by Rick Beck

Chapter 4

Open The Door

At eleven fifteen George was back in the newsroom. He went to the desk with the Smith Corona he liked.

At that time of day the newsroom was mostly empty, and except for Pops, reporters and stringers came and went.

Pops sat at his desk checking copy that would appear in today's edition. When he looked up he saw George typing away.

"You done with the Thomas Circle story?" Pops asked.

"There was an injury. I'm going over to General Hospital to interview the injured passenger. I wanted to write the information down that I gathered at the scene. Then I'll hit the hospital."

"Good. If you can't make it back in time, call it in," Pops said.

Pops phone began to ring and he yanked the receiver up.

"Myers, local desk. Speak up. Don't yell. Who is this?"

George laughed. It worked for Pops, he'd been there forever.

He went back to work on the basic information about the accident. He did not put Mrs. Packard's name or Jon Delesandro's name in what he wrote. That he'd keep for himself. They wouldn't get this story away from him, and a story about the mayor's wife might very well go to a staff writer who covered Mayor Packard.

Once he was satisfied, he put the copy in the basket on the desk. If he wasn't back by 3:45, the copy boy would take it to Pops, but he would be back. Looking at the clock, it was 12:10. He was late.

The Walrus was standing in the doorway, his eyes on George, as he turned right to go to the stairs. Nothing was said. The best days were when the Walrus had nothing to say to him. It meant his job was safe for another day, maybe.

He took his jacket off as soon as he hit the street. He walked the five blocks double-time, and felt the rush of the cool air as soon as he stepped inside the Ante-Room.

Jack was sitting at the bar. George went to stand next to him, but Jack ignored him for the first minute.

"You're late," Jack said. "You're always late."

"You have a hot date, Jack? Ask yourself, where are you going to be in a half hour? Me, I've got work to do, Jack."

"You have a point. I got no where to go."

"I was on assignment. Fender bender at Thomas Circle. I get there and find out its the mayor's wife and some kid, Jon Delesandro. He got the worst of it. He's at General Hospital getting his face fixed."

"You've got to be kidding me, Hitch. You got assigned a story involving the mayor's wife. You are getting up in the world."

"I've got to go over and talk to the kid. See how he is. I wrote a tentative story, but I'll change my copy after seeing the kid."

"You don't know who the kid is? I know who that kid is, and I ain't no reporter. Just a schmuck with a kid of my own."

"I thought your kid wasn't talking to you," George said.

"He's not, but he was two years ago at the city tennis championships. He tagged dear old dad to take him. Why don't he play football or baseball. No he's got to whack a silly ball back and forth, back and forth, back and forth."

"Cut to the chase, Jack, you're making me dizzy. Is there a point to this conversation, or is this what I get for being late. I've got to go talk to the kid when I'm finished here."

"Yeah, my ace reporter friend, Jon Delesandro lives off of Kennilworth Avenue in low rent housing with his mommy, He is city tennis singles champion two years running. My kid plays him in the finals last year. This Delesandro is good enough to turn pro. He's nineteen and making my kid look like a cupcake. He beat Jack Jr. 6-1, 6-love. He's got a backhand that could stop a Mack truck. Why's he playing high school kids? Why isn't he somewhere else working on becoming a pro? How much money do those guys make?"

"Tennis," George said. "I know nothing about tennis. I hope Delesandro's game isn't impacted by what happened."

"I hope the little shit breaks both his legs. And the arm he hits his backhand with," Jack says, tossing back his shot.

The bartender walked over with a shot glass and a bottle of Johnny Walker, he poured it full. George tossed it back, putting his hand over the glass.

"No body can drink just one, Hitch. You going to ruin me," the bartender said.

"I'm at work," George said. "One is my limit when I'm working."

"I'm working too," the bartender said. "If I don't have a drink every hour, I get dizzy. I feel faint. You think it's something I ate?"

"Put it on my tab," Jack said.

"You got it, Jack," the bartender said.

"Let's go over and sit in a booth. Lots of ears hanging around the bar today," Jack said.

"Tell me what you have?" Jack said covertly, checking the hallway next to the booth.

George slid into the booth and Jack sat across from him.

"Drew Trask," George said. "He runs with Vogal. On my last trip to Loey's Trask gets real friendly, comes over to talk, as soon as I come in. I think I bought him a drink a week or so ago. He's real chatty, he starts talking about Vogal. He wasn't specific, but they pull jobs together. I listen and laugh a lot. He likes to talk," George said.

"You told them you from out of Detroit, here on business. Like I told you?"

"I've told you that I did. That was over a month ago, Jack. Sure. Anyone who asks, I tell them I'm out of Detroit but no one asks any more. I think words gotten around."

