J O R G E C A S U S O
Divorced and sporting a toupée, Boston advertising executive James T. Gallagher lands a job as letters editor of a Miami newspaper during the Cuban Missile Crisis. When a homeless widow is convicted of killing her husband in a bomb shelter, Gallagher sets out to prove the innocence of a woman he has fallen in love with but never met.
THE HONEYMOON WIDOW
On October 24, 1962, as the Doomsday Clock inched precariously close to midnight, James T. Gallagher sat in the newsroom of the Miami Post staring at the envelopes stacked on his desk. Two months earlier, he’d arrived from Boston. He was thirty-two, recently divorced and without a job. The toupée he had bought to signal a new start made him look even older than he did without hair, and the bow tie that had lent him an air of sophistication in the executive suite of a Boston ad agency, seemed out of place, almost ridiculous, in the newsroom of a struggling South Florida paper he tried not to view as a big step down career-wise. For two months, he’d edited the letters of readers, cleaning up the grammar, fixing commas, but writing nothing of his own.
The letters on his desk were from students in a fifth-grade class assigned to write yet another essay about the showdown with the Russians over the missiles discovered in Cuba the previous week. Two days earlier, the President, whose full head of hair had inspired Gallagher's toupée, had ordered a military blockade against the communist island. On the nightly news, shiny rockets were shown rolling towards the launching pads hastily erected near the Everglades to strike enemy targets across the Florida Straits.
In Miami, only a few hundred miles from Cuba, the looming crisis had hit home. Citizens were stockpiling water, batteries and canned food. Some had even installed underground shelters in their backyards. In school houses, students ducked under their desks during special drills as if, somehow, that would protect them from the bomb.
Gallagher had read a few of the student assignments that arrived that morning, but knowing there was no room for them in the letters pages, he had left most of them unopened. One envelope, however, had caught his eye. Like the others, the letters were large and rounded, like the writing of a child, but this one had been postmarked. Gallagher checked the date--October 20. It was mailed two days before Kennedy announced the crisis in a live televised address.
James T. Gallagher took the final sip of hot tea the copy boy had delivered (he much preferred it to coffee), reached for the sailfish letter opener he had bought at a souvenir stand when he first arrived in Florida, and sliced the envelope open. Then he sat back, made sure his toupée, which had been itching, hadn’t shifted, adjusted his bow tie and read the handwritten note.
October 20, 1962
Dear Editor of Letters,
My name is Addie Barnes Clemm and I seen the article you rote about me that am sending with the title of "Honeymoon Widow Charged with Underground Murder" that was run in your news paper on the day of October 15. I am the Addie you was riting about, but I aint a killer. An other thing you got wrong is my name that is not Addie Clemm but Addie Barnes tho I was only married to Roy Barnes for 14 days less the two he was dead but I am still his wife or at least his widow so the widow part you got right. The other part you got right is the part that says me and Roy was living together in a bomb shelter for two weeks only he didn't make it the hole time but that dont mean I killed him. Like I said before I aint a killer. You got an other thing right. There was not no one with us only my Roy and my self but that dont mean I am a killer. He died on his own without my help.
Mrs. Addie Barnes
P.S. Please tell me how to talk to a reporter to show him how I should not be in jail, especially alone without even Roy.
Before he finished reading, Gallagher knew that, promotion-wise, this could be his big break--an exclusive interview with the "Honeymoon Widow." He’d read the article that had run on the front page of the local section numerous times after having received several dozen letters over the past four days concerning the strange case. The one he had chosen for print, however, had been replaced the previous morning with an ad. But this was different--a letter from the widow herself. It was a scoop big enough to take straight to the City Editor.
Gallagher adjusted the toupée he had left loose that morning after the adhesive began irritating his scalp, a decision he had come to regret. Then he rose and looked across the newsroom past the wooden desks piled with papers, reporters hunched over clacking typewriters and rewrite men busy taking dictation.
At the back of the crowded room the City Editor sat, as always, with the phone receiver pressed to his ear. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to butt in. Besides, given the state of Gallagher’s toupée, stepping into the newsroom could be a risky move. Reporters were a curious lot by nature, and they must have seen him fidgeting all morning with his hair. Perhaps it was best to call or wait until the special edition that now ran every evening had been put to bed. Still, this was his big chance for a byline--a local murder that took place in a bomb shelter during the Cold War nuclear showdown, and the suspect was willing to talk. A scoop this big couldn’t miss.
Gallagher waited for the editor to hang up and spun the telephone dial. He could hear the call ring across the room, as the editor eyed with annoyance the line flashing on the expensive new phone system that screened incoming calls. Before the editor could pick up the line, Gallagher snuck the receiver back in the cradle and pretended to be busy. Then, he adjusted his toupée, loosened his bow tie (he’d gained weight with all the doughnuts since moving down from Boston) and looked once again at the picture that ran with the article.
It showed a disheveled woman--identified as a 24-year-old female Caucasian--crawling out of a hole in the ground. Attraction-wise, Gallagher found her pretty in a fragile, helpless way. In the picture, she appeared stunned and disoriented. According to the copy, the newlyweds had descended into the portable bomb shelter as part of a promotional campaign. But after two weeks underground, the groom had failed to resurface. When investigators descended into the small chamber, they found Roy Barnes' decaying body submerged in a tub of water. The bride, who had surfaced in a bloodied wedding dress, was booked for first-degree murder. She did not answer any of the investigators' questions.
Gallagher set the paper down, lit his pipe and slipped a page with a carbon copy into the new IBM Selectric typewriter the struggling paper had unaccountably bought.
October 24, 1962
Dear Ms. Barnes,
Thank you for the letter, which will appear in tomorrow morning's edition of the Miami Post. I regret to inform you that, given our extensive coverage of the Cuba Blockade, the City Desk cannot send a reporter to conduct an interview at the present time. However, please feel at liberty to forward any additional information you deem useful to my attention.
J. T. Gallagher
The Miami Post
P.S. I would strongly advise you to retain the services of a public defense attorney, if you have not already done so.
Copyright 2012-2017 jorgecasuso.com. All Rights Reserved.