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Early Deadline

Changing careers is never easy. Especially when you start getting a little older, more set in your ways.

But in the Gutter, we have ways to make that transition a little easier...

Early Deadline by Martin Penn-Woods

Sweeney Riegel is now the former Editor-in-Chief of The Outlook.

He’s also a former Person Who Is Alive.

That’s him, slumped in front of me, with what little’s left inside his skull after I blew his brains out slowly leaking onto the conference room table. It’s a really nice table. Walnut and bubinga, I think.

The Outlook is an “alternative weekly” paper. You know: Legalize weed, fuck the police, sex ads in the back.

I worked here almost five years. Technically, I think I still work here, since Riegel hadn’t actually gotten around to saying “You’re fired” yet. He was jabbering about how it “wasn’t a good fit” and “we’re going in a different direction” and other such nonsense. I lost patience with his lack of candor and brevity, pulled out my Ruger SR22—suppressor-equipped, naturally—and thwap, end of conversation.

I put a bullet into Julia from HR, too. That’s her on the floor, next to the cardboard box she was gonna give me. Felt bad about that one. Julia was always nice to me. But I couldn’t have her hollering and carrying on after I plugged the stupid prick, could I?

I had a feeling it might end up this way a few months back, when they brought Riegel in. 

Riegel replaced Bill Briggs, the editor who hired me. Briggs was the best. He stormed out after they told him they were cutting his salary in half. Briggs was all about the real napalm shit the dailies didn’t know how to touch: The mayor’s fucking a horse, somebody’s paying the bums to fight each other to the death, why do the cops keep tasing little Johnny, shit like that.

Riegel? The exact goddamn opposite. I remember my first sit-down with that mealy mouthed, milquetoast bastard, when he told me the paper was “a downer” and had “too many F-words”—he wouldn’t even say “fuck,” that fuck. 

I shoulda walked. But I liked my job. And I was pretty good at it. No Pulitzers, mind you, but a fairly nice collection of somewhat less prestigious awards to hang on the walls and impress the houseguests.

Also, I’d been working six months on this story Briggs put me on, a real-deal inside look at one of the city’s biggest crime syndicates. I wanted to see it through. Then Riegel comes to me one day and tells me to ditch it because he’s assigning me a feature on these two middle-aged ladies who live next door to him that just opened one of those paint-your-own-pottery places.
Instead of gouging his eyes out with my car keys, I simply said, “No.” He backed down. I kept working on my story.

But it didn’t go well. The reporting was great, but … you ever do any writing? Writing’s hard. Writing’s painful. You try to pluck these brilliant bits from your brain and stick ’em on the page, but sometimes what ends up there is just drab and disappointing. And in this case, there was the miserable pressure of trying to impress that asshole. It wasn’t my best work ever. I turned it in, Riegel ripped it to shreds, then he killed it.

And here we are today, where I’ve returned the favor.

I suppose at this point I should admit to a slight lapse in journalistic ethics.

See, when I was spending all that time with those gangsters, they got to really like me, really embraced me as one of their own. They had no problem telling me everything, taking me around and showing me some things, just as long as I didn’t use their real names for my story. I learned a lot about them, and about myself, too, including the fact that I love guns and I really don’t mind killing people.

They were blown away by my new skill set, even saying that if I ever considered a career shift, they might have a position for me in their organization. They have global aspirations and are establishing bureaus all around the world where they can send me. Thailand, for example.

So I’ve already been devising an exit strategy from The Outlook. Right now, however, I need a particularly expeditious version. Shouldn’t be too hard. Word gets around someone’s getting canned and everyone burrows into their offices and cubicles like woodchucks, hoping to avoid any awkward goodbyes in the hallway. I’ll just grab my cardboard box and head out the door, and be in the wind before the screaming starts.

This is a big change for me, but I’m excited about it.

Besides, you know how it is. Journalism … it’s a dying industry.

Martin Penn-Woods is a United States-based crime fiction writer. A well-traveled bloke, he has worked as a journalist, a library assistant and a sandwich-maker, and has learned much about the human condition through those professional endeavors. After a decade-long break since his first literary efforts, none of which you’ve ever heard of, Penn-Woods is at it again.