“Get that light out of my face! And get behind the tape. All of you. Now.” Detective Jake Brogan pointed his own flashlight at the pack of reporters, its cold glow highlighting one news-greedy face after another in the October darkness. He recognized television. Radio. That kid from the paper. How the hell did they get here so fast? The whiffle of a chopper, one of theirs, hovered over the riverbank, its spotlights illuminating the unmistakable—another long night on the job. And a Monday-morning visit to a grieving family. If they could figure out who this victim was.
A body by the river. This time, the Charles, down by the old dock. Her legs, black tights striped with mud, leather boots, one zipper down, splayed on the fallen leaves and slimy underbrush on the bank. Her head, chestnut hair floating like a punk Ophelia, bobbing and grotesque in the tangled weeds.
Too bad I can’t call Jane. She’d love this.
Jake’s yellow beam of light landed on that Tucker kid, notebook out and edging toward the body. Rubber boots squished in the muck of the riverbank, still soft from Boston’s run of bad-luck weather. “Hey, you, newspaper kid. Out. This means you. You don’t wanna have to call your new editor to bail you out.”
“Is it a serial killer?” A reporter’s voice thin and reedy, carried in the chill wind. The neon green from the Boston Garden billboards, the purple beacons decorating the white-cabled Zakim Bridge, the glaring yellow of the chopper’s spots colored the crime scene into a B-movie carnival. “Are you calling it a serial killing? You think it’s one person? Was she killed the same way as the other?”
“Yeah, tell us, Jake,” another voice demanded. “Is two murders serial?”
“One a couple weeks ago, one today, that’s two.” A different reporter’s voice. “Both women. Both by water. By bridges. Both weekend nights. Both dead. That’s serial. We’re going with that. Maybe … ‘the River Killer.’”
“We are, too. The Bridge Killer.”
“Have you figured out who the first victim is?”
“Outta here, all of you!” Jake tucked his flashlight under one arm, zipped his Boston Police–issue brown leather jacket. Reporters scrambling to nickname a murderer. Crazy. What does Jane always say? It bleeds, it leads? At least her stories aren’t like that. A siren screamed across Causeway Street; then the red-striped ambulance careened down the rutted side street. Every camera turned to the EMTs scrambling out the opening ambulance doors.
No need for them to hurry, Jake thought. His watch showed 2:15 A.M. She’d been dead for at least three hours.
Just like the other woman.
* * *
Jane Ryland had thrown up after the verdict.
She’d twisted her damp hair away from her face, avoided the mirror, and contemplated how long she could hide in the Suffolk County Courthouse ladies’ room. Forever would be good. Instead, she’d gritted out a smile for the scrum of cameras as Channel 11’s defense attorney promised her television colleagues an immediate appeal of the jury’s decision. The two then marched down the granite steps of the courthouse, the lawyer’s pin-striped arm protectively across Jane’s shoulder, as if a million-dollar damage verdict were the honorable cost of doing journalism business.
But soon after, Jane could read the counterfeit smiles, rescheduled meetings, abysmal story assignments. Her TV reporting career was over. She’d protected a source, but nobody was protecting her.
MILLION-DOLLAR MISTAKE, the headlines screamed. RYLAND NAMES WRONG MAN AS JOHN IN SEX-FOR-HIRE CASE. Indy rag Boston Weekly called her “Wrong-Guy Ryland.”
Jane knew she hadn’t been wrong. There’d been no mistake, but it didn’t matter. Days later she was fired.
“And most incredibly bogus of all, they pretended it wasn’t about the verdict.” Jane had banged out a bitter and bewildered e-mail to her pal Amy. Once newbie co-anchors together in Iowa, Amy had landed a high-profile reporter gig in Washington, D.C., then Jane got a similar deal in Boston. Amy’s star was still rising. Plus, as she never let Jane forget, she was married.
“After three years of promos, all those promises,” Jane typed, “they said they wanted to ‘go another direction’ with their political coverage. Are you kidding me? There’s an election coming. It’s the biggest story since the Kennedy thing. What the hell other direction can they go?”
