I entered the front door of the police station and walked straight to the dispatcher.
“Chief Pierce in,” I asked the blonde woman behind the thick glass window.
‘Hi Jack. No, the Chief’s not in; he’s gone for the day.”
“What’s this about Hon?”
“It’s about the murder this morning.”
“Murder,” she asked with a blank look?
“Benjamin Rodney, I heard he was killed this morning.”
“Yes, she said, “but it wasn’t’ a murder, it was a car accident.”
“Can I get a copy of the report?”
“I’m afraid I don’t have access to that right now Jack. The Chief is gone and his office is locked up. I’m sorry Jack.”
“Wait, you’re telling me the only official report of the incident is locked up in the Chief’s office and you can’t show me a copy?”
Brenda was a big woman, not in an obese way, but tall and solid with bold features – almost manly looking features. We had known each other for 15 years, and I could tell by the way she was acting that she was holding something back. Brenda was always courteous to me, but today she was being too courteous.
“Hun, a report has already been given to your office.”
“And I can’t get another copy,” I asked her.
She went silent for a moment and gave me a hard look, a look I had seen in her eyes before when she had reached the end of her patience.
“Ask your editor about the report,” she snapped as she got up from her seat and walked away from the window.
When I returned to the news room Bill and Doug were still missing. My deadline was an hour away for the morning addition. The Sports Desk was empty, and Shelly had not come back in yet. Lilly and a couple guys at the copy desk were the only souls in the room, beside me. I didn’t say a word to anyone. I went straight to my desk and began pecking out the story from the Rotary meeting. I was running out of time, but I had written a hundred stories like this before.
I got lost in my writing for a while and didn’t notice when Doug slipped through the glass doors of the newsroom. I saved my story to the server and alerted the copy desk it was ready. Bill won’t be satisfied with it, I reminded myself, but in our little town it should be a front page story.
Doug was wrapping things up and getting ready to leave when I approached his desk. He saw me coming and busied himself so he wouldn’t have to acknowledge me.
“How’d the police reporting go today Doug, did you have any problems,” I asked. Doug was not the police reporter, I usually covered that beat, but because Bill sent me to the Rotary Club, Doug had to cover for me..
“No problems, none at all,” he said as he locked his desk drawer and stood up.
“Where did you and Bill go earlier”?
“Me and Bill,” he asked?
Doug was an unlikeable soul in my opinion. He was always snooping around in everyone’s business and brown- nosing with the boss, and when asked a direct question he acted like he was dumb as a box of rocks.
“I saw the two of you leave together today,” I said, knowing I hadn’t seen a thing.
“You left this room together today and hot-footed it out the door.”
“Oh, sure,” Doug said, “but we parted company in the parking lot.”
He looked me straight in the eye and I knew he must be telling the truth because he wasn’t that good of a liar. Poor slob probably didn’t know a lot more than I did, and he suspected nothing. Maybe I was reading too much into this, but something about the events of the last couple of days just didn’t fit together.
“Want to stop at Duffy’s and have a drink before you go home,” I asked him.
“I would love to Jack, but my boy has basketball practice and I promised I would take him.”
“Ok, see you tomorrow then.”
“Sure thing Jack.”
“By the way, you don’t happen to know where Bill was headed do you, I asked?”
“No, I don’t know where he was going, but he was sure in a hurry to get out of here today, and he told me not to make a big deal out of the accident.”
“What do you mean,” I asked?
“Well, he said not to make a big thing out of it. We have accidents nearly every day he said.”
“And the police report,” I asked him as he walked past me.
“Oh yea that. He blackened a few lines with a marker and gave me a copy, its right here.”
“Bill redacted the report,” I asked.
Doug nodded yes, and handed me his copy of the redacted report. I told him thank you and took it back to my desk. I had never seen an accident report redacted like this, especially before anyone made a request to see it. I had seen reports and documents redacted by officials, after a reporter uses The Freedom of Information Act to obtain it, but seldom before the request.
The report contained the man’s name, address and phone number and the time and place the incident occurred, but other vital information was blacked out with a marker. Mr. Rodney’s employer was blacked out along with the officer’s narrative about what took place, except for the last line that read, “fell asleep and ran off the roadway.” The officer who wrote the report didn’t know the difference between run and ran I thought to myself. Then I realized something else, the officers name had not been redacted – a lead.