Manhattan Project #28 Greeks and Romans and Huns, Oh My!

(in which episode Berman gets a call from his new friend “Doris” and the cops and heads to the library)

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see Doris get caught in a bust like that, but I was. I guess I assumed he was too smart to get snagged in one of those big, multi-department raids. He had seemed so cool about the whole thing. To tell you the truth, I thought it was pretty amusing that he sent me a message through our camera. But I had to think about whether it was a good idea to pay him a visit in the slammer.

I felt bad for him, especially if all he ever sold was grass, which I really have no problem with. And I was anxious to get his advice on pursuing my violence project. But the station had some expectations, too, which included ordering us not to do anything that could reflect badly on the company. It was in our contracts, for god sake. I didn’t make a habit of doing anything illegal or consorting with underworld figures, so I didn’t worry about it much. But some of my coworkers did.

One guy wouldn’t wear jeans to the grocery store because he thought viewers would be offended by such casual attire. And it’s true that the station fired a reporter who decided to get it on with a community activist we’d done a lot of stories with who later ended up in jail for beating his wife.

I had basically decided to forget about Doris for the time being, when I got a collect call from him at my desk. Since he initiated the contact, I decided to accept the call and see what he had to say. But I was careful. I knew that the jailers routinely listened in on inmate phone calls. Doris was eager to chat.

“Hey, Jed, how’s it hangin’, man?” I thought he sounded pretty jovial for a guy looking at ten to twenty if he got convicted.

“I’m doing okay,“ I told him. “What’s up with you?” I didn’t refer to the fact that I knew he was in jail.

“Jed, I have a little bit of a problem here. Seems the local constables think I’m involved in some illicit activity. They invited me down here to the county jail to talk about it and they’re giving me some time to reflect on my alleged misdeeds.”

I played it as straight as I could.
“Well, gee, Doris, I’m sorry to hear that. Why are you calling me?”

“Well, I hadn’t seen you around the smoke shop in a while, and I just wondered how you’re doing with your little project?”

I wondered how that sounded to the guys with the suspicious minds listening in at the jail. If I answered like I knew what he was talking about, the cops might think we were talking about dealing drugs or something. I really wasn’t looking for trouble with those guys; you never know when you’ll need their help on a story. So I played dumb with Doris.

“I’m not sure what project you’re talking about.”

“You know, that whole thing about why people are so willing to kill each other off. That project.”

He sounded sincere. I was stunned.
“No kidding? That’s why you called me? To see how I’m doing on some goofy little intellectual inquiry I’ve been working on for decades? Really? You’re not calling because you think I can help get you out of jail?”

“No way, dude. I got that under control. I just wanted to know if you were making any progress on that thing. Honest.”

Yeh, I see that look on your face. I wasn’t really buying it, either. But he kept insisting that’s all he was calling about, so I finally told him where it stood, and asked him if he had any suggestions for what to look at next. He did.

“You know, Jed, I think you’re making progress. I mean, I still don’t have answers for you, but the direction you’re going makes sense to me. I’d check out some of those people who’ve sent so many people to their deaths all these years. Take a look at the Greeks and the Romans, and take another whirl with the Huns. Yeh, and maybe take a close look at the U.S. guys, too. What about those guys that brought us the bomb that killed your mom and so many others.

You know, I saw your stuff on Nathan Thibodeau. You played it pretty straight, but I had a feeling you got into it because of all this stuff. If you still have his journal, sift through it again and see what’s there that might tell us something. Hey, I gotta’ go here, Jed. And other than on the phone, I won’t exactly be available for a while. But I’m still interested. You know that, right? Hey, my time’s up. Good luck, dude. If I get any sudden insights, I’ll let you know. Keep in touch, man. Bye.”

And he hung up. Thirty seconds later I got a call from a captain at the jail who grilled me on my connection to Doris. He said undercover cops knew he and I got together every now and then on that bench in Old Town. He wondered if I knew just how much trouble Kenneth Schmidt—that was the first time I’d ever heard Doris’s real name—was in. And he said if I had any information that would help the authorities prosecute their case against him, I was obliged to tell them.

He paused for a second or two, but before I could come up with a response he went on to say that his wife was a big fan of mine, and he thought I was a cut above all the other local news anchors, and they were glad I came here to work. He sort of apologized for the first part. He said that was routine procedure for their outfit so he had to make the call, which he was glad to do because his wife would be pleased to know he told me all that stuff about her.

When I finally got to talk, I thanked him for the kind words, assured him I had no business connections with Doris—I called him Mr. Schmidt to put some distance between myself and a drug dealer—and if I ever did have any information that would be useful to the cops, I’d be quick to let them know. I was sort of disgusted with myself when I said that last part, but I had long ago decided that I could be a bit disingenuous with these guys if it meant they’d be helpful to me down the road. I hung up and got back to work. Saturday morning, instead of cruising by the smoke shop, I headed to the library.

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