LNH: Dashing Tales #1
ben.rawluk at gmail.com
Sat Aug 29 15:08:26 PDT 2015
DASHING TALES, episode the first,
"Pitching to the Void,"
by Ben Rawluk
The door to the roof is thick and heavy, so Emma has to brace her shoulder against it to push it open. She doesn't let it swing shut until the wedge of wood is firmly in place. Her face puckers at the smell of dumpsters in the alley running behind the building. Slim and brown-skinned, Marco is sitting on the edge of the roof in a red hoodie and white T-shirt, legs dangling. His back is to the door. "Bogus said you were up here," Emma says, drawing the words out. Clement Bogus had been chain-smoking outside on the front stoop of the building when she showed up. She clears her throat, and then does a passable imitation of the gruff asshole: "Intern's up there, waiting for you."
There's a snort, Marco, but he doesn't turn around.
They stare at the LNHQ in the distance. Down here on Didio Drive the sky is ready for a downpour, but she's pretty sure those are columns of bright sunlight over--
"Steve dumped me," Marco says, eventually.
Emma lets out a breath. "What happened?"
"I read him one of my poems--"
"He asked! He wanted to be supportive." He sounds like he's trying not to cry. "I forgot. I forgot for a whole minute. I thought -- I mean, maybe this time. You know?" He looks up at her for the first time and watches as Emma drops onto the edge of the roof alongside him. She squeezes his shoulder with her dark-skinned hand. Downstairs, in the newsroom of the Net.ropolis Netizen, Victor King is probably complaining loudly about reporters being late for the morning editorial meeting. "I don't want to be a villain," Marco says, fingers laced together in his lap.
"You're not a villain."
Marco doesn't respond, and they sit there. Emma is trying not to think about the sweaty stink of summer dumpsters, or the humidity, or the way those clouds are gathering. The heat broke last night and now she's actually chilly in her argyle sweater vest and oxford shirt. She pulls idly at her frizzing black hair. She's trying not to think about the way Victor King's neck veins bulge when he's yelling at her. She's trying not to think about Clement Bogus on the stoop with a halo of smoke, eyes sunken and bruised, looking like he probably slept on the office couch last night because you're always going to be filing late night at night when the Occult's your beat. Eventually, Marco says, "Maybe I should go join up." He's looking across at the LNHQ, at the the huge statues in the Avenue of Net.Heroes.
(And try not to think about how easily you can see all that no matter where you go, about that particularly geographical oddity of Net.ropolis, because you'll go mad otherwise.)
"But what about working your way up from intern?"
"Can you imagine what would happen if I tried to write articles?"
Can't be any worse than your poetry, Emma doesn't say. She's heard about what happened that one time at Open Mike Night. Instead, she says, "It's the Netizen, Marco. It can't be any worse than the trash we already publish." This wasn't what she pictured in J-School. She though, maybe the Harbinger, the Herald, the Times. She'd been very vague with her mother on the phone when Victor King hired her. "We're not really crusading reporters for a great Net.ropolitan newspaper. Half the personals are cult recruitment ads from the Shimbleshanks." She blinks. "Okay, maybe we should both join."
Marco's face puckers into an ugly smile. "Bad-Poetry Boy."
"And I could be -- The Headliner?"
"You wish." He knocks his shoulder against hers. "Pulitzer Prize Princess."
"Emma Dash: Girl Reporter."
"Ugh, please." She presses her hands to her face, eyes shut.
"Did you know Bogus used to be a trenchcoater? Or he says he was."
"Oh god, did you work late last night? You're an intern, you don't--"
"I was filing. Uh. Mister King said--"
"And you got the Late Night Clement Bogus Treatment, huh? When he gets drunk on watered-down scotch out of Victor King's secret stash and starts telling tales? Did he say what he called himself when he was a trenchcoater?" She makes air-quotes around the word "trenchcoater," then looks away. Sooner or later everybody gets to sit through Bogus slobbering drunk half-truths into the deepest hours of night. "Was he claiming to be Doctor Deadbeat or the Jellomancer?" Sometimes when Bogus is talking about the Occult beat, it's just a string of made-up words. "Because I'm pretty sure he was Mister Failure."
"I think he was hitting on me, actually."
Her eyebrows shoot up.
"It's fine," says Marco. He looks away, clearly embarrassed. The sound of crows in the distance, fighting over french fries left at a bus stop. She's about to ask him about Bogus, about whether or not anything happened, but Marco clears his throat. "Maybe we should be trenchcoaters." he looks back at her. "That seems -- easier. Just hang around in seedy bars and act mysterious." He wiggles his fingers. "Open license to be complete messes, sounds like." He gets a faraway look in his eyes. "I mean, the Netizen, we're practically halfway there."
