Nashville morning newspaper crime reporter Gerry Hilliard is the narrator. He’s been covering the death of Angela Stone, whose husband Jackson has publicly announced that he’s going to find his wife’s mysterious and elusive killer. Now the Stones’ next-door neighbors, Sara and Herb Fletcher, have turned up dead.
Storms returned Thursday morning, and the Midstate buzzed over the deaths of Sarah and Herb Fletcher. Traffic at TenneSceneToday.com reached an all-time high with over eight hundred hits on my front pager, with bloggers speculating on why Herb killed Angela, how Sarah killed Herb, and what role Jackson played in their deaths. The editors kept libelous and abusive comments in check, but as soon as they deleted one, three more were posted. A sample:
At 4:10 a.m., HOOSIERDADDY wrote: “It looks like Jackson got his revenge; how hollow he must now feel. Hope your soul was worth it, murderer.”
At 4:47 a.m., DETERMINATOR wrote: “In response to JONAS, my guess is the killer is still out there and Stony will catch him and feed him to the fish.”
At 5:10 a.m., MITSU wrote: “The big question is why the Fletchers are dead. There MUST be a connection to all three murders. If Stone killed Herb he had reason.”
At 5:59 a.m., BUZKIL wrote: “Stone Stone. I bet he killed all three.”
At 7:10 a.m., PASSION FLOWER wrote: “I know the passing of the Fletchers is news, but the media coverage is sensationalized. You make money off these tragedies. Shame on you.”
At 8:32 a.m., RETCHIN’ GRETCHEN wrote: “All of you people act like vultures. And not just the media, but those who write this jibberish. You should be ashamed. You make me sick.”
At 8:55 a.m., Metro Police Chief Wilson King scanned page after page at the newspaper website, awaiting Sergeant Mike Whitfield’s call. So far the routine reports addressed what Jackson did, where he ate, who he met, if he’d made any progress toward finding the killer, if anyone suspicious seemed to be following him.
At 9 a.m., King’s private telephone buzzed. He answered on the second ring.
“We’ve lost Stone, but we have a lead on a suspect,” Whitfield reported.
King’s irritation at losing Jackson abruptly shifted to excitement. Finally, a break.
“I just emailed you a photo of a person of interest. It’s pretty grainy, but maybe the lab boys can enhance it,” Whitfield added.
For the next ten minutes Whitfield filled in his boss on the past twenty-four hours, from his decision to bring in Officer Mendez to where he lost Stone, from his fruitless interrogation of Jackson’s friend Big Red Boyle to the APB put out on Red’s truck, from Mendez’s late-night phone call to the meeting with me. Whitfield expected to be fired, taken off the case, or demoted. None of the above.
“You make finding Stone priority one, and I’ll start trying to find this man,” King said. “Get Mendez to stick with Boyle. Let’s see if Stone contacts him again.”
“I still have a job?” Whitfield asked, somewhat incredulous.
“You’ve made some mistakes, but Stone could have pulled that switch on anyone. He’s pretty clever and shouldn’t be underestimated,” King said, controlling his anger. “You should have called before you brought in Mendez, but we might not have this photo if he hadn’t known he could talk to you, so things even out. We need to get back ahead on this. Mendez is reassigned to you. I wish the newspaper wasn’t involved. I’m going to call over there. Get back to me.”
At 9:20 a.m., King hung up and dialed TenneScene Today Executive Editor Judy Flint. Her secretary said Mrs. Flint was in a meeting but would he please hold. Danise knocked on the door and entered. Besides Judy and me, the intense meeting consisted of city editor Carrie Sullivan, Managing Editor Ken McGuire, and Publisher Andrew Polk. I felt thankful for the interruption. I’d called Carrie from the house and when I got to the paper, they were waiting for me. I felt like the guest of honor at a mid-August barbecue. The main course.
“Chief King on line two,” Danise announced.
“We’re finishing up here,” the editor said. “Tell him I’ll call back in ten minutes.”
Danise left, and Judy turned on me, a disgusted look on her face.
“You can leave, too, Mister Hilliard,” she said. Judy and I have a very good relationship, but she’s STILL the boss.
After I left, Judy went ballistic. “I want him off this story. Assign it to Tony or Shelley.”
“Don’t overreact, Judy. He’s been so far ahead on this story it would be a real mistake to pull him now,” McGuire said.
“He’s compromised our ability to gather the news fairly and impartially.”
“That’s bull,” Carrie said. “Gerry’s the best reporter we’ve got. You know we’ve cooperated with the police on investigations before—last spring on the East Nashville rapist case, as a matter of fact.”
“That was different,” Judy fired back. “That perv mailed us a letter bragging about his crimes. It was evidence.”
“And it helped catch him, did it not? And Gerry was all over that story, too.”
Publisher Andrew Polk, prematurely gray for his forty-two years, again proved the voice of reason. And the boss.
“The police are going to owe us one,” Polk said. “If we hand them key evidence, we’ll demand an exclusive.”
Judy backed off. “All right, Andrew, it’s your call. Everybody back to work. And tell Hilliard no more phone calls to the cops without talking to me first. I don’t care what time it is.” She dialed the police chief.
At 9:30 a.m., Carrie lectured me how she once again saved my butt, when my telephone rang. Jackson Stone, the caller ID said.
“Where did you get this photo?”
If you would like to purchase a copy of ‘Vendetta Stone’ you will find a list of stores that carry it in Nashville and other areas, or get it through Amazon or on Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Vendetta-Stone-Tom-Wood/dp/1490331522/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375884849&sr=8-1&keywords=1490331522