Monday, July 23, 2012

Death is Bipartisan

The motor-coach, swaddled in red, white and blue shrink-wrap, was parked in front of Republican State Party headquarters on State Street just a block or two west of the Capitol.

On the side of the bus, there was a huge portrait of a man’s face, ruddy-cheeked and Irish, with white hair and piercing blue eyes. It fairly screamed, “Trust Me, I’m a Politician.”

The Harrisburg police had closed off State Street all the way from Front Street to the Capitol.

Dark blue Harrisburg police cruisers, their dome lights flashing, were parked on either side of the intersections of Second Street, which was one-way headed north, and Third Street, a two-way that ran north and south.

The street closures brought downtown traffic to its knees. And if the oaths of inconvenienced motorists bothered the officers who stood, stone-faced and silent in front of their cars, they did not show it.

The young cop standing at the edge of the crime scene on the corner of Second and State nodded at Marty, a fellow cop, and lifted the yellow tape to let him in. He knew me, but signaled for me to stop.

“Not you, Flynn,” he said.

“I know, Thomas,” I told him. I reached into my back pocket and dug out my notebook.

A decent sized crowd — lured by the dome lights of the police cruisers and the bold, primary colors of the TV trucks — had gathered around the crime scene.

State Street was home to some of the city’s busiest and most influential lobbying firms. And their employees had poured out of the brownstones that lined either side of the street to take in the spectacle unfolding outside their office windows.

Across the street, one of the lobbyists, an impeccably dressed man in his late thirties was standing with a commanding air on the front steps of the brownstone that housed his offices.

Teddy Tigue was an old friend and drinking buddy. And we’d spent many nights at a local watering hole called the Oasis listening to the best – and more often, the worst – that the local music scene had to offer. He’d long since apologized for introducing me to a woman who later tried to kill me. And I’d long since forgiven him.

I walked across the street. Teddy looked up and rolled his eyes.

“Flynn,” he said. “I should have known you’d be here.”

Teddy’s hair was cut fashionably short, and from the look of it, recently as well. We were about the same height. But Teddy worked out far more often than I and he looked it.

There were the beginnings of crows’ feet around his eyes. His teeth were very white and very even. He was coatless and his white dress shirt did not have a wrinkle on it. He wore a purple tie, with a Windsor knot with a little dimple in the middle of it.

We shook hands.

“What can I tell you?” I said. “Crime happens. I follow it. You know anything about what happened here?”

Teddy shrugged and squinted down the street at the campaign bus, which was now being swarmed by cops and forensics personnel. Amidst them, I spotted Marty Herman talking to a young patrolman.

“Called a friend of mine at the state GOP to find out,” he said. “The bus is a rental for the campaign of James Doolittle. You know who that is, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “He’s Republican. He’s running for governor. He has an absolutely tragic last name for a candidate.”

Teddy cracked a smile.

“You’re observant like that,” he said. “Friend of mine told me that he was found slumped in the back of the bus. An aide went back to tell Doolittle something and he didn’t respond. At first, they thought he was napping. When they couldn’t rouse him, they called the paramedics. They were waiting here when the bus arrived.”

“They take him to Harrisburg Hospital?” I asked.

Teddy shrugged.

“My guess is yes,” he said. “It’s closest. But the campaign did not share that with me. You’re the well-paid reporter, you’re gonna’ have to go figure that part out for yourself.”

“Mmmm … yes,” I said. “Please excuse me. I must go and report. See you soon, Teddy.”

“See you soon, Sean Flynn,” he said, and went back to watching the crime scene.

As I walked down State Street toward the river, I saw Marty Herman break away from the crime scene. He wig-waggled a finger at me, and walked down an alley behind Republican State Committee headquarters.

I ducked under the crime scene tape and followed Marty into the alley.

He was leaning against the brick wall, his shoulders hunched against an unexpectedly cold wind. He had his hands in his pockets and his brow was creased in concentration.

“So?” I asked him as I walked up.

“Beat cop at the hospital with Doolittle just called,” he said.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Doolittle’s dead,” Marty said.

“That’s not good,” I said, leaning against the wall next to him.

“No, it isn’t,” Marty said. He was looking at his shoes.

I smiled grimly.

“What?” Marty asked.

“Just funny,” I said. “Last year, we were looking into the death of a young Democrat. This year, it’s a Republican.”

Marty Herman smiled back. It was a mirthless smile.

“Death is bipartisan,” he said.