"I owe you, man!" Kyle said, holding the building door open for Jimmy.
"For the millionth time, K-K-K...Kuh-Ky..." Jimmy paused and took a short breath. "Kyle. You d-don't owe me anything. I'm happy to help."
Kyle followed him inside and to the elevator. Jimmy's crutches clicked against the linoleum, and he leaned his shoulder against the call elevator button. It hadn't been that long since they'd made their way through the dorm hallways like this together, Kyle following Jimmy's instructions on where to put flyers calling for applications to the newspaper staff or advertising shows for the improv comedy team.
"You didn't just 'help me,' Jimmy, you got me a job."
"I got you an interview. You got yourself the p-p-p...puh-puh...position."
They rode up to the third floor where the Rocky Mountain Reporter operated. It wasn't the Post, but for a startup newspaper, it had decent circulation. Jimmy had interned there as a junior and moved into freelancing as a senior, hired full-time as soon as he graduated. Kyle, with a double major in pre-law (per his parents' expectations) and English (because weeks' worth of internet research suggested it was the most versatile degree for job-getting), graduated with highest honors and no plan of his own for life in the post-grad. After a stretch of thanks-but-no-thanks replies, if any reply at all, to his cover letters and resumes, Kyle reached out to his friends for help before his mother strong-armed him into going straight into law school. Jimmy came through immediately.
"I sh-should warn you...the guys I work with are a bit pec-c-c...pec-pecu-pec...peculiar."
"Peculiar?" Kyle asked as the elevator doors opened. There was no lobby, no doors separating the office from the elevator; Kyle followed Jimmy directly into an open office of desks and half-constructed cubicles. The floor looked a bit like a rat maze, with a row of cubicle walls here and a corner there, separating employees very little. It was quiet, though the office would have opened an hour earlier.
As soon as the elevator doors shut behind them, a guy with frizzy brown hair and a red hoodie appeared by Jimmy. "Hey! This the new guy?" He reached out one hand to shake and clapped the other on Kyle's shoulder. "Nice to meet you! I'm Clyde Donovan."
"Nice to meet you, too. Kyle Broflovski."
"Has Jimmy warned you about us already?" Clyde asked, a twinkle in his eye. Kyle couldn't help returning a smile at his impish grin.
"He was just about to, I think. Said the guys he works with are a bit peculiar."
"'Peculiar,' huh?" Clyde laughed. They both looked over at Jimmy.
"Wow," he said after a pause. "What a terrific audience."
"He's not wrong," Clyde said. "He just wasn't talking about me, that's all. There are definitely some oddballs in here. Can I tag along for the tour?"
Jimmy and Clyde steered Kyle around the office, first introducing him to the older members of the staff: Mr. Mackey, the copyeditor, whose relaxed speech lulled Kyle into a bit of a stupor when introducing himself; Mr. Adler, who ran the sports section; and Mr. Principal, who covered the op-ed section and insisted Kyle call him "P.C." because they were Rocky Mountain Reporter bros now, and whom Clyde later muttered only made staff because he was the editor's relative.
On the other side of the office, rounding a semi-formed barrier of cubicle walls, were the young people. Six desks were pushed together into a rectangle, five of them with desktops brimming with personality. One was clearly Jimmy's, organized, but with all of his office supplies in neon colors, a trademark of his "you're supposed to laugh out loud" policy. A plaque for serving as editor-in-chief of the newspaper and a small trophy in recognition for his comedy routines from the end-of-year student awards sat on his desk, and Kyle felt a surge of affection for his friend at their prominence. Beside Jimmy's was another desk in meticulous order, with high-end pens, an iPad, and a leather-bound portfolio on top of it, and a framed picture of a beautiful girl with dark ringlets was angled affectionately beside a blue stuffed teddy bear. Beside that was Clyde's desk, already clear to Kyle after fifteen minutes of knowing him. A PC laptop sat open with an internet browser on a social media site, while a handful of serious-looking papers were shuffled haphazardly beside it, littered with Post-It notes and uncapped pens; a miniature basketball hoop and ball sat on the desk, along with some Broncos paraphernalia.
Clyde stood behind his chair, putting his hands on the headrest and leaning forward. "This is the got-our-shit-together side," he said, lifting one hand and pointing to the three desks with a flick of his wrist. "Jimmy, Token, and me. We would've put you with us, but it was uneven, and we don't know you. Maybe you're a loose cannon." Kyle snorted. "So you're on the flip side."
The three desks pushed against theirs looked far less like standard office space. Across from Clyde was a desk presumably owned by someone who put the "space" in "space cadet." The computer, unplugged, had been moved worryingly close to the edge of the desk to make room for not one but two spinning models of the solar system and stacks upon stacks of photographs, mostly wide-angle shots of what looked like a guinea pig in various tiny hats. Beside that one was a desk barricaded by three large monitors and littered with half a dozen empty coffee cups, a dreamcatcher, and stress balls in the shape of a cat, a truck, and, surprise, a coffee cup. The last desk, across from Jimmy's, was bare and ready to be moved into.
"We put you with Jimmy since you're pals, but we can't split up Spaceman Spiff and the Milkman Conspiracy Theorist. Sorry." Clyde didn't sound a bit apologetic.
"I'm sorry, who?"
"Hi!" A friendly voice turned Kyle's attention to a tall man striding towards them and waving, Clark Kent glasses poised on the bridge of his nose. "You must be Kyle Broflovski. Nice to meet you, I'm Token Black."
"Yeah, I, uh, I am, yeah!" This guy was terrifyingly put-together, from his eggplant cable-knit sweater over a crisp white dress shirt to his perfect posture. He was probably on the fast-track to top of the masthead. Kyle relaxed when Token chuckled, his brown eyes crinkling in the corners as if he and Kyle were old friends sharing a private joke. "You pronounced it right! Nobody ever does."
"I confirmed with Jimmy ahead of time. That's kind of my job."
"Token's our f-f-f-faaaa....faaa....fact-check-k-ker. He also writes for the business section."
"I write for sports," Clyde said, as if it weren't obvious from his desk and work-inappropriate team hoodie. Granted, Kyle was looking at him standing next to Token, who was dressed for an interview with the governor, so maybe the office was more casual than he was thinking. It was hard to tell from the older staff members, who were all dressed like schoolteachers. "I also fill in a couple of business articles. Would'ja believe that was my major?"
"I...have no reason not to believe that," Kyle said, hoping he sounded more diplomatic than surprised. Business was another major with a wide breadth, he supposed.
"What are you doing again?" Clyde asked. Beside him, Token tsked, but Clyde didn't seem to notice.
"I'm an office assistant primarily, writing filler articles where necessary." The job description sounded even less impressive out loud, but when he thought of the alternative of attending law school, it wasn't hard for Kyle to be upbeat talking about it. "I know how to copy-edit and proofread, so I think I'll be working with Mr. Mackey some, too."
"M'kay," Clyde and Token chorused, matching Mackey's mellow pitch perfectly. Kyle clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle his snort of laughter.
"I figured I'd introduce you to the staff bef-f-fore taking you to Vict-t-toria," Jimmy said, "but it seems like our design team isn't here."
"Coffee run," Token said.
"This person seems to like coffee," Kyle said lightly, glancing over at the desks again. Now that he was looking more closely, it seemed as if coffee lids were spilling over from the middle desk onto his.
"We have a Keurig," Clyde said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of what appeared to be the break room. "But Tweek's kind of a...uh...he's particular about his coffee."
A freak about it. Kyle had been able to hear the words as clearly as if Clyde had said them aloud. Before Kyle could ask what he meant about 'particular,' Token picked up the lull in the conversation. "Tweek's our designer. He does the layouts and typesets final copy"
"By himself?" There had been three people working on the college paper's layout and design, if Kyle remembered correctly.
"Look at the coffee, man, he doesn't sleep," Clyde said. Token pursed his lips.
"Craig does all the photo-editing, and Tweek's got a couple of standard layouts saved, so it's not like he starts from scratch every week. We mostly work with freelancers or at-home writers, too, so a lot of our content comes through Mackey or myself. And maybe now you. It's best if Tweek doesn't have to juggle too many balls." Token cut off whatever Clyde was about to say with a sharp look. "Tweek is a nice guy. Very sweet. A bit...nervous."
"He's a wreck," Clyde corrected. Token crossed his arms. "Don't get me wrong, we all love the guy. He's just a few French fries short of a Happy Meal, you know what I'm saying?"
Kyle leaned over to Jimmy and whispered, "What's wrong with this guy?"
"Nothing. He's a little jittery from the coffee and doesn't like deadlines."
"Ah, well, a weekly newspaper sounds like a perfect environment for him, then."
"Craig's the other half of our design team," Token added, pointing to the desk covered in photos. "He does a lot of our photography as well."
"Not the photography we ask for, mind you." Clyde rounded the cluster of desks and started rooting through the stacks of pictures until he turned up a photo and what looked like a scratched-up plaque. "Look familiar?" He held up the photograph: an old man sitting on a bench in a cozy, probably homemade sweater, looking out at a river. In the background, a bridge and the city skyline appeared far away through the fog. Kyle recognized it instantly.
"This was in an exhibit of local young artists to watch. A touring exhibit all over Colorado! It was on the news!"
"Yep. Craig got to meet the mayor and have his picture taken and shit. Didn't get any pictures of the crew race we were covering, just shots of this old guy." Clyde rolled his eyes. "He only takes pictures of things he likes. Super helpful, am I right?"
"But it won an award," Kyle protested. "It's a great picture."
"But we needed pictures of the boats to go with our half-page story," Clyde said, raising his eyebrows. "You need pictures to justify reading half a page of text."
"Kyle," Token said kindly, "I'm sure that you have skills and talent that will bring a lot to our office. Please don't think we just give jobs out to anybody who walks in."
