This is from the first chapter of the novel. Investigative journalist Mitch has been making a bit too much trouble for a crime boss – who makes threats, but not so seriously that the police can do much about it. In any case, Mitch’s editor Tom has a better idea.
The next morning, Mitch arrived at work to find a note on his desk – in Tom’s own handwriting – directing him to Tom’s office ‘ASAP’. This was followed, in the typically understated Australian way, with three exclamation marks. Mitch shrugged, put his satchel down on his desk, and went to obey.
If Mitch had expected Tom to be angry and concerned about the bomb that hadn’t after all been a bomb, he was disappointed. Instead Tom seemed to be bubbling over with excitement. His eyes were sparking, so much so that Mitch worried vaguely about electrical fires. Tom even stood from his desk, and came to usher Mitch to a seat, before closing the door.
“I’ve got an idea,” Tom announced. “A great idea, a wonderful idea …”
Mitch was too numb to respond in kind. He nodded, indicating he was willing to hear what Tom was obviously dying to tell him.
“I really miss home,” said Tom, rather unexpectedly. “You’ve never been to Australia, right?”
Mitch shook his head, wondering where the fuck that came from.
“You should go. The people, the sunshine, the beaches, the splendor …” Tom looked about him at the artwork, the postcards, as if seeking inspiration. Which he must have found, because it then spilled forth: “The soil in the Outback can be as red and rich as blood, like the land is bleeding. The ocean’s an opal come to life. The sand’s either the purest white or gold–dust, and –”
Mitch so wasn’t in the mood. “Very poetic. But I’m not interested in a vacation, Tom.”
“I’m not talking about a holiday, mate,” Tom replied in more reasonable tones. “I’m talking about you going underground for a while, keeping your head down until it’s safe here. You can work for my cousin Eva, she’s editor for the Herald in Sydney.”
Not a chance in hell. “I don’t think so,” said Mitch.
Tom, of course, sailed right on. “You’ll need to be clever about this, it’s like going undercover. You can write under a pseudonym – and leave the investigative journalism behind for a while.”
“What? But that’s all I –” He only just managed to stop himself in time. That’s all I have. That’s all I know. Mitch gathered himself, and came up with an argument that he could live with, that any New Yorker would understand. “Yeah, great, Tom, but the fact is I can’t afford to pick up and go live overseas. My rent swallows up most of my salary, and you can’t expect me to let a Manhattan apartment go.”
Unfortunately that just made Tom’s eyes spark again. It was as if he were in love with his own idea. “I thought about that.”
“You work part–time for Eva, and she’ll pay you accordingly. Plus you write weekly lifestyle pieces about Australia for our Sunday magazine –” Tom waved a sample of the glossy supplement, as if Mitch hadn’t thrown it in the trash a thousand times already – “and I’ll continue your salary. I’ll even pay your airfare and some of your living expenses.” He concluded triumphantly, “What d’you think about that?”
Mitch rolled his eyes at the sheer indignity of it all. “Lifestyle pieces, my God … I’m better than that, Tom. I’ve always been better than that.”
Tom sagged just enough to acknowledge the assertion. “I know, I really do, but that’s not the point. I’ve cleared it with Gail – she’s editing the magazine now. She’s okay with you contributing –”
“Okay? She should be flattered! But you wanna exile me from everything that’s civilized? I ain’t ready for a sabbatical, Tom!”
“Do you even have a choice right now? Don’t tell me you’d rather get your head blown off, and let Cicioni walk away scot–free.”
“I can’t walk away from this,” Mitch insisted. He leaned forward to add, “I can’t walk away from what I do. You should know that, Tom.”
“Mitch, it’s just getting too dangerous right now.”
“All the more reason to see it through!”
“It’s not like you’re a cop on a case,” Tom argued.
“No! I’m a journalist on a story. A serious journalist on an important story.”
“The story will wait!”
Mitch stared at the man. “Said no editor ever.”
Tom shot him a grumpy glare. “Let Special Agent Danes do his job.” And then he cried out in frustration, “Leave it alone, Mitch! Go to Australia. Try something new. Oh, yeah – and while you’re at it – get a life!”