Excerpts from the new Inspector Dan Rather mystery by David Burge
It was a quiet cold Monday at Black Rock. Too quiet, I thought, slowly polishing the lens on my trusty Sony VC6809. New York is not the kind of town that likes to keep secrets, and my tingling senses told me that somewhere in Gotham somebody was spilling some beans. And in my line of work, you get to know deep down in your gut those beans have a habit of being silent - but deadly.
My name is Rather. And I'm a dick.
I had just finished the final teleprompter read-through on the Alberto Gonzales caper (Dan Rather #31: The Sadist Wore a Sombrero) when a familiar figure sauntered into the studio.
"Look what the cat drug in," I smiled. "What brings you down to the salt mines, Captain Moonves?"
Moonves and I were once tighter than two cousins in a Kentucky hayloft. I helped show him the ropes at Black Rock back when he was a green rookie straight out of the programming academy, but lately I sensed tension between us after the release of the Nielsen Report (Dan Rather #29: The Case of the Missing Viewers).
"Can the wisecracks, newsreader," he sneered. "You've got a little date with Commissioner Thornburgh downtown."
"Gee, maybe I should buy a corsage. Sorry, Lester. I'm washing my hair."
"No dice, Dan-O. They've got the goods on you this time, and you better check that smart mouth of yours at the door."
"Aw, nuts Les. You know I'm busy following lead in the big Quagmire Caper. Tell Thornburgh to schedule it through my secretary, Mary Mapes."
"Dan," he paused, taking a breath. "Mary's... gone."
No - no - not Mary...
Thornburgh peeled off his tortoise shell glasses and gave me a blank stare.
"We've been through this several times now, Rather," he sighed. "The evidence was fake. Forgeries. Made up from whole cloth. There is no Lucy Ramirez. The entire TxANG case is closed."
"So," I pondered, "you're thinking we need to set up a stakeout in Crawford?"
"Rather," he bellowed, "The Guard letters were on Starbucks stationery, and originally discovered in the trunk of Mary's '99 Hundai. Military officers do not address each other as 'Dude' and 'Bro.' Mary FedExed them to Terry McAuliffe six times for spell checking."
"No speaky Esperanto, Commissioner! What's your angle?"
"You ran the story seven days before contacting document experts, and when you did, they were recruited from a methadone clinic. You spent $47,000 of network money on a schizophrenic man who said he could build a steam-powered word processor and a time machine."
I planted my hands on the desk, and leaned over into Thornburgh's face.
"I see where this is all going, Commissioner. You're in on it too! You're just going to sit there and take it when there is a criminal in high office who stole over 20 XBox systems from Texas National Guard!"
"That's enough, Rather," he growled. "Turn in your microphone. You're suspended."
"Too late Thornburgh. I'm suspending myself, at full pay."
I slammed the door behind me. It looked like this investigation would be strictly freelance.
I needed answers and I needed them fast. A little bird told me I smelled a rat, and when my bird smells rats, there's sure to be a red herring around. Herring... I thought. Like in lutefisk. Playing a hunch, I booked the next Northwest Unlimited for Minnesota.
It was raining cats and dogs when the train salamandered into Minneapolis Union Station. I ducked through the Pullman doors, hoping this was not another wild goose chase.
"Dan! Over here!"
It was my old pal Nick Coleman, whom I had telegraphed during a stopover in Toledo. A hardbitten Twin Cities newshound, Nick knew every sleazy nook and cranny in the sewer of the Minnesota blogging underworld.
"What've you got for me Nicky?"
"Seems you've made a few enemies in Swedetown, Danny boy. I thought we might pay a call on two charming fellows that go by the moniker of the Powerline Crew. They've been trying to get my goat for a long time."
"Sounds interesting," I said. "But let's get something to eat. I'm hungry as a horse-eating bear."
Hinderaker's eyes followed me as I circled his office, walking through the staccato shadows from the venetian blinds.
"For a lawyer and a banker, you two seem to know a lot about documents," I mused.
"It's part our business," he said, struggling at the ropes. "What are you driving at, gumshoe?"
"Shaddup, shyster!" screamed Nicky, swinging the back of his hand at Hinderaker's defiant face. He missed and tumbled backwards over the mahogany desk, lodging his head into a wastebasket.
"Oh nothing in particular," I answered lazily, picking up a trophy. "What's this? Bush Goon Squad Good Conduct Medal?"
"Time Magazine Blog of the Year," he huffed. This enraged Nicky, who picked up a typewriter and lunged screaming at Hinderaker. Blinded by the steel trashcan wedged on his head, he missed again and crashed through a nearby window.
The time for 'good cop' was over.
"Let's stop playing games," I shouted at his partner Johnson, pulling off his green eye shade. "We both know you chumps are on the take from the Bush boys. Do you expect me to believe you can afford that snazzy Lincoln V-12 on a banker's salary?"
Then it hit me... I was interrogating the wrong Johnson.
Next stop: Hollywood.
"Hello Charlie," I demurred, startling the excitable hophead. This was not my first run-in with Johnson, the Topanga Canyon jazz hepcat with a nasty habit for exotic typography.
