Thursday, August 17
Resurrections are hot news stories. This one would be no different.
It began for Eddie Bourque with a ringing that would not quit. Eddie counted seven rings. Eight. Nine. Then he drifted off for a moment and lost count. The noise woke him again. He peered across his bedroom. Too dark to see textures. His room was a clutter of black walls and blacker shapes. His dresser was a rectangle. Square red numerals floating above it said: 4:14.
The phone jangled the sleep out of him.
Must be one of his students on the line, he thought. They always called on the days they had class. Somebody’s dog ate somebody’s homework. He started to drift off again, a new dream at the ready…
Big, fat, wood pulp-eating dog.
“Cripes!” Eddie shouted, startled.
Some student’s grandmother had died again. It was a fine excuse for skipping a class—upsetting for a day but not necessarily debilitating for the rest of the semester—and hard for a part-time professor to verify, or even to question, without seeming insensitive. Eddie wondered about the college record for dead grandma in one school year. Eddie’s class had lost four before the mid-term exam.
Maybe a dog was eating them.
He had shut off his answering machine before bed so the phone would be sure to wake him. Why the hell did he do that every night?
Work. A job.
Eddie lifted his head, blinked away the sleep. Students didn’t call in the middle of the night, editors did. This was probably one of the wire services with an assignment. Such was the life of a freelance writer. When Eddie had quit The Daily Empire, he had expected freelancing to be just like working for a newspaper—except without a boss. What he had found was a life of late night calls, irregular paychecks, irregular hours, no health benefits. He was constantly living at the whim of the customer, getting paid only by the job, and then often forced to fight for his money.
Being a freelancer was like being a hooker, except you were on your feet all day.
When the newswires needed a good newsman fast in the Greater Lowell area, they called Eddie Bourque. Eddie needed the work, but the seductive pull of the warm pillow drew his head back down.
They’d have to dynamite me out of this bed.
Another dark shape, round-ish and blob-like behind Eddie’s pillow, rolled over and stretched out with a quiver. Eddie felt the swish of a cat’s tail against his cheek.
The telephone’s electronic ring sounded like a robot laughing.
Eddie sighed. It wasn’t going to stop until he answered. He reached across the emptiness on the other side of the bed and grabbed the phone. The cat chirped, annoyed.
“Yup,” Eddie said, dropping hard on the pillow and closing his eyes, “it’s Bourque.”
It was Springer, the overnight assignment editor at the Associated Press. Eddie pictured him: six-foot-six, maybe a hundred-seventy pounds, as pale and skinny as a young white birch. If Springer had a first name he never used it—unless Springer was his first name. He said to Eddie, “How’d you like to make a quick eight hundred?”
Eddie’s eyes popped open. That could scrape a bill collector off his back, maybe two. But nothing meant more to him than a story. If the Associated Press was willing to pay that much for a few hours work, how big was this one?
“I haven’t hung up on you, man,” Eddie said, dryly. “Thrill me out of bed.”
“Ever heard of Roger Lime?”
“Bank president carjacked last winter in his Audi.”
“Six months ago, to be precise. What else do you know about him?”
“As much as anybody. A high school winter-track team found Lime’s skeleton in the woods, in his burned-out car—what, maybe three weeks later? The bones were torched black. The crime’s still unsolved. No witnesses. No suspects. They buried him in a lime-green coffin, so I guess somebody in the family has a sense of humor, though you wouldn’t have known it from all the security at the cemetery.”
“You have a good memory, Ed.”
“I covered Lime’s funeral as a free-lancer for the Times-Union.”
“Well, they need to print a correction,” Springer deadpanned, “because Roger Lime isn’t dead.”
Eddie threw aside the sheets and sat up. The cat dashed off.
Lime? Alive? It wasn’t possible. “Okay, I’m thrilled,” Eddie, said, trying not to giggle at how big this story might be. “Gimme more.”
