The dead man lay on his face in his bed, the sheets and blankets pooled around his feet. The back of his head was a bloody mush. He had on a pair of baggy white shorts and his skinny legs were quite hairy. The apartment smelled of old clothes and dusty air and something else. Carl Landry recognized that third smell. It was the odor of a body, brutally violated, giving up its life. It was a smell that had intrigued him once. Then it had saddened him. Now, it was just something he was used to. Just part of the job.
Carl was a reporter with the Boston Globe and he stood at the dead man's bedroom door, notebook in hand, carefully recording everything he could see, writing in a cramped style that had seen him through high school and the Army and four years of newspaper work.
Detective Paul Malone caught his eye and separated himself from the chattering group of cops. He and Carl were friends, sort of. As much as a cop and reporter can be. Malone was in his late forties, overweight, and wore a tan coat that flapped about his shins. There was a faint patch of gray stubble on his chin where he had missed shaving that morning, and his thick gray-black hair was combed to one side with some wet-looking goop.
"C'mon, Carl, get out, will ya?" he said, shooing him backward. "I let you see the stiff and that's fine. Any more and when the Herald shows up, they'll expect the same treatment, and we can't have none of that. Turn this freakin' place into a freakin' circus, you will."
Carl smiled his best buddy smile and said, "Come along,Paul. Chat with me for a second or two, will you? Deadline's coming up and I want to phone this in. Make the morning edition."
"And beat the pants off the Herald, right?"
"You got it."
Two steps and they were in the kitchen. A younger detective was dusting the countertops for fingerprints. There was a flash of light from the police photographer in the bedroom.
The apartment was small and cluttered and to Carl's practiced eyes it had been tossed. Drawers were open, closet doors were ajar, and clothes and dishes were scattered across the floors and on top of the furniture. The kitchen floor was linoleum and an empty metal bowl was on the floor, jammed up in the corner. The breakfast dishes were still in the sink. One cereal bowl, one coffee cup.
A tiny prewar TV set and a bunch of newspapers and magazines were in the living room. A jet screamed overhead, going toward the landing strips at Logan Airport. The carpet was light brown and threadbare along the edges, with a faint pattern of flowers that had been trampled away by years of foot traffic.
The door had three locks, a sensible precaution, especially during the winter, when supermarket shelves emptied by ten every morning and the prostitutes in the Combat Zone bartered their wares for cans of beef stew. But none of the locks appeared broken.
During the past couple of years at the Globe, Carl had run into Paul Malone on a fairly routine basis. Carl's job was general assignment reporter. Because of his military experience, his editors thought he'd be used to seeing dead bodies, so more often than not, he was sent out on crime stories. He and the older detective had a cautious but respectful relationship. Malone was relatively straight when it came to news, and Carl was equally polite when it came to asking the questions.
"What we have here is one Merl Sawson. Age sixty. Apparent gunshot wounds to the back of the head." Malone's accent was pure Boston.
Carl scribbled away. "Looks pretty apparent to me."
"Sure it does, young fella, but I ain't putting my name to it until he's at the morgue. Would look pretty funny if we turned him over and found a knife to his heart, now, wouldn't it?"
"Yeah. A laugh and a half. You wondering who might have done the shooting?"
Malone grunted with what might have been amusement. "Now, there's somethin' they must've forgot to teach us in detective school. Wondering who done the shooting and all."
"You know what I mean. This poor guy was shot. Who's got guns and ammunition nowadays? Only the Army and the mob. Not civilians. So what do you think?"
"I think you're crossing the line from being a reporter to being a pain in the ass, and that's a mighty short line."
"Thanks for the geography lesson," Carl said. "How did the call come in?"
"He's got a pal downstairs. He heard some shouts last night. Thought it might have been the television. Then Merl didn't show up for their usual lunch. When nobody answered the door, he called us."
The detective looked pained. "C'mon, we've been here all of a half hour."
"Burglary, though, that's what it looks like."
"Look, Carl, get the hell out, will ya? I got work to do."
"Just a sec." He looked around the room. No pictures. That was funny. You'd think a guy this old would have pictures of family and people on the walls. But no. Nothing. He looked at the magazines on the floor. Time, with a picture of Nelson Rockefeller on the cover; American Legion, with a picture of Nelson Rockefeller on the cover, and Sports Illustrated, with a picture of Joe Namath and Nelson Rockefeller on the cover. A veteran and a sports fan.
"I'm outta here."
By the door, he finally figured out what was bothering him.
It was the boots. Old work boots, their soles held together by gray duct tape. They stood neatly by the door on sheets of newspaper. Just like ... Carl glanced back into the open bedroom door, seeing the legs of the dead man. Sweet Jesus. Sure was the right size. And the guy had claimed to have been a veteran. And he remembered.
It had happened a month before, the first really cold day of September. A truly awful day. For six hours he'd been standing on a pier by Boston Harbor, waiting for the police to dredge up a stolen car. A couple of Roxbury kids had driven straight off the pier during a police chase the night before. Their stunned parents were huddled by the end of the pier, ready to claim the drowned remains. When his relief came before the car was recovered, he almost cheered. Thank God he wouldn't have to talk to the families and get the usual "How do you feel?" crap for the next day's story. Now, he could go home and have a beer or three and try to forget the drawn faces of these people waiting for their dead children.
Then he felt a touch at his elbow, and heard the old man's voice. "Excuse me, are you a reporter?"
Carl turned around. The man stood on the cracked sidewalk, dead leaves and discarded newspapers swirling about his feet from the harbor wind. A few people walked by and looked at Carl sympathetically, silently saying Sorry he grabbed you, fella, but better you than me. The man was tall, wearing a long Army overcoat devoid of insignia or even buttons. His work boots were scuffed and cracked, held together by gray, grimy duct tape. His hands were quivering, and when he saw Carl notice them, he quickly shoved them into the coat's pockets. His face was red and pockmarked, his nose dripping, and there were dark bags under his eyes, like he had gotten one night's sleep a week for the past decade. His thin gray hair was tangled and unwashed.
"Yes, I am, and I'm sorry, but I've got an appointment and ..."
"You're a vet, right? See you're wearing the old field jacket."
Carl nodded wearily. "Yep, U.S. Army. Just like you, right?" He reached into his pocket for a quarter.
The old man shook his head violently. "No, no, put your money away. That's not what this is about. I'm a veteran, too, but I've never begged. Not once."
"Oh. All right then, what can I do for you?"
He looked around and stepped forward, his breath smelling of beer. "Got something for you. A hell of a story. But only if you have the balls to print it."
"That's for my editor to decide. What's it about?"
The old man lowered his voice. "Something awful. But something you'll want to know about. It's just about the biggest story ever, just you see. You know, even ten years later, some people still enjoy killin', and that's gotta be stopped."
Carl nodded seriously. That word ever sounded like it was said by a nine-year-old boy. But there was a faded look in the old man's eyes, and his thin shoulders shivered pathetically under the coat. Damn it, the man was a veteran. Just like him. He deserved better. Hell, they all deserved better.
"I tell you what, Mr...."
He shook his head again. "Oh no, no names, not yet. But tell me, will you do the story?"
"No promises, but I'll look at what you've got." Carl said it seriously, respectfully. The old man was owed that.
He smiled in relief, showing brown and misshapen teeth. "Good, that'll be good. Look, I've got some important documents, something important to show you. Here's just a taste." He handed Carl a much-folded piece of lined notebook paper.
"Right there, that's where the story should start. In that piece of paper. I'll be here tomorrow afternoon, right at this spot. We'll go over the other papers together. Okay? But I won't come if I don't think I can trust you. I'll go somewhere else. These are bad times, you know."
Carl knew what he was in store for. He had seen it before, with other reporters and other "sources" that had latched on to them. But despite that, tomorrow he'd take the old guy to a nice diner, buy him probably the best meal he'd had in ages, and listen to his tales of dark conspiracies involving no doubt the Rockefellers, space aliens, the Romanovs, and whatever. Carl would nod politely in all the right places, slip him five bucks, and then go home and get drunk at all the old memories the man had disturbed. So be it.
"Fine," Carl said. "Tomorrow, right here."
"Good." He looked like he was about to say something, but then he swung around and walked away, his step more confident. That was the last Carl had seen of him. The fellow veteran had not come back the next day, or the next. After a week, Carl had given up on him.
The piece of paper had a list of five names on it, and Carl had spent a few minutes looking them in up a phone book and city directory. When not a name was found, he put the paper aside.
Now, Carl stood outside Merl Sawson's apartment, breathing deeply, glad to get out of the stuffy rooms. Focus, he thought. Focus on the story. He looked at his watch. An hour to deadline. He shook off his promise to Detective Malone and took the creaking stairs up to the next landing and knocked on the door. No answer. Well, let's try his downstairs lunch pal. He went back down and stopped at the first-floor apartment. An older man answered the door, his face flushed and his eyes wide with concern and questions, a plaid bathrobe about his skinny body.
"Carl Landry from the Globe," he said. "And you are ...?"
"You rent here?"
"I own this place" he said, one gnarled hand holding his bathrobe closed. "My parents left it to me."
"So you knew Mr. Sawson?"
Eyes still wide, he nodded. "He's rented from me near on four years."
"And what did he do for work?"
"Retired, I suppose."
"He was a veteran, wasn't he? I saw he had a couple of issues of American Legion."
Townes paused for about a second too long. "I really don't know. We didn't talk much about that. You see, he"
"Landry!" came the detective's voice from upstairs. Malone leaning over the railing, snarling at him. "Damn it, man, when I said leave, I meant leave the building! Stop getting in our way, will ya?"
Carl waved a hand up, resisting an urge to use one finger, and rummaged in an inside pocket of his coat, the same U.S. Army field jacket the old man had noted the previous month. Jesus, he thought. It must have been him. Had to be. He pulled out a creased and slightly soiled business card, which he passed over.
"Call me, will you? I'm doing a story about Mr. Sawson and I'd like to give a good accounting of his life for the paper. Hate to just run a brief story. I'm sure he's worth more than that."
Townes took the card and retreated into the apartment, "This is all so awful," he muttered as he closed the door, and Carl went out to the porch. The crisp October air felt good after being inside the apartment house.
Poor Merl Sawson. Probably just a crazy dead vet. Their meeting last month? Just coincidence, that's all. Still ... it wouldn't hurt to look at that list of names again. The old wooden apartment building was three stories, painted white, each floor an apartment with an outside porch facing the street. In this Hibernian town they were affectionately known as Irish battleships. He looked at the three mailboxes on the porch. Townes, Sawson, and Clemmons. He wrote down the names and stepped off the front porch, past two uniformed Boston cops. The older cop said, "They get anybody yet?"
"Not that I know of."
The younger cop tried to make a joke. "Chances are, the perp's out of state. He'll be as hard to find as a Kennedy 'fore the night's out."
The younger cop laughed, but the older one frowned and stuck his hands in his uniform coat pocket and turned away. The cop's name tag said "Mooney." Maybe he was one of the true Irish believers, still pining for that lost promise. Could be. This was Boston, after all, and even Carl sometimes still felt the faint stirrings of that old promise, an old promise he often tried to forget.
A man in a tweed jacket and jeans stood on the sidewalk, a camera bag over his shoulder and a 35mm camera in his hands. It was Mark Beasley, a photographer for the Globe who wore a beard that reached the middle of his chest and was nicknamed the Beast.
"What have you got, Carl?"
"I don't have much, but the cops have a dead man up in the second-floor apartment."
"You want me to wait around?"
Most reporters simply tolerated the Beast, but Carl found he liked the guy. He might have the charm of a bull sniffing around the entrance to a china closet, but he did get the job done and didn't treat his work as an impediment to a "serious" career as an artist.
Carl checked his watch. "Yeah, if you can. If there's a hole in the metro section, they might be able to use a picture of the cops dragging this guy's body down the stairs."
Another jet flew by overhead. Beasley looked up, camera in his hands. "Jesus, what a place to live in. Freakin' noise would drive me crazy."
"What noise?" Carl asked, oblivious.
"Typical reporter," the Beast said, grinning. "Wouldn't notice a naked woman in front of him unless it had something to do with his story."
Carl smiled back. "Typical photographer. Wouldn't notice a naked woman in front of him unless he had film in his camera."
He walked away quickly, past a faded MCGOVERN FOR PRESIDENT sign flapping from a telephone pole. No neighbors were standing around, and he didn't have time for a door-to-door to get local color. If he was lucky he could make it to the Globe in fifteen minutesif there were no checkpoints set up along the wayand have almost thirty to do the piece. Already, as he unlocked the car door and got inside, he was writing the story in his mind. It shouldn't be too hard.
The inside of his '69 Coronet was cluttered with old Globes, notebooks, and maps. The outside was light blue and freckled with rust. It was sloppy but comfortable and, most days, reliable. Today it started up after three tries. At the first stop sign, he saw some faded graffiti on the side of a liquor store. HE LIVES, it said.
