"Thanks." I drained my water glass, pulled my purse strap onto my shoulder, and pushed back my chair a couple inches, which was as far as it would go in the tight space. "Just out of curiosity, why was this stuff at a police station? What are these pictures of?"
Linden looked at his father, who looked down at his plate as if the answer were written there in the smear of coney sauce.
"They're from the '67 riots."
I felt my heart rate tick up, scooted back up to the table, and leaned in. "Did you bring them?"
"Denny didn't think I should."
"Because of that," Linden said. "Because you weren't interested until you knew what they were, and I knew it would play out this way." He turned to his father. "Didn't I tell you? Didn't I say she'd only be interested in getting her hands on the photos?"
I sat back, trying to play it cool, trying to put that approachable-yet-intelligent smile back on my face. "Why shouldn't I be? I've built my entire reputation on exposing corruption and neglect in this city. Photos of historic significance left to rot in a police station are just one more symptom of the larger problem. And I'm working on a big piece right now on the riots. Those photos have never been published—I assume. I'm sure the Free Press would pay handsomely to have the privilege of sharing them with the world."
Linden pointed a finger in my direction. "There! There it is! Just like I said."
Mr. Rich placed a hand on his son's forearm. "Okay, okay. Just calm down and let me talk a moment."
Linden withdrew the accusative finger and leaned back on his half of the seat, his million-dollar foot stretching out past my chair, blocking me in even as I knew he must want me out.
His father looked at me with tired eyes. "Miss Balsam, I'm burdened. I been carrying something around for fifty years that I got to let go of. This camera and those photos have to get back to Nora. Not to the paper, not to a museum or a library. To Nora. Now, I can't take them. But you could. Are you willing to just look into it? Do a little poking around to see if you're related like we think you are? And if you are, would you be willing to make contact with her? Kind of ease her into the idea slowly? These photos will stir up a lot of hard memories for an old lady. But I know it in my heart—the Lord laid it on my soul—I need to get these to her."
One of the most important lessons I learned in my first couple years as a professional journalist was not to get emotionally involved with a story.
There was simply too much heartbreaking stuff you had to write about. To let yourself empathize with the boy who was being bullied or the man who had lost his business or the woman whose daughter had been abducted, when there was nothing you could do to help the situation beyond making a voice heard—it was just too heavy a burden to bring home with you every night. So I built up a wall around my heart and stayed within it at all times when it came to work.
But there was something about this man's eyes, the crooked lines on either side of his mouth suggesting he had found as much to frown at in life as to smile about, that chipped away at that wall.
I tapped my finger on the table. "Why do you have them if she's the one who took them?"
"She didn't take them. My uncle did. But he's gone. They belong to her now."
"She's his wife."
An interracial couple in the 1960s? This was getting interesting. Maybe I could work this into my larger series of articles about the riots and the time surrounding them. It had a great human angle, a larger cultural-historical angle, a connection to a beloved NFL player. I could even frame it as a personal family story if I truly was related. The question was, would I have the time? I still hadn't been able to crack the protective shield around Judge Sharpe, the white whale of my investigative series, and time was running out.
"Okay, let's say I am related to her. I still don't know her and she doesn't know me, so why would she even listen to me?"