“There’s a fresh picture of Lime with a recent newspaper—same tactics the kidnappers used six months ago. The cops want to get the picture out on the national wires as soon as possible.”
“The cops are actually helping with this story?”
“They assume that somebody must have seen Lime the past half-year,” Springer said. “It’s hard to hide a man for that long and keep him alive. The mailman comes to your door every day, meter readers want to see inside your basement from time-to-time.”
Eddie thought about how many strangers had knocked at his three-room cottage the past year. “Political candidates are always coming by harvesting votes,” he said, “and kids selling waxy chocolate to pay for band or football, or some other part of school the taxpayers don’t want to pay for.”
“A bachelor like you must see the pizza guy about three times a week,” Springer added.
“I guess it’s logical for the detectives to get the photo in the news,” Eddie said. He slid out of bed, stumbled over dirty clothes, patted the wall, found the light switch and slapped it on. “Except the story doesn’t make any sense. The cops had Lime’s dental records. The medical examiner matched them to the body. He was sure it was Lime.”
“Now they’re pretty sure it wasn’t.”
“What a fuckup!” Eddie howled. He pounded to the kitchen in his cotton boxers and clicked on his coffee pot, three hours before the auto-timer was set to brew a dozen cups of Blue Mountain Peaberry from Eastern Jamaica.
General VonKatz sprang onto the kitchen counter and rubbed his chin on the cabinet in which Eddie kept the cat food. The General’s gray coat was shiny even in the dim light. He gurgled for his breakfast as Eddie flashed by, out of the kitchen.
Springer said, “The police have photo experts working right now to confirm that the pic is authentic, but their first impression is it’s legit.”
Back in the bedroom, Eddie dug through dirty clothes on the floor and salvaged a pair of crumpled tan chinos. Wrinkle-free fabric? Says who? He jammed one leg into the pants, held the cordless phone between his head and shoulder and hopped on one foot while he dressed his other leg. “How much do the kidnappers want for him? I heard that last time they asked for a quarter million, though I could never substantiate it.”
“The police won’t say. And they won’t comment on any ransom note.”
“So they want us to help them with the photo, but they won’t give up any sizzle for the story?”
“Not unless you still have sources down there.”
Eddie still had sources, especially in the detective’s bureau. “I’ll work my people at headquarters. What kind of story do you want from me?”
“I need copy to move with the picture. Maybe twenty inches of text. Just the new stuff and enough background so this story can play in Peoria. With Roger Lime coming back to life, I’m sniffing coast-to-coast interest.”
Eddie buttoned the pants. He grabbed a white linen dress shirt from the bedpost. At least linen was supposed to be wrinkled. “Did you say this package was moving on the national wires?”
“Uh-huh. Your byline will be in half the papers in America.”
Eddie pumped a fist in the air.
“Hang on a sec,” Springer said. Eddie heard him begin a muffled conversation with someone in the Associated Press newsroom.
Back in the kitchen, the deep porcelain sink was cluttered with dirty coffee mugs. Eddie splashed one pint of Blue Mountain Peaberry into a giant two-pint Pyrex measuring cup. Steam fogged the inside of the clear glass.
The General sat up on the gold-flecked Formica and whined impatiently.
“Do you know what time it is?” Eddie said to the cat. “You don’t usually eat for hours. I’ll feed you when I get back from this job.” Eddie hurried to the bedroom and stepped into black Doc Martens shoes with frayed and knotted laces.
He thought about angles for the story. If Lime was alive, that meant somebody else’s bones were in his grave. Who was that person? How did they get into Lime’s burned out car? And how did the medical examiner make such a blunder with the identification? It was great follow-up material, he decided, but the first-day coverage had to focus on the new evidence that Lime was alive. It was a resurrection story, in a sense. Eddie Bourque had never written anything like it. But how many writers had, in the past two thousand years? A reading from The Gospel according to Eddie. He quivered with delight.
Springer got back on the line. “Bourque? We just got confirmation—police experts have verified the photo of Roger Lime. No doctoring, it’s the real thing. They’re showing the picture at a media availability in thirty minutes.”
“I’ll be there.”
“I’ll need a story thirty minutes after you see it.”
“How about sixty?”
“C’mon, Springer! I type with two fingers.”
He groaned. “You’re one of them. Forty-five minutes, Bourque. We have afternoon papers to feed. Their morning deadlines are getting earlier all the time.”
“We’ll make it.” Eddie clicked off the phone and flung it on the bed.
He stuffed his laptop computer into its case, grabbed his keys and started for the door.
Eddie whirled and hurried to the kitchen. General VonKatz was reaching a paw into Eddie’s coffee. The cat slapped three times into the cup, then shook the wet paw, splashing Blue Mountain Peaberry over the wall.
Eddie sighed. He fetched a peel-top can of sliced beef and giblets from the cupboard. “I don’t want to know where that paw has been,” he mumbled, and then downed the coffee in six hot gulps.
Outside, Eddie’s Pawtucketville neighborhood was still. His three-room cottage, with its sloping roof and rough asphalt shingles, was unique among the houses around it, yet blended perfectly. Pawtucketville was a mish-mash of building styles: two-family duplexes, triple-deckers with clotheslines strung between the porch posts, square little single-family homes with steep roofs—all built on lots barely bigger than the buildings. The neighborhood was so compressed that if you didn’t like your neighbor, you could spit out your window and into his. The streets were narrow, choked even further by parked cars that formed tunnels through which two drivers could not pass in opposite directions. Utility poles in front of every third house strung webs of black spaghetti over the sidewalks and across the roads. The closeness of the buildings blocked the view of everything beyond the next street, where the homes rode higher on a little hill like houseboats on the crest of a wave.
Eddie glanced to a house on the next street, just visible between two duplexes. At this hour, the peak on Phebe Avenue looked to be just a sharp gray triangle, but Eddie knew it to be light blue, lighter than the sky. He knew it as a former home of Jack Kerouac, the founder of America’s Beat Generation writers. Kerouac had a brilliance that any city would be lucky to see one time in its history.
The Kerouac family had lived all over Pawtucketville in the 1930s and 1940s. They had moved to that house on the next street in 1932, when Jack Kerouac was ten years old. Eddie nodded to the peak, his way of being neighborly to genius.
The Mighty Chevette was parked on the street. Eddie’s fifteen-year-old Chevy ran like a cheetah—it could reach sixty miles-per-hour in a short burst, then needed lots of rest. The Mighty Chevette was at one time yellow, and parts of it still were, but now the dominant color was rust. Eddie yanked the door open with a jarring creak and stuffed his laptop under the seat.
He steered the car through streets laid out in a senseless tangle, and then drove onto Riverside Street, past a concrete university building that reminded Eddie of a futuristic prison for comic book villians. He followed a divided boulevard along the north bank of the churning Merrimack, traveling northeast with the river around an elbow bend where the Merrimack widened in the heart of the city, and then southeast to a bridge of red iron lattice, one of six bridges that suture the two halves of the city divided by the river. Other than a few delivery trucks and a pair of fresh-water anglers with fishing rods in the back of their pickup, the Chevette was alone. Eddie pulled up outside the 1970s-style concrete police station and parked at a meter. He jogged across a plaza of scattered trees and flagpoles, and up the stairs between two illuminated blue globes that each read: POLICE.
Inside, a paunchy middle-aged officer directed foot traffic outside an interview room the size of an average bathroom, as reporters and photographers squeezed in two at a time to view the evidence that Roger Lime was still above ground. Eddie could see from the hallway that the police had displayed the photograph from the kidnappers in a plastic zipper bag, taped to the cinderblock wall. Two TV photo crews were inside, shooting film of the picture on the wall.
“You two, next,” the cop said, pointing at Eddie and another scribe, whom Eddie had never seen before. “You get two minutes once these clowns are done.” He had the bedside manner of a mugger.
