It was a blustery March morning in Manhattan. I hiked up the collar on my trenchcoat and stepped out into a fresh sheet of snow that had fallen in front of the seedy West 80's flop house I call home. Pretty stuff, that snow. But just below the surface it can conceal something icy, something treacherous. Something that can make your Florsheims lose their grip, set your arms and legs windmilling spastically, cause you to make a violent, jarring, assplant into a frigid sidewalk filth-slushee. And in my line of business it's all part of a day's work.
My name is Rather. And I'm a dick.
I wiped off the seat of my coat and got in my car. After a few groans, the starter eventually coaxed the snow-covered Hudson Eight coupe to life and I wrestled it through morning traffic down Central Park West. I fishtailed into the concrete canyon of West 57th, sideswiping a supicious looking Hindu and his pretzel cart. What was he yelling? I didn't have time to think about that now. I was due at Black Rock and Captain Moonves would have bigger pretzels for me to investigate.
I screeched to a halt in front of Black Rock, but something seemed different... amiss. A gleaming black Lincoln was occupying my reserved parking place. I double parked the Hudson and walked into the CBS security desk to complain.
"Morning, Fremont," I said to the hulking guard. He was wearing an odd, nervous expression. "Could you call a tow truck? Some jamoke skizzed my jalopy slot."
"Uh, sorry, Mister Rather, it's been, um, reassigned."
"What are you talking about, Fremont?" I snapped. "Look out there -- it's clearly marked 'Reserved for CBS News Anchor.'"
"Like I said, Inspector. It's been... reassigned." He stared straight ahead.
I glared at him in disbelief for a moment. "Nuts to this," I growled, "I'm taking this up with Building Services."
I strode past the security desk, but Fremont grabbed my arm, roughly. "Sorry Mister Rather, authorized personnel only."
"What the... what's going on here?" I yelled. I felt the goon's stubby fingers clamping down through my trenchcoat. "Here's my badge, you filthy ape -- now you call up Moonves and straighten this out!"
He yanked on the badge, snapping from its lanyard. "Sorry Mister Rather, I have to take this. Direct orders from Captain Moonves himself."
I didn't have time to think. I instinctively reached inside my garbadine lapel with my free hand and wrestled Black Nellie, my trusty Sony FV-100 micophone, free of her shoulder holster. She was a cheap 300 ohm model, but Nellie was deadly in close-range interviews -- like an early encounter I had with the Nixon gang (Dan Rather #1: The Phantom CReEPs). My right thumb switched her safety off, but before I could wheel around Fremont tackled me to the floor. He stomped my hand with his boot heel and kicked Nellie skittering across the lobby marble.
"I'm really sorry, Inspector, there's nothing I can do," he said. "I'm supposed to escort you out of the building and hand you your personal effects."
"There's got to be some sort of mistake," I said, my mind reeling as the goon chicken-winged my arms behind my back. "Let me talk to Andy Heyward, or Josh Howard... or Mary Mapes! They can vouch for me!"
He tossed me outside and I landed face-first into another sidewalk slushee. When I got to my knees I saw a tow truck pulling my Hudson down West 57th, its bumper spraying sparks as it bounced through the potholes. I heard a crash and looked to my side and saw a cardboard box on the sidewalk, containing my personal effects from 35 years on the Black Rock force: my network citation, my Peabody Award, my Successories teamwork poster. I turned around and saw the sign in the CBS gift shop -- "Clearance Sale! All Dan Rather Merchandise, 80% Off."
I was gasping, my mind started to race... what had just happened? Who was pulling the strings? Where is the nearest dry cleaner? Then it struck me -- those Blog Boys must have infiltrated Black Rock security.
I entered the gift shop and bought a 99c CBS News coffee cup and a $2.99 60 Minutes Wednesday t-shirt. Then I headed for Grand Central Station.
I stared blankly out the window, deep in thought, as the Zephyr raced westward toward L.A. The questions kept pouring out of my mind like the cheap rotgut at a Bill Moyers PBS fundraiser. Were the Blog Boys planning another fake-but-true document heist? Was Fat Man Rove laying another ingenious forgery trap? Why were all those people outside the train window waving with one finger? I would have my answers soon enough, and I knew where to get them.
