by Rick Beck

Chapter 5

Home Sweet…

George rang the front doorbell. His mother would answer, because that's what women did. His father wouldn't get out of his recliner for love or money, and especially not for the son he despised..

"Hi, Georgie, you know your father isn't going to like this." she said, looking at his clothes. "You two never give an inch. You could try, Georgie. He is your father."

"I had a really long day, Mom. Would you rather I call and cancel? It's over an hour on the bus from town, and that's over an hour back. I wanted to see that you're all right. He hasn't hit you again, has he?"

"Oh, Georgie that was such a long time ago. Can't you just stop it. He's my husband. He's your father. You should show him some respect."

"I show him the same respect he shows me, Mom. He's never had any use for me. A man that hits his wife is the lowest form of life." George said.

"Be nice. He's reading his paper. We don't want to upset him. Let's have a nice dinner," she said, trying to make the peace.

"You think I'm deaf? I can hear you two."

"George, it's Georgie. He's come for dinner."

"What, you decided to become a stevedore this week?" his father asked derisively. "It's the same God damn shit from last time."

"We're not doing this again, Daddy. I'm here for dinner. I'm here to see my mother. Let's call a truce for once."

"Why can't you dress right for Christ's sake," Mr. Hitchcock said, looking over the top of the daily newspaper.

"I dress fine, Daddy. I'm not doing this with you tonight. Mom asked me over for dinner. It wouldn't hurt you to act nice. Do it for my mother."

"Men don't act nice. They act like men," his father said. "Your mother knows how to act. You're the only confused one in the house."

"Dad, please don't start trouble," George pleaded.

"Cause trouble. Me cause trouble? You are trouble. Look at you! You're a disgrace," Mr. Hitchcock said, the venom clear in his words.

It was always the same. His father had no tolerance for anything but rules he made for everyone. You either acted the way he expected, or you were on the outs. George had been on the outs for years. Once he was eighteen, he got as far from his father as he could get, worked his way through college and got the job at City News. He was a man now. He wanted to see his mother, and in spite of his father's hostility, George saw his mother when he could.

"Come into the kitchen, Georgie. We can talk," his mom said, moving George in front of her. "You can help. Put food on the table for me. Like you used to do."

"That'll be a first. Doing something domestic, how original," his father said, making a lot of noise, as he turned the page of the paper. "He won't say anything at the table. I made his favorite. Steamed seafood, fries, slaw, and hush puppies. You know how he loves his seafood. We'll be able to talk."

What do you say at a table with a man who isn't going to allow there to be peace, as long as George was in his house?

"Yes, I remember. You're the best. Why do you stay with him?"

"We've been together for almost thirty years, Georgie. We are used to each other. You wouldn't want me to be alone, would you?"

"No, Mom. I'm sorry dad and I don't get along. I don't try any more. I am what I am, Mom. That won't change. You understand that, and Daddy never will," George said.

The meal was delicious and quiet. George and his mother made small talk.

"It's been hot?"

"Yes, it has. Autumn will set in soon."

"We could use rain."

"Some rain would be nice."

George's father stayed occupied with the food. As usual, his shot glass stayed next to him. He got up twice to refill it. He had nothing to add to the conversation. He did love seafood and his booze.

For the first time in a while, George didn't leave his parents' house with indigestion. The food did distract his father, and George helped his mother with the dishes. Rather than have their typical clash with his father on the way out of his house George left by the kitchen door.

A block away from the house, George looked back. He'd been trapped in that house with his father, for eight years until he left for college, never living there again. It had been hard on his mother, but George had a plan, and he wasn't giving that up. He'd work on his mother once he was a full-time reporter. Then he'd be able to find a place large enough to move his mother in with him.

Remembering a childhood that turned sour the year he turned ten reminded him of how lucky he was to have the City News job. His dream of being a newspaper man began at about the same time. George's life had become clearer to him at ten.

As he became more aware of his own identity, the trouble with his father deepened. His father wasn't one to leave well enough alone. It was his way or the highway.

George was back in town and as soon as he stabilized his career, he'd make better arrangements for his mother. She'd resist the idea at first, but once she realized she could escape from his father, she'd be out the door in a flash, as he was the year he turned eighteen.

George had only one thing in common with his father. They both had a taste for Johnny Walker. George had no memories of his father being sober. George hadn't been a drunk. He could hold his liquor. Johnny Walker didn't make George mean. He wouldn't allow it.

It took two buses to get to where his parents lived, and the same two buses to get him to his Maryland Avenue room. He walked four blocks once the second bus let him out. He simply wanted to forget the day, relax for a few hours, and go to bed.

