Mr. Lee was an Asian-American with a Texan drawl. The first time he spoke with Jackie she thought he was putting on an act for the newly recruited newsie. It hadn’t helped that, as usual, he tried to relate to the students in their own language. She still hadn’t figured out how a person devoted to one of the fields of communication could epically fail in the use of teen slang.
“I don’t want you to think of this as a heroic loss,” said Mr Lee, placing a hand on Jackie’s shoulder.
“Or even an epic failure,” Jackie responded automatically.
“Exactly! After three years as a school reporter you are no nub.”
She guessed he meant noob, but didn’t feel like correcting him again. Besides, it might have just been a matter of his accent getting in the way. Sometimes you couldn’t tell with Mr. Lee.
“Principal Skinner has asked me to confiscate your press badge, so to speak. I don’t exactly know what it is you said to him that’s got his undies in a bunch, but I doubt that it requires such drastic measures.”
“Whew,” Jackie blew out her relief. “I’m glad to hear that.”
Uh-oh. There it was. The dreaded However. It warned you that something crappy was about to happen. Then you had to wait for the bad news. And Mr. Lee tended to give you plenty of time to ponder what was coming.
With a frown, he announced, “I can’t let you finish the story you were working on. You’ll have to drop the whole war on drugs thing. Until you can come up with a different topic to write about you can take over the Dear Lippy column.”
“Ashlee Rodgers writes that!”“She decided that she needed a break from journalism for awhile.”
“That wouldn’t have anything to do with her calling Ramona Cruz a “hormone-driven bleacher predator” would it?”
“Sorry.” Mr. Lee stopped for a moment as he tried to suppress a chuckle. “I’m not at liberty to divulge any information on that subject. Although, I think that the recent breakage of her nose might have something to do with it.”
“Couldn’t you get someone else do Dear Lippy?”
“Probably. I’m sure a couple of the writers would sink their teeth into an opportunity like this. They could let slip the embarrassing moments of their fellow students and claim that it was news-worthy. I know you wouldn’t use your position as a reporter to settle a personal score. I can trust you.”
Trust! Mr. Lee was really dropping the power words today. Adults talked about trust whenever they wanted to guilt kids into doing something. Parents used it all the time. The worst was when the teachers you liked employed it. Then it really had power.
“Alright.” Jackie heard herself say the words, but had a hard time committing herself to actually doing it. Dear Lippy was junk reporting. No self-respecting news hound would admit to ever having written the near-gossip column.
“What about the real news?” she asked. “Will I still be able to contribute some news items?”
“Sure.” Mr. Lee patted her on the shoulder and then returned to desk. “You can be Lippy until Principal Skinner has forgotten about the interview and then I can move you back to a news desk.”
“How long will that take?”
“I couldn’t tell you for sure. It’ll be awhile, I suspect.”
“A month? Longer?”
Mr. Lee stood up and guided her toward the exit. “Stay out of trouble for now and I’ll get you back into the journalist chair as soon as I can. Do not pursue the story about the drug war on campus. You can practice your reporting skills on something else, but leave that one alone.”
The door shut, leaving Jackie alone in the corridor.
That wasn’t exactly how she thought the meeting would go. She probably should be happy that she was still a reporter. Well, sort of anyways. But it continued to bother her that Principal Skinner had used influence to remove her from the position she had worked so hard to obtain. Weren’t there rules against inhibiting the press?
Jackie took a deep breath and accepted her demotion to Dear Lippy. She headed over to the computer lab with the intent of finding Ashlee and collecting any notes she had for the column.
Not wanting to talk to anyone right at that moment, she took an indirect path to the lab; one that went around the football field and through the bleachers. She had just crossed the field and was about to enter the bleachers on the far side when she spotted two men behind the sports shed. Her reporting instincts tingled at the sight of them.
Jackie ducked behind the bleachers and peered out from the gap between the benches. It wasn’t two men; it was a man and a teen. The student had on a Varsity sweater, but his back was turned so she couldn’t tell who it was. On the other hand, she had a very clear view of the man.
She pulled out her trusty notepad and jotted down a detailed description of the adult. Short. Medium build. Dark hair with the beginning of a bald spot on top. He wore tan slacks and a blue, long-sleeved dress shirt. No tie.
Her sketching skills were reasonably poor, but she decided that as long as they were going to stand their and pose that she might as well give it a try. She had barely started the sketch when the man held out a black sports bag. The teen took the bag and opened it. After a couple of seconds he nodded and then pulled out a stack of cash. At least, that’s what it looked like from where Jackie stood.
A drug deal.
Jackie’s mind swirled with all the possibilities of what she had seen. This could be the first real evidence of an organized drug distribution ring at the school. The jocks could be the ones pedaling the garbage to the other students. Since she already knew the location of their hand-offs it would be easy to follow up with more evidence. And most importantly – this would prove how right she had been to pursue the war on drugs story in the first place.
. . . But she was supposed to leave it alone. What should she do?
This is the first decision tree for the readers. Should Jackie . . .
A) Report her findings to Principal Skinner.
B) Tell Daniel and get his advice.
C) Write a Dear Lippy column that exposes the drug ring.
D) Follow the student and see who else is involved.
E) Follow the man and get more information.