Page 88 of Overload


Several hours ago he had delivered (for a fee) an hour-long lecture to an adult study group on “The Socialist Ideal." Discussion afterward consumed another ninety minutes. Now he was with a dozen or so tedious, boring people from the group who had adjourned to the house of one of their number to go on gabbing about international politics, of which their knowledge was marginal. As well as talking, there was much drinking of beer and coffee and clearly, Birdsong thought, the whole deal could go on until dawn. Fine, let it! He contributed something himself occasionally, making sure everyone noticed he had stayed.

Davey Birdsong, too, had a typewritten statement he would issue to the press. A copy was in his pocket and it began:

The popular consumer’s organization, power & light for people, reaffirms its stand against all violence.

"We deplore violence at all times, and especially the bombing at the Christopher Columbus Hotel last night," Davey Birdsong, the p & lfp leader, stated.

p & lfp will continue its peaceful efforts on behalf of. Birdsong smiled as he thought about it and surreptitiously checked his watch: 1:45 am

* * *

Nancy Molineaux was still at her late night party, which had been a good one, but she was ready to leave. For one thing, she was tired; it had been one of those crammed-full days when she scarcely had a minute to herself. For another, her jaw was aching. The goddam dentist had probed a cavity like he was excavating for a new subway, and when she told him be only laughed.

Despite the ache, Nancy was sure she would sleep well tonight and looked forward to climbing in between her silky Porthault sheets.

After saying good night to her host and hostess, who lived in a penthouse not far from the city center, she took the elevator down to where the doorman already had her car waiting. After she tipped him, Nancy checked the time: 1:50 am Her own apartment block was less than ten minutes' drive. With luck, she could be in bed a few minutes after two.

She remembered, out of nowhere, that she was going to listen tonight to those cassette tapes the girl, Yvette, had given her. Well, she had been working on that story a long time and one more day wouldn't make any difference. Maybe she would get up early, before going to the Examiner, and listen to them then.

5

Nancy Molineaux enjoyed life's luxuries and her apartment, in an exclusive, modern high-rise, reflected it.

The beige burrie living room rug by Stark matched vertical linen window blinds. A Pace coffee table of smoked glass, chrome and bleached oak fronted a deep-cushioned sofa in Clarence House suede. The Calder acrylic was an original. So was a Roy Lichstenstein oil on canvas in Nancy's bedroom.

Sliding, full-length windows in the dining room opened onto an outdoor patio with its own small garden and a harbor view.

If Nancy had had to, she could have lived elsewhere and managed adequately on her own earnings; but she came to terms long ago with acceptance of money her father made available. It was there, had been honestly earned, so what was wrong with using it? Nothing.

She was careful, though, not to be ostentatious around her fellow workers, which was why she never brought any of them here.

As she padded around the apartment, getting ready for bed, Nancy located those tape cassettes she had remembered, and put them near her stereo tape deck for playing in the morning.

On coming into the apartment a few minutes ago, she had flipped on an FM radio which she kept tuned to a twenty-four-hour mostly-music station, and was only subconsciously aware, while in the bathroom cleaning her teeth, that the music had been interrupted for a newscast.

". . in Washington, deepening gloom about an impending oil crisis Secretary of State has arrived in Saudi Arabia to resume negotiations. . . Senate late yesterday approved raising the national debt ceiling. . . Kremlin again alleged spying by Western newsmen . . . Locally, new charges of city hall corruption . . . bus and rapid transit fares are certain to rise following wage settlements . . . police appealing for help in identifying the body of a young woman, apparently a suicide, discovered this afternoon on Lonely Hill . . . bomb fragments at the scene . . . although the body was badly dismembered, one of the woman's hands had two fingers missing and was further disfigured, apparently from an earlier wound ..."

Nancy dropped the toothbrush.

Had she heard what she thought she heard?

She considered phoning the radio station to ask for a repeat of the last news item, then realized it wasn't necessary. She had absorbed enough, even while half-listening, to know the young woman's body they were talking about had to be Yvette's. Oh Christ, Nancy thought, she had let the kid walk away and hadn't followed! Could she have helped? And what was it Yvette had said? "I'm not afraid anymore." Now it became clear why.

And she still hadn't played the tapes.

Suddenly, Nancy was alert, her earlier tiredness gone.

She slipped on a kimono, turned up the lights in her living room, and inserted the first cassette into her tape deck. There was a pause before the recording began, during which Nancy settled herself in a chair, a notebook on her knees and pencil poised. Then the voice of Yvette, speaking uncertainly, came through Nancy's hi-fi system.

At the first words Nancy sat upright, her attention riveted.

'This is about the Friends of Freedom, all those bombings and the murders. Where the Friends of Freedom are is 117 Crocker Street. The leader is Georgos Archambault, be has a middle name, Winslow, he likes to use it. I'm Georgos' woman. I've been in it, too. So is Davey Birdsong, be brings the money to buy explosives and the other stuff."

Nancy's mouth was agape. She felt shivers passing through her. Her pencil raced.

There was more of Yvette on the tape, then a conversation between two male voices-one presumably the Georgos whom Yvette had spoken of, the other unmistakably Davey Birdsong.

The first side of the first tape ended. Nancy's tape deck had an automatic-reverse feature. The second side began at once.

Still more Yvette. She described the night on the hill above Millfield. The substation bombing. The killing of the two guards.

Nancy's excitement mounted. She could scarcely credit what she had -the biggest news scoop of her career and, at this moment, it was all her own. She continued listening, adding to her notes.

Back to Georgos and Birdsong. They were discussing something... making arrangements . . . Christopher Columbus Hotel . . . bombs disguised as fire extinguishers . . . a red pickup truck: Fire Protection Service . . . second night of the National Electric Institute convention. . . 3 am. . .

Nancy's skin prickled. She did a swift mental calculation, glanced at her watch, then hurled herself at the telephone.

The news story had ceased to have priority.

Her hand was shaking as she dialed 911 for police emergency.

6

The watch lieutenant presiding at the police department operations center knew he had to make a fast decision.

A few moments earlier, the male police operator taking Nancy Molineaux's gil call, and writing down the information, had signaled the lieutenant to cut in on the line. He did so. After listening briefly, he questioned the caller who identified herself by name and as a reporter for the California Examiner. She explained about the tapes, how she had acquired them, how they had revealed the information she was now passing on urgently.

"I know of you, Miss Molineaux," the lieutenant said. "Are you calling from the newspaper?"

"No. From my apartment."

“The address, please."

She gave it.

"Are you listed in the phone book there?"

"Yes. Under 'Molineaux, N."'

"Please hang up your phone," the lieutenant said. "You'll be called back immediately."

The police operator-one of twenty such operators handling emergency calls-had already found the number in a city phone directory. He scribbled it on a piece of paper which he passed to the lieutenant, who tapped the number out, then listened.

Nancy answered on the first ring.

"Miss Molineaux, did you just call police emergency?"

'Yes."

"Thank you. We had to verify the call. Where will you be if you are required later?"

"At the Christopher Columbus Hotel," Nancy said. "Where the hell else?"

She hung up.

The police lieutenant debated briefly with himself. He had established that the call was genuine and not from a crank. But was the information strong enough to justify emptying the city's biggest hotel, with resultant chaos, in the middle of the night?

Normally, in the case of a bomb warning-the police received hundreds every year-the procedure was to send an advance squad, consisting of a sergeant and two or three patrolmen, to iwestigate. If they were suspicious or found merit in the tip, they would phone the operations center and emergency procedures would begin. (Radio communication was never used at that stage for two reasons. One, if a bomb existed, a radio signal might set it off. Two, since police radios were monitored by all and sundry, the police sought to delay having press and spectators clog the scene.)

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