Jeremy Wright cracks his knuckles against the steering wheel of his blue Ford Tundra as he continues to sit across the street from a mansion that is clearly the centerpiece of a neighborhood, he has no business being in. If his Tundra wasn’t enough of a red flag with its rust-stained hood and squeaky brakes, Jeremy, who is still in his 30s, sticks out like a sore thumb with his grey Yankees hoodie, jeans, and disheveled hair.
With each pop of his knuckles, Jeremy squirms impatiently in the driver’s seat. It’s been an hour since he pulled up, and with the engine still on and the AC blowing full blast, a puddle of dirty water is forming under his right tire.
Jeremy is too preoccupied to notice. The sun is setting; he needs to act quickly.
“What am I doing here? I am going to get into so much trouble, but that fucker is not going to get away with this,” he says out loud as he finally notices that the sun is beginning to set. These days, Jeremy is talking more and more to himself and losing total track of time. If anyone saw him, they’d think he’d lost his mind.
At this point, perhaps he has. He rests his head on the steering wheel.
“I’m going crazy –– fucking crazy.”
With sweat dripping down his brow, Jeremy is now looking over to his left at the mansion, which has a beautifully cut lawn and a row of flowers lining a paved walkway. The grounds are also lit up like a Christmas tree; there’s no discreet way to approach the place, though Jeremy is quickly studying every entry point.
“He’s probably sitting in his office drinking a bourbon…not worrying about a damn thing,” Jeremy says. His nervousness is mixed with an undeniable anger and hatred. “What? Fuck me…not again!”
In that instant, the truck engine sputters and takes one last gasp before conking out for good. Jeremy tries to restart his Tundra, but it’s as dead as dead can be.
Jeremy pounds the steering wheel with his left hand before frantically turning the key in the ignition. Nothing is happening. Nothing is going to happen.
He gives up and looks at the mansion again. He’s come this far; it’s time to do something. With a renewed focus, Jeremy reaches into his briefcase and pulls out a Glock 9mm gun. Most individuals who have that type of a gun would appear calmer while holding it. But Jeremy is no professional. Somehow, he manages to rack the slide and chambers a round before getting out of the car to walk up to the house.
He bolts across the street, hops over the line of flowers on the walkway, and finally finds himself at the doorway to vindication.
“Geez, this place is a lot bigger than I thought,” Jeremy says while standing at the door. He knocks and places his arm behind him to hide the gun.
2 months earlier
It’s August 2019. A crowd of cameramen, many of them with ketchup and mustard stains smeared on their shirts and looking as disheveled as ever from sleeping in their cars the previous night, have swarmed the front entryway to the luxurious Webster Hotel in New York. At first, the valet attendants noticed six or seven photographers sort of loitering around –– certainly annoying but nothing to call security about. As the day wore on, however, and the rumors began to swirl that movie star and supermodel, Dinah Durant, was in town, they were doing anything and everything to make sure these vultures kept their distance.
“Guys…guys…seriously, step back a little,” one attendant says impatiently. He’s holding his arms out and screaming at the top of his lungs to get their attention.
“Where’s Dinah, Bobby? You guys always do a good job of keeping us guessing, but this time we got the jump on you. We know she’s here,” an older photographer says with a defiant laugh.
“I got nothing for ya, Teddy. Are you sure you have the right hotel?” Bobby says.
Bobby may have the look of a traditional hotel lobby attendant, but he’s worked at several high-profile hotels and resorts over the years and isn’t fazed by the rich and famous or the crazy amount of paparazzi that never fail to show. The paparazzi have always made a living by selling their photographs of athletes, entertainers, politicians, and others to media outlets, tabloids, etc. all over the world. It’s a booming and ruthless business, and not much has changed over the years. Where there’s one photographer, there are always hundreds more right next to him willing to do anything for the money shot.
Some might call what they do stalking. In fact, restraining orders against the paparazzi have increased since the photographers continue to be quite bold and insensitive in their ways of catching celebs at their events.
But Dinah Durant is different. She’s always found innovative ways to elude paparazzi over the years. Just last year, she hired a lookalike to go on vacation with her to Greece and then took to social media to tease the paparazzi for making so much of what they thought were priceless pictures. Six months ago, she had one of her bouncers beat up a sleazy photographer who somehow found his way to her hotel room.
In that one instance, it was the paparazzi who made front-page news.
With Dinah now starring in the new drama, Choices, the push to get as many photos of her as possible outside of the traditional press meetings and red carpet stuff is at an all-time high.
“You’re bullshitting us, Bobby!” another cameraman screams.
At that very moment, Dinah comes walking out of the hotel. She is as gorgeous as ever, even though this isn’t one of those days where she needs to dress up to attend an event. She has her hair comfortably pulled back into a ponytail, and she’s wearing a vintage Rolling Stones t-shirt and distressed jeans with holes in the legs. The paparazzi have gone into an immediate frenzy. This is finally their time to shine. But as soon as Dinah crosses the threshold of the hotel’s sliding glass doors, her signature pink limo pulls up on the cobblestone circle drive and blocks the view.
The limo literally came out of nowhere; the driver honked his horn to startle the paparazzi just enough so that Bobby could get to the back door and have it open and ready for Ms. Durant.
“Dinah, look over here!” yells one cameraman. Hundreds more follow in tow as she briskly walks to the limo while being escorted by her team of bodyguards. The door closes, and just like that, she’s gone.
“Better luck next time, boys,” Bobby says with a courteous smile as the smell of exhaust smoke fills the air.
“Ahh, fuck you, Bobby!” several paparazzi scream in unison.
“That’s it! Get outta here, boys. Party’s over…go have a drink or something to settle your nerves,” Bobby says as he turns to walk back inside.
As the crowd of cameramen slowly begins to dissipate, two are left behind as they try to gather all their equipment. Bobby gives them a sneer but ultimately decides to leave them alone.
“Damn it, I didn’t get shit –– maybe a shot of her red hair, but that’s it. Dale is going to kill me,” Jeremy Wright says to the other photographer standing next to him. At this point, they’re both busy packing up their stuff. “Did you get anything?”
“Yeah…a bunch of shots, actually. Here, take a look,” the cameraman says with a gloating look on his face. He confidently replays the pictures for Jeremy on his digital camera. “It’s about time, too. I really needed these.”
“But…how?!?! I was standing right next to you and didn’t get crap,” Jeremy says with a shocked look on his face.
“I saw you, dude. You were too busy staring at her legs, ass, and tits. You got starstruck. You froze,” the guy says while getting ready to walk off. “You are not very good at this, are you? And by the way, why do you have a boss? We are the paparazzi. We don’t have bosses.”
“I know. I know. I’m more of a journalist like my sister, but that shit is hard, too,” Jeremy explains.
“Ok, man. I’m headed off to lunch. It was nice meeting you,” he says while walking off.
“You feel like going to lunch together…maybe share a few pointers?” Jeremy asks.
“Nope,” the photographer says as he keeps walking. He doesn’t even turn around to look at Jeremy, who isn’t necessarily surprised.
“Fucking New Yorkers. Why did I move here again? Ok. Well…Fuck you, too,” Jeremy says under his breath.
Jeremy walks down the street to Stucky’s Diner to have lunch alone. He grabs his cell phone between bites of his tuna on rye to call his wife, Jennifer. Jeremy and Jennifer have been married for 13 years. Two years ago, they moved from Pennsylvania to New York for what Jeremy hoped would be more opportunities. It was also a chance to be closer to his little sister, Maddie, who moved to New York so she could attend NYU. When she graduated, she chose to stick around.
It was always a good move for Maddie, and even Jennifer has had a few teaching jobs that might lead to something permanent –– but not so much for Jeremy. At least he had Jennifer. The two are just as in love now as they were 13 years ago and are expecting their second child.
“Hey, babe. Did you get Dinah? Dale ought to be happy about that one!” Jennifer says excitedly before Jeremy can get a word in.
“No, babe. I didn’t get it. It was crazy; it was like she was running,” Jeremy says.
“I thought that was the big one. What now, Jeremy?” Jennifer says.
“I’m not sure, honey,” Jeremy says between bites.
“It’s Ok. I can borrow the money for the mortgage from our vacation fund. It’s almost gone, ya know? There goes Disney,” Jennifer says.
The Wrights have been promising their daughter, Olivia, a trip to Disney World even before they uprooted and moved to New York. The plan was to take her on an eight-day trip to see every park; Jeremy and Jennifer had been saving up the entire time. But now, everything seems to be in jeopardy.
“No. We are still going. I promised Olivia. We both did. I can’t live with myself if we back out now or push it off another year,” Jeremy says with a dejected tone in his voice. “I will get more pictures. Please, don’t worry.”
Jennifer loves her husband, and she knows he would never intentionally disappoint her or Olivia. But she’s not sold on his promise. Jeremy has bounced around for years trying to figure out which job he can truly excel at. At first, he was a journalist, and, technically, he still is. He wants his own column, but he can never seem to get to that next level. Last year, he began taking photography jobs on the side.
But even that is proving fruitless, and with another little one on the way, she’s starting to feel the pressure.
“I know. I know. It’s just been hard lately,” Jennifer says. “Maybe I should get my job back as a teacher? I would have to substitute until I find something full-time.”
“Hun, don’t worry about it. With the baby on the way, I don’t want you to have to worry about working,” Jeremy says. He gazes out the window and notices the same photographer he spoke to earlier walking out of the Times building across the street. He already had what looked like a wad of cash in his hand.
“I will get it done. I need to go for now, but I will see you later. I love you.”
Jeremy ends the call and places his phone on the table before grabbing a beer and taking a big gulp. He’s drinking and watching people outside the window and, at the same time, he’s thinking about Jennifer, Olivia, and their unborn child. He feels incredible remorse. He chugs down the last bit of his beer, pays in cash, and leaves the restaurant to go face the music at work.
He walks down the street to a tall building made of glass and steel. The building is home of NewsNow, a relatively small New York City newspaper company. For many in New York, NewsNow has always sat in the shadows of the New York Times, but they still produce quality work. Jeremy was excited to work there because he still felt like he was working for a small-town paper.
“Hey, Dale. Dinah was a bust. She came out of the hotel so fast and really didn’t give any of us any time. She really knows how to avoid the press when she doesn’t want it,” Jeremy says as he sits down at the desk.
“Shit, Wright. Of course she knows how to do that. She’s a celebrity, and you’re the paparazzi,” Dale Braun says angrily. Mr. Braun is the chief editor for the paper. “It’s your job to bother her, and it’s her job to avoid you. I bet all the other papers are going to have her on their front page.”
Dale is now twisting in his chair and rolling his eyes. He’s not even trying to hide his disappointment in Jeremy. Jeremy sees the disappointment and gives Dale time and silence to think of what he wants to say next.
Dale stands and begins pacing the room. He places his hands on his waist and is looking out the glass office toward the rest of his staff. There are awards hanging on almost every inch of the newsroom walls, some of which date back a good 20 or 30 years. Dale may not have the largest newspaper, but he has always been blessed with great reporters.
“Wright. I don’t think this is your field,” Dale says. “You need to be ruthless and persistent and have a knack for finding stories no one else has thought of or is willing to try. You are a great writer, but tabloid journalism is not your thing. You should be a novel writer.”
Dale continues as he walks back to his desk. He sits on the edge of the desk with his arms crossed. Meanwhile, Jeremy is thinking to himself that he is going to get canned. He has the facial expression of a beaten man.
“Look, Jeremy. I have some really good, young interns who need full-time jobs soon. I need to fill your position with someone with some drive and ambition, but…” Dale says with a pause. “But you still have time.”
“What do you mean, Dale?”
Dale goes on to explain that Jeremy still has time to prove himself until the interns are ready. Jeremy gets upset and begins explaining to Dale his years of experience and worth.
“I know I have been here for very long, Dale, but I came here with experience and always have done what you’ve asked of me,” Jeremy says. “You said it yourself –– I can write a novel. So that means I’m a good writer.”
The debate goes back and forth with experience versus youth and ambition. Dale, of course, has the final word regarding personnel.
“I’m not firing you, Jeremy. I am merely explaining the situation that we are both in. I do have a job for you. It will be a tough one, but if you get me something good before the other newspapers print, then I will consider keeping you on. Plus, you will get the payment and bonus from the job. This is a big deal. I’m a sucker for you, Jeremy. I like you. But you must make this happen. Otherwise, you will leave me with no choice.”
“I guess I don’t have much choice, do I? What is it?” Jeremy says while sitting back in the chair. He grabs his reporter’s notepad to take notes.
“The Senator, Winston Long, is up for re-election, and no one has been able to come up with any dirt about this guy. He’s like a saint, but I know there’s more beneath the surface. He’s just too good to be real,” Dale says. “He’s married and has one kid…a son. He and his wife are big supporters of the homeless movement and have been trying to clean up the streets since his inauguration. One of the issues on his political platform is prostitution and providing more shelter for homeless women. His political party is also courting Long for a future presidential run. There has got to be something about this guy that we can find and use. Everyone has a skeleton in the closet. I just get the feeling this guy has more than most. It would be a huge story and payout if you can get it.”
“Ok. I will do it. But I want the exclusive and any interviews that come with it on the writing side. You can do that for me, Dale, right?”
Dale stands and shakes Jeremy’s hand.
“Ok, just get me something good,” Dale says. “Here’s the Winston Long file.”