Just inside the door, on the table with the phone on it, was a plate of chocolate chip cookies his landlady,Mildred, set out for him. She cleaned his room twice a week, even when he was rarely home, and Mildred always left him a treat, once she'd finished cleaning. The woman was a saint.

George remembered the day he went to see his room. It was second floor front, and George didn't know what to expect after years in college dorms. He answered an add, 'Rooms to let. Maryland Avenue.'

Mildred had gone in front of him up the stairs. She walked to the front of the house, put a key in the door, and let the door swing open as she stepped to one side.

George knew he'd need to bargain. It was how things like this were done.

As soon as he saw the huge front window and the park outside, he knew he was home. The room was modestly furnished, but the furniture wasn't cheap college dorm stuff. It was well used furniture, but well kept, like Mildred kept her rooms. The view of the park with children playing, dog walkers walking their dogs, and gray squirrels was worth the forty dollars a month. He could actually relax there.

"It's wonderful," George said, unable to hide his joy. "I'll give you two months in advance, but it must be this room. I love this room."

"You drive a hard bargain," Mildred said. "I'm lucky to get a week in advance most of the time. No one stays two months, except Mr. Magruder. He's been with me since Samuel died. He was my husband. I needed to let rooms if I wanted to stay here. Mr. Magruder was my first boarder. Very nice man. Quiet," she said softly.

George took the cash he had set aside for the room out of his pocket, and he gave Mildred four crisp twenty dollar bills. The deal was struck, and even though he was out most of the time, George loved swinging open the door and seeing the park across from the picture window. It was perfect. It was quiet. It was home.

George picked up a paper on the way to his room. He hadn't opened it. What he really needed was a stiff drink. He decided to eat the cookies instead. He left the half bottle of Johnny Walker in the drawer where he kept it. He could never remember which days Mildred cleaned, or maybe he wasn't sure what day it was when he left his room, but he didn't want his landlady seeing the bottle of booze when she cleaned. Mildred was a proper lady and he intended to be a proper boarder. She didn't need to know he drank.

George undressed. It always felt so good getting out of that suit. He picked up the paper, piled the pillows up on the couch/bed, leaned back, and opened the paper.

He'd not forgotten to look for the article on the mayor's wife, but below the fold, on the front page, there it was.

"Mrs. Packard In Auto Accident."

His mouth dropped open. It was on the front page, below the fold, but that wasn't the best part. The best part was the byline.

George Hitchcock was there for all to see, and in bold print. George Hitchcock had his first byline. A story he almost didn't take had turned into a front page deal.

The anguish over a too long day, ending with it being necessary to deal with his father, dissipated among the words George read. They were his words, almost all of them.

George read it three times. Two sentences had been changed, but only to give them clarity, and the last sentence was just as he wrote it. It had gotten by Pops and the Walrus.

George knew that he'd reached too far with that final sentence that would have the readers thinking. He expected it to be missing. It was right where he put it, exactly like he wrote it. That was a surprise. He let the paper rest on his lap, and he looked at the park across from his window. It was dark but several street lights furnished enough light to see the trees and the swings.

Wasn't it a nice day. Even spending time with his father couldn't ruin how nice this day was.

Tomorrow he would follow up on the front page article. Tomorrow, he'd interview Jon Delesandro, and he'd call the mayor's house to talk to Mrs. Packard. Maybe he'd go by Witherspoon Prep.

He'd left questions in what he wrote about Mrs. Packard's accident. Tomorrow he'd start answering those questions.

George fell asleep with the paper on his lap. He fell asleep making plans for the next day. He fell asleep knowing he had work to do. He wouldn't be sitting around the newsroom, waiting for a story to cover. This was his story, because it was his byline.

George was up and at 'em a little after six. Mildred handed him a cup of coffee and a dish with an English muffin and strawberry jam, once he came down. George handed her yesterday's copy of the City News, pointing out his byline.

"Oh, Mr. Hitchcock, it's beautiful. Don't you want to save it. You need to frame it. Isn't this your first byline?"

"First important one. I wrote for my college paper. My name was all over it. This is a good one. No, I want you to have it. I don't need to hold onto such trivia. Besides, I'm going to buy ten copies of yesterday's edition before today's edition hits the street."

"I heard you come in yesterday evening. The way you climbed the stairs, well, I knew you'd need a pick-me-up this morning. You shouldn't work so hard. My Samuel worked all the time, and he died way too young."

"You're a doll, Mildred," George said, kissing her cheek.

She giggled, and George went out the front door, not wanting to miss his 6:43 a.m. bus.

Pop's was already there. He sat with a steaming cup of coffee on his desk, and a stack of copy from after the City News went to press yesterday.