The reporter paired with Eddie was short and slightly built, in his early fifties, with an inch-long gray goatee. Two silver hoops pieced his left earlobe. He dressed in black, including a felt beret. His press pass, dangling from a paperclip threaded through a buttonhole, identified him as Lewis Cuhna, editor of The Second Voice, Lowell’s weekly alternative broadsheet.
Cuhna wore a digital camera on a cord around his neck, and a tanned messenger bag on a strap. His notebook was a full-sized lined pad. He scribbled on it with a dull green pencil that looked like eyeliner. Eddie couldn’t help notice what he wrote:
“I’m next…two minutes.”
Then Cuhna crossed out what he had written and below it printed in jittery letters: “Not important…no need to note.” He sighed and crossed that out. Then he read over the four-paragraph press release from the police again.
He seemed so nervous. Was this his first major cop story? At his age? Eddie said to him, “Timing sucks, huh?”
Cuhna shook, startled, and pointed the tip of his pencil toward Eddie, as if to defend himself with a tiny spear. He looked Eddie up and down, recovered, exhaled heavily, doodled a swirl on his legal pad, and then sputtered, “What do you mean…the timing?” He sounded suspicious.
“I meant this timing is no good for your weekly deadlines,” Eddie explained. “You guys are on the newsstands on Thursdays, so you must put the paper to bed on Wednesday nights. It’s too bad the cops didn’t get this photo a couple days ago. You could have made this week’s paper.”
Cuhna’s shoulders slumped. He shrugged listlessly. “I try to tell them we shouldn’t chase stories like this if we’re going to get beat by a week, but they don’t care.”
“Sometimes I don’t even know,” he said. He sketched a question mark on his legal pad, and then crossed it out. Cuhna had melodrama in his voice, as if he was reporting on the approaching end of the world. “That’s the problem when you’re owned by a media chain—new supervisors all the time. My latest boss is in Salt Lake City. Do you think she cares if I get scooped in Lowell?” His voice rose as he worked out some pent-up anger. “And the office they rent for me? They knocked down the wall between a former greasy spoon and a bankrupt laundramat. Stinks like pork sausage and lemon Tide.”
Eddie hid a smile behind his hand. For Cuhna, this seemed like serious stuff, and Eddie didn’t want to make an enemy out of him.
“My lease says that I have to let the people who live upstairs use the giant washing machines in my office anytime they want,” Cuhna said.
“Now the family upstairs has started making evening meals in my kitchen on deadline, and I can’t find anything in the lease that says they can’t!”
Cuhna groaned. “Not this it matters to my H.Q. Sometimes I feel all they want from me is to gray-up the white space around the ads.” He looked Eddie up and down again. “You’re still in the eighteen-to-thirty-five demographic, right?”
“You’re supposed to be my target audience, but I bet you don’t subscribe.”
“Actually, no,” Eddie admitted. He quickly added, “I pick it up on the newsstand sometimes, but I only have time in the morning for the Washington Post.”
“The Post? It’s darn near impossible to get that delivered up here. You a diehard Redskins fan?”
“No, I’m a fan of the help-wanted section. Lot of people advertise for freelancers there.”
“Freelancer, eh? Must be nice to have no boss, but I’d wager the corporate newspaper boys screw you as hard as they do me.”
Bitching about the business side of journalism is the universal sign of fellowship among scribes. Eddie introduced himself and they shook hands. Cuhna’s hand was small, sweaty, and stained black with ink.
Eddie felt bad for him. Media chains are sometimes more concerned about stockholders than readers. They cut spending on their newsgathering to show more profit on Wall Street. Teeny editorial budgets at many weekly papers make for low pay and small staffs; sometimes the reporters have to sell ads or design pages in addition to writing.
The straight newsweeklies have it the toughest; they can’t compete with the dailies on breaking news, and they don’t pay enough to attract experienced writers who can produce the thoughtful pieces. They survive by thinking small, offering news the dailies don’t bother with—school bus schedules and lunch menus, little league and bridge club scores.
Entertainment weeklies do better with younger readers. They give more movie and concert news, and sometimes offer political analysis with attitude.
The Second Voice was a mix of the two styles, so it did nothing particularly well. The paper was forever clouded in rumors it was about to fold.
The TV guys had finished and they bustled out of the room. Their aluminum tripods bounced and clacked as they carried them.
The officer called, “Next!”
Eddie let Lewis Cuhna go ahead of him. Cuhna got three steps into the room, looked toward the picture on the wall and stopped. He wiped a hand over his face and then slowly stepped toward the photograph.
The picture was standard print size, about four-by-six, in color. The man in the picture was trim and healthy, probably in his early fifties. He sat at attention, holding the top half of a newspaper, at the edge of an oddly shaped coffee table, five-sided, made of blonde wood.
The picture looked to have been taken in the basement of a very old house. The lighting was uneven—the light source off to the side somewhere, out-of-view—and the man and the newspaper cast long black shadows on the fieldstone wall in the background. Eddie had never met Roger Lime, but he had seen other photographs of the bank executive, and he recognized Lime’s thinning orange hair, his pointed chin, long Roman nose, and the wind-burned complexion of a competitive yacht racer.
In the photo, Lime wore a navy polo shirt with the collar turned up, tan drawstring pants, and no shoes or socks. The expression on Lime’s face drew Eddie’s attention. He looked tight-lipped and tense, like he was seething. Eddie interpreted the expression as rage and disbelief, as if this executive had found himself inconvenienced by ignorant little people. A thought-bubble above Lime’s head could have shouted: “Don’t they know who I am?”
The newspaper he held was ugly and gray, no photos above-the-fold.
Eddie gasped in surprise and lightly slapped his own cheek.
Lime was holding The Second Voice. Eddie looked to Cuhna, who was red-faced and engrossed in his note taking.
The paper’s banner headline was readable in the picture:
SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL OFF WITHOUT A HITCH
Eddie puzzled over the headline. Without a hitch? Was that a Shakespeare pun? No, he decided; the line was merely a cliché. Either way, it wasn’t exactly true: a drunk driver had rammed the stage during Act II of As You Like It, sending Rosalind and Celia sprawling through a mural of the Forest of Arden. Eddie had gone for a beer during Act II, unfortunately, and had missed it.
Cuhna was sniffling and writing furiously. “This is bad,” he muttered to himself. “Bad. Bad. Bad. I don’t need this.”
Eddie’s competitor on this story was also a source of information. “Lew,” he said. “I gotta ask, what edition is that?”
Cuhna sighed. He opened his bag, rooted around inside and shoved a newspaper at Eddie.
It was the August 3 edition of The Second Voice, two weeks old. Eddie smoothed the wrinkles from the page. The Shakespeare story carried Cuhna’s byline. Eddie skimmed the text. Cuhna had buried the news about the car crash in the twelfth paragraph, but at least he had it in there. Below the fold, the paper had run a black-and-white picture from a summer youth basketball league, a folk music concert review, and four government stories generated from the meetings of city boards and commissions.
Pretty dull paper.
But the kidnappers had verified Lime’s state of being with the local weekly, and that was dynamite stuff for Eddie’s story. Maybe it meant that Lime was still in the area, perhaps held captive nearby for six months. It meant that the kidnappers had been in Lowell within the past two weeks to buy the paper, unless they had an out-of-state subscription.
“So tell me, Lew,” Eddie said, “do you mail many copies of The Second Voice to subscribers from…”
“We don’t mail any at all,” Cuhna snapped. He whipped his bag open, stuffed his legal pad inside and hunted around in the mess.
“Ah!” he said, when he found what he wanted—a roll of antacid tablets. He peeled back the foil, pried up a tablet with his thumb.
