Well. Today an old favorite character is taking center stage yet again.
No, I’m not talking about Wolfgang. He’s sort of camped out on center stage for a while now and he’s not leaving.
But another one.
Mr. News, please step to the front.
Yup, you. Get up here.
So, this week, we’re delving a little more into News’s roots. Family. Traditions. Religion. What he does when Wolfgang accidentally stows away. All that good stuff.
For new people, this is Blank Mastermind, the continuing story that I can’t leave alone. Welcome. -wave-
And for everyone, I hope you enjoy the story. ❤ It’s…. quite long, but there’s not really enough tension involved to carry a cliffhanger over to the next week so. -shrug- A longer story never killed anyone. XD
Home for the holidays
I jolted awake as my head smacked against the car door handle. The car jostled under me.
“What the . . .” I straightened up, holding my head and blinking around me to try and get my bearings. Where was I? Had I fallen asleep at the wheel? Had someone kidnapped me?
Then the faint strains of Schoolhouse Rock on the air registered in my mind. As well as the fedora poking over the top of the big front seat.
Bad News peeked back at me in the rearview mirror, flashing a grin. “Top o’ the morning, sleepyhead.”
So, kidnapping wasn’t altogether eliminated as a possibility, seeing as I still didn’t remember how I got in the car. But judging by the fact that it was News, the worst that could happen was his taking me to Disneyland.
I adjusted my position to a civilized sitting position and frowned, running a hand through my hair. I looked out the window at our surroundings. Definitely not Utah anymore. This was . . . like flat farmland, powdered with early winter snow. Midwest.
I blinked a couple of times as the sleep-fog cleared from my mind.
“Didn’t know you wanted to come along, bud,” News turned the music down a little. “You could have just told me you wanted to instead of just conking out in the back of the truck before I took off. I tell you though, you’ll love ‘em. I’m glad you’re coming.”
Then it all came back to me.
I’d come back to the Den late. I’d been unbelievably tired and cold and the only key I could seem to find beyond my car key was the extra key to News’s truck.
So I’d just popped open the back door, climbed in to the relative warmth, curled up on the seat and went to sleep right there.
And then the other important detail I’d forgotten that late at night: The fact that Bad News said he was going to visit his family for the holidays early the next morning.
And I’d just accidentally tagged along.
“Crap,” I muttered under my breath, slumping back against the seat.
Bad News frowned back at me. “What?”
“I just . . . I didn’t mean to . . .” I gestured a little and sighed, shaking my head. It wasn’t like I’d had other plans, besides working. But I didn’t want to crash the News family Christmas party . . .
Christmas? Christmas isn’t for another week . . . but he said he’s going home for the holidays, so what . . .?
News waved a hand dismissively at my objections. “It’s fine, man. Mama loves guests. Especially at Hannukah.”
I froze in my fidgeting to stare at him. “Hannukah? You . . . you’re Jewish?”
“Yup,” News gave me a weird look back, one of his eyebrows inching up towards the edge of his fedora. “You didn’t know that?”
“I-I . . . no, I didn’t, actually. Since when are you . . .?” I trailed off again, my mind spinning to try and place this new information. My knowledge of Jewish culture was incredibly limited, but I had a general idea of a few holidays.
That would explain the one week a year he randomly stopped serving cake and gave us all crackers. Passover.
I guessed the other weird days I’d noticed probably fit under that umbrella as well. The day that he’d wear an all-white suit and fedora and not give anyone any food. The one week in the fall he’d always construct some haphazard fort outside to sleep in so he could “see the stars”. The way he always talked me out of blowing things up on Saturdays . . .
He always wore his hat too. The whole skullcap thing.
It actually . . . fit, now that I thought about it. He’d just never offered an explanation, so everyone just went with it.
News was Jewish.
Holy smoke, just when you think you have a guy figured out . . .
But I should have learned my lesson long ago with Baden News. You don’t just “figure out” a guy like that.
“Since day one, bucko,” News watched me for another second, then shook his head and focused back on the road. “I mean, it’s not Christmas yet. Why would I be going home for the holidays?”
I shrugged helplessly, feeling stupid.
It was quiet for a few seconds, except for the faint background music of facts about spending money wisely.
I cleared my throat a little, looking out the window again as the landscape grew a bit more populated. “So . . . where exactly is this family of yours?’
I was almost scared to ask who else was in his family. I knew about Goodwin and the dog, Ugly. That was enough in my mind. He’d better not have ten siblings at home or something . . .
News honked the horn on his truck as we went through a tunnel and I jumped. He laughed. “Sweet home Chicago, Wolf.”
The gritty, dark underbelly of Chicago both seemed to fit News and at the same time . . . it didn’t. Just that he could stay so optimistic and have such faith in humanity in this environment? I’d have to put that down to his faith, not the surroundings he was raised in.
He pulled the truck up in front of a rickety apartment building, shifting into park. The engine rumbled to a stop and the music died out.
I cautiously looked over at the building, squinting one eye to see if those were bloodstains on the front steps.
News popped the door open and swung his legs out, hopping down onto the sidewalk and adjusting his tie. He looked back at me. “Well, you coming?”
I got out behind him a bit slower, staying in his shadow just . . . to be safe. He was a mafia legend around these parts anyway, right? Nobody would shoot him down with a sniper from one of these grubby windows.
Then again, would that make him a bigger target . . .?
Bad News had already started confidently striding across the street to the apartment building. I walked after him, fidgeting with the button on my jacket collar as I took in more of the details around us.
“Nice neighborhood,” I muttered.
“It’s cozy,” News agreed, not catching my sarcasm.
Cozy as the cold embrace of death.
Who the hell would raise a family here?
Our feet hit the cracked cement steps at an uneven beat as we went up to the door, which was already partway open. The broken top hinge probably had something to do with that.
“How long has your family lived here?” I asked, whispering without realizing I’d lowered my voice.
News squinted as he pushed through the door, “I think since I was like . . . ten? We got a great bargain on it.” He gestured grandly towards the grimy, tiny stairway winding upwards from where we stood. “Well, we’re up on the very top floor. Lead the way.”
I hesitated a second before heading up the stairs. My shoulders brushed against the walls, crackling the wrinkled wallpaper. News had to move sideways, but he did it with a smooth ease that told me he’d done this a million times before.
Usually . . . with the whole claustrophobia deal . . . you think it’s a “no elevator for me thanks, I’ll take the nice spacious stairs” sort of thing.
Well, these were the first stairs to bring the claustrophobia on. Pretty badly too, with the way News was wedged up in back of me. My steps on the thin, wooden stairs stumbled over each other.
Just get to the top, it’s fine . . . get to the top . . . there’s still air . . .
The landing right at the top had enough space that I was able to finally get in a decent breath. I gulped in air and leaned against the wall as Bad News emerged behind me, letting out his own breath as he came out of the stairwell.
He grinned. “Pretty crazy stairs, huh?”
“That was terrifying,” I gasped back, my heartbeat pounding in my ears.
News’s brow wrinkled up in confusion for a second, then he looked back down the stairwell and nodded understandingly. “Ohhh yeah, that is pretty cramped back there.” He scrutinized it for another second, as though he could intimidate it into being bigger, then turned back, stepping over to the door
I walked over as he thumped his big knuckles on the worn wood, noticing the words “NEWS CLAN” scratched on the door near the top. Then “WELCOME” written in dedicated, thick lines of purple crayon below it.
A voice barked back from inside, rising from among the clankings of dishes.
It made me jump, just with the sheer volume and annoyance in the man’s tone.
Bad News chuckled softly. “Little pig, little pig . . . you know what’ll happen if you don’t let me in.”
“BADEN!” came a chorus of voices so loud I could have sworn the building shook. The door burst open and we were both practically sucked inside. Backslapping and laughing and talking filled the air, so loud I winced.
