I lost a friend yesterday.
Readers lost a beloved story-teller. Sources lost a reliable ear. Bad guys lost the one person who would find the truth out about them. Homeless pets lost a compassionate soul.
And the world keeps turning in an obscure town in southwest New Mexico who lost a celebrity, an advocate, a truth seeker, a brave man.
His name is Sam Conn and he is my friend.
I still can't refer to him in past tense.
Denial, maybe? Or maybe I'm still living in those glorious days of 2009 when I packed my bags in Kentucky, moved 1,200 miles to Silver City, New Mexico to start a job I wasn't even sure I could perform.
Sam was waiting for me. I was nervous. How would he react to a young journalist coming to town to be his "boss"?
Technically, I was his boss. But after day one when we discovered our shared love of animals, our passion for truth and impeccable story structure, and our burning desire to fearlessly expose the truth, we were partners. Partners in our daily fight to uncover, uncover, uncover.
We were relentless.
Sam taught me what I know about real-world journalism. Always walk through an open door, meet people face-to-face, second-guess what they tell you, don't be afraid to ask the hard questions, don't trust someone just because they say you can, request documents, back-up your facts and always double check.
With his 30 years of journalism experience in Texas and New Mexico and my knowledge of newspapers, we dominated coverage in Grant and surrounding counties. Miles were the end to a means and we weren't afraid to travel them. We spent hours together in our closet-sized office, poring over our computer monitors until he'd say, "Come on, let's go for a walk." And we'd walk through downtown Silver City, strategizing, planning, talking. Then we'd go back to our computers.
On weekends, we'd usually be traveling all over New Mexico for stories for our respective series, his On the Trail and my Ranch Tours.
He listened attentively and watched furtively as I scratched our stories out on the gigantic whiteboard in our office. Sometimes he made fun of my obssesive-ness.
We ate at the SAME hole-in-the-wall fast-food Chinese place at least three days a week. It was our default. "Where do you want to eat?" "I don't care." "Chinese?" "Yeah, sounds great."
We argued with people, we questioned their motives, we sat in endless meetings whispering back and forth about the obvious bullshit we were listening to. We got in some scary situations but managed to always escape and laugh about it later. We were two steps of the detectives in several homicide cases. Our stories caught state and national attention. A few people quit talking to us; our feelings weren't hurt. We didn't balance work and play; it was all work, all the time. We cursed and yelled at the phone. We wondered what we would uncover the next day. We shouldered the toll of bad news, sometimes not so well. We wished that we didn't have to write about fraud, murder, missing persons, animal abuse, school violence, layoffs, drive-by shootings and governmental crimes every day. We wanted a break; we wanted people to behave.
He was quirky and made bad jokes that I pretended to laugh at. Or just told him it was a terrible joke. He wanted me to find love, a cowboy. We talked about being business partners after our days at the paper were over. He counted on my opinion; I needed his. We drank endless pots of coffee. He chewed untold numbers of smokeless tobacco. Wintergreen. The kind that smells good. He was thrifty and helped me to be more frugal. He introduced me to Red Box. After work, we'd meet at Wal-Mart and raid the Red Box machine. He helped me pick out, test drive and negogiate the price for my car.
My last day in the office, he wasn't there. He made an excuse to be gone.
The day I left Silver City he asked me to not stop by his house. He said he didn't want to cry. He said he'd never attached to someone so quickly or so hard as he had with me. He said he didn't want to hurt that bad.
It's painful now that I can't remember the last time I saw him.
Maybe it's better that way. It was probably just like any other day in the office. His "good morning, Hailey" greeting (an inside joke), both of us gravitating to the coffee pot, punching our computers on, reading the day's paper, outlining what we were doing that day, making phone calls, eating lunch, writing, writing, writing....aware, always aware, of the deadline.
I talked to him on the phone not too long ago. We chatted, I was revived by our conversation, we were brainstorming again. I had to go, I told him I'd call him back, I never did.
We chatted on Facebook a week ago. He e-mailed me a couple days back.
After I left, we always talked about how much we missed those days in our cramped office in an old bank building.
Now I miss them even more.
I'm proud to have known him, to have worked beside him, to have been his partner in crime.
I miss my friend. I still can't believe he's gone.