The blood had barely dried on the pavement by the time the television news crews swarmed the neighborhood. Three vans bearing logos for the major stations had parked along the street. One crew set up a live feed just outside the yellow police tape that cordoned off the crime scene, the perfectly pompadoured correspondent fixing his hair as the cameraman adjusted for the cloudy morning. Another newsman knocked on doors of neighboring homes and businesses, microphone in hand and cameraman in tow, to interview people who may have known or seen the victim. A third team was already on air, their coifed, blonde reporter invoking a dramatic voice as she interviewed a man who didn’t know the victim but claimed to have seen him on a daily basis. Elsewhere, a photographer in khakis and a military surplus coat shot photos, a watchful presence marked by the clicking of her camera.
Aaron leaned against a chain link fence across the street from the crime scene, beneath a maple tree stubbornly clinging to its autumn red leaves. With pen in one hand, pocket-sized notebook in the other, all he did was observe.
It was the sort of neighborhood where privilege usually insulated people from crime. Well-kept homes lined the street, with manicured front yards and newish vehicles in their driveways. A few cars were parked on the street, including one each from Pennsylvania and Ontario, along with half a dozen police cars and an ambulance in front of the six-floor apartment building on the street corner. Two young officers manned the police tape perimeter. A balding, middle-aged man stood just outside the police line, hands in his pockets, dead eyes staring toward the general area of the crime scene. People came and went on foot and in cars, with long looks at the crime scene. The illusion of tranquility had shattered.
Police had been there since 6:13 a.m., after the incident was reported by a 26-year-old ninth grade teacher on her way to work: A man had fallen from a sixth-floor balcony. A neighbor had heard his scream and found him dead on a sidewalk leading from his apartment building to a parking lot. If she hadn’t seen the body first, then a group of teenagers on their way to catch the school bus probably would have.
Aaron had no desire to be there, but it was his job. He was the last reporter to arrive, and he was content with that, despite his competitiveness. Some reporters loved crime scenes. A former colleague of Aaron’s once said, “I’m bored. I could go for a good murder today.” Aaron shared no such sentiment. His job was to write the first draft of a tragedy. Someone’s child had died. Aaron had to talk to the grieving survivors. It carried a solemn responsibility to tell the story of a life that had just ended, an honest memorialization and a cautionary tale.
To his left stood John Smits, reporter for the small local daily, a nice guy with a divorce, two kids, and child support to pay. He looked the part of a reporter: A dress shirt that had seen better days, khakis just dumpy enough to be comfortable, a week past a shave, and wire-rimmed glasses dotted with raindrops and framed by graying hair in need of a shear. Aaron wondered if that would be him in twenty years.
“You hear anything yet?” Aaron said.
Smits shook his head. “No more than you. Cops aren’t talking yet. Not sure who’s running the scene for them.”
“I saw Rudy Day.”
“The captain’s here?”
“You know how he is.”
“You talk to him yet?”
Aaron shook his head. “I’m waiting. Same as you.”
“They’re not waiting.” Smits motioned to the television news crews down the street. “Crawling all over people’s lawns.”
“Bunch of leeches.”
Smits chuckled softly. “How are they different from us?”
“You and I are here to tell the story of this guy’s life and death, because people deserve to know their neighbor got killed and he deserves to be remembered. The TV guys are here because a guy splatted his blood and guts on the sidewalk, and that makes for gripping television.”
“You’re cranky this morning.”
“Yeah, well, I had a bad night’s sleep, and I don’t drink coffee. Oh, and a guy just bled all over Sixth Street.”
“You’re missing out with the coffee.” Smits glanced down the street. “Time to knock on doors.” He shook his head. “Damn you. Now I feel guilty.” He gave a half-salute and walked off.
Aaron hadn’t knocked on any doors or stopped anyone on the street. In fact, he hadn’t interviewed a soul. He had just stood there, quietly observing people, their movements and expressions, sometimes while walking about, now standing on the corner. Journalism had taught him that you learn more by listening than talking, and right now, the saddest looking person around was the dead-eyed man standing near the police line.