“I’m so sorry, Janey honey,” Amy typed back. “They had to blame somebody. Everyone hates TV reporters. And everybody hates TV. I’m probably next, you know? We should have gotten real jobs, kiddo.”
Now Alex Wyatt—Register city editor Alex Wyatt, of all people!—was about to offer Jane a real job. Such as it was. At least the Register’s headlines had been objective. GROCERY MAGNATE WINS SLANDER SUIT.
Jane closed her eyes briefly at the memory. Dad would take care of her, if it came to that, even urge her to come home to Oak Park. Then he’d probably urge her to go to law school, like younger sister, engaged sister, good sister Lissa. Dad would be supportive, at least try to be, but Dr. Ryland never approved of failure. She was on her own. And she’d be fine.
Perched on the couch in Alex’s new and already file-strewn office at the Boston Register, surrounded by the clutter of his half-unpacked boxes, Jane was working hard at being fine.
She wished she could just say no. Leave town. Change her name. Forget the jurors, forget the verdict. Talk to her mom just one more time.
But reality included a hefty mortgage on her condo, payments on her suddenly extravagant Audi TT, looming utility bills, and evaporating severance pay. She’d once reported heartbreakingly headlined stories about the terrors of unemployment. Now she was unemployed. Jane knew she’d tell Alex yes.
“I vouched for you with the bigs on the fifth floor.” Alex positioned a framed Columbia J-school diploma against one beige wall, raised his wire-rimmed glasses to his forehead, then marked the wall with a pencil, turning his back to her. “Told ’em you were nails on the street. Tough and fair. Beat me on a couple stories, that’s for sure. The hospital thing last year, remember?”
I sure do. “The hospital thing” was an overnight stakeout of a politician injured in a suspicious hit and run. Alex and Jane, each refusing to leave while the other kept watch, shared the last of the murky coffee. Jane had secretly contemplated sharing a lot more than coffee. Luckily, as she later admitted to Amy, she’d checked Alex’s third finger, left hand. Taken. At least she’d eventually gotten an exclusive interview with the victim.
Alex was still talking. “But here at the paper, we respect reporters who protect their sources. We don’t fire them. Told ’em I figured your source threw you under the bus.”
He turned to her, glasses back in place and pencil now behind his ear. “Speaking of which. About the case. Sellica Darden told you, didn’t she? She had to be your source. Want to talk about it? Off the record?”
Not now, not ever. “Lawyers, you know? The appeal?” Jane smoothed her black wool skirt over her knees, carefully pulling the hem over her best black leather boots. Looking anywhere but at Alex. Why didn’t life have an “Undo” button? She hadn’t realized she was risking her career for Sellica. She tried to keep the sorrow out of her voice. “I can’t. I really can’t.”
Alex narrowed his eyes. “There’s nothing that’ll hurt the paper, though, right? Nothing’ll come back to bite us? All any of us has is our reputation, you know?”
“Right,” Jane said.
Mortgage. Heat. Health insurance. Food. Mom would have said, “Jane Elizabeth, you should remember every closed door means another door opens.”
“You can trust me, Alex. I know times are tough for newspapers. I’m grateful Jake—Detective Brogan—called you about me. I’m grateful, really, for the opportunity.”
The room went silent.
Maybe Alex was getting cold feet, no matter what Jake had told him. Maybe no one would trust her again. The jury was wrong, not her. But how can you battle perception? Jane gathered her black leather tote bag, ready to be dismissed. Maybe it was too soon. Or too late.
Leaving his framed diploma propped on top of a peeling radiator, Alex leaned against the side of his battered wooden desk. He smiled, running a hand across its pitted wood. “They told me T. R. Baylor himself, founder of the Register, used this very desk back in the day. Brinks job, Mayor Curley, the Boston Strangler. All the Kennedys. They offered me a new desk, you know? But keeping this one seemed right.”
Jane smiled back. “Wonder what T.R. would think about your Internet edition? And maybe there’s a new Boston Strangler now, the one they’re calling the Bridge Killer.”
“Times change; news doesn’t,” Alex replied. “People sure don’t. The Register’s covering it, but we’re not calling anyone the Bridge Killer yet, that’s for sure. Who knows if those killings are connected? But yeah, you can’t understand the future if you don’t understand the past. I’m hoping this desk reminds me of that.”
He pulled a yellow pad from a pile beside him, flipped through the top pages, then held up a hand-drawn calendar. In several of the pencil-line boxes was written JANE.
“Anyway,” Alex continued, pointing to the schedule. “You’re dayside. We’re all about teamwork, and saving bucks, so I have you sharing a desk with Tuck. Tuck’s covering the ‘bridge killings’—whatever you want to call them—always out, so you’ll probably never see each other.”
She was in. She felt a reassuring flutter of the real Jane. I’ll scoop the hell out of those jerks at Channel 11. “Sounds absolutely—,” she began.
“I have to give you a six-month tryout,” Alex interrupted, gesturing “upstairs” with his notepad. “Fifth floor says that’s the deal. Are you with us?”
Jane managed a network-quality smile. Even if “network” was no longer in her future.
“You got yourself a newspaper reporter,” Jane said. She looked square into the city editor’s eyes, telegraphing she was not only the right choice to cover the election and share a desk with Tuck, whoever that was, but a valuable addition to his staff as well. One who did not make mistakes.
His eyes, however, were trained on the screen of his iPhone.
“Alex?” she said. If he dissed her on day one, she had low hopes for the teamwork he promised. But, facts be faced, her hopes were fairly low to begin with. She was still navigating the raw stages of grief over her dismissal from Channel 11.
It had been a while since her heart was broken.
Jane had avoided all the good-byes. She’d gone to the station one last time, after midnight. Packed her videotapes, Rolodex, fan mail, and three gilt-shiny award statues; stashed the cartons in the musty basement of her Brookline brownstone. The next two weeks she’d wrapped herself in one of Mom’s afghans, parked herself in a corner of her curvy leather couch, and stared at her television. A screen no longer her domain.
She hadn’t gone outside the apartment. Hadn’t answered e-mail or the phone. A couple of times, drank a little too much wine.
Dad had been brusque when she called to tell him. “You must have done something wrong,” he’d said. It was okay. Even after all these years, Jane knew he was still missing Mom. She was, too.
Mrs. Washburn from downstairs had appeared with the mail, bearing her famous mac and cheese, Jane’s favorite. Little Eli, the super’s starstruck eight-year-old, tried to lure her, as always, into an Xbox marathon. Steve and Margery, once her producer and photographer, sent white tulips, with a note saying, “Television sucks,” and suggesting beer.
“Television sucks” made her laugh. For about one second.
Week three of unemployment, she’d had enough. She had clicked off the television, cleared out the stack of empty pizza boxes, and popped open the résumé on her laptop. The next day she rolled up the blinds in her living room, dragged the unread newspapers to the curb, and had her TV-length hair—the stylist called it walnut brown—cut spiky-short. She savagely organized all four closets in her apartment and dumped her on-air blazers in a charity bin. She’d listened to every one of her voice mail messages, and one was Jake. With a lead on a job at the Register.
And now she had an offer. Such as it was.
“Sorry, Jane, had to answer that text. So? Can you start tomorrow?” Clicking off his blinking screen, Alex tucked the iPhone into a pocket of his tweedy jacket. He’d been promoted from senior political reporter to city editor in time for the Register’s geared-up election coverage. Once Jane’s toughest competition, Alex Wyatt—“Hot Alex,” as Amy persisted in calling him—was about to become her superior.
Jane couldn’t ignore the irony. The up-and-coming Jane Ryland, award-winning investigative reporter. Crashed on the fast track and blew it at age thirty-two. Possibly a new land speed record for failure. Her smile still in place, she pretended she hadn’t noticed her potential new boss had ignored her.
“You got yourself a reporter,” Jane said again. Now she just had to prove it.
Copyright © 2012 by Hank Phillippi Ryan