Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

 

Chapter 4

 

Throbbing pain at the base of his skull on the left side was the first thing Kenyon felt when he opened his eyes. It was 4:35 a.m. and he felt awful. His bleary eyes focused on the Bushmills. He slowly calculated that he had consumed half the bottle in a vain effort to ease the double shock of Geena popping back into his life and the prospective demise of his other capricious lover, The Trentonian. Not to mention the horrifying descriptions he had read in the Bundy file before passing out on the couch. His bladder neared the burst level so he hauled himself off the couch to hit the head. He stood in front of the mirror and shook his head and whispered, "Where do we go from here?"

 

            He put on a pot of strong coffee, toasted an English muffin while CNN droned on in the background as he dressed for what he knew most likely would be his last day with The Trentonian. He felt the power of the engine as he turned the key on the 1967 Corvette. The magnificent car proved a reliable escape from stress and tension. No matter what shit was flying, behind the wheel of the super-charged showstopper Kenyon could turn the clock back to that magical summer between high school and college, and take command of the fantasy shared by him and other working class kids who had grown up in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

 

            Actually, the Vette was the dream of original owner Tad Delenowski of South Trenton. After enlisting in the Army, based on a promise of guaranteed training as a computer programmer, Tad put 20 percent down on the year-end leftover bargain that cost $4,800.He put 326 miles on the car, including the 20-mile drive with his dad, Tad Sr., to Philadelphia International Airport for his departure to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, on Jan. 2, 1968, for basic training. Tad playfully placed a juicy kiss on the windshield and said he'd return soon before he and his father took the long, cold walk from the airport parking lot to the terminal.

 

            The conflict in Vietnam was heating up on a daily basis. On the day Tad left, front pages all over the nation carried the story of how South Vietnamese "friendlies"  had turned on a Special Forces unit in the Delta. The American advisors had lived in their Delta village for a year as protectors from the rebels. The five men in the elite unit were methodically shot in the forehead while they slept. Tad zipped through the six weeks of basic, coming in third for trooper of the cycle honors. He was told on graduation day that all pre-enlistened bets were off in view of the escalation in Southeast Asia, including placement in the Army's computer school. Instead he was slated for advanced infantry training, an assignment that virtually guaranteed a one-year tour in the combat zone. Because of the military's crisis mentality, Tad never got the traditional two-week leave that would have gotten him home for a breather between basic and advanced training or even between advanced training and his permanent assignment. He got a three-day pass in San Francisco before getting on board an Air Force transport plane bound for Saigon. Eight months later he was killed when a bomb exploded in a jungle encampment during the Tet offensive. His remains -- his left leg and a hand -- were buried in a sealed casket during a ceremony with full military honors at the Glowka Funeral Home on Broad Street in South Trenton. His stunned father, approached by a reporter from the Trenton Times, took out his grief on the Army and the President of the United States. A widower since the death of Tad's mother nine years earlier, Tad Sr. criticized Lyndon Johnson as a callous, gutless commander who never witnessed the tragedy of battle. He said it was time to stop the madness in Vietnam and called the loss of all the lives on the battlefield, including his son's, a waste. Within a year, Tad Sr. lost his job as a truck driver with the U.S. Post Office, quietly suffered a nervous breakdown and, at one point, wound up for 30 days of court-ordered observation at Trenton State Psychiatric Hospital.

 

            By 1988, Tad Sr. had learned to control his rage and found work as a package handler with United Parcel Service, making enough to pay the mortgage and property taxes on his tiny row house and buy enough food to go along with the two six-packs of beer he routinely consumed upon his arrival home after the night shift ended at 8 a.m. He got by on three or four hours sleep, which usually came while he sat in his vinyl covered Lazy Boy watching the Six O' Clock News. It was just before the news came on that Tad Sr. answered the door bell on Sept.9, 1988.

 

"Mr. Delengowski, my name is Sebastion Keynon and I'd like your help for an article I'm writing for The Trentonian about men from this area who were killed in the Tet offensive. Can I come in?"

