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by Michael Bracken
Description: Covering City Hall during an election year was all the excitement reporter Dan Fox needed--until he discovered Alderman Bill Franklin's bullet-ridden body. Who killed the alderman? Why did they do it? Fox wants the story. Everyone else wants him. Hit men, mob bosses, politicians, and mistresses: They all have stories to tell, and Fox pieces them together while dodging bullets and fighting deadlines. Fox digs for the story, and he unearths the long-hidden secrets of the city as he's caught in the middle of the Deadly Campaign.
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1994 USA
eBookwise Release Date: July 2002
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [201 KB]
Reading time: 131-184 min.
A newspaper thrives on deadlines and I was about to miss mine. Within half an hour I had to be at City Hall to interview Alderman Bill Franklin, yet I was still struggling with a short piece on his Republican opponent's campaign efforts.
I swore and slapped the side of my VDT with the flat of my hand. The green-on-green image wavered. Twice I had typed my story into the newspaper's computer and twice I'd lost the damned thing when I tried to output hard copy.
Across the room the clatter of typewriter keys came to a halt and Michael O'Shea, a grizzled veteran of the police beat, sat at his desk proofreading the yellow second sheets of whatever story he'd just finished typing.
O'Shea had never stood in the way of progress, but from the first day the newspaper had installed the VDTs, he had avoided using his. Instead, he pushed the keyboard and the screen aside to leave room for his battered Olympia manual.
I called across the room to him. "You done with that dinosaur?"
He grunted affirmatively so I lugged the typewriter to my desk, pushed aside copies of our competitor's morning edition, and quickly batted out the third version of my story.
On my way out, I ducked into city editor Jonny Silverman's office and dropped the yellow second sheets on his desk. "You'll have to get the composing room to keyboard it," I said. "I haven't got time to fight with the computer."
City Hall was nearly deserted when I arrived. It was August 15, a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, Assumption of Blessed Mary the Virgin, and most of the city had gone to noon mass. I walked down the hall to Franklin's office without interference.
I knocked once on his office door. When I received no response, I turned the knob, pushed the door open, and almost vomited.
Bits of Alderman Franklin's body were splattered across the bookcase behind his desk. What remained lay face-first on the green blotter in the center of his desk.
I staggered backward. I'd dealt with violent death many times over the years, but I'd never come upon it so unexpectedly. Bracing myself with a hand on the wall, I took a deep breath. Then I reached for the phone on his secretary's desk.
First I phoned the police, then I phoned the newspaper office.
O'Shea was holding down the city desk during lunch. I explained what had happened and ordered a photographer. We weren't a sleazy tabloid, but we weren't above splashing a little blood on the front page if it drew readers away from our competition.
"And get somebody down in the morgue to dig up everything we've got on Franklin. I'll have to patch together some kind of an obit when I get back to the office," I said.
Before long City Hall swarmed with cops. I stood outside Franklin's office with a middle-aged detective. He wore an ill-fitting brown suit, the collar of his white shirt wilted and the knot of his tie pulled askew. A shadow of beard crossed his sallow cheeks.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Fox," I said. "Dan Fox."
"Short for Daniel?"
"Long for Dan."
"What were you doing here?"
"I had an appointment to interview the alderman."
"You a reporter?"
I gave him the name of my paper.
"Read it every night when I get home," he said. "Tell me what happened when you got here."
I told him in as few words as possible. While I talked, he copied my story into a battered blue notebook. At the same time I copied his name and badge number from the plastic-coated photo I.D. he had clipped to his jacket pocket.
When I finished my tale, Detective Ballany flipped his notebook closed. "I'll type this later," he said. "You'll have to come down to headquarters to sign a statement."
"Call me." I handed him my card. "I'm there nearly every day."
He turned to leave as I underlined his name in my notebook -- I knew I would need to talk to him later -- then I tried to muscle my way back into Franklin's office where a crew from the coroner's office had begun unpacking their equipment.
A uniformed officer grabbed my upper arm. "No press."
"I found the body," I explained.
"Tough. No press."
I pulled away from his tight grip, turned and headed down the hall toward the exit. I'd only gotten a few yards when I heard hurried footsteps behind me.
"Hold up," Charlie Marotta said as he caught up to me. Three cameras with different lenses hung from straps around his neck. A bulging black camera bag hung from his shoulder. "I got some great shots," he said.
