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The Journalist
By Darcy Moline

      We journalists enjoy a kind of invulnerability in war. We feel as if we wear a magic cloak that protects us — not only from bullets whizzing past, missing us because we are invisible to them — but also from the enmity of the combatants. One had only to show the camera and their faces would light up, and they'd murmur, "Yes, come closer. Tell my story . . . mine." When even the businesslike vendors of death welcome you as if to a bridal banquet, you feel you can go anywhere and do anything.

Of course Ernie Pyle was killed at the front in the World War. We all know about him, but he's like our patron saint, our holy martyr. Have you ever seen the old clip of his last piece of film, with the camera spinning as he fell, its impersonal eye lying askew at last, looking at nothing? A dead man's eye. My own eyes were wet as I watched it.

And there are others who have died. We know their names and stories. In Korea. In Nam. Yes, and Pearl. But those were aberrations; we ourselves led charmed lives.

Or did, until we came here.

Teddy and Paul were the first. They'd gone out together rather early in the morning, probably with nothing much on their minds but black coffee and pastry. There's an open air market in a district just beyond the main square where two old women used to sell some rather nice fruit tarts — a kind of strudel pastry filled with apricot paste. I'd liked it myself; a deliciously flaky crust with a sweet, chewy center. One had to get there early, or it was all gone.

But that morning, there were other things going down in the square besides pastries. They ran right into some kind of gathering where there was a lot of shouting and raised fists. And of course Paul was lugging his little over-the-shoulder, so he hoisted it up and turned its bright, impersonal eye on them all. Within half a minute they were all shouting, "Spy!"

Ted, when we saw him that night at the hospital, was not very clear about it, but I ga at day.

I hung around downstairs for a while, but it was stuffy from their dammed cigarette smoke, and finally, just for something to do, I went down to the darkroom in the cellar to develop some stills.

While I was there, I heard some firing, but it was not very loud. I don't know why it wouldn't have sounded louder, down there. I don't know why they never came down and found me. It was logical they would have. But they never even tried the door.

I suppose I thought the gunfire was in the street. And I had gotten interested in what I was doing. Also, in a darkroom, you know, the red light is sacred. One never opens a door when one is in the dark, lest one expose the film and ruin it.

But at last I was done, and I came out and found them.

All dead. Even the pretty young Brit, fallen half out of his chair, blood on his blonde-white mustache, blood on the paper in his typewriter.

All killed but me.

Not a mark on me. Unscathed. Unharmed. Untouched. A real Flying Dutchman.

Of course, they closed down all the offices after that, and the only ones who come here now are transients. Nobody's permanent.

Except me.

Having nobody to go home to, I stayed. Because I keep coming back to the same thought again and again: Was it the flower in my pocket — or am I one of the safe ones? Because you know, it's funny, but I do feel safe now. Nothing can hurt me, ever again.

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