[sga] 48 inches
Rodneyâ€™s first byline in the business section was mostly accidental.
Somewhere in the middle of an article about the latest revelations in environmentally-friendly engine designs heâ€™d wandered off into a treatise about the big three in Detroit and stumbled into Japan, somehowâ€”into the stacks and reams and mountains of fiscal documentation that trailed Toyota and Nissan and Honda like a jet engine plume.
â€œWhat the hell is this?â€ Donald had asked, gnawing on a granola bar. Heâ€™d waved at the yellowing posters on the wall, the dusty windows. â€œWhere the hell do you think this is? The business desk?â€
â€œThis is about science!â€ Rodney had argued, baffled.
â€œYeah, whatever,â€ Donald had muttered and waved him off.
Efficient engine numbers increase, study finds, the hed read the next morning; Rodney was halfway through a truly vile rant at the copydesk about annoying alliteration in his headlines when he noticed he saw it in the business section instead of the science pages. â€œWait,â€ heâ€™d stopped mid-rant. â€œWhat the hell?â€ Judy had taken the opportunity to hang up on him and been unrepentant, making Rodneyâ€™s next three clips read Aging Americans access internet and Pond scum can be fun and Rear reconstructions raise brows, blood pressure.
His next 15 bylines in the b-section were on purpose. It turned out the rest of the staff was right: there was literally no job worse than interviewing scientists. He spent five more years in Vancouver before he fell into bed briefly with the Tribune in Chicago, where he made a lot of unsavory jokes about what one could do with a silo of sheep and bitching about the Merc until the Mercury-News took him to Silicon Valley. And then after a brief and utterly regrettable stay at the Chronicle listening to drunk oil industry analysts in bars, he allowed himself to be seduced by Reuters seduced and with an enormous amount of liquor. He signed on for their hellish roller coaster of overseas bureausâ€”which was actually fun until on his fourth day at the fucking Sunflower Building in the CBD in Beijing when a bomber broke into the office and held them all hostage for nearly 15 hours. â€œIâ€™m tendering my resignation, official now,â€ Rodney told his editor, whoâ€™d said, â€œSure, whatever, fineâ€”give this a quick read before I put it on the wire,â€ and ignored Rodneyâ€™s near-aneurysm as heâ€™d shouted, â€œWhat the fuck! That guy is still here threatening to blow us up!â€
He ended up at the WSJ mostly through sheer cussedness and by writing the managing editor a series of 11 white papers on why their entire technology and science section would obviously collapse into irrelevance and obscurity if they didnâ€™t have his Midas touch.
â€œYou donâ€™t have a Midas touch, Rodney,â€ Elizabeth told him, sounding mildly amused.
â€œI do,â€ Rodney told her. â€œYou tried to poach me when I worked at Reuters.â€
â€œAnd then I heard unflattering stories about you attempting to defect during a bomb scare,â€ Elizabeth rejoined, a smile clear in her voice. â€œWe donâ€™t like that kind of disloyalty.â€
Rolling his eyes enormously, Rodney said, â€œI swear to God if somebody bursts into your ass-ugly office with a bomb I will stand there and volunteer to be pink mist this time around, all right? I wonâ€™t even throw Walter whatshisface in front of me.â€
â€œYouâ€™d better not, McKay,â€ Elizabeth laughed. â€œHeâ€™s our most popular columnist.â€ There was a brief pause, and Rodney heard the soft singing of Japanese in the background, Elizabeth saying, â€œHaiâ€”gomen nasai, ima nanjidesuka?â€ before she came back on the line and said, â€œIâ€™ve got to go, I promised to go watch the Nikkei close.â€
â€œSo Iâ€™m hired,â€ Rodney told her.
She hung up on him.
His first day at the Journal he made the spring intern cry and poured half a pot of coffee all over his pants when he heard somebody calling through the office, â€œSomebody find McKayâ€”Iâ€™ve got Jennings from Blackstone on the line.â€ It was cool, he consoled himself, trying to type and towel off his stinging crotch at the same time; the best part of being a print reporter was that just like politics and sausage, most people werenâ€™t interested in seeing how it was all put together.
Elizabeth blew back into the office at the end of his second week at the paper, looking like sheâ€™d just climbed out of a Â¥78,092,837,434 seaweed wrap.
â€œI read your piece on the Unocal CNOOC acquisition,â€ she told him, too-casually, over dinner later that night at Babboâ€™s. She was drinking a Chilean burgundy and it colored her mouth inâ€”redder even than before. â€œIt was very coherent.â€
He scowled at her. â€œIf any new reporters or interns ever commit suicide you can rest assured itâ€™s not because of your lack of encouragement or praise,â€ he told her sarcastically, stabbing angrily at his fusili.
â€œPlease,â€ Elizabeth scoffed. Her Blackberry buzzed across the surface of the table, a soft rustle across the steam-ironed damask and that was the end of that.
It wouldnâ€™t matter if Elizabeth spit in every incoming reporterâ€™s coffee, Rodney knew. The Journal broke Enron and pilfered computers from Al-Queda and wrote searing exposes of everybody and their mother; they championed the free market and they decoded science, wrote about the weird and the wonderful and the nearly incomprehensible. Theyâ€™d watchedâ€”stunned and still writingâ€”as the first plane had crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11 and theyâ€™d watched again as their own offices at 1 World Financial Center had crumbled away into nothing. Theyâ€™d put out a 9/12 paper anyway, unflappable.
It wouldnâ€™t matter if Elizabeth slapped every incoming reporter and their motherâ€”most reporters would gladly take it, would gladly creep over broken glass to have the opportunity.
Rodney had never wanted to be a journalist, itâ€™d just sort of happenedâ€”like moving to New York or having sex with Katie Brown from the Post or almost being slapped with a sexual harassment suit by Sam Carter from the Times or Cameron Mitchell from Newsday. But if it was one thing Rodney learned from learning to inhale and exhale with the rhythm of the NYSE, it was that any minute, some mouthy little internet upstart could buy you and all your quirky characters in neon orange jackets and sneakers could be replaced by, and that meant you seized life by the testes before the Archipeligo group bought it.
â€œCan I take you out for drinks?â€ Rodney asked.
The man blinked back at him, hazel eyes narrowing in confusion for a moment. He was wearing a dark suit and a slightly-wrinkled shirt with a blue tie.
â€œDrinks,â€ Rodney repeated impatiently, watching the elevator numbers tick up-up-up. â€œOverpriced alcoholic beverages in fanciful glass containersâ€”available at many themed bars the city over.â€
The man opened his mouth for just a second before the elevator dinged, and as the doors slid open, he said, over the boxful of files in his arms, â€œThis is my floor,â€ and got off.
â€œLegal,â€ Rodney muttered, watching the man disappear into a press of lawyers, jabbing at the door close button frantically. â€œFigures.â€
The next time Rodney saw him was three months later, in the mahogany-and-fern offices of the Dow Jones legal department, hunched over an in uncomfortable guest chair feeling three inches tall and four-years oldâ€”listening to the scrape-scrape-scrape of the guyâ€™s ballpoint pen on a recycled-paper legal pad.
â€œThereâ€™s a good likelihood this is just a scare tactic,â€ he said, eyes flicking up to catch Rodneyâ€™s gaze. â€œItâ€™s all right to breathe, Mr. McKay.â€
â€œIf itâ€™s just a scare tactic then why did Elizabeth order me down to legal like a misbehaving middle schooler?â€ Rodney demanded.
John Sheppard, Esq., raised his eyebrows. â€œIt might have something to do with the fact that you ignored all six messages I left on your machine about scheduling a meeting,â€ he said mildly and then smiled, wry and crooked and like he was telling a dirty joke in a bar. â€œJust breathe, itâ€™s going to be fine.â€
â€œSays the man whoâ€™s not being threatened with a frivolous libel suit by one of the largest corporations in the world.â€ Rodney rubbed at his face.
â€œLook, this is a preventative measureâ€”like a legal tetanus shot,â€ Sheppard soothed.
â€œOh, fantastic,â€ Rodney muttered. â€œPick the one vaccination that hurts.â€
â€œWell,â€ Sheppard said brightly, reaching for a tape recorder, â€œat least Iâ€™m not billing you.â€
â€œLet me guess: $5,000 retainer, $300 an hour?â€ Rodney asked.
Sheppard hit the â€˜recordâ€™ button. â€œNope,â€ he answered, and added, â€œNowâ€”letâ€™s talk about your piece on the Genatech.â€
Genatechâ€™s battalion of litigators were claiming that Rodney had misrepresented the nature of the companyâ€™s last 8-K DONâ€™T PANIC conference callâ€”claiming â€œgross exaggerationâ€ and â€œmalicious intentâ€ and â€œflat-out foolishnessâ€ in his reporting that had sent the companyâ€™s stock from $34.23 a share to $10.01 in after-hours trading the day his article broke on wsj.com. Their lawyers had called Dow Jonesâ€™ legal department whoâ€™d called Elizabeth whoâ€™d grabbed Rodney by the elbow and shoved him into an elevator which had led him to this moment: trapped in a corner office debating the definition of the words â€˜unforeseeable consequencesâ€™ with a guy whoâ€™d done his undergraduate degree at Reed.
â€œAs much as I like to think I wield ultimate power in the world of financial news,â€ Rodney said, disgusted, â€œthat story went live I at like, 7:32 p.m. and didnâ€™t even make the print edition the next dayâ€”I hardly think it had the muscle that late into after-hours and of that little importance to drop the stock likeâ€”to that degree.â€
He almost said, â€œlike a butterface,â€ but the confluence of lawyers and audio recorders in the room nearly promised another agonizing seven hour sexual harassment and sensitivity training course if he did.
Sheppard gave him a knowing look anyway and said, â€œThis isnâ€™t a matter of if you did or didnâ€™t, Mr. McKayâ€”itâ€™s a matter of whether or not anything you wrote was actually defamatory in nature or if it actually did have a negative impact on their stock.â€
Rodney glared at him. â€œYou sit in this office and read the Harvard Law Review instead of newspapers, so you might not know this, but when bad news comes out about a company, it is almost guaranteed that investorsâ€”and as a resultâ€”the market will react.â€ He leaned in over Sheppardâ€™s desk and made an earnest expression. â€œLet me tell you a story about a company called Enron.â€
â€œKeep going,â€ Sheppard invited, a smile warm on his face, â€œIâ€™m sure being a jackass to me is going to expedite this process.â€
â€œI am experiencing a not-unusual amount of stress at this moment,â€ Rodney grumbled.
â€œAnd I respect that, but seriouslyâ€”the faster we get through this faster you can put this behind you,â€ Sheppard rejoined. â€œMy timeâ€™s for the wasting, as I understand it, yours isnâ€™t.â€
â€œOh my God,â€ Rodney said finally, after a long, long time, â€œI donâ€™t want to know what your hourly billing is, do I?â€
John gave him a serene, untroubled smile and produced a pile of legal documents.
â€œNow,â€ he said, ignoring Rodneyâ€™s question, â€œletâ€™s start over.â€
Genatech didnâ€™t have a leg (or any revenue) to stand on, and the issue was handled quietly and in Johnâ€™s office two weeks after that, with Rodney being ushered out at at critical junction.
â€œI have a right to be here while that suitmonkey spews blatant slander about me!â€ heâ€™d hissed as John shoved him into the lushly-carpeted hallway.
â€œFirst, no you donâ€™t,â€ John told him, â€œand secondly, you sound like you have some sort of nasal condition. Itâ€™s throwing me off my groove.â€
Three days after that, Rodney got an email:
Congratulations, your legal woes have come to an end.
â€œWhat,â€ Rodney said to his computer screen, â€œthatâ€™s it?â€
â€œOf course thatâ€™s it,â€ Elizabeth said later, frowning at him over her steaming tray of dosas. Sheâ€™d mentioned, too-casually, to the most hyper of spring interns that there was nothing like fresh, hot dosas from Thiruâ€™s cart down in Washington Square Park. â€œWhat do you want, a parade?â€
â€œYou realize psyching your newsroom jailbait into buying you food is cruel, right?â€ Rodney asked through a mouthful, trying to lick masala sauce off his fingers at the same time.
Elizabeth smiled at him. â€œHe brings an insulated lunchbox packed daily by his motherâ€”itâ€™s only right we toughen him up for the real world,â€ she told Rodney sweetly. â€œAnd itâ€™s not like I didnâ€™t have him grab you one, too.â€
â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ Rodney agreed, restraining himself from moaning into the food. â€œItâ€™s character-building.â€
Rodney didnâ€™t see Sheppard again until the next time somebody threatened to sue him, which he anticipated would be just as anticlimactic as Genatechâ€™s feeble-minded attempt until he walked into Sheppardâ€™s office to see Elizabeth already sitting there, mouth tight.
â€œSo, not a tetanus shot this time,â€ he said faintly, sliding down into a chair.
Sheppard gave him a wane smile. â€œNo,â€ he answered.
â€œWe have a major problem, Rodney,â€ Elizabeth cut in, solemn. â€œDo you remember the piece you did on Haldrin LLC?â€
Rodney frowned. â€œYeahâ€”and I remember we checked with legal before we ran it.â€
â€œYou were covered then,â€ Sheppard interrupted. â€œTwo of your sources just recanted.â€