Writer’s Bone’s ongoing fiction series The Newspapermen follows the tireless reporters of a major metropolitan newspaper in the late 1930s. If you need to catch up, order a stiff drink and read Chapter 1: Ink and Drink Club.
Chapter Nine: Sources
Henry felt his pocket, checking that his wallet hadn’t been lifted.
The chief told him to pick a reputable place for the meeting, but Henry knew this hole-in-the-wall café under the elevated street near Grand Central Station was a known police hangout. His potential source would feel as comfortable as possible before Henry turned up the heat. However, despite the police presence, the small counter offered plenty of opportunities for lowlifes, pickpockets, and assorted villains to apply their craft.
Henry signaled for a second refill. He finished his scrambled eggs half an hour ago. He was giving Detective William Beach another cup of coffee before doing down to his precinct to raise hell.
“Beach!” The short order cook said.
Henry didn’t have time to turn his head before the hefty gumshoe clapped a hand on his shoulder.
“Where’s Graham, yea marshmallow?” Beach asked.
“My name is Henry Jones. Mr. Graham sent me to talk to you because he’s busy with important City Scribe business.”
Beach grunted in response. He hung up his dark coat and sat down. He surveyed the menu for a moment.
“You paying for this?”
Henry mentally counted the money he had in his pocket and then straightened his tie.
“Yes, I suppose I am.”
“Steak and eggs, Charlie,” Beach said to the cook.
Henry felt his anger stain his cheeks, but remained calm. He needed this.
“What do you know about Hal Fintan?” Henry asked. He attempted to pull his reporter’s notebook out of his back pocket, but Beach grabbed his arm and shook his head.
“I’m off the record or I’m bailing.”
Henry nodded curtly.
“Fintan’s a choirboy,” Beach said. “In the eyes of the law at least.”
"How is that possible?" Henry asked. "He's about as clean as a sewer rat."
"He's a lowlife that paints this city with yellow ink," Beach said. "But he's never been arrested and no one has ever witnessed him in any illicit activity."
"Then he he's either greasing the right wheels or got friends in high places," Henry said. "Probably a few low places too.”
Beach shrugged and dumped more ketchup on his plate. Henry could see the detective's straw-colored hair was thinning and his waistline had grew since the department's charity baseball game Henry covered a couple of years before. His shoulders took up nearly half the counter, but his legs were pencil thin. Henry knew Beach was a clean as they could come around here, but Henry wasn't about to play nice.
"So you said you had names for us. Or did you lie about that to get a free meal?"
Beach devoured the last of his eggs as he slid a folded piece of paper under a napkin toward Henry. The cub reporter waited a moment before discreetly balling the note into his hand using the napkin to wipe his brow.
“You tell Graham that if he wants any more, he needs to show up himself,” Beach said. “How am I supposed to know he won't screw me if he's too scare to show his own face?.”
“Will Graham isn’t scared of anything!”
Henry leapt from his stool and defiantly stood above the hulking copper. Beach set down his mug and rose to his full six-foot, three-inch height.
“Word to the wise, son,” Beach said. “You keep following Graham blindly and you’re going to find out exactly what he’s scared of.”
Shirley finished the afternoon edition of City Scribe, folded it, and placed it in her lap.
The majority of the paper covered what little real news was buzzing around town. The mayor’s office had cancelled all press conferences and announced city business through stilted and hallow news releases. The minds behind them knew nothing about writing and even less about news. People started asking substantial questions and got even more vague and shadowy answers in return. All the newspapers had sold out to some extent, but she knew newspapermen of all stripes were working their informants and back channels to figure out what was really going on.
Shirley brushed her crimson hair from her face. She noticed a mother and young daughter enjoying a crust-less sandwich on a park bench not too far from her own. Shirley was long past the point of envy—her anger, angst, and aggression were reserved for memories of her father—but she couldn't help reflecting briefly on all she had lost. Her wistfulness was broken by Henry, walking toward her with this trench coat flowing behind him like a cape.
That man moves faster than his body can carry him, she thought.
“What did you find out?” Shirley asked.
Henry handed her a slip of paper.
“He didn’t give us anyone we didn’t already know about,” she said.
Henry nodded grimly.
“Were you followed?”
“Excuse me,” a female voice said behind him.
Henry sighed and Shirley rolled her eyes.
“Are you in need of directions?” Shirley said. She didn’t like this woman one bit. “We recently arrived in the city, so we wouldn’t be much help.”
“You two work for City Scribe, right?”
“Who wants to know," Henry asked.
“My name is Betty. I’m Hal Fintan’s daughter.”
Henry sat down on the bench leaving a space for Betty between himself and Shirley.
“And what do you want with the City Scribe?” Shirley asked.
“I overheard him talking about Hal in the coffee shop,” Betty said, motioning to Henry.
Henry took out his notebook and asked her to continue.
“My mother told me a few months ago that Hal Fintan is my real father,” Betty said. “He left my mother a few months before I was born. My mother wrote him tortured letters, but he never wanted anything to do with us. He used her and discarded her when he was done. When I found out the truth, and then I started to read his work. Now I'm glad he left us.”
Shirley gave Henry a quick smile. He looked up from his notes and returned it.
“So you came to the city to confront him?” Henry asked.
“I just wanted him to know who I was” Betty said. "So I caught a bus from Albany only to have a door slammed in my face."
“And how does that place you at the coffee shop?” Shirley asked.
“I told his super I was his daughter and that he wasn't home, asked him where I might find my dear father. You said his name not five minutes after I sat down," Betty said looking at Henry. "I couldn’t help overhearing your the conversation with the flatfoot, so I following you here.”
“What are you looking to gain here, Miss…,” Henry asked.
“Lincoln. Betty Lincoln.”
“Miss Lincoln, what exactly do you want from us?” Shirley asked.
“I know Hal is involved in whatever you’re investigating. I want to help bring him to justice. No one but him knows who I am. I can be valuable. I’ll do anything you need me to do.”
Henry closed his notebook and exchanged a worried grimace with Shirley. Betty picked up Shirley’s discarded paper and started reading.
Herman, City Scribe’s copy editor, occupied most of Will’s door frame and two or three feet on either side of the threshold.
“Herm, I’m 100% certain I used ‘arsenal’ correctly,” Will said.
He kept hammering away at the keys of his typewriter; careful not to type too much and have the piece of paper fold over revealing he’d been writing gibberish for 10 minutes.
Sobriety is taking its toll, he thought.
“You have a visitor.”
“I have a secretary for this kind of thing,” he said, instantly remembering he hadn’t had one since promoting Shirley. Will’s heart jumped momentarily at the thought it could be his wife and daughters. Herman’s dour, craggy face dispelled that fantasy in a hurry. “Not now. Have him write out a statement and provide contact information.”
“You’re going to want to meet this guy,” Herman said.
Will yanked the piece of paper out of the typewriter, crumpled it up, and threw it forcefully at his subordinate’s graying flattop.
“Then get your fast ass out of the door and send him in!” Will screamed. “Jesus, go back to screwing up punctuation.”
Will didn’t have time to care about Herman’s wounded expression as a thin, well-manicured man entered his office wearing a suit that cost more than Will's annual salary.
“Right to the point,” the figure said. His airy voice crackled with entitlement and false confidence. “My name is Albert Moruzzi Jr.”
“The Albert Moruzzi Jr.?”
“Listen, if this is some kind of shake down or extortion effort, our newspaper has never taken an unsubstantiated shot at your old man…”
Albert Jr. held his hand up.
“I need your help Mr. Graham,” he said. “I think my father is trying to kill me.”
TO BE CONTINUED...