"Oh. All right then, what can I do for you?"
He looked around and stepped forward, his breath smelling of beer. "Got something for you. A hell of a story. But only if you have the balls to print it."
"That's for my editor to decide. What's it about?"
The old man lowered his voice. "Something awful. But something you'll want to know about. It's just about the biggest story ever, just you see. You know, even ten years later, some people still enjoy killin', and that's gotta be stopped."
Carl nodded seriously. That word ever sounded like it was said by a nine-year-old boy. But there was a faded look in the old man's eyes, and his thin shoulders shivered pathetically under the coat. Damn it, the man was a veteran. Just like him. He deserved better. Hell, they all deserved better.
"I tell you what, Mr...."
He shook his head again. "Oh no, no names, not yet. But tell me, will you do the story?"
"No promises, but I'll look at what you've got." Carl said it seriously, respectfully. The old man was owed that.
He smiled in relief, showing brown and misshapen teeth. "Good, that'll be good. Look, I've got some important documents, something important to show you. Here's just a taste." He handed Carl a much-folded piece of lined notebook paper.
"Right there, that's where the story should start. In that piece of paper. I'll be here tomorrow afternoon, right at this spot. We'll go over the other papers together. Okay? But I won't come if I don't think I can trust you. I'll go somewhere else. These are bad times, you know."
Carl knew what he was in store for. He had seen it before, with other reporters and other "sources" that had latched on to them. But despite that, tomorrow he'd take the old guy to a nice diner, buy him probably the best meal he'd had in ages, and listen to his tales of dark conspiracies involving no doubt the Rockefellers, space aliens, the Romanovs, and whatever. Carl would nod politely in all the right places, slip him five bucks, and then go home and get drunk at all the old memories the man had disturbed. So be it.
"Fine," Carl said. "Tomorrow, right here."
"Good." He looked like he was about to say something, but then he swung around and walked away, his step more confident. That was the last Carl had seen of him. The fellow veteran had not come back the next day, or the next. After a week, Carl had given up on him.
The piece of paper had a list of five names on it, and Carl had spent a few minutes looking them in up a phone book and city directory. When not a name was found, he put the paper aside.
Now, Carl stood outside Merl Sawson's apartment, breathing deeply, glad to get out of the stuffy rooms. Focus, he thought. Focus on the story. He looked at his watch. An hour to deadline. He shook off his promise to Detective Malone and took the creaking stairs up to the next landing and knocked on the door. No answer. Well, let's try his downstairs lunch pal. He went back down and stopped at the first-floor apartment. An older man answered the door, his face flushed and his eyes wide with concern and questions, a plaid bathrobe about his skinny body.
"Carl Landry from the Globe," he said. "And you are...?"
"You rent here?"
"I own this place," he said, one gnarled hand holding his bathrobe closed. "My parents left it to me."
"So you knew Mr. Sawson?"
Eyes still wide, he nodded. "He's rented from me near on four years."
"And what did he do for work?"
"Retired, I suppose."
"He was a veteran, wasn't he? I saw he had a couple of issues of American Legion."
Townes paused for about a second too long. "I really don't know. We didn't talk much about that. You see, he---"
"Landry!" came the detective's voice from upstairs. Malone leaning over the railing, snarling at him. "Damn it, man, when I said leave, I meant leave the building! Stop getting in our way, will ya?"
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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