“Man, getting here bright and early, aren’t we?” laughed an older man, almost News’s exact height. His teeth shone white in a smile through a neatly trimmed, dark beard.
“Just got the first batch of donuts done, too!” A tall girl with long hair proclaimed, beaming.
I had yet to take everything in, but one thing was obvious: This was . . . definitely the News family. It looked like Goodwin had hit his growth spurt since I’d seen him last and now everyone was well over six feet tall. Everyone wore fedoras. And while a few were pushed back onto hat-brims, everyone wore sunglasses too.
I felt like I’d shrunk down to Leif’s size.
Bad News laughed, pushing his sunglasses up onto his fedora brim. “Well, I’ll have to taste test now. Make sure they’re not poison.”
“Baden,” cut in a voice from somewhere out of my field of vision. “You didn’t tell us you were bringing a friend. Who’s this?”
The crush around us loosened a little and I saw a woman with long, red, curly hair in a wheelchair. She pushed herself closer to us and her face lit up as she looked up at Bad News. “Is this Wolfgang?”
“The Wolfgang?” repeated someone I assumed to be News’s . . . well . . . Baden’s other brother.
“In the flesh,” Baden stepped back, gesturing grandly as if I were some display. Everyone seemed impressed enough, anyway.
I waved awkwardly. “H-hey.” My voice cracked a little.
The woman in the wheelchair, who I guessed to be the News mother, smiled and clasped her hands together before wheeling herself forward a bit further. She reached out to shake my hand. “It’s magnificent to finally meet you, Wolfgang. We’ve all heard so much about you.”
She had a surprisingly strong grip and her hand was only slightly smaller than my own.
I nodded, shaking her hand. “It’s . . . fantastic to meet you too.” I couldn’t exactly say I’d heard a ton about her. Though judging by the fact that she’d raised Baden News, she was obviously an impressive woman.
“I’m Rita,” she supplied with a smile as she took her hand back. “But you can just follow suit with everybody else ‘round here and just call me Mama.”
Rita News . . . somewhat normal name. I mean, she’d married in though . . .
She wheeled back a little. “Baden, you wanna introduce the rest of the clan?”
Baden saluted with a grin. “Sure thing, Mama. Now, Wolf . . . there’ll be a quiz later, you’d better remember everybody.” He bent over slightly so he was more at my level. I was used to that. But now with everyone here taller than me but the woman in a wheelchair, I felt more self-conscious about it.
The News family lined up like this was a practiced drill, and Bad News started right at the top. The man with the beard, and the smile lines and face shape that looked so eerily like Baden.
“That’s my dad. We all just call him Papa.” Baden grinned as his dad nodded, touching the brim of his hat respectfully to me. Papa News broke in with his own warm, rumbly voice.
“But my actual name’s Olden and some folks just call me Old News, so whatever floats your boat.”
I had to check myself and make sure I’d heard right. Old News. His name was . . .
Okay. Okay, just go with it.
I smiled back. “Nice to meet you, Olden.”
“Next down the line, we’ve got my brother,” Bad News continued, gesturing to the next in the News lineup.
He was shorter (as much as someone in the ballpark of 6’4” could be called “short”), with more squared-off features than News, stubble on his jaw and a more serious expression. Sunglasses hid his eyes. Honestly, it was the fact that he wasn’t smiling that almost made him the most threatening looking of all the people here. I nodded cautiously.
“Daley, smile a little, will ya?” Baden prompted. “You’re scaring him.”
“Don’t I always?” Daley shrugged, a bit of a natural, sideways smile pulling at his mouth.
Daley . . . News.
I unconsciously ran my hand through my hair, tugging on my cowlick as I stared in disbelief.
“And you’ve already met Goodwin. He’s the youngest.” Baden moved on to the ten-year-old that was embarrassingly taller than me. Goodwin smiled somewhat shyly and wiggled his fingers in a wave.
“Yeah . . . hi.” I waved back.
Bad News patted my shoulder and chuckled. “Just hit his growth spurt. First one anyway.” He turned his grip on my shoulder slightly. “Aaand last but not least, my spectacular sister, Sunday.”
The tall girl with her long, dark hair crammed under a fedora bounced a little on her toes and bowed slightly to me. She grinned, her brown eyes sparkling and smile lines creasing the freckles on her cheeks. “Your hair’s even more spectacular in person, Mr. Dankworth.”
“Th-thank you,” I stammered.
Olden, Rita, Baden, Daley, Sunday and Goodwin.
All in the same family, we had Old News, Bad News, Daley News, Sunday News and Good News.
I didn’t even know it was possible to have that many pun names existent in one family.
I suppressed twin impulses to either laugh or go over to slam my head against the wall. Instead I managed an unsteady smile and nodded to the family. “It’s great to finally get to meet you all.”
“And it’s great to have a guest for Hanukkah,” Rita laughed, clapping her hands together. “Now let’s all have a donut.”
I guess everything was bigger in the News household. Those were the biggest donuts I’ve ever had. It was a little difficult eating them without getting frosting all over my face. And I’ll admit, I didn’t exactly succeed at trying.
“Like ‘em?” Sunday asked, shoving a basket of napkins over to me with a grin. “See, all the different frosting colors, we flavored them like Froot Loops.”
“Mm,” I nodded. I took one of the napkins and got most of the sugar off my face. That would explain the interesting colors. And the fact that mine tasted faintly lemon-y.
Bad News took another bite out of his orange colored donut, leaning back against the old, quilted couch he sat on. “Even better than last year, Sunny.”
Sunday tipped her hat and bowed, her dark hair swooshing over her face. “Always make a point to top myself every year.”
I angled my mouth to try and get a more polite-sized bite of my donut. I glanced around the room again, taking in the details. It looked like this used to be three or four separate apartments, but they got sloppily all combined into one.
The walls were painted crazy colors, plastered with postcards and hung with twinkle lights that looked to be more of the everyday décor than special for the holiday. The furniture was all sagging and patched, but still surprisingly comfortable.
I scuffed my shoe against the carpet. Looks like somewhere someone like News would grow up . . .
“So, Baden. What exciting things are going on around your neck of the woods?” Olden propped his feet up on the coffee table, crossing his legs. He put his sunglasses up, resting them on the brim of his hat.
Baden tugged at his tie thoughtfully. “Well, that Dallas kid I was telling you guys about got a date.” He jerked his thumb in my direction and grinned. “Wolfgang helped out with that.”
Rita clasped her hands rapturously. “Oh, that’s magnificent.”
Daley picked off another piece of his donut, which he seemed to be dissecting on the table, and looked up. “You give ‘im some advice on girls?”
“Nah, he didn’t ask. He’s still got my number, though. So if he wants to . . .” Baden shrugged. He thought for a second, blowing out his breath. “Other exciting things . . . well, we got some snow. I got a bumper sticker for my truck. I found a new flavor of ice cream. Rhubarb or something? It was pretty good. Oh yeah, and Wolfgang almost burned down his apartment building . . .”
I choked on my donut bite. Wasn’t he supposed to say exciting things that happened to him, not disasters I had while trying to cook dinner?
“ . . . but I had fire extinguisher in the truck, so it was good I stopped by when I did.”
Sunday leaned forward, looking fascinated. “Did he blow up any more things? I mean . . .” she stopped and looked over at me, as though just remembering I was there. “Did you blow up some more stuff?” She sounded like she was waiting to hear the newest installment in the exciting serial story of The Disaster of Wolfgang’s Life.
I managed to swallow the bite that was in my mouth. “I . . . um . . . try to not do that anymore.”
“Though there was a car engine that sort of blew up with all that smoke in your face last week,” Bad News pointed out.
“Nice,” Sunday grinned crookedly, nodding like she was proud of me. Though I wasn’t sure if it was for blowing stuff up or for trying not to anymore.
