Carole Owens: Alice in Midland - Part 4
Peter Webber beat it back to the offices of the Midland Gazette and Evening Standard. He wanted to file his copy for the morning edition. He was excited.
"This is meat!" He thought. "This is more like it. Better than the stories about corn futures and the weather. Sure, the body of a kid mutilated and dumped in an alley is rough stuff, but it’s a real story. This is meat!"
"Webber, get in here!" his editor shouted across the news room.
"Why is everybody always shouting at me?" Webber asked the ceiling.
"I don’t know, Kid," the editor said, "there’s something about you that invites derision."
"I got it: pictures, quotes, narrative."
"Let me see."
Peter handed over his notebook.
"What’s this. ‘murder is rare in Midland; this reporter cannot recall a murder in his lifetime.’ How the hell long is your lifetime? Ten years?"
"Yeah there’s a pertinent fact; let’s cut 23-year-old reminiscences, and get to the story." He turned the page of the notebook,
"That’s it? All you got?"
"Who asked the chief about calling in the state police?"
"I did. I’m someone aren’t I?"
"Just barely. Where are the photos?"
"I dropped them off to be developed. Not long now."
"Well you don’t have much to say, so what do they show?"
"Scene of the crime, Boss, scene of the crime, and I’ll add a caption: An alley in the quiet northside residential area. Chilling, right?"
"Yeah, chilling, just not real informative."
The editor picked up the phone, punched an extension, and barked, "Got a photo and graph for page one -- yeah, yeah, well nobody told the murderer about your procedures; so make it work."
He slammed down the phone, "You haven’t got any more than a snack. I want a three course meal, you know?"
"OK Boss, I’ll get it."
"You get it now, for the morning edition, or consider another career."
"What do you mean mutilated?"
"You should have seen."
"Well I didn’t see and neither did your readers. So, you report -- you know -- like a reporter."
"Her face was smashed in, disfigured. It was as if killing her wasn’t enough. The murderer had to really hurt her."
"Disfigured before or after she was dead?"
"I don’t know yet. The autopsy will tell us, but maybe before, there was so much blood."
"How did they identify her if her face..."
"Wait maybe it wasn’t anger; maybe they wanted to conceal her identity."
"But they identified her."
"Yeah right, well, half her face was OK. It was as if somebody took a shovel or something and tried to take off one side of her face. Anyway, the other half was untouched."
The editor sat thinking and then said, "It sounds very controlled actually -- not like rage -- precise."
"Somebody did that to Anna," Peter sat down hard as if his legs gave, "in cold blood?"
"You knew her? Did you identify her?"
"No, there were school books and a notebook, all with her name neatly printed in each. There was something about those school books strewn around the scene that made it worse."
"Wait a minute, this was a school girl?
"A high school senior"
"What was a school girl doing out alone at night -- even a senior. Was she on her way home?"
"Anna was a Southie."
"A Southie in a Northside alley," the editor mused, "Was she interfered with?"
"Don’t know yet, but all her clothes were intact."
"But you knew her. Geez, what are you doing standing here?"
"Where do you want me to stand?"
"Go to her house, get the back story."
"At 1 in the morning? Go to the house of a bereaved family? I can’t do it, Boss."
"Well kid you better do something because this is a photo and a caption -- I want a story."
"Well, I got one thing, but I don’t think it’s anything really."
"If it’s something they didn’t have on the 11 o’clock news, then it’s something, so give."
So Webber turned the page of his notebook and shoved it back toward his editor.
The editor read and said, "Put it in."
"I don’t like to; it casts aspersions."
"Casts aspersions? Jesus! He was taken in, right? This Billy Anderson?"
"We report facts, right?"
"That’s right," the editor said, "now what else? You know who she was; so, who was she?"
"OK, so who’s Anna whatever?"
"Yeah Boss, but we can’t put the name in the paper until..."
"We’re past that, Webber, try to keep up. You know whose body it is so you can start investigating."
"You need something to write, right? So you better dig and find something to write, right?"
"The chief of police said he would have a statement soon."
"Webber you worry me. What are you a stenographer?"
"No, Boss, I’m on it. She was a senior at Midland High. I didn’t know her as well as her older sister. Went to school with Katya, and there’s a younger girl too. Immigrant family -- Middle European -- came here to work in the factory. Everybody in that family works so she was probably over the Northside -- what? -- baby-sitting?"
"You asking or telling?"
"I was thinking: anything like this ever happen in Midland?"
"Look it up -- what we got a morgue for? But Webber, this isn’t a history book; it’s a daily newspaper. We print news -- new stuff, right? You know the family -- know where they live -- go -- get their reaction. Get a clue or something. You ever hear of following a lead?"
"Yes sir," Webber said.
But Peter was not thinking about intruding on the family; Webber was thinking morgues -- storage for dead newspapers -- old news -- and the city morgue -- a place for autopsies -- new facts.
This is Part 4 of a nine-part murder mystery running each Saturday through August. The first five parts occur on the night of the murder, the last four parts occur in the light of the following day.
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