When the train pulled into L.A. Union Station, I grabbed a cable car for Los Feliz and a little jazz dive called "The Proportional Font." I had a surprise date with a certain zoot suit hepcat bloghopper, name of Charlie Johnson, and I was packing a .38 caliber corsage. I had tangled with this dangerous jazzbo before (Dan Rather #31: My Teleprompter is Deadly) and thought I'd bring a little insurance in case he went into one of his narcotic reefer-pill laughing fits.
When I entered the club it was empty, save for a bored bartender.
"What'll it be, Mac?" he snarled in a low grunt, casually wiping a glass.
"Shot of Four Roses and an answer," I said, laying a crisp fin on the bar. "I'm looking for a pachuco bebop stringplucker, goes by Charlie Johnson."
"Sorry Mac, I ain't heard or seen nobody like that."
He went to retreive the fin, but I slammed my hand on top of it. "That's funny," I said. "That sure looks like his Schwinn Black Phantom chained out front."
"What am I, Hedda Hopper?" he glared. "I don't know nothin' about nobody. Now drink your hooch and beat it before I hail a flatfoot."
I was reaching for my gat when I heard the familiar voice of Johnson on the empty stage. "It's like, cool, Jackson. Put away the heater Daddy-O. You wanna gas, like, I'm all ears."
"Can the swing lingo, Charlie. You're gonna play a little number for me called 'the CBS Security Blues,' if you catch my glissando."
"Sounds like you finally got dropped from the CBS Hit Parade, Daddy-O," laughed Johnson, noodling a riff on his electric Silvertone.
"Don't play coy with me, hipster!" I said, flashing the barrel of the heater. "You know who's behind the security heist! You know what Times New Roman is! And you're gonna tell me!"
I looked stage left and squinted. The kleig lights were bouncing of the bush hat of Yobbo Blair, the maniacal Australian media hit man. His well-worn boomerang bore a notch for each of his media career-kills, and word on the street was that he fact-checked news articles... just for the sadistic "fun."
"G'day, Inspecta Retha," he said. "I'm like a shot fox ya lobbed in, cobba, so drop the rod and let's have us a piss."
I had no idea what he was talking about, but that blood-caked boomerang in his hand was doing all the translating. I toyed with the hammer on the .38 when I heard another familiar voice.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't ol' Gumshoe Dan. I can't say that it isn't a pleasure, because it isn't."
It was Johnson's old crony Simon, the Hollywood whodunit Hebrew -- a meshugganah mystery mensch who had every studio mogul in Tinseltown on his speed dial. His razor-edge fedora was trained straight at my jugular.
"Come on fellas," I smiled. "Three-on-one is blogger's fun. Why don't we sit down, all friendly-like, and discuss this caper over a bottle of gin? Maybe you can option the screenplay, Rog."
"Nix, Peepers," said Simon. "I write mysteries, not clown routines."
My trip to L.A. had seen more frozen dead ends than the aluminum bleachers at Lambeau Field, so I decided catch the next Ford Tri-Motor to the Blogosphere's sleazy Scandanavian red light district -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twin Cities were rapidly becoming known as the Sin Cities among unlicensed news hounds, and there were rumors that its local journalism vice squad was on the take from the notorious Northern Alliance syndicate.
Whatever the reason, Minneapolis had become a wild west Lutheran frontier outpost for the creme de la scum of unregulated internet opinion traffickers. I decided to pay a return call on two of the town's infosleaze kingpins, Hindrocket Hinderaker and Big Trunk Johnson from the Power Line Crew. I packed my gat again, remembering how they hospitalized my old pal Nicky Coleman during my last visit (Dan Rather #32, Farewell My Producer).
Luckily, the tubby guard at Hinderaker's bank was asleep, and I was able to quietly duckwalk past him to the elevator bank. When I arrived at his penthouse offices, Hinderaker and Johnson were sharing a nasty chuckle, as they added another cup into their birdseye maple trophy case.
"I thought I smelled some fried MSM bacon," laughed Johnson. "Why don't you move along to to the Old Discredited Anchorman's Home, Rather? We've got a testimonial dinner tonight."
"Yeah, Danno, it's a little invite-only shindig called Blog of the Year," sneered Hinderaker. "Black tie, class all the way. Now scram, because we're due at Gingiss for a tux fitting."
