This is Chapter Twenty-three -- "The Newsroom"
The other stories in the "Wayfarers" series.
Features Brian Kinney, Tom Miller, Thayer, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian gives his notice to Tom Miller at 'The Clarion.' Pittsburgh, May 1859, and a flashback to 1850.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
Pittsburgh, May 1859
Brian was late to the newsroom. That was unusual, unless he was out on a story. Tom Miller kept checking Brian's desk, but there was no sign of the reporter even though it was almost noon.
"He's probably on a bender," Tom thought. But that wasn't like Brian, either. Especially not recently. Not since he was spending so much time with his friend, the boy who was always in the office, drawing pictures and asking so many questions.
Finally, the editor saw Brian come in and stop at his desk, looking over some copy that Tom had placed there earlier. Tom was on his way to the pressroom, but Brian motioned to him and he walked over directly.
"Tom, I need to speak with you," said Brian. His face was serious. He wasn't drunk or hung-over.
"Of course," said Tom. "Come into my office."
Tom Miller led the way. The editor sat behind his desk and Brian took the chair across from him. "If it's about that piece Sam Mitchell mentioned about the riverboats," he began. "I can understand if you feel like you don't want to do it, Brian, because I don't expect you to work on stories that you feel are nothing but empty air. You're too good a reporter to waste your time...."
"No, Tom," Brian interrupted. "This has nothing to do with that riverboat story. Or any other story." Brian took a deep breath. "I just gave Sam Mitchell a letter. It's my notice. I'm leaving 'The Clarion.'"
"You're joking," said Tom, furrowing his brow. "Why would you do a fool thing like that!"
"Because I'm leaving Pittsburgh, Tom," said Brian with a sigh. "I've been offered a position with 'The Independent' in San Francisco. And I'm taking it."
"San Francisco?" Tom barked. "In California? Are you mad, Kinney?"
"Probably," the reporter replied, smiling slightly. "I'm crazy, yes, but not mad, Tom. At least not yet. But I will go mad if I stay in this town much longer. I wanted you to be the next to know after Mitchell. I felt that I owed you that much."
Tom Miller shook his head. "I don't know what to say, Brian. You're my best reporter! You're the finest reporter in the city and I don't want to lose you!"
"I'm glad you think so, Tom, but I'm determined to go. It's the only way." Brian paused and licked his lips. "It's the only way I can be free to write what I want to write and live the way I need to live."
Tom wasn't certain how to broach the subject or even how to refer to the reporter's young companion. "What about... about your friend, Brian? Won't he be sad that you're leaving?"
"Justin is going with me. To California," said Brian, firmly.
That surprised Tom Miller. "What about his family?" Tom knew that the boy's people were well-to-do and very well-connected in Pittsburgh Society. "He's just a kid!"
"No, Tom," answered Brian. "Justin may be only 17, but he's a man in every way. And he's fully capable of making his own decisions in life. He's decided to throw his lot in with me and journey to San Francisco."
"That's an expensive trip, Brian. Do you have the means to get there?"
Brian hesitated. "Not yet. I have enough for my own fare and expenses. But we'll figure out something."
"What about when you get there?" Tom prodded. "How will you live?"
"I'll have my position at 'The Independent.' And Justin will get a job. He's a smart lad and can turn his hand to anything if he puts his mind to it." Brian smiles slightly. "California is a young place, Tom. The young should do well there. We'll both get along -- together."
Brian stood up awkwardly and Tom reached across the desk to shake his hand. "Good luck, Brian. When are you planning to leave?"
"As soon as we can get the rest of the funds we need for our fare and then make our arrangements. I hope to be on the road before the end of June. I'll continue in the newsroom for another two weeks, as is customary. I'll need that bit of extra salary for the trip."
"Brian," Tom began. "If you need a loan...."
"No, thank you, Tom." Brian put up his hand. "I plan never to return to this town, and I don't wish to leave any debts that I won't be here to repay. Besides...." Brian swallowed. "If anything happens to me on the journey, I don't want Justin to feel responsible for my debts."
Tom breathed in sharply. "That's a dangerous trip that goes through some bad country, Brian. Are you certain of this? Truly certain?"
"Yes," Brian replied. "It's the only way -- for both of us." He looked at the editor directly. "I think you, of all people, understand that."
"Yes," admitted Tom, sadly. "Perhaps I do."
