I had just finished writing the daily Community Chest story, and each day I wrote that story I was sore about it; there were plenty of punks in the office who could have ground out that kind of copy. Even the copy boys could have written it and no one would have known the difference; no one ever read it – except maybe some of the drive chairmen, and I’m not even sure about them reading it.
I had protested to Barnacle Bill about my handling the Community Chest for another year. I had protested loud. I had said: “Now, you know, Barnacle, I been writing that thing for three or four years. I write it with my eyes shut. You ought to get some new blood into it. Give one of the cubs a chance; they can breathe some life into it. Me, I’m all written out on it.”
But it didn’t do a bit of good. The Barnacle had me down on the assignment book for the Community Chest, and he never changed a thing once he put it in the book.
I wish I knew the real reason for that name of his. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how it was hung on him, but I don’t think there’s any truth in them. I think he got it simply from the way he can hang on to a bar.
I had just finished writing the Community Chest story and was sitting there, killing time and hating myself, when along came Jo Ann. Jo Ann was the sob sister on the paper; she got some lousy yarns to write, and that’s a somber fact I guess it was because I am of a sympathetic nature, and took pity on her, and let her cry upon my shoulder that we got to know each other so well. By now, of course, we figure we’re in love; off and on we talk about getting married, as soon as I snag that foreign correspondent job I’ve been angling for.
“Hi, kid,” I said.
And she says, “Do you know, Mark, what the Barnacle has me down for today?”
“He’s finally ferreted out a one-armed paperhanger,” I guessed, “and he wants you to do a feature…”
“Its worse than that,” she moans. “It’s an old lady who is celebrating her one hundredth birthday.”
“Maybe,” I said, “she will give you a piece of her birthday cake.”
“I don’t see how even you can joke about a thing like this,” Jo Ann told me. “It’s positively ghastly.”
Just then the Barnacle let out a bellow for me, so I picked up the Community Chest story and went over to the city desk.
Barnacle Bill is up to his elbows in copy; the phone is ringing and he’s ignoring it, and for this early in the morning he has worked himself into more than a customary lather. “You remember old Mrs. Clayborne?”
“Sure, she’s dead. I wrote the obit on her ten days or so ago.”
“Well, I want you to go over to the house and snoop around a bit.”
“What for?” I asked. “She hasn’t come back, has she?”
“No, but there’s some funny business over there. I got a tip that someone might have hurried her a little.”
“This time,” I told him, “you’ve outdone yourself. You’ve been watching too many television thrillers.”
“I got it on good authority,” he said and turned back to his work.
So I went and got my hat and told myself it was no skin off my nose how I spent the day; I’d get paid just the same!
But I was getting a little fed up with some of the wild-goose chases to which the Barnacle was assigning not only me, but the rest of the staff as well. Sometimes they paid off; usually, they didn’t. And when they didn’t, Barnacle had the nasty habit of making it appear that the man he had sent out, not he himself, had dreamed up the chase.
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Clifford d. simak – galactic chest