Even though Robby Martin and I both attended Wheeling University, I never met him face to face. The first time I heard about him was when I saw his name splashed across the front page of The Intelligencer. His body had been found Sunday evening at Butcher’s Port---the riverfront park in the heart of downtown Wheeling---and the police had no leads so far.
The following Monday, nobody was talking about anything else. As I shoved my way through the sea of sweating bodies which accompanied post-class rush, I caught snatches of breathless conversation in the hallway:
“...right down the middle...”
“...like, turned inside out and…”
“.... his parents? Jesus Christ…”
I ducked into the Cardinal Connection publication office, thankful to be breathing air unsaturated with body odor. Ingrid Pierce, our assistant editor and self-proclaimed grammar expert, glanced up from her desk as I entered.
“Paulie? Is that you?”
“If you’re looking for Mike, our illustrious editor-in-chief is conveniently absent, along with everyone else. They’re all underfoot until I need help wading through a horrific quagmire of linguistic embarrassment. Look at this. This moron---Bob something---is a senior, and he uses T-H-E-R-E throughout the whole article when he clearly means T-H-E-I-R. That was apparently worth five pages and twenty minutes of my life. And this turd here---” she brandished a crumpled piece of paper--- “is about some cheerleader’s wardrobe malfunction. Who is Mike kidding? Why did he think an open call for submissions was a good idea?”
I grinned. “To engage the student body and promote community, remember?”
“Yeah, well, I’d like to engage my foot in his ass.”
“How many more do you have to get through?”
“Too many.” Ingrid angrily blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. “Anyway. We can’t talk about this anymore or I’ll kill myself. I assume you’re here for your markup?” She used her feet to push her chair over to a filing cabinet in the corner. Her brown ponytail slapped angrily across her back. “It’s better than your last story. You finally got over your love affair with semicolons.”
I went over and took my manuscript from her. It was covered in a sea of red pen.
“You said it was good!” I said indignantly.
“I said ‘better.’”
“Guess it’s back to the drawing board,” I said glumly.
Ingrid looked at me for a moment, then rubbed her eyes and sighed. “Look. Your problem is more content than grammar. A story about the dark side of Wheeling’s history is an interesting idea, but you try to cover too much lore. Why don’t you just focus on the Mothman? He’s always a crowd pleaser.”
“He’s been done to death. Besides, he’s doesn’t hang around Wheeling,” I said. “It wouldn’t really be relevant.”
“Professor Terrill’s wife says she saw him last week.”
“Professor Terrill’s wife takes a shit-load of pills.”
“Fair enough. But remember you only have a 700-word count. Try to narrow it down.”
“How about Butcher’s Port?”
“The papers have already written enough about Robby, Paulie. Let’s give his parents a break.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I meant that maybe I could do an historical take on the place. You know, dig into the seedy underbelly of a family-friendly public attraction, and discuss details that might not be known to the general public, like why it’s called ‘Butcher’s Port’ in the first place. It would be more about the location than Robby.”
Ingrid scratched her nose with her pen.
“It does sound like a good way to jump on a hot story and engage the study body, per orders from His Royal Assness,” she grumbled. “Just don’t make up some cheap ghost story.”
“Please, Ingrid. I’m a journalist. It’s an industry that thrives on honesty.”
“I want to see a draft first thing next week!” she called as I hurried out of the room, leaving her alone to sort through her paper purgatory.