The world was still solid and reliable that chilly October morning, but it would not stay that way forever.
Or even for long.
Will James stepped out of the Porter Square T station amidst the early-morning throng, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the crispness of the autumn air. The other commuters disgorging themselves from the subway were as uncommunicative as always, their eyes downcast or steadfastly focused on navigating their morning routes. But Will caught a vibe off them, a sort of aura that told him that they were enjoying the blue-sky morning just as much as he was.
A heavyset black woman crowded up behind him as he started along Massachusetts Avenue toward his office. Will could feel the hurry coming off her in waves, so he stepped aside. As she passed he raised his Dunkin' Donuts cup to her and smiled. She said nothing, but did smile in return as she continued on her way.
Will blew into the hole he'd ripped in the lid of his coffee cup and it whistled slightly. He set off again along the sidewalk, taking his time. Technically he was not due in the office until late in the morning but he nearly always showed up early. Will was a Lifestyles writer and entertainment critic for the Boston Tribune, a tabloid that'd been the third best-selling paper in the city since Lew Orton had founded it sixty-five years before. Will had always suspected that after the first couple of decades everyone at the Trib had just given up thinking it could ever be anything else.
It sure didn't look like he was ever going to work for the New York Times or win that Pulitzer Prize—his dreams had been larger than reality had provided—but he loved his job and for the most part got along with the people he worked with. And he had learned enough to know that was not the norm. Some days he did not feel like it, but he was a lucky guy.
A police officer directing traffic at the intersection just ahead blew a whistle and waved several cars through. An SUV driven by a perfectly coiffed blonde in sunglasses rumbled by, followed by a Volkswagen Beetle, the windows rolled down, blaring out hip-hop rhythms that nearly knocked over the bicycle messenger who was trying to keep up with the traffic.
The offices of the Boston Tribune were not actually in Boston, but Cambridge, and Will had always been pleased with the incongruity. There was something wonderfully avant-garde about this section of Massachusetts Avenue. Porter Square was in the midst of a Bermuda Triangle of Boston's college scene, with Tufts, Harvard, and M.I.T. all near enough to have inspired the secondhand clothing boutiques, specialty bookshops, and unique restaurants that lined the road.
A van went by pumping Aerosmith out of its speakers; under his breath, Will began to sing along. He had a long day ahead, starting with some follow-up phone calls on a Lifestyles piece he was working on, then lunch with old friends who were in town, and finally a pair of back-to-back film screenings, the reviews of which he had to write before nine o'clock that night to hit the deadline for tomorrow's paper.
It was a good thing he loved his work. He did not have time for very much else.
When he reached the Tribune building he bid a reluctant good-bye to the blue sky and the scent of October on the breeze, dropped his nearly empty coffee cup into a trash can, and held the door open for a UPS deliveryman. It was just after nine a.m. when he stepped off the elevator on the fifth floor and into the editorial bullpen. Reporters and editors were fond of saying that the fifth floor was the heart of the newspaper. Will disagreed. He figured the actual printing press was the paper's pumping, beating heart. The bullpen was its eyes and ears and sometimes, if they were very lucky, its conscience.
"Morning, Micaela," he said as he swept past the desk of the city editor. She was typing, and her gaze did not even rise from her computer screen, but she greeted him nevertheless. He would've thought she was psychic if he believed in that sort of thing.
Several other people greeted him, but at this time of day the bullpen was anarchy, the entire staff behaving like they were racing dogs and somebody'd just set the rabbit to running. Will slipped off the Somerset University sweatshirt he had worn that morning and slid into the chair behind his desk. Other than the paper clutter of notebooks and bits of research he had printed off the Net, the only things that marked the space as his were a small black-and-white photo of his parents, a harlequin-painted ceramic mask he had picked up in New Orleans, and a framed photograph of Harry Houdini, the great escapist and magician.
Will mentally said good morning to his parents, vowing to call them down in South Carolina later that morning and knowing he would forget to do it. His dad loved the game of golf, maybe more than he did Will's mother, and so rather than Florida they had retired to Hilton Head.
The message light was blinking on his phone so he picked up his voice mail. There was only one message. "Good morning, Will. Do me a favor? Come see me when you get in."
It was Tad Green, the editor in chief of the Trib. There was no hint in his tone as to the nature of the impromptu meeting. Will got up from his desk and weaved through the bullpen toward the e in c's corner office. Halfway there he passed the cubicle where Stefan Bruning was busily doing his advance prep for the next day's Sports page.
"Hey. Did I hear right? You going after what's-her-name? The lady who talks to the dead on the radio?"
Will stopped short and looked down at him, brows knitted. "Helen Corsi. And she doesn't talk to the dead, Stef, she pretends to talk to the dead and gets paid for it by people who already have enough heartbreak in their lives. It's called fraud."
"Ah, man, come on," Stefan replied, waving him away. "You don't know that. I've listened to her on the radio. I'm not saying I'm going to pay her to do it, but it sure sounds real to me."
With a chuckle Will shook his head. "It's supposed to sound real. If it didn't, nobody would pay her. There are lots of people who think professional wrestling is real, too."
The sportswriter blanched. "You mean it isn't? Next you're gonna tell me there's no Easter bunny."
He managed to keep his face blank for the count of three, and then the two of them laughed. Will walked on toward the corner office as Stefan put his earplugs back in.
Tad's door was open. The editor in chief was dressed in a brown suit with a bright yellow tie, phone clutched to his ear. Will wore a decent shirt and black shoes, but invariably his uniform started with blue jeans. He doubted that Tad was required to wear a suit, but could not imagine why anyone would choose to do so if they didn't have to. It was one of the mysteries of life.