 

            Tad Sr. dropped his head and let out a sigh. Kenyon could smell the beer on his breath and was glad he had worked up the courage to make this call in person. There were five other men from The Trentonian's circulation area who were killed during the Tet offensive and with three he could handle most of the research over the phone for the upcoming 20th anniversary story. In reviewing the paper's morgue files, it stuck Kenyon that the Delengowski story had the most potential for milking an angle because of the blast against Lyndon Johnson and the war effort in general. The anti-war quotes were obviously lifted from the Trenton Times story since they had sent a reporter to the victim's home for a photo and background. The reporter caught a break that day by catching Mr. Delengowski in a weak moment. By the time The Trentonian got around to sending a reporter to interview Tad Sr. there was nothing in it for the paper's reporter and a TV crew from Channel 4 in New York except a humid afternoon on the pavement waiting vainly for the father to emerge from his home. Tad Sr., by then embarrassed by the big play and photo on the front page of the Trenton Times ("War Hero's Dad Calls LBJ "Gutless"), slipped out the back door of his home and spent the day grieving alone in nearby Pulaski Park. He then walked two miles at dusk to kneel at the gravesite of Tad's mother.  She died of a brain tumor nine years earlier at the age of 34.

 

"Look, pal, you seem like a nice guy but I really don't think I wanna talk about what happened to my boy. He's gone a long time and I just don't wanna dredge up the pain. Besides, the last time I talked to a reporter about Tad, it made things a helluva lot worse on me than they needed to be."

 

            "All right, I understand. But let me ask you one other thing. Could we borrow a picture of Tad? There were five guys killed during Tet and we have four, including Dale Halsted. He was the kid from Jackson Street who Tad kind of talked into enlisting. He signed up with the Marines the same day Tad left for basic. I just left his mother and father. They're living in Toms River now."

 

            The father's eyes flickered with recognition and a slight smile creased the corners of his mouth. Kenyon hesitated, realizing he had one chance to gain the father's confidence, score the photo and maybe enough of an interview to close out research on the upcoming Sunday piece. The focus of the anniversary story was updating the way in which survivors of all five casualties were getting by 20 years later. "They were asking for you," Kenyon lied.

 

            "You're kidding."

 

            "No. They include you in their daily prayers and hope you're doing okay."

 

            "Yeah, Well, how are they making out?"

 

"They seem to be doing fine. They have a chain of three small super markets. They moved to the shore area just ahead of the senior citizen population explosion and seem to have done very well for themselves. Their daughter and son-in-law run the business for them now and they dote on their grandson. His name his Dale, too.” 

 

"Good for them," the old man said, his eyes transfixed and sad. He took a couple of deep breaths filling the space between him and Kenyon with the smell of stale beer.

 

"I'll get you a picture of Tad but, really, no questions," Tad Sr. said as he opened the screen door to let Kenyon inside. A TV set in the corner dominated the small living room. Tad Sr. hit the mute button while Action News weather gal Cecily Tynan pantomimed the forecast.  He pulled open a drawer in the ancient mahogany china closet in the small dining room and rifled through it for the stack of photos. Kenyon peeked three or four medals with ribbons attached. 

 

            "Are they Tad's?"

 

"No, they're mine from Korea," the old man responded matter-of-factly then      hesitated. "Tad's medals never came through." From the back of the drawer, the old man pulled a stack of old photos wrapped in a fat rubber band. On the bottom was a yellowing wedding photo in one of those cardboard frames portrait photographers give to customers with the name of the photo agency embossed in gold. He found the basic training head shot every recruit sends home, the same one he lent to the Trenton Times 25 years earlier.  It was returned in the mail two days after the story ran.

 

            "You'll get this back to me, right?"

 

            After Kenyon promised its safe return, the old man invited him to the garage accessible from an alley behind the house. He threw open the big door on well-oiled pulleys. Kenyon saw what looked like a small car under four woolen blankets. The old man removed each blanket to show off the beautiful black Corvette, immaculate with no scratches, as if it were in a showroom.

 

            "This is Tad's. He bought it for $4,800 just before he left for basic. Sent the payments every month until he couldn't send them anymore. I paid it off with his insurance money then didn't know what to do with it. I wash it and polish it every Sunday afternoon then take it for a ride around the neighborhood for 15 minutes to make sure the parts don't atrophy. I get at least one offer per drive -- anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000 --  but I don't have the heart to sell it."

 

            Kenyon ran his hand over the smooth finish on the rear fender. It was a work of art in its own way. He thanked the old man for his trouble. He followed the father through the basement, up the stairs and back to the front door. "Sorry I couldn't be more helpful," Tad Sr. said as Kenyon unlocked his car. Kenyon waved and projected his voice in the general direction of the doorway because he could not handle eye contact. "It's okay. I understand."

 

            Kenyon felt like a rodent back at his keyboard in the newsroom. He had planned to knock out the Sunday story that night but could not summon the creative energy. So he did what he always did when the well ran dry. He opted to slip out of the building, sack out early, set the alarm for 4 a.m. and get to the office by 6, when it would be quiet and he could blast out the story in time for the morning editorial conference. Before leaving, though, he placed a call to the inside line at U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine’s Newark office. As expected, the senior senator's political aide, Cynthia Dakis, alone in the office maintaining her reputation as a world class workaholic, answered the phone.

