Four Months Later
"Caldwell," Greta said, walking toward him from her office, the uneven threadbare-carpeted floor creaking beneath her mules. "Frick Island Cake Walk tomorrow—it's yours."
Anders affixed a smile to his face. "Great," he said, looking up from the three-inch article he was writing about the local sheriff filing for reelection.
"Six inches, couple basic quotes, a photo; you can check the archives for past coverage," she said. The window air-conditioning unit rattled to life across the room. Greta turned on her heel toward it, heading back to one of only two closed-door offices in their space on the second floor of what used to be an old firehouse. (The other belonged to the executive editor, a stooped and liver-spotted gentleman who appeared to be editor in title only, shuffling into the office one day during Anders's first week. "I'm Harry," he introduced himself, and then paused for dramatic effect. "But not all over.")
Anders knew, of course, his first reporting job out of college would be about paying his dues—he'd just rather hoped he'd be paying them at the Washington Post or the New York Times or the Boston Globe, or even the Dallas Morning News, covering state senate bill debates or immigration reform or university protests. In the three months he'd been at the Telegraph, he'd been dispatched to cover four never-ending school board meetings, a pierogi festival in nearby Rehoboth, and a literal cat burglar—a neighborhood feline who snuck into open windows and doorways to steal ball caps and socks and, in one case, a treasured fountain pen.
But Anders also knew he was lucky to have a newspaper job at all—slashed budgets equaling bare-bones staffs at papers all across the country, if not shuttering the doors altogether—and he reminded himself of this as he turned back to the sentence he was constructing regarding the sheriff's past accomplishments. His plan was to put his head down and do the best job he could do, even on the fluff pieces—especially on the fluff pieces. The faster he proved himself, the quicker he could start working on bigger, more interesting assignments. And the closer he would be to moving up to a bigger, more interesting paper. Maybe he'd be the next Michael Rezendes. Maybe Mark Ruffalo would play'him in a movie. Maybe he'd even win a Pulitzer.
But probably not for six inches on the Frick Island Cake Walk.
"Oh," Greta called over her shoulder, "and make sure you call to reserve your space on the ferry—I think it leaves at twelve thirty. And you need cash. They don't take credit cards."
"Yeah," she said, monotone. "It's an island."
"Right," Anders said, vividly remembering the last time he was on a boat. He had been seven, tagging along on a deep-sea fishing adventure with his dad on vacation in Charleston. He spent the majority of the outing vomiting over the side and the rest of it curled up in the fetal position on the floor of the boat, the putrid scent of decaying fish flesh filling his nostrils. He hadn't stepped foot on a boat—or eaten seafood—since. Then Anders replayed the second part of Greta's sentence. "Wait—call? Can't I book online?"
Greta frowned, her crow's-feet deepening. "Frick Islanders don't do the Internet."
Anders heard a snicker and didn't have to look over to know that Jess, the courts and crime reporter (though she seemed to cover everything else, too) who took pride in being a local, was deriving joy from his ignorance. Not meanly—Jess didn't have a cruel bone in her tiny body—but still.
"OK. I'm on it," Anders said, trying his best (but failing) to channel the enthusiasm of Clark Kent.
That was the answer Anders Caldwell gave as a child at holiday gatherings to well-meaning relatives who pinched his cheeks (well past the age where cheek pinching was acceptable) and asked him the uninspired but inevitable question of what he wanted to be when he grew up. "Adorable!" Aunt Sylvie would squeal, clapping her hands and cooing as if he were a baby goat wearing a little knitted sweater. "He wants to be a superhero."
It was what everyone thought—that Anders, like most other boys, envisioned himself wearing electric blue tights and a matador's cape, flying through the air to save innocent citizens and hurl clever quips at bad guys. And Anders never corrected them, because he didn't see the point.