The Last Newspaper in the World

 

3 September 2014

 

11 OFF TO THE RACES

 

There are times when I feel like I’m falling through the floor.  I heard that on one of the soaps Harry was secretly watching one night.  Secretly, because he pretended to criticise them but he really was hooked, the poor old guy.  Harry wasn’t that fussy what he watched but I recall one of the characters say ‘I was so embarrassed, felt like falling through the floor’.  Don’t even remember the programme really.  I just remembered the phrase when I was sitting at my desk in the newsroom at The Last Newspaper in the World.  One moment I was looking over into the office where the sun was lightly falling on the back of Harry’s head.  His balding head was down as he leafed through some papers.  It looked casual but I knew he was scanning the papers with the thoroughness of a laser.  Probably more efficiently, as he would not only be able to recite the contents but also spit out an analysis of what he had read.  As I sat watching him, bathed in sunlight, I started to fall into the floor, swallowed up by my own thoughts.  Then a shadow blocked out the light.

 

Looking up I could see it was the racing reporter, Christine Dobson.  She was out of her track gear and into a still casual but dressier outfit. 

‘Hi, ah, are you going somewhere?’ I asked.

She smiled, which must have been a bit hard because she had a cold sore on her bottom lip no doubt picked up while attending early morning horse training gallops at the local track. 

 

‘We are going somewhere,’ Christine said. 

 

I gently shook my head and looked at her.  Behind the lips her face was tanned the way of outdoors people.  Hers was not as hard as some, however.  She too shook her head, her ponytail falling forward. 

 

‘Yes, Bill, you’re coming with me to the races in Rotorua.’

 

‘What, why does it take two of us to do that?’

 

‘It’s not my idea I can tell you.  Harry seems to think you should take some pics for me.’

 

She blinked and smiled.  ‘I don’t know why.  I usually take the pics.  You’ll have to ask him,’ Christine said, flicking her head back towards Harry’s office.

I shrugged.  ‘When are we going?’

 

‘Now,’ she said and when I looked surprised, she added, ‘It’s already getting late.’

I looked over at Harry’s office.  His head was still down, wading through the paper in front of him, but he looked up briefly and glanced over at me.  As I almost got up to go and see him, his head went down sharply.  I wanted to ask him why he was sending me to another town, where his newspaper didn’t go, to take pictures of horses.  Shouldn’t I have been trying to dig around and find more on the Mayor Brand murder?  After all, this seemed a good time to try to have another look at the murder.

 

‘Harry said I had to tell you to get a really good pic of one of Pat O’Rourke’s horses.  It’s running in the third.’

 

‘In those exact words?’

 

‘Not exactly; he does get worked up doesn’t he,’ Christine said, but not too seriously.

 

I closed my eyes and tried to think what, if any, connection there might be between horse racing and Mayor Brand’s murder.

 

‘Everything alright?’ It was Harry.  I looked around and saw Christine grabbing her gear off the desk.

 

‘Sure, why not.  I’m going to Rotorua to take a pic of your old mate’s horse, right?’

Harry nodded.

 

‘And…?’ I asked.

 

‘And I thought it’d be good for you to get out of town for the day.  Chat to some racing people.’

 

‘And Pat?’

 

‘Yeah, and Pat.’

 

Pat had told me something about a land deal and the local racing club at the time of the murder but this never went anywhere.

 

‘So you think he knows more than he told me?’

 

‘Could be,’ Harry said, and shrugged.  That was scary.  I think I had done the same thing a few minutes ago.  ‘Either he does or somebody in that circle does.  Here.’  He handed me a small roll of notes.  ‘Have a few bets but make sure you shout Pat a few whiskeys.’

 

‘Pretty crude isn’t it?’

 

Again, the shrug.

 

‘Are we ready?’ asked Christine as she joined us.