 

            "Still haven't gotten a life I see," Kenyon said.

 

"Look who's talking," recognizing Kenyon's voice. "I gather by the lateness of the hour that Geena Fallon still hasn't opted to come home and make your babies."

 

            "Maybe she'll show up tomorrow."

 

            Kenyon detected a smirk on Cynthia's end of the line. Abruptly, she moved onto business. "I guess you're calling to check out the false rumor on the senator's stroke. I can tell you he was in the Senate gym this afternoon...and the only stroke he had was the one he used to do 30 laps in the pool."

 

"The AP moved his denial in an advisory about two hours ago. My inquiry, I'm afraid, is much more mundane. It's about lost medals for war heroes. Does your office know track them down?"

 

           

 

"How about three times a week. We have an intern from GW. That's her main function in life. What's the  honoree's name, rank, branch of service and last known home address?"

                                   

            Kenyon gave her the information. The Tet Anniversary story ran on Sunday. The Halsted family provided the focus and Kenyon wrote just a paragraph on Tad Delengowski Sr. still living alone at the same address and working for UPS. It wasn't easy to pass up inclusion of the anecdote about Tad Sr. devoting his Sundays to young Tad's prize possession but a promise is a promise and the Halsteds' story provided more than enough sentimental juice to make the story sing. Besides, given the times, it wouldn't be long before some punk who read the story or heard about it would have cased the Delengowski place and ripped off the Vette.

 

            Two days later, Cynthias Dakis called back and said the paperwork was complete and wondered what she should do about delivering the medals. Kenyon asked her to FedEX them to him and he would take care of everything. He also promised to write a short story about how the senator personally looked up the status of the medals for each of the five casualties mentioned in Kenyon's story and found the Delengowski oversight.

 

            When the four medals arrived, Kenyon returned to the Delengowski home. It was a sunny day and the rays shone brilliantly through the freshly cleaned front window and, unlike his first visit, the shades were halfway up and he could see a huge potted plant on the window sill. Tad Sr. appeared at the front door and smiled,

 

"Hey, Mr. Kenyon. Good story. I felt rotten at first but the next day, when I got home from work, I looked up the number of the Halsteds to see how it played with them. Mrs. Halsted told me she cried a lot when she read it but they liked it a lot, too. She invited me for a cookout at their place. I'm going on Sunday."

 

"That's nice but, please, don't call me Mr. Kenyon. Everybody just calls me Kenyon." He handed him the envelope with the medals as he entered the living room, now looking tidy and clean. He noticed the wedding photo was on the wall in a gilt-edged frame on one of the walls in the  TV corner. He read the letter from Sen. Corzine then collapsed in his recliner fondling the Silver Star. "I won the bronze but never did anything to rate the silver," he said. "You know what I'm gonna do, Kenyon? I’m gonna go to the fancy frame store and get them to make up a big frame with Tad's picture surrounded by these medals and hang it right over there," Tad Sr. said pointing towards the wall opposite the wedding photo. "Yeah, I'm gonna do that on my way home from work tomorrow."

 

            Three years later, Kenyon heard from Tad Sr. once again, and he sounded worse than he did on their first encounter. He was calling from a VA Hospital in Philadelphia and asked if Kenyon would come visit him.

 

           

Emaciated and with two tubes in his arm and a kidney pump, he whispered, "I've got prostate cancer and it's spreading every day. They figure I've got maybe another couple of days. I'm settling up my affairs. I've signed over the house to the Trenton Homeless Center. They're gonna put a Vietnamese refugee family in there. I want you to have Tad's Vette. I know you'll treat it with respect."

 

            "I don't have that kind of money," a shocked Kenyon responded.

 

"There's no price. It's a gift. Don't give me any crap. I insist. I have the paperwork right here. All you gotta do is sign the title transfer." With that, the old man's eyelids fluttered and a nurse marched into the room. She gently but firmly forced Kenyon, the paperwork in his trembling hands, a few feet back as she whipped the curtain around the bed. A few minutes later, she emerged. "I'm sorry. He's gone."

 

Kenyon was stunned, on the one hand by the good fortune and vote of confidence but on the other by the knowledge that he had no right whatsoever to that magnificent automobile. Moreover, what about the Trentonian's Ethics Code? Staffers weren't even allowed to accept a free lunch from a news source. He agonized for two days then decided to take the Vette and keep his mouth shut about how it was acquired. He couldn't pay $20,000 but he decided to borrow $4,800 from the bank and use the money to outfit the homeless Vietnamese family with new furniture and clothing to give them a better start on reinventing their lives. He also threw in his aging Toyota, worth about $2,500, as a bonus for the homeless family, even though it probably would sit until the father could learn to drive and scrape together enough for a basic auto insurance package.

