"I mean," said he, gulping, "the press is going to be all over this. It's not going to go away."
"And, what? Do you think we should be extrahard on infanticidal mothers because a dead baby got chewed up by dogs on the TV?"
"No, but...," said Murrow, and he concluded weakly, stammering, "but, we have to do, or say, something. Don't we?"
"We do," said Karp. "In about two minutes, Mr. Keegan will be calling here, and he will order me to coordinate the office's response to that garbage. I want you to go down to Bill McHenry's shop and see what they're doing. We'll need a press statement from him tonight, and Mr. Keegan will want to be on one of the morning shows tomorrow, saying something suitably grave and meaningless. Get them to prepare some talking points for that. And, Murrow?" The young man was already preparing to dash. "Stir them up. Public affairs people, you know, they like to sit around in stained bathrobes, chatting to their pals on the phone and eating nougat. Not this time, okay? Let us have zeal."
"Got it. Zeal. No nougat."
Murrow vanished. Karp looked around and made shooing motions. "Go home, people, show's over." The room cleared of everyone but the two secretaries. Karp turned to his and said, "Flynn, why don't you call One PP and find Chief Torricelli for me. Tell him I'd like to discuss the dog problem in the city." Flynn nodded and departed. Karp rolled his eyes at O'Malley and stood like a lawn jockey, his hand out, palm upward. They waited. Almost immediately the phone chirruped. O'Malley picked up the extension on the side table near the TV. She said, "Mr. Keegan's office....Yes, sir, he's right here," and slapped the receiver into Karp's waiting palm like the runner does in the four-forty relays.
"Jesus! What a mess!" said the DA. "I talked to the commissioner already. We've decided to issue a joint statement tonight. Did you...?"
"As we speak. We should have a draft in about an hour. I'm looking for the chief of D, too."
"Good. You're handling it personally, the public affairs?"
"Personally," lied Karp.
"Okay, good. Any thoughts?"
"On the tape? Hell, Jack, right now it's an animal-control matter, not a DA thing at all. If we find it's an actual infanticide, i.e., the kid wasn't born dead or expired of natural causes, then we can start thinking about what to do. I assume you got my note on the other two?"
"Yeah, yeah, I did. Sweet Jesus, what ever happened to the basket left with the nuns?"
"What ever happened to switchblades and brass knuckles? Now they use machine pistols in gang fights. It's a changed world, Jack."
"I know it, and frankly, it stinks. Look, we're going to come under a shitload of pressure to crucify the poor godforsaken ladies responsible for these. That damned tape and that picture! The bleeding hearts and the string-'em-up crowd will be holding hands and yelling in chorus. This one's on you, boyo, by the way. Tight security, no leaks, and tell the cops that, too. I'm going to do some shifty moves until we get the mothers and see what's what."
"It could be the fathers, you know."
"Oh, it's always the mothers, this young. The fathers kill them when they're older. Look, I'm going to be tied up here for a while, and then figure I'll be by there around nine. We'll talk to the press about ten from Centre Street. You're staying to follow up, I presume."
"Yeah, Marlene and Lucy are up at some shindig at Sacred Heart. I was going to stay late anyway. Lucky for me."
"Ha! Sacred Heart, huh? Is she armed?"
"Christ! Better start praying she doesn't shoot a nun. It'd be the end of a perfect day."
There were no obvious nuns in the ballroom of the Convent of the Sacred Heart this evening. The mesdames had never gone in much for elaborate habits, and now they had settled into dowdy outfits with big plain wooden crosses around their necks. In any case, most of the teachers at Sacred Heart were now laypeople. It was part of the new Church, clearly, and Marlene, of course, approved of all that on an intellectual level, but still, there was something dissatisfying about all that earnest wrestling with celibacy and abortion and homosexuality and liturgy. Marlene had never paid much attention to the specific moral dictates of the Church during her girlhood, but she had respected the magic and welcomed the forgiveness, which she had certainly required in inordinate measure. The first time Marlene had seen this room, she had been fourteen, a brilliant little barbarian from Queens, and it had seemed to her the anteroom to paradise. She sipped her tepid coffee now and looked around at it. It was, famously, one of the most beautiful rooms in the city, high-ceilinged, floored with golden parquet, fitted with great Palladian windows and a noble fireplace, all perfectly proportioned and harmonious, as befitted the Renaissance palazzo from which it was copied. The space was an education in itself. Tonight it was full of alumnae and faculty, and rich people who might support the institution, circulating gently amid civilized conversation and soft music from a student string quartet. Marlene had not been a very good alumna in years past, but had resolved, upon her daughter's entry here, to improve, and she had.
Copyright © 2000 by Robert K. Tannenbaum
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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