Man of steel, p.1

Man of Steel, page 1

 

Man of Steel
 


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Man of Steel


  Man of Steel

  Dave Conifer

  Copyright 2008 Dave Conifer

  Cover design by J.L. Penn, author of bestselling women’s fiction books

  Also by Dave Conifer:

  Throwback (2004)

  FireHouse (2007)

  eBully (2008)

  Snodgrass Vacation (2009)

  Wrecker (2011)

  Trenton Makes (2011)

  -- Chapter 1 --

  When Jerry Bremer stuck his head in to Frank Marino’s office he found Marino staring out the window, running his fingers through his hair. “Frank, you were looking for me?” He already knew the answer, especially after he saw the look on Marino’s face. Anytime Marino needed to talk it took priority over anything else.

  “Yeah, I was. Come on in.” Marino had been called in off the golf course, and looked like it. He struggled with a lock of hair that wouldn’t stay out of his eyes as he spoke. Bremer looked away until the smile was gone from his lips. This was the first time he’d ever seen his boss without a jacket and tie, or without his jet black hair plastered onto his scalp with a quart of gel. He wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Marino actually looked more helpless than usual without the fancy Italian suit.

  Bremer closed the door and walked over to the window. “They all look like ants, huh?” he remarked. Marino’s expression didn’t change. “So what’s up?”

  “Braden called. The cop’s son is talking again. He’s called a press conference for tomorrow afternoon.”

  “McBride?”

  “McBride,” Marino said as he smoothed his hair back yet again. “Mark McBride. The guy who keeps telling everybody his dad killed Kennedy. This time he says he’s got proof. His father’s diary.”

  “His father’s diary!” Bremer parroted in a mock sinister tone. “He’s got nothing. There couldn’t possibly be anything in that diary. It probably doesn’t even exist or we’d know about it.”

  “Do we know that for sure? Has the diary ever come up before?”

  “It has, but we’ve never followed up on it,” Bremer conceded as he sat on the corner of Marino’s desk. “But it doesn’t matter. Charlie McBride didn’t know anything. He was just a placeholder.”

  Marino yanked a gray folder from beneath Bremer’s thigh and dropped it onto the blotter where it landed with a slap. “From what I understand he was more than just a placeholder. And he might have learned something after it all went down.”

  Oops, Bremer thought as he hopped off the desk. Neat freak. “If he had anything we’d know about it,” Bremer said confidently. “I don’t care if he’s got a diary or not.”

  “Just the same, we better get somebody down there. Just to make sure he doesn’t say anything we weren’t expecting. I’ll pass up the word that we have it covered.”

  “If you ask me, this clown’s doing us a favor every time he opens his mouth. He does more to make the conspiracy nuts look like wack jobs than we could ever do. He’s the greatest thing that ever happened to us. We hardly have to lift a finger.”

  “So you’re on it?”

  “Yeah. Maybe I can check it out from here.”

  “Braden will ask about this,” Marino reminded him.

  “Okay, okay, I’ll go. I’ll leave tonight. I had tickets for the Pirates but I’ll give them away.” It wouldn’t kill you to get out in the field and do something for yourself. Maybe you’d learn which end of a gun goes bang.

  “Thanks Jerry. Our work’s almost done. There’s nobody left but a bunch of crackpots.”

  -- Chapter 2 --

  Joe Jonas was running late thanks to a delayed flight and a Dallas cab driver who took the long way from the airport to run up a bigger fare. He threw fifteen dollars into the front seat and scrambled out of the cab with his suitcase. He planned on staying overnight at the Bradford, where Mark McBride had scheduled the press conference, but there was no time to check in. He hustled through the lobby until he found a men’s room, where he washed his hands and face and looked himself over in the mirror. His brown hair was a little too long for a grown up, even a twenty-something journalist. The casual clothes were rumpled and he could still see the stain from the bloody Mary he’d spilled on the flight, but it was too late to change into the suit he’d brought. There was three days worth of stubble on his face but a shave was out of the question, too. It didn’t matter. He was passable.

  He hurried out of the bathroom because there were only two minutes left before the press conference and the room was probably going to be packed. It wasn’t every day that somebody revealed a secret that had tantalized the country for nineteen years. Jonas cursed the cab driver as he searched for the room. He’d be sitting way in the back.

  He was startled by what he didn’t find when he finally found the press conference. It was far too quiet. Equally disturbing was the lack of security, crowd control or even a greeter at the door. He wondered if he was in the wrong place even though he’d confirmed the date and location five times. He shifted the suitcase to his other hand, pulled a notepad out of his pocket and walked in.

  The cavernous room was a sea of empty chairs. There were only seven or eight other people there, scattered randomly towards the front. This can’t be right, he worried. Two men sat at a table in the front of the room. One of them, immaculately dressed in a gray double-breasted suit, fiddled with a microphone, emitting clicks and booms that reverberated around the room. The other, in cowboy boots and a western style button down shirt, slouched in his chair with his ankles crossed on the floor in front of him. A grimy red baseball cap rested on the table. Jonas guessed that the man in the boots was McBride.

