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Authors: Michael Connelly

Tags: #General, #Thrillers, #Fiction

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BOOK: The Scarecrow
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Meaning submissions to Pulitzer and other prize judges.

“Look,” I said, “I haven’t even told my editor about this yet. You are jumping way ahead. I don’t even know if they’ ll—”

“They’ll love it and you know it. They’re going to cut you loose to work it and they might as well cut me loose too. Who knows, maybe we both get a prize. They can’t lay you off if you bring home a Pulitzer.”

“You’re talking about the ultimate long shot, Sonny. You’re crazy. Besides that, I already got laid off. I’ve got twelve days and then I could give a shit about the Pulitzer Prize. I’m out of here.”

I saw his eyes register surprise at the news of my layoff. Then he nodded as he factored the new information into his ongoing scenario.

“Then this is the ultimate adios,” he said. “I get it. You leave ’em with a fuck-you—a story so good they gotta enter it in contests even though you’re long out the door.”

I didn’t respond. I hadn’t thought I was so easy to read. I turned back to the window. The freeway was elevated here and I could see block after block of houses crowded together. Many had blue tarps tied over their old, leaky roofs. The farther south you went in the city, the more of those tarps you saw.

“I still want in,” Lester said.

 

W
ith complete access to Alonzo Winslow and his case now established, I was ready to discuss the story with my editor. By that I meant that I would officially say I was working it and my ace could put it on his futures budget. When I got back to the newsroom, I went directly over to the raft and found Prendergast at his desk. He was busily typing into his computer.

“Prendo, you got a minute?”

He didn’t even look up.

“Not right now, Jack. I got tagged with putting together the budget for the four o’clock. You got something for tomorrow besides Angela’s story?”

“No, I’m talking more long-range.”

He stopped typing and looked up at me and I realized he was confused. How long-range could a guy with twelve days left go?

“Not that long-range. We can talk later or tomorrow. Did Angela turn in the story?”

“Not yet. I think she was waiting for you to look it over. Can you go do that now and get it in? I want to get it out on the web as soon as we can.”

“I’m on it.”

“Okay, Jack. We’ll talk later or send me a quick e-mail.”

I turned and my eyes swept the newsroom. It was as long as a football field. I didn’t know where Angela Cook’s cubicle was located but I knew it would be close. The newer you were, the closer they kept you to the raft. The far reaches of the newsroom were for the veterans who supposedly needed less supervision. The south side was called Baja Metro and was inhabited by veteran reporters who still produced. The north side was the Deadwood Forest. This was where the reporters who did little reporting and even less writing were located. Some of them had sacrosanct positions by virtue of political connections or Pulitzer Prizes, and others were just incredibly skilled at keeping their heads down so they wouldn’t draw the attention of the assignment editors or the corporate cutters.

Over the top edge of one of the nearby pods I saw Angela’s blond hair. I went over.

“Howzit going?”

She jumped, startled.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“That’s okay. I was just so absorbed in reading this.”

I pointed to her computer screen.

“Is that the story?”

Her face colored. I noticed she had tied her hair behind her head and stuck an editing pencil through the knot. It made her look even sexier than usual.

“No, actually, it’s from archives. It’s the story about you and that killer they called the Poet. That was creepy as hell.”

I checked the screen more closely. She had pulled out of archives a story from twelve years before. From when I was with the
Rocky Mountain News
and in competition with the
Times
on a story that had stretched from Denver to the East Coast and then all the way back to L.A. It was the biggest story I had ever chased. It had been the high point of my journalistic life—no, check that, it had been the apex of my entire life—and I didn’t want to be reminded that I had crossed that point so long ago.

“Yeah, it was pretty creepy. Are you finished with today’s story?”

“What happened to that FBI agent you teamed up with? Rachel Walling. One of the other stories said she was disciplined for crossing ethical lines with you.”

“She’s still around. Here in L.A., in fact. Can we look at today’s story? Prendo wants us to get it in so he can put it on the web.”

