Malone grunted with what might have been amusement. "Now, there's somethin' they must've forgot to teach us in detective school. Wondering who done the shooting and all."
"You know what I mean. This poor guy was shot. Who's got guns and ammunition nowadays? Only the Army and the mob. Not civilians. So what do you think?"
"I think you're crossing the line from being a reporter to being a pain in the ass, and that's a mighty short line."
"Thanks for the geography lesson," Carl said. "How did the call come in?"
"He's got a pal downstairs. He heard some shouts last night. Thought it might have been the television. Then Merl didn't show up for their usual lunch. When nobody answered the door, he called us."
The detective looked pained. "C'mon, we've been here all of a half hour."
"Burglary, though, that's what it looks like."
"Look, Carl, get the hell out, will ya? I got work to do."
"Just a sec." He looked around the room. No pictures. That was funny. You'd think a guy this old would have pictures of family and people on the walls. But no. Nothing. He looked at the magazines on the floor. Time, with a picture of Nelson Rockefeller on the cover; American Legion, with a picture of Nelson Rockefeller on the cover, and Sports Illustrated, with a picture of Joe Namath and Nelson Rockefeller on the cover. A veteran and a sports fan.
"I'm outta here."
By the door, he finally figured out what was bothering him.
It was the boots. Old work boots, their soles held together by gray duct tape. They stood neatly by the door on sheets of newspaper. Just like...Carl glanced back into the open bedroom door, seeing the legs of the dead man. Sweet Jesus. Sure was the right size. And the guy had claimed to have been a veteran. And he remembered.
It had happened a month before, the first really cold day of September. A truly awful day. For six hours he'd been standing on a pier by Boston Harbor, waiting for the police to dredge up a stolen car. A couple of Roxbury kids had driven straight off the pier during a police chase the night before. Their stunned parents were huddled by the end of the pier, ready to claim the drowned remains. When his relief came before the car was recovered, he almost cheered. Thank God he wouldn't have to talk to the families and get the usual "How do you feel?" crap for the next day's story. Now, he could go home and have a beer or three and try to forget the drawn faces of these people waiting for their dead children.
Then he felt a touch at his elbow, and heard the old man's voice. "Excuse me, are you a reporter?"
Carl turned around. The man stood on the cracked sidewalk, dead leaves and discarded newspapers swirling about his feet from the harbor wind. A few people walked by and looked at Carl sympathetically, silently saying Sorry he grabbed you, fella, but better you than me. The man was tall, wearing a long Army overcoat devoid of insignia or even buttons. His work boots were scuffed and cracked, held together by gray, grimy duct tape. His hands were quivering, and when he saw Carl notice them, he quickly shoved them into the coat's pockets. His face was red and pockmarked, his nose dripping, and there were dark bags under his eyes, like he had gotten one night's sleep a week for the past decade. His thin gray hair was tangled and unwashed.
"Yes, I am, and I'm sorry, but I've got an appointment and..."
"You're a vet, right? See you're wearing the old field jacket."
Carl nodded wearily. "Yep, U.S. Army. Just like you, right?" He reached into his pocket for a quarter.
The old man shook his head violently. "No, no, put your money away. That's not what this is about. I'm a veteran, too, but I've never begged. Not once."
Reprinted from RESURRECTION DAY by Brendan DuBois by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Brendan DuBois. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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