Slow News Day

I wonder if anybody else aside from me has heard the phrase ‘There’s news being made every day’. If you have, kindly let me know who first said it so I can introduce him to my collection of power tools.

Eleven am, and there I was at my desk finishing up an article about the local church’s bake sale attendance gaining record numbers, in between playing Kingdom of Loathing on my browser. The St. George’s Church of Latter Day Saints has done a bake sale to both increase Sunday mass attendance and to raise awareness and funds for young christian impoverished boys to be able to get a continuing education. In other, more interesting news, I’ve finally managed to collect enough crafting materials to get a clockwork grapefruit familiar. The game informs me that my new ‘droogy’ is viddying the layout, looking for some-

“Grahzny bratchny to kick in the yarbles,” a low guttural voice mutters from behind me, loudly slurping the pantry machine coffee. I turn to look at my Sub-Editor, not even bothering to alt-tab away.

“Morning, Sid.”

“Where’s your church bake off story?” Sid the Sub-Editor felt it was his solemn duty to ensure every fact had been checked, every I dotted and T crossed, every law of grammar obeyed to the punctuation marks. Normally if the Sub-Editor finds nothing wrong with your work, it’s a good sign so you won’t have to stress out so much when you go see the Editor, Michael Eskain. Unfortunately in my case, if the Sub-Editor finds nothing wrong with my work, that means that Sub-Editor was not Sid.

I alt-tabbed my way back to the article I was supposed to be writing. “Just a few minor finishing touches I’ve got to apply, then you can view at your leisure.”

“Yeah, yeah, outta my way,” Sid pulled up a chair and started reading right there. I sighed, pushed away from the screen to give him more space, and pulled out my phone. Sid did this often when he didn’t have much on his plate. I wouldn’t call him a workaholic per se; he went home on time, showed up on time and damned if he was going to be the first in the office, it’s just that when he was at work, he needed to do work, and if there wasn’t any he’d try to find it.

I think it’s obvious why I want to find the guy who said there’s news being made every day. If that were true Sid wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be playing KoL on my phone.

“Hey I need to borrow some-oops.” Farrah stopped as she saw Sid hunched over my computer. Her eyes darted between me and the Sub-Ed, Hello Kitty mug halfway to her lips.

“Farrah, what’s the deal with Mayor Halloran’s Help the Homeless campaign?” Sid said, not looking up from my article. He was a quarter of the way through, and had already jotted down three corrections, all grammatical.

“Sent it to you this morning.”

“Don’t think I got it.”

“I’ll re-send it.” Her eyes finally stayed on me as she mouthed, Are you in trouble? I shook my head, and nodded at Sid, trying to indicate Sid was just being Sid.

You’re in trouble, she mouthed again, smiling.

“I am not,” I whispered. Maybe I should introduce Farrah to my power tools. Just as I was imagining using my drill to vacate Farrah’s unused grey matter, a tall and thin striped shirt with a matchstick head on top appeared next to Farrah. Todd was the only one so far not carrying a cup of coffee to my cubicle.

“Sid, you shithead, the name Johnston-Crowe is hyphenated, my article’s perfect. Oh, Farrah, I need to buy some crafting materials in KoL.”

“What the fuck are you on about?”

“I’m broke too, I was just about to ask-”

“Damn, and Sid, I’m talking about my soup kitchen piece.”

“Can we not do this at my cubicle? Huh? Guys?” Maybe I should introduce all of them to my power tools. Maybe I could fly solo again just this once. “All I wanted was to finish my piece in, well, peace. Can I get that? Please?”

Before any of them could answer, a deep loud booming voice sounded out across the office space. “Ah, the gang’s all here. Get Sid and meet me in my office, please.”

I saw Farrah point innocuously at herself, and at me and Sid in my cube. The voice answered, “Yes, you, and whoever may be in there. Double points if it’s Sid. Chop chop!”