 

‘Yes, but take him around home first so he can put some decent clothes on,’ Harry said, and when I closed my eyes and shook my head again, he added: ‘Just grab a jacket and a tie.  Looking like a surfer dude might be okay around here but you are representing the newspaper.’

 

We drove around to the place where Harry and I lived.  He was probably right when he said it’d do me good to get out of town for the day.  Christine told me to be quick as we were going to miss the first race at least.  I left Christine in the lounge surrounded by our debris.  It looked a bit like a scene from a battle between books and magazines with newspapers having their own war zone.  I grabbed a shirt with a collar but couldn’t find a tie, so went into Harry’s room where his closet was nicely stacked with ties dating back to the 1990s and even the 1980s.  I resisted the wider, satin look and managed to find a narrow tweed tie. 

 

‘Bill, come on how’re you doing?  We have to get a move on,’ Christine called from the lounge. 

 

I hesitated for a moment, remembering it had once been filled with the clothes of my grandmother, who died not long before Harry picked me up from my parents in Auckland.  Returning to my room, I picked up a Quicksilver hoodie from where it had been residing over the back of my dresser.  Unused for a while, I knew Harry didn’t like it that much but he wasn’t going to Rotorua.

 

We got in the car.  Christine driving, and me in the passenger seat preparing for a sleep.  Some marketing guru had told Harry it would be a good idea to promote the newspaper on the car.  Instead of the usual fresh paint job and a logo, Harry had an image of one of our more colourful front pages covering the car from bonnet to boot.  The Last Newspaper in the World masthead was wrapped around the middle.  We’d gotten used to the looks and decided to put up with it as it was one of Harry’s few extravagances.

 

When we went over the bridge out of town I could see the river running quite brightly.  It was a clear, if windy day, although I could see some clouds in the distant hills where we were heading.  I closed my eyes again and fell asleep.  I awoke to Christine shaking my shoulder and my phone humming out an alert.  I fought back the temptation to answer it but neither Christine nor the phone would let up.

 

‘It’s the office,’ I said, ‘probably Harry with last minute orders.’

 

She laughed but thought it would be a good idea for me to answer it.  I wasn’t so sure.

 

We were nearly in the hills now.  I returned Harry’s call but as it started to go through I pressed end call.

 

‘What’s that?  Is your connection breaking up?  It should be alright from here,’ Christine said, looking up the highway.

 

I looked away at the bush on the surrounding range starting to wrap around us. 

‘I don’t know.  It’s not a good signal.’

 

‘Still, must be nice for you to get out of the office for a day.  I don’t know how you can stand it, being inside all day.  That’s why I love my job.  Okay there are those early starts when I have to go to the track or cover a kids’ sports event.’

 

She looked enthralled and I was suddenly aware of how Harry was providing the kind of life Christine might have struggled to find elsewhere at home.  It was probably true for some of the others at least.  Christine’s interest and excitement in her work contrasted with my own lack of joy.  Maybe, because I was the owner and editor’s grandson, I was less than excited about the whole business.  I was fully involved in reporting the unfortunate death of Mayor Brand; almost too involved some might have suggested.  Looking over at Christine driving us around one of the lakes towards a day’s work at a rainy racetrack, I envied her, her obvious glee at the day ahead and thought ‘I must try harder’.

 

‘What are you looking at?’ she said as she flicked on the windscreen wipers, before braking as we came into a corner around one of the lakes.

BOOK DETAILS

 

 

The Last Newspaper in the World

By Mick Stone

 

 

Published by BMS Books

An imprint of Business Media Services Ltd

 

 

Publication Details:

The Last Newspaper in the World

Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-473-23249-8

ISBN-13:978-0-473-232250-4

 

 

Published in Kindle by:

BMS Books an imprint of

Business Media Services Ltd

www.bms.co.nz

 

 

For further information on rights, contact:

ms@bms.co.nz

5 High Street

Rotorua 3010

New Zealand

Tel: (07) 349 4107

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