much dead weight as the News.  But he didn’t want to be part of the baggage Carr had to bear.

“Okay,” he finally said.  “Dogpatch, huh?”

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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