It Happened On HalloweenbyJoesephus©
It Happened One Halloween --- A Romance Between Halloweens
I would like to thank CopyCarver, and SweetErika for their help in getting this story readable. The mistakes that remain are mine.
Crammed into my tiny cubical at the San Antonio Express-News, I admired my copy of last week's paper one more time, before I returned to studying the email. With an effort of will I clamped down on my daydreams. Our email system provides the location of incoming emails and this one had set off career fantasies. The words were simple:
"I read your story on Halloween. I think you'll be interested in meeting me. You said you are a second-degree black belt. If you'll reply with a time and the name of your dojo, we could meet there." It was the hidden sender address that had gotten my full attention. Now, why would someone, probably a lawyer, in the United States Attorney's office want to meet with a reporter? Why would he make such a clumsy attempt to try to hide his identity?
He referenced my story, and while I was inordinately proud of it, it was because it was not only my first by-line but it was also on the front page! Okay, it was the front page of the lifestyle section but still it was above the fold. I didn't write the mundane headline, "Keep Your Kids Safe While They Trick Or Treat," and I would have chosen a larger and more distinctive font for the byline, "by Morgan Madison."
I'd tried to avoid most of the clichés by giving real-life examples of what had gone wrong for friends and employees of the paper. I'd started with my own worst Halloween.
When I was in fourth grade, all my friends were sated from the sack of our neighborhood and had gone home. I remained hungry for new conquests, so I went alone to a near by subdivision, South Shore Estates. The houses there sold for more than six times what the ones around me did; I was certain I'd make out like the pirate of my costume, and I had!
My shopping bag was completely full and I'd just left their gates when I was accosted by two older boys. "Looks like you got real haul" the larger of them said.
Like a fool I held it out to show my loot. "Yes, the people there are real generous."
His hand snaked out and grabbed my sack. At first I though he just wanted to see what I had, but he wouldn't give it back. When I demanded it, he hit me, hard, in the stomach and knocked me to the ground, bringing tears to my eyes.
"Nothing better than taking candy from a cry baby!" he said turning his back on me in contempt. "Come on, we've got all we need," he yelled over his shoulder as he jogged off.
Just before the others ran I yelled, "I'm going to call the police and they'll put you in jail!"
I ran all the way home, where my father got in the car and cruised the area, looking for the boys. We didn't find them, and when he got the whole story of where I'd gone alone... well, he took his board of education and applied it to my seat of knowledge. I hadn't mentioned that last part in the article, but I did say he enrolled me in Ta Kwon Do lessons where I eventually got my second-degree black-belt.
My article ended with the normal warning that you didn't have to suspect your neighbor's cookies but must take reasonable care with strangers.
On reflection, I thought perhaps my closing line --"all children should be taught what a real policeman looked like and that they should be instructed to go to them if they were ever in trouble"--might have struck a cord with my not-so-secret prosecutor.
I hoped the overall tone of my article had conveyed the impression that I was pro-law enforcement, which I had been ever since that night. I may have come from a blue-collar family and gone to a blue-blooded school, Columbia School of Journalism, but I was as red-blooded as any in the red state of Texas. My neighborhood in Corpus Christi was only a couple of miles from the big Naval Air Station, so we had a lot of sailors and Marines for neighbors. Our family always supported the troops!
I took a deep breath and tried to get my excitement under control. The United States Attorney is a political appointment and the main office for this district is here in San Antonio. I didn't think for a second that Jimmy Seton, a starter on the 1983 Championship Longhorn baseball team, would be contacting a rookie reporter like me. I knew it would be one of the junior staff members, not even a full Assistant US Attorney. Still, a solid source in that office could get me out of the lifestyle section and into hard news reporting.
I had to be very careful. The guy was trying to set up a very private meeting and probably wouldn't acknowledge that he was a Fed. What I couldn't know was if this would be a sanctioned meeting or if he was out on his own. With only the routing information I couldn't determine who in that office had sent the email. But it was pretty common for prosecutors to try to get the press on their side to influence the jury pool. If this was one of the newer prosecutors, he might be looking to build a relationship with someone who would give him some column space, something more established reporters with more senior sources might not do. I called up our morgue to search for pictures and bio data of all the lawyers in that office, and I tried to guess which one I was hoping to meet.