"How'd you get past the muscle at the door?"
Charlie smiled. "Didn't need to," he said. He patted one of the cameras. "Long lens."
We walked out City Hall's front door and descended the white marble steps. Parked at the curb was a white van with a dish antenna on its roof. A handsome, air-headed TV reporter stood waiting for us. A bulky man with a cigarette stub dangling from his mouth and a greying crewcut stood beneath a ton of equipment and pointed the lens of the minicam at the reporter.
The talking head rushed up to me and jammed the microphone into my face. "You discovered Alderman Franklin's body. Tell me about it."
I shoved the microphone aside. "Read about it in the three star final."
Charlie Marotta followed me. As he passed before the lens of the minicam, he set off the flash on one of his cameras.
The stocky man behind the minicam swore, spit out his cigarette, and rubbed at his eyes as the camera wavered.
Half a block away I looked at Marotta. "You didn't have to blind him."
Charlie smiled. "Teach him to point that thing at me."
Back in the city room, I punched nine for an outside line, then quickly punched seven more numbers. Janet Horner answered on the fourth ring.
"I'll be late tonight," I told her. "I've got a late-breaking story and a tight deadline."
"I know," she said. "I just saw you on TV."
"How'd I do?"
"Not bad," she said. "But you don't look as tough as you act."
An hour later I sat in the newspaper's conference room. Jonny Silverman sat at the head of the table. I sat to his right and Michael O'Shea sat across from me. Charlie Marotta sat to my right, opposite Silverman.
"This is the biggest story to hit town all year," Silverman said. "If we don't get it -- get it right and get it fast -- we're up shit creek. We've got three TV stations and the morning competition on our tail. And five will get you ten, UPI dumps some reporters on the story and CNN sends in a crew."
Around the table the rest of us nodded agreement.
"So what do we have here?" Silverman asked. He answered his own question. "We've got an exclusive on the discovery of the body." He turned to me. "I read your story. Good stuff. Needs to be punched up a bit, but I'll get to it in a few minutes."
He turned to Charlie and tapped a proof sheet before him. "The photos were great. I almost heaved."
Charlie beamed. He was the best photographer on the staff.
Silverman looked over at O'Shea. "So what have you got?"
"I talked with O'Shannon, homicide. Franklin was shot six times at close range, probably with a .38. Ballistics hasn't reported back yet. There hasn't been time. O'Shannon thinks it was a D'Angelo family hit."
I swore softly.
"Why?" Silverman asked.
"The method. The D'Angelo family uses two methods: car bombing when they don't want the victim to know what hit him, and close range with a revolver when they want the victim to beg."
I leaned forward and rested my elbows on the table. "I thought the D'Angelo family was busted up last year when the old man bought the farm."
O'Shea shook his head. "Only dormant. A few factions broke away, but Luigi 'Louie the Lip' D'Angelo returned to town about a month ago. He just got out of prison after serving an eighteen-month term for tax evasion."
"Would he do something like this?" Silverman asked.
"He might. O'Shannon says Louie is sloppy and violent. He's not at all like his father."
"Can we take this to press?"
"No," O'Shea answered. "O'Shannon won't talk on the record."
Silverman scribbled on his legal pad. "Can we call him a source within the police department, maybe a high-ranking officer?"
"No dice. It's too easy to trace back to him and he's been too valuable to me over the years to screw him up over this one. If I lose him now, I've lost my best source there and I won't have a line in when something big breaks loose."
Silverman nervously tapped his pen against his notebook. "What the hell can we say?"
"Noted underworld figure Luigi 'Louie the Lip' D'Angelo has been implicated in the murder," O'Shea said.
"Who implicated him?" Silverman asked. "We have to attach a name to a broad statement like that. And is he really a noted underworld figure? What's he done time for?"
"That's nothing. Doctors get sent up for tax evasion. Lawyers and housewives and even journalists get caught. That doesn't make any of them underworld figures."
"It's well-known that his father--"
"Fuck his father," Silverman interrupted. "If your father's a virgin does that make you one, too?"
O'Shea shook his head.
"Come on, Mike, think. This isn't the old days when we could print what we pleased. We walk on thin ice or the lawyers have our butts."
Marotta pushed his chair back. "You don't need me anymore, do you? I've got to get the photos enlarged."
