I was working the late rewrite trick when the call came in. The night city editor took it, then cupped his hand over the mouthpiece and yelled at me.
“This girl says she’s going to pull the dutch act. Talk to her while I try to trace it.”
I cursed silently as I cut in on the extension. God damn women; there’s always one phoning the City Room and saying she’s going to kill herself. Either they’re drunk or want assurance that their homemade sendoff will make page one.
I asked the girl her means of exit.
A gun, she said.
A gun, I told her, leaves a mess. So why didn’t she hike down to the corner drugstore for some sleeping pills?
She started whimpering.
That did it. I said this was a damn busy newspaper and suggested she hang up like a nice girl and hit the sack. Her voice became apologetic. She had mailed the newspaper a letter. Would I personally watch for it? She described the stationery and I said I would. She thanked me and blew her brains out.
Later I went back to Morgue for a routine background check before I wrote her obit. I didn’t expect to find anything; her name meant nothing to me. But there was a skinny folder with Ann Hastings typed neatly in the corner. Inside were two clips — a brief story and a picture.
The story told of her graduation from college with highest honors three years ago. The picture showed an attractive brunette accepting congratulations from her parents. But it was a dark little man standing slightly to the side that caught my attention. I put an eye glass on him to make sure. It was Louis J. Oriole.
Louie was top bully for the local political machine. A real nice fellow who got his kicks clobbering old women and children.
What the hell was a guy like Louie doing at the college graduation of a girl like Ann?
I went off duty at five in the morning and spent three hours in a bar trying for the answer. It wouldn’t come. I told no one about the picture or the letter. If there was a story, I wanted it for myself.
I returned to the office just in time to catch a copy boy coming in off the early morning mail run. He tossed the first class mail on a desk and I picked out the letter in a couple of seconds — a blue envelope with red lettering.
Inside was a key to a locker at the Central Bus Terminal.
The brief case wasn’t locked. I pulled out a batch of papers. On top was a short letter signed by Ann Hastings.
It said her father was a ward leader who had borrowed money from Louie to put her through college. Louie, quite by accident, met her and his interest became more than academic. He offered her a job when she finished college. She accepted and inside a year was visiting him at home, on demand.
Three weeks ago she had learned she was pregnant. She went to Louie. He gave her a thousand bucks and told her to make tracks — for keeps.
She decided to solo into eternity. But as a lasting memento to Louie, here were a few items the newspapers might be interested in.
Sweat erupted op the back of my neck. The story was mine, exclusive. It would be spread all over page one, under my by-line. There would be a bonus, journalism awards. I would be famous.
I dashed to the street, looking for a car …
I was smiling as I slowly returned to the bus station, put the brief case back in a locker, dropped the key in an envelope, addressed it to myself and mailed it.
Then I headed for Louie’s office.