* * *
Crow yanked the paper out of his typewriter and sat at his desk reading what he’d just written:
Monday, October 11, 2004
Mr. Charles Payne
Editor in Chief
The Pagan Press
This is to inform you that I am tendering my resignation from The Pagan Press, effective in two weeks’ time.
My dear wife and I have decided that our finances are in good enough condition that I can take an early retirement and, with the occasional freelance job, we can still make ends meet.
I have enjoyed my time at The Press, and I trust that my 28 years of service have been satisfactory. But the daily grind has started to wear on me, and I feel that the time is right to move on to the next stage in my life.
Here’s wishing all the best to you and the fine staff of young journalists that you have assembled. I expect great things for the paper, and please know that I’ll be watching with interest.
The old reporter snorted at what he’d written about the fine staff of young journalists. His true opinion of them was that they were a hopeless lot. Any so-called reporter who drank herb tea after work, as most of them did, instead of the hard liquor that “real” journalists drank, was not worthy of being called a reporter.
Crow signed his name with a flourish, folded the letter into an envelope, walked into Charley Payne’s empty office and left the resignation on his desk. He then walked out of the newsroom, passed the Tofu Bar, where the new breed went after work, and flew several blocks to his old haunt, The Foggy Duck Pub.
Inside the freshly scrubbed and slightly antiseptic-smelling pub, he climbed onto a stool in the darkest corner and ordered a drink: Laphroaig, neat.
The place wasn’t too busy at this hour of the afternoon, but Crow saw a few familiar faces. But nobody wanted to talk to him, and really, that was okay, because he was lost in thought anyway. He was thinking about all the years and all the stories he’d covered, and that he’d had a rather undistinguished career. Twenty-eight years at The Pagan Press had been his longest stay anywhere, but he’d worked for 12 years at a collection of smaller papers before arriving there.
He thought he’d probably seen it all in that time: time portals, exorcisms, shape-shifting, stone circles, burning Bushes. And danger, oh yes, there had been plenty of that, too, and he congratulated himself on surviving so many close scrapes. And now, here he was, nearly at the end. Just two more weeks, he thought, nothing could happen in that short length of time.
Crow thought about warm summer days, sitting by a lake with the grandcrowlings that would surely be coming along soon, the buzzing of bees and the smell of flowers thick in the air. Yes, the buzzing of bees, getting louder …
Starting from his daydream, Crow realized that it was his cell phone that was buzzing. Thinking it was probably Mrs. Crow calling to tell him to bring home a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, he reached behind a feather, pulled out the phone and answered. It was his boss, Charles Payne.
“Crow, I just got this resignation letter, and I’m not going to try and talk you out of a decision that I’m sure you’ve given lots of thought. But two weeks is two weeks, and I have an assignment for you. We’ll call it your last assignment, and if you finish it before two weeks is up, then we’ll just call it even.”
Crow, wishing now that he’d just quit without the giving the courtesy of two weeks’ notice, answered, “Okay Charley, what’s the assignment? And please, not a lot of travel this time, I just want to go out kind of slow and easy, you know?”
Charley Payne answered, “Easy assignment, but an important one. Right here in town they’ve opened a new factory that manufactures incense, tinctures, soaps and potions, all made with Dragon’s Blood. Now their press release states that their first shipment is planned for Samhuinn Eve, and I want a profile on this company, and something about Dragon’s Blood, you know, what it is and how it’s collected. We’ll want photos and maybe a sidebar or two, all the bells and whistles. Here’s the address: 672 Monarch Way. Oh, and Crow, best wishes on your retirement, and give my regards to the missus. ”
Crow turned off his cell phone. As last assignments went, a feature on Dragon’s Blood wasn’t what he would have chosen, but at least one wish had been fulfilled: It was close to home and it sounded safe. He checked his map, made sure he had a fresh reporter’s notebook, and set out for 672 Monarch Way.
Yes, a safe final assignment, he thought to himself. So why were his nerves twanging like a banjo string? He knew from experience that some things were not as they seemed, and he felt that old sense of dread cropping up. He wondered what would happen next ...