by Rick Beck

Chapter 9

Out of Detroit

Once he was outside,of City Hall, George stepped to one side at the top of the concrete steps. He moved back among the pillars to watch the people leaving. He was particularly interested in the faces.

George knew Harold threatened him. It may have been a nice threat as threats went and he didn't know what to do about it. The first thing he did was make sure he wasn't being followed.

There had been no one in the corridor outside the conference room. George thought if he was in danger that would have been the perfect place to ambush him, before he joined the people migrating out of City Hall.

George gave a thought to calling Detective Jack Carter. He'd know whether or not he should be worries. He'd talk to Jack tomorrow. He'd need to let him know what he found at Loey's that night. He decided to go down the stairs to get lost among the people.

At the first corner they had to stop for the light. George stepped to one side and when the light changed, he didn't move. Once again he looked at the faces. He saw no one he recognized and he crossed the street stepping into the doorway of a shop on the corner.

He stood there for a couple more minutes and he blended into the crowd the next time the light changed and they came charging across the street heading for a relaxing cool weekend.

George stopped two more times. He saw no one he recognized but he still felt like he was being followed. One more block and he'd reach the City News building and safety. He wouldn't stop again.

His smartest move at this point, tell the story like he'd tell any news story. He'd leave a written account of the incident at the mayor's news conference. Then if something happen to him both Pops and the Walrus would know it was foul play.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he stepped inside the safe haven. He still stood to one side watching the faces to see if he recognized anyone from City Hall.

If the mayor and his henchmen wanted to frighten him, they'd done a good job. He'd wasted so much time watching for a tail that today's edition had gone to press. The story would have to wait.

He was sent there to ask the question. No one could have foreseen the outcome. When push came to shove the mayor wanted the coverage on his wife's dalliances with Jon Delesandro to go away.

He was about to learn the age old adage, when you find yourself in the hole, stop digging.

George was safe now and he was about to protect himself from the mayor and Harold. He headed for the stairs and the newsroom.

There could be a hundred reasons why Mrs. Packard was seeing Jon Delesandro but no reason was given. Their answer to questions they didn't want to answer was stop the questioning and move the questioner away from the mayor.

Tomorrow morning when the morning papers hit the street, they'd all be talking about the mayor's wife and the tennis star. That's when they found it that the story couldn't be stopped, The best they could do after that was get revenge. That thought crossed George's mind while he faced off with Harold the muscle head.

George was scared but he was a reporter. He'd write the story, and once he stepped inside the newsroom he realized how silly he was being. Anyone with an ounce of sense wouldn't need to follow George. Where would a reporter at the mayor's news conference be going afterward? George would return to the City News building. He almost laughed because he was certain he was being followed. His silly imagination got the best of him.

After one more look over his shoulder, he went to the desk with the good Smith Corona typewriter. He took off his jacket, sat in front of the typewriter, and he pulled a form he'd type his copy on from the in-basket. He was immediately lost in the words that told the story about the mayor's news conference. He included everything that happened until the mayor called on him to ask the question.

He spent some time writing about his meeting with Harold, once he was pushed out of the room. This would never go to press, because it would be a he said, he said deal. George could accuse Harold, but Harold wood deny it.

By writing the copy on the incident after he asked the question into copy, both Pops and the Walrus would read it. They'd know why George wrote two versions. They were newspaper men not unfamiliar with covering their asses.

He wasn't under any illusion that he made any friends by defying the mayor. He was sure he'd made some enemies. George had a job to do, and the mayor or any body else wasn't going to stop him from doing it. His instincts told him to keep doing what he was doing.

George's fingers danced across the keys. He was in his element, forming sentences, wording and rewording he facts he needed to reveal. In a little over thirty-five minutes, he'd completed two versions of what happened at the mayor's news conference.

Glancing toward Pops. His head was down and his red pencil dashed across each page of copy that would make it into the Saturday edition. He knew better than to interrupt him while reading the stories that would fill tomorrow's edition of the City News. George wanted to tell Pops what happened at City Hall. It could wait.

Looking at his watch. 'Where's Jon Delesandro,' would be on every newsstand in the city in less than a half hour. That would be followed by tomorrow's article 'A Mother Worries.' If the mayor was pissed at the coverage his wife was getting on Friday, he'd be super pissed off by tomorrow.

