Note: This story is set in the same continuity as the upcoming Bolingbrook Babbler novel. If you like this story or Freethought Blogs in general, please consider supporting our Mother’s Day fundraiser.
Sara Langston noticed her publisher, James, marching towards her desk.
She spoke into her cellphone: “I have to go, Jacob, but I’ll be home tonight.”
“Okay,” replied Jacob. “You won’t forget?”
“I’ll remember,” Sara replied. “Because I always think about you. Good-bye.”
Sara ended the call and looked up at James. “I’m almost finished with—”
“We need to talk. In my office.”
James immediately turned and started towards his office. Sara rose from her desk and rushed to catch up to him. As she did, she remembered when the Star newsroom was crowded with reporters. Most of them were still upset over the management’s decision to downsize from four Chicago suburban bureaus. Now half the desks were empty, and the remaining reporters now covered more than one community.
James pushed the door open and walked towards his desk. Sara stopped the door from closing long enough for her to enter.
“Sit,” James bluntly said as he sat down.
Sara sat down, concerned about what was coming next.
James paused for a few beats. “The mayor of Bolingbrook says you’re trying to arrange an interview with him.”
Sara tensed slightly. “I don’t think this is appropriate—”
“Dan says Bolingbrook is part of Jennifer’s beat.”
“Yes, but the speech is in Rosemont, which is part of my beat.”
“Why do you need to interview Robert Clark? Why are you putting our advertising at risk?”
“Because I still have questions, and I—”
“It’s one damn speech,” said James, raising his voice. “Are you willing to risk one of our papers over a speech? We’ve already lost the Romeoville Star.”
“If it’s one speech then Robert shouldn’t have a problem answering my questions,” Sara replied.
Sara didn’t reply. How could she tell him about the mysterious voice on her taped interview with a village spokesperson? A voice she didn’t remember hearing. A voice that dictated the article she was about to write.
“Look,” sighed James. “If you need more work, there are plenty of other communities Dan can give you. Jennifer’s built up quite a rapport with Mayor Clark. She’s given us exclusive stories that help our circulation, and that have boosted our ad revenue. Bolingbrook accounts for a good portion of our ads. Robert knows that. He’s not just the mayor of Bolingbrook. He’s one of the most powerful Republicans in the state. Have you seen his campaign fund numbers?”
“Way out of proportion for a village like Bolingbrook. He’s one of our biggest clients around election season. Hell, he could buy the Star with his fund and still have money left over. He also has pull with a lot of businesses — and not just in Bolingbrook.” James sighed. “Sara, you need to focus on your communities. You’ve cultivated great sources. You have written some great stories, like the red light cameras in Des Planes. That’s where your focus needs to be, Sara. Not Bolingbrook.”
“I have not neglected my communities,” Sara protested. “I just need to ask Robert a few more questions about a story that affects Rosemont. Then I’ll be done.”
James shook his head. “Let me give you some advice, Sara. I’m not a reporter. You’re a good reporter. I do know the business side of journalism, and let me tell you, our industry is dying. The only paper in the black around here is the Babbler. They’ve got the weird tabloid market covered. There’s no way I could publish the crap they publish and make a profit. Nor would you write for them.”
Sara didn’t answer.
“You have kids, right?”
“Yes,” Sara replied. “Jacob and Monique.”
“Before you go any further with your vendetta against Robert, you need to think about your children. Because if I lose any more money, there are going to be more layoffs. Now, because you did me a huge favor when you stopped me from hiring that college kid…”
“I merely warned you about his behavior at that convention. He could have been fixable.”
“True, but we couldn’t take that chance. I don’t think you should be taking chances with your career. So I would suggest you stop bothering Robert, focus on your communities, and in a few months, we might need an editor for the Northwest Region. Understand?”
Sara and her husband Peter sat on a bench in Knights of Columbus Park watching Jacob and Monique playing on the swing set.
“Don’t push your sister too high!” Peter yelled.
“Okay,” Jacob replied. Monique laughed.
Peter’s smile faded as he turned towards Sara.
“You’re going to do what he says?”
“After I get the answers.”
“Sara,” replied Peter. “You can’t afford to lose this job. Remember how long it took you to get hired by the Star?”
“I haven’t forgotten,” Sara replied.
“I think you should have been assigned to Bolingbrook,” said Peter. “It’s our home, but you didn’t. Jennifer got it. You have to accept that.”
“Peter,” Sara snapped. “It’s not about that.”
“What is it about?”
“I want answers.”
Peter gave Sara a befuddled look. “Answers? Since when did you care about digging for answers?”
“Since I heard that recorded voice.” Sara looked around. “You heard it too.”
“Yeah,” Peter replied. “It was creepy, but maybe there’s another explanation for it.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s from a previous recording. Maybe it was from another room. Maybe someone secretly added it to your tape as a joke. There has to be a reasonable explanation.”
“If there is one, why won’t the mayor provide it? Why are people threatening me?”
“I don’t know, but it doesn’t mean there’s a mystery. Remember that convention you covered? The one that opposed the supernatural?”
“Yeah. Maybe they can debunk this voice on the tape.”
“Oh, they can debunk it,” Sara replied. “I heard all kinds of debunking that weekend, but you know what I didn’t hear. I didn’t hear any of them trying to find out the truth. Most of them were sincere, but some of them—”
“Listen to yourself,” Peter interrupted. “You’re starting to sound like a Babbler reporter. What next? Aliens used the Illuminati’s 5G network to plant a subliminal message on your tape recorder?”
“You’re mocking me?” Sara loudly protested.
“Mommy?” asked Monique.
“Mommy’s fine,” Sara replied. “Keep playing.” Sara paused for a moment then whispered to Peter. “You should be supporting me.”
“I do support you,” Peter replied in a firm but subdued tone. “I see what this is doing to you. You have to let it go. Think of our children.”
Jacob slipped as he kicked the soccer ball. The goalie fell in front of the ball and let it roll into his chest.
“Good try honey!” Sara called out from the bleachers. She enthusiastically clapped. “Next time you’ll get it. Don’t give up.” She looked at the other parents sitting on the lower level. Peter was with Monique at her Martial Arts class. While she was proud of her progress in class, she preferred the fresh air while watching Jacob’s team play, and hoping to see his first goal.
A few minutes later, a man said, “Excuse me? Are you Sara?”
Sara looked up. The man was holding a worn-out notepad. His red polo shirt and blue jeans were both faded.
Sara replied: “Yes. You must be Mr. Watts?”
“Call me Don.” Don motioned towards the bench. “May I?”
Don sat down. “Like I said, I got the copy of your tape. I had a colleague confirm its authenticity. You were very fortunate to get that recording. You impressed my editor and my publisher. You’re with the Star, right?”
“Do you know what it is?”
Don nodded. “I do.” He looked out at the field.
“And?” asked Sara.
“Which one is your son?”
“Why do you want to know?”
Don pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket. “Because there are consequences to knowing the answer.” He opened his notepad. “Now, I don’t care about my exes. My daughter is safe, but I hardly see her. Writing for the Babbler is interesting, but it can only keep you going for so long.”
“You have a family. Don’t worry. I didn’t dig too much. They probably know more.”
Don looked out at the field again. “They call Bolingbrook the pathway village for a reason. You’re at a crossroads, so to speak. I can tell you that you’re not imagining things and that I can take over the investigation. I don’t think the Star would mind me stealing a story like this from them. The point is, you would go back to your family, and be done with it.”
Don faced Sara. “Or I can extend an invitation to you. We’re looking for an editor, and you’ve caught our publisher’s attention. You’d probably start off making more than I do. But you’d be starting down a dark, lonely, and possibly risky path. The good thing would be that Robert would tolerate you. The bad thing is almost no one will believe what you’ll tell them. You will be stuck with us for the rest of your career. The worst part is, you’ll attract the attention of forces and people far more dangerous than Robert. We have a pretty good survival rate, but some of us don’t come out unscathed. And that doesn’t include the Olson family. But then again. You’ll have a far better view of how Bolingbrook and the rest of the world works.” Don looked back at the field. “But you have to think about your children.”
Sara glanced out at the field then locked her eyes on Don. “Don, right?”
“Don, when I was growing up, my parents were just happy I wasn’t running with the wrong people. They didn’t volunteer at my clubs, or watch my games. They weren’t bad. They were just too busy to think about me all the time. So when I found out I was pregnant with Jacob, I promised myself that I would always think about my children. What I’m thinking right now is that there is something going on that I don’t understand and I need to understand it. I want to know what kind of world I’m sending my kids into, and I need to know what I can do to make it a better world. I’d rather be Cassandra than Koalemos. So stop asking about my children, and start answering my questions.”
Don sighed. “Very well. When do you want to meet the Olson family?”
Note: This is a work of fiction. All opinions expressed are my own. They do not reflect the views of any organization I work for or of my employer. Feel free to leave a comment here or in the Bolingbrook Babbler Readers Group.