The following is an excerpt from A Special Detail: The Untold Story of a Reporter’s Suspicious Death, a work of fiction that the Oshkosh Independent is presenting in serial form. If you can’t wait to get to the end or would like to read the story in book form, it is available on Amazon. Chapter 7 will appear Oct. 15.
Frank twirled the card around through his fingers and then slipped it into his wallet, which he then slipped into his pants.
He had his witness, not some criminal from the street, but a soldier, a war hero home from a real shooting war. Although he didn’t know Lonnie Greene’s current whereabouts, Frank wasn’t worried. He figured he was a good enough bloodhound to track him down.
A name, his military unit—how hard could this be? All he would need to do is head home for a quick shower and shave and then show up to the Star’s newsroom and start making his calls.
As he walked past the city desk, he called out: “I got something good yesterday over on Esquire Street. Let me just make a call or two, and I will tell you all about it. I’ll just be over at my desk, smilin’-n-dialin’, smilin’-n-dialin’.”
A reporter makes morning phone calls the way a fishermen sets out bait. You don’t really expect any reaction right away, but the sooner you get your lines in the water, the sooner you might catch something.
Frank remembered that Sgt. Greene had said he was in the Third Ranger Battalion based at Fort Benning, Georgia. Long-distance directory assistance would get him the main number for the base and from there he would have the base switchboard patch him through. And if Sgt. Greene was still en route to Georgia, there would be a message waiting for him when he arrived.
“Fort Benning Post Locator.”
“Yes, I am trying to find a Sergeant Lonnie, I mean, Lorenzo Greene. Master Sergeant Lorenzo Greene. G-r-e-e-n-e.”
“One moment please.”
A brief pause.
“I’m sorry, sir. I have no one by that name.”
“Are you sure? Could you check under Lonnie, Lonnie Greene? Or maybe there’s no E at the end of Greene?”
“Checking … checking. I’m sorry, sir, no one by that name. Not at Fort Benning.”
“How about the Rangers? Can you check the Ranger battalions?”
“Sir, my listings cover all personnel assigned to base. I have no Sgt. Lorenzo Greene.”
“OK, maybe I got the first name wrong. Do you have any other folk with a first name that starts with an ‘L.’”
“Sir, I can give you a Larry Greene, a Lawrence Greene, a Lucius Greene, a Luke Greene…. There are quite a few.”
As Frank hung up the phone, he looked up to see the city editor approaching.
“So whaddya got, Frank?”
Well, aside from a slight throb at the base of his neck brought on by too much malt liquor and a vague uneasiness about what exactly had happened before he woke up alone on a foldout sofa in an empty apartment, Frank did not have very much at the moment.
“I have got a source who’s going to turn this story around,” Frank said with a bright directness that he sometimes employed the way a German shepherd uses its growl, a warning not to get too close.
“Great. Speak to me. Tell me more.”
The city editor liked Frank well enough. He came to work, on time, pressed and neat. That was more than one could say for most of the white reporters. But still there were doubts, about how well Frank would fit in and whether he could really do the job.
“Well, I guess what I should say, just to be perfectly clear about this, is that I had a long interview last night, I mean, yesterday afternoon, with a source who is prepared to, shall we day, dispute the cop’s account. In a major way.”
Terrific, the city editor thought. Angleton goes out and finds some old black wino drinking Boone’s Farm out of a paper bag, and he thinks that’s going to be enough to challenge a decorated member of the city’s finest.
“Really, who’s your source?”
“He’s a good source, a straight-shooter, you might say.”
“Somebody who lives in that neighborhood?”
“Used to, used to. But now he has moved on.”
“Fort Benning, Georgia, where he is employed as a master sergeant in the Third Ranger Battalion.”
Frank watched with gratification as the editor’s forehead snapped back, as if he has just taken a cuffing blow along the brow line.
“That so? Well write up what you got, and we’ll go from there. I look forward to seeing your notes.”
As the editor turned to go, Frank knew he had better speak up. “I should say one more thing about my source.”
“Well, what he gave me, he gave me off the record.”
“Well, you should know better. That’s not worth a crap.”
“But I think I can get him to go on the record. I just need a little time.”
It was a particularly acute mix of condescension and self-satisfaction that radiated from the editor’s face. “Right,” was all he said, as he went back to his office.
A story that just a few minutes ago looked like it was going to be so easy to do that it would write itself had evaporated before Frank’s eyes. Not only was the story disappearing, but so was his hope of building a career at the Star.
“It is at times like these that we must turn to the Spirit, for there is no salvation in the flesh,” was one of his father’s favorite lines, and for some reason it popped into his head. Wrong again, Dad, wrong again, Frank thought to himself.
Reaching into his wallet, he pulled out the Special Detail business card, and dialed the number.
Frank insisted to me that this was his first use of paid services, but his description of closing the deal over the phone in a matter of minutes makes me think he was more experienced than he let on. Saying they were new to something that they had done many times before was something that a number of men in the Star newsroom were good at.
