My cell phone rang while I was interviewing Madame Tina the Spiritual Reader. It was a feature the New York Daily News, my newspaper, was doing on the legitimacy of fortune tellers and tarot card–reading businesses around the city. Until then she’d had three visitors—an ex-customer claiming to have been swindled out of her life savings; a process server with a complaint from the Better Business Bureau; and the building landlord threatening to evict her for forging a phony name on the rent check. Being an investigative reporter and all, I was beginning to suspect that Madame Tina might not be completely on the up-and-up.
“You’re not gonna believe what just happened,” Zach Heller, an assistant city editor, said on the phone.
“I won a Pulitzer Prize?”
“No, Malloy,” he sighed, “you didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize.”
“Wait until you see the story I’m working on now.”
“Dani Keegan is dead.”
“Our Dani Keegan?”
“Yes,” Heller said. “Dani didn’t show up for work today. They found her body in the lobby of a building in the Lower East Side. She’d been shot to death. The cops have no clues, no leads whatsoever at the moment. Marilyn wants all hands on deck to cover the story. Even you.”
He hung up the phone.
I thought about asking Madame Tina if she had any leads or clues. But she had her eyes closed now, snoring loudly with a half empty wine bottle next to her. Probably communing with the spirits. I let myself out, got on a subway downtown, and headed for the Daily News office.
Dani Keegan was the daughter of legendary Manhattan District Attorney Jack Keegan, who’d been putting mobsters and corrupt politicians and other bad guys in jail for more than twenty years. Dani had a law degree too, but she’d also gotten a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and had wanted to try her hand as a reporter. So she got a job—through her family connections, we all assumed—at the Daily News.
I’d worked with the kids of other prominent people over the years. A lot of them were just going through the motions, trading in on their family name and background. But Dani had seemed liked the real deal. She’d covered some front-page stories and even broken a few exclusives during her brief time at the News. Many of them were about law enforcement, where her father’s distinguished background and connections gave her a unique advantage over other reporters in town on the big crime stories.
One of the big newsmagazine shows had done a segment on her just a few weeks ago. Shot a bunch of stuff of her working at her desk in the newsroom, sitting in on editorial meetings and even asking a question at one of her father’s press conferences. There was an interview with her father too. He seemed very proud of her.
She was attractive but never really flaunted it. Didn’t wear sexy clothes or flirt with guys in the office or any of that kind of thing. She had a boyfriend for a while, but I’d heard they broken up. I didn’t know her very well—we’d probably exchanged only a handful of words during the time she’d been here—but she seemed to be one of those people who have their whole lives figured out an early age. She was pretty, smart, fun, popular—she seemed to have it all.
Except now she was dead and we were going to be writing a front-page story about her.
My name is Gil Malloy, and I’m a reporter at the Daily News too. My future here was once as bright as Dani Keegan’s seemed to be. But I took a few wrong turns along the way—including screwing up big time on a front-page profile/interview I did with an infamous New York City hooker named Houston that won me acclaim when I first did it. The problem was I had never actually talked to Houston. I made up the quotes, which is about as bad a thing as you can do in this business.
I almost got fired over that. Then I did get fired for another story that went bad. A front-page exclusive linking a series of murders in New York to a man obsessed with the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The story turned out not to be true, but this time it wasn’t my fault. The real killer—a deputy NYPD commissioner—had fed me false information in an attempt to deter suspicion away from him in the New York murders. I eventually tracked down the true story and got my job back at the Daily News.
But I am still damaged goods as a reporter. And I know that will never go away. My career—no matter what else I accomplish—will always have an asterisk next to it. Oh yeah, Malloy, he’s the guy that made up that story about the hooker, right?
The afternoon editorial meeting had already started when I walked into the newsroom.
Marilyn Staley, the city editor, was running down what we knew about Dani’s murder.
“Dani Keegan’s body was found in the lobby of an abandoned building on the Lower East Side just off the Bowery,” Staley said. “She’d been shot to death. A single bullet to the chest.”
“What was she doing there?” someone asked.
“No one knows. People have speculated she was working on some kind of story, maybe meeting a source she wanted to interview. And that somehow the meeting went bad. Or else she got there early and was mugged or robbed or killed by a drug addict or someone like that. The neighborhood is supposed to be a high drug-trafficking area.”
“Or maybe she was buying drugs,” another reporter said.
Staley sighed. But it was a good reporter’s question. Reporters always have to look at all of the possibilities in a story, whether they like considering some of them or not. <BEGIN>
“Was she working on any story that might have taken her to that area of the city?” was another question.
“Not that we—that is myself or any of her editors—know,” Staley replied.
“What was she working on?”
“A piece about the influx of bike riders in the city and the dangers—as well as the advantages—that it presented to pedestrians and drivers on already crowded Manhattan streets. Nothing about it would seem relevant to what happened to her.”
The cops had already gone through what they could find of Dani’s stuff in the office and her home, looking for clues, Staley said at one point. Phone records, credit cards—that sort of thing. They found nothing unusual. The only recent substantial expenditure she made was a trip to Ohio.
“What’s in Ohio?” I asked.
“Who knows?” Staley shrugged. “She took a few vacation days. Flew to Columbus on the fifteenth of the month, rented a car there, and then was back here on the eighteenth. I guess she must have known somebody in Ohio.”
Then Staley started handing out assignments. Reporters to work on the main story for tomorrow’s paper. Others to post and keep updating the story on the Daily News website. Someone to pull together a profile on Dani. Another to collect quotes and reactions from people who knew her. People to work the police angle, the scene and so on. By the time she was finished, pretty much everyone was working on some aspect of the Dani Keegan story.
Except my name was never called.
“Just keep working on that fortune teller feature you were doing,” she said when I asked her about an assignment
“I could help with the Dani coverage too . . .”
But Staley was already walking back to her office.
I stood there for a second or two feeling foolish. I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me. I forced a smile and started back toward my desk. But on the way I changed direction and went into the men’s room. I went inside a stall, pulled the door shut, and tried to take deep breaths. For a few seconds, I felt weak and thought I might pass out. After the Houston debacle, I’d suffered a series of anxiety attacks. Shortness of breath, a feeling of light-headedness as if I was going to pass out—and, at times, a terrible foreboding I was about to die. I’d wound up going to see a psychiatrist and took medicine for it, too. I’d been good for a while. The problem only flared up when I was under a lot of stress or anxiety, or experiencing insecurity about myself and my life. Like now.
But this time, after a few minutes, I was okay. I came out of the stall, walked over to a sink to splash cold water on my face and felt better.
When I came back into the newsroom, the place was nearly empty. All the reporters had been dispatched and were out working the Dani Keegan story. The big story. The front-page story.
Except for me.
Gil Malloy, the forgotten man.
All stressed up with nowhere to go.