available at Amazon Books

Chapter 4: The shoe-leather years

Somewhere in my old files resides a photo emblematic of my Pennsylvania days as a reporter. When it was published, Chloe became suspicious about all the hours I spent on the job. She already resented overtime that reduced our time together. The newspaper’s generosity with time-and-a-half did not ameliorate her resentment.

Bill Burkett
6 min readJan 5, 2024


The woman in the photo had dark hair flowing down her back. She was lean and long of limb — easy to see. It was spring and her legs were bare beneath shorts though she wore the maxi-dress fashionable that year. But the skirt had a long center-slit from ankle to waist, almost meeting her cleavage: her idea of biking attire. She was pushing a girl’s bike in a crosswalk, head thrown back in the sun, smiling at me behind sunglasses. I walked beside her in my street-reporter profile: RayBan shades, dark suit, trench-coat over my shoulder, flowered tie blowing in the wind. Caught mid-step, planting a favorite old Florsheim wingtip on the curb.

When I saw the photo I remembered Glenda, another lifetime, another newspaper. Watching me walk to her across a parking-lot, she said my wingtips made my feet big and clunky as Robby the Robot. Hell, she’d been right.

My next thought: this was the second time a news photographer I knew took a picture of me with a woman without my knowledge. The first time was with Chloe by a Seattle fountain. Ironic similarity, because there was nothing going on between the lean lovely and me.

There could have been. My street work as reporter often led me to the American Civil Liberties Union, as it fought Nixon Administration attacks on flower-children morphed into antiwar activists. The brunette was ACLU staff — one of a number of babes with whom the ACLU guy surrounded himself. The newsroom joke was they might type slow, but they sure decorated his office. Their flirting often smoldered with sexual innuendo, something I never mentioned to Chloe.

Bad enough I praised a Chinese restaurant where one of them took me to lunch — forgetting I had declined Chloe’s invitations for Chinese more than once.

The photo ran with a caption about springtime, nothing to do with a story of mine. I saw it as proof of my freedom of the streets, earned with front-page stories. Despite discomfort of early-morning arrival times as opposed to the joys of night-side, my success cut me some slack when I worked late. I had become an ace, with dispensations. Protected by the gods — the executive suiteis the way one envious reporter put it. I wore out several soles and heels on my Florsheims pursuing stories the old-fashioned shoe-leather way.

Chloe of course made the news-photo connection to our springtime Seattle photo. Bluntly asked if I’d fucked the girl with the bicycle. Seemed to believe my outraged denial. But then: Did you want to? Where was this coming from? She hadn’t been this suspicious in Nassau — not even with Glenda in arm’s reach.

She was employed as executive secretary to a surgeon in charge of a whole department at the nearby state teaching hospital. His gatekeeper against wealthy staff doctors with large egos, always-horny residents and dozens of med students.

Plenty of testosterone to go around. Secure in my sexual power, it never crossed my mind she’d partake. Until she got antsy about that photo. Was she projecting her own roving eye on me? An edge of paranoia crept in.

Came an afternoon I was home early unexpectedly. She literally dragged me onto the apartment couch, highly aroused before I even touched her. Which aroused the hell out of me. She demanded it hard and fast, unlike our usual tender lovemaking. That stirred me so much I obliged — and right at the crisis, driving into her frantic spasms, I detected an alien odor on her breath. Not halitosis. Not nicotine. I couldn’t process it. And then the mental catalog said sperm. I was too far gone to stop, or wilt. Rage suffused passion. I fucked her like I hated her. Drove her crazy, would not let her pause between orgasms.

When I finally erupted she damn near passed out. When she could breathe, she was all soft and dazed and loving. Deep inside my brain I was ice-cold and remote. Had not softened one whit. Held her pinned:

“Was that better than who you fucked before I got home?”

She recoiled as if I’d slapped her. What’s wrong with you? “I smelled it on you,” I said. “He couldn’t get you off, that’s why you were so desperate?” She bawled. Oh how she bawled. I was crazy, I was imagining things, there was nothing, nobody, what on earth made me say such things? Maybe I believed her. Maybe my nose played me false. I certainly had ruined a wild erotic afternoon with the woman I loved. She was disconsolate. My damned brain refused to shut down.

Because she’d be that way whether I was wrong or right.

But I loved her. And she was in pain. I held her tight as she wept. Even when anger surfaced amid tears, and she tried to fight me off. None of that. Still buried in her, I apologized. Said my instant fear she fucked someone else did make me crazy. Nobody was ever going to do her good as I could do her, and she was a fool if she thought so. She sniffled a complaint: I hadn’t been doing her enough. The justice of that smarted.

She said I was spending more time on the street than in bed with her. That’s why she was so aroused when I was home unexpectedly. Maybe she had an infected tooth, that’s what I smelled.

Giving me an excuse for my traitor nose. Or herself one? But I didn’t say it.

My rage was gone. I was hollowed-out emotionally. Mentioned all those cock-sure doctors surrounding her. She almost sneered: egomaniacs who think they’re God’s gift. Not interested.

I wanted to believe her. So I did. Said that her suspicion about my photo with the ACLU babe made me wonder if she was deflecting because of her own behavior. Thought she might actually hit me. But she didn’t. She just said You’re wrong. I just know how you make women feel. You act all naïve and stuff, but you have to know. And your grandmother says a stiff dick has no conscience

Actually my great-grandmother said that. I was amazed how, denying deflection, she deflected me back to my own potential to stray. I reminded her how distrustful of females the matriarch taught me to be. How most encounters proved her right, and Glenda finished the job. The matriarch had told Chloe how thoroughly Glenda wrecked me when she was lobbying for Chloe’s return. Chloe had restored me, and earned the matriarch’s unequivocal approval.

Still holding her, still connected, I told her all over again she utterly penetrated my strongest barriers and lived inside my soul, making me feel safe and loved. Never having softened, buried to the hilt. Beginning to throb again with the truth of my words. She swiped at her wet eyes, smiled tremulously. I do love you, Ish. Her hips lifted and her breath caught. Make love to me, Ish, we’re still us. Make love like we do…And I did, and we did, sweet and slow.

Relaxing in the poignant afterglow, like survivors of a near-catastrophe, she could even laugh when I suggested maybe we should go out for Chinese. She did whack me then. We were in fact still us.

We had no more crises of confidence in each other. I kept wearing out Florsheim shoe-leather, kept piling up overtime, kept hitting the front page. Newspapering was my demanding other love. But we found time for us. She stayed sure of me even when I was called out of bed in the middle of the night for the occasional breaking story.

Her handsome boss told me she was the best office-manager he ever had, handling all the large male egos with calm and dispatch, highly respected. His wife thought the world of her. While I wondered if Chloe coached him to tell me, I accepted his word.

It felt like we’d found a real home in Pennsylvania, and the good times would last forever. But of course good times never do.



Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.