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Authors: Loren D. Estleman

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective

The Glass Highway

BOOK: The Glass Highway
4.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Loren D. Estleman

To Bob Aeillo: “He had . . . that look of

discipline you find in the best ones.”






























A Biography of Loren D. Estleman


to the parking lot guard, who leaned out of his booth for a closer look, then found my name on a list attached to a clipboard and waved me on through. He was wearing a shiny black poncho and a stormtrooper’s cap wrapped in clear plastic. The weatherman was predicting rain for Christmas. I drove around a sprawling brick building and parked in the vice president’s space on the theory that if he wasn’t in by 11:30
he wasn’t coming.

My transportation that year was a three-year-old Oldsmobile Omega, silver-gray, with a speedometer that topped off at eighty, but that was just for traffic checks. The previous owner had used it to run whiskey in Tennessee and wouldn’t be needing it for the next ten to fifteen years. My old Cutlass had rolled over and died around 111,000 miles. I was still going last time I checked.

I stepped from a light mist through glass doors into a reception area the size of the maid’s bathroom, with orange carpeting and the television station’s call letters repeated many times in tasteful gold on brown wallpaper. Holiday music crept in guiltily through a hidden speaker. The guard at the desk, a white-haired marine drill sergeant with glasses and a hearing aid, ran suspicious eyes over me from hat to rubbers and asked for two pieces of identification.

“I’m here to see someone, not cash a check,” I said.

He repeated the request deadpan, holding out a leathery palm. I filled it. He read the fine print on the photostat of my investigator’s license, then checked the picture on my driver’s license against the pores on my face. “You got a credit card?”

I pointed at the first item and said, “You must be kidding.”

“Okay.” He gave them back. “We got to be careful. Last month some nut strolled in lugging a bomb in his briefcase.”

“Was his name Marshall McLuhan?” That bought a blank stare. “Skip it,” I said. “You like that music?”

“What music?” He picked up a chocolate telephone, gave my name to someone on the other end, said “Okay” again, and hung up. “Someone’ll be out in a minute.” He interested himself in a magazine with a girl on the cover in a black leather jacket and nothing else.

It was more like five minutes. I spent them reading the wallpaper. Then a little blonde of about twenty-two, with a boy’s haircut and green stuff on her eyelids, appeared through a square arch and said, “Mr. Walker? Follow me, please.” She was wearing a yellow pantsuit, which was an improvement over the uniforms I’d been looking at but not much.

We went down a couple of hallways and through a door with an unlit red bulb mounted over it. The room beyond was cavernous, with a gray concrete floor under tangled cable and bright lights glaring down on a manmade oasis against the back wall. There, a blue semicircular counter stood on a blue dais in front of blue canvas stretched on a frame. A middle-aged man with platinum hair sat shuffling typewritten sheets on an upholstered cocktail stool behind the counter. His face was broad, tan, and good-looking in the same way that department store dummies are pleasant to look at, and he was wearing a tan suit tailored by a divinity. Next to him, also shuffling papers, sat a woman in her forties got up like a Barbie doll in blond wig and white ruffled blouse.

The set had a cotton-candy look, tethered to reality by a Styrofoam coffee cup at the man’s left elbow and a stagehand in baggy gray work clothes leaning on the counter talking to the Barbie doll.

“Mr. Broderick’s about to anchor the noon report,” whispered my little blonde, and indicated three rows of folding metal chairs set up behind the mammoth caster-mounted cameras. “If you’ll sit down he’ll be with you in a half hour. Please be quiet while the cameras are rolling.”

I took a seat in the back row among a group of college journalism students, which made me feel a little younger than the Fisher Building. So far no one had offered to take my hat and coat.

The floor manager, black-bearded and in sport shirt, jeans, and headset, asked for silence and started the countdown. Broderick, the platinum-haired newscaster, drained his cup and placed it outside camera range. Someone hit the doomsday music and it was showtime.

Broderick opened with an airline disaster in Seattle, then kicked it over to Barbie, who narrated a film showing the mayor being greeted by the President at the White House before a conference on the plight of the cities, which gave Broderick a chance to report on a clean-up campaign conducted in the Cass Corridor by a group of local Detroit youngsters during the off season in armed robberies. After Barbie did a timely story on Salvation Army Santas—you know the one—Broderick dropped his voice three octaves to describe a little boy’s drowning death under the ice in Lake St. Clair. Then he exchanged jokes with the weatherman, who had more rain coming in from Wisconsin and a radar map to prove it in his little blue set across the studio. He called himself a meteorologist.

