Several blocks away Roger was feeling that screwed feeling also Who the hell is Juan de Pereda? not so much screwed as an itch in the back of his mind, as if his brain was prodding, but the answer tip of my tongue kept flitting into his subconscious and what about the crazy vet; he reached up to massage his neck where the old man had grabbed him. What the hell was the guy smoking? He rubbed his neck working out the kinks. And what was that pop psychology when you see yourself in a man like me all about; either way the dude should be locked up. But he seemed damn serious when he said to bring it to Dallas, though the “it” of what the man was talking about still eluded him. Roger began thinking about how hard it would be to adjust a string on a mandolin, when his phone chimed the Mongolian Death March, a sure sign that things were not going to get any better this morning.
“Look outside your window,” the voice of his boss from SCAB!, “tell me what you see?”
“Smog,” Roger spoke into the voice control as he walked.
“Very funny,” his boss’ voice disjointed and accusary, “and to think how I stuck my neck out for you, telling the big man what a hot shot reporter you were—in the day.”
“How is your uncle, Frank!” the adrenalin from his encounter began kicking in.
“Shut it!” the voice now clear and bellowing. “You’ve got a hell of a nerve, considering you’ve been out for three days with no word.”
“I’ve been working on a case,” Roger tripped on a slice of sidewalk.
“A case of Jim Beam, more like it,” the voice reeked with disappointment.
“Naw, the spontaneous combustion cases,” Roger turned at Wilshire, have lemons make lemonade on his way back to the apartment. “I think I have a lead that will break this case right open.”
“You’ve been watching those old clips again, huh?” the voice started to rise. “Big time journalist standing up to the government, but did you happen to look down in the alley this morning?”
“Oh that,” Roger eased his way around the periphery of a crowd of ambulance chasers. “Cops were putting up yellow tape in the alley next to my apartment.”
“You have the biggest gaddamn story of the year taking place right under your very nose and you can’t even smell a story when it stinks to high heaven.” The voice rose dramatically, “Man, pull yourself together.”
“What are you talking about, Frank?” Roger stopped walking.
“You’re working on the spontaneous combustion cases?” Roger could feel a trap being laid. “It just so happens that Cassandra Diamond was found burnt to hell in the alley next to where you live. You know who I mean? Cazz Diamond!?”
“Then this is your lucky day,” Shit, caught in a lie.
“I’m just turning the corner to my place,” Roger smiled, the scent of an investigation, a socialite, spontaneous combustion, he could see his star rising again above the horizon. “About to interview some of the grunts, they’re the only ones that know what’s really going on.”
“And while you’re at it, could you please see if you can find out if they are moving our media darling to another hospital soon,” The voice belied the remark. “Lying to me, I ought to fire your ass right now. You spent the last three days AWOL in a bottle, but you’re the luckiest son of a bitch I ever ran into. You have the biggest story of your measly decrepit life and you can help this paper—remember the paper? The one that gave you the second chance. My god man weren’t you the least bit curious when you saw cops and yellow tape.”
“I was a bit preoccupied,” Roger made his way farther from the maddening crowd. He spotted the liquor store sign once again and began sidling along the sidewalk to the shop.
“Preoccupied! Drunk or stoned more like it or maybe both and let me tell you that shit is going to stop, you hear me. This paper isn’t going to last as long as any of the others, unless we have something that will keep up the sales and you guys with the T&E accounts are going to have to start buying your own booze.”
“Haven’t we already been over this, Frank,” Roger was contemplating the oddity of luck. “I am sufficiently chagrined, now, just tell me what you want me to do?”
“Find out what happened. See if there is any way you can get in to see the girl. She’s at…let me see Cedar-Sinai Medical Hospital, burn ward and get there fast before they move her to some celebrity high security facility.”
“Really?” Roger almost tripped into the street, “And what exactly is it you want me to do?”
“We’ve all heard how our national hero singlehandedly out witted Alqui’da with that oil barrel. I’m sure a few cops will be no match for your journalistic skills, of which I heard you used to have in fair abundance.”
“Shut up,” Roger began to bristle; he knew what Frank Danforth wanted.
“Get me a goddamn scoop! I’ve already called for a new front page and I’ll be holding the print guys up until you can get me pictures of our media darling covered in bandages. We have to keep an edge and I want to beat the crap out of the dailies with our weekly and pictures of Cazz Diamond in all her mummified glory should do the trick.”
“Really!” Roger stopped in his wake, “you want me to sneak into her hospital room and get pictures!? Her room, surrounded by police officers with guns and nightsticks and take some sordid shots of her all burned up.”
“Sounds like you got the gist.”
“Don’t you see how sick that is? I mean, shots of someone else’s misery.” Roger moved the phone to his other ear. “How bad is she anyway?”
“Sounded pretty bad on the police band, but say I have a novel idea,” the voice cracked with static, “Why don’t you find the hell out! I want pictures on my desk by Monday morning, you got it.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then don’t bother to come in, you’re fired!” The connection ended as abruptly as it began.