“It’s just that…”
“I know what it is,” Cuhna said, interrupting again. He ate the tablet, chewed and talked: “It’s part of the story—I know that. But I don’t need this negative publicity. Things are tough enough. And I can’t lay off any more staff because I don’t have any more.”
Eddie glanced to the paper Cuhna had given him. “Judging by all these different bylines, you have a big staff for a paper your size.”
Cuhna grimaced. “That’s all a ruse. Those people are all me.”
Eddie looked to the paper again. “You’re Amanda Collar?”
“Yes. And I’m Paul Alan, okay?”
“Is that ethical?”
“Too late for ethics, Bourque—I have no goddam staff. Nobody wants to read a paper written by one person—it looks cheap and not worth their time. I do everything on the news side—write the stories, edit my own goddam copy, write the headlines. I empty my own trash can, and once a week I gotta run the press, by myself!” Cuhna wiped his hand over his face again. He glared at the picture of Roger Lime. “And now I have to deal with this…” He trailed off.
Eddie might have pulled a useable quote for Cuhna if he had invested the time, but decided he couldn’t afford it. He wanted to visit someone else who could help with the story, if she was on duty so early in the day.
He left Cuhna and hurried through the halls of mint-colored cinderblock, toward the detective’s bureau. He couldn’t understand why Cuhna was so upset. Publicity was exactly what The Second Voice needed, and rarely in publishing was there such a thing as bad publicity.
The detective’s bureau was a long room with desks arranged like two lanes of gridlocked traffic. Half the ceiling lights were off at this early hour and gloom hung over the space. Several doors led to offices and small interview rooms in which investigators would speak to potential witnesses. Calendars, street maps, and crime prevention posters covered the walls of the bureau. Just inside the doorway was a glass-topped wooden counter displaying stacks of official forms, for members of the public to fill out whenever something bad happened to them.
A middle-aged clerk in jeans and a fleece sweatshirt—the uniform of the third shift—was typing handwritten field reports into a computer at a desk beyond the counter. She smiled and lifted her head, to invite Eddie to say what he wanted. That’s when Eddie smelled her perfume. Spicy, very nice. She shed ten years before Eddie’s eyes.
“Is Detective Orr around?” Eddie said.
The woman looked away in thought for a moment, then pressed a button on her speaker phone and said, “Lucy, there’s somebody here to see you.”
A tinny voice came from the phone, “Who is it?” The woman lifted her head to Eddie again.
“It’s Bourque,” Eddie called out.
“Eddie?” squeaked the phone. “Before breakfast? Tammy, you can send him down here.”
The woman directed Eddie with a long index finger. “Last door,” she said.
Eddie passed three detectives on the nightshift typing at keyboards, irradiated in blue by their computer screens. The last door swung in to the narrowest office Eddie had ever seen. Inside were two wheeled chairs on either side of a desk. The chair closest to Eddie was turned sideways and jammed against the left-hand wall, so the door had room to open. There seemed to be no way to get to other chair, except by climbing over the desk. The office was windowless, painted burnt-orange, and lit by a buzzing fluorescent donut on the ceiling.
Detective Lucy Orr, in the chair across the desk, stood when Eddie came in.
She grinned and shook his hand. “I’ve been following your freelance work in some pretty fair magazines,” she said.
“My work has been rejected by all the prestigious ones.”
They both laughed and sat down.
Detective Orr was about forty. She had a squat build and powerful shoulders, like an Olympic swimmer from an old Soviet-bloc country. Her hands were rough, her nails unpainted and bitten down below the fingertips. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun, which was impaled by what looked like two chopsticks.
Eddie checked his watch. He didn’t have time to warm up the conversation before he asked for what he needed. “As a matter of fact, I’m working today,” he said. “Hard news, deadline stuff.”
She squinted at him. “Are you on the Roger Lime story?” She didn’t wait for the answer. “Well, you can forget it, Ed, because I can’t help you.”
“Just a couple questions,” Eddie pleaded.
“It’s not my case.”
