And now, your sneak peek ... Enjoy!
THE BY-LINE on this story, like most others, would say Brian Wilder. There were occasions when a story would appear in the Newark Observer that was written by one of a string of interns from the University of Delaware's Journalism department, but most of the stories were Brian's. After all, he was the only full-time writer on the newspaper staff. Of course, as the owner, editor, and publisher of the Observer, Brian had the right to give himself as many by-lines as he wanted.
If he was honest, he liked being primarily a one-man show. He had the freedom to write the stories that he wanted, when he wanted, without having to answer to anyone other than his reading public. It was quite different from his life of seven years ago.
Brian was standing along the side of Ogletown Road, watching as two-dozen construction workers swarmed around an old house like bees around a hive. Behind him, Cars and trucks flew by, transporting their passengers and cargo to wherever they were headed on that cool Monday morning in September. The grey clouds were threatening to rain on the activity before him; Brian was hoping it would hold off because he had forgotten to grab an umbrella. His shoes and the pant legs of his tan Dockers were damp from the morning dew, which covered the grass on which he stood. The long sleeves of his turquoise button-down shirt had been rolled up his forearms. A gentle breeze blew through his bronze hair, sending a chill throughout his body; Brian wished that he had remembered to bring his windbreaker too.
Jessica O'Rourke stood next to Brian, her auburn hair pulled back into ponytails, which shifted back and forth with the breeze. The cheeks on her round face were pink from the cool morning air. Her almond-shaped brown eyes were sharp and focused. She was a good eight inches shorter than Brian's six-foot frame. Her grey cargo pants and hiking boots bobbed as she stomped her feet on the ground, trying to keep warm.
"It’s freezing out here." she said.
Brian smiled as he caught a glint of sunlight reflecting off the small diamond stud in her nose. Her blue sleeveless t-shirt was doing little to keep her petite body warm.
"You should have dressed more appropriately." Brian commented, not wanting to admit that he was feeling a bit chilled as well.
Jessica checked the settings on the Sony DSLR camera that hung around her neck. She lifted it to her eye, focused on the activity around the house and pressed the shutter. Glancing at the small LCD screen, she reviewed the photo she had just taken. Satisfied with the results, she turned to Brian and said: "Explain to me again why we're standing out here watching a bunch of men in hard hats move a house."
"It's not every day that an entire house is lifted off its foundation and moved to another location, especially in Newark. I thought it would make a good story for the next edition."
"Yeah. I can see the headline now. HOUSE MOVED FROM ONE SIDE OF YARD TO OTHER SIDE. That has Pulitzer Prize written all over it." retorted Jessica, shuffling her feet again.
"I've told you before. Journalism is not about getting awards." he said, thinking of the Pulitzer Prize that he had won nine years ago for his reporting from the battlefields of Afghanistan. To him, that felt like a long time ago, almost another life all together.
Jessica shivered. "Why didn't they just knock the house down? No one has lived there for years.” She paused. “Besides, it's not like it's a particularly nice house. It just seems like a lot of effort."
Another smile crossed Brian's face as he listened to Jessica continue to ramble on about the morning's activities. She was almost twenty years younger than him, yet he had a lot of respect for her, and her abilities as a photographer. He had seen photos come from her camera that could have made Jessica highly sought after by all the top magazines and newspapers. Yet, she chose to stay in Delaware, working at building up her photography business, and acting as the part-time photographer for the Observer.
"Jess, don't you have any concept of sentimentality?” Brian gestured toward the house. “That has been in the Chandler family for generations. Just because they sell off part of their property to a commercial developer, doesn't mean that they can't keep the house.”
The house in question was an old two-story home built in the early 1900s; its stucco facade, which had once been white, had faded to a color not dissimilar to oatmeal. The high sloping roof descended past a row of dormers that served as windows for the second floor. The windows and doors were covered with sheets of plywood, just as they had been for the past five years. Surrounding the house, where a paved driveway and well-maintained yard had once been, was now a small fleet construction vehicles and equipment, ranging from bulldozers and dump trucks to backhoes. Mounds of freshly dug earth, the remnants of earlier preparations for the move, stood in piles around the property.
The area surrounding the house along Ogletown Road had long since gone commercial. With a large home improvement store, a banking call center, car dealers, and other businesses, this lone house had been the single holdout from an era long gone. Now most of the property had been sold to Rimdale Commercial Development, who was planning to put up a small shopping center. The house, which stood in the middle of the otherwise empty lot looked like a solitary sentry waiting for the return of its occupants. Rimdale purchased two-thirds of the Ogletown Road property from the Chandlers. The only stipulation of the sale was that Rimdale had to relocate the house to the adjacent land still owned by the family.
