Requirements: <700 words, no dialogue or inner dialogue. Prompt: Heat. Word count: 688
Above the Fold
Back in the days before air conditioning, summer in the city was an experience not to be sought nor forgotten. Bricks, concrete, blacktop hungrily gobbled up the heat all day long, reflecting enough to turn the city into a frying pan, keeping the rest to spit back at you through the night. The heat made people do crazy things.
Jack Parlabane arrived at his desk, sweat running down his back, jockey shorts wet, and the mandatory necktie imposed by his boss, editor Chloe Talbot, adding extra torture, and it was only eight o’clock.
His desk sat in an open bay with five others, arranged back to back and side to side into a six-pack in the middle of the Times Herald Building’s third floor. Every window was fully open. A half dozen huge pedestal fans homogenized the human exhaust and spread it throughout the room.
Parlabane looked at his ‘IN’ basket on the left corner of his desk. It was not full, but what was there plus what would come, would fill his day. All assignments had to be completed and deposited in his ‘OUT’ basket on the right corner of his desk by 3 PM when the copy boy gathered them up for the editors to sort and select for tomorrow’s edition.
Assignments came in many forms: a press release with a scribbled margin note saying ‘3 inches’, or a telephone message with a phone number and a note calling for ‘2 inches on the opening of this new store’. ‘Inches’ was short for ‘column-inches’ indicating the size of the story desired by the editor. The measurement standard with ten-point Times Roman font was 32 words per column-inch, so a three-inch requirement would equate to a 96-word story, give or take a small margin. Jack knew what he had to do — take the material provided and fluff it up or cut it back to produce an informative, readable story of the exact length to fit a fixed space in the newspaper layout.
This was not his expectation when he chose journalism as a career. He longed to be down on the second floor where reporters followed hot leads to break exclusive stories on major happenings in politics, business, or sports; where wire service terminals chattered, bringing in news from around the world; where a reporter and his photographer would be dispatched to the scene of a major disaster to capture the story as it unfolded.
Best of all, the second floor was air-conditioned. The company covered the windows and installed a bunch of those newfangled window air conditioners. Jack knew he could write the greatest news stories in the world if he could just get assigned to the second floor.
Pay raises and promotions were based on how many of your articles made it into the paper per month. That signifying your ability as a writer. Jack wasn’t doing so well. Few of his articles ever made it to print, and Chloe Talbot had commented on his poor performance. He knew that Chloe always gave the good assignments to a couple of her favorite writers and put the junk in his basket; she didn’t like him.
2:30 PM. Jack’s basket was empty. Most of the writers had finished and left for the day. Thoughts of the second floor, his lousy assignments, his soaking wet shirt, the dull roar of the pedestal fans, and the damned necktie filled him with anger and dismay. An idea came. He had thirty minutes to write a story that would surely get on the front page above the fold with his byline.
Jack scrolled a clean sheet of paper into his typewriter and began a story of his own.
“In a shooting rampage at the Times Herald Building, a lone gunman …”
The typewriter keys flew. Jack reached three inches, ripped the story from the machine and tossed it into the basket, just as the copy boy scooped up the stack.
He smiled, watching the boy move on to the next cluster of desks, then opened the bottom desk drawer, pushed aside a pile of papers, and took out the gun.
Word Count: 688