"Why you filthy, non-journalism degreed..."
Something snapped, and I ran headlong across Hinderaker's sumptuous oriental rug, ready to unleash my fury on the two laughing blog thugs. I soon found out that the carpet was not fixed to the polished parquet underneath, and I went sliding across the room and slammed into a bookcase. I heard birds as a 16-pound volume of the U.S. Banking Code beaned me hard on the head. Momentarily dazed, I stumbled backward, flipping over Hinderaker's desk and lodging my head in his deadly trashcan.
"Ha ha! The funny man is funny."
I was blinded by the trashcan, but I knew that pipsqueak voice anywhere. It was Gnat, Fargo Jimmy's pintsized gun moll.
"I'm sorry Mister Rather, Professor Reynolds has left specific instructions that he is not to be disturbed while he grades examinations," sniffed Chalmondeley, InstaManor's imperious butler. "Perhaps the next time you are in Knoxville, you can arrange an appointment."
"I've had enough with your softshoe act, penguin," I glared. You go tell Professor Evil I got a new class for him to teach -- it's called Who Framed Dan Rather 101, and I'm the star pupil."
Chalmondeley let out an exasperated sigh. "I will relay your request to the Professor. Please wait here, and I shall return anon." He closed the massive oaken door in my face.
With Chalmondeley safely inside, I finally had my chance. I quickly flitted between the massive sculpted topiary animals on InstaManor's East lawn, working my way through a hedgrow maze and finally down an embankment to InstaLake. I hotwired one of its mahogany Chris Craft speedboats and motored across. I had finally reached Reynold's back patio.
"Inspector Rather! What a delightful surprise! Congratulations on your retirement."
Reynolds was sunning himself on the marble deck, accompanied by a chef cooking something on a gleaming outdoor range.
"May I offer you a Mimoso, inspector?" he asked, nonchalantly adjusting the sun reflector on his neck. "I find it the perfect aperitif for Jean-Claude's delicious Carribean lobster bisque."
"No thanks, I don't drink and speedboat. I came here for answers, Professor."
"Ah yes," he said, smiling with a hint of menace. "The Socratic method."
"Riddle me this," I said, bluntly, "how does a bunch of untrained jamokes with keyboards pull off the biggest faked unfake reverse forgery scam in history, frame America's top detective, and then infiltrate the security at his agency?"
"Oh, heh heh heh, Mister Rather, how very droll," he laughed. "Do you actually still believe it is bloggers who are to blame for your problems? Bush? I'm sorry, but I believe the real cause of your misery is another strange little fellow from Texas."
Texas... I think I knew what he meant.
"Thanks for the tip, Reynolds," I said. "Now I've got some information for you."
"What is it, Inspector?"
"How do you make Tennessee cookies?"
"Oh, a recipe! Quick, Jean-Claude, write this down."
"Put them in the Sugar Bowl and pound them for sixty minutes."
"Heh, Inspector," snarled Reynolds as I jumped into the speedboat. "Heh indeed."
The door to the abandoned Texas Air National Guard office building moaned as I edged it open. My heart was pounding wildly, because I knew I was moments from the answer -- the answer that tied all the loose ends to the Bush- AWOL- Guard- Mapes- Burkett - Ramirez- Rove - blogs - Heyward - font - signature - Thornburgh - reprimand - parking place - slushee caper. I craved the answers, but somehow feared them. Who was the mysterious Texan who was behind the curtain?
The room was empty, save for a single swivel chair facing away from me.
"Hello Dan," he said. That voice... that singsong croaking... no, not...
The chair swung around. Cronkite was drumming his fingers maniacally, his eyes burning with a fiery glee.
"Did you enjoy my little practical joke?" he laughed in an evil avuncular chuckle. "It took some planning, I'll grant you that."
"You see Dan, when I left the network in '84, I had quite a legacy... 'Uncle Walter,' the Tiffany anchorman, Mr. Nielsen, the most trusted man in America," he said, coldly.
"It's something I wasn't quite prepared to, well, let's say, let go of," he said, casually lighting a pipe as he pulled a nickel-plated revolver from his coat. "So I had a few old network buddies dream up a few surprises for you."
"CBS is still my network, Dan. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As for you, it's time for the Big Snooze."
His eyes narrowed.
"And that's the way it is."