by Rick Beck

Chapter 6

Follow Your Nose

George headed for the stairs and the main entrance. He still had work to do. He was already writing the followup on the fender bender at Thomas Circle. Jon seemed OK to him but head injuries were unpredictable. He needed to call the mayor's mansion and Witherspoon Prep.

While he didn't expect much more than he got yesterday, Pops and the Walrus would be looking for more. Why else would the story about Mrs. Packard's auto accident have been on the front page and not in the local section. Than again, there was a lack of news during the city's summer hiatus. Even the newsroom stayed half empty.

He hit the final stair and was heading for the door when he got the call.

"Hey, Lover Boy. Have time for a chat?"

"For you, My Love, I've got all the time you want," George said, stepping over to the receptionists desk.

"He's staying one more night. Mild concussion, but they want to watch him. He's some kind of athlete. Horowitz came once. Hasn't been back. Probably won't be. A staff doctor is supervising the case. You think Horowitz is scared by the size of the germs at General?"

"Wouldn't surprise me. How about visitors?" George asked.

"No visitors have stopped to ask his room number. It's been as quiet as I've ever seen it, and there's the bloodhound in the hall outside. No one has called to ask about him either," Judy told him.

"Why would a boy from the poor side of town need a guard?" George asked.

"He under arrest?" she asked.

"He's an athlete not doing anything athletic. Well, not in public anyway," George said as he gave it a second thought. "Than there's Dr. Horowitz. The doctor who isn't there. That must mean he doesn't need the good doctor's services."

"You've got three other hospitals in town," Judy said. "The poor folks come here. You want special treatment and luxury accommodations, you don't come here. Were a good hospital but bare bones. We won't pad your bill because we can't add that high. All that's left is keeping him here so he doesn't talk to anyone. What's he got to talk about is the question."

"When I gave that question a go, I didn't have an answer, but you asking me gives me a good idea why he's in a low rent zone with a very expensive guard on his door. They don't want anyone asking him questions. You're a doll Judy and your smart."

"The guard on the door caper only works if you don't have a receptionist running interference for her favorite reporter," Judy said.

"isn't that the truth," George said. "His mother? They can't keep his mother from seeing her son," George said.

"No, they can't but I'm betting mommy doesn't know where her little boy is at. Do you know where your kids are?"

"No kids. If I had kids I'd know where they were," George said. "I think someone needs to tell Mrs. Delesandro where Jon is. I have a hunch it will come as a surprise to her," George said.

"No one has been here to see him but Horowitz. He looked at the file and handed it back to me. He scooted away from here as fast as his short fat legs would take him. Whatever he was here to do, it didn't take any time for him to do it."

"Jon doesn't need a high powered doctor. That tells me the case would have been a waste of his time. I need to go use a phone. I have a feeling Mrs. Delesandro will leave for work soon."

"Maybe he called his mother on the phone," Judy said.

"I'm betting he didn't. He is being dazzled by some high powered people who aren't particularly worried about Jon or his mother. A poor kid can be dazzled by the glitz and glitter the wealthy flash around. They put the guard on his door to keep the kid in the dark and it's time to turn on the light."

"You let me know how this turns out, Hon. Why do you care about this kid?"

"I don't get to tell anyone what to do but this kid has a ticket out of palookaville and there are people holding him back. I think he needs a wake up call. I aim to give one if I can," George said.

"Sweetheart, you the finder of lost dreams?" Judy asked.

"What's a nice thing to say. Maybe I'm the reminder of what the dream is. He hasn't lost it but it's a dream that can fade fast."

"Problem is, you can get that horse over to where the water is, but if that horse don't have a mind to drink it, he ain't going to, Hon."

"I'm told, but don't know, this kid is good enough to turn pro. Why wouldn't he be going in that direction? Instead he's running around with the mayor's wife."

"He's getting something he ain't never got before," Judy said. "And that is the most powerful drug of all. Men are known to get themselves swept right away in the sea of love. Blinded by love."

"Yes, it is," George said. "I think I need to call his mother. She needs to know where her son is. It's not my job to tell her, but I have questions only she can answer," George said.

"I hope you can help him. He's here until tomorrow morning, according to Dr. Jasmine."

"I shall return," George said dramatically, heading for the door.

George went to the phone booth on the corner. He took out his notebook where he wrote down the Delesandro's number."

"Hello!" a soft voice said. "You need to make it fast. I've got to catch a bus in five minutes," she said.

"Mrs. Delesandro, mother of Jon Delesandro?"

"Yes, who is this?" she asked, panic in her voice.

"Calm down. Not a thing to be alarmed about. My name is George Hitchcock. I'm with the city news. Do you have yesterdays edition of the City News, Mrs. Delesandro."

"Yes, it's on the coffee table. I haven't had a chance to read it."

"OK, first, I just left Jon. He is fine. I was under the impression you hadn't been informed he had been in an automobile accident yesterday," George said. "I decided you should be informed."

A gasp could be heard on the other end of the phone.

"He's fine. Didn't you know where your son was?"

"No, I have no idea. He's not been home in some time. You're sure he's all right. Yes, the story is on the bottom of the front page."

"Front page. A car accident. Why the front page?" she asked.

"Do you know who your son is with, Mrs. Delesandro."

"That woman," she spit out.

"What woman is that?" he asked.

"It sure as hell ain't Ladybird. Mrs. Packard won't leave Jon alone. I've tried to talk to him. He thinks she's helping him. He's a talented boy. He can have a future and that damn woman won't leave him alone. I don't know what to do."

"Mrs. Delesandro, can you remember my name?"

"No. Let me right it down. What hospital? I'm going to get fired. I need that job."

"He is at City General. I'm George Hitchcock, City News. I'm going to give you my home and work numbers. Can you write them down?"

"Yes. Go ahead."

George gave her two numbers.

"I don't have a car, Mrs. Delesandro. I'd come pick you up if I did, but you'll have to decide what's best for you under the circumstances," George said. "I understand they will keep him until tomorrow. He is in room 203. They think he has a mild concussion. If you can't go right away, well, that's what I know. I called you as soon as I left the hospital."

"Mr. Hitchcock?"

"George. Call me George," he said, feeling sympathetic toward the woman..

"Thank you. I don't know why you felt it was necessary to tell me about my own son, but thank you. I'll get there somehow. I don't know what buses go there. I need to be sure my son is OK. I can get another job. I can't get another son, even if he is hardheaded."

"I thought you would. Mrs. Delesandro, I hate asking you this right now, but the news waits for no man or mom. Can I interview you about what has been going on with your son. I've been told he should be starting a professional tennis career. I don't know anything about tennis, but if he isn't using his God given gifts, well, would you talk to me about it. At a time and place of your choosing."

"Absolutely, I will. You can bet on that," she said, almost joyful.

"Thank you, Mrs. Delesandro. Everything is going to be OK," George said, cutting off the call.

He dared not make promises he couldn't keep. He was hanging on to the story by the skin of his teeth. He needed to make the most of it. He hung the phone up, leaning his head against the cool glass on the phone booth, suddenly exhausted.

He still needed to call Mrs. Packard, and he intended to go to Witherspoon Prep to see Mrs. Wadsworth eye to eye. None of it was appetizing. The battle for Jon Delesandro had begun.

"Hey, Buddy, you going to use that phone or what. People are waiting," a rude an irritating voice broadcast to anyone who cared.

That's all he needed. Get in a fist fight over a telephone.

George stepped out of the phone booth and walked to the corner. He wasn't sure which move he wanted to make next. He wasn't going to get anything out of Mrs. Packard or Mrs. Wadsworth. He had to try.

Mrs. Packard and Mrs. Wadsworth weren't talking. They weren't talking to George. The first call to the mayor's residence got a cordial, "Good morning, and she's not available at the moment."

His second call a few hours later got him, "Don't call here again, Mr. Hitchcock. We know who you are. Mrs. Packard has no comment for you."

George was the wordsmith who put that nagging little innuendo at the end of the article on the fender bender at Thomas Circle. While Mrs. Packard's backers weren't looking into Mrs. Packard's boudoir for the answer to why Jon Delesandro wasn't playing more tennis, Mrs. Packard obviously was, and she wasn't talking.

While clamming up works in some instances, when you clam up in the face of a journalist's inquiry, it crates more questions.

George knew enough not to tug on Superman's cape or spit in the wind, but no one taught him how to dismiss a question that got to the heart of what his original inquiry.

George would have had nothing more than hunches to go on in the Packard fender bender, until Jack Carter remembered a tennis player that made his son look bad, and the woman who seemed to sponsor everything that tennis player did. It was the tip that kept on giving, but George had hit a snag on the Packard story. He wasn't done with it yet, but he didn't know his next move either.

He might make another run at Mrs. Packard but she wasn't suddenly going to tell all. What she said confirmed Jack's suspicion about the woman and Jon. George was already thinking in that direction. Jon's reaction to him wasn't the kind of reaction he'd expect if Mrs. Packard was Jon's innocent benefactor. He'd brag about it.

Even Judy went straight to the male's inability to sort out the fact he was being played by the woman he was romancing. George had no information that excluded that as a possibility. For the first time George wondered why Mayor Packard hadn't put a stop to his wife dallying with the tennis player. As city tennis champion, he had to know who Jon was. His wife was paying for him to go to Witherspoon. You didn't do that by using the household account.

What better source for matters of the heart could he have than another woman. Men were mostly oblivious to the undercurrents surrounding their need to breed. For a man it's straight forward. I can so I do. George wasn't stupid and Judy called it the way she saw it, which was how George saw it but he couldn't write it that way.

His second article on Mrs. Packard's accident didn't mention Judy or Jack. As Joe Friday said, 'Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts."

It wasn't compelling reading. He wrote about the passenger in the car being hospitalized. Jon Delesandro, the city's tennis champion, would be released on Sunday if there were no complications. He added that the famous Dr. Horowitz had been consulted. He didn't mention the consultation was with the receptionist. He didn't see Jon.

He ended the three paragraphs with the fact Mrs. Delesandro didn't know of Jon's hospitalization. It caught her off guard. George dropped it into Pops' in-basket a little after noon. He immediately retrieved it, read it through, and put his initials on it in red, dropping it into the out-basket as ready to go to press. That basket would go to the Walrus. He'd add his initials if Pops' judgment was true to form.

It was and the article appeared on the front page of the local section near the top of the page. The byline, George Hitchcock, was on the story. It wasn't nearly as impressive as the original story, but another byline, the second in two days was great. A byline increased his pay. It also drew him closer to that full-time reporter's job.

It spoke of Jon's hospitalization, his city tennis championships, and a stirred but not shaken Mrs. Packard.

might not. Maybe he thought over what George had said to him.

George decided to stop at Judy's receptionist station first. He had a feeling that stopping there would save him a lot of wasted steps.

"Your boy flew the coop sometime after I left for the day yesterday. I checked first thing. They were holding him day to day because of his head injury. The doctor did not sign the release form. A kid that age, you can only keep them in bed for so long. I think he decided it was time to split this joint," Judy said. "Sorry. No one knows when he left or if he left with someone. His clothes are gone. I think that's the major clue in this mystery. No one in a gown is going to be allowed to escape from General Hospital."

"They move someone into his room?" George asked.

"Yes, and the little old man in there isn't Jon, unless he had a really bad night," Judy said.

"He was day to day. I figured he'd disappear about now. I need to make a phone call, and unless I miss my bet, this is goodbye Judy."

"Hey, George! Keep me posted on the kid, will you. I'd like to think you can make it turn out all right for him. You take care of yourself., Hon"

"Will do, Gorgeous," George said, heading for the phone booth on the corner.

"If you're ever in the neighborhood, come say hello," Judy said.

"Will do. That's a date I won't need twice," George said, leaving with a wave and a smile.

There was no answer at the Delesandro number. He'd call the mayor's house and ask for Jon, but they knew his voice. If they had the kid on ice at the hospital, he wasn't going to be available at the mayor's house, which meant he needed to talk to Mrs. Delesandro.

With no other option present in his thinking, George returned to the City News building. He was already writing, 'Where's Jon Delesandro?' It made the local section's front page. It was simple and to the point. It continued the story for a third consecutive day. George's byline was on the story. It told George he was on the right track on a story the City News wanted covered.

Pops looked up as George was taking his jacket off.

"Hitch, keep your jacket on. You had a call. Jack will be at the Ante-Room at noon, if you can stop by. Whose Jack? The Ante-Room is where the cops hang, isn't it?" Pops asked, knowing very well it was. "Take lunch. Go see what Jack wants, Do not try to highjack another reporter's story. You got that?"

"Got it, Pops. When do I trespass on another reporters story?"

"First time for everything. Take your time," Pops said.

George actually enjoyed a drink about lunch time. He did all his drinking at Jerry's or the Ante-Room. He did know to limit his intake of booze, but it went with the territory, Drinking with sources often loosened their tongues enough to get the complete truth out of them.

The Anteroom served buffet items to draw in drinkers during the day. Hard boiled eggs, pigs feet, pickles, and whatever they could serve cheap, was free to the clientele. George wondered who ate pigs feet. He'd need to be pretty drunk to eat one of those and what happened to a pig that doesn't have feet?

"Shot. Johnny Walker," George said, moving up to where the food lined an empty section of the bar. He collected two deviled egg halves, and a large juicy dill pickle, and black olives. George dropped a buck on the counter to cover his shot and free lunch.

"I'm sitting in a booth in the back. Bring your food and drink there," Jack said. "Hey, Karl, his drinks go on my tab."

"Jack, that's not necessary," George said, after eating the second deviled egg half.

"Yes it is," Jack said. "I am looking for a favor, George. I need you to go to Loey's and wait for Trask to show up. You said he bought your persona as a Detroit hood, and he talked freely to you. One of my detectives picked up a rumor that Vogal and Trask are on the outs. I need to know if Trask can be turned. See him. Let him talk. Ask no question. You know the drill. Can you do that?"

"Yes, I can do that. You tell me every time we meet. I know what you want and how you want me to go about getting it, but if Trask and Vogal are on the outs, why would Trask go to Loey's, where Vogal hangs out most nights?"