  He headed for the front row. Besides being the best vantage point, he noticed immediately that the only interesting person in the room was there. A pretty blonde who looked to be about his age was sitting in the center of the row, fifteen feet from the men with the microphone. Jonas walked to the front and then across the row in her direction, almost as if he knew her. After he took the seat next to her he wondered if he’d been too obvious. He felt her eyes on him as he maneuvered the suitcase under his chair.

  “Hi,” she said. “Not much of a crowd here.”

  She’s not shy. Nothing wrong with that. “No,” he agreed. “I thought the place would be crowded. This cab driver nearly got me lost coming from the airport, so I was late. Then I wanted to change my clothes, but--” His voice tailed off when he realized that he was rambling.

  “This is a repeat performance for this guy,” she told him. “He tried this a few years ago and there were more reporters that time. Most of the press didn’t bother coming back today. I’m Abby Reno,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m from Austin. Where are you from? You don’t sound like a Texan. You must be from up north.”

  Her hand felt soft in his. He felt himself smiling and nodding. “I’m from Charlotte, North Carolina. No Yankee here.” The pleasant smell of her perfume wafted into his personal space as he spoke.

  “Too north for me. Are you done with this?” she asked as she tugged on her hand.

  “Sorry,” he said as he let go.

  “So you came all the way from North Carolina. Too bad it was for nothing. I think Lee Harvey Oswald did it all by himself. My boss says McBride’s just trying to clinch a spot on all the twentieth anniversary documentaries. You know the networks are going to suffocate us with this next year. Do you get to travel a lot?”

  “Hardly ever. I’m not on the national desk or anything. I’m on Metro. I was surprised when my editor sent me here. He said his boss owed him a favor so he threw us a bone.”

  “Some bone. This story isn’t going anywhere.”

  “Well, it sounded good at the time. I don’t know that much about JFK. But if this guy’s going to tell us who ki
lled him I was glad to come down. It beats what I was writing about yesterday. The courthouse bathrooms in Hickory were renovated by non-union plumbers,” he said, rolling his eyes.

  “Aha!” she said. “You said ‘come down’ didn’t you? Yankee!” A sharp squeal of feedback pealed through the room before he could answer. The men at the podium had been delaying the start of the conference, probably hoping for some late arrivals, but nobody had come after Jonas. Finally, fifteen minutes past the scheduled start time, the man in the suit moved to the podium and made one last adjustment to the microphone.

  ~~~

  “Ben Burkhardt speaking.”

  “Hi Mr. Burkhardt,” Jonas said. “It’s Joe Jonas. I’m still down in Dallas. I’m just about to file the story.”

  “Joe! How did it go? Anything interesting?”

  “Not really. Everybody there agreed that he was just some bozo trying to get on TV. That’s what I thought too.”

  “What did he have to say?”

  Jonas regretted his words. Burkhardt had taken a personal interest in the story. If he didn’t show a little more enthusiasm he might assign the next interesting story to somebody else. “Okay,” he said after opening his notepad. “He says his father was working for the CIA when he joined the Dallas police force in September 1963. His father may have fired the fatal shots at President Kennedy. He said his father had served in the Marine Corps with Lee Harvey Oswald. All of this is based on what he read out of his father’s diary. Oh, yeah. He also says his father was the one who shot J.D. Tippit, another policeman.”

  “Tippit, right,” Burkhardt said. “That’s what Oswald was originally arrested for. You said ‘may have fired the shots?’ That’s pretty vague. What else was in the diary?”

  Jonas made a note to revise his story to include what Burkhardt had just said about Tippit. “He didn’t say anything else, and we didn’t get to look at the diary. The father’s name was Charles McBride. He died in a fire in 1964.”

  “So what did you find out about Mark McBride? Why would he sit on this for all these years? Did you confirm any of this?”

  Jonas felt his face flush. “We didn’t get much time to ask questions. He disappeared real quick right after his statement. Maybe I could track him down.”

  “Sounds like that’s what he wants you to do. When are you coming home?”

  “I’m booked on a flight in the morning.”

  “Why don’t you cancel that? I’d like you to find out a little more about this fellow McBride. It might be worthwhile since you’re down there anyway. We ought to try to get a look at that diary before we put a check mark next to this story.”

  “Sure, Mr. Burkhardt. If that’s what you want.”

  “Good. Take as much time as you need. Get some background on this guy so we can do the story right. Don’t worry about your beat here. We’ve got it covered. Call me back tomorrow.”

  After hanging up the phone Jonas sank back into the soft chair by the window. The room was bathed in the green glow from the neon-trimmed skyscraper next to the hotel. Burkhardt’s interest in pursuing the story baffled him, especially now that it seemed to be just another empty conspiracy theory. And how was he supposed to find McBride, a man he knew nothing about in a place where he had never been? The only thing he had was the phone number of the cute reporter from The Austin Statesman. It had taken all his courage to ask for her phone number but now he was thankful that he had. She probably didn’t expect to hear from him but now he had a reason to call.

  ~~~

  The next morning Jonas picked up the phone and dialed her number. It only rang once before he heard her voice. “This is Abby Reno.”

  “Hi, Ms. Reno?” he asked. Of course it is. She just said that. “Hi. It’s Joe Jonas from The Charlotte Sentinel. Do you have a second?”

