Harris opened his refrigerator as if he expected something
good to happen. A box of fuzzy mushrooms smiled at him.
They had come courtesy of a brief girlfriend who, two
weeks earlier, smiled hopefully as she prepared her version
of Italian cuisine, then left. The relationship was such
that she did not return to claim her mushrooms. Of her
visit, only his memories remained, and the mushrooms.
He valued neither. There was also a half-cup of milk,
a full bottle of ketchup and a chunk of cheddar cheese.
During the week, Chandler had been somebody,
relatively speaking. As the top reporter for WRT-TV, he
commonly presented the lead story on the news. He liked
it. He imagined greater things for himself, a network
assignment, perhaps, or an anchor position. But then the
weekend always came, forty-eight grueling hours of nothing.
In a world where most people count the days till the weekend,
Chandler counted weekend hours, looking forward to Monday,
and another week of dream-making.
It is not an uncommon thought among
young TV reporters. Dreaming of the big break is enough
to drive them to hard work at low pay-a benefit for news
managers who feed the ego if not the paycheck and then
report victoriously to the board that once again expenses
have been controlled. Reporters, like lottery players,
know that something good will happen sooner or later.
They are bred to think that way.
He walked aimlessly into the bathroom, looked in the mirror
and stroked his hair. He stood for a moment, studying
what TV viewers saw. He had good hair-thick, deep brown
hair with just enough wave and character of its own to
wrap his youthful face perfectly for a TV camera. At thirty-two,
he was what television required—according to his
Although the demise of the reigning
anchorman would provide an opportunity for Chandler, it
was not something he thought much about. It simply was
not likely. Chandler had established himself as the first-line
substitute, but Brady Soles was almost as much a Richmond
institution as General Robert E. Lee, whose bronze statue
punctuated Monument Avenue. It was sometimes said of Richmond
that its most important community leaders had died a hundred
years ago. In such a place, any new hero would have to
earn his or her place. Chandler's handsome face might
draw the favor of a young lady, but it would not, in this
town, win him what he really wanted. And certainly not
on a Saturday morning. It was his day off, and he didn't
want a day off. He retrieved the newspaper from the hallway
outside his apartment and flopped into a chair at the
kitchen table. A dirty spoon fell to the linoleum as he
spread the paper. He would pick it up later. There was
no urgency. It was on the floor already. It would do no
He glanced over the report of Tisdale's
execution, allowing himself momentary amusement in the
description of getting Lenny on the gurney. At his death,
Lenny Tisdale weighed three hundred seventy pounds. Had
his execution been delayed, Chandler mused, it might have
been unnecessary; he would have eaten himself to death.
Below the fold, the other big story:
the theft of Christmas toys from the Christmas House,
a local organization dedicated to creating good cheer
in places unaccustomed to it. He knew about that. He also
knew that citizens would be so repulsed by the evil deed
that they would bring replacement toys to the Christmas
House, so that it would have more than it lost, by several
times. The theft was therefore, in some sense, beneficial.
He tossed the paper on the floor and
walked around the apartment. The stroll was brief. He
had been there before. It wasn't the sort of place he
wanted to spend Saturday morning-or any other morning,
for that matter. Things were different when Sarah was
there. The apartment was a suitable place to laze around
on a late-December Saturday, but lazing was not his thing.
That had been part of the problem. If Sarah were here,
the jam-covered spoon on the kitchen floor would be cleaned
and in the drawer by now. It wouldn't have been on the
floor in the first place. But there were other things
that drove them apart. Sarah always encouraged him to
get out of bed in the morning for no other reason except
that she wanted to make it up. And on those rare days
when she was gone before he rose, and returned late at
night, she would methodically make up the bed before they
climbed back into it. She would tell him not to go to
bed until she had made it up. He never fully understood
The divorce nearly two years ago had
left Chandler with an empty heart, renter's beige walls
and the sort of furniture left unsold at the end of a
yard sale. From the settlement, he won the right to make
up his bed when he wanted to-which wasn't often. It was
one of his few victories. But for the most part, it was
his career that tore them apart. Too many nights on
assignment had taken its toll. Sarah had said it in
frustration, several times: "You love that damn job
more than me."
He brushed his teeth quickly and headed out the door.
One more Saturday at the station, he told himself. Then
he'd get a weekend hobby. Bowling or carving ducks, perhaps.
He unlocked his Saab, climbed in and headed toward the
newsroom on the weekend wasn't exactly Macy's on the day
after Thanksgiving, but it was better than his apartment.
Or the mall. And there was always something to do, even
if it was nothing. He drove a couple of blocks and pulled
into McDonald's for the standard bachelor's breakfast.
Even that did not go well. He drove
in behind three other cars. He pulled close on the bumper
of the car in front of him, as if that would reduce the
wait. He was in a hurry to do nothing. Two minutes passed,
then his turn came. He didn't even need to glance at the
drive-thru menu before ordering.
"I'd like an egg and sausage biscuit,"
he shouted at the speaker box. "And a large coffee."
"We're not serving breakfast now,"
a voice said through the speaker box.
"We stop serving breakfast at ten-thirty."
Chandler looked at his watch: 10:32.
"All right," he said. "I'll
just take a large coffee."
The voice squawked a price Chandler
couldn't make out, and he obediently pulled forward to
"Two creams and a handful of sugars,
please," Chandler said, as he took the coffee.
The expressionless woman in the window
silently handed him the cream and sugar.
Then she slid the glass door shut and
"Merry Christmas," Chandler
said to the glass.