“Then what are you doing here at quarter past five in the morning?”
She frowned at him. “Maybe I was bored.”
Maybe she was. She lived alone. Maybe she was alone and bored. Eddie felt a sting of regret for asking the question. He pressed on. “Lucy, this story is huge. You must have heard something.” Eddie felt no guilt over trading on his friendship with Detective Orr to get information. The woman could not be manipulated or corrupted, and she’d cheerfully throw Eddie out of her office if she thought he was out of line. “There has to be some inside noise on this case,” he said, leaning against her desk. “Just one scrap of red meat to set my story apart from the rest.”
Orr lowered her voice, “This investigation is all buttoned down.”
Eddie leaned back. The lowered voice was the tip-off—she had decided to help him. The opening she had given him was big enough for one question. He had come here hoping to peek at the ransom note, but that seemed like too much to ask. He’d have to be satisfied with something smaller. Eddie closed the door. He whispered, “At least tell me why you’re so sure the photo is legitimate.
Any digital photo can be manipulated by a chimp with a laptop.”
She looked him over and laughed. “You don’t give up, Ed. It’s what we have in common.”
“It’s why you like me so much.”
She shook a finger at him. “Now cut that out,” she scolded. “I’m not helping you because you tricked or flattered me into it—I want you to understand that.”
Eddie held up his hands. “Perfectly understood.” He readied his pad and pen.
“The photo,” she said quietly, “came to Lime’s wife as the single exposure on a roll of undeveloped film—we processed it and made the print ourselves. At first, we considered that the picture might simply be a close-up snapshot of a digitally altered photo, but the experts at our lab don’t think so.”
“How do they think the photo was made?”
“Somebody pushed a button on a camera and nothing more,” Orr said. “They think it’s an un-doctored picture of Roger Lime.”
Eddie made some quick notes.
“So how are your aunts?” Orr asked.
“Good to hear it. Now if anybody asks, we can truthfully say we’ve been in here chatting about your family.” She smiled.
“Check.” Eddie got up to leave.
“Make sure you camouflage where you got the fact.”
“And Eddie,” she said, in a sober voice, “Stay out of trouble. You nearly got yourself killed the last time you crossed the line between investigative journalist and investigator.”
Eddie’s hand unconsciously reached to his head. He passed a thumb over the scar tissue on his ear where the bullet had cut a notch. He winked at her. “Thanks, Lucy. I’ve got no personal stake in this—Roger Lime’s reappearance is just a damn fine tale.”
Detective Orr gave the infuriating fake smile she used whenever she didn’t believe him. Eddie pretended not to notice, and hurried out of there.
Outside, the air was cool, the sky clear. The stars were gone. A far off orange glow, behind a four-story brick office building, hinted at dawn. A long sputtering cloud to the east had been un-spooled across the sky and brushed with gold.
Eddie dashed to the Mighty Chevette. Time was his enemy. He grabbed his laptop, and then ran a block toward the brightest light in downtown Lowell, the Perez Brothers restaurant, a silver-top diner that never closed, and always smelled of coffee and bacon. Eddie pushed through the glass door. There were two pairs of customers in the diner’s two booths, shoveling mounds of cholesterol into their mouths.
A heavily muscled man overfilling a white t-shirt was wiping down the aluminum counter with a rag. He looked up and shouted:
“Eddie! Where have you been the past few months?”
“Been trying to quit my breaking-news habit,” Eddie said, “but I’m off the wagon today.” He headed for the last stool. It was covered in a marbled green and black vinyl.
“Just made a fresh pot of Columbian,” said the cook.
“Set me up and leave the pot, Bobby. I got thirty minutes to file this story.”
Eddie powered up his laptop. Bobby Perez’s coffee was scalding, as if drip brewed by atomic fission. A long splash of cold milk coaxed out the coffee’s mellow flavor.
Eddie stared for a moment at the blue screen. Where to begin?