"Any followup on the Thomas Circle fender bender?" Pops asked.

"I need to interview the kid. I want to talk to his mom, and I couldn't get anything out of Witherspoon Prep yesterday. I'll take another run at them to day."

"If you'd told me no, I'd have advised you to find another occupation. Nice job, Hitch. I might need you if something hot comes in, otherwise followup on what you wrote yesterday."

"Yes, Sir," George said. "For the first time in his short career as a reporter, he had a list of people to talk to, starting with Jon Delesandro. After writing down everything he hadn't put in the article yesterday, George hit the street, heading for the hospital. As he came in the main entrance, walking toward the stairs.

"Hey, Lover Boy. Can't stay away from me," Judy said. "You better stop and talk to me. You never know what the well informed receptionist might be able to tell you."

George turned away from the stairs and Jon Delesandro. He could put off a visit to room 203 a little longer.

"You get lovelier every day," George said, swinging over to Judy's desk.

"Don't be so quick on your feet, Sweety Pie. Guard outside of Delesandro's room. Not right at the door. Maybe ten feet down, but he's there to keep people like you out."

"Any way to get people like me inside that room?"

"Do you know who my favorite president is, honey child?"

George put a five-dollar bill on the desk.

"I believe you know Abe? I'm out of roses at the minute, but I'm going to bring you one as soon as the florist shop opens its doors."

"You are a handsome devil. You speak my language. Forget the rose, Lover Boy," she said. "I'm do to go on my coffee break in ten minutes. It so happens there's a coffee machine down the hall from room 203. Every time I walk down to that machine, guess who follows me like a bloodhound?"

"It pays having good women in high places," George said. "If I wasn't busy in room 203, I'd follow you anywhere," George said.

"I bet you would," she said. "I appreciate the compliment, but we both know why you're here, and Lit'l old me has nothing to do with it."

Judy got up and smoothed out her dress before climbing to the second floor. A minute later, George went to the second floor. Setting about ten feet further down from Delesandro's room, was an empty chair. George slipped into the room.

Jon Delesandro was still propped up on four pillows, but his eyes were open and staring into a television screen. He looked a bit like a displaced raccoon. The missing hair with the stitches stood out in a pinkish colored flesh that was darker than his regular skin tone.

"How are you today, Mr. Delesandro," George asked in a friendly but serious voice.

"Headache. Aren't you supposed to tell me how I am?" he asked.

"Oh, I'm not a doctor. I was here yesterday. You wee out of it. I thought I'd check on you this morning," George said.

"Nothing a few aspirin won't cure. I think I've had my ration for this morning," he admitted.

George smiled. He didn't want ludes, dex, or crank to cure his ills. How refreshing. The kid wanted an aspirin, which told George a lot. In the midst of the peace and love generation, recreational drugs had come into fashion for the kids.

While Nixon drank his nights away, the peace and love generation got stoned and floated away. George preferred Nixon's drug of choice. He probably drank some expensive label booze. George started on his father's supply of Johnny Walker, and he hadn't gotten around to trying another brand, but he would one day.

Drugs were all over the university. You could hardly walk to class without being approached to an offer of drugs for sale. It was the new way to put yourself through college. You didn't need to go any farther than the closest rock concert or beer bust, to get access to drugs.

It took George until he was twenty-six to get his first job with the third largest paper in the city. He stayed with his college paper, until the City News hired him as one of their stringers. Until yesterday, he handled the over flow that real reporters didn't have time to cover.

After his first byline, he had a story to cover, and an idea of how he wanted to go about covering it. Jon Delesandro was his first stop that day, but he wouldn't be the last. George had questions, and the final assertion in his article created the day's work.

"The two time singles tennis champion in the city, Jon Delesandro, should be playing tennis somewhere, shouldn't he?"

George intended to ask him, if he didn't get the boot first. The bodyguard on the door wasn't a problem. Judy proved that. There are ways to get by bodyguards, but to get an answer to the question he posed in the City News, George would need staying power.

Jon Delesandro could be his younger brother, and not that much younger. He was sure there was more to the story than a simple lunch date with the wife of the most powerful man in the city. The private room and the guard on the door proved something. It remained to be seen what it proved. George had a hunch that Jon Delesandro and Mrs. Packard were up to a lot more than having lunch, but all the hunches in the world didn't make for good reading

According to Jack, this kid was good enough to turn pro. What stopped him from declaring that he was ready for pro ball, and he should have had more offers than he needed to be on the Delesandro bandwagon, but here he was, tucked away from the tennis world in a fancy prep school, going on lunch dates with the mayor's wife. George could jump to conclusions from what he wrote the day before. but George wouldn't hurt the kid for a byline. If he couldn't tell the story without hurting the kid, he wouldn't tell it. He decided that last night.