Jesus, he thought. Maybe there were true believers everywhere.
Walking into the newsroom of the Globe was always a jolt to the system, even after four years. The noise was a constant hum of conversations, ringing phones, chattering teletype machines, and the slapping of typewriter keys. The closer it came to deadline, the louder the noise, and right now it was almost deafening. But even after deadline, it never got quiet. Before one newspaper rolled out and hit the streets, it was time to work on another. As his editor once said, the news never stops and never do the goddamn newspapers.
There were a couple of dozen desks, arranged haphazardly over the dirty tile. Floor-to-ceiling pillars broke up the space, and also served as a convenient hanging place for calendars, notices, and framed front pages of Globes past. At the far end of the room was a large horseshoe of desks belonging to the foreign, national, metro, editorial, features, and sports editors. Carl aimed for a heavyset man behind one of the metro desks, his boss, George Dooley.
At the very end of the room were the glass-enclosed offices of the managing editors and the executive editor. Off to one side by itself, as if he didn't really belong, was the office for the oversight editor. The curtains to the glass windows of this office were closed. They were always closed. Like most reporters, Carl had never been in that office and that suited him just fine.
He passed one pillar. The framed front page was from August 14, 1945: JAPS SURRENDER. Another one was from June 28, 1950: AMERICAN PLANES BOMB FLEEING REDS IN KOREA. Carl dodged a copy boy, racing out to Composing with a fistful of papers in his hand. Another pillar, another front page. This one was January 21, 1961: KENNEDY OFFERS WORLD NEW START FOR PEACE. It was hanging crookedly, and the broken glass had been poorly repaired with masking tape.
George had a phone to his ear but glanced up as Carl approached. As always, he gave Carl a look of skepticism, a look Carl had gotten used to these past four years. Dooley's desk was covered with paper, pencils, half-empty Styrofoam coffee cups, and damp photographs, fresh from the darkroom. His thin brown hair was plastered to a freckled scalp, and he wore black-rimmed glasses that were always sliding down his large nose. He had on a wrinkled white shirt with the sleeves rolled up massive forearms, a black necktie tugged open, and black slacks. He called it his uniform and claimed it saved him from wasting time in the morning, choosing clothes while fighting his daily hangover.
"Yeah, yeah" George growled into the phone. "Hold on for a moment, will ya?" He turned to Carl. "Whaddya got?"
He stood before his editor, flipped through his notebook. "A homicide from East Boston."
"Yeah, I know. Male or female?"
"Male, old guy. Looks like a vet. Shot in the back of head." He thought about telling George about his earlier meeting with the man, and decided not to. There was a pecking order in the newsroom, depending on how many stories saw print, and he didn't want George delaying this story because of some odd meeting last month.
George picked up a pencil, scratched a few notes. "Too bad it wasn't a college girl. Could use something to spright up the front page. All right, get me something in ten, page and a half."
"George, come on, you know I've got twenty minutes. And besides, the guy was a vet. That should be worth something."
"Don't be offended, Carl, but I'd rather have a dead coed than a dead vet," George said. "And you still get just ten minutes. Oversight took a long lunch and he's running late."
He knew better than to raise a fuss. "All right, ten it is. Did the Beast call? He was trying for some pictures of them taking the body out."
"Yep, he called and nope, there's no pics. They took the body out the rear, to avoid all the attention."
Something seemed to tickle the back of his hands. "That sounds strange, George."
"Strange? Yeah, the whole world is strange. And now you've got nine minutes, Landry."
"On my way," he said, looking up again, as he always did, to the framed Globe front page from October 31, 1962, that hung on the pillar just behind George's chair. REDS BOMB DC, NYC; MILLIONS FEARED DEAD. A smaller subhead read: "Kennedy, First Family Perishes." And the first paragraph of the story: "The horrors of this past weekend's invasion of Cuba to attack Soviet missile sites struck home with an apocalyptic vengeance yesterday, with news that atomic bombs had struck Washington, D.C., and the outskirts of New York City, killing millions of Americans and destroying the upper reaches of the federal government. Military sources confirm that President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson perished in the attack. The whereabouts of Speaker of the House John McCormackthe next in line to the presidencyare not known at this time."
After his first six months here, shuddering every time he'd passed it, he eventually asked George why that particular front page was in such a prominent place. George had replied in that gravelly voice of his, "Why the hell not? It's news, ain't it?"
Carl turned and headed to his desk.