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Sweet Dreams, Irene

SWEET DREAMS, IRENE

Excerpt

The Wrigley Building, which houses the Express, is in downtown Las Piernas. It's been there since the 1920s, when the father of the current editor had already turned his own father's small rag into a good-sized paper. We are always in the shadow of the L.A. Times, but the local beach communities have appreciated our special attention to their concerns over the years, so we're firmly entrenched along the coastline south of Los Angeles.

As I entered the building, I was greeted by Geoff, the security man, who was rumored to have been working in the building since opening day. "Good morning, Miss Kelly," he said. "There's someone here who says he has an appointment with you." I didn't bother to return Geoff's questioning look; he knew it was not my custom to meet people off their own turf, nor at 7:30 in the morning. I turned around and saw additional reason for Geoff's skepticism—the person waiting for me looked to be all of sixteen. He was decked out in black from head to toe, and I doubted his hair was originally that coal black color. But the face was familiar, so I hesitated for a moment. It was a face full of that intense seriousness of purpose that seems built into adolescence.

He nervously stood up, wiping his palm on the leg of his pants before extending his hand to me. "Miss Kelly? I'm Jacob Henderson." Henderson. So that was why he looked familiar. Son of Brian Henderson, candidate for District Attorney. I faltered only a moment before I took the offered hand in mine and said, "Hello, Jacob. I'm so glad you're on time."

I turned back to Geoff, feeling bad about making him doubt his instincts, but saying, "Jacob and I are going to have a chat downstairs. I think we'll have more privacy there."

Geoff smiled. "Yes, Miss Kelly, I understand. Anybody asks, I'll tell them you were in but had to leave for an interview."

"Thanks." I turned to Jacob. "Would you like to see the presses?"

The seriousness gave way to curiosity, and he nodded. He followed me through the maze which is the downstairs basement of the Express. "They aren't running right now," I said, "but you'll get to see them, anyway. They may run a special section while we're down here."

"How do you know they aren't running?"

"There's a low rumble that runs through the whole building when they do. It's quiet now."

We entered the area of the basement which houses the presses . . . I wondered what was on the kid's mind.

I had been covering the election since the summer, when both the mayor's and D.A.'s races had become fairly wide open. Brian Henderson, Jacob's father, was one of the two leading candidates for D.A. . . .

Jacob and I settled on to the metal chairs and opened our Cokes. The nervousness was back, and he fidgeted with the pop-top on the soda can.

"Okay, Jacob, I've interrupted my day and gone AWOL first thing this morning so you could talk to me. I have a feeling you're supposed to be in a school somewhere right now. Want to tell me why you've come to see me?"

"I called in sick. They won't miss me."

I waited.

"You're the reporter that writes all the stuff about my dad, right?"

"Guilty."

"Well, I need your help."

"In what way? I have to try to write objectively, Jacob, no matter who the candidate is."

"It's not that." He looked up at me, deadly earnest. "I need for you to prevent a witch hunt."

© Jan Burke