Jack Ross had been staring at his laptop for thirteen minutes. Every five minutes he jiggled his wireless mouse, ridding the screen of the power save function. Once the image was back, it revealed a word document with two words at the top in bold, Times New Roman font and size twenty. In plain black these words read, CHAPTER 36. He had come this far in his book and now he was stuck. Every chapter before him was in at least a first draft form. A few were in a third revision, and one was in a fifth. Beyond 36 he had the last four chapters (47-51) in second and third revisions. He also had first drafts of 38, 42, 43 and 44. He was so close to being finished it was absurd.
He was so absorbed in his conundrum that he didn’t notice Frank Darabois, his editor at The Daily Times, had been standing over his shoulder. Darbois was a middle-aged, rather jolly soul that had a soft spot. But he could be firm when he needed to be, and even blunt at times. Despite that he was an easy person to get along with, there were those he considered enemies. He startled Ross when he put his hand on his shoulder and warmly spoke, “Come to my office, Jack.”
His office had white drywall that was seemingly separated into sections by a fake wood beams. The beams were made of cherry and actuality rested upon the outside of the drywall. If you tapped on one of the beams with your knuckles, you quickly found they were hollow. More cherry beams lined the ceiling. His desk also was made of cherry and was the width of the height of Ross’s stepfather—six foot, three inches. The chairs were cherry as well with white upholstery that matched the walls and carpet.
He motioned Ross to a chair with his hand as he sat in his own. He looked out his cherry framed windows for a moment, collection his thoughts and considering the conversation before them, and then he dove in head first.
“Jack you know I like you—”
“Am I getting sacked?”
“No.” He paused. “Not yet.” He paused again. “That is to say, maybe. It depends on what I can get from you on this next story.”
Ross sat emotionless; Darabois didn’t know whether he was in the room or still sitting in 36. He had become so hard to read these days. When he hired Ross he was just out of journalism school. He was bright, clever, quick on his feet and a great reporter. Initially he had him writing an opinion column, but it became clear he had few opinions and ran out of drive for the column. It began to sound contrived, forced. He knew he was wasting his talent there, so he did what he thought Ross wanted—he promoted him to Investigative Reporter. Ross had a talent for digging into things and blending everything together just right in the final report. He was a natural investigator. He didn’t care what anyone else thought about him, which meant he didn’t mind asking some very blunt (sometimes rude) questions. He could really bring out the worst in people (but in a good way). After three years, his work began to sound contrived again. Darabois couldn’t make heads or tails of it, until he caught him working on a novel in his cubicle. There were no rules against such, but it was clear this was what was hindering his reports. All that time he was on chapter 12.
“I need you to go to Taos.”
“Taos. It’s a town four hours east of here. There’s a small story there on racism I need you to write.” He raised his hands and gestured at a nonexistent headline in the air, “White Man Kills Black Man, No Arrests—it’s that sort of thing.”
“OK.” Ross stood up to leave.
“But if your story blows, you’re gone. I don’t pay you to write novels.”
“I can write a novel if I want.”
“Not on a company laptop, and not on the clock either.” He paused, sat back in his chair and looked at the ceiling for a moment, and then his attention suddenly came back to Ross. “Impress me. Now get.”
Back at The Company Laptop, Ross brought up Google Maps and hunted down Taos. It was a speck on the map with a high elevation and a low population. He figured there would have to be a huge Catholic Cathedral overlooking the townsfolk from the highest perch in Taos. He sighed at the thought of having to endure a bunch of rednecks, him being a city-slicking Yankee and all that nonsense. It was about that time that the ultimatum from Darabois finally sank in. He was back in annoyed at my current job mode, and hadn’t stopped to consider the road before him. He could surely get a job across town pretty easily, but that was no matter either. He was so sick of being a journalist.
He had made up his mind in college to get a career in journalism and work towards a career in fiction. He had no desire to be work in the journalistic world, it was just a way to pay the bills until he got picked up and then eventually noticed. But it had been taking so long to get anywhere with his novels. He had written three since graduation: the first two were drivel and the third was mediocre. The current one on the other hand was a border lining on becoming a masterpiece. Not by itself though, it was a first in a series of ten novels. He figured by the third novel in the series, he would be deemed a literary genius by some journalist that thinks they know something about writing fiction.
He wanted out so bad.
If he could just finish the first book and start peddling the thing, it might be his way out. For a while he started to concoct a scheme to go Taos and conduct no investigation but finish his novel. He would then return to Darabois and turn in his resignation. He figured he might be able to survive for three months on his savings, before he would need to start reporting again. He seemed to think there was a possibility he could get picked up by a publisher in three months, but the thought of his savings slowly dwindling away started to deter him from this line of thinking. But the real nail in the coffin was when he realized he wouldn’t be able to finish his book in Podunk Town, USA. He would have no inspiration from the countryside to complete his book and in the end he would be in a worse shape than he was now. So in that vein, he decided he better take this Taos story semi-seriously.
He wasn’t looking for a Pulitzer or Nobel, by any means, but he better try to make it compelling. What could possibly be compelling about Taos? He decided to look up the word Taos. It’s probably Native American, he figured. He navigated away from Google Maps and went to the most trust resource in journalism, Wikipedia. According to the census in 2000, there was a population of 870, 312 households and 238 families. Who cares about the population density anyway? And then he noticed some figures that started to tell the story, and then he moaned because he had started his investigation. From that same census it turned out that 99.66% of the population was white, 0.11% was Native American, Hispanic was 0.11% as well and 0.23% represented at least two other races. Must be the purple and pink folk. He got tired of reading about the census and moved on through the very small article on Wikipedia. To his dismay, he could not figure out where the word Taos had derived from. So he left Wikipedia and went to a dictionary and encyclopedia website. The dictionary turned out to be the quencher for him. Taos is a Native American tribe, but they resided in New Mexico. The more interesting part was that Taos was also a word with some very interesting meanings. As a noun, Taos could mean, that in virtue of which all things happen or exist; the rational basis of human activity or conduct; or a universal, regarded as an ideal attained to a greater or lesser degree by those embodying it. The word also had origins in China, and they defined it as way, path, right way (of life), reason.
He decided to end the word hunt and philosophical banter, and packed his laptop. He grabbed a few notepads and pens, and then slipped into his jacket that had been resting on the back of his chair. Thought it felt like summer inside the walls of The Daily Times, it was autumn outside. There were no reservations to make, because no businesses could be found online for Taos. He knew he’d just have to drive there and look for the local bed and breakfast. Which was fine by him, at least the breakfast would beat the continental breakfast motels and hotels serve. And what was the difference between a motel and hotel anymore, anyway? He surely couldn’t see any.