Take Tom Gibson, photographer. He had a walnut for a nose perched above a Charlie Chaplin moustache. Throw in a narrow set of shoulders resting atop his spindly rib cage, and Tom was just plain unattractive physically. And he woke up every morning with the mistaken impression that among the endowments he had received from God was a sense of humor.
His stock in trade was stupid puns or lame references to popular culture, especially movies and Top 40 hits. No matter how many times nobody laughed, Tom kept coming back for more.
One day Tom approached my cubicle, and asked if he could show me something.
Slipping open a manila folder, he presented me with a series of black-and-white studies of a young, long-haired woman, with sensitive eyes staring intently into the middle distance. I didn’t know how to react; I was speechless. The woman appeared in a variety of poses, left profile, right, head-on, glancing over her shoulder. The pictures were quite beautiful, and touching. But there was something wrong.
The pictures were of me. For some weeks, apparently, Tom had been snapping off shots from various angles around the newsroom. What Tom had done was uncool and made me uncomfortable at first, but I couldn’t help returning to the photographs, which were extremely flattering. I had to admit I was surprised, and impressed, at his ability.
Whatever loathsomeness attached to his physical presence, this man had a gift when he lifted the body of a camera up to horizontal, cradled the lens in his hand, and pressed the shutter release.
Over the next several days, I looked for an excuse to find my way to Tom’s office on the floor below the newsroom. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to confront him, or thank him, or ask him to do more, but I was sure that I needed to say something.
As he made his way to Esquire Street, Frank had no such confusion in his mind. He knew what he needed to get, the real name of the soldier he had been talking with. He had placed his order for Jammy, who was the one who seemed to be the most affectionate around Sgt. Greene, or whatever his real name was. She wasn’t really Frank’s type, thick in the thighs and the behind, and much too dark-skinned for this liking. But if any one of those girls knew who Sgt. Greene really was, she would be the one.
“Imagine my surprise,” Frank would later recount, “when the door to that apartment opened, and there she was again—Farrah again, and very naked again.”
This time she grabbed Frank by the wrist and drew him into the room, using her other arm to close the door behind him. She then slid both arms around Frank’s waist and pulled him tight against her body.
“I ain’t no officer, bit I expect my soldiers to salute,” she whispered, as she slid her head down Frank’s chest and slipped to her knees. As she started to unbuckle’s Frank’s pants, he grabbed her by the wrists.
“Stop it. I mean, stop it, please.”
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like it like that?”
“What I like is Jammy. I paid for Jammy.”
“I can be jammy for you. I’m jammy right now.”
“No, I mean the big black girl who was here last night. The one whose name is Jammy.”
The blonde sat back on her haunches and looked up at Frank. “Nobody uses their real name in this business, mister. She may have been Jammy yesterday, and I may have been Candy. But when the money’s gone or the time runs out, the lights come on, and nothing is ever the same.”
“But what about the soldier who was here yesterday? He called himself Lonnie Greene.”
“Look, mister, I don’t know who he was or what he was. He left his credit card number when he called the office, and that’s about all I really care about.”
Frank buckled his belt, and hiked his pants back up over his hips. “I’m sorry. There has been a misunderstanding,” he said to the woman, still on her knees, as he slipped out the door.
On the way back to the newsroom, Frank ran through his options. The Star had a bureau in Washington with a big-foot Pentagon correspondent. Maybe he could help track down the missing sergeant.
Frank immediately thought better of the idea. He had never met Mr. Washington Bigshot, and chances were that as soon as their phone call ended, there would be another one—this time from Washington to the city room, spilling the beans that Frank was chasing after a phantom source.
But what if Frank didn’t let on what he didn’t know? What if he just asked for some assistance in getting some background information about the military, about the Third Ranger Battalion? Frank could kick himself for not noticing that the soldier had taken the nameplate off his shirt pocket. That should have made him suspicious. But he clearly remembered the sergeant stripes and the “3D RANGER BN” sleeve insignia, and that’s what he would have to go on.
The Pentagon correspondent’s name was Lyle, and he was surprisingly helpful when Frank connected by phone. After 15 minutes or so of pretending that he was interested in the history of the Rangers, Frank got closer to the point, by mentioning casually that he was trying to track down someone he had met in a bar who said he was a sergeant in the Rangers.
“A black sergeant in the Rangers? That’s pretty unusual. There are hardly any minorities in special forces,” Lyle commented. Reporters could be guarded and even deceptive when they were working on a story that wasn’t finished. But at times like this, they felt flattered when someone seemed to think they had special knowledge.
Lyle had written a piece about the lack of minorities in the military’s elite units like the SEALs and Green Berets, and it had gotten some notice, a mention in the Congressional Record and even a couple of subcommittee hearings in the House. “I did an article about this last year. I guess before you got here. I bet your source would really stand out. All you would have to do is go down to Fort Benning to see what I mean.”
A Special Detail is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental and completely unintentional.