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By Miguel C. Strother

As Hal Asmas walked through the Prince George airport his thoughts echoed in a whirlpool of twin engine planes. He took out a zippo lighter from his Lee jeans, sparked the flint and lit a cigarette. The smoke lingered flat in the stale airport air.

He'd recently taken a job with a daily newspaper just preparing to launch. Hard as it was to leave the black flies and backwoods he'd trolled for the past 10 years, it was a decision Hal had to make. The dollars made sense in Toronto, nearly doubling what he'd netted in Prince George. What made it difficult was that the beat-up pick-up truck lifestyle in PG suit Hal. It was honest, like the people who lived there but got such a bad rap. They were people he wouldn't have traded in for the world if asked a year ago.

Hal had reservations about this new position, but his skin was beginning to crease like a well-used cardboard box and yellowing newspapers were all he had to line his apartment with. It was time he planned for the future, not to mention find a forum where his quips could really snap some necks. Where else was he going to find that? In Prince George? Not likely. All of the established major dailies close to home were in some politician's back pocket or had staff who were not going to part with their jobs any time soon.

Hal's girlfriend left him a couple of months earlier, splintering his heart by swinging with a trucker from Rupert. She'd been in PG her whole life and latched onto Hal because she thought he was her ticket down highway 97 and out of the woods for good. But after seven years she'd had enough. Just as she grew to loath PG more and more Hal grew to love it. "What about working for the New York Times baby?" she had once said to him, eyes flashing like the speckled belly of a netted lake trout. "The Big Apple," she sputtered. "Sure would beat the hell out of this old town wouldn't it?" But it wasn't what Hal thought he wanted. He didn't want to be the henke of some publishing giant. Now the woman he loved was gone, fed up with a man she said lacked ambition. So when the new paper called to inquire about his status Hal was just vulnerable, just vengeful enough to feel he had nothing to lose.

Hal was jarred from his thoughts when he stepped on the seemingly misplaced quick track and the airport world momentarily sped up. Seconds later he stepped on solid ground and things slowed down again. A few steps more and he came to the first of the airport checkpoints and had to drop his leather wallet from its chain and prepare to walk through the metal detector. His oversized PG rodeo belt buckle always caused a stir. This time he took it off. He was tired and had too much on his mind to deal with repeated trips through the metal detector.

Hal put everything in the plastic tray and drifted through the detector. His heart jumped as the artificial doorway squaked in alarm.

"Check you pockets please sir," said one of the three heavily bearded, decrepit old guards.

Hal dug through his faded jeans and even fumbled through the snap pockets of his cowboy shirt but found nothing.

Fucking thing.

"Walk though again please," said one.

Same sound.

"Raise your arms please," said another as he swung his hand-held metal detector into motion.

Damn it…

No sound.

"Do you have any screws or metal plates as a result of surgery?" asked the last guard mechanically.


"Do you have any… piercings?"


"Try walking through again please," asked the first.

Same sound.

"I don't know what the problem is sir, but I am going to have to ask you to come and fill out this form over here."

Jesus Christ.

Hal wanted the hell out of PG as fast as possible. He didn't want any more time to think about the change he was making. Just then an overly large, Indian brown cockroach sped across the worn gray carpet, wobbled over his boots and disappeared under a crack between the x-ray machine and floor.


Hal stood in front of the mirror in his downtown Toronto hotel room brushing his teeth. The flights from PG to Vancouver and then on to Toronto were calm. On the last leg he got a good seat, 10A near the window, and had enough Wild Turkey to gobble his fears for the few hours between cities at least. He hardly even remembered the ride to the hotel except that it was in some kind of a goddamn limousine. He opened the door to his room on the 10th floor and the made bed swallowed him whole. Instantly he was fishing in Skeena lake. Ten pound test meeting its own reflection, forming a point with the green water and descending between the infinite and the real, diving deep to bring back his dream. He wished he could go back.

As Hal scoured the taste of day-old sour mash from between his teeth, cheeks and tongue his thoughts of the previous night were interrupted by a metallic clacking against the enamel of his teeth. He cautiously pulled the toothbrush from his mouth, put it on the edge of the sink and spit the hotel-issue toothpaste froth into his hand. As he prodded through the mixture of spit and paste he found a sharp mercury filling in the blue-white foam. His immediate reaction was that he had pulled the filling loose while brushing with the cheap toothbrush. But there was one problem with this conclusion.

I've never had any fillings.


Ted walked into an office tower at the corner of Richmond and Younge. The black reflection of the building's widows stretched into the sky, mirroring the frozen city below. Waiting for Hal at the front desk was a bulbused-nosed man sucking on a cigar and a woman almost six feet tall with blue eyes and hair wrapped in thick brown coils that draped across the back of her neck.

"Hal?" asked the man.

It took Hal a second to ascend the line his thoughts hung on after seeing the woman, grasp reality and determine that his eyes we're already in focus.

"That…..um...that's right."

"How the hell are you? I am Linden Burnquist, chief of this here ship. And this, for lack of a more descriptive title, is our Managing Editor."