He pulled up to the road and stirred
the sugar and cream into the coffee. Traffic was heavy,
and dangerous. Christmas shoppers, in the spirit of giving,
raced up and down the pike in total disregard of each
As he approached the TV station, Chandler
noticed how the neighborhood's respectability went down,
block by block. Twenty years ago, when WRT-TV opened its
offices on the Southside, it had stood nearly alone on
a quiet road. There were few traffic lights and little
need for them. Now the city's boundaries lapped at the
station itself, and the suburbs had sensibly moved further
from the threat of crime that a growing city brings, even
when it denies it, as Richmond did.
Convenience stores and flea markets
had replaced more significant businesses, and even the
local 7-Eleven had closed its doors to be replaced by
a nameless convenience store run by a Pakistani family.
Chandler could have gotten his coffee there, but he didn't
want to risk it. Once, he saw the new proprietor changing
chili in the always-on pot behind the hot dogs. The man
scraped the gurgling dregs from the bottom, stored it
temporarily in a whing-ding cup, poured in fresh chili,
then dumped the cup's contents on top. That way, at least,
the bottom of the chili pot would always be the freshest,
comparatively speaking. Like a grocer rotating stock,
the new owner of the old 7-Eleven rotated his chili. But
no one ever got to eat the new stuff. The freshening-up
process caught it just before it hit the bottom.
The Pakistani man had performed the switch-a-roo methodically
in front of Chandler, as if it were routine. It probably
was. But there were no bodies lying about the parking
lot. The chili couldn't be that bad, Chandler reasoned,
unless customers crawled off somewhere else to die. But
it was the chili incident that caused Chandler to do his
food shopping elsewhere. He didn't spend his money at
the Pakistani place after that.
A tall chain-link fence had been put
up around the TV station, and brilliant lights illuminated
the parking lot-at most hours of the day. When Chandler
pulled into the parking lot, they were burning brightly.
It was a sunny morning, but the lights were on anyway.
The automatic sensors had a mind of
Gladstone sat at the weekend news assignment desk. He
was a pleasant kid with pimples, which he would probably
outgrow, and a hooked nose, which was likely to stay with
him. Charlie might have improved what he had by not wearing
his baseball hat backwards or by cutting the lock of hair
that he was constantly brushing back from his left eye.
But it didn't matter. His chances of becoming a news anchorman
were remote, but for a job nobody wanted anyway-sitting
in the news room alone on Saturday and Sunday, listening
to a row of police and fire monitors squawk-Charlie was
"Welcome to nowhere," Charlie
said, looking up from a French textbook. "Did you
come in to practice anchoring for next week? I mean, you
are filling in for Brady next week, right?"
"Yeah, beginning Tuesday, but that's
no big deal. I came in to catch up on the background for
the Ragland execution," Chandler lied. "You
wouldn't believe how much promotional material an execution
can generate when a black governor stands to gain political
ground by granting clemency to a white man."
"Especially when he's a rich doctor.
I guess that's the major constitutional difference between
him and Tisdale."
"You got that right. What about
"As usual," Charlie said.
"You guys are paying me to do my homework."
Chandler laughed. "In that case,
do it well."
Charlie brushed the hair back for the
sixth time since Chandler arrived and looked back at his
book. Chandler watched the hair slowly fall back over
his eye. A monitor screeched irritably, and Charlie turned
the volume down without looking.
"You go to church, Charlie?"
Chandler asked out of nowhere.
"No. Should I?"
"I don't know. I just asked."
"Do you go?"
"Sometimes, if the music's good."
"Is that the only reason?"
"No," Chandler said. "It's
not the only reason. But why go to a church that has bad
"Yeah, I guess. Why are we talking
about church, anyway?"
"I'm going tomorrow. I'm speaking
to a Sunday School class."
"You get paid for that?"
"Of course not."
"Then why do you do it?"
"Because they asked me to."
"And that's it?"
Chandler shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"
"Sounds like a dud, to tell you
the truth. I'd offer to come hear you, but I've got the
desk again tomorrow, unfortunately."
"It pays more than Sunday School
"Not much more," Charlie said,
brushing back the lock of hair, which immediately fell
right back where it was.
"What's Wally up to today?"
Wally Figgers, the weekend reporter,
was not exactly a candidate for the Pulitzer, but he imagined
himself to be. Management knew Wally was not very smart
but seemed to think he would overcome it. But Wally had
worked weekends three years and his IQ had not improved
"He's got something across the
river," Charlie said. "Shopping mall story.
He's got another one on this side of the river too, with
a mall Santa. After that, he'll sit around and wait for
a Christmas tree fire, I suppose."
"Maybe he should take up French."
"Maybe. But he's got to master
Chandler walked back to his desk, thinking
about Dr. Ragland sitting on death row anticipating his
own death, just short of Christmas. He wondered whether
Ragland's last words would be as incisive as those of
Tisdale. Ragland certainly had the cultural advantage;
perhaps he could top Tisdale's "Merry Christmas."
One of the scanners behind Charlie squawked a message,
and, without turning, Charlie shut the volume down. Another
scanner kicked in with the same message: A citizen in
the West End had phoned police to report an assault.
As Chandler leaped from his chair and
ran to Charlie's desk, the dispatcher repeated the message
to units in the area. Then the little red diode light
on the scanner skipped on to the next channel. Eagerly,
Chandler backed it up to the assault channel and waited.
Charlie looked up from his French book.
"What is it? All I heard was the assault."
Chandler didn't say anything—and neither did the
"Did I miss something?"
"Yeah," Chandler said. "That
assault was in River Heights."
"People don't get assaulted in
River Heights," Chandler said. "Especially at
ten-thirty on Saturday morning."
"What do we do about it?"
"Keep your ears on the radio. I'm
heading over there."
"For an assault?"
"Yeah, for an assault."
"I don't get it."
"I know. But we'll talk about that
later. I'll be in touch."
Chandler put the police
monitor back on "scan" mode and hurried out
of the newsroom. It looked like he might have something
to do after all.
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