“Sure. I have it done. I was just waiting for you to see it before I sent it to the desk.”

“Let me get a chair.”

I pulled a chair away from an empty cubicle. Angela made room for me next to her and I read the twelve-inch story she had written. The news budget had slugged it in at ten inches, which meant it would likely be cut to eight, but you could always write long for the web edition because there were no space restrictions. Any reporter worth his or her salt would naturally go over budget. Your ego dictated that your story and your skill in telling it would make the ladder of editors who read it realize it was too good to be anything less than what you had turned in, no matter what edition it was written for.

The first edit I made was to take my name off the byline.

“Why, Jack?” Angela protested. “We reported this together.”

“Yeah, but you wrote it. You get the byline.”

She reached over to the keyboard and put her hand on top of my right hand.

“Please, I would like to have a byline with you. It would mean a lot to me.”

I looked at her quizzically.

“Angela, this is a twelve-inch story they’re probably going to cut to eight and bury inside. It’s just another murder story and it doesn’t need a double byline.”

“But it’s my first murder story here at the
Times
and I want your name on it.”

She still had her hand on mine. I shrugged and nodded.

“Suit yourself.”

She let go of my hand and I typed my name back into the byline. She then reached over again and held my right hand once more.

“Is this the one that got hurt?”

“Uh…”

“Can I see?”

I turned my hand over, exposing the starburst scar in the webbing between my thumb and forefinger. It was the place the bullet had passed through before hitting the killer they called the Poet in the face.

“I saw that you don’t use your thumb when you type,” she said.

“The bullet severed a tendon and I had surgery to reattach it but my thumb’s never really worked right.”

“What’s it feel like?”

“It feels normal. It just doesn’t do what I want it to do.”

She laughed politely.

“What?”

“I meant, what’s it feel like to kill somebody like that?”

The conversation was getting weird. What was the fascination this woman—this girl—had with killing?

“Uh, I don’t really like to talk about that, Angela. It was a long time ago and it wasn’t like I killed the guy. He kind of brought it on himself. He wanted to die, I think. He fired the gun.”

“I love serial killer stories but I had never heard about the Poet until some people said something about it today at lunch and then I Googled it. I’m going to get the book you wrote. I heard it was a bestseller.”

“Good luck. It was a bestseller ten years ago. It’s now been out of print at least five years.”

I realized that if she had heard about the book at lunch, then people were talking about me. Talking about the former bestseller, now overpaid cop shop reporter, getting the pink slip.

“Well, I bet you have a copy I could borrow,” Angela said.

She gave me a pouting look. I studied her for a long moment before responding. In that moment I knew she was some sort of death freak. She wanted to write murder stories because she wanted the details they don’t put in the articles and the TV reports. The cops were going to love her, and not just because she was a looker. She would fawn over them as they parceled out the gritty and grim descriptions of the crime scenes they worked. They would mistake her worship of the dark details for worship of them.

“I’ll see if I can find a copy at home tonight. Let’s get back to this story and get it in. Prendo is going to want to see it in the basket as soon as he’s out of the four o’clock meeting.”

“Okay, Jack.”

She raised her hands in mock surrender. I went back to the story and got through the rest of it in ten minutes, making only one change in the copy. Angela had tracked down the son of the elderly woman who had been raped and then stabbed to death in 1989. He was grateful that the police had not given up on the case and said so. I moved his sincerely laudatory quote up into the top third of the story.

“I’m moving this up so it won’t get cut by the desk,” I explained. “A quote like that will score you some points with the cops. It’s the kind of sentiment from the public that they live for and don’t often get. Putting it up high will start building the trust I was telling you about.”

“Okay, good.”

I then made one final addition, typing –
30
– at the bottom of the copy.

“What does that mean?” Angela asked. “I’ve seen that on other stories in the city desk basket.”

“It’s just an old-school thing. When I first came up in journalism you typed that at the bottom of your stories. It’s a code—I think it’s even a holdover from telegraph days. It just means end of story. It’s not necessary anymore but—”

“Oh, God, that’s why they call the list of everybody who gets laid off the ‘thirty list.’ ”

I looked at her and nodded, surprised that she didn’t already know what I was telling her.

“That’s right. And it’s something I always used, and since my byline’s on the story…”

“Sure, Jack, that’s okay. I think it’s kind of cool. Maybe I’ll start doing it.”

“Continue the tradition, Angela.”

I smiled and stood up.

“You think you are okay to make the round of police checks in the morning and swing by Parker Center?”

She frowned.

“You mean without you?”

“Yeah, I’m going to be tied up in court on something I’m working on. But I’ll probably be back before lunch. You think you can handle it?”

“If you think so. What are you working on?”

I told her briefly about my visit to the Rodia Gardens projects and the direction I was going. I then assured her that she wouldn’t have a problem going to Parker Center on her own after only one day’s training with me.

“You’ll be fine. And with that story in the paper tomorrow, you’ll have more friends over there than you’ll know what to do with.”

“If you say so.”

“I do. Just call me on my cell if you need anything.”

I then pointed at the story on her computer screen, made a fist and banged it lightly on her desk.

“Run that baby,” I said.

It was a line from
All the President’s Men,
one of the greatest reporter stories ever told, and I immediately realized she didn’t recognize it. Oh, well, I thought, there is old school and then there is new school.

I headed back to my cubicle and saw the message light on my phone flashing at a fast interval, meaning I had multiple messages. I quickly pushed the strange but intriguing encounter with Angela Cook from my mind and picked up the receiver.

The first message was from Jacob Meyer. He said he had been assigned a new case with an arraignment scheduled for the next day. It meant he had to push back our meeting a half hour to 9:30 the next morning. That was fine with me. It would give me more time to either sleep in or prepare for the interview.

The second message was a voice from the past. Van Jackson was a rookie reporter I had trained on the cop beat at the
Rocky Mountain News
about fifteen years before. He rose through the ranks and got all the way up to the post of city editor before the paper shuttered its doors a few months earlier. That was the end of a 150-year publishing run in Colorado and the biggest sign yet of the crashing newspaper economy. Jackson still hadn’t found a job in the business he had dedicated his professional life to.

“Jack, it’s Van. I heard the news. Not a good thing, man. I’m so sorry. Give me a call and we can commiserate. I’m still here in Denver freelancing and looking for work.”

There was a long silence and I guess Jackson was looking for words that would prepare me for what was ahead.

“I’ve gotta tell you the truth, man. There’s nothing out there. I’m just about ready to start selling cars, but all the car dealers are in the toilet, too. Anyway, give me a call. Maybe we can watch out for each other, trade tips or something.”

I played the message again and then erased it. I would take my time about calling Jackson back. I didn’t want to be dragged down further than I already was. I was hitting the big three-oh but I still had options. I wanted to keep my momentum. I had a novel to write.

 

J
acob Meyer was late to our meeting on Tuesday morning. For nearly a half hour I sat in the waiting room of the Public Defender’s Office surrounded by clients of the state-funded agency. People too poor to afford their own legal defense and reliant on the government that was prosecuting them to also defend them. It was right there in the constitutionally guaranteed rights—
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you
—but it always seemed to be a contradiction to me. Like it was all some kind of racket with the government controlling both supply and demand.

Meyer was a young man who I guessed was no more than five years out of law school. Yet here he was, defending a younger man—no, a child—accused of murder. He came back from court, carrying a leather briefcase so fat with files it was too awkward and heavy to carry by the handle. He had it under his arm. He asked the receptionist for messages and was pointed to me. He switched his heavy briefcase to his left arm and offered to shake my hand. I took it and introduced myself.

“Come on back,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of time.”

“That’s fine. I don’t need a lot of your time at this point.”

BOOK: The Scarecrow
6.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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