In a commuter train on his way to work on Halloween morning, Danny Fain sees, or thinks he sees, an accident on the street below. Fain has a quick glimpse of a boy, dressed in Halloween costume, being hit by a car and thrown through the air. No other passengers see the incident, and Fain cannot be sure the boy was seriously injured, or even that he was hit.
The offices of the Chicago Bugle are a madhouse. Early in the working day the head man, Derringer, announces to a stunned staff that the paper’s owners have decided to close it down. Reporters, editors, and columnists are shocked and upset. Some of them spend their time concocting fruitless schemes to save the paper, many begin looking for other jobs, some sink into lethargy, some look for spies from the rival Quill. In the midst of the chaos, someone dressed in a Halloween costume is creating further disorder with sneak attacks on staff members. A few staffers, like Danny Fain, try to go on with their jobs.
Fain tries to track down the accident he may have seen. The police have not heard about it. It is clear from a guarded conversation that Danny’s onetime lover, now producer of a television news program, is also unaware of any accident. Fain assigns Tim Penn, among the best of the weak group of reporters left on the Bugle, to investigate the story. Fain gives Penn what directions he can.
During the course of the day, virtually everything that can happen in a newspaper office does happen. The printers begin a wildcat strike, and management calls in security guards to remove the leaders of the strike. There is violence, and two men are hurt. The supervisor of the paper’s “morgue” institutes a work slowdown, depriving reporters and staffers of their chief source of background information. Fain almost has this problem solved when Lucy Spriggs, his superior, intervenes, and the situation goes from bad to worse. Attempts to carry on normal activities are made more difficult by appraisers who explore and measure every office and catalog every article belonging to the paper.
The resentment of the staff at the closing of the paper reaches violent heights when one woman reporter discovers that Alexandra Jones, a young staff member, has been stealing her stories and passing them to the Quill, the rival paper. Furious reporters attack Jones, spitting on her and shoving her. Fain tries to get her away before she can be seriously injured, but the disguised Halloween figure cuts off Jones’s hair and in the melee slashes Fain’s arm, though he is not seriously injured. The woman is finally allowed to depart, presumably to go to her new job with the other paper.
Those who are trying to keep the Bugle going spend much of their time following two breaking stories. In Europe, a jet carrying several Chicago natives has been hijacked by Palestinians, and late in the day the news comes that it has crashed. Fain is given the task of calling the husband of one of the victims to try to get a telephone interview. Less callous than some of his colleagues, Fain fails at this, unable to intrude on the man’s grief.
Meanwhile, a reporter keeps calling in with reports about another story. An environmentalist group has stolen a number of small cars and painted them green. Now they are driving them at very slow speeds on the city’s freeways, clogging traffic. Finally, the cars are stopped abreast on as many lanes of different freeways as possible, bringing motor vehicle traffic to a virtual standstill. Every news organization in the city is following the story, and so does the Bugle.
The center of interest, however, is Fain’s concern with the accident he may have seen. He brings it up at the morning staff meeting and is encouraged to follow the story. During the morning he keeps in touch with Tim Penn, who seems to be finding nothing....
(The entire section is 1581 words.)