  “Joe! From yesterday in Dallas, right? Are you back home?”

  “No, I’m still in Dallas. My editor wants me to follow up on the McBride story. I don’t understand why.”

  “Me neither,” she said. “We dropped it here. I wrote a paragraph that we ran today, and that’s it. Nobody cares. At least some of the JFK stories are a little more creative. This one’s a bore.”

  “Yeah, I know. I’m just doing what I’m told. Can you help me out on Mark McBride? Do you know anything about him?”

  “I’ll give you everything I have. Hold on, let me grab my notes.” Jonas pulled out his own notepad while he waited, and flipped to a fresh page.

  “I don’t have a lot for you,” she said when she came back on the line. “We checked him out last time. His father really was a Dallas policeman. He joined in September 1963, just before the assassination. Mark was born after they came to Texas. He’s never lived anyplace else.”

  “At least something he said was true,” Jonas remarked.

  “I can tell you that he works for United Oil Equipment Company. At least he did back then. We never followed up on that. I don’t know what he does or if he’s even with them anymore.”

  “United Oil Equipment Company,” Jonas repeated as he scribbled on his pad. “Are they in Dallas?”

  “They’re based in Midland but they have offices all over the state. I don’t know where McBride works out of.”

  “Good information. Thanks, Ms. Reno.”

  “Call me Abby, all right? I already started calling you Joe.”

  “Okay.”

  “So Joe, you’re really going ahead with this? It just sounds so, you know, stupid.”

  “Yeah, I know. This guy rents out a meeting room, holds a press conference, tells some dull stories and we’re supposed to be interested. He didn’t even try.”

  “To be honest, he doesn’t look like the kind of guy who could come up with anything better.”

  “I know what you mean. I’m just following orders but first I have to find him.”

  “I can tell you exactly where he is,” Abby said. “They were handing out contact information at the door before you got there. He’s all set up for the big media onslaught at a hotel right here in Austin. I’ll bet you any amount we’ll be the only ones there.” She read off the name and room number at a hotel in Austin. “Are you coming down to see him? It’s only a couple hours away. You can get down here by lunch time.”

  “Yeah, I think I will,” Joe said after a pause. “That ought to keep my editor happy.”

  “Can I come? If you stop by and pick me up I’ll lead you to him. What do you say?”

  He tried not to let on how much he liked the idea. “Sure, why not?” She told him how to find her office in Austin and he promised to leave soon.

  After a quick shave he called to arrange for a rental car and then bought some maps in the hotel lobby. After working his way through the busy streets of downtown Dallas he reached the interstate and headed out of town. As the landscape faded from urban to prairie Jonas was struck by how flat the land was. Twenty minutes after he left his rear view mirror still framed the Dallas skyline as it shimmered in the afternoon heat.

  -- Chapter 3 --

  Reno told him the trip would take just two hours but after looking at a map Jonas decided it would take four. He reviewed his schedule as he sped south toward Austin. Even if they were able to see McBride that afternoon it was too late to try to get a flight home in the evening. Whenever the interview was over he’d drive back to Dallas, file a story and then spend one more night in Texas.

  It was nearly three o’clock before he made it to the offices of The Austin Statesman. He hardly recognized Reno when she came down to meet him. Her hair was redder than he remembered and she was wearing a lot more makeup. Instead of a knee length business suit like the one from the day before, she wore a tight mini-skirt and a pair of boots with heels that made her taller than he was. “Hey!” she said when she saw him.

  “Hi,” he answered. “Sorry I took so long.”

  “Come on, let’s sit over here,” she said, guiding him to a small waiting area. “Did you see this yet?” She pushed a copy o
f The Dallas Examiner at him. A tiny story below the fold on the front page made their day’s work seem less frivolous. Mark McBride had made the papers. The article, entitled “CIA Denies Association with JFK Assassination Accuser,” somehow lent credibility to McBride even though it was a flat denial of everything he’d said. A CIA spokesman had made a statement the previous evening in which he denied that the organization had ever had anything to do with McBride.

  These allegations – that Charles McBride worked for the agency and that the agency had any involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy – are completely groundless. Normally we neither confirm nor deny employment, but because of the outrageousness of what Mark McBride said earlier today we are going on the record in stating that Charles McBride never worked for or with the CIA.

  Jonas looked up. “Did we get scooped?”

  “I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. Remember, this is the second time around for McBride. I don’t remember the CIA saying anything last time. They’re probably hoping he’ll go away again now that they’ve denounced him. That is, if he knows enough to be embarrassed, which I doubt.”

  “I don’t know. To me it makes him seem more legitimate. There are nuts talking about the CIA all the time. Usually nobody pays any attention. Why did they respond to this guy?”

  “I can’t answer that one,” she said. “He’s nothing but a wacko, though. We have somebody in Washington that checked it out last time. This CIA guy was telling the truth. They never had anything to do with McBride.”

  “If we agree that the CIA connection is bogus, I don’t think we should bring it up with him at all. It might piss him off.”

  “That’s a tough call. You could be right. It’s your interview, anyway.”

 
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