It was a hell of a show.

When the woman finished putting the Pistons’ last basketball game out of its misery, Broderick signed off, waited for the lights to come down, then dumped the papers he’d just reshuffled into a wastebasket behind the counter. Barbie told everyone good-bye and left with the stagehand. She was wearing faded jeans with the frilly blouse. The things you miss when you’re planted in front of the TV set.

“Nice work, Sandy,” the floor manager told Broderick. “Can you come in an hour early tonight? We got promos to shoot.”

“You want shirtsleeves or jacket?” Broderick was standing, mopping make-up off his face with a wad of tissue.

“Shirtsleeves, tie loosened. Like you’re working on a story or something; you know the routine.”

“I never loosen my tie.”

“Must look funny in the shower. Oh, and Ray said to tell you not to touch the typewriter while we’re shooting. Somebody in the newsroom claimed you broke it last time.”

“What do I know from typewriters?” complained the newscaster. “I studied piano.”

The little blonde approached Broderick and said something, pointing in my direction. He glanced at me, nodded, and motioned me over. Normally I wouldn’t have gone, but I was glad to get off the hard seat.

“Amos Walker?” He clasped my hand firmly. “Sorry I had to call you like a dog, but if those kids thought I was coming over to talk to them I’d never get away.”

“Just don’t whistle,” I said.

“What did you think of the show?”

“The newspapers would have to go some to beat it. For starters they can put the comics on the front page.”

The blonde giggled, reminding him she was there. He moved his shoulders uneasily. “We’ll talk in my office. They gave me one, Lord knows why.”

“Something tells me you don’t write your own copy.” We were walking now, leaving the girl behind. I was watching my feet to avoid tripping over cables.

He shook his head. “I hear some TV newsmen do, but I’ve never met one. God doesn’t give out good looks, a deep voice,
brains that often. If you tell anyone I said that I’ll deny it.”

“They won’t hear it from me.”

His office had a spacious airiness that was completely spoiled when we walked in. Although it was large enough to contain much more, it had a desk, a sofa, and a steel bookcase stuffed with review copies of hardcover books. The station didn’t do book reviews. A window looked out on the low buildings and latticework overpasses of suburban Detroit, giving my host as true a picture of the city as Hitler’s bunker offered of World War II. I shucked the outerwear and we took up the classic positions, he on his side of the desk, I on mine. The desk was chromium and pressed sawdust under a plastic woodgrain veneer, without drawers or front or side panels. It had legs.

Sandy Broderick looked older and slimmer when he wasn’t under studio lights. His cheeks were hollow and scored. The tan was real, not just make-up, but it was the kind you get in those tanning places that charge by the hour for something you can get from the sun all day for free if you’re willing to wait for summer. He had a country club build under the jacket. At two and a half yards a day plus expenses, I seemed well within his budget.

“I lunch with Barry Stackpole from the
” he told me. “Barry says you can be counted on to work twenty-five hours for twenty-four hours’ pay and not tell anyone about it who shouldn’t be told.”

“Barry’s a bright guy,” I said.

“He also says you can sometimes be counted on to talk yourself into more trouble than you can climb out of without artillery support.”

“What’s he know?”

“I’m not concerned with what he said. What does concern me is how much trouble you have to be in before you use me to bail you out.”

I set fire to a Winston and dropped the match, still burning, into a copper ashtray on the desk. “Why don’t you tell me what the job is, and then I’ll tell you how likely I am to get into a hole over it and how deep.”

He gave his head another shake. His hair was sprayed hard as a carp and didn’t move. I wondered if the color was real. “If I tell you, it’d be the same as hiring you. What about references?”

“Don’t have any.”

He arched his eyebrows the way he had when the weatherman told him it was as miserable out as Scrooge’s disposition. I said, “Not the kind you can use, judges and cops and like that. I run a one-man agency as yet innocent of an urgent call from the bench, and cops and P.I.’s are natural enemies. They’d give me a good recommendation like I’d wrestle a skunk. There’s a lieutenant in Homicide who might be called a friend if you stretch the term till it creaks, but we generally try to stay out of each other’s back pockets. I’ll stand on what Barry says, the first part anyway.”

I waited, smoking and flicking ash into the tray. Traffic hummed past on the Lodge. It was still misting out, and gray as old underwear. At length Broderick stirred and placed his forearms on the desk’s glossy top. His eyes searched mine—pale, colorless eyes that looked blue on camera.

“It’s my son, Walker,” he said. “I want you to find Bud for me while he’s still alive.”

BOOK: The Glass Highway
4.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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