Epilogue: "Those quiet euphemisms... "
Epilogue: "Those quiet euphemisms... "
He remembered when he used to use a clakety Underwood to write his columns on. Ink stained fingers, ribbons, sheaves of white bond paper... correcting an error or a typo wasn't a matter of 'Highlight' [Backspace] back then: it involved strike outs or Whiteout and type overs. No spell checkers. Sometimes a major error resulted in throwing away a crumpled half page of column when you discovered that your mind had led you into writing yourself into a corner you couldn't back out of...
You were careful not to make mistakes when you worked.
Things were a lot simpler in the old days.'Used to be, the hardest part about this damned job was finding the right words,'
Tom Kirkwood shook his head at the bemused thought. He pushed his glasses farther up on the bridge of his nose from where they'd slipped down. 'Then time passed and I got comfortable at it, got good at it - hey, no false modesty here, boy - and finding the right words got easier. It was finding things worth writing about that got hard... ''Not to mention figuring out how to put them into words,'
Kirkwood gave up for the moment, leaning back in his chair and stretching to work the kinks out of his back.
After a time he cracked his knuckles and bent back to his desk. No time worn Underwood here, now. His column gets done at the office on a black box with a gleaming nineteen inch monitor. At home, where he's writing now, it's a flat Sony laptop, minuscule in comparison to the massive old typewriter that still lurks on a shelf in his back closet. No whiteout, no overstriking, no ribbons, no wheels to change. Make an error and you just highlight, hit a key, and *poof!*, gone - vanished like it never happened. Magic.
It didn't mean you couldn't still write yourself into corners. Just meant you could hide the evidence a lot easier.Night Heat
by Tom Kirkwood'There you go. Got that out of the way,'
went through his mind. Not for the first time, he snickered imagining his editor's face if he turned in eleven blank column inches with nothing but that at the top and said, "Here you go: that's all there is to say about it this week."
The expression would probably be priceless for all of the fifteen seconds it'd take her to color all the way up to the hairline and stare at him looking for the punchline. He doubted there'd be any amusement when she figured out he was serious. Back around full circle: finding things to write about isn't hard any more. Figuring out how to put them into the neat, careful words that don't really say anything about the things that no one wants to print is hard.
And yet there's still column inches to fill...We cover the night with quiet euphemisms. Terrorism, riots, ritual killings, mass murder - words that never quite describe the things that lay beneath them. Sanitized words. They're comforting: we don't really want to see the things that they're covering up.
It will be just after Christmas by the time this sees print, and there'll still be a blanket of snow covering the Philly streets. By that point, there'll still be a blanket of words covering the events of the past week or so, as well. It's probably better that way, when you get right down to it.
We don't really want to see it, because what's underneath that blanket of snow out there isn't always very pretty.
Ditto for what's under the blanket of words...
No... not very pretty. Not at all. A secret world filled with demons, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. Secret warriors that do battle with them.
Tom Kirkwood doesn't sleep very well any more. When he closes his eyes, he sees rows upon rows of bodies sandwiched in plastic with tubes. And lambent eyes, a distorted mouth, and fangs... 'Slayer... why did you stop him? So hungry... '
Kirkwood jerked his eyes open. Heh. He tries not to close his eyes to think much, any more, either. No telling what you'll see behind the lids...
A small arm, impossibly strong, grabs him and hurls him back away from the thing that used to be his friend's ex-girlfriend. Stands between him and something ravenous as he sprawls spraddle-legged on the concrete by an alley. 'That's not Nikki. Not any more... '
Something ravenous that used to be a friend.
No, better to keep them wide open. Not that that helps
any. You can still see what the words are covering up.Riots and violence blanketed our city a number of days ago, the way the snow blankets it now. I'm sure by now you've all read the explosion of regular reports, seen the newscasters babbling into their lapel mikes with their lacquered hair, and watched the talking heads endlessly putting you at ease. Riots. Terrorist attacks. Breakdown in civil order. Co-ordinated assault upon police and civil authorities. Right-wing, Left-wing, fanatics...
By now you're probably as sick of the blanket of words as you are of the constant interruptions to your televised entertainments. And yet, here I am layering even more words on top of you. At least I can comfort myself somewhat with saying it's my job to layer words on you, to attempt to make some sense of the whole thing, or to at least divert you a bit.
It's not like you read the editorial columns for sense, anyway. Good thing: we generally don't have much to offer you. We're usually still trying to make sense of things ourselves, and typing out reams of column inches to hide the fact that we're just stumbling through the dark like you are.
Stumbling through the dark, and bumping into things with sharp corners. Only instead of cursing when the edges hurt, we type. It's our way of trying to find a light switch.
Just under ten days ago, the detectives at Mid South's Major Cases lost two of their own. "Lost" literally in the case of one of them: Nicole Rimbault's body has yet to be found, nor has any trace of her been seen since the ashes of Rimbault's Bar cooled enough for firemen to search the debris.
"Lost" euphemistically in the case of Detective Fred Carson, age 39. Died in the violence that struck Eastern State Penitentiary on the night of December 17, 2003 in the wee hours of the morning. Body cremated.'Body cremated,'
Tom snorted. 'Nice quiet phrase that says he was burned to ash to make sure he didn't get back up and go looking for his former partners, only much... thirstier than he was before. Says nothing to anyone that doesn't know the score... and volumes to anyone that does.'
He shook out his hands and then took a fresh carton of milk from the small bar frige next to his desk. Plastic litre cartons: no need for a glass these days, not like those old fashioned cardboard cartons you could never quite open without tearing the little 'Pull Here' triangle. Progress, of sorts.
Oh well. They fit a lot better on the shelves, and they serve the function. Better than reaching for a chilled Bushmills like he used to. Get lost in that, and soon you find your column inches dwindling down to zero, and you no longer have to wonder
what the editor's face looks like when you hand in a blank page...
Not a good trade. Not even if the milk doesn't help make the things behind your eyelids go away for a little while.
At least the keys on the laptop have a nice, solid, clickety feel to them. Not the rattle and clatter of an Underwood, but they're solid. Reassuring."Lost". That's another one of those quiet euphemisms. It sometimes means that we can't find them in the aftermath of violence and tragedy, like Nikki Rimbault. It sometimes means dead, like Detective Carson and all of the other police officers, firemen, and paramedics that were slain on the night of December the 16th and the early morning of the 17th. It sometimes means "not there any more", like the Bolton Estate house and Penn Ryan Manor - both burned to the ground on the same night. Quiet euphemisms. They cover a multitude of sins, both literary and actual.'Covering up sins seems to be what newsmen do. Like politicians. We do it with words, just like they do. Funny... '
Kirkwood snorted under his breath, 'I once thought our job was to uncover them. Wet behind the ears, then. Guess those days are gone forever. Wonder if I can sneak that line into the column without getting it red penciled?'
Worth a shot. He pressed keys again, glad to feel the words flowing...Covering up sins seems to be what newsmen do. Like politicians. We do it with words, just like they do. Funny: I always thought our job was to uncover them. Times they do change.
"Assault on Civil Authority" - that's another euphemism, if you hadn't guessed. It's words to explain the disappearances and deaths of several dozens of people in the Mayor and City Council's offices, to cover the abrupt resignations and relocations of a large number of police brass since the 17th. It covers the unexpected deaths of several of them, as well. And it sounds so much more professional than "death by wild animal attack" that you've read in the front page accounts of the patrol officer's deaths.
Like "Mass Murder" - it's a sanitized phrase to describe the warehouses filled with plastic encased bodies you've seen on the nightly news. It puts a layer of remove between the reader and the images.
Politicians use them to cover the fact that they don't have control. Newsmen to sound like we know what's going on. FBI and Homeland Security uses them to soothe and prevent panic, or so they say.
What we're really doing is using them to try and make the incomprehensible something that we can grasp and deal with. Death, murder, assassination, and all of the other words that describe the explosion of voilence of past evenings are too bleak. They're a bit too large to take in on that scale. The euphemisms make the horror of those warehouses a bit easier to swallow and keep down.
They make it a bit easier to avoid the fact that the "Civil Authority" may not have any more control than us "Newsmen" know about reporting on these things. Those really aren't bleak words that anyone wants to wake up and contemplate with their morning papers a day or so after Christmas.
Better that than waking up and contemplating the fact that quite a few of those 'Civil Authorities' work
for the monsters, and they're quite happy
to feed you and yours to neat plasticine bloood factories. Just wouldn't do to point out that the politicians and more than a few of the law enforcement really aren't
on your side and it's not just an old cynical saw.
Might cause panic in the streets. Can't have that.
Printing it might get good old Kirkwood of the Eagle suddenly unemployed. Or eaten by things with lambent eyes and far too many teeth. Can't have that, either. Just wouldn't do.
And people might suddenly get the idea that there's no Security in the Homeland, and a vote really is a vote between two evils. Just like you always thought. Merry Christmas, would you like a cup of nightmare to go with your paper, sir?New Year's is coming after all. That's supposed to be a hopeful time: a time of change and rebirth. It's really not a time to strip away the comforting euphemisms. Because without the euphemisms, it's too easy to realize that when you strip away the blanket of words, strip away the reassurances, and remove the layers of snow...
You're left with the fact that it's dark out there, and there's things in the darkness with teeth. Metaphorically, at least. One hopes.
It was nice to be able to leave the readers with that hope. A pity that they really weren't metaphorical, nor were the teeth.
That's another area where life used to be a lot simpler in the old days. He hadn't known back then that the things from the late night movies came out of the screen and wandered the streets at night.One thing the words can do though, is illuminate the fact that not all of the death was meaningless. Sometimes they do serve a purpose - they can remind us of the patrol officers on the city's highways that died attempting to shield bystanders from the violence. They can remind us of the paramedics and rescue workers whom various officers owe their lives to. They can remind us of Detective Fred Carson, who was reportedly killed shielding a partner from attack.
They can remind us that even when we strip away the words and the snow to reveal the darkness underneath, we're not alone in it.
There's people who stand between us and the dark. Sometimes, that just has to be enough.
Not many people, mind you. But after the past few weeks... there's a few more than there were. After seeing some of the things behind the teeth, and having Kevin O'Brien describe them, Kirkwood found himself wishing that was a more comforting thought.
A small young woman and those like her, a few demon hunters, and a handful of cops just didn't seem like enough.
Kirkwood stared for awhile at the display, rereading his efforts. He decided he wasn't completely satisfied, but it'd do. Time tomorrow to reread it and do some rewrite, if needed. Another night, another column. Nice, sanitized bullshit that managed to say nothing while saying... not quite everything.
He swiveled his chair to look out the window at the falling snow. News reports earlier had said that this could turn into a blizzard... He found himself running the last line of his column through his head, and thinking about a small, dark haired girl moving between bodies and piles of ash with inhuman grace and precision. 'Screw it,'
Tom shook his head. 'Sometimes, that's just not enough. But it's all we have... '
On an impulse, he snagged the handset to his cordless phone and picked an LA number off of his speed dial. The gruff, sardonic, familiar voice that answered "Beacon. Kolchak. Talk to me," after a bare three rings made him grin.
"Hey, Karl. Surprised to find you at the Beacon at this time of night on Christmas."
"Yup. Got it in one - s'me, Kirkwood. How've you been?"
"Doing all right. Your dad still living in the Keys?" *pause* "Good to hear. How's the old bastard doing?"
"Yeah yeah - Merry Christmas to you, too. And say a Merry Whatever to that sexy lady reporter you hang with, while you're at it."
"Same as you. Working on getting some column inches done for the post holiday rag. Only *I'm* doing it in the comfort of my home," Kirkwood snickered.
He paused to listen for awhile.
"Ha. Yeah... if you've been watching the news lately, I'm pretty sure you've heard we've been jumping out here."
Kirkwood made a snorting sound, followed by, "Why Mr. Kolchak - whatever
would make you think there's more going on than you'd read in the Eagle? I'm shocked - shocked I say - that you would ask such a question."
"*snicker* Yeah yeah. Sure, I can fill you in, off the record, natch," Kirkwood laughed. "What're friends for? You happen to have a few hours handy... ?"The End