The Pinball Tycoon

In a journo bar at ten in the morning, the night beat writers are working out the kinks.

“Well, so I called up Bailey and told him I’d made a mistake, but that he’d made a mistake, too, so it was a Mexican standoff. It’s a nice job, you finish up, you yell for the copy boy, you grab a secondhand sandwich and a cup—”

“Wait, no, hang on—”

“Murder is only a symptom of what we’re suffering from; the disease is selfishness and jealousy and greed. Too many of us have decided that the Golden Rule might have been alright for Grampa—”

“You’re telling me you spent weeks—weeks—accusing an innocent man of murder, then tried to kill him, and that’s your takeaway?”

Lovejoy coughs. “How can any of us hurt, or hate, or be indifferent to those—”

“You tried to murder a man, Frank? You broke into his office and held an elevator operator at gunpoint and nearly died and you think this is a societal—”

Lovejoy’s lost his place, and a little of his steam. “No, I mean— you see, Carter’s girlfriend killed him, and— that is, the cops weren’t going to do anything, because— look, let me tell you about nearly getting impaled on the elevator springs again…”

“Jesus, Lovejoy,” growls Hamilton. “This shit right here is why you’re stuck in section 6.”


Twenty years after the war.

Lovejoy has a column for the Detroit Times, a slice of life thing that can be a little of whatever he wants or can pitch to the editor. Crime, romance, sob stories, profiles of the Forgotten Man, that kind of thing. He runs in the morning edition, which means he works nights, which suits him just fine; he doesn’t sleep well these days, but it’s easier when the city is awake around him. The roar of commerce drowns out his thoughts, which run bleak.

So he goes walking, just feeling his way around, looking for anything interesting among the night owls, the third shifters, the barflies, the dopers. There’s a crowd outside of Delgado’s Gym, and as he’s walking toward it curiously it suddenly surges and scatters like a sheen of oil when a soap flake hits it. In the center is McGillicuddy, swinging fists the size of Christmas hams around wildly. McGillicuddy’s a pug, a quondam heavyweight champion before all the blows to his head drove him punchy.

“Velma!” he’s yelling. “I gotta see Velma!”

Ah ha, thinks Lovejoy, a little sadly, a story.


By 1916 Lovejoy couldn’t take it anymore, and hitchhiked his way from Bloomingfield to Ottumwa and enlisted with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. He told them he was 21, which maybe they didn’t believe but also they didn’t care, because they gave him a crash course in driving and shipped him over to France to haul whatever he could of soldiers back from the front.

It was an awakening, of sorts, holding his truck to the road through the German guns with men screaming from the gurney. The glory of war had never meant much to him, but up close it was worse, all incoherent noise and violence and meat. He wrote home, trying to explain any of that, but it must not have worked, because Gene and Roy followed him over in 1917. He didn’t know that at the time, mind; by the time Ma Jenny’s letter asking him to look out for them caught up to him, it came bundled with another saying they’d already been blown up somewhere away to the north. She didn’t blame him, she said; anyway he’d tried.

The other drivers got drunk with him when the news came, Ernest stolidly and Olaf furiously, the two Friend brothers sympathetically. Normally so voluble, that night they all sat quiet, except for the sound of the guns five miles away and the muffled screams from the hospital; what was there to say?