Silverman pushed the proof sheet across the table. Two prints had been circled with orange grease pencil. "Give me eight-by-tens on these."
Marotta took the proof sheet and left, the heavy wooden door closing slowly behind him as he headed downstairs to the darkroom.
"Why don't we play it safe?" I suggested. "We could simply say that the police have no suspects and are pursuing all leads."
"That's dull copy," Silverman said. "But it may be the only choice we have."
"What about TV?" O'Shea asked. "What are they going to say about it?"
"They'll have to play it the way they see it," Silverman said. "We've got our own butts to cover."
O'Shea grunted. The decision hadn't been to his liking.
Silverman turned to me. "What about the alderman? What have we got on him? Who would want to kill him, and why?"
"The D'Angelo family looks the most obvious to me," I said. "He's been connected with them for years, but he's never done anything to get him into trouble. As far as we're concerned he's been clean as a whistle since the day he won his first election. On the other hand, there's a rumor that he broke off with the D'Angelos when the old man was killed. Maybe he refused to rejoin them when Louie came home and they made an example of him."
"Who else benefits from his death?"
"Depends on how you look at it," I said. "J. Standish Stevens is the most obvious."
"He's been trailing badly in the polls. Two weeks ago the deadline to file for candidacy passed. There's no way the Democratic machine can get a candidate on the ballot, short of a write-in."
"What happens if Franklin draws sympathy votes like Bobby Kennedy did after he was shot? What if Franklin wins the election?"
"Ballots are invalidated," I said. "Stevens still wins."
"Okay," Silverman said. "I want his reaction as soon as you can get it. Who else?"
"Franklin's wife, maybe. I don't know what their marriage was like, but if it was on the rocks and he had a hefty insurance policy, she might come out a wealthy widow."
"They have any kids?"
"What about lovers? Was Franklin screwing somebody's wife on the side?"
"Don't know. I'll check into it."
O'Shea cleared his throat. "It could have been a nut case," he said. "Look at all the politicians who've been shot by crazies."
"It happens," Silverman admitted, "but here? This isn't a president or a senator, this is just an alderman."
"We've got to keep our options open," I said.
Silverman checked his watch. "I have to meet with the editorial board in a few minutes. Unless somebody shot the president, we should get front page above the fold." He stood. "In the meantime I want you two to finish. I need that obit within half an hour and I need some solid quotes from somebody in the police department."
We followed Silverman out of the small conference room. Silverman carried his notebook and a printout of my story to the elevator.
O'Shea went straight to his desk, dropped into his chair, and lit a cigarette. A moment later he was on the phone, the cigarette bouncing up and down from his lips as he spoke.
I returned to my desk, called up Alderman Franklin's unfinished obituary on my VDT, and began consulting the bulging file folder of photocopies and yellowed newspaper clips the boys from the paper's morgue had dredged up for me.
A moment later, a pair of eight-by-ten photos gripped tightly in one hand, Charlie Marotta rushed out of the stairwell towards Silverman's office.
"He already went upstairs," I called to him.
Marotta swore and rushed back into the stairwell. As long as I'd known him, Marotta had sworn he could beat the elevator in a fair race, and he'd kept himself remarkably agile by repeatedly proving it.
O'Shea slammed his phone down and yelled across the room to me. "I've got it, Dan. They're calling a press conference at police headquarters in twenty minutes. Tell Silverman I'll be back as soon as I can."
He slapped a battered fedora on top of his thinning salt-and-pepper hair and hurried out of the city room.
It was quiet for a few minutes and I finished the alderman's obit with ease. After I closed the story, the cursor sat in the upper left corner of the VDT screen blinking impatiently.
I turned away from the screen and flipped open my Rolodex. As soon as I found the number, I called J. Standish Stevens' Republican campaign headquarters. A young woman with a nasal condition answered and informed me that Stevens was refusing interviews.
After hanging up the phone, I flipped through my Rolodex again and came up with Alderman Franklin's home phone number. I punched it out on the phone and received a busy signal. Either some other reporter was already talking to Franklin's wife or she'd pulled the phone off the hook.
While the phone buzzed in my ear, Jonny Silverman stepped off the elevator, gave me the thumbs up sign, and turned toward his office. I dropped the phone into its cradle, then leaned back and took a long, deep breath.
Copyright © 2000 by Michael Bracken