Putting both versions in Pops' in-basket wouldn't confuse the wily newspaperman for a second. He wouldn't blink twice while reading the two versions of the same story, and then George hoped he'd carry both versions to the Walrus. He might even comment, 'our stringer is becoming a newspaperman.'

The long version was for the record and the shorter version was for tomorrow's edition. It was inconceivable to George that the shorter piece wouldn't make it into print with his byline on it. It was the continuation of the story about Mrs. Packard and Jon Delesandro, and each of those stories had the George Hitchcock byline on it.

For the first time in hours, he remembered that he'd told Jack Carter that he'd go to Loey's that evening. Jack wanted Trask pointed in his direction. Drew Trask might hold the key to closing down Jimmy Vogal's operation and solving the murder of Max Stein.

It wouldn't be as easy as it sounded, because Trask wasn't always at Loey's in the evening. There was a real possibility, if he was on the outs with Vogal, he might want to steer clear of Jimmy's regular drinking hole.

As much as George wanted to score points with the career detective, after the day he'd had, he wasn't sure his nerves could take walking the razor's edge twice in the same day, but he wanted to get it over with, and if he got what he wanted out of Trask, he could ditch Loey's and it's connections to the underworld.

George wanted to go home, catch a shower, and dress for Loey's, but on the off-hand chance he was being followed, he wouldn't risk leading them to where he lived. He took the room on Maryland Avenue after going to work at the City News. His new address wasn't part of any official record. He wanted to keep it that way.

In the newsroom other reporters were wrapping up their day, putting the finishing touches on whatever story they were submitting for the Saturday edition. George rarely noticed what other reporters were doing. He knew they were doing the same thing he was doing, but he didn't feel connected to them. He felt quite separate from them. He'd been artificially separated from most people for his entire life. It was nothing new. His independence had become his strength.

George stood and started toward Pops' desk, coming up short when he heard the plaintive call of an irrate Walrus.

"Hitchcock, get your ass in here," the Walrus bellowed, and every set of eyes in the newsroom were on him.

George cringed, did an abrupt about face, marching himself into the office that overlooked the newsroom. He figured it was coming, but he never knew when.

"I hope this won't take long; I have an appointment I need to keep," George said, standing in Mr. Warner's doorway. "And I haven't eaten all day. I need to eat to live," George said, unstringer like.

"Shut the door," Mr. Warner ordered.

This was not good.

The Walrus held a copy of yesterday's City News. His article was circled over and over again. George knew by the placement it was his article on Mrs. Packard. It got by both Pops and the Walrus and gave him his second front page story in a week. Obviously Mrs. Dorothy Melon Miles didn't care as much for it as the Walrus did.

"Nice article," George said, handing it back.

"What did you do to the mayor? I didn't send you over there to start a war with City Hall, George. The mayor called Dorothy Mellon Miles before you went to city hall, and she just got off the phone with me, and she wants you head on a silver platter. We, being out of silver platters, so I'll simply ask you, what happened at the news conference, and did you ask the question we sent you there to ask?"

George studied the Walrus. There was something different in his demeanor. He was less confrontational. After contemplating what he wanted to say for a minute, he remembered the copy and he handed it to Mr. Warner. It was the copy on what happened at City Hall.

The man placed the long copy in front of him., pushing the short version to one side. Once Mr. Warner finished reading the copy, he sat up straight. He was looking at George but he wasn't seeing him.

"Did the man touch you? Put his hands on you?"

"He is gigantic," George said.

"I know the man, Harold Seizemoore. Tackle on the local professional football team. It's the kind of muscle the mayor employees, but why is a mystery. The man is a waste of time. Typical low rent political hack who bought himself into office. I'll ask you again, Did Harold touch you?"

"No. If I'd stopped moving backward, he'd have run over me. I have no doubt the man was threatening me, but it wasn't a direct threat and I wouldn't write that it was. Cort saw what happened. He can tell you everything that I wrote up until I was out of the room."

"Cort has spoken to me. He corroborates what you wrote. Of course we'll go with the shorter copy, and leave the battle with City Hall for a later skirmish," Mr. Warner said, not sounding angry with George, which was a first. "I'll keep the complete version of your encounter with Mayor Packard, just in case. It might come in handy some where down the road."

The Walrus reached behind him, taking out today's edition of the City News. The first five copies that came off the press went straight to Mr. Warner for his approval. He held out a copy for George to take. The print was still warm.

