Later that morning, Tanner sat in her cube, the phone handset pressed to her ear with one hand while nervously shuffling paper with her other.
“No, I… Yes, yes that is what I said. But, how could I possibly verify that…?”
Tanner held the receiver out from her ear as the person on the other end screamed and ranted. After a few seconds there seemed to be a lull and Tanner put the phone back to her ear.
“All I’m saying is that there is no way for me to verify that…” She checked her computer screen. “‘Alien anal probes have increased 600% this year alone.’”
Tanner listened as the person on the other end started yelling again.
“No, I… I guess I can’t rule it out either… Uh, about a week, I’ve been here about eight days. Hello?”
The angry person had hung up. Tanner sat, staring straight ahead, still holding the receiver. After a few seconds, she hung up.
To her right was a basket marked ‘IN’, stacked high with file folders and paperwork. Tanner pulled a file folder off the stack and opened it, let out a sigh, picked up the phone, and punched in a phone number.
“Yes, this is Tanner Orb with the Trusted Authority. It’s… sort of a news magazine. Is there someone there at the Pentagon who I could talk to about aliens? No… space aliens. Yes, specifically, space aliens who do anal probes. Yes, I’ll hold.”
From my vantage point, I watched her struggle through. It was a little voyeuristic but I was supposed to ramp her up. I’d take some of the blame if she didn’t work out. Still, I found her easy to look at. She really was quite lovely. Not like a movie star or model, but she had a natural beauty and a love of life – a sparkle in her eyes. I wondered if perhaps I was attracted to her because she had aspirations beyond… this. She had aspirations beyond mine.
Still later that day, Tanner and I were in a meeting. Seymour Newd, the Chief Editor, was displaying the mock-up for the front page of the next issue of Trusted Authority. The headline reads, ‘Aliens attack the rich!’ It had a badly faked image of a flying saucer shooting a laser beam at a yacht.
“This might broaden our appeal to the upper class sector,” Seymour said to Ed, one of the writers. “And, this will help establish our demand with the lower class sector, because they are the have-nots and resent the rich.”
The editors are all scavengers and parasites, looking for some angle or buzz-word to sell copy. It’s a job. The discussion continued and I quit listening, at least, until Tanner chimed in.
Tanner cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me.” No one noticed and the chatter continued. “Excuse me.” This time a little louder, but still not very forceful. No change. “Hey! Excuse me!” She yelled, a bit louder than she meant to.
All noise in the room stopped as eyes turned to Tanner.
“I finished the research on that piece. The story doesn’t pan out. The captain of the yacht saw no UFOs. Just something fell from the sky and punched a hole all the way through the hull of the ship and it sank.”
Tanner looked around the room and evaluated the expressions on everyone’s faces, and I know she saw that I was shaking my head side to side. It was very slight, but she caught it. She continued anyway.
“Turns out that an old satellite was scheduled to re-enter the atmosphere on that date, directly over the ocean where the ship was at the same time. I verified this with NASA. I got some remarkable double-talk from them, trying to disavow any ownership of it. Pretty interesting stuff.”
Blank looks all around the room. I put my hands up to my face and rubbed my forehead.
She continued, “And as for that millionaire, Alan Trint. He was on a golf course during a thunderstorm. He was just struck by lightning, not attacked by aliens.”
She paused and the room was completely silent. I moaned slightly, but in the absence of any other noise, it was evident.
Seymour looked at Snavely and said, “Bill? This is one of yours?”
Snavely put down his pen and sighed. I had a sudden sinking feeling in my stomach.
Snavely said, “Thank you, Tanner. You’ve done your homework on this one, and that’s commendable. But we need to have some eye-witness accounts that backup our story. We need pieces of information that fit our story. It’s as if you were researching a completely different story… a story all your own.”
“No! That’s not it. I was just verifying the facts and… they didn’t… verify.”
“It’s your job to find facts that DO verify, Tanner.”
Snavely wasn’t bothering to pretend to be patient, now. Blunt and direct. Crush whatever concept this new person has of the job and then reconstruct it. That’s his way. I’d been here before.
“But what about journalistic integrity?” Tanner said defensively.
I put my head in my hands. There was a full three seconds of complete, vacuous silence before everyone, including Snavely, erupted in guffaws of laughter. The laughter continued, and with each passing second, Tanner seemed to diminish and shrink in her chair.
“The integrity of the job, Dear,” Snavely breathed, wiping a tear from his eye and regaining his composure, “is to corroborate information with the story you are researching. That,” he lost his composure for a second and starts to laugh again but regained it quickly. “That is the integrity. It’s integrity to the story. Integrity to the story. Do you understand?”
Tanner just nodded and stared down at the file folder on the table in front of her.
It wasn’t a good day for her. After Snavely burned her down in front of everyone, I talked to her, too. I didn’t do it in front of anyone, but she was my responsibility. This scene she caused made us both look bad.
Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet
©Copyright 2015, Mitch Lavender
Rubik’s Cube® used by permission of Rubiks Brand Ltd. www.rubiks.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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