Brian watched as the workers adjusted the unified hydraulic jacking system around the edge of the house's foundation. The planning and preparation for the relocation had been going on for weeks prior to this day. Trenches had been dug around the outside of the old foundation, holes had been cut through the masonry, and steel beams had already been strategically positioned underneath to provide support during the relocation. A few weeks ago, a new foundation had been constructed a hundred yards away in preparation for the move; it was waiting like an empty shell to take on the weight of the old house. Brian had to admit that Jessica was right in thinking that this was not the most exciting of stories. Even presidential dinners at the White House had been more exciting than this. But, his whole purpose of starting the Newark Observer in the first place was to cover the stories in Newark that the regional newspapers would skip as being too mundane. The Newark Observer was only a weekly newspaper, distributed every Monday morning. Although only a small newspaper, the Newark Observer had a large subscription list and the editions available for purchase in local businesses always sold out in the first few days. Its high rate of sales could be attributed to the quality of each edition. Brian made sure that each edition had the same quality of writing as the larger papers that he had worked on in the past. This story would be no different. Although mundane, Brian planned to make sure that it was a story that his readers found interesting and informative.
Eddie Morrison had been a site foreman for Lehman Home Movers for five years. In his eyes, this job would be a cakewalk. His team was brought in by Rimdale Commercial Development to move an old house a hundred yards. There would be no roads to navigate, no traffic concerns, not even a need for a police escort, as was normally the case when moving a house from one site to another. This house wasn’t even leaving the property. This would be a piece of cake as far as he was concerned.
Eddie, who was standing by the controls of the unified hydraulic jacks, was waiting for his team to finish their final checks before beginning the lifting process. The hydraulic jacks were centrally controlled, allowing the performance of each jack to be monitored from one console. The system would maintain unified lifting, ensuring the all of the jacks rise and lower at the exact same rate, regardless of how much weight each jack was supporting. No matter how many houses he had moved, Eddie had always considered the system was an ingenious set of checks and balances that would keep the house level during the lifting process.
His portable radio squawked to life as each of his men reported that they were ready. Eddie gave a tap on the head of the worker sitting at the jack controls, signaling to begin.
Jessica was snapping more photos with her camera, when the construction foreman gave the Ok to start the lifting process. Brian and Jessica watched as the jacks slowly lifted the house, centimeter by centimeter. The process was slower than Brian had anticipated. His hope that it would be completed before the rain began to fall was looking less likely. Jessica, camera raised, was ready to catch the moment of separation.
Scott Hendricks was watching the progress as the house began to separate from the foundation. He could see the minute gap grow in size. A six-month veteran of LHM, Scott was the least experienced of all of his co-workers. The gap grew to an inch, then an inch and a half. It wasn’t until the gap grew to an inch and three quarters that the first sign of trouble began.
The old foundation, which had been there since the house was built, had seen better days. Even with his limited experience, Scott could tell that, once the house was clear, it would not take much to demolish the dilapidated foundation. When the top edge began to crumble, Scott didn’t think much of it. After all, there was always some small amount of shifting that would occur during these jobs. However, when the foundation wall closest to him began to fractured and fall inward into the basement of the house, Scott knew that something had gone wrong. He signaled to Ed Morrison to halt the lifting process.
“What’s going on?” Ed said over the radio.
Scott fanned the air, trying to clear the cloud of dust kicked up by the collapse. “Just a small collapse of the foundation wall. Give me a minute to check it out.”
As the dust settled, Scott could see into the shallow hole opened by the collapsing cinder blocks. At first glance, there didn’t appear to be anything to be concerned about. The foundation had fallen in to what was a small crawl space underneath the house. During the initial walk around in the basement, Scott had surveyed this area, noting that, although the rest of the basement was eight foot high, this area was a narrow three feet high with a dirt floor. About to give the thumbs up to continue, Scott’s eyes were attracted by something in the dark opening. Not able to quite pierce the darkness, he reached for the flashlight in his back pocket. The beam of light cut through the darkness, bringing the bottom of the darkened pit into vivid view. Scott clicked on his radio and said: “Ed, you might want to come see this."
Brian had seen a cloud of dust rise from the left side of the house. The jacks stopped while the dust began to settle. His interested piqued, Brian stared intently towards the foreman, trying to judge the severity of the situation. His interest level rose when the foreman walked from behind the jack controls over to the left side of the house. Another worker was already kneeling over the foundation, shining his flashlight into a narrow gap in the foundation.
Ed Morrison gazed down into the opening. His flashlight shone full into the darkness. He slid his hard hat from his head and scratched his scalp. This wasn’t good, not good at all. This would definitely delay things. He yelled across to the jack operator. “Henry, you better call the police.”
When Brian heard the foreman’s words echo across the construction site, he tapped Jessica on the shoulder and said: "Come on, Jess. Let's go take a look at what's happening." he said, leading the way across the field towards the house.
The foreman and two other workers were on their knees, gazing into the collapsed foundation as Brian and Jessica reached their side. Only about three feet deep, the hole was cluttered with chunks of crumbling cinder blocks that had once served as support for the old house. The collapse of the foundation wall had disturbed the dirt floor below. When she saw the source of all the commotion, Jessica started snapping pictures.
“Way wicked!” she exclaimed.
Brian gazed down into the hole, following the beams from the workers' flashlights. A pair of hollow eyes from a partially buried skull stared blankly up out of the hole as if pleading to be hoisted up from its shallow grave. Jessica stopped shooting photos long enough to say to Brian: "I think your story just got more interesting."
Black and White and Dead All Over is coming in September. Stay tuned for the latest details.