 

            It was 6:43 a.m. when Kenyon tooled Tad Delengowski Junior's dream car into the Trentonian parking lot, waving to the security guard before parking at the far end of the small lot where it was least likely to get dinged. The Carlson family, who founded the paper before selling out to a conglomerate a few years back, insisted on keeping the plant in Trenton in 1961. Land was cheaper in the suburbs and their readers had migrated there anyhow, but old man Carlson had a social conscience and believed Trenton would bounce back as a vibrant urban center one day. He knew he was probably fantasizing about the renaissance but he refused to yield to the demands of his two sisters, who thought there would be more growth potential in the burbs. They were also concerned about their personal convenience since they liked to pop in at the building from time to time and the site they picked out was a lot closer to their homes in Princeton than the edge of Trenton's gritty downtown business district.

 

"We've made a small fortune in this city over the past 75 years and we're not going to show our appreciation by driving one more nail in its coffin by following the Times to the burbs. End of story," declared their kid brother. He was in his mid-fifties at that point in time and had served a 10-year apprenticeship in every department, including the newsroom, before his father deemed him ready for the title of editor and publisher. Of course, one of the consequences of the decision to build a bigger plant in the city was a woefully undersized parking lot since Amtrak's main line tracks lay as an immovable barrier to expansion 40 yards beyond the fence.

 

            Kenyon had plenty of spots to choose from at this hour. The editorial staff would not start filtering in until 9:30. The pressmen had cleared out two hours ago and the delivery trucks were on the street. The security guard's car occupied a middle space and the only other car was Goldy's beige Oldsmobile facing the sign that said Harold Goldberg, Executive Editor, on the first row alongside the spots reserved for the five ranking officials of The Trentonian.

 

            Goldy had been at The Trentonian for 30 years. He started his career as a copy boy with the New York Daily News, attending Columbia University at night to get his degree in journalism, then worked his way up to cop reporter. He came to the Trentonian as a hotshot, city editor in 1966, fully expecting to return to New York as a hotshot managing editor for one of the big dailies. Unfortunately, he lacked the vision to foresee the demise of four of the dailies. Ultimately, he decided the Trenton scene was exactly where he wanted to work the career path and raise his two daughters. Goldy was old school; he believed newspapering was about imparting truth in a civil manner and launching a thoughtful, meaningful crusade for reform once or twice a year. He detested the ever loosening rules of the game that allowed "reliable" sources to become the everyday standard of reporting. He knew that from time to time it was necessary to protect a source with anonymity but the decision had to be made carefully and the reporter at least had to confide source’s identity in an editor. The conglomerate people, with their corporate vice presidents in charge of big picture policy decisions, were tough customers. After a year of arm wrestling, even tough old Goldy had to give in. It was either that or go find another $100,000 a year job at the age of 60. So he made his separate peace and decided he would play out his string as pilot of the good ship Trentonian and acquiesce to the corporate executives on Long Island. They captained the ship by committee now and made the crucial decisions of where it would go and by what route. Goldy simply made sure it did not veer off the course they had chosen. After all, they as much as said, Goldy and his contemporaries were dinosaurs; their day was over years ago. They told him his memories of riding the New York subway system with commuters buried in one of several newspapers available as late as 1965 were nothing more than quaint. Readers -- that is the dwindling numbers who still bought papers -- have changed. They want inside scoop, gossip, scandal of all sorts and the keyhole lowdown on who's screwing whom. For Goldy, it was just one more death of a loved one. After all, he had buried his mother and father, his in-laws and two older brothers within a time frame of 10 years. He knew that the real grief came when the doctor gave the diagnosis; the rest was merely going through motions. In this instance, he rationalized that the  conglomerate crowd was simply telling him the Trentonian had clogged arteries and they were going to remove the plaque and get the heart beating strong once again with their sophisticated market research techniques. Goldy figured they were kidding themselves and decided it was in his best personal interests to hang around, collect the paycheck and his pension as soon as possible. With some luck, he would be playing golf everyday in Florida when the Trentonian finally went belly up.

