The Midnight Train Murders, Jim Keane, urban fantasy, thriller, novella

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Jim Keane
Astra's Revenge

 

 

29,600 words

182 pages

 

by Jim Keane

Russell Carson, a senior reporter fired from an esteemed New York City newspaper, begrudgingly takes a job with a tabloid notorious for fake news and sensationalism. When passengers are slaughtered on the Metro-North trains, he sees this story as his only opportunity to regain his lost prestige and sets out to report on the crimes. However, in keeping with the tabloid’s reputation, he writes that a vampire is the killer, but when he’s attacked on the midnight train, he learns that truth is more terrifying than fiction. He must team up with a tenacious vampire hunter, avoid a bedeviled detective, and confront pure evil to solve the mystery and get his honorable job back.

 

 

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Journalist Russell Carson didn’t believe a vampire had murdered passengers on the Metro-North trains any more than he believed Santa Claus was coming to town. However, tabloid readers wanted a story, the more sensational the better, so he’d made up a doozy. He was about to learn that truth was more horrifying than fiction.

After writing for the reputable Daily Gazette for twenty years, which covered the Bronx and Westchester, he was now writing for the National Scrutinizer because the Gazette had fired him for getting a controversial story-fact wrong.

The first three rules of reporting: accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy.

Russell remembered when he was a lowly beat reporter on his first assignment: The Man on the Street Interview. It took him three hours to get a statement and photograph from one of seven residents standing in front of a Bronx deli in the freezing cold of winter. After that, his outlook on groundbreaking journalism cooled considerably from his optimistic view that he was going to be a great reporter, but he never gave up.

Flash forward to his last day at the Daily Gazette.

With the increasing pressure to break the news first, Russell forgot the most essential tenet of reporting, which was accuracy. His “unconfirmed source” was positive that a shooter in a school killing used an AR-15. That was what he told his editor, Chuck Dolan, and that was what the Daily Gazette printed. However, later they discovered that the shooter didn’t use an AR-15; it was an M-16.

All the newspapers were chasing the school shooting story like hounds on a fox, but only one paper would break the news first. Russell was determined to get his story out ahead of the competition, so he didn’t take the time to verify his source.

Chuck Dolan, a big bald man wearing a pinstripe suit, slammed his fist on his desk. “Readers are depending on us to deliver reliable news.”

Russell, sitting in the hot seat opposite his editor, shot up from his chair. “My source was solid.”

Dolan leaned forward. “Not solid enough. Readers don’t want fake news, almost true news. The problem with anonymous sources is that sometimes they get it wrong. You should have double and triple-checked the facts.”

I thought I didn’t have to.

“This guy was sure the shooter used an AR-15. That was good enough for me.”

“What’s his name?” Dolan demanded.

“He wishes to remain anonymous, sir.”

Dolan sat back in his chair. “I suppose that’s his right.”

“We broke the story first. That should account for something.”

“Being correct accounts for more.”

A crowd had gathered in the newsroom outside Dolan’s office and watched through a glass wall as Russell and his boss tore into each other.

By now, Dolan was on his feet and pacing the room. “You’re a talented reporter, Russell. One of the best, but you know the rules.”

“I get the story first,” Russell said. “That’s what I do best.”

“I can’t argue that. You’ve penned a lot of great headlines, but this school shooting is one of the biggest, which amplifies the fact that you needed to get it right.”

“AR-15...M-16. They’re damn near the same gun. One civilian, the other military.”

“That’s true, which makes this so hard.” He stopped pacing and landed nose-to-nose with Russell. “Give me your press card.”

Russell rubbed his temples. “You’re firing me?”

“You’re lucky the shooter’s family isn’t suing us for libel.”

“They can do that?”

“It’s America, isn’t it? Clean out your desk.”

“Sir?” An icy hand tore into his ribcage and ripped out his heart. Reporting was what he knew; it was all he knew. Becoming a byline reporter was grueling. As a rookie, he’d made just enough money to pay rent on a shit apartment in the Bronx, which left him with barely enough cash to buy Ramen. He’d interview anyone with a pulse for a story. All that work, all that sacrifice, for what? For this?

Dolan would do better to rip off my arm and beat me to death with it.

He slumped back into his chair. “Twenty years, Dolan. I’m a senior reporter. You can’t do this to me.”

“The owners of this paper are coming down hard on me, Russell. There’s nothing I can do.”

Rage seared through his veins like wildfire. “You can’t fire me.”

“I just did. Get out before I call security and have you escorted out.”

“Fine.” Russell stood and clenched his fists. “But one day you’ll be begging me to come back.”

“Don’t hold your breath.”

“Damn, boss. This really sucks.” He stormed out of Dolan’s office with his head held high. “What’s everybody looking at? Don’t you have anything better to do than watch a man’s life go down the toilet?”

His co-workers scattered like roaches from light.

He headed back to his desk, unsure what he would do for work now. The other major papers would find out he’d been fired and blacklist him. New York Times, Epoc, Newsday, they’d all send him packing. “Anybody got an empty box for my junk?”

The phone on his desk rang. “What the hell?” He yanked the receiver from the cradle, hoping for a reprieve. “Carson.”

“Hello, Russell. It’s Frank Murphy.” He was the editor at the National Scrutinizer, the armpit of the tabloid business. “I hear you’re having a bad day.”