Deadline News: An excerpt from my Memoir

Crime sold newspapers, and death sold newspapers, and he was in the business of selling newspapers, and I needed a police story.

Mayhem was good.

Murder was better.

“We always have room on the front page for police stories,” Joe Titus said.

He was an editor.

He had worked the cop shop years ago. He liked the blood, the dirt, and the grime of it all, and he knew that crime sold newspapers, and death sold newspapers, and he was in the business of selling newspapers.

If crime and death somehow managed to coexist in the same news story, then Titus was on top of the world.

What he really liked was the re-writes.

“Re-writes,” he said, “add the polish and make a good story fairly sing.”

He should know. Joe Titus did all of the re-writes.

He could turn a vagrant found sleeping on the side of the road with a scratch on his neck into a mysterious stranger thrown into a ditch by unknown assailants and left to die with his throat slashed.

Stay tuned. The readers stayed tuned. The odds were against us ever writing anything about the mysterious stranger again. By the final deadline, he was just a stranger and would stay that way.

He hadn’t died. Hospital released him with a couple of stitches hidden by a Band-Aid. No one slashed his neck. He fell on a broken beer bottle. Yes, the beer was all gone.

New story at seven o’clock.

Old story by eight o’clock.

What else you got?

It was nine o’clock, and Titus had already called three times.

“Anything happening?” he asked.

“Not yet.”

“Think it will?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Have you read the police reports?” he asked.

“Nothing there.”

“Read them again.”

I read them again.

An old man shot at his wife.

He missed.

Two cars collided near TCU.

Nobody hurt.

A liquor store lost two boxes of whiskey.

No robbery.

No burglary.

No gun.

Shoplifting didn’t count.

The police radio in our pressroom was quiet.

Nothing but static.

Even the fire radio was running in neutral.

I wandered down to the auto theft division.

Car thefts weren’t news.

But I liked the lieutenant.

He was tall, ramrod straight, a little too heavy with hair turning from gray to white, and he was nearing retirement.

He had once walked a beat. He had patrolled the dark streets at night. He had solved his share of armed robbery cases, even served for years unraveling homicides.

That was then.

This was now.

He was chained to a desk and didn’t like it. He was always looking for someone to talk to.

Today, I was it.

We had chatted for twenty minutes or so when a grandmotherly little woman walked into the station with tears streaming down her face.

She wasn’t hurt. She was mad. Her shoulders were trembling.

“What’s wrong, little lady?” the lieutenant said.

If nothing else, he knew how to listen. He had dried a few tears in his time.

Her husband was no good, the little lady said.

He had been out drinking all night, she said.

He came home angry, she said.

He had lost their rent money in a poker game, she said.

He slapped her, she said.

Then he hit her hard and blooded her lip, she said.

I looked. The lip was swollen and patched with hints of dried blood.

“What am I gonna do with a man that treats me like that?” she asked.

The lieutenant grinned. “If it was me,” he said softly, “I would kill the sonuvabitch.”

He laughed. He was a good kidder. He was still laughing when the little lady walked out of the room.

I saw her two hours later when she walked back to his desk.

I followed along behind her.

She was smiling now. Not laughing. But smiling.

She placed a .38 caliber pistol on the lieutenant’s desk and sat down beside him. “I did what you told me to,” she said softly. “What am I supposed to do now?”

The lieutenant was no longer laughing.

I slipped out of the room, found a pay phone around the corner, away from the other reporters, and called Joe Titus.

“You still need a police story today?” I asked.

“I do,” he said.

I grinned.

“I got one,” I said.

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