Will stopped just outside the office and rapped on the door frame. Inside, Tad looked up and nodded, holding up one finger to indicate that he should wait. The e in c was forty-seven, but he was thin and his eyes were blue and bright, and that lent him a boyish air in spite of his thinning hair.
"Hey, Will, come on in," Tad said as he hung up the phone. He motioned with one hand but his gaze went back out into the bullpen. "Close the door, will you?"
What gave it away was the fact that Tad did not look at his face as he stepped into the room. Only after Will had closed the door and slid into the chair opposite the editor in chief's desk did Tad meet his gaze. By then, Will had the whole thing figured out.
"You picked a new Lifestyles editor. And it isn't me."
Tad actually flinched. He was a good manager, tough when it came to the job but fair and an amiable enough guy. But he sucked at delivering the bad news.
"You're a hell of a writer, Will. I've told you that a hundred times and it's always going to be true. But there are other things that come into play when making a decision like this, and—"
"Who'd you give it to?"
Tad picked up a pencil from his desk and tapped it on the arm of his chair. He sat back and regarded Will closely. "Lara Zahansky."
Will swore under his breath. It wouldn't have been so bad if it had been anyone else. Lara was a team player, a decent writer when it came to the mechanics of the job, but she had no flair, and her aesthetic judgment when it came to the arts was for shit. But she dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts and always met her deadlines. Perfect management material, in other words.
"Jesus, Tad," Will whispered.
"You're only twenty-eight years old, Will. Give it time. Work out some of the kinks and—"
Will's head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. "What kinks?"
Tad rolled his eyes. He was losing his patience. "Don't play games with me. You know what I'm talking about. Your age was a factor, but at least half the reason you didn't get the gig this time around is that you've made a rep as an eccentric. You're unpredictable, Will. That might be okay for a crime reporter, but this is Lifestyles."
"I've won awards for my work, Tad. Been in People magazine. What's Lara got on her resume?"
The editor in chief gave him a hard look, all the reticence burned out of him now. "For starters, she's got this job."
Will ground his teeth and looked away.
Tad sighed. "Will, look at the Lifestyles pieces you've done in your tenure here. At least a quarter of them have this occult angle. Mediums. Psychics. Witches." He paused. "Vampires, Will. You wrote about vampires."
Tired now, Will slipped a few inches lower in his chair, getting comfortable. He had had this conversation far too often for his taste. "I've done stories on mediums and psychics in order to debunk their claims, Tad. I've worked with the state Better Business Bureau to expose frauds and get people their money back. I've done stories on Wicca, a modern religion made up of so-called witches, mainly to explain the difference between them and the hags with pointy hats and broomsticks.
"As for the vampires, that piece was about cults of people who either believe or pretend that they're actual vampires, but who spend their time cutting themselves and drinking each other's blood. There are parties devoted to it, major gatherings all across the country, which you'd know if you bothered to actually read the pieces you're talking about. All right, I confess, the idea that people believe this kind of bullshit gets under my skin. So when I see it out there, I want to shed some light on it. You want to know why? Fine. My grandmother lost her life savings to a woman who helped her communicate with my dead grandfather. Is it personal? Sure, but that doesn't make it any less valid. Someone's got to debunk the charlatans, Tad. Why does that make me eccentric?"
Will took a deep breath, gazing steadily at the editor in chief. For a long moment Tad only returned his stare. Then the man reached up and loosened the knot on his tie and leaned forward, elbows on his desk.
"It's crap, Tad. Give the job to Lara. She's competent. I'm sure she'll be fine. But don't tell me I can't do the job because I'm 'eccentric.' "
The editor in chief pushed back his chair and walked over to the windows. The corner office gave him a wonderful view of Massachusetts Avenue. The sunlight flooded the room, brightening the yellow of his tie, the green and red in a painting on the wall, the orange of the ceramic jack-o'-lantern on his desk; yet somehow it made his face washed-out and pale, his thinning hair little more than wisps in the bright light.
He slipped his hands in his pockets. "Look, Will, I'm sorry. Truly. I could've bullshitted you, laid it off to Lara having more years at the paper. But that wouldn't have been doing you any favors. You've got this little crusade going, and with what happened to your grandmother, I guess I understand it. We've gotten some great pieces out of it, I won't deny that. But you might want to tone it down in the future. That's all. I thought you should know why you didn't get this gig, so maybe things will be different the next time around."
For a long moment the two men regarded one another. Then Will took another long breath and shrugged. "I just try to do my job as well as I can. This wasn't the news I wanted today. I guess I'll get back to it."
"Hey," Tad said as Will started to walk out of the office. He waited for Will to pause and look back before continuing. "Stick it out. It'll happen for you eventually. You're too good not to make it work for you. I was thirty-five before I was made an editor."
Will nodded politely. Tad didn't want him to quit. That was almost funny. Disappointed as he was, where would he go? He was a reporter and a critic. It was the only thing he had ever wanted to do.
The rest of the morning flew by in a rush of e-mail and phone calls as Will tried to focus on his draft of the story about the supposed radio medium. He did a quick follow-up interview with one of her most avid supporters, during which he feigned interest just long enough to get a handful of usable quotes. By the time he had hung up the phone it was ten till noon.
Tugging his sweatshirt from the back of his chair, he got up and hurried from the newsroom, glancing at the clock as he rushed for the elevator. He was going to be late.
Thanks to Tad Green's bad news, the magic of the October day had escaped him, yet it returned the moment he set foot back out on the street. The air was still crisp, the sky ice blue, and he could smell the smoke from a fireplace or wood-burning stove on the breeze. Right here; this was the only kind of magic that mattered.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Boys Are Back in Town by Christopher Golden. Copyright © 2004 by Christopher Golden. Excerpted by permission of Spectra, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.