The nearest local library branch was an attractive, buff-coloured brick building of three stories. When he went in the door, there was a bearded man on a chair to his left, reading aloud to about a hundred school-kids, all sitting cross-legged on the floor. The actual bookshelves, going back a hundred and fifty feet, were straight ahead and to the right.
While he was at the library, Mark had another mission in mind. It was a question of looking in the right place and asking the right questions. He wasn’t stupid, and he at least had his grade twelve. The trouble was that analyitical thinking wasn’t his usual gig.
After getting himself a library card, one of the very few things that were free in life, Mark found the resource desk. If nothing else, his wallet was a little thicker.
Without lamination the cardboard wouldn’t last too long.
Without lamination the cardboard wouldn’t last too long.
“Hi, I’m looking for the newspapers.” The guy didn’t bother asking about the library card.
I should have seen that one coming.
You only needed the card to take things out of the library. If he was smart, he’d grab a couple of pulp thrillers while he was in there.
The librarian got up from a desk behind the counter and took him to another room, this one up on the second floor. One fellow reader, with a shining bald dome, sat at a chair and studiously kept his head down over the racing form. Otherwise the room was empty. The ceilings were very high, with a low hum from paddle-bladed fans rotating in stately fashion.
There were rafters exposed and all the utilities clearly visible, a look he had always liked when it was properly done.
“We’re pretty much done with the morning crowd. You’ve got the place all to yourself.”
The New York papers were in special racks, hanging vertically from spindles up the central gutter. That seemed straightforward enough. Schenectady and Rochester were represented too, but these were all on film, apparently. It took a couple of minutes for the librarian to show him how to locate a film strip from the approximate date, thread it into the machine and how to scroll it back and forth with the hand-knob. It was similar to the filmstrips they had in school, the image projected on a small screen on the front of a box-like viewer.
“Thank you.” Mark sat and waited for him to leave.
“No problem. When you’re done, just leave the stuff and we’ll put it away. It’s better if things go back in the right place.”
“Okay.” No, shit, he had more questions. “So. Let’s say I find something that I need and I want to make a copy.”
“Okay. What you do is put a dime in the slot here and select the item by zooming in on it, otherwise you get what’s on the whole screen. You can move it back and forth, up and down and then make it full screen. Whatever’s on the screen gets printed. Push the button and it spits out a copy.” Three sheets for a dime, one for a nickel sort of thing.
“Okay. Thank you.”
The guy turned and padded quietly off in the odd-ball sheos as Mark went to work.
Since he was at the machine anyways, he scrolled through and found the story about his arrest in the Schenectady Daily Gazette. June fourth, nineteen sixty-six. It was on the second page, and all it really said was that a man named Mark Jones had been arrested for assaulting a police officer on that particular day in history. He made a copy of that for some reason he couldn’t really explain.
“What about the friggin’ girl?” He went through to the end of the roll but saw no mention of it.
Finding his own little story again, he went backwards through the early part of the film-strip.
Finally he he had what might be it, a story about a missing girl. It was a couple of days before his arrest. If her body had ever turned up or if she had simply showed up back home at some point, there didn’t seem to be anything about it in the paper. Her name was Gwen Kassmeyer and she was still in high school at the time of her disappearance—alleged disappearance, as he was now thinking of it.
It wasn’t exactly evidence, but missing, murdered and abducted young women—the lady in the story was about seventeen, should have been big news. It should have been splashed all over the place. Why in the hell he should feel guilty about it, was a very good question. There was this horrible feeling that everyone knew. It was a bit like having a set of cross-hairs painted on the back of your head and everyone could see it. It was kind of irrational.
Emotions didn’t have to be logical.
In his experience, they merely had to be painful.
There was nothing there, not that he could find. There were always going to be doubts. He jotted down the name of the girl, the by-line of the reporter, and the address and phone number of the paper from the editorial page masthead.
Then he turned off the machine, leaving things just as they were, just as instructed.
Going to the rack of New York papers, he selected the Times as the most credible, the least sensational, and quite frankly the biggest and most thorough paper. Surely they would have something on dead hookers found in bathtubs in shit-hole apartments on Easy Street.
Searching the actual papers was ten times more time-consuming than looking at a film strip.
His fingers were dark with ink, and he was careful not to touch his face. The pages were relatively huge, and he had to keep flipping and scanning the headlines, left to right and top to bottom.
You had to be careful or you would miss something. There was tension between the shoulders and sooner or later he was going to get a headache.
