“Excellent,” Church said. “How bad is the damage to Warspite? Is Hermes still in fighting trim?”
Weatherby shook his head. “You know I can’t answer those, Church, and you couldn’t print them in any event.”
The cleverest thing Weatherby had said so far, and it wasn’t newsworthy. Just my luck, Church thought. “Do you have anything else for me? Any notable heroics? Men you’ll be putting up for commendation?”
Weatherby’s gaze fixed on a point somewhere behind Church’s shoulder. Church let him think.
Weatherby had almost been enjoying the sparring match, but now the weight of command settled back on his shoulders. In his estimation, there had been no cowards in Warspite that day two and a half weeks ago, and to a man, her complement was worthy of praise.
He focused on Church again. The reporter stood there expectantly, pen poised over the page. Weatherby sighed. Though he may have been a torment to the Navy, Church was, unlike most of his compatriots in the press, a fundamentally honest man.
Weatherby spoke. “I have something for you, but you’ll have to sit on it until I’ve returned to the capital.”
Church raised his eyebrows. “Why the wait?”
“The man I have in mind is among the casualties,” Weatherby replied. “I hope to speak to his family personally before the news hits the papers.”
“That’s a little out of the ordinary, isn’t it?”
Weatherby’s jaw tightened. “I’ll say nothing further unless you agree to my terms.”
Church was not in the habit of sitting on stories, but something here piqued his interest. “Will you keep it between the two of us until I’ve gone to press?” After a moment, Weatherby nodded. “All right. I’ll take the deal.”
“Here’s your quote, then,” Weatherby said. “Winston Hughes, son of Balfour Hughes—yes, the Undersecretary—was among those lost off Argo. After-action reports suggest that his quick thinking and decisive action served to seal Warspite‘s burning Number One magazine. Had it not been for him, the ensuing explosion would have crippled the ship. His bravery and sacrifice will live on as an example of the finest traditions of the service and the finest qualities of the people of this Confederacy.”
“… this Confederacy,” Church repeated, scribbling rapidly. “Thank you, Commander. I will entrust my detailed story on the battle to you, before you leave for Nexus. You may deliver it to the Confederated Press after you’ve spoken with the family.”
Weatherby inclined his head. “I appreciate your discretion, Mr. Church.”
“For now, I’ve no further questions. Thank you again for your time. Safe travels, and a speedy turnaround in the Fleet Yards.”