A Violation of the Contract
Someone had let her in, but Isaac didn't know who had.
Still, he greeted her without missing a beat.
"My name is Alicia," she answered, smilingly. "I've come to your office to bargain."
She was a pink Aisha, dressed formally, but her eyes seemed to be laughing at him.
He returned her stare without much reaction. She brought along a bad feeling, but he had an impending deadline for a Neopian Times article on the care and feeding of petpetpets and so attributed his anxiety to that.
He looked at her curiously, but his expression soon turned grave at her words.
"I'm offering you a business opportunity, Mr. Isaac. The Neopian Daily is dying out. People stop by the newspaper racks every day for the Times, and not for the Daily. We've have three job cuts and are planning a fourth."
Her words registered alarm in his mind, and not the glee that he had expected. He wondered why he cared. The Daily was laughed at by many, including his colleagues. They jeered at it for being what it was, a free alternative to the Times, with twice the spelling errors and less than half the quality.
But his next words were careful and sympathetic. Why?
"...You want me to buy out your paper?" he asked, adjusting his tie.
She smiled. "No need. We're in a different process. We have no intentions of selling our paper, but rather improving it. I'm asking you for a story, Mr. Isaac."
Write for another paper? His contract with the Times forbade such an action.
He sighed, about to reject the Aisha who was calmly looking at him, when a thought occurred to him.
There was one thing that always upset him about the Times, if he were to be completely honest with himself.
It was the way they always treated their competition, like dung. The competition did not exist, in the eyes of his peers. The Times was number one and always would be. An unshakable monopoly.
Isaac had always wanted to make a difference. He thought that he could best do that by writing about the truth for his readers. But perhaps he was simply fueling a big corporation that was oppressing the little guy.
"I had a colleague once," the Aisha declared solemnly, as if sensing his inner turmoil. "He used to work for the Times but he was also struggling to support his family. Because of the strict rules the Times has, the colleague was unable continue working the hours he did and he was eventually let go."
She stared at him, straight in the eyes. "The Daily hired him and helped him pick up the broken pieces. His name is Steve Finagle."
Steve Finagle? Somehow the name sounded familiar to him. As he thought about it, he recalled that Finagle was the Daily's lead reporter.
Finagle used to work for the Times?
His head was spinning.
"Well." She got up, still beaming. "It's been nice conversing with you. Think it over, Isaac."
The door swung shut as she walked past.
Was there some truth to her words? He had to verify them. He went to the records cabinet, and looked under the Times' section. Finagle. There it was: the file on Finagle.
He opened it, finding all the articles Finagle had written for the Times, and an employee evaluation sheet at the end stating that Finagle had to be fired for failing to maintain the hours expected.
Isaac felt a lump growing in his throat and went back to the cabinet and found his own file and the evaluation sheet at the end:
Isaac shows promise, but he is overly emotional. His pieces have to be edited for style and opinion.
Then, in a deeper, darker ink:
He may be sympathetic to competition.
There, six words that were enough to spell the end of his career. Twenty some years of dedication down the drain.
Returning the files quickly, Isaac walked back to his seat and decided to take action.
He would write for the Daily and probably more than one article. He needed to bring down the Times, the very paper that had nurtured him into the journalist he had become. But it was necessary. The Times had become corrupted by elitism. It was time for a change.
Decisive, Isaac poured his heart into the articles he wrote for the Daily. He met with old contacts and bred new conversations with them. He followed shady characters on the streets and recorded their activities.
He even visited his estranged father, a cynical yellow Kacheek, and helped him a bit with the farm, although the material was never used for a story.
All in all, were six articles of merit. One detailed criminal life in Neopia Central, another was a feature on piracy in the shores of Mystery Island, and a third was born of a unique interview done with the craft faerie named Delina. For the fourth, he journeyed down to the pits of Moltara, but the fifth was found just two streets down from his office.
And the sixth, a personal narrative of working for the Times. For that article, he didn't have to interview anyone but himself. He recalled all the fun times he had with the Times, the sad, and the sorry. He had nearly started tearing up when he was half way done with the article and then he had called his best friend, a comic book artist, for the pictures.
The best part was that none of the articles had expiration dates. He hadn't written about breaking news, so essentially, they could be published any day from now 'till next year.
But at the end of the experience, long after he had mailed off the entries to the Daily, he laid in bed, feeling quite heart broken. The Times, despite its flaws, was still his life. What would he do after he gave it up?
Would he be like Finagle, etching out a new life in the Daily? But for some reason, he couldn't see himself doing that.
