Tuesday morning over my first cup of coffee at home I made a decision to run a private investigation into the death of Benjamin Rodney; in my 15 years as a reporter I had never seen a redacted accident report. My editor, already agitated, would not help. In fact, Bill would most likely hinder me. I wasn’t sure Bill had anything to hide, but knew he didn’t like his reporters going rogue on him. Bill demanded complete control.
I figured Doug wouldn’t be an asset in my investigations either. Doug didn’t seem to realize getting a redacted accident report from his editor is unusual. And Lilly, well, I knew she would want no part of it. There really wasn’t anyone in the newsroom that could help, I was on my own.
Having lived and worked in this town for 15 years I had a few people I trusted and Chief Pierce is one of them. Justin Pierce and I go way back, long before the mayor appointed him to his current position. I couldn’t blame Brenda for being coy with me, she was protecting the Chief, and I would have done the same most likely.
After attending the daily incident report meeting on Tuesday morning I passed Brenda at the dispatch desk near the door. She greeted me in her usual manner and informed me the chief was in if I wanted to talk to him. I told her I would like to speak to him briefly and she motioned for me to take a chair and disappeared around the corner. After a couple of minutes she reappeared and told me, “The Chief will see you now.”
I thanked her and she hit the button under the counter to buzz me in. The steel door next to dispatch clicked loudly and I walked through. Brenda asked me to take a seat in the Chief’s office and assured me he’d be back in a few minutes. His office looked kind of bare. There was a nice desk and chair in front of a window that overlooked the parking lot in back of the building. There was nothing on the walls except a photo he’d taken with his son Darren at a hot air balloon rally in Arizona, and a couple of certificates. His desk was almost as bare as the walls. He had a calendar desk pad with coffee stains and a round wooden platter that looked like it was made in a high school shop class. There was a pen and a pencil setting near the pad, and that was it.
“Good morning Jack. I’d ask you to have a seat but I see you’re already in it,” the Chief said with good nature as he walked through the door.
“And a comfortable seat it is too,” I said.
The chief seemed amused. The two chairs in front of his desk were old metal folding chairs. “I don’t want my visitors to get too comfortable,” he said with a chuckle. Then his smile disappeared. “I heard you were in here yesterday talking about a murder,” he asked.
“Well Chief, I’m not at all sure it was a murder, but when I came in here yesterday I wasn’t sure what to think.”
“I see,” he said, “why would the idea of murder enter your mind ?”
“Mostly because of the suspicious way people were acting and I couldn’t seem to get any information about it, and then there’s the redacted police report.”
“What,” he said with surprise.
“That’s right Chief. The report was redacted, as I understand it, not by your office, but by my editor. The report was given to another reporter that way.”
“Are you sure about that,” he asked?
I reached in my carrying bag and pulled out the report. “Here it is.”
He looked at the report briefly then set it on the coffee-stained pad on his desk. He stood up and waved me over to the window, where an ash tray and a pack of cigarettes set. The chief flipped open the box and offered me a smoke. I took it and reached for a light. “Here, I got it,” he said. He lit my smoke then lit his own and cracked open the window.
“Jack,” he said, “I don’t know what is going on over there at your paper, but I can tell you right now that isn’t the same report I gave to your buddy yesterday. Or if it is, it didn’t look like that when it left this office.”
He took a deep puff off his cigarette and laid it in the ash tray. From a drawer on the right side of his desk he pulled out a piece of paper. “Here ya go, here’s the genuine report. You can have another copy if you’d like one.”
“That would be helpful,” I told him.
“Are you going to confront Bill with the evidence,” he asked raising one eyebrow.
“Going underground on this one eh?”
“You might say that.”
The chief snuffed out the fire on his cigarette and I did the same to mine. We walked to the door and he instructed Brenda to make me a copy of the report. She went to the copy machine and printed out a copy. “Here ya go Jack, should I keep this under my hat,” she asked with a wink?
“Probably so,” I said.