by Rick Beck

Chapter 7

Where's Jon?

After calling Jon's mother, George sat down to write, 'Where's Jon Delesandro? She saw him the night George first talked to her, and she'd called to talk to him the next day. Jon was still at General Hospital until late the second day, when he disappeared and no one, not even Dr. Jasmine knew his whereabouts.

George knew where Jon Delesandro was but like Jack couldn't prove Jimmy Vogal killed Max Stein, George couldn't prove that Jon was at Mrs. Packard's house. Why would the mayor of a major metropolitan city allow his wife to dally with someone Jon. George knew why Mrs. Packard kept Jon close to her, but the mayor?

He could write that and after leaving work late on Thursday night, with Where's Jon Delesandro in Pops' in-basket, George needed a good night's sleep. He liked Loey's on Friday night. It was usually packed and he felt more comfortable not seeing the eyes of other patron's studying him.

By the next morning George was ready to write, "A Mother Worries." After "Where's Jon Delesandro" had the story back on the front page, George pondered the next move he needed to make.

After writing the preliminary version of "A Mother Worries,' George went to the car pool to check out a car. He asked for something that wouldn't stand out. He rethought that description after the attendant drove a 1968 Ford Galaxy, with the right window that wouldn't roll up, handing George the keys. It was after eight by a good bit and the traffic would all be heading into town as he went up Connecticut Avenue to where he was told the Mayor's house was.

It was still a little cool early in the morning now that it was August, but it would be another hot and humid day. He looked at the right window that wasn't there, and he knew he needed to ditch the dog of a car before the heat was turned up on high again.

George didn't own a car. Before getting the job at the City News, he'd worked for the same paper he'd worked on while he went to college. It was slow in the summer there too. College towns grow remarkably calm once the school is holding only summer classes. The best part of that job, he drew a salary no matter how slow the news was, and when school went back into session, there was n end to what college students did for fun and entertainment.

George put away several thousand dollars in the two years after he graduated. He thought of using the several thousand dollars to buy a car, but his first job was as a stringer. You only made money if your stories were in the paper, and not knowing how many opportunities there would be, he opted to keep his money in the back to spend as needed until he was a full-time reporter and could afford a car.

So, he checked out what was reputed to be transportation when he needed to. This morning he had no choice. The most important story he'd covered to date required him to sit a safe distance from the mayor's house to monitor the comings and goings. George knew what he expected to find, but he wasn't jumping to conclusions. He would wait and see.

Checking the address, he made sure he had the right house. Once he was certain he was in the right spot, he parked far enough away not to be noticed, and he went on stakeout, which gave him plenty of time to think.

He was doing what he needed to do so far. This week had proved to be his most successful week to date. The fender bender at Thomas Circle had become a front page story twice that week, and on Friday morning, if what he thought was true, "A Mother Worries" would earn its way onto the front page. It was the natural evolution to a story.

George yawned as the morning grew warmer. At nine thirty it had to be eighty-five outside and the sun was now shining on the black Ford's roof. George loosened his tie.

George had written 'Where's Jon Delesandro, after talking to Mrs. Delesandro. She visited her son the day he last spoke to her. When she called the next afternoon, in between her two jobs, Jon was no longer a patient at General Hospital, according to the receptionist. George happened to know the receptionist was quite reliable. If she said Jon wasn't there, he wasn't there. Which meant his mother once again had no idea where he was, but George did and now he waited.

Still getting his byline on this story meant he was doing what they wanted him to do. Someone besides George and Jack Carter thought the mayor's wife had become too close to the young tennis star. Pops or Mr. Warner could stop him in his tracks. They hadn't.

What did George know about Mr. Warner or Charlie Myers. They were hard boiled newspapermen. They'd let an inexperienced reporter run with a story he was covering, without any push back, but neither of them would let another newsman swing in the wind, covering a City News story. Nothing made it into print without Pops and the Walrus seeing it first, and they let his stories run almost untouched and that was a first in his three months at the City News.

The story he was telling needed to be told the way George was telling it. Someone more powerful than George wanted this story told. If he went too far, he'd be a small loss for the City News. Stringers were a dime a dozen.

With that thought, George sat up and took notice. At a little past 10:30 Jon Delesandro came out of the side entrance of the mayor's house. He got into the front seat of a perfect 1968 Mercedes Sedan. No way this was the wrecked car he saw Monday. No one could repair that much damage this fast. This was another new Mercedes. It pays to have money, George thought.

Mrs. Packard came out a few minutes later, carrying a lovely flowered scarf in one hand and a black purse in the other.

George moved down in his seat as the Mercedes drove past him. His watch said it was 10: 39.

He started the Galaxy intending to follow them. He'd parked facing the wrong way. It's the only way he could see the house. Now he'd need to hurry up and turn around so he could follow them.

As he was unparking the car a guy about the size of Rhode Island stepped in the way, preventing George from following Mrs. Packard. It didn't occur to George he'd been spotted by someone in the house.

They were able to draw straight lines too. They figured that when he got no response with phone calls, his next move would be to come to the house. George should have realized that but he didn't give it a thought.

The main question had been answered. Where was Jon Delesandro. Why not ask the mayor's wife or the baboon blocking his car. What do you say to a man mountain who is standing less than a foot from your front bumper?

He'd answered the question. Only to have the answer rendered moot. It was rendered irrelevant almost immediately. He no longer knew where Jon was. After locating him he'd promptly lost him again, but maybe they weren't all that smart. No, George couldn't follow them but they'd be home sometime. Mrs. Packard wasn't giving up her toy boy that easily and if Mayor Packard didn't know Casanova was living under his roof with his wife, well that's why they had elections. Someone was going to ask him what he knew and when he knew it.

George leaned on the horn thinking it moved most people, but it didn't move the mountain of a man standing in front of the car. He simply waggled his finger at George.

The man mountain didn't move for a couple of minutes. When he turned to walk back to the house, it was too late to catch up with Mrs. Packard's car.. The walking road black had succeeded in throwing George off Mrs. Packard's trail.

Having the pool car and no where to go, George went to the Delesandro's apartment, and Mrs. Delesandro opened the door. George gave her his biggest smile.

"George Hitchcock, Mrs. Delesandro. City News. This morning I have a car. I can drive you to work while I interview you. Would that be OK with you?"

"My word, yes. I'm always running late. Thank you. You're a life saver, George."

Mrs. Jane Delesandro was a country girl. She fell in love with a tall handsome navy man who joined the navy to see the world. Newt Delesandro didn't want kids. He wanted to be in the navy, and after a few months of courting Jane Woodruff, he sailed out of her life, leaving her pregnant and with a bouncing baby boy, six months after she last saw him.

Her people, being country people, didn't cotton to a woman with no man having a baby. If God wanted women to have babies out of wedlock, he wouldn't have made men, and that was that.

Jane loved Jon more than anything in the world, and she did all within her power to give him a good upbringing. Jon never met her parents, and as far as she knew, they had no interest in seeing him. He'd never seen so much as a picture of his father, and he knew nothing about him, except he was a navy man.

"I know," she said. "I should have found a way to have a man in his life, but you know how men are, and I didn't want Jon influenced by men who might be as irresponsible as his father was."

"You raised a handsome boy with a talent that can feed him for years to come, Jane. Give yourself a break. He's still a kid, and he thinks he knows what he's doing," George said, partially believing it.

"He looks just like his father, tall, handsome, and he's smart in his way," she said. "Things were going so well for him until a year ago. Jon had come into his own as a local tennis champion. That's when she saw him. Her husband gave him the trophy for the city singles championship. At first she'd call the apartment and talk to me. She'd ask about Jon, then she came to take us to dinner. After that, she only came by while I was at work. Jon would tell me, and then Jon was staying at her house, just for a day or two. They have a pool. Let's face it. They're rich and I can only afford this dump. Jon deserves the best but not with some fifty-year-old hussy."

While Mrs. Delesandro worked two jobs and twelve hours a day to raise him, he was rarely home now. He was nineteen and he was a big boy, and Mrs. Packard didn't need to say much to have Jon staying close to home; her home.

Since the Packards got involved, Jon spent less and less time with his mother and more and more time with the Packards. Jane rarely knew where he was, and while Jon called from time to time, he was evasive about what he was doing there.

"My son is physical. He loves tennis, but I haven't seen him play in the last year. I don't know if he's playing at that fancy school where she has him going. Jon was never a good student. He has a God given gift that's going to waste. Once she's finished with him, where will that leave him?" Mrs. Delesandro lamented. "He's being used."

Jane Delesandro got to work early, and George and she drank a cup of coffee and had some donuts, before George dropped her off.

Mrs. Delesandro was sweet. She knew how hard the world could be, because it had been very hard on her. She made a decision that she never regretted, but it had cost her in a way that gave her no backup, and no matter the situation, she was on her own.

George had taken the pool car out for a half day. He'd brought it back a few minutes after one. The attendant looked at the slip George gave him, and he looked at the book that recorded him taking the car. The gray haired man shook his head.

"I was doing an interview. It ran a little late. Actually, we stopped for coffee and donuts, Mr. Benson," George read his name tag.

"We got lots better cars. Who stuck you with this turkey?"

"I just said I needed a car for this morning. This is what he told me to take. I don't remember his name," George confessed.

"That's Ernie. He'll give you the worst car he's got if you don't ask for a new sedan. This thing ain't been out of the garage since last winter. It's got fifty miles on it since the last inspection. Ask for a new sedan next time, OK. You can't do City News business in this dog. He gives you any static. Tell him I told you what to ask for. I'm his boss."

"Thank you, Mr. Benson. I'll remember that," George said.

"Just leave it right there. I'll park it," Mr. Benson said.

George took off his jacket, and began writing the copy, "A Mother Worries."

He quoted Mrs. Delesandro when he could, but he didn't write any of the most salacious things she said. It was the truth and it certainly would be news if it appeared in the City News, but it was a family newspaper and the people reading his articles would already know what trajectory the fender bender at Thomas Circle had taken.

He told the facts. He sympathized with the plight of a mother who was concerned for the safety and future of her son. He wasn't in any physical danger, and boys usually made the calculation about what they were doing when they slept with someone else's wife. Being young was a relatively common explanation. George covered the bases without touching home plate. The reader would decide. George had gone as far as he dared go."

Once again George was shooting in the dark. He made no accusations or assumption, using Jane Delesandro's words as much as possible. The names she called Mrs. Packard didn't make it into print.

Readers were aware of Jon Delesandro and the men who read the sports pages immediately know who he was. George intended this edition of the City News to followup on the fender bender at Thomas Circle.

He pulled the copy out of the Smith Corona and carried it to Pops' desk, dropping it into his in-basket. By the time he was sitting back down, Pops reached into the in-basket to take out what George just dropped there.

George put another copy form in the typewriter, half paying attention to what he was doing while watching Pops. The red pencil dashed down, only for an instant, and then hit it a second time before he tossed it into the out-basket. It was going to press if the Walrus didn't intercept it on its way to today's edition.

"A Mother Worries," George wrote. It was all in his head. Once more the article relied on Jane's words describing her son. After fifteen minutes, he'd written the quintessential piece on the Thomas Circle affair. He did not mention Mrs. Packard until the end.

"This reporter found Jon Delesandro leaving the mayor's mansion at 10:30 this morning. He left with Mrs. Packard in the 1968 Mercedes that replaced the wrecked Mercedes at Thomas Circle."

George dropped "A Mother Worries" into the out-basket. It was plainly marked for Saturday's edition. The copy boy would know to leave it for tomorrow.

George sat back. He had a story for today and one for tomorrow. Life was good. It appeared Friday's story would be a go and if today's story got by the Walrus, tomorrows story was a follow up.

It was a story that kept on giving. It lasted an entire week. It's the first time George had follow ups on a story he was given. He had nothing left to say. "Where's Jon Delesandro" and "A Mother Worries" were enough without. The reader would have drawn his own conclusions by now. Any more would be too much George thought.

He had no plan for the rest of the day. He'd like to follow Mrs. Packard for his own reason, but the interview with Jane was solid gold. She was a mother deeply concerned for her son's future.

"Since he was twelve," she told George, "Tennis was Jon's entire life. He wasn't a good student. Tennis kept him in school. Now he'd been distracted. Dazzled by a woman's attention and her wealth."

George had taken it as far as he wanted to go. The reader had the entire picture and it wasn't up to him to cover how it turns out. That's the stuff novels were written about.

"Hitch!" Pops yelled over his ringing phone. "You're up."

Pops grabbed the phone.

"Myers. Local desk. What? Slow down. Quit babbling. Where are you? Yeah, yeah. Lady, if that was news our paper would need to double its size. Call the Star," Pops yelled, slamming down the receiver as he grumbled.

"What do you have, Pops?" George asked.

"You got credentials?"

"I have my I.D. What credentials?"

Pops was digging in his bottom drawer and he pulled out some plastic coded credentials.

"Mayor's having a news conference. You're going to cover it. Don't hesitate asking him any questions you might have. Am I making myself clear," Pops said.

"That's Mort Cort's bailiwick. Why am I trespassing on his turf?"

"These will get you into the press conference at City Hall. Stop at the reception area. They tell you which room. Cort knows your coming. He's there to cover the news conference. He can read. He'll know why you're there. Ask your question and then follow it up. Don't fuck this up, George. You're being watched by a lot of people."

George took the credential. He was confused. Cort was going and they were sending him too. It made no sense. What did he have to say to the mayor?"

The fender bender at Thomas Circle popped into his mind. He wanted to ask Mayor Packard what Mrs. Packard was doing with Jon. He really didn't want him to tell him but he wanted to tell him. He'd been writing the story all week and chapter 2 was about to begin.

"I have copy in the basket at the desk where I write copy. It's marked for Saturday's edition. I'll be here all day tomorrow but just in case. I wanted you to know it's there, Pops."

"On our story?" Pops asked.

He'd only covered the one story all eek.

"Yes, on the Thomas Circle affair." George said.

The news conference was at two o'clock. With any luck it wouldn't last that long. He'd be back in time to write about it for today's edition. He might get two stories in the Friday edition. Wouldn't that be peachy.

"You got that, George?" Pops asked when he hesitated.

"You think you can find City Hall in fifty minutes?" Pop asked, looking at the clock as he spoke.

"You're damn right I can," George said, realizing he was covering his first political story.

Pops laughed.

George hadn't heard the man laugh before.

As he headed for the stairs and the mayor's news conference, the Walrus was in his doorway watching George come his way. George couldn't shake the feeling that he was being fed to the lions, except for one small crack in the Walrus's facade. The man who chilled George to the bone was smiling.

George turned toward the stairs. He wanted to look back to be sure but he didn't dare. Pops laughed at something he said and the Walrus smiled. It might literally be raining cats and dogs outside? It was becoming a most unusual day.

Did Mr. Warner know he was going to the mayor's news conference? Of course he knew. No one made a move at the City News without the Walrus' say so. Maybe Mr. Warner was seeing the same hungry lions George saw. Could that be what made him smile?

There was only one way to find out. George stepped out into the afternoon sun. He'd walk to City Hall. It was a fifteen minute walk and in spite of the butterflies in his stomach, he'd stop for a sandwich and a big cold wet drink.

George couldn't remember having a better day.

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