"Welcome aboard," said the woman, her breath materializing in front of Hal, winding and curling as it came from her mouth, as if they'd been out in the freezing night air. "Nice boots. Don't see too many of them east of Calgary."

"Yeah….. thanks. Snakeskin."

"Come on Hal, let me show you the office," said Burnquist.

They crossed the floor, went to the elevator and shot to the 28th floor where the doors peeled back to reveal the skeleton of an office.

"Well, we're just in the process of getting things set up in here Hal, but when we're finished there won't be more modern newsroom in the country, and I ain't just talkin' about the equipment now am I sweetheart?"

"No you're not Linden," said the woman, the curls rattling against the base of her thin neck as she spoke. "This newsroom is going lead the news revolution, which brings us to you Hal. That is of course why you're here isn't it?"

Burnquist and the woman exchanged quick glances before Burnquist cut in.

"You don't miss a beat do ya' sweetheart? I guess I'll leave you two to talk things over a bit. I have a meeting with the mayor. It's been a pleasure Hal. Good luck. "


Burnquist started to walk back toward the elevator when he paused a second before turning back to face the two of them again.

"Just one more thing Hal."


"Try to remember, you're not in Prince George anymore."

No shit.

"Sure thing."

"I'm hoping so," said a grinning Burnquist before the doors closed and the hiss of cables lowered the elevator back down the shaft.

"Don't pay too much attention to him," said the woman with a sharp smile. "Why don't we get out of here and discuss this whole thing over diner? We'll let him pay."

"Uh huh."


Hal and the woman sat in a dark corner of the restaurant. Thick red velvet and wrought iron absorbed all of the people and most of the light in the room. The only windows were small slats level with the sidewalk above. Hal could barely see the face of the woman sitting across from him, only the enamel of her teeth jumping at him from behind the wet outline of her brown lips and the flash of ebony curls as they bit into the faint rays of light. Although he was sitting, Hal felt dizzy, like he'd been drinking backwoods moonshine rather than the expensive red wine she'd ordered.

The woman explained to Hal in detail that it was the company's goal to build something outside the walls of newspaper tradition. She told him that the company just wanted to give the public what they desired and doing that would make the newspaper a lot of money. Although Hal would normally have thought that his arrival and introduction seemed a little too cush and her ideas based more around money than respectability, he felt like he was looking through a half-full water glass. Her face splashed across his pupils and the glints of dim light kept him blinking and struggling to break through her litany. Instead, as a defense mechanism, he simply nodded his head in semi-spastic jerks as she spoke. Finally, as she neared the end of her meal, her head jolted forward and her unblinking eyes widened, commanding his attention.

"Unless we all make some sacrifices though Hal, none of this is going to be possible. Not my job, not your job. None of it. Don't you agree?"

Again Hal just nodded his head.

"Good," her eyes narrowed. "I am glad we see things the same way."

The bill came and Hal caught a glance. $110.73. As they stood to leave Hal found that his rugged strength failed him and he spilled back into the plush red couch, his joints aching and his pride damaged.

"It was a long flight," said Hal while struggling back to his feet. "Bit stiff in the hips."

"Listen, I've got to get going," she said as she swept towards the stairs leading out of the restaurant. " Hal, I want you to take this. It's a card for a tailor I know on the west side."

He read the card:

#1 1000 Chuck Street
Toronto, Ontario.
We'll Change The Way They Look At You

"I think getting out of those tight jeans might do you a world of good."

"Thanks," he muttered in the woman's direction.

"I'll see you at the office tomorrow morning. We'll get you set up and then you can book off to see my man in the afternoon."

She opened the door of the restaurant and the quick flash of the streetlights reflecting off the snow and ice stunned Hal, throwing his vision and balance off even further. While Hal struggled to right himself, the woman flagged down a cab and was climbing quickly into the back seat.

"See you later Hal. Looking forward to working with you!"

The door slammed and the cab sped off through the Toronto night. Hal turned to wave, slipped on the ice and sunk into a snow bank. Several icicles fell from the building behind him and shattered on the ground while he tried to regain his feet.


The following day after a long but fitful sleep, Hal woke to find his joints further stiffened. He hadn't thought about the Ontario cold too much before he left because he was coming from PG. It wasn't as though the cold were new to him. And the flight wasn't all that long. He went to the shower and waited until steam spilled from the bathroom door before he poured his body under the near scalding water. While he stood under the stream he thought he smelled burning plastic. When he got out of the shower and looked around the room he found nothing wrong and dismissed the smell as imagination.

Hal took a cab to the office where the elevator pulled him toward the 28th floor office. This time scores of people scurried across the strips of grey carpet that formed grids between the white laminate desks. Some people fingered with phone lines that sprang from the walls and floors, the blue, red and yellow plastic sheaths peeled back to reveal the wire beneath. Others were moving between the desks, locked in a mechanical dance, dropping off stacks of memos one at a time. Two men were hanging an endless supply of venetian blinds that dulled the light in the room. Boxes for everything from coffee machines to stock paper were being opened, emptied, broken down and stacked. Some how in all of this the room stayed incredibly silent, the sound absorbing into the massive space. Again Hal caught the acrid smell of burning plastic.