George turned the paper to see the below the fold front page. His byline was there along with 'Where's Jon Delesandro.'

"It still gives me goosebumps. Seeing my byline on a story."

"You earned. You've earned everyone. I don't pamper my reporters. They're arrogant enough with out me making it worse. What you get you earn, George. I've seen 'A Mother Worries' and it'll go in the Saturday edition. You've done a good job on this story. Keep it up, and I know what you're about to ask me, and don't. I've got Old Lady Miles after my scalp already. She sees that I've made you a full-time reporter and she's going to be back in here again," Mr. Warner complained.

George smiled. It was exactly what he was about to ask for.

"It looks lovely," George said. "Thanks."

"I wanted to let you know that your encounter with the mayor was inevitable. He's insufferable. Best to get it out in the open. This story will be all over the city tonight. It's what everyone will be talking about this weekend. Your timing, as well as your prose, are excellent. Don't let it go to your head. So far you've reported on half a story. Don't get careless, Mr. Hitchcock," Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Warner moved the long version of the story to one side, and he read what George wrote for the Saturday edition.

"I'll make sure this gets downstairs for tomorrow's edition," Mr. Warner said. "I want you to tell me exactly what you did and what was said, after you left here this afternoon. Leave nothing out."

"It's all in there. I wrote it all down," George said.

"I've read it. Now I want you to tell me the story. I can't let some of what you wrote in, but I'll doctor it up a little. The story on the mayor's wife is enough for the moment. We'll be accused of overkill if we accuse the mayor's flunky of threatening you. I have the copy. We'll use it if we need it."

"I was sent to cover the mayor's press conference," George said.

Over the next ten minutes, George gave Mr. Warner the details about asking the question he'd been sent to ask.

By the time he finished, the Walrus was leaning back in his chair, his gigantic brogans propped up on his desk, and the fingers of both hands tented together on the man's more than ample stomach.

He'd heard every word. More impressively, he'd listened to every word, not interrupting George one time. Deep in thought, he removed his feet from his desk, sat up straight in his chair, and he leaned forward to drum his fingers on his desk top. He was looking at George, but he wasn't seeing him, and it took several minutes for him to say anything.

"You did fine, George. You did what I sent you there to do," Mr. Warner explained. "I knew you would, but I didn't expect you to be threatened. I want you to know that.

"What about Mrs. Miles?"

"That old goat. She's got nothing to do with what we do here. Being an owner of a newspaper doesn't entitle her to direct the news."

"I can handle the threats, Mr. Warner. I'm a newsman. What are your instructions?" George asked.

There was silence for a couple of minutes, while Mr. Warner thought through the situation.

"You've done fine with the Jon Delesandro angle. Just enough, and not overpowering. What I need you to do is report the story. You have fine instincts, George. Your writing is fine, but you haven't gotten your feet wet yet. I don't want to throw you into the deep end of the pool, because, believe it or don't, there are sharks in there. Do not do anything to piss off the mayor any more than he's pissed off now. Report the story. Take the assignments Pops gives you. Do not get in over your head, and if you feel like you are over your head, you come to me. Do you understand, George?"

"Yes, sir. That's what I would have done, even if you hadn't told me to do it. I'm running late for a meeting. I need to get out of here," George said.

"Sounds like business?"

"In a way. You know Jack Carter?"

"The detective?" Mr. Warner asked.

"Yes, I am doing him a favor. It could end up with him giving me a story. Only time will tell," George mused, knowing nothing was certain, until it was.

"It's the great equalizer, time," Mr. Warner said thoughtfully. "Mr. Hitchcock, I want to remind you, you're a reporter, not a police detective. Make sure you don't get the two mixed up."

"No, Sir," George said. "I know who I am."

"Be careful," Mr. Warner said with concern.

George opened the door and stepped back into the newsroom.

Then he yelled, "Get out of my office and if you fuck up again you'll be looking for another newspaper job."

The same faces that turned to watch George go into Mr. Warner's office turned to watch George move back to the desk he was using.

"The greatest Show On Earth" came to mind.

Everything George knew about Mr. Warner was now in question.

He called George a reporter. He was going to put him on staff. It was the full-time reporter's job he was looking for.

Mr. Warner hadn't treated George like a third grader all day.

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