 

                       

 

In recent years, Goldy showed up in the mornings wearing jogging togs. He liked to be the first person in the newsroom not only because it was a declaration of leadership but he could peacefully review the wire service budgets and scan the New York papers for good feature ideas worth stealing and/or adapting.  He also liked to glance at the other papers around the state to see what they were up to. By the time the first editorial conference to plan the next day's paper rolled around at 11 a.m., Goldy had his homework out of the way. After the meeting, he left the building to jog, play golf or visit the race track. He returned for the 6 p.m. editorial planning conference when final decisions were made about placement and evaluation of stories that had broken through the day. Early morning was also a good time to review staff memos about enterprise story ideas and knock out a few memos of his own. He also called his grandson in Atlanta at 7:30 sharp to get a five-minute update on school, Little League and anything else going on in his life. He had just hung up when Kenyon filled the doorway of his glass-enclosed office. Goldy looked at his watch. "This is a pretty expensive timepiece. It's not supposed to stop like this."

 

            "I wish I could say I'm here early for brownie points but it's a lot more complicated."

 

            "What happened? You look like crap. You done something illegal?"

 

            "No, but I took a double hit last night and I need to talk to you."

 

            "It looks to me like you had more than a double. What's on your mind?"

 

"Well, Goldy, the first hit was a job offer to work on a political campaign. I really don't want to do it but there's no time to contemplate. I have to decide today."

 

"Boychick, it's not the first such offer you've had. There have been two offers that you've told me about and at least two others I heard about through the grapevine that you never mentioned. That's not bad. I've been in this business twice as long as you and I've only gotten two offers to flack for a politician.  What's the big deal?"

 

"Same old story. I'm a junkie for this business, just like you, and want to stick with it. Which brings me to the other hit. Reliable sources tell me the paper's on its last legs, that our demise is imminent."

 

"Reliable sources? What does that mean.  You know how I am about 'reliable sources.' Who the hell are they?"

 

"Goldy, I'll tell you but strictly on the basis of the rules we've always lived by. I'm the reporter, you're the editor. It's our secret, right?"

 

            "I'm hurt that we have to spell these things out after all these years. Who's the source?"

 

            "Geena Fallon."

 

"Geena Fallon! There was a reporter who knew how to work sources. Now let me see. If Geena Fallon is your snitch, your job offer is with the Matt Moran campaign, right?"

 

             "Of course."

 

"You know, I think Moran has a shot. He’s likable and he seems to understand that other people are entitled to dignity, and that puts him way ahead of the people we're both working for now. They have no respect for talent, these people. They disrespect experience and skill. All they want is a product that resembles a newspaper and they can't understand why our better people should be paid a decent salary. They want us all gone; the sooner the better. They tore out my heart by hand two years ago, as I am sure you noticed, then asked me to do the same thing to you and the others who get more than minimum wage around here. Hell, they figure for your salary they could pick up two kids fresh out of college who can put sentences together. What else do you need?  In the end, they really believe they'd have pretty much the same product with more people on the staff and less overhead. That's where I drew the line, boychick, but I don't know how long I can hold off the Philistines. They have us outnumbered."

 

            Goldy grew silent and drew a few deep breaths. "Okay! The same rules you just cited apply to what I'm about to say, except now I am not only your editor but your reliable source. It's our secret and it goes no further than this room. Are we agreed?"

 

            What little energy remained drained from Kenyon's body for he knew Goldy's foreplay could result in only one answer. The editor swiveled his chair to face the window behind the desk, showing Kenyon the back of his balding head. Kenyon cast his eyes towards the floor as he waited an agonizing 30 seconds before Goldy spoke again.

 

            "Take the Moran deal," he said finally without turning his chair to face Kenyon.

 

"Okay, boss," Kenyon whispered as he backed into the newsroom and moved to his cubicle at the far end of the news room. It was next to a window so he could keep an eye on the Vette. He lowered himself into the seat and dialed Geena's number. "Looks like you're still scoring 'beats' after all," he said after she said hello.

 

"I take it you're with us now?" 

 

            "I don't have to wake up with a bloody horse head in bed to know an offer I can't refuse."

 

            "I knew you'd be with us and I'm glad."

 

 

"Indulge me one major question. I read most of the stuff you left. It was vague on the matter of how Bundy ties to this thing through police documentation. I know you're too smart to try to float a boat like this on bullshit."

 

"It will fit. Trust me. You'll see."

 

"You can't put any meat on the bones?"

 

"Kenyon, I'm on a cell phone, remember? People could be monitoring the line.  You'll get the full picture in due time and in person. Now what time can you get here?

 

"I have some paperwork, severance pay, a lump sum check for my contributions to the pension I'm not going to collect, details like that. I should be able to clear out of Trenton by noon. Does three o'clock work for you?"

 

"Take an extra hour to pick up your jammies and stuff. Figure it will be a few days before you can get back to the cottage.