New Holland, New York
Monday, April 3, 1961
My day begins over a hard roll and coffee with my best friend in the world, Ron “Fadge” Fiorello, the proprietor of the soda shop across the street from my apartment. He’s usually late opening up the store, rolling up to the curb in his ’57 Nash Ambassador after eight thirty. Unshaven and (sometimes) unwashed, he trundles across the seat to the passenger’s side door like a walrus undulating across an ice floe, the car rocking on its struts beneath him. The driver’s door is dented shut, so he always dismounts from the right-hand side. Barely four years old, the car is a disgrace. From the day he drove it off Bob Franks’ Hudson-Nash lot on Division Street, Fadge has abused it through neglect of maintenance, willful flaunting of the laws of physics, and a demolition-derby style of driving.
After breakfast and a review of the New York papers, I head downtown to the New Holland Republic offices on Main Street to begin my nine hours of writing stories on lost cats, Knights of Columbus banquets, and the occasional murder. Today I plan on knocking my editor for a loop with the photographs and scoop I got Sunday afternoon concerning a body that turned up dead in the quarry east of town. The suave and avuncular Charlie Reese is the dear man who took a chance on a girl reporter and hired me three years ago, and I’m forever grateful to him for it.
I feel less kindly toward Artie Short, the paper’s publisher, who hates the idea of a woman in the workplace, and behind the wheel for that matter. He can’t stand the sight of me, but has to hold his nose and publish my stories anyway. Then there’s his strutting ass of a son-in-law George Walsh. Georgie Porgie, as I’ve been known to call him, considers himself the senior reporter on staff, but his best articles have all been lifted from my desk drawer. I exact my revenge in small but satisfying ways: breaking the nibs off his obsessively sharpened pencils when he leaves his desk, switching the keys on his typewriter (he’s never been able to memorize the keyboard), or simply taping a “kick me” sign to his back. Not very subtle, but a classic.
After lunch at the Wolfson’s Department Store lunch counter with my assistant, Norma Geary, I pay a visit to the widow of Edgar Tolliver, the sixty-six-year-old man discovered in the quarry the day before. Margaret Tolliver is disconsolate, crushed, doesn’t know where to look, what to do, or how she’ll manage now that the only man she’s ever loved is gone. And she has no idea who would want to bludgeon him and dump his body into the shallow water at the bottom of the pit. I wish there were something I could do to help her. This part of my job is heartrending, but, as I continuously remind myself, not as agonizing as it is for the victims’ loved ones left behind. In moments like this, I draw on my own losses, which have been considerable, and I find the strength to hold a mother’s hand or comfort a grieving wife. It has nothing to do with my job.
I return to the Republic offices at four and write a couple of short pieces for tomorrow’s edition: one on the scourge of teenagers kicking out street lamps and another on the new chairwoman of the local chapter of the March of Dimes. As I prepare to leave for the day, Norma Geary appears at my side, glances around to make sure George Walsh is nowhere in sight, then drops an old article on my desk. Having dug the story out of the archives on her own, she gives me a knowing look, arching her right eyebrow. The story details the arrest of Edgar Tolliver on a moral’s charge in 1936. Norma is a marvel.
Once home, I kick off my heels and heat up a Swanson’s turkey dinner. I pour myself a whiskey and plop down on the sofa with three days’ worth of crosswords for company. The turkey dinner burns as I finish the second puzzle (and whiskey), so I settle for a supper of olives, saltines, and an end of cheese. Then another whiskey and another until I’m awakened by the pealing telephone. The voice on the other end tells me to keep my nose out of the quarry story or I’ll be next.
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Meet the author
James Ziskin is the author of the Ellie Stone mysteries, Styx & Stone (October 2013), No Stone Unturned (June 2014), and Stone Cold Dead (May 12, 2015), all from Seventh Street Books. A linguist by training, he studied Romance languages and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife Lakshmi and cats, Bobbie and Tinker. Visit James at: www.JamesWZiskin.com