I gave myself a mental shake. I was building castles in the sky again, and I hadn't even seen the guy yet. It could be nothing... but my heart was still beating fast as I pressed the send button to set up the meeting. I also had my fingers crossed. I'd recognized one of the new guys. He wouldn't know me but I knew a bit more about him than his bio.
I made sure that I got to my dojo early to see if I could spot someone who looked out of place. My contact was unmistakable, not many men wear a men-in-black outfit to a dojo. I only got a glimpse of his face before he turned his back to me. A glimpse was all I needed. It was Tyler Gonzo. I'm a Texan, fourth generation, and I love the things that Texan love. I'd been dove and duck hunting from the time I could hold a shotgun. I never missed a football game in high school and missed it when I was in NYC.
I mention this by way of explaining that while I loved football as much as any Texan, my first love was basketball. I'd never met Tyler. He came from across town and went to Miller High School, the "tough" school. I went to King and was a freshman when we played Miller for the district championship. We got creamed. The reason was Tyler Gonzo. He was a senior and a one-man army. I hated what he did to us, but I'd loved watching him play. He had already signed with Sam Houston State University, but I'd been surprised that he hadn't gone with one of the bigger schools. Now, as I studied his back, I decided it was probably his height. He was tall, but not for a basketball player. I guessed 6'3" or maybe 6'4"
I walked toward him, extended my hand and said, "Hi Tyler, I'm Morgan and I'm glad to finally meet you in person, even if you did ruin my childhood."
He turned, his look of shock turning to something else as he blurted, "You're a girl!"
I stared at him with my mouth open. No, I wasn't 'offended' by his 'sexist' comment. I'm used to being mistaken for a man because of my name. My standard comeback was "Yes, I know, but there was a beautiful woman named Morgan Fairchild about the time I was born, and Morgan Freeman wasn't a star then."
The reason I was gulping like a goldfish was that Tyler had become the most beautiful man I'd seen in my entire life. My heart was fluttering and I experienced a sensation deep in my groin I'd never felt before, including the two times I'd had sex.
I was incapable of speech. All I could see were the most expressive eyes I've ever seen in my life. They were a light hazel with flecks of green and I think I could have stared into them for hours. I've never been unable to understand the word 'besotted,' but now I was so besotted I didn't realize that he was mumbling excuses until he said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come... This whole thing was crazy," and started to leave.
When I grabbed his arm I had no idea what I was going to say, I just knew I couldn't let him leave. "Don't let your chivalry get in the way; you know I'm a black belt. Can the case you're working on really be that dangerous?"
I had no idea why I'd said that, it just sort of popped into my head. I continued to babble, "Look, I believe in journalistic impartiality as an item of faith, but I come from a law and order family and I'll make sure you get a fair break in anything I publish."
Tyler looked confused, but at least he stopped trying to leave. I saw those beautiful eyes blink several times, and I knew he was reassessing his decision. I was prepared to beg, but he stopped pulling away.
The silence extended and I clamped down hard on my diarrhea of the mouth as I watched him think. Finally, nodding his head slowly, he said, "I'm working on a case that involves smuggling and selling slaves. It's pretty unsavory and I guess I was a little reticent about getting a woman involved." He had the slightest accent and I loved the deep bass that delivered it.
I broke in, "Who would be more sympathetic than a woman to the plight of those poor women?"
It was like I'd flipped a switch in him, his whole demeanor changed and I saw an ardent crusader. "A lot of people don't see prostitution as a crime and even more don't like to deal with anything that hints of immigration. This isn't a very popular issue..."
I'd heard of the pimps selling each other prostitutes called "the slave trade," but I'd always considered it wild hyperbole, certainly not worthy of making it a federal case. Still, I would have supported gun control if that's what it took to keep him talking. "I can't say I know very much about the issue. Have you cleared this contact with your boss, is this background or deep background? I swear to God that I'll protect your identity either way. I'll go to jail until I rot before I reveal a source."
He looked a little disconcerted, "Uh, I did tell my boss that I was coming to meet you, but I didn't expect to be discussing my case..."
I cut him off. "I do understand, you just wanted to meet me and feel me up... uh, I mean out..." Tyler had very fair skin and I've never seen a man blush that hard. I was shocked by my faux pas, but his embarrassment was so profound I don't think he noticed my own blush.
Then I saw his eyes widen and I was relieved that he knew I hadn't tossed in a gratuitous sexual innuendo. "Look, why don't you go back to your boss and tell him that you have the most sympathetic reporter in San Antone who is just dying to do anything she can to get your side of this issue out."
I whipped out my card and jotted my home and cell phone numbers as I said, "This is a big deal for me. Normally a reporter as junior as I doesn't get a chance like this. This could be my big break. Please, how about it, to balance breaking my heart back in Corpus..." I saw a strange expression on his face and continued, "I'm a big round ball fan. When you eliminated King my freshman year it broke my heart, so don't you owe me something?"
I expected a smile; instead I got a funny thoughtful look. With a slow nod he said, "Yeah, I owe you. I'll talk to my boss and give you a call to let you know what he says. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you with my remark about being a woman. I was just startled, and I don't want you to think I'm some sort of sexist pig. Some of my best friends are women." He finished with a weak grin.
I tried to make professional and determined eye-to-eye contact. I gave it up and pleaded, "Be sure you call me, Tyler..." I tried for my firmest voice and continued, "...or I will be calling you!"
His grin disappeared, he nodded and rushed off. I walked, on wobbly legs, into my dojo and collapsed into the first chair I saw. What had just happened to me? I've never reacted to a man like that. I'd had sex with two men and both times were such disasters that I hadn't dated for years after each one. The first was during my junior year, after prom. It was painful and quick, which is more than I can say about the hell that followed. My blood-soiled panties were taped inside his locker with the others in his "collection." He never asked me out again, but for the rest of high school I got crude and lewd comments. I was branded "an easy lay" and that drove me out of the state for college. Columbia was a great choice but I would have gone to Rice or UT if high school hadn't been such hell.
My second attempt at making love was at Columbia, again in my junior year. He was the first guy I'd dated there, and we'd dated for months. He never put any pressure on me until, out of the blue, he asked if we could make love. I was sure I was in love and I trusted him. It was worse than the first time, awful in a whole different way. We spent almost two hours getting him hard and he went soft before he came. That's when he told me he was trying to find out of if he was pure gay or bi. Guess which way he decided.
I hadn't found anyone interesting enough to date since. Not that guys were storming my gates asking for dates. I'm not God's gift to men. I'm tall, almost 5'9" and raw-boned. My face won't stop traffic but it might attract a few horses. My hair is so unruly I can't find a beautician who will take me as a regular. I guess the most flattering word to describe my figure would be fit. I do go to the gym three times a week and run four miles three days a week, generally in under thirty minutes.
All that exercise makes me hungry so I carry a few extra pounds... in all the wrong places. Boobs? I'll never forget a "JOKE" someone "let" me overhear before I graduated from Columbia. A young man had gone to a department store to buy a bra for his new wife. The saleswoman asked him what size and the man was clueless. The woman asked if his wife's breasts were about the size of melons, and the man shook his head. Cantaloupes drew the same response, as did grapefruits and oranges. Finally the woman asked "about the size of eggs?" The man's face lit up and he answered "Yes! Fried!" That one really hurt. I do have boobs, but they're too small for my frame. Okay, only one of my boobs is a fried egg. In addition to everything else, my boobs are vastly different sizes. My right is an A cup.
As I sat, I thought about how I was going to get Tyler interested. People were always telling me I had a sparkling personality; maybe I could get someone to snooker him into a blind date. I was still thinking about it the next day at work when he called me.
"Morgan? Would you be able to meet me and my boss for lunch? I don't know if you've heard of Alamo Café. It's across town but I think you'll like it. It should also be private."
"Will this be on the record or off?"
"It needs to be off, but if we can work things out, I think you'll have a series you can be proud of."
My heart was beating so fast my fingers throbbed with my pulse, making it difficult to write down the directions to the place. When I arrived, Tyler was already there, seated right next Jimmy Seton himself. I hadn't expected that. It threw a monkey wrench in my plans to flirt, to the best of my limited ability, during lunch.
After our entrées were served Mr. Seton casually said, "Morgan, I have a rather unusual proposal for you. I've looked at your impressive academic honors, and I've not only read what you've published here but what you published in the Columbia paper. You have a real talent, and I expect you to have a national audience in a few years. I want your help and I think we can help you get that national column. We have a serious leak in our office. Someone is delivering very sensitive information to one of the more brutal prison drug gangs. It's resulted in several deaths and we haven't been able to narrow it down, beyond that it must be an attorney in my office."
I felt my eyes get wide and my competitive juices kicked into high gear. "Just what are you offering, and what sort of restrictions are you going to place on me?"
Mr. Seton gave me one of those smiles politicians seem to be born with, "What I'm asking is that you pretend to date Tyler for a few months. I expect you to hear a lot of information and, subject to your journalistic standards, you're free to publish all of it. In fact, our hook is that we'll want to make certain that you do publish a few of the things you hear."
I felt a hollowness form inside, the worm was wiggling; I just had to make sure I didn't get hooked. "I won't betray a source and I certainly won't help you to set up someone for criminal charges..."
Mr. Seton's smiled grew bigger, "Of course not. Look, what we're doing is closely compartmenting information about this gang. We're also making it obvious that we're tightening security. It won't take our leaker long to figure out that he or she can use you to send information to the gang. Oh, we might protest the publication of sensitive information publicly, which will help both our careers. Based on what you publish we'll know who our guilty party is. Our only restriction is that you not reveal our deal until next Halloween or until we charge someone, whichever comes first."
Oh, that worm was wiggling and I was getting so hungry. I bit my lip to keep from blurting out Yes! "I don't suppose there's any problem with discussing this with my editor first?"
I think my heart stopped beating as I waited for Mr. Seton to answer. Just when I was about to say I didn't need to talk to her he said, "No, I don't mind. But I will ask that you limit this information to her and perhaps the publisher, no one else. I'll give her a call to alert her about how important this is. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. I thought Tyler was just trying to find an excuse to date a very beautiful young woman, but after reading your work and talking to you I think you're a perfect choice. Besides, maybe seeing you on Tyler's arm will give some other girls ideas. I keep telling Tyler that all work and no play..." He paused.
"I'm sorry Morgan, I didn't mean to embarrass you. I've known Tyler since he was an undergrad working as an intern in my office. Normally, I wouldn't agree to something like this that had a social element, but I have every confidence that Tyler won't cross the line between business and private life. You don't need to actually date, just pretend to when you're around people from my office. Will you be able to do that?"
I started to speak and my voice didn't work, I finally managed, "I think I can force myself, I'd do anything for the sake of a story." I'd tried to make it sound ironic and funny, but it came out forced and I saw Tyler wince. I was so flustered that I couldn't think of a thing to say to fix what I'd said.
Just as I was about to simply blurt out that I'd hoped Tyler would ask me out on his own, Mr. Seton stood and announced that he was leaving. "I have an important meeting to prepare for and I don't want anyone to see us together by chance until you and Tyler have established yourselves as a couple. Thank you, Miss Madison. This is important."
As soon as he'd left, I turned to Tyler to try to explain what I'd meant. Before I could say a word he said, "I want to assure you that I'll be very proper. If you meet someone after we've established ourselves as a couple, I'll let it be known that our relationship has morphed into close friendship. After that, you can bring your boyfriend with you."
"No, I don't want to do that!" I blurted. Before he could react I rushed to add, "It'll be much better if we just date, unless you have someone you're interested in seeing..."
He looked down at my almost uneaten plate, "If you really want to hear about how inept I am at getting a real date, I'll talk until you finish your meal."