"OK. Trask is a rattlesnake, George. I've hauled him in a couple of times. It's been a couple of years, but he'd remember me. He's one of Vogal's lieutenants. He's mean when he's cornered. Tell me exactly what he told you," Jack said.

"He came in with Vogal a couple of times last week. I told you he asks me if he can sit with me. It's like he thinks he needs permission."

"He thinks you're in town on business. I told you they'd assume that once you mentioned Detroit."

"Yes, you did. Anyway he sat down last night. He's three sheets to the wind, slurring his words, and he starts talking about this job and that job, until he gets around to a job he pulled with Vogal months ago. He calls it a neat caper. A music shop. High class stuff. They hold his family while they take him to the music store to open the safe. They know when it's full. So someone has told them when to go," George said. "They made quite a haul according to Trask."

"I can't move on it right away. Too much of a possibility Trask might point the finger at you if we suddenly pull Vogal in on what he told you. I know the job he's talking about. We didn't release any details. The shop owner is scared to death they might hurt his family if they find out he talked to us. We have to cover that possibility when I move on Vogal. While I've got him, I want to take another go at him on the Max Stein hit," Jack said. "This is perfect George. I was hoping you could pick something good up, but this is good. The store owners description of Trask is perfect but Vogal didn't fit the description he gave of the second guy. Like I said, he's plenty scared of retaliation."

"So what I gave you helps?" George asked.

"You did good, George. Keep going in. Maybe in a couple of weeks you can stop going in there. For now you seem to be OK there and like I say, Trask could peg you as the snitch if I haul Vogal in on the music store job. Probably not but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Do you mind going to Loey's for a few more weeks?"

"It's like a walk in the park, Jack. I've never been around so many characters in my life. I could write a book about Loey's."

"You might want to change your name before you do," Jack said.

"No one knows my name. They know George is all. I'll keep you posted. Let's meet in a week. I'll want to move on the information you gave me later next week," Jack said. "You're there to listen not talk. Remember that. After I haul Vogal in on the music store heist, I might want to pull you out. We'll look at that after I hear what Vogal has to say. It could be too risky to send you back in."

Jack raised his hand as the bartender looked his way.

"Let me buy you another drink, George. You did good."

"I'm working, Jack. I need to stay sober," George said.

"George. you're my ears in Loey's. If they are talking, you listen. That's all I want from you. I've let you hang your ass out for me, because you seem to have some sense. Something happens to you, I'm on the hook for it, George. Do not do anything but listen," Jack said, firing his words at George.

The bartender was there to fill Jack's shot glass a minute later.

"What, I look like I'm getting fat. You two sit back here to help me get some exercise. He won't drink, and you want me to do a hundred yard dash to fill your shot glass. What's wrong with this picture," the bartender complained, walking away.

Jack laughed.

"Do you know Karl?" Jack asked.

"I know you guys call him Karl. That's it," George said.

"X-cop. Shot by the bad guys at a bank robbery. He took two in the chest drawing the fire away from his partner. He got a commendation for that. They retired him. Wouldn't let him come back to work. He bought this bar. We drink here to keep him in business. Good cop. This place doesn't do all that bad. It makes him feel like he is still part of the blue, you know. Once you wear the blue you never take it off."

"I didn't know that," George said. "That he was a cop and a hero by the sounds of it."

"And another thing, what's that broad doing with that kid? She has him at Witherspoon Prep. Kid's going to turn pro and make a million bucks, what is he doing going to that pissy private prep school? He should be playing tennis, and more tennis, but he isn't. Why isn't he? Answer me that," Jack said.

"I don't know from tennis. I interviewed her at the scene. Clammed up pretty damn quick, but she and the kid were going to have lunch at her house. She told me, 'We were going to have lunch at the house.' It's the middle of the day. Witherspoon is year round. The prices they charge, you'd think she'd want the kid in school, if she's paying for him to go there."

'You'd think," Jack said. "Kid from his background. Easy to dazzle him with a high class show. Kid never had two dimes to rub together. She's driving him around in her new Mercedes, She has him in private school. You'd think the mayor might want to know about that."

"I doubt I'll be interviewing the mayor but if I do I'll ask him about it, Jack," George said.

"He's not an easy interview. He likes to be asked questions he selects," Jack said. "Politicians are like that," Jack said.

"I'll take that under advisement, but I really need to get out of here. They should have some disposition on the kid by now. It's been over two hours. I'm going over to General Hospital and see if I can get him to talk to me," George said.

George stood and Jack stood to shake his hand.

George walked three blocks to the bus stop he needed. The bus dropped him a block from General Hospital. He walked a half block toward the hospital, stopping at a florist shop. He went to the cooler just inside the door, taking out the most perfect rose he could find, and the woman at the counter wrapped it in soft green tissue paper.

Outside the florist shop, George took off the soft green wrapper. He drew a five dollar bill out of his pocket, wrapping it tightly on the stem of the rose. Discarding the green paper in the first trash can he passed, George walked to the hospital entrance, going directly to where the receptionist was station.

"You've got to be the loveliest nurse in the hospital," George said, handing her the rose.

"Aren't you the sweetest, ...and what have we here? Honest Abe," she said with fondness. "My favorite president. How did you know? I'm not a nurse. I'm a lovely receptionist. Judy Carmichael, at your service. What can I do for you, Lover Boy?"

"Jon Delesandro. Car accident, came in about ten-thirty. I suppose it's too soon for him to be in a room," he said.

"No, we work fast here at General Hospital. He's in room 203, but I shouldn't tell you that," she said in a honey sweet voice.

"Do you know what kind of shape he's in? He had facial lacerations and a probable broken nose. I'd like to know how he is."

"Well, Honey Chile, that kid's in better shape than most people working here, and most of them haven't been in an accident. His pulse was fifty-eight and his blood pressure was 110 over 74. No sign of shock in that boy. They want to observe him for 24 hours. Possible concussion," she said, pulling the numbers out like she had them written in front of her.

"That's amazing. Not only beautiful, but with a memory like an elephant," George said. "How do you remember all that."

"Kid's on the fast track, Lover Boy. Someone is pulling strings. No one gets out of our ER in less than six hours, unless they die of course, and then they get a pass on the six hours," she said, tossing a file in front of George. It had Jon Delesandro's name on it.

"You are something. Got anything on the JFK assassination?" George asked, looking over the details written on a piece of paper attached to the front of the file..

Eight stitches at his hairline, three on the right eyebrow, and they put the nose back where it belonged in the ER. He was released to a room in the hospital before noon.

"I'm going to go get you another rose, sweety. How is it a file comes here? Shouldn't it be filed where his doctor can get to it."

"They never come to me, but a Dr. Horowitz is going to come directly to me. He'll ask for this file. He's a doctor of some notoriety, so I'm told. Treats only the moneyed class. A doctor like Horowitz usually holds his nose when his lemo drives past General Hospital. I'm required to bow when I hand him Delesandro's file."

"Horowitz? I've heard of him," George said, pondering the information.

"You better go see Jon right away. It sounds like he is going to be well taken care of. Might move him out of here is my guess. Dr. Horowitz isn't likely to come here a second time," she said. "Might I ask who you are, Sweet Heart?"

George took out his I.D.

"Sorry. I was so dazzled by your beauty, I forgot who I was. George Hitchcock, City News it says here. Does that picture look like me, My Lovely?"

"Doesn't capture the beauty in your eyes, but I'd say that's you, George, and you will spell my name right, won't you, Honey Chile?"

"You can bet on it, Darlin. I'll be right back. I need to see if Delesandro will talk to me," George said, heading for the stairs.

He turned toward where room 203 should be. No one was a the nurses station, and George walked right into Jon Delesandro's room.

He was propped up on a boat load of pillows. His nose was stuffed with gauze. A perfect accompaniment for the two black eyes that were already apparent.

The stitches stood out, but no one would notice once his eyebrow grew back and the little bit of hair that was missing hardly made a difference. Jon Delesandro would keep his handsome face, and now he'd have scars to tell his girlfriends about.

It was a private room. This kid couldn't afford a private tennis racket. It was General, and if some high powered doctor was taking the case, Delesandro would be on his way out of General. George really needed to talk to the kid. Questions needed to be asked, and the answers would no doubt be interesting.

Whatever the kid was on, he never knew George was there. George decided he needed to make a phone call. Then he'd return to the newsroom to file what he had for a story. He probably wouldn't be able to interview Delesandro until tomorrow.

Outside the hospital, George stopped at the first phone booth he came to. He reached for the phone book, going to the private school section, and he dialed Witherspoon Prep.

"Yes, I'm calling about Jon Delesandro," George said in an authoritative voice.

The woman said that she wasn't at liberty to give any information to anyone over the phone.

"No, you have the wrong idea. I have information for you. You are a year around college preparatory institution, are you not?" George asked.

"Yes, but I don't understand. What are you calling about?"

"Jon Delesandro wasn't at school at just after ten this morning. Jon was in Mrs. Barnard Packard's Mercedes, which was in an accident at Thomas Circle. Mrs. Packard stated that she was going home for lunch. I thought you should know these details. There are going to be questions about why one of your students was where he was. You'll need to have some answers."

"Just a minute. Let me connect you to the head mistress."

There was silence on the phone. Then it was put on hold.

"Yes, Headmistress Wadsworth. How may I help you."

George gave her the same briefing that he'd given the woman who answered the phone.

"I'm sorry. Who are you?" she asked.

"I'm George Hitchcock, City News."

"We don't discuss our students over the phone Mr. Hitchcock."

The phone was hung up.

George contemplated looking up the mayor's home phone number, but it wouldn't do any good. The phone would be busy, and Mrs. Wadsworth would be discussing a student over the phone. George was certain of it. Mrs. Wadsworth was exactly that type. She wasn't at liberty to discuss a student with common folk, but the mayor's wife, that was a different kettle of fish.

George needed to make one more call, if the number was listed. He went to the white pages, looking up Delesandro. He found the number for an address on Kennilworth Avenue. He wrote the number down next to the number for Witherspoon Prep. He'd be calling those numbers again.

He dialed the Delesandro's number. The phone rang and rang. After 25 rings, George hung up the phone. Taking a deep breath, he felt like he'd been running a marathon. Whatever running a marathon felt like. He'd been rushed all morning. He needed to get back to the newsroom. He would write a a respectable recounting of the fender bender at Thomas Circle that morning. There was more to the story than what he had, but for now he'd go with the details he'd gathered.

He couldn't sit on Mrs. Packard's name any longer. He needed to identify Jon Delesandro as the injured passenger. Nothing had been said about Mr. Tom Collins, driver of the 1958 Cadillac. He was small potatoes. George was certain that the story didn't end at Thomas Circle. He would leave the reader hanging, which meant he'd need to come up with more facts before he was finished with the story.

George went to the corner, flagging down the first cab he saw. He needed to regroup. Write the story, and then, he'd promised his mother to come to dinner that evening. He'd love to call and cancel but he'd canceled the last two invitations to dinner. He had to go and the longest day would inevitably grow longer.

"City News building, and don't spare the horses," George said.

"My horses have plenty of power to spare. You a reporter? You look like a reporter. You are, aren't you? Funny what you see driving a hack. I never noticed anyone until I started driving a cab. Now, I notice everyone. Funny what you can ell about a person by giving them a good looking over. I give everyone a good looking over. Once you get a rod stuck in the back of your neck, you learn to look a guy over before you pick him up. I can tell you that much. You, my friend, look like a reporter. Well, here we are. A buck seventy-five."

George gave the driver two one dollar bills and a fifty-cent piece.

He went directly to the newsroom, took off his jacket, loosening his tie, he began writing about what he'd found at Thomas Circle..

"Mayor's Wife In Auto Accident.

George knew he couldn't go straight at someone like the mayor's wife. The questions he had would not be answered. He left the meaning of what he'd written open for the reader to wonder about.

He smoothed over his conversation with Mrs. Packard, but at the end, he quoted her, "We were going to my house for lunch."

After ending the article with Mrs. Packard's words, George wrote a sentence with an innuendo in it. It was subtle, but any thinking reader would read it and pause to think. George paused to think before taking his copy to Pops' desk. He put it in the in-basket.

George saw Pops reading it. When he reached the last sentence, after reading it, he looked directly at George.. Pops shook his head. He did not pick up the red pencil to cross it out. He was letting it go. The Walrus would be another story. He might use his red pencil to cross out the sentence. George wrote what was obvious to him. What was obvious to the Walrus, he didn't know. It was his newspaper.

Everything that he knew and left out were covered by that sentence. Suspicion was left for the clear thinking reader to have. A fan of the mayor and his wife wouldn't be offended. They'd see nothing wrong. George didn't only need to write a story the reader related to, but he had to write it to get it past Pops and the Walrus.

One misstep, and a staff reporter would be collecting the police report, and interviewing Officer Lemon, and he could write what George wrote without bothering Mrs. Packard or Jon Delesandro. The basic facts were suggestive without readers knowing what was being suggested. If the innuendo was out, someone else would be covering the story tomorrow, if they wanted a followup.

"Your blocked off for the rest of the day?" Pops asked on his return from one of his bathroom breaks.

"Yes, I am. Private business to take care of."

"Good. I'm tired of looking at your face. You need to get a life, Hitch. Get out of here," he said gruffly. "And don't be late in the morning."

George laughed. Pops' was right out of Damon Runyon.

George wasn't a newshound tonight. He wasn't working for Jack, the Walrus, or even for himself. He was invited to dinner at his parents' house, the house where he grew up.

George needed to be invited before he went. He talked to his mother a couple of times a week, but going home to dinner meant dealing with his father, and the only reason George came in contact with his father was his mother.

A good time would not be had by all. George would be on pins and needles for the visit, and once he left, he'd be glad that was over.

At four George got on the first of the two buses that would get him to within a half mile of his parents' house. They had to eat by six if George was to catch the last bus back to town. The thought of spending a night in his old bedroom was enough to give him ulcers. He'd put on his walking shoes that morning just in case.

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