"These new fighters are nothing like any of those fellows from the old days," puffed Tom Miller. "Like Black Jack Kinney in his prime. Now, there was a man with power in his fists! You won't see anyone punch his foe like THAT nowadays. These boxers are soft. They lack grit in their guts!"
Tom Miller, the chief copy editor of 'The Pittsburgh Clarion,' considered himself an expert in the pugilistic art and enjoyed showing off his knowledge to the reporters as they stood in the newsroom, jawing and spitting tobacco juice onto the sawdust-covered floor.
Miller glanced over at the copyboy, sitting quietly at a small corner desk. Brian Kinney was bent, as had been his habit for the past six months, over a sheet of foolscap, scratching at it with his red pencil. His title at 'The Clarion' was 'copyboy' but he'd been doing the job of an assistant copy editor ever since Mr. Cunningham, one of the senior editors, had discovered that Brian could write a clear hand and spell better than any of the reporters.
"Kinney," Tom Miller said loudly. "That must be a pretty common Mick name. Is that so, Boy?"
But Brian didn't look up. He was always wary of responding to the taunts of his colleagues, least they begin to escalate. It was better to ignore any comments directed at him.
"Are you deaf, Boy?" Miller demanded. "Answer me when I speak in your direction!"
Brian breathed deeply, keeping his eyes on his work. "Not so very common," he replied softly, hoping that would end the interrogation.
Tom Miller spat into the dirty sawdust on the floor. "I thought it WAS a common bogtrotter name because what are the odds otherwise of Black Jack Kinney and a nance like you having the same last name, huh? Right, fellas?"
There was a round of derisive laughter and Brian felt his face flush a deep red. "I'd say the odds are quite short, actually. Because Black Jack Kinney was my father."
The room went quiet. "What?" said Miller. "What did you say, Nancy?"
Brian finally looked up. "I said that the odds are short that we have the same name because Sean Kinney was my father."
"YOUR father, you say?" Miller replied incredulously. "The devil, you say!"
Brian bit his lip. "Ask Mr. Joshua Mitchell if you don't believe me. He's the one who hired me and he knows who I am. Now, if you'll permit me, I have actual work to do here."
The other reporters drifted away, discussing this new information with great interest, leaving Tom Miller puzzling over it at his desk.
At noon Miller watched Brian get up from his corner desk and walk out into the back yard of the Clarion Building. There was only an old privy out back and some stacks of discarded newspapers and crates, but the kid often sat there, where he wouldn't be bothered as he ate the thin slice of bread and apple that made up his mid-day meal.
Tom Miller followed Brian. He watched him sit on the wooden step and take out his paper sack. Miller walked down the steps and stood over the lad.
"Can't you leave me alone?" Brian snapped. "Or do I have to find a place away from the building where I can have 10 minutes of peace?"
Miller was taken aback by the vehemence of the young man's reply. "We don't mean anything by it, son," Miller said. "It's just the way men are, don't you know?"
"No," answered Brian, sharply. "I don't know that's the way 'men' are -- and if they are indeed all that way, then I'd rather I remained on my own."
"There's no real harm done, son," Miller continued.
Brian looked up at the man, his green eyes blazing. "You and your cohorts have made my life a living hell every day since I arrived in this newsroom and you say there's no harm in it? That there's no damage done? Why are you even speaking to me now? How does it change all of a sudden? Because now you know that Black Jack Kinney, the great prizefighter, was my Old Man? How does that alter the landscape, Mr. Miller?"
Tom Miller shrugged. "I don't know, rightly. I guess it makes me curious, that's all. About where you came from. About how Black Jack came to be your pa."
"He came to be my father in the usual way. That's the one thing about me that is entirely natural. Just about the only thing." Brian stared at the apple in his hand. His sharp hunger was gone now. "I thought you already knew everything about me that you needed to know, Mr. Miller? Where I came from and what I was? Doesn't that information suffice anymore?"
Miller hesitated. "Guess I don't know anything about you at all, son. Not truly."
Brian laughed bitterly. "Imagine that. You don't know me. Not that you or any of the others have ever tried to know me, Mr. Miller. So I'll tell you my story -- or as much of it as your tender sensibilities can endure. Black Jack abandoned me when I was 10 years old. That was shortly after my mother died of consumption. I survived on the streets for a short while, but it was too difficult and I was weak. Too weak to fight any longer. I lay myself down in an alley behind a large house just up from the dock district. I knew that I would die, but I no longer cared. Then a woman found me, brought me inside, fed me, and cleaned me. That is how I came to live at the Paradise Hotel."
"So," said Miller. "That story is true, then?"
Brian sniffed. "Probably most of the stories you have heard about me are true, Mr. Miller -- at least to a point. Or depending on your point of view. What is usually missing is the reason. And from my point of view it was either the Paradise Hotel or dying in that alley. And so I'm alive. For what THAT is worth!"
"But... but you were 10 years old!" Miller sputtered. "And a boy!"
"So?" Brian shrugged. "Yes, I was a boy. And yes, I was 10 years old when I came to Madame Heloise. But I didn't begin working there -- in the way you find so repugnant -- until I was 11. That IS what you are curious about, isn't it, Mr. Miller? So there is your answer. Black Jack Kinney the great and famous prizefighter never even came looking for me, his only surviving son. Never came to find out what had happened to me. And if he had come looking, I was not so difficult to track down. All he had to do was ask any sporting man, politician, merchant -- or reporter -- in Pittsburgh. Because all of those men came to the Paradise Hotel and many of them decided to try Madame's new novelty. You would be surprised, Mr. Miller, just how many fellows aren't disinclined to be serviced by a boy. Even men who work in your newsroom. I'm certain that they think that I don't recall them. But I have a long memory, sir. A very long memory."
"Lord Almighty, son!" said Miller. "I... I don't know what to say."
"How about 'I won't trouble you in the future'?" suggested Brian. "That would be sufficient to make my current existence slightly less miserable, if you please."
Tom Miller, who was not a cruel man by nature, felt a sinking sensation in his ample belly. He had a boy of his own who was almost 10 years old and he tried to picture his own son, abandoned and starving in an alley, doing what he had to do to survive. Miller had been a reporter long enough to have seen the horrible way the poor lived -- and the horrible way that they died.
What Miller knew about this soft-spoken young man was almost totally from idle gossip and speculation. He knew that a local madam had strong-armed Joshua Mitchell, the publisher of 'The Clarion,' into hiring Brian because an infamous gambler, William Reynolds, had extricated Mitchell from some embarrassing gambling debts a number of years before. Then the gambler died and left his kept fancy boy at loose ends. That is, until he landed in the newsroom of 'The Clarion' as a copyboy. Miller had never until that moment wondered why the boy had not continued in the sporting life and found another 'protector.' He was certainly handsome enough, Miller thought, if a fellow was inclined that way.
But Brian had obviously wanted to change his way of living. Perhaps 'The Clarion' was the first opportunity that the boy had ever had to choose for himself how he wanted to live. Brian couldn't be more than 20 now, thought Miller. What a damnable way to spend your youth -- whoring among the dregs of humanity.
"That Mr. Reynolds, the famous gambler," said Miller. "He knew just about everything there was to know about the sporting life. About pugilism and about horse racing, too. And all the games of chance."
Brian cocked his head, wondering what Miller was getting at. "Yes, he knew more than anyone in this dirt-floor burg."
"I suppose that you... you traveled with Reynolds for a while?" Miller inquired.
"From the age of 13 until I came here," Brian answered. "Almost 6 years. And in those 6 years I saw a lot of card games. And a lot of boxing matches. Cockfights. Dogfights. In South America I even saw a man confront a full-sized bull with only a cape and a sword. I have seen things and have been to all manner of places that you'd never dream of mentioning to your wife. Taverns, gambling dens, sporting houses, and brothels that cater to every sin and perversion known to mankind. All before I was 19. And I accepted it because I knew no other life. I could only imagine a different way from glimpses I had in the novels I read. Pictures of family life in a small town or quiet village, visiting friends, eating dinner, going to church -- those things seemed stranger to me than the 'Arabian Nights.' And I am sure that what for me was mere everyday life would horrify you and your supposedly hard-nosed and jaded cronies."
"I wouldn't know about that, son," Miller replied, staring at the lad's smooth face. He WAS almost as beautiful as a woman, with his long, silky hair and his large, black-lashed green eyes.
"Sure you would, Mr. Miller," Brian chided. "What about all the rumors you men so enjoy hashing over in your spare time? Yes, it IS true that the gambler won me in a poker game in a whorehouse. He may have cheated to do it or he may not have -- it doesn't matter now. Reynolds is... is dead. He was determined to win me, no matter how he did it. And he got me out of the Paradise Hotel, which was a blessing in disguise. I would undoubtedly still be there, using my considerable skills, if not for William Reynolds. And in that event I would not now be gracing your newsroom using my other more publishable skills to correct your fine reporters' errors in grammar and spelling."
As he listened to Brian speak, Tom Miller was working over an idea in his head. Mr. Mitchell had been complaining that the two other newspapers in Pittsburgh were stealing their thunder on local sporting events. Miller had to agree that their newspaper's coverage of these popular activities was dismal at best. Every time Miller sent a 'Clarion' reporter out to cover a boxing match or dogfight, the fellow ended up getting drunk or gambling all night. Then the story was either late or the facts were wrong or it was never filed to begin with. Often Tom Miller had to go himself and cover the event, but he was needed in the newsroom and couldn't spend his own valuable time writing stories that should have been simple for his men to turn out.
But young Kinney -- he did not seem the type to get facts wrong or to neglect his duty under any circumstances. Brian was meticulous in correcting his copy and just as painstaking with any of the other tasks he was given to carry out.
"I suppose that Mr. Reynolds taught you much about boxing and such things?" Miller inquired.
"Everything he knew," said Brian. "He was raising me up to be his partner, so I needed to know what he knew."
"And yet you don't strike me as a gambling man."
Brian winced. "No, I am not. Perhaps it's because I understand how easy it is to cheat that I steer clear of gaming with amateurs. Besides, I am learning a different trade these days -- or trying to."
"And boxing... do you attend the matches?" Miller asked.
"On occasion. But I never wager on fighting, especially between men. Not after... after what happened to my old man." Brian winced again.
Miller remembered that Black Jack had died shortly after a terrible fight in which both boxers had beaten each other bloody and senseless.
"I understand your reluctance, Kinney," said Tom Miller. "I think that you might be able to help me. It might mean a promotion from copyediting. It's a little proposition that I have for you."
"A proposition?" Brian raised an eyebrow.
"Yes," replied Miller, sitting down next to the lad on the wooden step. "Let us have a talk, shall we?"
Johansen's Sparring Academy was crowded as Brian and Tom Miller made their way inside that Saturday evening. Brian was dressed very soberly in dark trousers and a plain brown jacket, much to Miller's surprise. He had expected the fellow to be much flashier out of the office. The lad's only bow to fashion was a cream-colored waistcoat embroidered with red roses.
The other thing that surprised Miller was how many people greeted the young man, shaking his hand and telling him how well he looked. Some were well-appointed gentlemen and others were rougher fellows. And all the females -- mostly painted hussies to be sure -- hugged and kissed and made much of Brian, to his embarrassment.
"You surely do know a lot of folks here, Kinney," Miller commented.
"I ought to," the young man replied. "I grew up among them. In the saloons and sporting houses."
"Hey! Sonny Boy!" A busy-haired, barrel-chested man pushed through the crowd to get to Brian.
"Hello, Mr. Thayer," said Brian.
"Come and sit with me. The best seat in the house -- as usual!" the fellow guffawed. "I haven't seen you here since...." The fellow paused. "Since Mr. Reynolds went to his Reward. But I sure am glad to see you back, Sonny Boy! That I am!"
"I appreciate it, Mr. Thayer," said Brian, warmly. "And I appreciate the men from Johansen's coming to the burial."
"We felt beholden to come," Thayer nodded. "We all knowed Mr. Reynolds for many a year. And he paid for Black Jack's headstone and all. That was a fine thing for him to do. I know you and your old man were not exactly close."
"No, not exactly close," Brian snorted.
Thayer looked closely at Tom Miller. The bushy-haired man took in the strange gent's clothes and demeanor, as if sizing him up. "This your new 'friend,' Sonny Boy?" asked Thayer, spitting on the dirt floor. "He's likewise welcome to sit down. That is, if he's a gambling man like the late Mister R.?"
Tom Miller frowned at the fellow's scrutiny. Then he caught something odd in the man's look. "I...." Miller sputtered, realizing that the rough fellow had obviously mistaken him, Brian's boss, for something else altogether!
Miller turned and saw the horrified expression on his young employee's face. And he understood that Brian was as unsettled by Thayer's error as Miller was himself -- but for a very different reason. In fact, it was obvious that Brian was humiliated that this man, Thayer, who had known the stylish and sophisticated William Reynolds, believed Tom Miller to be his new keeper. Miller considered his own out-of-shape belly, his receding hairline, and his dull clothes, then looked at the tall, handsome young man next to him. And Tom Miller knew that he was not, in fact, good enough to be the keeper of such a prize as Brian Kinney, who had been Reynolds' Boy.
"No, Thayer! No! This is Mr. Miller," Brian blurted out hurriedly. "He's an editor at 'The Clarion,' where I am now employed. I am here to help him report on the boxing matches. That is all!"
"Oh, well then," mumbled Thayer. "I'm powerful pleased to make your acquaintance anyway, mister." The hairy man pumped Miller's hand vigorously. "You won't find a better guide to the matches than Black Jack's boy. You betting this bout, Sonny?"
Brian shook his head, relieved to have their connection made clear. "Not anymore. That last score was the end for me as well as for the Old Man."
The man guffawed loudly. "THAT was a fight to end all fights! Old Black Jack went out with a flourish! And Mr. Reynolds -- God rest his soul -- made a killing that night, indeed he did! Even I didn't have so much as 2 bits on that fight and I was in Black Jack's own camp! Shows you what a fool I was. And what a clever character Mr. Reynolds was! He KNOWED Black Jack was gonna win and he bet the house!"
"Yes, that he did," said Brian, grimly. "He bet a couple of houses that night. And quite a killing was made. Including the Old Man's killing."
All that evening Brian introduced Tom Miller to gamblers, ex-boxers, trainers, sporting women, and all manner of followers of the art of fisticuffs. Miller had thought that he was an expert on the subject, but he soon realized that his actual knowledge was as shallow as a puddle. He also received tips on a coming horse race, an informal wrestling match to settle a score between two rival draysmen, and a cockfight on a flatboat tied up on the Allegheny.
But what truly astonished Miller was how many people knew his young companion and seemed to respect him. And also of how they spoke even more respectfully of the late, lamented William Reynolds. Among people in the sporting life, Reynolds had been a true aristocrat and his young partner had been a glittering consort. Miller heard stories of their sojourns to New York and New Orleans, to the Carib Islands, and even the coast of South America. Stories of epic poker games and foolish men scammed and hobnobbing with millionaires. Of how Reynolds and Brian had been wined and dined in palaces, but also how they had made their escape more than once in cattle barges or coal wagons. Of duels and love affairs and thousands of dollars won or lost on the turn of a single card. It seemed a gallant and exciting existence.
And Brian, who had always been so meek and cowed in the newsroom, carried himself among these people exactly like a prince who understands that he is above the roughness of the common crowd. But the sporting men and women didn't begrudge him his status. They bowed to him. Tom Miller had attended many boxing matches over the years without ever being singled out by the insiders of the game. But with Brian by his side that night he sat in the best seats, was plied with drinks and smokes, and offered more inside information on sporting events than he knew what to do with. Before the evening was over and the matches resolved, Miller had decided to raise Brian from an assistant copyeditor who was only drawing a copyboy's salary, to a full-fledged reporter for 'The Clarion,' with the particular assignment to cover all aspects of the sporting world in Pittsburgh.
And that was the beginning of the change in the fortunes of young Brian Kinney.
Pittsburgh, May 1859
"I will be sad to see you go, Brian," said Tom. "And I can't say that I don't fear for your safety in the vast wilderness. Yours and your young companion's!"
"I thank you, Tom," said Brian as he rose to leave the office. "But every man must face his Fate when it comes to him. And our Fate lies in the West. Of that I am certain." Brian stared into space for a moment before he continued. "All of my life has been a gamble, both for good and for ill. Safety has never held any lure for me. I thought of settling down once. Of marrying and living the life that most folks see as fitting and proper. But that was not for me. I know now that it would have been calamitous for me -- and for my intended wife. I was never meant to be tamed, Tom. Reynolds tried to make me understand that long ago, but I would not listen to him. I had to learn it for myself -- the hard way."
"And the lad? What about him, Brian?" asked Tom with real concern. It seemed a large responsibility to take a 17 year old boy away from his parents and into a wild territory that had not even been completely mapped.
"His is also a free spirit," Brian answered. "Justin is an artist and to be happy he cannot live the life that anyone else plans out for him. We are two of a kind that way, Tom." Brian smiled before he closed the door behind him. "But I think you already know that."
Yes, thought Tom Miller. Brian and the blond boy. Two of a kind.
Continue on to "Miss Lindsay".
©Gaedhal, June 2004.
Posted June 15, 2004.