The mayor and his wife were players. They knew the turf they'd hoisted themselves onto. George wasn't afraid of the flack that could come from city hall. He'd opened the door to a larger inquiry, and so far, it was his story.

If he found a way to make it turn out OK for the kid, he was all over it. Ruining Delesandro's reputation, before he had one wasn't what he did. It's not how he would write the story.

George had discovered in the last twenty-four hours, there were limits to what he'd do for a byline. He'd gotten up that morning thinking about his limitations. Before he got his first byline, George didn't know he had limits.

"Tennis?" George asked.

"Not right now. I'm recovering from a car accident."

"Why aren't you playing tennis?"

"I am. Mrs. Packard hired my coach to get me ready. She says he's one of the leading tennis coaches around. He says I need to go slow, develop my game. He's smart."

"And well paid, no doubt," George said.

"I wouldn't know about that," Jon said.

"He'd be a fool if he wasn't," George said. "Who does he have you playing. You need to play the best if you want to improve your game," George told him, knowing a little about sports.

"When I'm ready, he'll get me the kind of matches I need," Jon repeated what he'd been told but wasn't sure about.

"Develop it for what, Jon? A friend of mine has a son you played in the city tournament last year. He said you were a ringer. You were good enough to be a pro, and you were playing high school kids. How do you explain that/" George asked, wanting the kid to think. "You don't get better playing pushover competition, Jon. To get better, you've got to play the best."

"Who did you say you were?" Jon asked.

"George Hitchcock, City News," George said.

"Where's Arnie? He always covered me for the News. How long have you been covering tennis? I've never seen you before."

"I don't cover tennis, Jon. I cover car accidents. There is a question being asked about what you're doing with the mayor's wife in the middle of the day, when you should be practicing for a tennis tournament somewhere."

George hit him with the big guns, because he was about to be asked to leave. He needed to leave Jon Delesandro with more to think about than prune danish, or chocolate cheese cake for dessert.

"I've got a headache," Jon said, and George stood.

"I'm a lightweight, Jon. I won't hurt you. If everything is above board with Mrs. Packard, no one can hurt you, but there are hard core reporters out there who are buzzards. They smell someone dying, and they hover to get their talons into them. You need to think about what you are doing with your life, and why you aren't scheduled to play in the US Open in September. That's what a kid with your talent should be doing. I'm not the only one with questions, Jon."

George had to call Arnie Siegal in sports to find out which major tennis tournament came next. He didn't tell him that the city champion was a little under the weather. He needed to sound credible to Delesandro.He knew a tennis racket from a baseball bat. After that he was in the dark. He did know there was love in tennis, for the young at heart of course.

"You need to go?" Jon said.

"Mrs. Packard been here to see how you are?"

"No, why would she?" he asked. "She's a busy woman."

"Her insurance is paying the bills. That's a reason. Does she have so little interest in what happened to the kid riding shotgun in that fancy new Mercedes. People with money can afford a new Mercedes, Jon. What kind of car does your mother drive? Oh, I forgot, she takes the bus, because she's working herself into an early grave, trying to raise her son by herself."

"What's my mother got to do with anything. Why don't you leave me alone. I'm tired."

"Does she even know her baby boy is in the hospital, Jon? I'm leaving my card on the table. If you're up to your ears in a situation you don't know how to get out of, call me. I'll help you. I hope you are feeling better soon, Mr. Delesandro." George said, as he left.

George was no fool. He knew the watchdog was only one loud word away. He doubted Delesandro knew he had a watchdog. Just like he didn't know he was being played for a sucker. At six one with broad shoulders and a ready smile. Jon probably didn't notice the girls swooning over him as he passed. He only had eyes for his high school coach and the net he drove his competition off of.

Now he was safely kept away from little girls at an all-boys college preparatory school, He had a coach telling him he needed to take his time, while the mayor's wife was making time with him. One thing was for certain, athletes had more than enough strength and stamina. Athletes had staying power and Loretta Packard had Jon Delesandro staying with her.

It didn't take a mind reader to read what was going on. From the time Mrs. Packard brushed him off, he'd been reading the situation fine. Jon had said nothing to make George think otherwise.

For the first time George had more than he could write. He couldn't write accurately about this situation in the City News. With readers reading between the lines, his supposition could still prove to be wrong.

If the readers got the right idea, he could end up getting fired and sued, especially if Jon Delesandro didn't mind being used that way. He was a red-blooded American boy after all, and George, well George was a stringer for the third most read paper in town. Did he really want to risk all that for one salacious story.

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