The elevator dinged, and a few seconds later, a stack of coffee trays came walking around the corner. Startled, Kyle could only point, but when the other three followed his finger, there was no reaction. The stack of coffee trays, four cups in a cardboard holder balanced on top of another four cups in a cardboard holder, stopped in front of the desk littered with empty cups, hesitated, then sidestepped towards Kyle's new desk and lowered slowly. When both trays were safely down, the person who carried them straightened. His blond hair was a wild mess, like he rolled out of bed and didn't bother trying to brush it (Kyle understood the feeling, but his mess of curls were pretty contained compared to this guy's rat's nest), and dark circles curved under his eyes, inverted crescent moons. His hands shook when he retracted them from the trays.
"Hey, Tweek. This is the new g-g-guy, Kuh-Kyle," Jimmy said, readjusting his grip on his crutches.
Tweek squawked in alarm, as if just realizing his coworkers were standing there. He reached up and pulled at a strand of hair below his ear. "Oh! Ah, um, hello. Jimmy told us you were coming, ah, but I forgot. I didn't get you coffee." His eyes widened. "I can go back! Ngh...!"
"No, no, that's fine!" Kyle said, holding his hands up in front of himself. "I'm. More of a tea drinker, actually." This didn't seem to calm Tweek down.
"This is Tweek," Token said gently, tilting his head in Tweek's direction.
"Gah! Oh, um, sorry. I should introduce myself." Tweek nodded to Kyle twice. "I'm Tweek Tweak. I do layouts."
"Kyle Broflovski," Kyle said, holding his hand out over the desks. Tweek shivered and didn't shake it. After a second, Kyle retracted his arm. "Uh, nice to meet you."
"Dude, where's Craig? Didn't he go with you?" Clyde asked.
Tweek squeaked and pointed straight ahead, a tremor running through him. Kyle followed the gesture with his eyes, turning to see that a fifth person was standing in his group now, and he cried out, jumping back and nearly knocking Jimmy over. Clyde and Token seemed just as startled.
"Stop. Doing. That," Clyde said, his voice an octave higher. The new member of their group shrugged. He had a blue hat with earflaps pulled down over his head, tufts of black hair sticking out beneath the brim, and a high-end camera hanging around his neck.
"This is Craig," Token said, sounding slightly more patronizing than he had with Tweek. Craig didn't take the lead and elaborate. "Tucker," Token continued. Craig blinked slowly.
"Can I take your picture?" he asked Kyle. Tweek sputtered behind him.
"Not like your face. Just your hair." Craig rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "It's like a poodle drenched in the blood of its enemies."
Kyle's face flooded, and he pulled his hat out of his coat pocket and jammed it over his head. Beside him, Clyde rubbed his temples.
"That's a good thing," Craig added. The guy had absolutely no inflection, every word delivered in the same nasally monotone. Kyle wasn't sure he liked him.
"Well, that's our c-c-c-cuh...cuh-c-cuh..." Jimmy sighed. "Crew. I'll bring you in to see Vict-tuh-toria."
In the very back of the open floor was one fully-formed cubicle where the editor, Victoria Principal, sat. Clearly she'd heard them coming and was standing to shake Kyle's hand when he and Jimmy rounded the corner. It had been a few weeks since Kyle met her at the nearby coffee shop for their interview, but she was much the same as he remembered, pleasant and collected in an oversized pink sweater. She invited Kyle to pull up a chair, and Jimmy headed back to his desk.
"Ooh, it's good to see you again, Kyle," Victoria said. She and Kyle went through the paperwork for new employees and she gave him the office handbook, a stapled collection of papers with standard guidelines, deadlines, and a style sheet. "If you have any questions, you can always come to me, or anyone else in the office," she assured him. He thanked her. "And, if you're up for it, I have your first assignment for you."
Kyle perked up at that. "Really?" He figured it would be a few weeks of going for coffee and answering phones before he proved himself worthy of an assignment, but Victoria nodded and pulled out a paper from a hanging folder on one of her cubicle walls.
"Ooh, yes. It's nothing fancy, since you're still new here. We do some small articles on local news, you know, filler pieces about three hundred words." She gestured to the handbook he held and turned over the sheet in her hand. "Lately we've been hearing a few stories about a vigilante fighting crime around Denver."
"Really? I hadn't heard anything about that!" A vigilante for his first assignment! This job was going to be even better than Kyle expected.
"It's only a handful of cases," Victoria admitted. "Most big news sources aren't taking it seriously because...well..." Kyle leaned forward, curiosity piqued. "This fellow is playing the part of superhero. He has a costume and a mask."
Kyle's shoulders slumped. His first assignment was on some wannabe superhero that no serious newspaper would cover? Great. Just terrific.
Victoria must have caught his disappointment because she added, "But he's saved a few people! He stopped some muggers and prevented a robbery at a family-run convenience store, and he delivered the criminals right to the police. Even if he is a bit odd, the people who've seen him say he's a hero."
Glancing down at the assignment sheet, Kyle could see that was about all the information they had to go off of. The only thing Victoria hadn't mentioned was the description of this guy's costume: a purple cape, a green 'M' on his chest.
"See if you can find out what he's calling himself, maybe get an interview," Victoria said with a bright smile. "It'll be a nice, easy introduction to the kind of reporting we do here at Rocky Mountain Reporter."
Great. Just terrific.