News writers can’t afford writer’s block; it’s a luxury for people without deadlines. Waiting for the muse is for poets. Reporters on deadline write; the muse can pitch in or get the hell off the keyboard.
Bank executive Roger K. Lime may have missed his own funeral.
A little flip. Too bad. No time to fool with it. Eddie kept typing. He wrote about the photograph, how the cops had displayed it for the media. He wrote about the tip from Orr, and that the police refused to comment on any ransom demands.
He guzzled coffee and added background about Lime’s kidnapping, and how it appeared that Lime was murdered last spring after his wife, Sheila, had gone to the police. He wrote from memory about the funeral, the green coffin, and the security that had kept the press away.
He wrote until time was up.
“Gotta send it, Bobby,” Eddie yelled.
Bobby Perez pulled the telephone off the wall of the diner. Eddie threw him one end of a modem cord, which Bobby plugged into the jack. Eddie’s computer dialed the Associated Press, connected with a hiss of static to the correspondent’s queue and dumped the story there.
He verified electronically that the story had arrived, emailed his cell phone number to Springer, in case a desk editor had any questions about the story, and then rested his head on the keyboard.
“More coffee?” Bobby asked.
“And how about breakfast?”
“Something fast, Bobby. I gotta teach class and I don’t have a lesson planned.”
The letter arrived four days later.
It was in a long white, number-ten envelope, hand-addressed in dark pencil to Edward Bourque at his cottage in Lowell’s Pawtucketville neighborhood. The postmark was from upstate New York. The back of the envelope was stamped in red:
“THIS CORRESPONDENCE ORIGINATED AT A FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL FACILITY. ITS CONTENTS HAVE NOT BEEN CENSORED. THE SENDER IS NOT AUTHORIZED TO ENTER INTO FINANCIAL CONTRACTS.”
The return address was one word: Hank.
Eddie’s brother, Henry Joseph “Hank” Bourque, twenty years Eddie’s senior, had been jailed all of Eddie’s life.
The envelope sat unopened on Eddie’s kitchen table. Eddie stared at it. General VonKatz lay belly-up over Eddie’s lap, front legs swung to the left, hind legs to the right. Didn’t look comfortable, but the cat seemed to like it. He purred, eyes slowly closing, on the edge of a nap. Eddie rubbed The General’s head absentmindedly.
Eddie Bourque had never met his brother. Never heard his voice. The words on the envelope were the first Eddie had ever seen printed by his brother’s hand.
He knew little about the atrocity Hank had committed, more than thirty years before. Something about an armored car, a robbery, a guard killed during the crime, a wife widowed, children left fatherless. Painful things, about which Eddie’s parents had told him little before they stopped speaking to each other, and then divorced. Eddie barely spoke to either of them anymore. He had always meant to look up the news clips about the robbery and Henry’s trial, but that had always seemed like a project for later.
Why are you writing me now?
What could Henry Bourque want? Money? Money for what? Was he dying? Did he have some terrible disease? Was he writing to apologize? To make amends? Or did he just want to meet the brother he had never known? Why did the letter look so fat? How much did he write?
For a second, Eddie considered throwing the letter away. He looked to the trashcan. Then to the sink, in which he could burn the letter safely.
Why don’t I just read it?
He slapped his hand on the envelope and snatched it up. General VonKatz jumped away, startled. Eddie tore open the message.
A wad of newsprint was folded inside. He unfolded it into a page torn from an out-of-state newspaper. The folio at the top of the page identified the paper from the suburban Buffalo, N.Y. region.
It was Eddie’s story on Roger Lime that had moved over the national wire, and had been picked up and published by this paper in New York. The paper had also printed the photo of Roger Lime that Eddie had seen in the police station. The paper’s local editors had headlined the story: “Dead and Alive? Massachusetts Bank Exec Again Held Hostage.”
Eddie’s byline had been circled in pencil.
The words “Held Hostage” in the headline had also been circled. An arrow drawn from the circle pointed to five words scrawled down the left margin: