Home > The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba(4)

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba(4)
Author: Chanel Cleeton

* * *

 

   —

   What was I thinking?

   An hour later, I stand in the newsroom of the New York Journal waiting to see if Hearst will meet with me, half hoping he won’t. Hearst reportedly runs a more relaxed newspaper than Pulitzer, and while the World’s security is notoriously tight, Hearst is said to bring all manner of people into his office, rubbing elbows with his staff as though he is one of them. While I hoped to impress Pulitzer with hard work and gumption, Hearst is drawn to the novel and unusual. Hopefully, a young woman without an appointment showing up at his newspaper in search of employment qualifies enough to catch his attention.

   The gamble works, because not a minute later, a man escorts me into Hearst’s office, announcing my name as I walk through the door, before closing it behind him.

   Two men lounge in the room, cigars dangling from their idle hands. One is big and handsome, his suit dashing and expensive, his angular face punctuated by dark, slashing brows and a nose that looks like it’s been broken a time or two. There’s a girl standing so close to his hip she might as well be seated on his lap, her stunning features accentuated by her daring dress.

   The other man is William Randolph Hearst.

   Hearst is younger than I expected him to be; he doesn’t look that much older than I am. His light brown hair is parted down the middle, his appearance pleasing, his clothes impeccably tailored, but for the garish color of his suit and tie. Where Pulitzer had a somber look about him, Hearst is the complete opposite. He doesn’t have a showgirl at his side, he has two, the similarities in their features leading me to the conclusion that they must be related—sisters, perhaps.

   Both of the men in Hearst’s office have the look of a hard night of drinking stamped all over them, their clothes disheveled, the cuts of their suits not quite as pristine as their tailors likely intended. The pot of coffee sitting on the desk between them and the faint hint of alcohol in the air suggests they’re winding down the day rather than starting it.

   The big one smiles, sprawled in his chair, his necktie loosened past the point of respectability.

   “Can we help you?” he asks.

   Most men of my acquaintance would take umbrage at another commandeering their office in such a manner, but Hearst appears unruffled as his friend directs the conversation.

   I ignore the dark-haired man, offering a small smile for the women who look more amused by the tableau before them than anything else.

   I turn my attention to Hearst. Despite the general sense of debauchery around the room, he’s hunched over a stack of papers, a pen in hand. He barely spared me a glance when I walked into the room, but now that the other man has spoken, he lifts his head and his gaze runs over me quickly.

   Hearst’s reputation precedes him, and considering we once operated in somewhat adjacent circles, I’ve been privy to the whispers: that he had a pet alligator in his rooms at Harvard, trotting it out at parties on a leash while keeping it drunk on champagne before he was finally kicked out of the school his junior year. Despite his notorious antics, he’s known for a desire to eschew most of New York society that’s at odds with the flashy showmanship that surrounds him.

   “I would like a job.” The words come out more clearly, my confidence building now that I’ve been through this rigmarole once before with Pulitzer.

   It seems I have the attention of the room now, the women interested, the dark-haired man eyeing me with greater curiosity.

   Hearst rises from his chair, straightening to his full height. I crane my neck to peer up at him.

   “What sort of job?” Hearst asks.

   “As an investigative reporter. Don’t you want your own Nellie Bly?” I add jauntily, capitalizing on his rivalry with Pulitzer.

   “Why would I want my own Nellie Bly?” Hearst asks, an unmistakable gleam in his eye.

   He might have been up all night, but he’s sober and sharp.

   “Because she’s an advantage for Pulitzer. Nellie Bly is writing a series of articles for the World, highlighting women’s stories, appealing to their interests. You want to increase your circulation; you need a voice that appeals to women, too. How can you compete with Pulitzer if you don’t have the same tools at your disposal?”

   “I have money, Miss Harrington,” he drawls. “A great deal of it.”

   “So does Pulitzer. And all that money is only as good as what you can do with it. Why else did you steal his staff?”

   “You’ve done your research, I’ll give you that, Miss Harrington. And as it happens, I’m a fan of you girl reporters. Pulitzer isn’t the only one who employs them. Are you familiar with Winifred Black’s work?”

   I shake my head.

   “She wrote for me as Annie Laurie when I owned the San Francisco Examiner and followed me to New York to work at the Journal. You’re right, you know. There’s an advantage to what women can do, the access they can achieve.” He studies me for a moment. “Do you know what we’re trying to accomplish here?”

   “You want to increase your circulation. You want to dominate the New York newspaper scene.”

   “We do. But it’s more than that. Gone are the days when newspapers simply report on what happens. We must take action. The people depend on us. They look to us. We’re not in the business of being concerned with profit. We’re courting influence. That’s why I’m happy to sell my paper for less than others choose to. I want to reach the greatest number of people possible. I aim to influence policy.

   “We’re in a position to do something about the ills facing society. We should do something; we must shine a spotlight on the struggles they face. But we don’t just have to look at what’s happening in New York City, or even the United States. When the government fails to do its duty, when it fails to act in defense of the innocent, then the people must compel it to do so, and who is better placed to represent the people than an extension of them—the free press? You could say that is our duty, too.”

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