There were five men in tuxedos sitting in the front row, and Floyd Cervenka thought that was strange for a town hall meeting. The back of their heads looked exactly the same: jet black hair, combed straight and greased down. Besides those men, there was the usual smattering of senior citizens – all of whom had fallen asleep already. This week, however, he realized he was the only journalist in attendance. He sat there, pen poised, ready, and pointed at a blank page in his composition book.
Only, Floyd had nothing to write, at first. Monmouthside Height’s town hall meetings were banal to begin with. Mayor George Gurley spent most of the time talking vapidly about a being a “friend of business” and how “Conservative times needed conservative solutions.” Floyd gritted his teeth and raised his hand.
Mayor Gurley just scowled at him for a moment. “What?”
Floyd tapped his pen against his blank page. He held up a thick packet of new ordinances. “So let me get this straight. You’re going to raise property taxes, cut the funding for the library, defund the free clinic, and give hefty rebates to the real estate management industry?”
“No.” Gurley’s scowled deepened. “Those are austerity measures, and I’m creating a business capital incentive…”
“All industries. Realty is just one …”
“And doesn’t the Gurley family own about a third of this town, anyway? So that means, by raising my property taxes, your family is going to pocket…”
“That is uncalled for. I could sue you for slander.”
Floyd grinned. He looked at the small group of sleeping senior citizens snoring around him. “Go ahead. Do it. Imagine the headlines: Slumlord Sues Local Whistle Blower. Certainly would call some attention to Gurley & Sons, Inc.”
Mayor Gurley turned to the five men in tuxedos seated up front. The whole time, none of them turned to face Floyd. “Pay no attention to him. He’s just a local whack job.” He turned back to face Floyd, again. “One who’s had a very long history of delusional mania—like the time he thought aliens had infiltrated our school board. He picketed for weeks on that one. Plus, there was the time he was caught masturbating in the…”
“Fucking hell,” Floyd said. “You’re going to bring that up?”
“Why not? Plus, three years ago, you once claimed inter-dimensional aliens took over the Monmouthside Republican Party.”
“You are just a crazy liberal. Like other crazy liberals. You were sued for unjust defamation.”
“That’s not important. You’re clearly trying to…”
“Have you taken your medications today?”
“Yes. But that’s none of your damn business. I asked a legit news question. Bringing up my mental health history is skirting the question.” Floyd tapped his pen against his composition book again. “So, answer me. How much of my property taxes will go into your family’s pocket?”
Mayor Gurley’s face flushed deep red. “How do you expect to revitalize this shithole of a town, if I can’t raise capital to…”
“Ah,” Floyd stood from his metal fold up chair. “You’re not denying it. Wonderful.” He made his way to the back of the hall, but before leaving, he stopped and turned around. “One thing. Who are the fucktards in tuxedos?”
None of the five men turned to face him.
“And why,” Floyd said, “are they wearing tuxedos? Seems a bit odd—even for business men.”
“If you must know,” the Mayor gripped the edges of his podium. “They represent a large financial company that’s relocating here.”
“Great.” Floyd rolled his eyes.
“I’m glad you…”
“That’s sarcasm, asshole.”
Floyd left the meeting. He didn’t see any reason to stay. After all, he had what he needed – the open meetings law required this type of monthly meeting, with all the newly passed ordinances available to the public for comment. Floyd figured he’d go back to his cubicle and leaf through the packet, before writing another scathing editorial.
He walked two or three blocks, seemingly not paying attention to the dilapidated houses around him, as well as most of the boarded over store fronts. However, once he returned to the Monmouth County Messenger office, he was slightly taken aback.
Desks, chairs, and computers sat on the curb. Floyd was surprised the computers were not stolen already. Somebody had nailed slabs of rotting plywood over the door and the storefront window. Floyd looked up, and instead of seeing a business marquee, he only saw chipped, white brick. He glanced around, not knowing what to think. Then, the boarded over door opened.
His boss D’Wayne Washington, a very fat African American man in a grey suit waddled out. He held out an envelope.
Floyd took it. “What’s this?”
“Everything I owe you, plus severance.”
D’Wayne shook his head. “You know the thing about the newspaper business and the Internet?”
“Floyd, I’ve been losing money for two years, now. My credit’s gone. I have no advertisers. I’m sorry, but I’m bankrupt.”
“Aw, shit.” Floyd looked at pavement. “That sucks.”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t warn you,” He said. “I tried everything. I wanted new investors.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
“Move to Newark,” he said.
“Now, that is desperate.”
“A job is a job. I’d take one in Camden if it meant getting paid.”
“Well, best of luck with that.”
D’Wayne turned to reenter the boarded-over office. “Now, I have to finish moving stuff out.”
“Before you go.”
“What about my health insurance?”
“It’s paid till the end of the month. I can get you the COBRA paperwork?”
“I can’t afford COBRA payments and pay my mortgage.”
He turned. “Floyd, I’m so sorry. I really hate that I’m doing this you. Especially now that you have your shit together, finally…”
“It’s okay. I’m sure I can find some sort of writing job with benefits somewhere.” He paused for a moment, slightly unsure of what to say. “Thanks for the steady work, though.”They shook hands. Once he got home, he noticed a thick letter waiting in his mailbox. Floyd assumed it was just junk mail. Later, Floyd would regret not opening it immediately. A company called Interstate Business Savings & Loan (IBSL) had bought his mortgage off of First Garden State Trust.