"He can't know I've hired a private investigator."
She nodded once and we started down the corridor again. It wasn't everything I wanted. In fact, it wasn't even close. But at least it was a start.
I double-parked on Michigan Avenue, popped my blinkers, and cruised the FM dial. I was tapping along to a-ha singing "Take on Me" and wondering whatever happened to my inner Led Zeppelin when Fred Jacobs walked out of the Tribune Building.
Fred was six feet two and weighed slightly less than your average house cat. He was chasing sixty, with an Adam's apple that earned every bit of its moniker and a head of black hair the color and consistency of shoe leather. He wore a brown Ban-Lon golf shirt over a pair of green-and-gold-checked polyester pants with inch-and-a-half cuffs. His socks were white and his loafers black. His skin was yellow when it wasn't just grim, and an unfiltered Camel hung from rubber lips. Fred was a lifelong bachelor. Suffice it to say, he didn't get a lot of chicks. What Fred did get was information. The man shambling along Michigan Avenue had won two Pulitzers and represented probably the best investigative reporter this side of Bob Woodward. I pulled the car up but Fred just kept walking. I'd seen this before and rolled down the window.
"You getting in, Fred?"
He squinted through a layer of cigarette smoke, motioned with one hand, and talked out of the side of his mouth.
"Keep moving. I'll meet you around the corner."
When it came to paranoia, the NSA had nothing on Fred Jacobs. I pulled around the block and waited. It took a minute or two, but he finally slipped alongside my car and got in.
"Just drive straight."
"It's a one-way street, Fred."
"Even better. Get going, for chrissakes."
I popped the car into drive and found my way around the block.
"A lot of people watching you these days, Fred?"
"Fuck off, Kelly. First of all, you're never anything but trouble. Second, you don't work my beat. You don't do what I do. So you don't know anything about what people see and don't see."
Like I said, great reporter. A little touched in the head, but what the hell.
"Where are we going to eat?" he said.
I'd told Fred I'd buy him lunch. He knew that meant I needed information. Of course, Fred expected something in return. Like a story. Maybe another Pulitzer. Probably not. But for someone who weighed no more than the typical calico, Fred Jacobs also liked to eat. Big time.
"I thought we'd go over to Mitchell's," I said.
"We're going to the Goat. Take a left here."
I swung a left off Michigan Avenue and then another at State Street. Jacobs sucked up the last quarter of his cigarette and pushed the butt out an open window. Smoke curled softly from each nostril as the reporter rolled up the window and chuckled to himself.
"Got to hand it to you, Kelly."
"You stuck it to that TV bitch but good."
He was talking about Diane Lindsay, former Chicago news anchor, convicted killer, and someone I used to sleep with.
"You think so, Fred?"
"Fuck, yes. Talking heads think they invented the news. No respect for journalism. No respect for the process."
"And putting Diane Lindsay in the slam made that right?"
"Didn't make it right. But damn, it was fun to watch. Pull over here."
I dropped into an empty spot on Hubbard Street and the two of us got out. The Billy Goat Tavern is located on the lower level of Michigan Avenue. Most people walk down a set of stairs in front of the Wrigley Building on upper Michigan. Apparently that was a little too public for Jacobs, so we came in from Hubbard.
"The Billy Goat isn't exactly low profile, Fred."
"Not a problem. I eat here eight days a week. Someone like you sits down at my table, what am I supposed to do? So I let you buy me a burger and listen to your bullshit."
Excerpted from The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey Copyright © 2008 by Michael Harvey. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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