Glancing up at the clock on the wall, Mark had already spent forty-five minutes at it so far. It was nice to sit in a half-decent chair though. Now this was really living. He sat up and took a breather, consciously conserving his attention span. There were plenty of things to ruminate upon.
Living without tables and chairs was terribly debilitating. He’d been sleeping badly for days.
At some point, someone would come to check on him.
All he had to go on was the date of his release, the date of his arrest...and O’Hara’s name too.
Finally he had it.
Jackie Alviar, twenty-nine years old. According to the news, she had a chequered past, with a spotty criminal record including shoplifting, drunk and disorderly, loitering, vagrancy and prostitution offenses.
Other than that, she was the girl-next-door, of the kind you bring home to smother. It looked like the paper had used a mugshot, possibly even a morgue photo. It looked more or less like the dead lady in his bathtub. Hookers were rarely beautiful. They were just available, and desperate.
Happy hookers were a myth. They were fallen women. The reality was far different from the puerile fantasies of those who didn’t know any better.
It had to be the one. She had been found dead in a bathtub in the one-hundred block of Easy Street, and the police were treating it as a homicide.
No shit, Sherlock. His heart beat a little faster, he had to admit. Jackie had a kid, presently staying with grandparents. That somehow made it more real.
Having found that, he went forward through the rack, skipping front pages and sports sections, eliminating financial and other sections. After a while, he was up to yesterday’s evening edition.
There was nothing there.
Instincts still aroused, it struck him that he could look up Roy Olivetti and then Sylvio Rossi.
“So. How are we doing?”
Mark just about jumped out of his skin, although he’d been half-expecting it. Quiet as it was, this was one dude who had learned to walk very quietly indeed. Maybe it was the crepe-soled earth shoes, the soles thicker at the toe than at the heel. The whole building was very solid, with textured concrete walls and carpeting throughout.
“Holy. Shit. I don’t know, buddy.” Mark had a thought.
It was all in how you asked the question.
“You guys have a photocopier, right?”
And how much is that going to cost me...
His new friend and colleague was a dude named Burt Keeler, resource librarian.
After hearing Mark’s rather breathless story, he nodded abruptly. He lifted a panel in the service counter and took Mark into the back room. Keeler sat down at yet another desk, dialed nine and then, apparently, a familiar number on the house phone. Mark waited, palms sweating slightly as he marveled at how helpful people could be sometimes. The guy was getting paid for his time, that was for sure, and Mark’s was an interesting story. Perhaps the city could afford it.
It was an interesting feeling to hear your name being given to a perfect stranger on this screwy little mission.
There was a muttered conversation, as Burt knew someone, not at the Times but the Daily News.
The answers he was getting seemed to be short.
Burt said goodbye and hung up the phone.
“Okay. They haven’t got much on the dead hooker. Not much more than you know, really.”
He sat back in his swivel chair, steepling his fingers on his ample belly. “As for the girl up north, Teddy’s going to make a call. He’s a busy guy, and I don’t know when he’ll call back. But if you leave your number—”
He stopped on Mark’s quick head-shake.
“I’m sorry. I don’t have a phone.”
“Ah. Tell you what.” Burt tore a sheet off a small pad and wrote a phone number on there. “This is Teddy’s number.”
“Shit. Thanks, but—”
Mark opened the red file folder the guy had given him, clipping the slip of paper onto the edge of his other sheets so he wouldn’t lose it.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, Mister Jones. Teddy’s a good guy. He’ll take the call and he’s usually there, too. He likes office hours, and what he calls telephone stories. You’d be surprised by how much of that goes on. Sometimes it’s just a photographer, or a stringer or a freelancer, and sometimes it’s a phone-in tip from a reader. The reporter, sitting on their ass at their desk, follows up when they have questions or think it might make a good story. Anyhow. He likes people. He’s a writer first and foremost—and his instincts are probably highly aroused by this point. Now, I need to get back to the counter. Lunch is coming and we have to cover for each other.” It was a small branch and they only had so many people.
Keeler had a few stories of his own, by the sounds of it. Mark, on the other hand, might never see Keeler again.
Two minutes later, Mark was at the bus stop with a few pages of notes. There was the feeling that he had just somehow taken back control of his own life. Mark, free for the first time in years, was seeing each experience as if it was brand-new.
I will probably never see Burt again. The funny thing is that I will probably remember him—
Then there was Amy.
He wondered where she was right now, and what she was doing.
Every so often, she must—or might, be thinking of him.
(End of Part Sixteen.)
Here are a few Louis Shalako titles on Amazon.We don’t get a lot of reviews; as apparently not enough people hate us that badly..
Thanks for reading.