Of all the strange things that had happened in Eddie Dent’s life - and death - the incident involving Julia Garcia was perhaps the strangest.
The night had started normally enough. The politics reporter had slammed down her phone, cursed and raced out of the office, late for the city council meeting. The sports reporter had filed on the tennis tournament and also raced out, late for the high school football game. The crime reporter had stayed hunched over his keyboard clicking and clacking, occasionally swearing, until midnight when his wife called. He slammed the office door behind him with a bang.
The darkened newsroom stayed still for a moment or two. Then, a fat cloud erupted from the pencil holder in the managing editor’s office, much like ash spewing from a volcano. That was Eddie. A moment later, silvery sparks fired out of the mass of cables under the desk of the politics reporter. That was Sylvia Sheridan. Then a smoke ring wafted up from the pack of Marlboros the crime reporter hid the back of his file drawer. That was Mr. Wright. And finally, a puff of steam from the coffee maker, accompanied by an “Oh bloody hell.” That was Kurt Haxall.
It was, in fact, a most ordinary night at the Hamilton Courier-News.
And, as happened on every ordinary night, Eddie’s cloud shouted out to Haxall’s steam, “What’s the deal, Mac?” The cloud shifted, pushed, pulled and jiggled a little until the filmy shape of a stocky man appeared. He wore a derby perched at an angle over his right eye. He’d shoved his press card in the hat band, tucked a pencil behind his ear and held an eternal cigarette in his mouth. He wore a suit vest over a tie and rumpled dress shirt with sleeves that had been long ago rolled past his elbows.
Eddied floated over to the coffee maker where a wiry young man in baggy cargo pants and a stained t-shirt had flung it against the wall. A keffiyeh hung loosely around his neck and a battered reporter’s notebook stuck out from his back pocket. He pushed tousled hair back from his forehead and turned angry eyes onto the dregs of coffee splattered against the wall. It was a coffee shortage that had caused Haxall’s untimely death. A rebel blockade had prevented supplies from getting through, including the valued coffee bean. Which meant Haxall was deep in the throes of a brain-crawling hangover when he’d left the Green Zone that morning. Which meant that he’d registered the direction of the gunfire a split second too late.
“You gotta stop doin’ that, Mac,” Eddie said.
“Shut the fuck up.”
“They’re gonna start wondering what’s goin’ on here at night.”
“Stop worrying, Ed. They’ll just think it’s Gary,” said a smooth voice.
The silvery sparks had arranged themselves into the elegant figure of Ms. Syliva Sheridan, the first woman White House Correspondent and the first female network news anchor. Breast cancer had taken her at 67, but not her will to work. She arranged herself at the crime reporter’s (the aforementioned Gary) computer, restacking his papers and settling in for a long night of fact-checking…and fact-fixing.
“C’mon, doll,” Eddie said. “Cantcha just take a night off?”
She turned a hard stare on him.
“Ed. Again. You can’t call women ‘dolls’ anymore.”
“Ok, doll,” he said winking at her. She let the slightest smile escape as she turned back to the computer.
“DENT! HAXALL!” Mr. Wright’s voice boomed through the newsroom and beyond.
Eddie and Haxall flew over to the managing editor’s office where Mr. Wright had taken form, tie askew, sleeves rolled up. He was standing at the desk shaking his head over a stack of papers.
“Get to work, boys. Haxall, you’re on rewrite, clean up the online version too. These kids don’t know how to spell, they can’t put a sentence together. Dent, story development. This paper…,” Mr. Wright muttered, forehead wrinkles deepening. The Courier-News was just a small-town weekly, but the falling subscription numbers were just as likely to give him a fatal heart attack as they had when he ran the National Times.
They were all thus engaged when the office door banged open.
Eddie dropped his notebook. Sylvia gasped. Haxall spun around in his chair. And Mr. Wright shot out of the managing editor’s office. A young woman, arms wrapped awkwardly around a large box overflowing with papers and folders lurched into the newsroom. Suddenly, the box slipped out of her grip, dumping documents all over the floor.
“Shit,” she said, surveying the mess and pulling her thick hair into a ponytail
The others stared.
“Who’s the dame?” whispered Eddie.
“Edward.” That was Syliva.
“The girl. Who’s the girl?”
“It’s 1:30,” whispered Haxall. “What’s she even doing here?”
“Who is she?”
“We should help her,” murmured Eddie.
“No,” whispered Mr. Wright a little too loudly. “She can’t know we’re here.”
The young woman looked directly at them, brown eyes unflinching.
“Can she hear us?” whispered Haxall.
“Yes, I can hear you,” she said, irritation unmistakable. “And I can see you. I can see through you too. Who are you? Ghosts?”
She took a step toward them and they drifted back, unable to speak.
“So now you’re not talking. My God, what a day.” She started gathering up the papers as the group huddled together watching. After a moment, she rocked back on her heels and looked up.
“Some help here? Can’t you put this all back together with a mind trick or something? Don’t you have ghost powers?”
Eddie drifted toward her with a grin.
“No powers, Miss, but I am at your service. Eddie Dent.”
