Last Words: Rich Zahradnik
A reporter’s job is to relate whatever happens in the news to the public in an honest, concise and interesting way. But, sometimes stories break, you think he have the facts the right way and then realize someone has set in a motion events that would lead you to the answers you thought you were going to get to produce and accurate account of what you learned but instead was a set up that would take you down. Told within several days in the 1975 in March, as New York is undergoing many changes a reporter for the Messenger Telegram named Coleridge Taylor comes upon a story that just might reignite his career, take him out of the obit doldrums and rise from being demoted from the police beat for inventing as some think sources to a prominent reporter. Entering Bellevue he views the body of what appears to be a homeless teen that was found in the Meatpacking District and brought to Bellevue. But, Taylor is astute, smart and when he looks over the body of this young teen he realizes that the elements of what a homeless man or teen would look like are not there. His clothes are too clean and he is wearing what appears to be an Army field jacket. Investigating even though he is supposed to be writing obits, Taylor finds that the jacket belongs to a hobo named Mark Voichek and further probing he learns the name of the deceased teen the son of a city official. Declan McNally was anything but the perfect young man and as Taylor begins to develop a profile of this young man different opinions arise as he speaks to some of his classmates, his teachers and father learning that this young man had many different sides and none of them very good. Girls found him dangerous and liked that about him. He was into drugs, alcohol and dealing. He fought with his father about his homework, stormed out of his house many times and used girls the same way people torn up movie tickets as something you toss aside after you are done with them. But, Taylor’s efforts do not endear him to those at the newspaper and the only one who helps him is Laura Wheeler and the librarian named Mrs. Wiggins. Searching files, combing the city to find Voichek to understand why his clothes wound up on Declan and why anyone would want to kill this young man, endangers Taylor and anyone that’s near him. But, Taylor believes that everyone is entitled to his or her final accolades, their final tribute or someone writing their Last Words.
While the South Bronx was experiencing its own problems a young teenage boy’s body was being identified leading to a chain of events that would take Taylor inside the breath and depth of a city that was riddled with corruption, murder, intrigue, drug dealers, swindlers and characters that fill the pages of this book each with their own story. With the aid of a homeless man named Harry Jansen Taylor gets his first lead from a man named Samuel. But, evidence piles up and the mystery is how this young man came to be wearing the clothes of a war veteran. A trip to the coroner’s office, then the funeral home and finally the name Declan Sean McNally is revealed as that of the deceased teen. But, when dealing with his parents Taylor begins to see a side of the father, Constable Declan that takes him inside the mind of a corrupt lawyer and city attorney. A family so tightly connected and protected they often present an image that they are above the law. As you meet Constable you begin to wonder if the death of his son really matters or he is acting upset just for show. With a brother on the force and a father in law who is into his own dealings and Manhattans Chief whose name is Johnny John Scudetto, you meet a family riddled in more than just corruption. All roads lead to a corrupt deal or contract that was given to another company and not McNally’s. Investigating this would prove dangerous for Taylor and for the one man that could help solve the crime. As he and Voichek run for their lives, get attacked, need more places to hide, something would happen that would change it all as more bodies fall and the one man who could help him is killed.
Meeting Declan’s friend’s readers get many different takes on this young man. Some thought he was cool, sold drugs, a rebel and did things his way and was not the best student. Others presented a different picture as did Carolyn Marie Bancroft who worked on the yearbook at Eli Prep where these students attended classes. Others like Reginald Morton and Dickie Bennett presented different viewpoints and were not forthcoming with information. But, Taylor enlisted the aid of Laura Wheeler a crime reporter on the Messenger-Telegram that risked not only her job but her life to help him solve this case and write a story that the powers that run the paper would notice and possibly return him to the police beat. There were many students that were friends with Declan and some remained close and others knew that he sold tests and illegal drugs. Declan was a rebel and followed his own rules but one person wanted him out of the way before he ruined his life and many others.
Declan suffered a beating after lacrosse practice at the hand of two of his so called friends and then the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together as Mark Voichek appears allows Taylor to interview him and the name Karl Pororski comes to light which involves a street cleaning contractor and a contract awarded to Clean Streets.
Interviews with more friends, a long talk with Pororski, linking his affiliations to someone close to the investigation will Taylor see the light and figure out who is behind the murders and why before he becomes the next body in the morgue?
Lies, deceptions, betrayals, deceits, corruptions, hate, personal lives explored and placed under a microscope, author Rich Zahradnik takes readers inside the minds of businessmen who will do anything to get the contract, use their power and influence to gain favors and control and one young man that got in the way. As we hear the voice of Lydia McNally defending her husband, threats, deals made in backrooms, and drug deals and bad threats coming her way, what will she do to learn the truth or will she repeat the message that she receives on the phone from one man that could take it all away from her? From the streets of New York to the subways, the inner tunnels and more Taylor chases down the story of a lifetime but will he succeed?
Deals revealed, more than one killer at large and an ending that will not only surprise readers but help you understand just how far someone will go for power, money and to keep the lifestyle they wanted so badly. A story that will break hearts, tear down lives and remind people that good reporting is what makes a newspaper solid and great as Coleridge Taylor sits at his typewriter and writes two special stories: One last obit to honor a man’s life and the final story that will surely end a man’s career when he pens his Last Words.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer