24 August, 2020
Crowley smirked at Beezle from his place, sprawled in the chair across the desk from them. He was nervous, although he’d never admit it and didn’t dare show it. It wasn’t wise to show weakness to his editor under normal circumstances - and these weren’t normal circumstances. This particular situation had the potential to see him fired.
Still, he wasn’t sorry about what he’d done, and would do it again. It was his job as a reporter, asking questions. Even the tough ones. Even the ones that may get him sacked.
“You’ve fucked up this time, Crowley,” Beezle said, their beetle-black eyes hard. “I warned you to let the Morningstar thing drop, but you were like a dog with a bone.”
Crowley did his best not to let his calm exterior crack. “I got a tip. I investigated it. There turned out to be some meat to the story, so I dug deeper. How was I supposed to know the corruption ran all the way up to Morningstar’s wife?”
“You’ve written an article accusing the wife of the president of this paper of all manner of things! Embezzlement, bribery… actual crimes! And you published the damn thing without an airtight case!”
“I believe my sources,” Crowley said simply, propping one ankle on his knee and reclining in his chair, threading his fingers over his belly in a false show of casual bravado. “I didn’t have any hard evidence, no, but I had enough eyewitness accounts to feel comfortable publishing. It was the right call, journalistically speaking.”
“It was the wrong call to publish an article of this magnitude based solely on word of mouth, and you fucking know it. It was reckless as hell and stupid to boot.” Beezle sighed, then pinched the bridge of their nose. “Morningstar ordered me to fire you.”
Crowley tried not to flinch; he’d expected this. In as mild a voice as he could muster, he said, “So that’s it then? I get booted to the fucking pavement for exposing his wife as corrupt? Is that how this works?”
“No, you arse, I’m not firing you - although I fucking should. You’re a goddamn nightmare.” They paused and took a breath. “But you’re also a damned fine reporter. So I convinced him to let you stay. God only knows why I did it.”
He relaxed. “Good. That’s good. So I’ll just get back to work then?”
“Not so fast. I didn’t have to fire you, but I did have to appease him in some way. You’re being reassigned.”
Crowley sat up straight in his chair, every muscle in his body activated and on alert. “Reassigned to where?”
“The society desk.”
He shot to his feet. “The fucking society desk?”
Beezle didn’t flinch. “Yes, the fucking society desk. And you’re damned lucky to get the post.”
“Lucky, my arse! You can’t do this, Bee!”
“Would you rather be out on your arse?” Beezle snapped.
“Maybe I would!” Crowley fired back. “Maybe I should walk right out, take my balls and my talents and go home. I’m an award-winning journalist, for fuck’s sake. Someone will hire me. Anyone would. I could get a job anywhere. I don’t need you,” he snarled. The more he thought about this idea, the more he liked it. He could work anywhere. He didn’t need Beezle - or any of them.
Beezle leveled a look at him. “Do you really believe that? Do you really think that any paper is going to take a reporter they see as a loose cannon? A ‘seasoned’ reporter who published an expose without a shred of hard evidence? Or one who implicated his last boss’ family in a scandal? You’ll be laughed out of every office.”
Crowley paused for a moment, then swore to himself. That was true. Unpleasant to think of, but true. No one would hire him if they saw him as a liability. And his reputation for writing biting exposes, revealing the dark, hidden underbelly of British politics was well-known. He’d never been discriminating when he set out on a story, not caring who he took down as long as he printed the truth. It had served him well, but now it was biting him in the arse.
He’d never admit it out loud, but publishing the Morningstar story without evidence in his hand really had been a massive fuckup. Beezle was right, as much as it pained him to even think those words. Beezle was right. Fuck.
“Sit down, Crowley,” Bee said in a somewhat kinder tone - which still had the edge of blunt rudeness to it. Crowley sat. “I’m assigning you to the society desk - for now. This isn’t permanent, it’s only until the heat on you cools down a bit. You do a good job in society and you can work your way back up. I swear it.”
The words sounded hollow in his ears. Writing for the society desk meant dealing with lords and ladies and rich arseholes who only cared about themselves. He had to deal with them occasionally, writing for politics, but this would mean that those were the only people he’d deal with. It would be torture, the purest form of hell. He groaned and let his head drop forward into his hands.
“Buck up,” Beezle said unhelpfully. “I’m giving you the assignment all the other reporters on the desk are clamoring for.”
“What’s that? Reporting on fucking hats at the horce races?”
“No, wisearse, the wedding of Anathema Device and Newton Pulsifer.”
“I don’t even know who the fuck they are!”
“Miss Device is an American heiress who has made Tadfield her home. She’s the daughter of Roger Device, the founder and CEO of PropheCorp. Newton Pulsifer seems to be just an average bloke.”
“Then why the hell is she marrying him?”
“That’s what you’re going to find out. The wedding is in four weeks. I want you to follow the couple for the remainder of their wedding planning, observing and interviewing them. You’ll do a profile on them, individually and as a couple. And you’ll cover the wedding itself.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic,” he muttered in a dead voice.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Quit your whining. You fucked up, and now you have to pay the price. This fall from grace isn’t the end of the world, Crowley, it’s just what you have to do to get yourself reinstated.”
Inside, Crowley was raging, howling at the injustice of what had happened to him. He was being punished for doing his job and wanted to scream, to shout, to beat the shit out of anything and everything until he felt better. But he was too stunned at the moment, and deep down he knew it would do no good. He blinked back the prickling in his eyes viciously, refusing to show Beezle that kind of weakness, and resolved to be professional. He could overcome this and reclaim his place as the top political reporter for the Hellfire Times. He could.
With newfound resolve, Crowley squared his shoulders. “Tell me where to start.”
“You’re not going to believe this shit, Freddie,” he called out to his pet python, who was curled on the coffee table. “Remember the piece I was working on? The Morningstar thing? Well, I got fucking demoted over it. And get this - it’s to the society desk. The fucking society desk!” he shouted, flinging his arms into the air like one of those inflatable tube men.
Freddie acknowledged him by raising his head and flicking out his tongue placidly, but Crowley was on a tear.
“If I tried, if I really sat down and fucking tried, I don’t think I could come up with anything they could have done that would have been more insulting than the fucking society desk! Can you believe this horseshit?”
The great black snake gave him an unperturbed look, then lowered his head back down to his coil.
“Goddammit, you lazy viper, you’re supposed to be on my side! How’s about a little outrage, eh?”
Freddie snoozed on, and Crowley swore foully, stomping over to grab the water mister and aiming it at his plants like a gun.
“What do you lot have to say about all this? It’s utter bullshit, yeah?”
The plants didn’t respond either, they just glistened under the mist of water he was spraying on them. Crowley fumed silently while the greenery said nothing.
“Leafy bastards,” he snarled. “I should just let you all rot. What good are you anyway, eh?”
Still, the plants said nothing.
Crowley grumbled to himself, still furious, but with no outlet to vent to. For the first time in the year since they’d broken up, he missed Dagon. What he needed right now was someone to blow up at, to release his frustration to, but there was no one. Sure, he could ring one of his friends, but they were nearly all reporters, too. They were all competitive with each other, despite being friends, and he knew that while they’d offer him the pity he was seeking, there would be at least a small part of them that would be glad to not have to compete with Crowley for a while. He didn’t think he could take that. He could go to a pub and pick someone up, that was easy enough to do and he hadn’t shagged anyone in a long while, but he wasn’t in the mood for a shag right now, and certainly didn’t want any fucking strings attached to anything in his current mental state. Besides that, what good was venting your frustrations at a stranger? That was what he really needed - a sympathetic, listening ear. Someone who gave a damn about him and wanted him to be happy.
But what he had was a flat full of plants and a lazy, freeloading snake - neither of whom talked back.
“Fuck this,” he muttered, tossing the mister in the general direction of its place on the shelf. “I know what I need.”
Then he stalked into his bedroom to change out of his clothes into pyjama trousers with jerky, angry movements, stopped by the kitchen to pick up some snacks and a bottle of lager, then plopped himself onto the couch and pulled up the Golden Girls.