The door to the holding cell opened, and the officer on the other side told me, “You’re free to go, Max.”
With a yawn, I asked him. “Hey, Jason. What’s going on?”
“You know, the usual.”
“Really? Because the last time I was in, they told me you and the family went to Florida for the week.”
Rolling his eyes, he said, “Not much of a vacation when you got to stay with your in-laws, if you know what I mean.”
“Not personally, but I’ve heard things.”
“Lucky.” He shook his head. “You know the way out. Stay out of trouble.”
We smirked at each other.
When I got to the check-out desk, I said to the uniform sitting behind it. “Hey, Roger.”
“Hey, Max,” he replied. “Says here you were trespassing backstage at the Staplebitch concert.”
“My daughter loves that band.”
“Your daughter has lousy taste in music.”
“That’s what I keep telling her,” he said, “but you know kids.”
“Not personally, but I’ve heard things.”
He handed me my belongings, I signed for them, and he told me, “See you next time, buddy.”
Upon exiting the building, I was greeted by my colleague and photographer, Gretchen, leaning on a lamppost, playing with her fingernails. Her voluptuous hair was tied up into a stringy ponytail, her pin-up-girl figure was hidden under too-large jeans and a T-shirt, her bright eyes were bloodshot and framed by the ugliest pair of glasses I’d ever seen, her lips were pale, and her smile was absent. I’d recognized her only by the sound of her gum-chewing.
“Gretchen,” I told her, “you look like shit.”
“You look like the shit that shit shits,” she replied.
I took a moment to comprehend what she had just said. Failing that, I closed my eyes and exhaled.
“We done?” she asked.
She strode off, and I turned on my phone to see what the world had been up to in my absence. “You have one new message,” the ethereal voice inside informed me.
“And I bet you a dollar I’m going to hate it,” I mumbled in reply.
“Max,” the first message growled, “this is Myron. You know, your editor? The one who keeps having to bail you out of jail? That Myron? I expect to see you in my office within a half-hour of you getting you out, and I expect you to have an interview for me with the notoriously difficult-to-interview it-band of the moment with the stupid name. If not, I will murder you, chop up your body, and throw it in a compost heap.”
Seeing as I’d failed to get said interview, I figured I should try to make a run for it.
“If you failed to get said interview, and you try to make a run for it,” the message continued, “I will hunt you down, then murder you, chop up your body, and throw it in a compost heap.”
My phone went off while I was a dead man walking to the train, and I went ahead and answered it, given that I was too numb to give a fuck anymore.
“Am I talking to Max Fuentes?” it asked.
“Who wants to know?” I replied.
“I need you to confirm or deny the veracity of a recent news-related rumor.”
“And what rumor would that be?”
“That an exclusive, all-access, behind-the-scenes story about Staplebitch is not running in your paper this weekend.”
I’d never heard the voice before, but the cockiness of my arch-nemesis could not be mistaken. For starters, it rivaled mine. “Allen Dean,” I moaned.
“I also need you to confirm that I scooped you. Again.”
It didn’t even occur to me to ask how he got my number, because I was too busy informing him, “Dean, I am going to fucking kill you.”
He laughed and hung up.
I sighed, “Myron is going to fucking kill me.”
Forty-five minutes later, however, my editor sentenced me to a fate worse than death. I blinked. “You want me to do what?”
“Not you,” said my editor as he pointed a finger at my colleague and photographer, Gretchen, who had somehow gone home, showered, washed and blew out her hair, dressed, and applied most of her makeup, since I last saw her not all that long ago; “both of you.”
“I’m clear on who’s involved, Chief, but it’s what you want us to do that I don’t quite understand.”
“Go to a purity ball,” he repeated. “And you should probably stop calling me Chief. You’re already skating on thin shit.”
Gretchen snorted. “Max isn’t exactly pure, you know.”
“Well,” Myron continued, “it’s not your purity in question, but you’re still attending.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m not going to do that.”
“Since when did this become a democracy?”
“Since 1788,” I replied, “when the Constitution was ratified. Mind you, it excluded blacks, women, and poor people, but we’ve since made improvements.”
During the course of this back and forth, Gretchen produced a vial of mascara from God knows where.
“Max,” Myron said as he absently produced a mirror and held it up for her, “if you don’t shut up and do as you’re told, I’m going to physically kick your ass.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
“I’d pay money to see that,” Gretchen muttered.
“You’re young,” he told me, “but I could take you.”
“You’re probably right,” I admitted. “So, I totally forgot with all the banter, what was our assignment?”