The moment Patrenka Peterson walked into the newsroom on three-inch strapless stilettos, I was drooling and hard. I don’t know if it was the delicate point of her nose and the chin set off by the aristocratic cheek bones or the sultry way she assessed the newsroom looking for a victim. I wanted to jump up and volunteer. Pain from her would be pure pleasure. The instant attraction should have warned me to stay clear of this babe. She was trouble with a capital T, but I couldn’t look away.
Her finely-toned legs made me want to run to a gym and pump some iron before approaching. I had paused to stretch out my stiff back muscles after being hunched over the keyboard writing up a murder-suicide for the next morning’s edition, when she entered.
No other woman created such a visceral reaction in me. Women seldom were on my radar unless they had information I needed. After ten years of seeing dead bodies and writing about families ripped apart by blood and violence, I thought I was immune to all that emotional crap. I was a loner and I enjoyed my solitude.
I didn’t know why she walked into my newsroom. I knew I had to meet her. Lifting my six-foot frame from my chair in a trance, I hit my hip on the edge of the desk. She hadn’t moved her stance from inside the doorway as if she were a model waiting for a photographer to take her picture. Her sharp glance assessed the room and missed nothing amid the bustling cubicles and fledgling reporters, each on a mission to a Pulitzer, at least in their own minds.
As I moved closer, I noticed her black hair had highlights of auburn in what could only be termed as an Elvira haircut off an old Halloween beer poster. My libido kicked in with a force and uncontrollability I hadn’t felt since the wet dreams of puberty. A stream of sweat cascaded down my back in the air conditioned newsroom that I hadn’t realized was hot minutes before.
She took my breath away. I’m trying to describe unique facets of a whole and the whole worked. Individually each feature was a rough cut, but together it was a diamond of the first quality. We would be a striking couple with my sandy-red hair and boy-next-door good looks.
“Can I help you?” I stuttered, after my race across the newsroom, moisture beading on my forehead at the exertion, my tongue dry and useless in my mouth.
“I’m here to see the city editor for an interview.” My breath rushed out in disappointment. I had fantasized about her gratitude. I saw myself as the Superman helping with her escape from a jealous boyfriend or so I dreamed on my short hike to her side. Instead, she was one of hundreds of would-be reporters looking to take the newspaper’s coveted internship for non-traditional journalism students.
“Sure, I can help you with that,” I mimicked like a perky administrative assistant. “Can I tell him your name?”
Patrenka. What an exotic and unforgettable name especially in her sultry, slightly-accented voice. It went perfectly with the visual package. I wanted to continue to catalogue her assets, but knew I was being transparent in my admiration. I motioned for her to follow me as I navigated the labyrinth of cubicles to a ring of desks at its core, known as the city editors. My world had been shaken but no one else seemed to notice as we filed by.
“Ken, Patrenka Peterson is here about the internship,” I said, reveling in letting her name roll off my tongue.
Ken looked at me oddly. Maybe it was my giddiness or my chauffeuring anyone across the newsroom who wasn’t involved in my current story. I wasn’t a team player nor did I socialize with other employees.
“Thanks, Mitch,” he said, standing to shake her hand. He grabbed a yellow pad and motioned her ahead to a small glass-walled conference room that would allow them privacy for the interview. Before she walked away, I was given the gift of her smile, which I believe I returned in a sheepish fashion, another oddity in my behavior that I was unwilling to challenge or explain. I put my observation skills to the test, memorizing her graceful gait, starting at her heels, up to the black, calf-length pants hugging her legs until they disappeared under an oversized flowing shirt of fuchsia.
I was still standing at the inner circle when an assistant city editor noticed my presence and asked: “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” I replied tersely, returning to my cubicle. I again sat at my seat and wrote up the latest crime in the city, easily flowing back into prose. Although I must admit without the concentration I’d had only moments ago.
After a half hour, my stomach grumbled. I decided to check my regular haunts for third-shift officers on their dinner break and get some dinner myself. I rose from my chair putting on my black leather jacket over my collared shirt, my only concession to the newspaper’s dress code for reporters. Ken blocked my exit from my small cubicle.
“Mitch, I want you to take Patrenka with you on your rounds tonight and see how she does.” With that he was gone. No arguments, no refusals possible.
My anger was instant. I always worked alone. That was my rule. I didn’t play well with the other reporters. Ken and the other suits in power acknowledged my gifts and allowed me perks few others attained. I didn’t blend with the other staff. I came and went at all hours and never punched a time clock. That was the way I liked it. Crime was a never ending occupation in this West Michigan city of 800,000 people. My alarm clock was the police scanner that woke me when dispatchers squawked excitedly, signaling something was up. I never questioned my intuition when it came to a big story. My instincts hummed twenty-four, seven and led me off to many crime scenes, especially during the early morning hours when few others were on the streets.