"Old habits are hard to break, George. These aren't rocket scientists. He'll go to Loey's because he goes to Loey's. Maybe he won't but my bet is he will, and if he does, well, he apparently feels comfortable talking to you. That's why he might want to have a sit down with you, get it off his chest. He'll see you as someone he can talk to," Jack said.

"Do you know what they fell out about?" George asked.

"I do. I pulled in Vogal on the music store job. Vogal had nothing to say. I talked to Trask on the street, after I talked to Vogal. Trask and I have a history. He wasn't forthcoming. It was before the news got to me about him and Vogal having a split."

"He said they didn't tell anyone that they pulled that job," George said.

"Uh huh. Well that could complicate things. If Trask is dumb enough to go into Loey's knowing Vogal is gunning for him, what are the odds he's going to draw a straight line from what he told you to why Vogal is out to get his head on a pike."

"Good question. Let's find out. I'll do it. You do remember that if anything comes of what I get for you, I get the exclusive, Jack. Don't be calling another reporter and feeding him what I got for you," George warned him.

"For Christ sake, George. I told you I'd do that, didn't I? You get Trask to talk to me about Vogal, make it the smart move if he's afraid of him. Simply be the Detroit hood he thinks you are. Let him know what you'd do if he tells you about the split with Vogal. He obviously likes talking to you. Let him talk, and then call me and let me know what he has to say. After that, I'm pulling you out. It's getting too dangerous and I've got my ass hanging out by sending you in there."

"Don't worry. I can read a situation fairly well. I catch any bad vibes, I'm out of there," George said.

"Good. We'll wrap this up and get you out of there. Keep your cool and let him talk," Jack said. "I've interviewed Trask. He's not one of your great thinkers. He runs his mouth and has no idea of the implications concerning what he's saying. He views you as safe. If he stops to talk to you, you know he has no idea you fingered him and Vogal for the music shop job," Jack said. "He'd have dropped a dime on you in a second to get out of hot water with Vogal."

"If you say so, Jack. I'll try to get over there tonight. If I feel any bad vibes, I won't stay. I don't mind helping put the bad guys away, but I won't purposely put myself at risk."

"Exactly the attitude you need to have. Go in, don't drink, George. Keep your mind clear. You pick up on anything that makes you feel uneasy, you split. Don't hang around," Jack said.

"I can do that," George said. "I'm working that story about the Packard accident on Monday. I am running down some leads. If I can't make it into Loey's tonight, I'll go tomorrow night for sure. Things have been slow but they're giving me a free hand with it at the moment. I've got to follow it through until I get to the end of it."

"George, you're doing me a favor. You do what you need to do. A day or two won't matter in this situation. You're no good to me if you get yourself fired. Do your job and than do the favor. My only concerning is Vogal moving against Trask before you have a chance to talk to him but your safety and security is far more important than anything you do for me. Don't lose sight of that. I appreciate what you've done. The music store job wasn't solved, until Trask told you about it. Go in when you have time. If Trask wants to sit down with you, he'll tell you about the split. Steer him to me if you can. That's all. Do not stick your neck out. Make him think giving up Vogal is his idea. Simply agree it's what you'd do if you were in his shoes."

"I get it, Jack. I've helped you on the music store job. It's good to know I have helped. What I don't get, and you haven't bothered to explain it, you don't seem all that worried about that robbery. Am I wrong, or is there something you aren't telling me?"

"You have good instincts. I've figured out that Vogal whacked Max Stein almost a year ago, George. Little by little I've come to believe Jimmy Vogal hit Max Stein. He was a well known and popular businessman. He left work one evening last year and someone put a bullet behind his ear," Jack said.

"I don't have a witness, no clues, just a dead body. Recently, as in since Max got whacked, Jimmy's been seen with Mrs. Stein. It doesn't take a genius to know if a hood is dating your woman, you shouldn't turn your back on him. Max didn't know and Vogal hit him to clear the way to his wife. I have no evidence to prove what I just told you. When a guy drops dead unexpectedly, we always look at the closest person to him. Mrs. Stein is on that spot, George. The only question I have, did Mrs. Stein encourage or help plan her husbands execution."

"Jesus, Jack, that's cold," George said.

"It's how the world works, George. What you want to remember, if a hood is dating your woman, don't turn your back on him. In Max's case, don't turn your back at all."

"Absolutely not," George said. "That's cold."

"Could be a money motive as well. Once I pin it on Vogal, I'll have plenty of time to wrap up Mrs. Stein. Odds are she was in on it."

"Now it makes perfect sense, Jack. Look, I need to get back. We're short handed. Everyone is away. Gone to the shore to escape the heat," George said.

Both men stood to shake hands. George headed for the door.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead