Sally Ellenberg has a nose for bad news. It’s detrimental to her love life, but perfect for her job on the crime beat. When writing up a report on a minor hold up, she stumbles across a strange detail: in the middle of the robbery, the gunman screamed suddenly before falling dead. In searching for answers, Sally teams up with orderly (and sexy) science-writer John Forbes Aiken to chase down an increasingly bizarre series of clues, from missing autopsy reports to bizarre brain experiments on animals.
Digging deeper, Sally and Jack uncover a conspiracy reaching into the highest levels of the US government and the escalating war on terror. A new series of attacks from Al Qaeda terrorists has driven the military to seek new ways to gather intelligence on its enemies. As powerful forces attempt to discredit Sally and Jack, they find themselves increasingly alone as they get closer to the terrifying truth.
“Rivers has a very deft hand with prose and a gift for witty dialogue . . . A great novel and a genuine pleasure to read.” —Boston Herald
“Rivers tries her hand at a bio-tech thriller, with slickly professional results. Rivers is as amusing as ever, and her leading couple make fine company indeed.” —Kirkus Reviews
“There aren’t too many really good newspaper novels, so it’s gratifying to report that Indecent Behavior . . . has the old newsroom pungency, even though, as reporter Sally Ellenberg realizes, newsrooms aren’t what they used to be.” —Chicago Tribune
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Sally Ellenberg blinked as the elevator doors opened and the eerie quiet of the city room greeted her. It could have been a bank, with its coordinated colors and bright lights, its rows of computers purring as regiments of green letters marched across the screens. There were times when she half expected to see it the way it used to be, years ago. In fact, she had been thinking on the way up of one summer night she had come to the World Herald office with her father. She had visited many times as a child, so why was she thinking of that particular night? Maybe it was the sudden spurt of warm weather, unusual for spring in Boston, and the traffic jam she had just plowed through in Kenmore Square. There had been a traffic jam on that night many years ago too — the Sox were in town.
As a child she had always loved riding up in the creaky old elevator — long since replaced — holding her father's hand and inhaling his familiar aroma, equal parts cigarette smoke, aftershave and sweat, the latter a musky, comforting smell. She would wait, expectantly, for the doors to open. The scene awaiting her was as magical to a child's eye as if it had been filled with elves and trolls and dragons from her storybooks. Mere dragons, in truth, would be hard-pressed to compete with the gritty energy of the world she was about to enter.
When the doors creaked open, the sounds and sights of the room would flood in: the staccato dance of the huge black wire machines, the cries of "Copy!" that would send young men scurrying and, near her father's desk, the police radio that chattered like an angry squirrel. Men, and an occasional woman, pounded at typewriters and now and then cursed, adding to the symphony of noise. The whole room, the little girl imagined, was a giant squid, its tentacles stretched across the planet. Information was sucked like plankton into its insatiable maw: fires, anniversaries, wars, ball games, bank robberies, the crowning of queens, and the death of presidents. Nothing could escape it. By age ten, Sally knew by heart the number of bells that rang on the black wire machines and the magnitude of the events they announced. She also knew it would not be possible for her to spend her life anyplace else.
She stepped out of the elevator. It was all different now. The royal blue carpeting swallowed the sound of footsteps, and the high old ceiling that had seemed so far away was covered by vanilla white ceiling tiles, lowered on a grid a respectable distance above people's heads. The computers hummed discreetly and nobody shrieked "Copy!" anymore. Reporters held their I phones to their ears and blogged about their stories, often not leaving their desks all day. Sometimes, she wished the elevator doors would open and the present would simply vanish, and there would be the room she remembered: noisy, profane, acrid, stuffy — magical.
She walked across the room toward the city desk and saw Kevin Murphy waving frantically at her. Kevin was always in a sweat for early copy, to get as many words as possible onto omnivorous website. Today, he seemed especially agitated.
"Ellenberg, where the hell have you been? WEEI is saying that there was a goddamn riot at Boston University!"
"Not a riot. A few busted heads, six arrests. They even dragged a few kids out of Marsh Chapel. Like the good old days."
"Why didn't you call in? I've been shitting bricks, sitting here listening to EEI."
"I did call. I talked to Neil an hour ago. I told him I was coming back to write."