Goodwin walked back into the room just then, with a grin on his face and a dog at his heels.
“Heyyy, Ugly,” Baden sat forward, rubbing the dog’s wrinkly head.
It took me a second to remember that was actually the dog’s name.
Goodwin looked over at me as he patted Ugly’s back. “Did you meet Ugly before?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so, no . . .” I squinted, trying to figure out what kind of dog was so splotchy-colored with so many wrinkles.
“He’s a mutt,” Olden informed, sensing my curiosity. He sat up, swinging his feet down off the table and brushing the crumbs off his front. “Probably mostly Shar Pei, I’m guessing.”
“That’s the best explanation of the fact that he’s wrinkly as an old towel.” Bad News scratched behind the dog’s ears.
Ugly’s tongue lolled out of his mouth as he looked over in my direction. His tail flopped against the carpet as he wagged it and he nosed over towards me. I cautiously held up a hand for him to sniff, but he only seemed interested on licking the frosting off my fingers.
I wrinkled my nose a little and pulled my hand back, rubbing it on my jeans to get the wet off.
“So, with your helping Dallas and all,” Rita leaned forward, propping her chin in her palm, “you have a girl for yourself yet?”
I felt my face redden a little. “Um . . . no. No, I . . .” I cleared my throat a little. “I’m not really . . . looking? Or wanting that sort of . . . thing right now . . .” I bit my tongue, fidgeting with my jacket cuffs.
The idea sort of scared me. Okay, I’d built back some semblance of a family with the Fernsbys and Leif, but I didn’t want to take the chances with my kind of luck by betting on anything more than that.
Plus, when most guys would have been getting into the whole scene of girlfriends and all . . . I was busy being consumed with murderous rage and avenging my family. I didn’t have a lot of experience with girls, in other words.
“He’s shy,” Bad News clarified after a few more seconds of silence.
I snapped my gaze over to him. “Am not.”
“Ohhh . . .” Rita and Sunday exchanged a knowing look and a smile.
“No, no . . . ladies, really . . .” I shook my head, gesturing. “I would just . . . rather not. Right now.”
Rita nodded and leaned back in her chair, but the barely suppressed smile stayed on her face.
Baden poked me in the ribs, grinning. “You’re shy.”
“Am not!” I threw up my hands. “Really, you can say I’m a lot of things but shy? I’ve shouted down whole crowds of news reporters and stadiums full of people, News. That’s not ‘shy’.”
“Around girls,” he clarified.
“Leave ‘im be, Bad. You’ll find him someone eventually.” Daley muffled a yawn and leaned back in his seat, putting his hands behind his head.
Rita was still grinning like someone had given her a giant present.
Man, those rumors about Jewish mothers weren’t kidding.
I let out my breath and ran a hand through my hair as I leaned back against the couch. The light out the window showed it was getting later in the afternoon by now.
Man, I need to call Dallas’s dad and tell him I’ll be missing some of my work . . . and figure out how exactly I’m getting back . . .
Sunday stood. “Well, I’m gonna go start getting the latkes together, Mama.”
“Absolutely,” Rita nodded as Sunday started out of the room, wheeling her chair after her.
“Don’t forget to set an extra place at the table,” called Olden. Then with a grin at me. “It’s an honor to have such a famous guest over for Hannukkah. Now we’ve got a whole week to finally get to know who Bad’s been working for all this time.”
I sat up straighter, “Ah, actually I can’t stay for the whole time, really. Just . . . I’ve got work and all, back in Utah.” Hopefully the News hospitality wasn’t so strictly enforced that they couldn’t let me leave . . .
“Oh,” Olden frowned, looking slightly crestfallen. He looked out the window at the sun descending in the sky, his brow furrowing thoughtfully. “Well . . . you’re not getting back in time for anything much today. You can at least stay the night.”
“You gotta light the menorah with us at the very least,” Bad News coaxed.
I blinked at him, wracking my brain for what on earth that was. “The . . . menorah?”
“Yeah, the candlestick thing. We got some real pretty candles for this year too.” He raised his eyebrows and tipped his head, daring me to resist that offer.
I stood from the couch and peered out the window again. They were probably right. And I mean . . . of anywhere to stay in Chicago, this was probably the safest apartment anywhere.
I let out my breath, looking back at Bad News. “Well . . . I think I’m probably gonna have to stay the night.”
He pumped his fist in the air, exchanging a grin with his dad and Daley.
I held up a hand. “But I’m calling Roy to come get me in the morning, alright?”
“Sounds great,” Baden pushed to his feet, dwarfing me yet again. He stretched and patted my shoulder. “You do that. I’m gonna go help Mama and Sunny with dinner.”
Roy was more than up for a drive to come and get me, and Mr. Knight was very gracious about letting me off for the day, so I had my mind at ease for the rest of the evening.
And actually, it was pretty nice.
I’d never had “latkes” before, but they were really good. Sort of like . . . a hashbrown. Only they’d eat them with this weird sour cream and applesauce mixture that they’d put together for sauce. Not quite something I’d expect to like, but I did.
The whole ceremonial menorah lighting was pretty interesting and all, if a little weird for me to be present for a religious ritual of that level. The whole family there, just lighting candles and praying. But it really . . . I don’t know . . . felt nice.
Then, of course, more donuts, ice cream and talking.
The conversations about extremely random things and various family happenings went on long into the night. I warmed up a little bit to the size of people I was talking to and got a few laughs in there telling my own stories. I felt slightly less like a tiny stray Baden had dragged in off the street.
It was in the wee hours of the morning when everyone finally went to bed. I crashed out on one of the couches, Bad News providing me with an ice-cream-patterned quilt.
I wouldn’t have expected to sleep that well in the heart of Chicago, much less by a window. But surprisingly, I did.
There were more variations of donuts for breakfast, but I took a pass. Seriously, I liked donuts. But obviously I had a lower capacity for them than the News family.
“Here ya go,” Daley pushed a mug of coffee across the counter to me, nodding. Sunday wrinkled her nose.
“Sure you don’t want an apple fritter or something to go with that?”
“Yeah, I’m good, really.” I braced myself for a few seconds before taking a drink of the steaming black coffee. The burnt, bitter taste scorched down my throat and I bit back a smile. Obviously, News’s coffee making skills had been handed down to his brother as well.
Rita sighed, wheeling her chair back from the table. “Are you sure you can’t stay for longer? You can’t just take the rest of the holiday off?”
Bad News chuckled, swallowing a bite of his donut. “He’s not Jewish, Mama.”
“And I’ve got work,” I added. “Really, it’s been great meeting you all, but if I want to be able to pay my rent, I’ve gotta stay at work.” I checked my watch. “Roy should be showing up any sec-“
A rhythmic knock sounded at the door. “Yoodle-oo, you ready to go, Wolf?”
I grinned. “And there he is now.” I saluted. “Thanks for having me, guys.” Bad News waved I started for the door. I was ambushed on my way by the rest of the News’s, for goodbye hugs.
Sunday shoved a paper bag full of donuts into my hands and grinned, ruffling my hair. “If you don’t want those, your friend will. Come back again, okay?”
I nodded, laughing a little as I opened the door. “Yes ma’am.”
Roy stood outside, his hands clasped nicely behind his back. He stood on his tiptoes to see past me and waved through the door. “Hey, family! Cardboard says hi!”
A chorus of greetings was called out to Roy before I pulled the door shut. I squinted at him. “You’ve met them before?” I felt slightly more normal being able to talk to someone shorter than I was.
“Heck yeah,” Roy answered, starting his gallop down the stairs and pausing at the first landing. “Please tell me you got some one Sunday’s donuts.”
I held up the paper bag and Roy grinned.
And some collages to go along with.
Anyway. I hope everyone enjoyed the story this week and finding more about News’s family. ❤ 😀
What’s your family like?
See you all next time,