"Pretty sure the LNH has better benefits."
(Or benefits at all, really.)
Beside her, Marco lets out a long breath and says, "Bad-Poetry Boy."
"On the other hand," says Emma. "I had a dream the other night that Net.ropolis got city-napped. Carmen Sandiego-style. Dumped on another planet, with a bunch of other cities. Half of them were also Net.ropolis? And the LNH had to fight all these other heroes and stuff. Like vampire versions of themselves. The Society of Wireless Heroes." She clears her throat. "That would have been a great story. Page One. Victor King would have given me a raise." She digs her teeth into her bottom lip. "Actually," she says. "I could totally pitch that. Just say they went back in time and prevented it from happening."
"You've probably been working at the Netizen too long."
"I need a break from the swamp monster stories." She frowns. "My point -- my point was that the LNH have to deal with stupid crap like that all the time. Alternate Looniverses. Getting turned into vampires or babies or whatever. Remember when Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story ended up with a lion's head?"
"Maybe that was an imaginary story."
"I'm pretty sure I'd rather have a lion's head than listen to Mister King yell at me about screwing up his lunch order again."
Emma's about to say something to that when there's a grunt from behind them, and the door slams open, Clement Bogus leaning against it bodily to hold it. He's smoking with his free hand, one of those awful lime-green menthols he gets from the gas station down at Didio and Mieville. He looks like a sick mixture of bored and pissed off, though his hair is damp now. Probably he slunk off to the bathhouse around the corner to have a quick shower. "You're late for the editorial meeting," he says, sharply, not bothering to look at Marco. Just an intern, after all. Emma has been around long enough that Bogus doesn't bother to pretend like she doesn't exist. He flares his nostrils, flicks his cigarette away and then pulls idly at his loose black tie, like it's going to look anymore professional. He's also wearing that seedy-looking trenchcoat, and Emma tries to imagine casting any kind of spell. Maybe he does card tricks. "King wanted me to come get you, Dash. I'm supposed to threaten to fire you, but, let's pretend I care, okay?"
Marco is up on his feet first, saying, "Sorry, Mister Bogus."
Bogus ignores him. Emma's hands ball into fists as she stands, and she has to cross her arms to stop herself from getting too angry. Clement Bogus has always been an asshole. He is not a well-rounded character. There's no point.
"He expects pitches," Bogus says, and Emma can already picture the horrible veins along Victor King's neck, the manic buzz of his eyes. The Netizen is one step up from sharpie graffiti on a bathroom stall, but Victor King is very good at instilling the fear of being fired in his reporters. He will call her fat and lazy. He expects pitches, and if he doesn't like what he gets, you're going to end up in the alley with the dumpsters.
Emma breezes past Bogus and doesn't look back, but asks, "What have you got?"
"There's always an apocalypse I can pull out of my ass on a slow week."
Marco holds the door open, and Emma steps past him, into the stairwell leading down. It stinks faintly of cigarettes, years of stress reporters having meltdowns in it while they hide from Victor King or whatever lunatic editor was running the show at the time.
"Well," Emma says. She doesn't have enough money saved up to pay rent if she gets fired. Mom won't send her any more. She's staring back at Marco. Gotta take risks. "I'm pitching the LNH. I'm gonna follow around a brand-new Legionnaire on his first week. Can't get any more narratively-relevant than the Legion of Net.Heroes."
Marco almost croaks, "What?"
Bogus is chewing the inside of his mouth. "Everybody writes LNH stories."
"Not like this."
It was your idea, she wants to say. Give Marco half the credit and maybe he won't be an intern forever. The door closes behind Bogus and the three of them are alone in the narrow stairwell, quiet enough that if you listen, you can make out Conroy Brown's rantings. Emma Dash looks up at Bogus, at his thrift-store suit and that ugly tie. Then she looks at Marco, who once caused a ten-block-radius brown-out with a villanelle. "Welcome to the Secret Origin of Bad-Poetry Boy, gentlemen."
Emma Dash: Girl Reporter, Bad-Poetry Boy, Clement Bogus, Victor King created by Ben Rawluk, copyright 2015
It's been, what? 15 years or something? I've lurking on racc again. I don't know, really, what called me back here. Been talking to Rogers some, helping him with some Easily-Discovered Man plot points involving the Jones twins, though I don't know how I feel about the Jones twins. Emma Dash and the associated cast members have been lurking around in my head for a while, looking for a suitable outlet. It's nice to have some short, casual writing to play with in between working on the novel and a poetry manuscript. So, um, hi?
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