I sighed as I stood and followed Todd, Farrah and Sid to our editor’s office. We filed in, arranged ourselves in a semi-circle around his desk, and awaited his orders. Michael Eskain was a large man — I doubt my workspace back home would fit him. His scruffy cornflower blue shirt barely contained his body, and the Donald Duck tie his son had gotten him for his birthday flopped down between the crotch of his grey slacks. His combover hid his growing bald spot as well as it did the furrows on his brows, which is to say not very well. He pointed a large ham-sausage finger at Todd and asked, “Todd, story. What have you got?”

Todd held his hands behind his back and recited as if he were at school. “Miss Johnstone-Crowe, a hyphenated name, thanks Mayor Halloran very much for his Help the Homeless initiative. His assistance, unexpected during the non-election season, came very much at a time when her soup kitchen was in desperate need of state funds and staffing. His initiative has helped on both counts, and-”

“Stop,” Michael sighed, his grey handlebar mustache moving with the air coming out of his nose. He then nodded at Farrah. “You, what have you got, and I don’t mean office gossip.”

“I-oh, not gossip. Um. I’ve managed to get an interview with Mayor Halloran regarding his Help the Homeless initiative. He’s confident his administration can help them get back on their feet, support them in their time of need, not just doing this for the votes because he’s so clever and it’s not election season and-”

“Please stop,” Michael buried his face in his hands. “You, please tell me you’ve got something better.”

I took a very deep breath and sighed it out. Both Todd and Farrah knew what I was working on and grinned at me, the bastards. “The St. George’s Church of Latter Day Saints recently had a massive turnout at-”

“Please tell me it ends in a massacre.” Michael did not even look up. “Please tell me somebody showed up with a gun and shot the lot of them.”

I looked at Sid, who just shrugged. “I was going to say bake sale, boss. Pushed a whole bunch of muffins for charity.”

“Good ones, too.”

“I didn’t know you went to church, Sid.”

“I like muffins.”

Michael stood up and walked towards the window of his office. From there, one could see almost the entirety of Morristown, and far away, the very church that had recorded a 32% increase in attendance during the sale of muffins and cakes.

“I want to chew you all out,” Michael began. “I want to blame you lot for bringing in bullshit stories to justify why we’re not selling enough papers. I want to say that it’s your fault people aren’t renewing their subscription, or downloading our paper on that fancy Newstand app on their smartphones. I want to say you lot are a bunch of lazy goofs and that’s why we’re losing readers. But that’s not the truth, is it?” He gestured grandly at Morristown. “It’s this fucking place.”

“Church bake sale attendance spike is pretty big news.” Sid elbowed me in the ribs to shut me up as Farrah grinned.

“You know what I mean,” he sighed, and sat back down. “You know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking…well, I obviously don’t really hope so, but…well.”

“Boss?”

“The Morristown Mangler,” he said, staring down at his desk. “I was thinking, what if he struck again? Nobody’s ever heard from him in…what? Two years?”

Two years, three months, two weeks and five days to the day. Outwardly, I just said nothing and stared at Michael.

“Two years. That’s a long time. Maybe he’ll be up to his old tricks again, and we can finally sell some fucking papers.”

Sid stepped forward. “I know it’s in poor taste to say so, but I agree. We need something worthwhile to report, otherwise all we’re doing is wasting the trees our paper is printed on.”

“Yeah, but I’m hoping he doesn’t strike again,” I glared pointedly at Sid. “We shouldn’t hope for a serial killer to start picking off the good citizens of Morristown, now should we?”

“Of course, of course,” Michael said, sighing. “It’s just a thought. Hoping for some kind of…I don’t know, something newsworthy, I guess. Well, back to work. Sid, I want proofread versions of their stories in my inbox sharpish. Or, y’know, when you can be arsed to. The rest of you…I don’t know, start taking a trade or something. Might need it if we have to fold.”

Sid clasped a hand around my shoulder and sighed as we left the Editor’s office.

“What?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s just, well, you heard him. Our paper isn’t selling.”

“Not my fault a bake sale’s the most excitement Morristown can handle.”

“Oh no no, of course not.” He sighed again. “Hand over your piece with corrections by five today. I want to leave for the pub early.”

“I’ll join you,” Todd said, staring at me pointedly.

“I’ll be right by after I get a sandwich.” Farrah said, also looking at me.

I sighed. “Fine. I’ll join you guys, but you all better be there or-”

“Or what, friend?”

“Or no news is going to be made tonight, that’s for damn sure.” I sat down in my office and seethed. The others left me alone, knowing I did my work best angry. In fact, if red was all I could see tonight, then black is all we’ll see in our accounts.

We obviously did not get any sleep that night. Three am, the time our presses were busy printing out tomorrow’s morning edition, and here we were, in an empty apartment, doing what needs to be done to keep our jobs.

Sid was on cleanup detail and was thus the most annoying member of our team. I mean it, there’s being careful and then there’s Sid; constantly berating Todd for having left his boot prints on the bathroom floor, checking and double checking and triple checking our hair nets, and my personal favorite, almost waking up the whole neighbourhood with his scream of horror when he found out I’d been handling the knife without gloves on.

Okay, that last one was on me, but still, he didn’t need to be so obnoxious.

“You ASSHOLE!” He’d screamed, and we all stopped and stared at him. Todd craned his head out of the bathroom to get a good look at the ensuing shitstorm.

“What?” I asked, eager to get back to work.

“What? What? You’re a fucking moron, that’s what! Where the fuck are your gloves?”

“Oh.” I stared at my hands, and the knife, and then back and forth guiltily. Farrah just sighed and shook her head as she went back to work on the wall, while Todd laughed loudly at my expense. I just shook my head and looked at the irate Sub-Editor. “Sorry, Sid. Slipped my mind.”

“I swear,” Sid muttered loudly, pacing the room. “I swear, I wonder how the hell did the Morristown Mangler end up escaping the police for two whole years without us.”

“And I wonder how you came up with such a ridiculous supervillainy name to give me.”

“Give me that,” he said angrily, grabbing the knife out of my hands and scrubbing it down with the cloth while I put on my gloves. Latex and form fitting, they itched and made my work feel impersonal, but Sid had gotten one of the boys in marketing to design some fingerprints that wouldn’t turn up a match in any database, and everybody wearing them meant we’d get a healthy dose of Johnny Anon’s fingerprints all over his ‘secret lair’, so I put up with it.

Sid passed me the knife, hilt first, careful not to drip any of the blood onto himself. “Here.”

I took it, and he made me hold it up so he could check the fingerprints for a solid five minutes before he let me get back to work.

Like I said. Anal retentively annoying. I vented my frustration on the poor guy’s ribcage, carving out a five pointed pentagram with the points upside down with equal amounts exertion and frustration. As soon as Sid was out of earshot, I muttered, “Pain in the fucking ass.”

“Who?” Farrah asked, still painting out a pentagram with the man’s blood.

“Sid, obviously, stop pretending you weren’t listening.”

“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” she said, getting some blood on her shoe covers. “I’m busy.”

If I had a dollar for every time you say that, I’d be rich enough to pay for you. My inner monologue was interrupted by a shouting match from the bathroom.

“Ooh, that sounds fun,” Farrah said, apparently already done with her work. “Let’s go see.”

“I thought you were busy,” I said, dryly starting to etch our script onto the man’s face.

“It’ll only take a second. Don’t you like juicy coworker gossip?”

I shook my head in disbelief, and Farrah apparently took that as a No, abandoning the wall and going over to see what the fuss was about. I could hazard a guess. Sid found out something incriminating in Todd trying to dissolve the guys’ intestines in the bathtub or Todd took issue with Sid’s constant need to supervise everything, or they both took issue with each other and decided to have it out right there. Sometimes I joke that they should just have sex already, but those times I’m not on a tight deadline trying to get tomorrow’s news out in the public eye at three in the am…wait, three thirty now. I should really put some hustle into this before-

The door slammed open and everyone either turned or walked out to see who it could be. This place had no tenants, being scheduled for demolition anyway, and the closest people who could identify us were a two hour drive away. Naturally, we didn’t think anyone would be barging in on us at this hour.

My eyes widened as I saw the scruffy cornflower blue shirt on top of the grey slacks, the Donald Duck cartoon tie his son had bought him for his birthday, the grey combover on top of the multiple furrows of worry on his brows, sitting on top of an angry expression hiding behind a grey handlebar mustache.

Internally I muttered, Oh, shit, but externally, my larynx was frozen, so all I did was what everybody else did — stare dumbfoundedly at Michael Eskain, Editor.

Michael surveyed the room, eyes widening at every detail I can imagine him seeing, before letting out an unbelieving “What in the name of God is going on in here?”

All of a sudden I was all too conscious of the blood dripping from the knife in my hands, the knife which an instant ago I had been using to carve a pentagram into a homeless man’s chest and write ‘The Goat Shall Be Martyred Upon The Altar of The Lamb’ onto his forehead. The cleaver I had used to sever his artery and slice his trachea cleanly in two, sharp enough to cut through the cervical vertebrae in two strong strokes, lay on the makeshift altar in the corner of the room, where the decapitated and shrunken skulls of my previous victims sat nicely in an unstable pyramid. Farrah was dripping the hobo’s blood onto the floor from her brush, while Sid and Todd were each holding what seemed like part of a small and large intestine, half-dissolved in lye, and they were staring at Michael like he had just announced he was going to follow in Caitlyn Jenner’s footsteps.

I must admit, we did not portray a pretty picture.

Michael took a few steps gingerly forward, covering his mouth in shock. For once, Sid had nothing to say, and Todd did not look too pleased. He stared at the blood on Farrah’s shoe covers, then turned to the half-dissolved intestines in the bath, and finally he came up to me, staring face to face with (ugh) The Morristown Mangler himself. His eyes were wide, his mouth gone slack with disbelief, his hands working to articulate something his brain barely grasped.

I decided to get proactive, for some reason that might later cost me. “Sir, I can explain.”

His expression did not change. “Explain? Explain? How do you even begin to explain this shit?” He waved at the Future Crime Scene. Pools of blood puddled underneath Farrah’s pentagram and the words ‘BLOOD OF THE LAMB BLOOD OF THE LAMB BLOOD OF THE LAMB BLOOD OF THE LAMB’ written over and over wherever it would fit. If Michael yelled any louder, I was sure one of the shrunken heads would fall off.

Michael stared at me in disbelief. “You all should have been done ages ago. Why the hell are you all still decorating like it’s Christmas eve?”

In a heartwarming show of teamwork, we pointed our fingers at Sid and exclaimed in unison, “It was him!”

Sid looked flabbergasted for about five seconds before recovering the fumble. His eyes narrowed. “Oh yeah, sure, blame the guy who’s actually trying to meet the deadline. Fuck all of you dickheads.”

“Sid!” Michael raised his voice just a bit. “Regardless of whose fault it is, you are in a supervisory position. Report, please. The rest of you, back to work, I wanted this done half an hour ago! About face! Forward march! One two one two! Farrah, stop goose-stepping!”

“You’re no fun,” Farrah pouted, resuming her mural. I smiled at her misery as I finished carving the last pentagram on the hobo’s tongue. I stood back, admired my work, then took the head over to the pyramid, thinking that maybe it was about time to start a new one. I placed it near the top, trying to keep it balanced, then walked over to where Sid was explaining to the Editor why exactly we were late this time.

“…too suspicious, even when Farrah approached him,” Sid said, recounting our difficulties in getting the hobo to follow us into the Kill Zone. “She had a sandwich, a good six incher from Subway, and offered it to him, but he still didn’t take the bait.”

“Then why not find a different one?”

“Too many witnesses, boss,” I cut in. “Leave too many people who’ve seen you offer food to homeless people alive and you’ll be one of the first they look for when hobos end up missing or dead.”

“But they’re homeless people. Surely they won’t be missed?”

“I’m sure you remember the soup kitchen story Todd did? Well, thanks to Mayor Halloran’s starting his Help the Homeless campaign early, not even being election season, the soup kitchen staff are both familiar and more than willing to find anybody who doesn’t turn up for their sponsored meal, thank Miss Johnston-Crowe for that. And they’ll ask anybody if they have any clues, so if we leave one of them alive-”

“The hobos give your description to the cops,” Michael smoothed over his combover. It refused to stay in place. “Okay, I get it. Things may not fall in exactly according to plan, but at least it’s not all out of control.” He stepped away from the bathroom, wrinkling his nose from the solvent. He walked further into the Future Crime Scene and waved his hand around in a grand gesture.

“So this is your new angle, I take it?”

“Yeah boss,” I said, stepping up beside him, Sid a few paces behind me. “Thought we’d go with the ‘Supernatural’ element this time. See, we’ve got pentagrams carved into the vic’s body-”

“Ahem,” Farrah interjected.

“And on the walls, thank you Farrah, with a healthy dose of pseudo-satanic bullshit. We’ve gotten just the right amount of details wrong so that to a casual observer, it will all look Satanic and evil, but real Satanists will be able to nitpick certain points. There’s a lot of ways this will increase our news coverage cycle, just off the top of my head are things like interviews; occult professors, actual Satanists and mediums and psychics representing one side, proponents of mumbo jumbo, then the debunkers, the police officials, and the hardcore religious forming the other side. I don’t need to tell you we can mine this for a long time.”

“Brilliant, brilliant,” Michael was examining the pile of heads. “Go on.”

“We figure the element of the supernatural may also help obscure some facts that may lead to the police to figuring out it’s more than one person. Sid here is helping us cover up the more blatant evidence-”

“And failing, it seems like,” Sid muttered under his breath. It didn’t seem like Michael caught that, so I went on.

“But the more…tangential theories will get swept up under the rug of misinformation we spread. I’ve got a more detailed explanation in powerpoint form if you need it. We also hope that the hardcore religious and the Satanists will be at each other’s throats, so we can run a riot story for variety if we need to.”

“Can we start one?”

“What?”

“A riot. A full blown honest to goodness scrap between the Jesus fans and the Satan fans, like the old footie hooligan riots. Can we start something on that scale?” He pumped a fist up in the air. “Ar-sen-al, chel-sea, you-ni-ted, blah blah blah.”

“Ummm…we hadn’t considered that, sir.”

“Start thinking about it. We might need it if the well runs dry and people, God Forbid, keep their fucking heads.” He sighed, and clapped his hands together. “All right, we’ve been here too long. Pack it up and pick it up tomorrow.”

Farrah dropped her brush into her blood can, while Sid and Todd tried to talk over each other.

“Boss, we’re not fully-”

“I’m not done with the bathtub!”

“Calm down, are the cops supposed to discover this scene tomorrow?”

Sid went full Sid and started blabbering, stepping up right next to me. “Boss, I know we prepared the evidence to point another way first, but they might, I don’t know, jump the gun or something, and discover this place earlier than we think. It’s not wise to-”

“Sid, when have the police ever been as efficient at their jobs than we know them to be? This guy, this guy right here,” he said, pointing at me, “he evaded the cops and us for, what, two whole years?”

“Two years, three months, two weeks and five days but who’s counting.”

“Right! And that was with national media attention.” He grinned. “We’ll be able to come back tomorrow to finish up the rest. Also confuses their dating things, some blood fresh, some old, they won’t know how many people have been sacrificed to Satan or what have you.”

“Baphomet,” I said, but I was already pulling off my gloves.

Sid still wouldn’t let it go. “Give us another fifteen minutes, I beg you. We need to-”

“Let the guts dissolve, and let the blood dry, and all so it all looks natural. Don’t worry, Sid.” Michael put his hand on Sid’s shoulder, and gave him his Managerial Smile. “I believe in you. This is going to make our paper an obscene amount of money.”

This story was written in response to the prompt:

[WP] A serial killer who is also a newspaper columnest murders random strangers in their city to ensure their job security.

The link to the prompt is below:

Kindly leave constructive criticism if you feel I need it. Thank you for reading and come back later for more stories.


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