"Go peddle your papers, Rather," he snarled, tuning his guitar in the empty club. "I didn't have nothin' to do with that Thornburgh report. Those flatfoots didn't even call me to testify."
"Honest Abe here says maybe he can refresh your memory," I said, stuffing a crisp fin into the breast pocket of his Pachuco zoot suit. "I hear reefer goofballs and bicycle tubes are pretty pricey out here in L.A. these days."
The new $5 green hankie did the trick, as the greasy Be Bop sideman started to sing like an animal of some sort that is capable of making musical tones.
"Natch, Jackson..." he paused, looking sideways for stray ears. "You didn't hear it from me, but there's this comic book cat, name of Jimmy Treacher. Word on the street is that he knows something about...the Maltese Space Unicorn."
It's a good thing Johnson finked on his blogworld crony when he did, because he immediately collapsed in laughter, kicking over his electrical guitar amplifier.
"Hollywood Information? Give me the number for a Mr. J. Treacher," I asked, peering from the phonebooth as Johnson continued rolling on the filthy jazz club floor in narcotic-fuel hysterics.
Another blogger, another dead end. Treacher in the insane asylum. Allahpundit missing. His goons Ace and Goldstein playing the big room at the Flamingo. I knew if I was ever going to get to the bottom of this mystery, it was time to stop fishing in the little fishponds. It was time to start fishing for the 500 pound gorillas. I just needed the right bananas to bait the hook.
At midnight I hopped in my Oldsmobile V8 and drove the barren, winding roads of Long Island to Idlewild airport. I caught the next Douglas DC-3 for Knoxville, Tennessee.
"Master Reynolds is unavailable at the moment, he is tending to his orchids," said the butler, slowly closing the massive oaken door of InstaManor. I stuck my size 10 two-tone Oxford cordovan in the jamb.
"Now that's a real funny story, sport," I smiled, gripping the door. "See, I read in the local newspapers that he converted his greenhouse to an aviary."
"That will be all, Chalmondley. Please show Inspector Rather in."
Reynolds. That languid, elegant voice concealed the psychotic criminal mind behind the entire Blog organization.
"May I pour you a cognac, Inspector?" he asked nonchalantly. "I've been testing new cameras all afternoon, and I've worked up a bit of thirst."
"No thanks, Professor. I've come for some answers about Mary Mapes."
"Oh dear, that sordid affair. Nasty business, that," he said, adjusting the lapels of his smoking jacket. "I'm afraid all the answers you seek are in the Thornberg report, Inspector. You should read it. Read the whole thing."
"Just one more question, Professor," I asked, as we slowly descended the mansion's sweeping marble staircase.
"You know I'm always ready to oblige your curiosity, Mr. Rather," he said, motioning for Chalmondley to retrieve my coat.
"What's orange, 100 yards long, and has 148 teeth?"
Reynolds' eyes narrowed.
"I fear I am unable to help you there, Mr. Rather. Do you have a conjecture?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," I said, putting on my fedora. "The front row at Neyland Stadium."
"Heh, Inspector," he snapped. "Heh, indeed. Now, I must bid you... good day."
Dragging a river is one of the most gruesome tasks of an investigator. Even if it's for garbage. Witnesses had seen Mary dump a large cardboard box into the Hudson near 53rd Street before she went missing, and I was determined to sift through the evidence no matter what the net dredged up. Mary knew the truth, and somewhere in murky waters was the clue that was finally going to rip the lid off the whole Bush coverup operation.
The first two net-loads that spilled onto the deck of the scow yielded little useable information - hair curlers, control-top granny panties, a DNC phone directory, a soggy copy of Microsoft Word for Dummies.
The third load: bingo.
"Hey, look at this Mr. Rather," said Cap'n Billy, the scow's jovial drunk skipper. "Some sort of note."
I held it to the moonlight.
Meet Me at Denton's, it read, with a mysterious signature: Wonkette.
The dame was sitting alone, in a circular booth, at the back of Denton's D.C. clip joint.
"The elusive heiress Ana Marie Cox, I presume. I thought you blog people stuck together."
"Things are not always as they seem, Inspector," she purred, sidling over to offer me a seat. "Some of us know you've been framed."
She pushed back her flaxen stringy strawberry blond mop, revealing a glistening pair of voluptuous Rubenesque cheekbones that protruded and heaved in the smoky red haze of the narrow tavern.
"Call me Dan," I said. I lit two Luckys and handed her one. "Now suppose you tell me a good story."
"A bedtime story?" she vamped, her cheekbones throbbing colyly. If she weren't so damned sexy - in a plain, pale mousy way - I'd swear those cheekbones look like they just went fifteen rounds against Willie Pep. "Perhaps you'd like to hear one from my extensive collection of 18th Century ribald butt-love tales."
"Slow down, doll. I'll be up to see your etchings soon enough. I need to know the lowdown on the Mapes caper. And how about putting a little powder on those cheekbones? The glare is killing me."
"Okay, Dan," she cooed. "Ever hear the term fake but accurate?"
Fake... but accurate. Now we were getting somewhere.
"Coxie," I murmurred, "This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship."