Paulina Cole left the office at 4:59 p.m. Her sudden departure nearly caused a panic in the newsroom of the New
York Dispatch, where she’d worked as a featured columnist and reporter for several years. Paulina was prone to late nights, though many argued whether the nights were due to a work ethic that was second to none, or simply because she was more comfortable spending her time among competitive, ambitious and bloodthirsty professionals than sitting on the couch with a glass of wine and takeout.
She had left that day after a particularly frustrating conference call with the paper’s editor in chief, Ted Allen.
Paulina had spent the better part of two years becoming the city’s most notorious scribe in no small part due to her ambivalence concerning personal attacks, heated vendettas, and a complete refusal to allow anyone to get the best of her. When her instincts faltered, she called in favors. When she got scooped, she would trump the scoop by digging deeper. And she held grudges like ordinary folks held on to family heirlooms.
Which is why, after reading a copy of that morning’s
New York Gazette, the paper Paulina used to work for and now wished buried under a paper landfill, she demanded Jason Pinter to speak with Ted. She knew the man had a two o’clock tee time, but she’d seen him golf before and cell phone interruption might even improve his thirty-seven handicap.
That day’s Gazette featured a story about the murder of a young man named Stephen Gaines. Gaines’s head had met the business end of a revolver recently, and in a twist of fate that Paulina could only have wished for on the most glorious of days, the prime suspect was none other than Gaines’s father, James Parker. James Parker also happened to be the father of Henry Parker, the
Gazette’ s rising young star reporter, whom Paulina had as much fondness for as her monthly cycle.
Paulina had cut her teeth at the Gazette, and had briefly worked side by side with Henry Parker. But after seeing what the Gazette had become-an old, tired rag, refusing to adapt to new technologies or understand that hard news was essentially dead-she’d made it her business to put the paper out of its misery.
Nobody cared to read about the government or the economy-at least not on a grand scale. They only cared about what they saw right in front of them, day in and day out.
Their mortgage payments. Their bank accounts. It was all visceral. You bought the celebrity magazine so you could make fun of the stars’ cellulite with your friends. You shook your head at the news program that exposed the foreman whose building was overrun with rats because he refused to pony up for an exterminator. You scorned the politician’s wife who stood silent at the press conference by her cheating louse of a husband. Paulina gave those with no life something to live for, something to chat about at the nail salon.
The New York Gazette was dead. It just didn’t know it yet.
So when Ted Allen suggested that Paulina write an article about vampires, she was taken aback to say the least.
“Vampires are huge,” Allen had said. “There are those books that have sold like a gajillion copies. Now there are movies, television shows, soundtrack albums. Hell, newspapers are the only medium that isn’t getting a piece of it. Teenage girls love them, and teenage boys want to get into the pants of teenage girls. And this all scares the living hell-no pun intended-out of their parents, so you write a piece on vampires I bet it’s one of our bestselling editions of the year.”
“What the hell do I know about stupid vampires?”
Paulina said, laughing at herself for even asking the question. She stopped laughing when she realized Ted was serious.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Allen had said. “Didn’t I hear about some boys and girls who go around biting people on the neck because they think they can be vampires? Go interview them. Even better, go undercover and pretend to be one of them. You know, pretend you like to bite people’s necks and see what they tell you.”
“Ted, I’m in my forties,” Paulina said. “I don’t think going undercover with teenagers will fly.”
“Are you kidding?” Ted said. “What’s that term? Milf?
The teenage boys will love you.”
That’s when Paulina left.
Rain beat down upon the streets steadily, with the precision of soft drumbeats. The drops splashed upward as they struck the pavement, and Paulina felt the water soaking her ankles as she exited into the gloom. A bottle of Finca Vieja Tempranillo was waiting at home. It was a good red wine, with a slight plum taste, and she could picture slipping into a warm bath with a glass in one hand and a romance novel in the other. The rest of the bottle sitting on the ledge just within reach, ready to be tilted until the last drops were consumed. Ordinarily she was not that kind of girl, in fact laughed at those who were, but Paulina needed a night away from it all.
Paulina opened up an umbrella and stepped into the sea of New Yorkers, entering the crowded bloodstream known as the commute home. The streets were chock-full of open umbrellas, and she tried to wedge her way into the crowd without having her eye poked out by a random spoke.
As she took her first step, Paulina heard a man’s voice yell, “Miss Cole! Miss Cole!”
She saw a man wearing a dapper suit and dark overcoat approaching. He was tall, six one or two, with hair so blond it was nearly white, peeking out from underneath a billed cap. He looked to be in good shape, late thirties or early forties, and for a brief moment Paulina felt her heart rate speed up. The car service company had really stepped up their recruiting.
“Miss Cole,” the man said, stopping in front of her.
“My name is Chester. I’m from New York Taxi and Limo.
Ted Allen called to request a ride home for you.”
“Is that so,” Paulina said, barely hiding her smile. She knew months ago that she had Ted by the balls. Things like this proved it. Keeping her happy and pumping out pieces was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the Dispatch, and the publicity she received raised the paper’s profile more than their “crackerjack” investigative team ever could. That Ted would extend an olive branch so quickly surprised her at first, but if she ran the company she’d want to make sure her star reporter got home safe, sound and dry.
“Please,” Chester said, “come with me.”
Chester opened up a much larger umbrella and held it out. Paulina smiled at him, a big, bright, toothy smile, and stepped under the umbrella. He led her to a Lincoln Town
Car which sat double-parked at the curb. Holding the umbrella to shield her from the rain, the driver opened the door. Paulina thanked him, picked up the hem of her skirt and climbed into the backseat of the car. The driver shut the door, and Paulina watched as he walked around to the front.
Two sealed bottles of water were set in a pair of cup holders, and crisp new editions of that morning’s newspapers were folded in the pocket in front of her. The rain pattered against the windows as Paulina unscrewed one of the bottles and took a long, deep sip.
The driver flicked on his blinker and pulled into traffic.
He headed uptown. The only sound Paulina could hear was the rubber squeaking of the windshield wipers. The only smell that of the car’s leather.
“Good day, miss?” the driver asked.
“Better than some, worse than others,” she replied.
Traffic was bumper to bumper, and the car inched along.
Paulina began to grow restless. As much as she hated taking the subway, she probably would have been home by now.
“You think there might be a faster route?” she asked, leaning forward slightly when the car stopped at a red light. The driver turned around, grinned.