Hal was met by the woman who led him across the gray grid into the middle of the room and to one of the desks. Although he'd promised himself the night before that he would act less of a country bumpkin in the woman's presence, he was as mesmerized by her dark curls as he had been the previous evening. He tried to keep up to her as she moved across the room but found his joints stiff and burning as he struggled behind her.

"This is you," she said when he caught up.

"Thanks," said Hal looking at the litter of paper across the desk. "But what am I supposed to do for a computer?"

"Well, the thing is….. we had a bit of a…….contract dispute and we had to change the distributor for some of the machines at the last minute. Don't worry though, your first deadline isn't until next week and we should be fully armed before then. In the mean time we have a few old laptops that you can use."

"That's fine. I have one of my own I can bring in for now."

"Your editor isn't going to be here until later in the week. He's been delayed in Charlottetown so just bring whatever stories you have to me and we'll go from there."

"No problem."

"Right. I should let you do that thing you do then"

"Before you do... I just wanted to thank you. I'm sorry I wasn't the best company last night. I have a lot on my….."

"Don't mention it," she whispered. "We'll do it again soon I'm sure." As the last word spilled from her mouth she turned and began walking away. Suddenly she stopped and turned back to find him staring blankly in her direction. "Oh and Hal, you'll be sure to visit that tailor today won't you?"


Hal went to the shop the woman suggested and ran his hands over the expensive fibers of the fabrics. While the shop clerk talked about the difficulties of living in a new city his words wove with Hal's thoughts about the evening encounter with the woman. He was then compelled to choose a wardrobe of clothes that he would never normally have worn. The bill came to $1100 but the woman hardly even noticed him when he'd passed her getting into the elevator the next day.

When he wound his way through the grid of gray, Hal found that his computer still hadn't arrived but sitting on top of all of the office supplies was a large pyramid paperweight made of brass. The weight looked like the marking on the front of the American one-dollar bill. Hal noticed these on all of the desks while looking up from the daily press releases, uncomfortable in his fitted wool-blend pants.

The first story that Hal penned was about a politician whose wife had disappeared a week earlier. It was a well-publicized story but Hal felt both he and the new paper had to start somewhere and nobody at work had mentioned it. He talked to the police and several other sources before he wrote the story up. His story was different from others he'd read in that he found an old acquaintance of the politicians who claimed to have filed an assault charge on the politician years earlier. Police records backed her accusation up and Hal added it to his story.

Hal turned the story in to the woman and a day later she came to see him at his desk. She walked up behind him and brushed her hand across his shoulders before sitting on the corner of his desk and curling her long fingers around the brass pyramid.

"I enjoyed the story Hal, I really did. You're a very good reporter. 4 days in town and already a scoop. Not bad. But there are going to be some changes if it's going to make it into the paper."

"What changes?"

"I don't really expect you to know this, but that story involves some very important people in this city. People we need if we are going to be successful. You do remember what I said about sacrifice don't you Hal?"

"Of course I do but…"

"But put yourself in Linden's place. He is very close friends with the man you are writing about. And that man is also a major player in the business community. Of course it is news, but if we lead the way by slashing at this guys past some his friends may be pretty upset with us. And that could mean we lose their support in the long run."

"You're talking about advertising right? I didn't come here to bring in advertising….."

"Is that a new suit?" she asked while reaching over to rub her hand down his lapel. "Wow, quite an improvement Hal. As much as I liked you in those boots, there is a time and a place, know what I mean?"

The muscles in Hal's shoulders constricted beneath the wool blend suit. His pupils dilated and fixed straight ahead.

"You should just know better Hal. Don't you think that any other reporter could have gotten and used the same information? Seriously, there are much better ways to spend your time. You do understand I am sure. This just isn't Prince George Hal and you are going to have to learn that fast."

Hal's blue eyes glazed to the gray of aluminum and the muscles in his back and neck were so tight that his whole body moved back and forth like a metronome when he nodded
"Why don't you stick around for a little while, cleanup the story and we can talk about it again in the morning, OK?"

Then she stood up, put the pyramid down with a thud, rubbed her hand across his shoulders again and went to the elevator to leave.

Hal was helpless. He sat and starred at the story and the red pen marks slashed through it. When he finally set to writing all of the other employees in the office had left. Outside it was snowing heavily.


The next day the woman took care of her early business before she went to Hal's desk to talk about the story. He wasn't there yet. But sitting beside a new desktop computer with a school of computer-generated fish floating across it, was the marked copy of Hal's story held down by the pyramid paperweight. She tapped the space bar of the desktop computer, made the fish disappear and found the story complete with all of the changes she had requested. A knowing smile crept across her face. The cursor blinked steadily.

"Have you seen Hal?" she asked a man sitting at a desk in the next cubical.

"You mean the guy who sits there? No, he hasn't shown up yet today."

"Didn't you get your computer today?"

"No, his is the only one."

"Tell him to come see me when he gets in, OK?"


But nobody saw Hal that day. Or the day after that. Or the day after that. Or the day after that………

Miguel C. Strother hopes you make it.






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