“Julia. Julia Garcia,” she answered.
Eddie joined her in moving the papers back into the box.
“What are you doing here, Miss Julia?”
She paused and stared at him.
“ME? What are YOU – all of you – doing here? You’re dressed kind of funny,” she said, taking in his hat and vest.
“Not for 1918, Miss.”
She stood up, put her hands on her hips and faced Eddie and the others, who were still bunched together.
“Ok,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of time here. Let’s sort this out. I’m Julia Garcia. I’m 23-years-old. I’m Cuban-American. I started working here three days ago. I already have an exclusive and I intend to have many more,” she said gesturing to the box.
She pointed to Eddie.
“You, Eddie Dent. What’s your story?”
He just stared at her, for once in his life – and death – at a loss for words.
“Who did you work for?” she asked.
“Er…The Boston Post,” he said.
“How and when did you die?” she asked.
“We don’t talk about that, Miss Garcia,” Sylvia interjected.
“No, it’s ok, Slys,” Eddie said, facing Julia. “I died on January 15, 1919 in Boston. I was on the street. I’d just finished an interview. The ground started shaking. There was a loud noise, like thunder. People were screaming and wind knocked me down. And then there was this great rush of hot molasses down the street and it came over me. That’s all I remember.”
Julia stared at him.
“You drowned in molasses?”
“You said it.”
“Do you know how crazy that sounds?”
“21 people died that day. They called it the Great Molasses Flood. A molasses tank collapsed.”
Julia grabbed her phone and Googled the Great Molasses Flood.
When she looked up at him, her gaze had softened ever so slightly.
“Huh. Well I’m sorry, Eddie. Hell of a way to go,” she said.
“No sweat, doll. But I would’ve loved to cover it,” he said. “What a story! Damn sorry I missed it.”
He turned to the others and pointed one by one.
“Hallax, war correspondent, shot last year. Sylvia, ace reporter, first woman everything, cancer, 1980s. Mr. Wright, executive editor, heart attack at his desk, 1965. Now, I got one for you. Why aren’t you afraid of us?”
“Are you going to hurt me?” she asked.
“Not a dame with drumsticks like yours,” Eddie said winking.
“Eddie!” Sylvia admonished.
“She don’t like how I talk to girls,” Eddie whispered to Julia. And for the first time that night, Julia giggled.
“It’s kind of funny,” she said. “You sound like someone in a movie.”
“So why are you guys here?” she asked. “Did something terrible happen in this office or something? Are you restless spirits? Do you have to resolve something before moving on?”
Mr. Wright drifted toward her.
“We are journalists, young lady. We hold the Fourth Estate and the pursuit of truth as the most noble of vocations and even death could not part us,” he stated imperiously.
“We’re adrenaline junkies, man. Love the rush,” Haxall said.
“This newspaper is failing and needed our help. Even if they don’t know it,” said Sylvia.
“This job – it’s aces,” said Eddie.
Julia looked from the group to her box and back to the group.
“So you can read?”
Outraged exclamations from the group.
“Ok, ok – I didn’t know,” Julia said. “So listen. I have a story. The representative for this district – his name’s Dan Morton….so I have a source who told me he’s embezzling campaign donations and spending on crazy stuff – like, luxury vacations, boats, gifts. All of this –“ she gestured to the papers in the box. “That’s the proof. Records on everything. I just picked it up from my source a little while ago. But here’s the thing. It’s going to take me forever to go through all that and write a really solid story. I’m afraid the other papers around here, the bigger ones, the TV stations – they’ll get this and scoop me. But –"
“We’ll help!” Eddie flew to the box and started throwing papers in.
Mr. Wright started handing out assignments.
“Sheridan, Haxall – fact-checking! Dent, you and I will work through those records. Garcia, you start drafting your story. Deadline: sunrise. Go!”
They worked quickly and through the night. The next day, The Hamilton Courier-News broke the story: Representative Dan Morton Accused of Misusing Campaign Funds. A few days later: Dan Morton, Wife Admit to Stealing Campaign Funds. And some time after that: Dan Morton, Wife Sentenced to One Year in Jail. The national papers and networks piled on after the big scoop, crediting the Courier-News and giving the paper a shot of life.
And that’s how it all started for Julia, Eddie, Sylvia, Haxall and Mr. Wright. Julia quickly jumped to the Charlotte Observer and then to the New York Times. The group floated along with her, hovering in the shadows, emerging at night to work. The years passed and their reporting got an innocent man off Death Row, helped a Muslim refugee start a new life, saved one presidency and brought down another. They covered wars and coups, triumphs and tragedies.
These days, the newsrooms are busier through the night, but the group moves furtively and remains undetected. Eddie erupts as a cloud from Julia’s pencil holder. Syliva sparks out of Julia’s computer cables. Mr. Wright drifts out of Julia’s Pulitzer because he can’t find any hidden cigarettes. Hallax steams out of Julia’s desktop Keurig and throws it against the wall. Julia enters her office and they gather around her desk for their nightly meeting. It’s an ordinary night in the newsroom.
And they get to work.