I liked to think of myself as the man of mystery, who swooped down, wrote a riveting story and disappeared into the night until the next great piece of crime prose. Ask anybody, Mitch Malone didn’t work with anyone and certainly didn’t acquire strays. My not yelling profusely at being stuck with a partner was uncharacteristic.
Maybe my yearning for the five-foot-ten beauty overshadowed my desire for solitude. I drank in her exotic scent of jasmine combined with something earthy and musky. I was searing and tongue-tied again. I tried to bring my body back under my command, but my clever witticisms were gone. My anger melted; my mind went blank. Any other time I would have objected. How could I work? The cops would shut down if I had a shadow. But I hadn’t uttered a peep. I nodded, stuffed a notebook into my back pocket and motioned for Patrenka to follow me.
My anger returned with the stifling air as we stepped outside. The sun had set but the heat and humidity hadn’t abated. I didn’t need my coat but it was part of my uniform. I was always prepared for the elements. The coat contained extra pens, business cards and other odds and ends. I followed my normal route to Donna’s Doughnuts a half-block away.
“Hiya Mitch,” the waitress said as I slid into a booth. Patrenka flowed into the seat across from me and we locked our eyes.
“Can I get you something?” The waitress glanced at each of us. Silence. We didn’t acknowledge her presence so intent on our mutual intimidation roles. “I’ll start you with some coffee, then you let me know if you want to order.” She disappeared.
I often brought interviewees here to make them feel more comfortable than in the glaring lights and stale air of the newsroom. The folksy coffee shop filled with cinnamon sweet smells offered a homey anonymity conducive to secrets and tonight I wanted to unwrap the package across from me.
Unfortunately, this parcel had a stubborn bow. I used an old newspaperman’s trick of staring at her to make her uncomfortable, daring her to fill the void with words, but she only stared back. She accepted the coffee from the waitress with the hint of a smile and nod, but she never lost contact with my eyes. If anything she challenged me with a look that said “I know this ploy and I refuse. You first.” So I did.
“Listen. I have to take you with me, but I don’t have to like it.” I paused for effect. “I don’t do interns. They impede my style. Cops won’t talk with someone they don’t trust and that would be you.”
She nodded slightly. Good! I was making headway with her.
“These are my rules. Maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll ask you for some of your observations for the story. This is a one shot deal. Tonight only. Got it?”
Another small nod of her head. I wasn’t sure she was giving in, but she did understand my directions. She was no green kid anxious to spill her life story and glean my trade secrets. She was a tough nut and she knew it. I knew it.
I decided to forgo dinner, as well as my usual haunts. I grabbed a jelly doughnut from under the Plexiglas dome on my way out and nodded to the waitress who filled my cup. I ran a tab. She gave me a single bill at the end of the month, which I submitted for expenses--my only expenses. No one knew when I ate or with whom. It added to my air of mystery or so I thought.
I turned to Patrenka as if it was an after thought. “Let’s go.”
I froze as I watched her flow out of the booth and stop. I took a deep breath to get myself under control and turned on my heel nearly running out of the diner.
We hiked up the block to the main police station under the shadow of the street lights casting a gray shadow on the day. The station was at the top of a large hill. I wasn’t sure if it was there because the property was cheap or someone thought crimes would be solved faster if the cops were on top of the city. The climb to the station on foot was enough to get any heart rate up, but I was nearly running. I wanted her to fall behind and ask me to slow down because of her high heels. She didn’t. Instead she lengthened her stride. I increased my pace. I’m not sure if I was punishing her or me. My chest burned when we arrived, but I refused to gasp for breath. She looked ready to run a marathon. I looked for a tell-tale sheen of exertion on her face but only saw smooth olive skin and piercing green eyes.
I entered first and didn’t hold open the door. The desk sergeant guarding the inner sanctum nodded as I waved. He gave me a quizzical look in Patrenka’s direction, but let us both pass without comment. He buzzed us through a chipped metal door that read: “Authorized Personnel Only.” His attention returned to the angry patron in front of him ranting about a parking ticket.
The hall we entered had yellowed from the age when the haze of smoke lingering in the air was the norm and not a long forgotten stain on the walls and ceiling tiles. I shuffled more slowly now toward the detective’s bureau not expecting much in the harsh florescent light. The murder-suicide case I covered earlier was closed and the detectives would be working on older cases without much enthusiasm. I was tired from the fast past and trying to knock the women of mystery off her heels. She’d kept up and never missed a beat or even looked like she was trying, which didn’t improve my humor much.
I turned to her and said. “Keep quiet and follow my lead.”
As we entered there was an electricity in the air I could feel from my years on the beat. Something was up and it was big.