He wondered whether he had really done all this to help the Daily or just for revenge against who ever said he was "sympathetic to competition." And if it really was for revenge, then hadn't he just proven the person correct?
With a strangled sigh, Isaac made himself comfortable in his bed and fell fast asleep.
As time passed and no one said anything about the Daily, Isaac felt himself grow paranoid. Perhaps his supervisors already knew he had violated the contract but were waiting it out so as to torture him.
The articles he churned out were decreasing in quality, and his editor even called him out on it one day at work.
"Isaac, have you read this?" Griffins, a blue Lupe, passed Isaac a dirty gray sheet of paper.
"What?" Isaac asked, touching the paper lightly, not wanting it to smudge on his clothes. "What is it?"
"It's the Daily, Isaac," Griffins told him, sounding worn out. "They suddenly have someone writing features for them, ten thousand words a piece, and I must say, they sound like you in your prime. What happened, Isaac?"
Isaac recognized the writing. It was his criminal article, the first one. So the Daily had started publishing them. He felt a chill run down his spine. It was similar to the excitement he had felt when the Times had first published one of his articles, but amplified with fear.
Soon, he would lose his job.
But not yet. Isaac feigned surprise. "This is good," he said, noting the bolded byline: DAILY STAFF. He didn't mind that they were taking credit for his writing, as the purpose of his writing the articles was to promote the Daily after all.
"Too good." Griffins' groggy voice reminded Isaac that his editor was still in the office. "Isaac, I want you to write like this. Where did all your passion go?"
Straight into the Daily, Isaac thought. But he didn't say anything, just watched as Griffins ragged on him for the recent submissions; a poorly written article on petpetpets, a cringe-worthy piece on gravy stains.
"And you haven't been meeting deadline, Isaac. You realize Shea is on vacation right? We don't have the manpower to accommodate writers if they want to be lazy." Griffins stepped closer to Isaac, his eyes looking stormy. "We may be the best, but we can fall as easy as one two three. You need to put the effort in."
Isaac thought over that sentence, again and again, running it through his mind.
We may be the best, but we can fall as easy as one two three. It was uncannily prophetic.
Then Griffins was gone, his tail swishing away in the distance.
Isaac put his face in his hands, feeling torn. As much as he knew the end of his career was coming, he just didn't want to face it.
Gritting his teeth, Isaac brought down his pen to meet the paper.
It was a few weeks later when his sixth article, the one about himself, came out in the Daily.
Griffins, as a good editor who kept a watchful eye on competition, was the first to notice who the subject of the article was.
But although Griffins shot Isaac angry, betrayed looks at lunchtime when the former thought no one was looking, Isaac surprisingly survived another week at work without getting fired.
It was a few days into that week when Isaac finally realized what was going on after checking his mailbox. His mailbox, which received about twelve letters a day, was usually left unchecked, as it would explode on whoever opened it with mail. In the face, in the clothes, on the ground. Everywhere.
A strange red envelope attracted Isaac's attention as the Weewoo delivered it that morning and Isaac hesitantly pulled it out of the mailbox.
Griffins sent me a mail about your... indiscretions. Just kidding, haha, I meant your er, writing for the other side. Well, although I think I'm supposed to fire you, I just had about the best party that they can throw down here in Faerieland. So yeah, I'm feeling kind of generous. So I guess you're off the hook.
Yeah, but um, let's see here. I'm thinking of changing that whole stupid rule where you can't write for the competition and whatnot.
How's about, you can write for the Daily, but then write like a very long long long article for us at the Times about what it's like to work at the Daily, you know, like you did for them. That would be awesome, yes yes, I think it would.
And yeah, so, I'm thinking you can write for them and us, both?
How's that sound?
Isaac stared dumbfounded at the letter until the Weewoo landed on his head.
Then he stared at the Weewoo.
He had never spoken to the CEO of the Neopian Times before and he had never realized that the boss was so easy-going.
Isaac continued to stare at the Weewoo even after it flew away, his mind contemplating.
While he appreciated the boss's generosity, Isaac, at his age, didn't have it in him to play a double agent.
With a smile on his face, Isaac seated himself and began to write a reply.
Dear Mr. CEO,
And then he mailed it.
And although his brash move wouldn't make sense to many, Isaac had had an epiphany. If the CEO of the Times was this nice, then Isaac had no worries.
Writing for the Daily was unnecessary now, and he refused to be pushed around by Griffins or even Clair Ordinance anymore.
If this, then that. It was simple logic.
Isaac did a long stretch and walked out of his office.
Maybe he would go visit a certain yellow Kacheek and get some farm work done.