“Miss Shark is indeed gone,” I tell my excited staff. “But, Julia Sharp is here to stay!”
“Long live Miss Sharp!” someone cheers and another round of clapping ensues.
“Break up the love-fest,” Janice grouses. “Let’s get back to work. We have a magazine to put out!”
Everyone scurries to their cubicle or office, leaving the two of us standing together. I give her a quick hug and go to my desk. I place the flowers where I can see them and turn the small card over and over in my hand.
“Welcome back, Julia. I love you, M.S.” It reads. There’s a part of me that’s a little disappointed because I thought he might attend my reunion with Lynx. I know he’s swamped trying to keep his own company out of the mire right now so it makes sense he couldn’t be here.
“Miss Sharp.” Justin, the layout manager, comes in and plops down for our usual Monday meeting. “I need to know how you want to pursue the lead. I know a guy who might be able to get a hold of Blake Stone’s booking photo and that would make an awesome cover, or if you wanted something more symbolic, like handcuffs on a dollar sign, I can get the illustrator started on sketches.”
“What are you talking about Justin?”
“The Sandstone Ventures story, of course. It’s not every day in New York that a major venture capitalist gets arrested for embezzlement, intimidation, and trying to take over a magazine. If any publication has the inside scoop on this, it’s us. I figured it would be the lead.”
“We aren’t covering that,” I say quietly. I thought about it, naturally. Images of Blake between the arms of those two cops on the cover of Lynx would give me enough satisfaction to smile for a year. But, while it may sooth the ego it won’t pay the bills. When you pull outside of my reality, it’s little else than another “corruption in the city” gig and it would expose me and Mark to more examination than either of us want right now.
“You’ve been out a month, our deadline is this week and we’ve got nothing to lead. I can grab Fatima’s story about school vouchers, but I don’t think it’s hot off the press material.”
“School. That reminds me. Is Andy busy on something big? He’s our best street guy and I have an assignment for him right away. Send him in when you leave.” I wave dismissing him. Then realize that’s a Miss Shark habit, and I don’t want to be her anymore. “Thank you. I’ll get back to you soon. Now, go.”
“But, I don’t have anything for the cover!” he protests. I can’t keep this a secret forever. I’ve got to trust my own staff.
“We have something very special making the cover. I have an exposé I’ve been sitting on until the time is right. I’ll get you some copy by the end of the day and you can get working on an image. But, Justin, it’s all confidential, okay?”
“Of course.” He nods. I watch him walk out and give Andy the “batter up” signal. Andy quickly scrambles into my office.
“I’m working on an essay about the gentrification of West Central,” he says quickly as if I’m an interrogating officer.
“Well, stop. I have something better,” I grumble. His eyes glisten and I clearly have his attention.
“Down on Lexington and Dale there’s a group, some kind of house that helps hookers. Walton House or something.”
“Walden House,” he corrects. “They are a charity that tries to help young sex workers make the transition out of the trade before they get sick or killed.”
“Fine, Walden House.”
“That’s what they’re called, you know. Sex workers. It’s less demeaning than ‘hookers’ and not as biblically damning as ‘prostitutes.’ All women deserve some dignity, boss. Most of these girls—”
“Thank you, thank you,” I interrupt his high horse. “I don’t need you to tell me about dignity or these girls. I’ve met them. I know them. What I need you to do is get out there and find out why this charity is so underfunded it can only take two or three women at a time. This city can do better than that.”
“You know them?” Andy asks, his face a mixture of awe and confusion. I can tell he’s already sold on the story so I’ll be getting something good out of him. He turns to leave and I realize the interruption is again a habit I’d like to change. It’s becoming clear that the new me is going to have to fight to assert herself over the old habits.
“Andy,” I call to him as he hits the doorway. “I don’t want an objective piece of journalism. By the time this story is finished, I want Walden House to be so well funded they might need a new building to house all their programs. Got it?”
“Yes ma’am!” He beams and practically skips to his desk.
I spend most of the afternoon rewriting the Wall Street piece to give to Justin. I double check my facts and make sure I have some kind of backup for every claim I make. I’m quivering with excitement when Janice knocks on my door.
“FedEx Priority Mail, certified letter,” she says, dumping the letter size package on my desk. “I had to sign for it and sign away the souls of my children.”
“I thought you already sold those, for yoga pants.” I laugh. Things aren’t just back to normal, they are better than normal.
“Well, at least my butt is smaller than my kids now.” She joins in the fun but doesn’t go back to her desk.
“And?” Certified letters aren’t something new around here. She knows I’ll get to it when I can get to it.
“It’s from Sandstone Ventures. I thought it might be important.” She shrugs. I save what I’m working on and open the package. It’s probably just a notice about the next board meeting or something. But, when I open the package the envelope just says, “Julia” in Mark’s handwriting.
I rip open the envelope to find a letter, typed on his letterhead, copied to his assistant and his attorney. Janice turns to leave.
“Wait,” I call to her. “You’ve got to see... you’re not…. oh f**k. Oh my f**king… oh f**k! How could be I be so stupid? They aren’t just Valerie’s friends. They’re his too! How could I be so damn dumb?”
“I don’t know what this is about, but it can’t be that bad,” Janice says, taking the letter from my hand and give it the once-over. “Oh my god.”