“I heard you were looking for me, Chief,” Gemma said, leaning in Margaret Oliphant’s office doorway.
“Yes, come in and shut the door,” Margaret said. She was taking one of her cat portraits down from the wall behind its corresponding statuette. Gemma shut the door behind her and perched herself on the edge of Margaret’s desk, crossing one leg over the other. Margaret glanced disapprovingly at Gemma’s cheeky choice of seat, but said nothing about it. Instead, she got to the point.
“We have to retract your article about the Parade being under quarantine,” Margaret said. She lifted her grey cat painting up off the wall and walked it behind her desk to lean it up against a column, far from its usual place.
“Another retraction?” Gemma complained. She crossed her arms and grumped. “It’s a wonder I get anything to print at all.”
“I try, but we’ve got the Executive Committee and the Department of Archives going through everything we print with a fine-tooth comb. It’s… unwise to contest whatever “additional context” they wish to provide.”
Gemma sighed. “I’m not blaming you, but if everything I write gets retracted… It’s a good thing no one remembers what they read anymore or I’d have no credibility left at all.”
“Speaking of credibility,” Margaret broached as she pulled out her chair and sat down, “I’ve been meaning to ask how you even got into the Parade without a Letter of Transit.”
“Flattery will get you almost everywhere,” Gemma said. Then, shifting into a raunchy smirk, she added, “And the implied promise of a knob slob will get you everywhere else.”
Margaret wasn’t impressed.
“I don’t like the risks you’re taking, Gemma. I’ve had reporters disappear on me before, you know. You remember-” Margaret cut herself off. No, Gemma didn’t remember. “I sent Arthur to Haworth Labs once and he didn’t come back for two weeks. And when he did, he was working for the Department of Archives. Something happened to him there; I know it. He wouldn’t have just quit without giving notice. And he was only there to write a puff piece on their public tour. It’s dangerous to actually poke the beast like you do, Gemma.”
“This is exactly why I don’t tell you where I’m going until I get back,” Gemma said with a gentle laugh. “I know you’d only tell me not to.”
“What if you get caught in one of these gambits of yours? I can’t help you if I don’t know what you’re doing. I can’t know if you even need help if I don’t know when you should be back.”
Gemma dropped her cocky demeanor and her face softened.
“You couldn’t help me even if you did know what I was doing, Chief. It’d put the whole paper at risk. That’s why I don’t let you get involved until I have the story. If anything does happen, I don’t want to drag you down with me. It’s better if you can claim I’ve gone rogue.”
Gemma’s concern for the paper gave Margaret a pang of guilt at her hypocrisy, as she herself was planning an exposé issue that would likely destroy the “O” Courant in its wake. That’s why she was “redecorating” her office, to keep the bomb she was planning to drop hidden until it was prepared. Granted, most of what she intended publish had come from Gemma’s investigations with some buried ledes Margaret had gleaned from her other reporters’ offerings. She wouldn’t have this devastation to wreak if it weren’t for Gemma’s contributions. Still, Margaret was editor-in-chief and that made what she printed her responsibility. She couldn’t in good conscience ask, or even condone, the risk Gemma put herself at to get her story.
“It’s just so much of a chance to take when we almost certainly can’t publish anything you uncover,” Margaret said. “I’d hate to lose the only good reporter I have in that bullpen over something I can’t even print.”
“I’ll be fine! I’ve been at this for years, on Joy even, and I haven’t gotten caught yet, have I? They never know who I am. They never remember my byline,” Gemma tried to reassure her. “And even if we can’t print it, the truth is its own reward, isn’t it?”
The truth could be a reward for those who doggedly sought it out, Margaret knew, but she also knew firsthand that it could be a punishment and a burden. Her time across the bridge in her youth had left her able to see the madness in Wellington Wells upon her return. What everyone else saw as normal was lunacy to her, but she was powerless to object. She was too young and had a reputation for irresponsibility, so no one wanted to hear from her that things could and should be different. It was only when Joy was introduced and everyone forgot why and eventually that she’d crossed the bridge that Margaret was able to earn her influence with the town. By then, though, the truth was very much persona non grata in Wellington Wells, only welcome if disguised in euphemism and only if it could clean up well.
And Margaret was certain the truth wasn’t actually what Gemma was after. For Gemma, the reward was the thrill of the deception and the satisfaction of knowing things she wasn’t meant to know. She would have made an excellent spy in other circumstances.
“How are your memories, incidentally?” Margaret asked. “Now that you’re off your Joy and seeing the ugly truth every day?”
“Absolutely horrid,” Gemma answered, grinning, “but also… good? It’s hard to explain. It’s like coming to terms with yourself, I suppose? Acknowledging the worst and coping with it.”
Margaret nodded. “Would you be opposed to taking Blackberry instead of Sunshine?” she asked. “You’d be back on Joy, but you’d still have your wits about you.” Margaret purposely left out the downside about how one couldn’t easily get back off Blackberry if they wanted to. “I’d feel better about you walking into these lion’s dens if you didn’t have Doctors still able to sniff you out.”
“You can get me Blackberry?” Gemma’s eyes went wide. “I do like having my head clear, but I could think so much more clearly if I weren’t remembering quite so much.”
“We’ll have to see if Miss Boyle will agree to it. She’s particular about who she prescribes it to,” Margaret said, “but I’ll get her on the blower and make an appointment.”
“Brillo! Just imagine how much muck I could rake without all these distractions!” Gemma teased as she hopped off Margaret’s desk. “Let me know what she says.”
My friend asymptotally was kind enough to draw this excellent art of this chapter.