"Where the hell is Neil? I haven't seen him for forty minutes."
"I saw him going out for dinner. I've got plenty of time, Kevin. It's only five."
"Where the hell's my Valium," Kevin said, rummaging around in his desk drawer. "I swear, this goddamn place is going to give me a heart attack. I'm type A, you know that! Did Samanski get any good stuff"?
"I saw her get a good shot of a cop hitting a kid. I think I can still taste some teargas. The cops used some, would you believe? Does tear gas give you cancer?"
"Probably. How the hell did this thing get started, anyhow? I thought nobody was expecting trouble."
"They weren't," Sally said. "It was just your average Near East teach-in. The usual folks — Chomsky was there."
The city editor sighed. "Sometimes I think life is a rerun. Christ, I used to go to Marsh Chapel for Vietnam rallies with those guys when I was at BU."
"Did you bum your draft card?"
"Only my food service card. I was too chicken."
"You could have relived your youth if you'd been out there today, Kevin. Hell no, we won't go! We won't die for Amoco!"
"How did it start?"
"A bunch of kids from Save Libya started to heckle the speakers. Somebody threw a punch, and the BU cops came charging in. Everything got to be messy."
Kevin scratched his head and looked at his computer. "OK, let it run. Get it up on WH.com as soon as you can. There's something coming over Google News on the street fighting in Libya. Can you give me a sidebar on Save Libya? They've been making a lot of noise lately."
"Sure." Sally went to her desk, sat down, and switched on her computer. The Libyan situation was teetering on the brink of civil war. The coalition government set up after Khadafy was toppled still held power, but there were daily clashes in the streets between fundamentalists and leftists. The US economy, still shaky after the big recession, needed Libyan oil. To some American eyes, the Russians hovered over the scene like a vulture scenting dead meat.
The Libyan situation had put a pall on what had been an era of good feelings between the US and Russia; old tensions resurfaced. And China was always looking out for its trade interests. Republican president Benton Ellard, who had come to office on a peace-and-prosperity platform, was being pushed hard by Congressional hawks who demanded that the US invade the Libyan oilfields to keep them out of the hands of the Russians or the Iraqis.
But a rising tide of dissent was sweeping across campuses and through the urban ghettos. Students, who had seemed docile and career-oriented, began to realize that another war in the Mideast could ruin the slowly recovering US economy. The Middle East, to put their bodies on the line for oil. The quiet campuses had come alive. In ghetto streets, the word was out that this was another Iraq or Afghanistan. Blacks, who were slipping ever further behind in the economic battle, were going to be the first to die for white men's profits.
Sally looked at her notes and decided to lead with a good quote from one of the students. Her usual beat at the paper was criminal justice — her father's job years ago, only then it was called the police beat. But as the tempo of protest accelerated, she had been called on more and more often to cover it.
She worked steadily for an hour, turning out a piece that walked the proper line between the terse and the eloquent. "Understate," her father always told her. "If you've got a good yam, let the story tell itself. Make it move. Be a playwright. Let your reader see it. Sol Ellenberg had always been known as a classy writer, the kind who probably could have written a novel, for chrissake. Many thought Sally had inherited his touch.
When the main story was done, she quickly put together a short sidebar on Save Libya, the conservative student group. When she finished, she got up and went to the women's room, washed her face, and grubbed about in her purse for a lipstick. The only one she could find was called Orange Punch, plucked by mistake from the bargain rack at CVS.
"Oh, what the hell," she said to her image in the mirror, and smeared Orange Punch across her mouth. The effect of a bright orange slash across her pale skin was almost clownish under her dark mop of curly hair. She peered at herself in amusement, then shrugged and walked back out into the city room. Her choice was between tubercular and Ringling Brothers. Be a clown.
She bummed a cigarette from Kevin Murphy, who said, "Why are you worrying about tear gas when you're killing yourself with those?" She lit up, enjoyed the luxury of a deep inhale, and swore on the graves of her ancestors from Minsk that she would quit tomorrow at quarter of nine. She looked across the room and noted that John Forbes Aiken was now sitting at the desk opposite hers, absorbing a few rads of microwaves — or whatever it was the damn computers gave off. They had moved him to that desk when Abe Feldman retired, breaking up what Sally and Abe called Kikes' Korner. Sally knew what Jack Aiken's reaction would be when she walked to her desk and tossed her handbag on it with a loud thud. He would look up, the frown lines across his forehead bunching up in a scowl, and she could swear she could hear the sound of his jaws clenching. She wondered why she got so much delight from tormenting him. Probably because of his nose.
John Forbes Aiken had a soaring, imperious nose, with just the suggestion of a hook at the end of it that gave his face a hawk-like quality. The exact same nose — oh, maybe a millimeter longer — belonged to the publisher of the World Herald, Robert Storrow Ames. That fucking nose, Sally thought, would probably make Jack Aiken the editor of the newspaper one day. All he had to do was stick that lousy beak in the door and he got hired faster than you could say Myopia Hunt Club. Abe Feldman had the same nose but the wrong genes, so he had never moved up into the ranks of management.
"Hey, Sally, want to get a couple beers?"
Joe Segal, city hall, was pulling on his coat, ready to leave.
"Thanks, Joe. Not tonight. Rain check?"
"Sure. See you tomorrow."
Sally glanced over at John Forbes Aiken. The son of a bitch not only had three names and the nose, but he could write too. Not quite as well as she could, of course. He couldn't quite make it sing the way she could.
"Sally," Joe Segal said, "I meant to ask you, could you put your hands on that story you did on Judge Adler? The librarian couldn't find it. Now that the morgue's gone electronic, you can't find shit."
"Yeah, Joe, I'll e-mail you a copy."
Joe Segal had the Ames nose too, but a fat lot of good it did. Worse, Sally was indifferent to Joe Segal's nose, but she found Jack Aiken's intriguing. This, she knew, had more to do with geography than with anatomy. A Brookline nose did not have the panache of a Pride's Crossing one. That was the trouble with growing up in this goddamned town where the Yankees owned everything, and everybody wanted to be one. Even the Kennedys, deep down, probably wanted to be Yankees. Old Joe tried hard enough to turn his sons into Brahmins. Jack passed easilty, but in his later days, Teddy was looking more and more like a guy who tended bar in Southie.
She walked over to her desk and tossed her purse down with a thud. Jack Aiken looked up, annoyance flitting across his face. He had his suit jacket draped across the back of his chair and his sleeves rolled up. Other reporters in the same deshabille looked like slobs. Why did he look like a page out of GQ? There was a refinement about him that always made her want to do something really gross, like pick her nose or spit.
"Hey, Aiken," she said, "know what you got with five WASPs sitting around a table?"
This time she heard his jaw clench. He gave a weary sigh of resignation. She loved needling him. He had given up wearing the sports shirts with the little alligators on them. He had one, it seemed, in every color of the rainbow, and she missed them. Little alligators were fine for snotty one-liners about class distinctions. But he hated WASP jokes almost as much.
"No, Ellenberg," he said, displaying feigned and saintly patience, "I don't know what you get with five WASPs sitting around a table."
"Have you ever had a WASP sub?"
"Why do I ask? What is a WASP sub?"
"White bread and mayonnaise."
Sally flopped down gracelessly into her chair. He was too polite to just tell her to go fuck off. Maybe that's why she enjoyed giving him the needle; a streak of sadism. It was like prodding a hamster with a sharp stick — you knew he wouldn't fight back.
She lit a cigarette — he thought smoking was disgusting — and said to him, "It must be boring to be a WASP. A preppie WASP at that."
"Why should it be boring?"
"You miss all the fun stuff. Oppression, prejudice, ethnic hatred. No swastikas chalked on your hubcaps. No rocks crashing through your windows at midnight. You've probably never even been mugged."
He leaned back in his chair and looked at her. His eyes were very blue and clear. Why was he so goddamned perfect? At the very least, couldn't he have astigmatism?
"For your information," he said, "my family and I once had a raging mob nearly burn down our house just because we were Yankees. So don't tell me I don't know what prejudice is."
"No, I am not."
"A mob actually tried to burn your house down? Why?"
The frown lines deepened. His face was sober.
"I was just a kid. Do you remember the big strike on the North Shore twenty-five years ago?"
"It was a long strike. Really a bitter one. Our neighbors were the owners of one of the factories. One night the strikers marched right up our street, a thousand strong. They had torches, and they were screaming they were going to kill all of us. I was only nine years old, and I was sure I was going to die. My mother was screaming hysterically. My father got out his hunting rifle and stood by the window."
"He told my mother that if they got him, to take the rifle and shoot me. In the heart, so I'd die right away. And then kill herself. The mob was out of control. I guess I can't blame them. They were hungry and out of work — but they would have torn us apart."
"That must have been terrifying!"
"I still have nightmares about it sometimes. My father standing there with the gun, all those torches on the lawn. It was awful."
He looked at her and a tiny smile tugged at the comers of his mouth.
"They burned an alligator on our lawn."
Sally swallowed the puff of smoke she had inhaled. Jack Aiken just smiled at her happily, as she nearly choked to death. "I'm dying!" she croaked.
"Serves you right. It's a filthy habit."
She coughed and shook her head. "You son of a bitch. Torches on the lawn. Your father and his hunting rifle. Shit, you lie like an angel."
He smiled again. "I know."
Sally snuffed out her cigarette in the ashtray on her desk and said, "You're right about one thing. It is a filthy habit. Tomorrow, 9 a.m., I quit."
"You won't quit. No self-discipline."
Those cool blue eyes appraised her. She felt her spine stiffen, probably because he was right. At that moment, she couldn't bear his being right.
"Yeah?" she snapped. "Just watch me." She dropped the pack of cigarettes into the wastebasket. "Discipline is my middle name."
"Ho, ho, ho."
"I suppose you have no vices? A regular Cotton Mather."
"None that pollute my precious bodily fluids."
She looked at him. His face was perfectly sober, not even a glint of ingenuousness in those placid blue eyes. They unnerved her. It was the reason she never quite knew when he was putting her on.
Kevin Murphy walked over, nodded to Jack, and said to Sally, "Parker Ames wants to see you."
"Ah, it's your lucky day," Jack said.
"Oh shit, what's he want?"
"Who knows?" Kevin sighed. "Who ever knows?"
Parker Ames was the nephew of Robert Storrow Ames, and it was said in the newsroom that he disproved the theories of natural selection. All the hardy, thrifty genes that had carried the Ameses to fortune had seemingly taken a detour when it came to Parker. It was sacred writ around the water cooler that if his name had been Parker O'Reilly, he'd still be on the police beat in Dorchester.
It was rumored that there had been an unholy row when the family proposed moving Parker from his post in sales to the managing editorship. The Ameses played things very close to the vest, but rumors did manage to seep out. Robert Storrow Ames had been unhappy with the notion but bowed to intense family pressure. Parker got the title, but most of the real work was done by two assistants. Sally thought Parker was an idiot. Even Jack Aiken, who never gossiped about anyone, curled his lip at the very mention of his name.
She walked into Parker's office and said, "What can I do for you, Parker?" (She knew it annoyed him when she used his first name.)
He looked up, tugged at his glasses and said, "I've had a complaint about your tactics."
"Oh? Who from?"
"The Middlesex DA."
"Ethridge? Mr. Integrity?"
"He's asking us to retract the story that he's pushing indictments against the former lieutenant governor."
"Everybody knows he wants to run for governor. Hanging a racketeering rap on Curran means brownie points. But his case is thinner than pantyhose. He's got bupkis. Which means nothing."
"Your story implies that it's nothing but politics."
"More than implies. Ethridge has been bragging to all his buddies that he's going to nail Curran."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Indecent Behavior"
Copyright © 1990 Caryl Rivers.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Got to page 63. Boring. (dw)
2 stars- its an okay book, mostly a romance suppose to be a mystery but very little. I was drawn to the book for the mystery theme but was very disappointed in the first 50 pages the mystery theme maybe covered 2 pages the rest all about the two main characters their lives, their philosphy in life and their hidden sexual attraction to each other. BORING this could of been a really good mystery but i could not get pass page 50. I'm glad this was a free friday selection, if i paid for it i'd be asking for my money back. I will be deleting this book from my library.
Serious, but romance and drama ad comedy! Enjoyable read, different.
This was a very enjoyable book. It had a great story, interesting characters and a very good flow.