What it's about:
Drew Finley was a crime journalist, until his mind couldn't shut out the images of blood and bodies. Alcohol made the images go away, but also ruined Drew's career and innocents' lives. Drew's eager to make amends and he's got a story that will help him: a profile of a local celebrity who may have been framed for murder. As he digs deeper, he'll uncover secrets and grudges that will put the people he loves in danger.
Read an excerpt from Undertow
He knows who I am.
Audrey’s leading them around the newsroom. Two interns, a boy and a girl. A young man and a young woman, I should say — they’re both LCU students and old enough to vote if not to drink. Not kids, but I have to keep reminding myself of that. Maybe it’s the way they’re looking around: wide-eyed and taking it all in.
Our newsroom isn’t especially grand. A weekly paper in a half-artsy, half-college, all-funky California beach town isn’t the New York Times, but it’s not their high school paper, either. This is where they start covering real news — getting the information, asking the right questions, meeting the deadlines. This is where the stakes matter, because even if it’s not the New York Times, people want their stories told and their names spelled right. Misspell Pastor Higgleson’s name in the Sunday church bulletin and you can laugh it off. Make the same mistake here and you get a finger-wag from me the first time, a tongue-lashing the second. The third time, I’ll suggest that this isn’t the career for you. I know it sounds harsh — maybe it is harsh. But the more mistakes you make, the bigger they get. I know this firsthand. I wish I didn’t.
Whenever Audrey brings interns in, she always starts out in the printing area because it’s impressive as hell, all those big wheels turning and the smell of ink like those purple mimeograph sheets you used to get in school. First time I saw a newspaper printer, I wanted to yell Stop the presses! just to see what would happen. After the printing area, Audrey works her way up the food chain, so to speak, from the print workers and circulation manager to the reporters and editors. She’s always considerate, and makes sure to point out the break room and the bathroom, and where the coffee is.
I watch the interns and remember the first time I was in a real newsroom. I was a kid then, just like these two. What I recall now are the scents, especially the musty, scrapbook smell of the morgue and its file cabinets full of clippings. The break room smelled much like ours does, stale fast food grease and ancient coffee — just substitute microwave popcorn for cigarettes, that’s the only thing that’s changed. The scent of the newsroom itself is a bit different. Back then, papers still used manual paste-up and there was the spray adhesive which gave you a headache if you breathed too much of it. I always preferred the hot waxer, even though it was messy. I liked the smell of it, like a box of crayons left in the sun, and there was that curious satisfaction of using the roller on the pasted-up pages. Now it’s all digital, of course — that changeover happened during the years I was out of the business — and while I appreciate the advantages, I do miss the old ways. Evie says I’m just being old-fashioned, which is pretty rich coming from a woman who not only owns 8-track tapes but still listens to them.
Audrey introduces the interns. Ed and April say hello and shake the newcomers’ hands. Ian’s on the phone and can’t talk, but he smiles and nods, as does Will. Margo’s over by the police scanner; the interns seem hesitant and I can’t tell if they find the squawks of the scanner a bit eerie, or if it’s the way Margo doesn’t smile, just gives this slow nod like she’s sizing them up. Perhaps she is.
I’ve got the radio on low but I turn it off when I see them coming. It’s all right, Evie’s show isn’t on until eleven. I say hello and stand up as Audrey introduces Brittany and Tyler. God, even their names sound young. Audrey says, “This is our copy chief, Drew Finley. He makes sure that everything’s as accurate as possible, and readable as well.”
“All the news that’s fit to print?” asks Brittany with a nervous smile.
It’s an old joke I’ve heard many times before and so has Audrey, but I don’t let on and neither does she.
“That indeed,” I say. “Welcome to the Weekly, and I know we all seem scary but as long as we’re caffeinated we’re really quite nice. So don’t hesitate to ask any questions. That’s how you learn.”
I shake their hands. Brittany seems to be getting over her nervousness. Tyler smiles and says he’s glad to meet me. He seems about to say something else but doesn’t, and I see his gaze travel to the nameplate on my desk. I could tell myself that he’s just looking at the tiki statue Evie gave me, the one that says “BIG KAHUNA” on it, but I tried to stop those lies years ago.
He knows who I am.
It’s a surprise I’ve been waiting for. He’s halfway through J-school and he’s had his “Ethics In Mass Media” class. I may not be in the textbooks alongside Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke — I was never that high-profile — but journalism is a smaller world than you’d think, and word gets around. He probably thinks I go by Drew now as a way of trying to hide, but the truth is that I’ve been Drew since middle school, when there were two other Andrews in my home room. It wasn’t until I started on features and people started noticing my byline that I became Andrew Finley, Special to the Sentinel. It was like when people wear librarian glasses with nonprescription lenses, hoping that will make others take them seriously.
I sit down as the interns follow Audrey into her office; I turn on the radio so I don’t miss Evie’s show but I’m not really hearing it. Will’s feature on the historical society’s squabble over some falling-down Victorian is in front of me but I’m not seeing it. He knew who I was. It was bound to happen at some point. The important thing is to act like I didn’t notice. Don’t bring it up unless he does. Only Audrey knows the full story, and she’s another friend of Bill so I can count on her to be discreet. And if he does bring it up, well, it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. I could even bring in some of my chips and flash them discreetly, though God forbid I should have to do something so embarrassing.
I’m seeing Will’s copy now but in the back of my mind I’m still thinking about those Andrew Finley bylines. That name was on the award, too. The one I gave back. I still wonder about it sometimes. Did they scour my name off and give it to someone else? Or did they just throw it out, like a handkerchief with the wrong monogram stitched into it, too much trouble to fix? I can’t let it go, which is almost funny. The reason I had to return that award is because my mind can’t let things go. That’s how I got into trouble in the first place.