The editor on the phone was being pragmatic. "Denny, I don't for a minute believe that this is The Knife, but I'm not going to be the National Enquirer editor who passed on the biggest story of the century either, so you better do whatever you have to. If I'm right, we'll be OK, if I'm wrong, then we'll be riding high. I've been on the phone with two guys who claim that they disposed of something for OJ the night that he was in the hotel in Chicago."
Another wild goose chase I thought to myself. Here was one more Enquirer editor sending me off again. But it was work, and close to Christmas, so I tried to sound interested as he spun the tale.
"Disposed of something?" I asked lighting a Marlboro with my free hand.
The Editor was going on, getting more excited by the second.
"It's just enough. They claim it was the murder weapon! One of the guys works at the hotel where OJ stayed the night he was in Chicago."
"The murder weapon?"
"Yeah, I know he said. It's like the second-best poker hand. You got to chase it. I don't believe it, but I haven't been able to disprove it either yet. How soon can you move on this?"
I looked at my watch and told him I could meet the men in about two hours.
"They supposedly dumped it behind a high school near the Cabrini Green housing complex," said the editor. "They want money, but supposedly they're going to show you a lagoon were they dumped it first."
"Let me get this straight, you want me to meet two strangers, who are going to take me to a lagoon by Cabrini Green, so they can get some money? Why doesn't this sound like a fun-trip to me?"
He ignored the sarcasm.
"What I want is for you to sit down with these guys, somewhere relatively safe, and see if we can tie these guys to the hotel someway, so they're believable, and then go and find the bag with the knife.
"Now that's going to be a big operation," he said. "And I don't want to do that until we know for sure we've got something."
I shook my head.
"Meet these guys, talk to them, and see how much they want, and then go take a look at the knife. We'll go from there." He gave me their number.
More than two years earlier, person or persons unknown had slaughtered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman on the steps of her Brentwood California condominium. The victims had been slashed and stabbed and left to bleed to death together on the sidewalk. Nicole's husband, O.J. Simpson, was a suspect almost at once after the bodies had been discovered. His alibi was a business trip to Chicago on the night the murders took place, it started to unravel as he stepped off the plane at O'Hare International. Despite other evidence at the scene of the crime, no murder weapon was ever discovered. L.A. Police theorized that the killer took the knife with him when he fled the scene.
I hung up and dialed the number of the informant. The source 'Call me Julius' agreed to meet me at the Union Station train terminal in an hour. He never showed up. From a pay phone at the station, I contacted the source again, then I called my editor on The Enquirer's 800 number.
"I set up a meeting. I was supposed to meet with these guys around four o'clock today, then they got cold feet," I told him.
"Can you call them back?"
"I did already, and then I got the guy's beeper. He called me back here a few minutes ago, these guys are all screwed up. I told them that they were going to have to talk to somebody, that we were the only people that could help them. I pointed out that if they were somehow involved in this double murder they were going to need all the help they could get."
"And?" he asked.
"Well, when the guy called me back he told me he has it! It's supposedly a seven-inch dagger, brown handled, in a shaving-kit bag with the NFL logo on it."
"When are you going to meet with him?"
"Well, He wants to give it to me! The other guy is scared to death, apparently." "I think we got to meet with this guy," urged the editor, "just so maybe he'll relax and let us know who the other guy is. But whatever you do don't touch that knife. I've been talking with the lawyers down here and they say whatever you do just don't touch it."
"I don't know what to think. I'm going to tell him, 'Ok, you meet me with the knife,' I'll get a look at it, and I'll call you from there. It's about all I can do."
"I think you're right."
I dialed up the man's number and he answered after the second ring.
"Hi Julius, this is Denny calling back."
"What do you say, you meet up with me and I get a look at this knife?"
"Well, it's up to you, how do you like sitting on it?"
"I don't," said Julius. "To tell you the honest to God truth. I don't."
"OK," I said calmly, "I can help you, but the bottom line is we need to know the other guy, we need to have a direct link with the hotel where OJ stayed. It's the only thing that gives this knife any credibility at all."
"He wants to stay away," said Julius. "I shouldn't have gotten into this in the first place, I wasn't listening to my first mind."
"Well, what do you want to do then?"
"I'm tired of the whole thing," said Julius.
"Do you think it's the murder weapon?"
"Then we have to move. If nothing else we need to contact someone so they know we've got this thing.
"Well, I don't know Julius, you tell me what we should do at this point."
"Somebody like who?"
"First off, before I can even call my editor and get something going for you, like some money, I've got to see this thing. Do you know what I mean?"
"Because so far I've been going on faith with you, and before I can convince someone else, I've got to at least know we got something here. Otherwise it's going to make me look stupid."
"And I don't want to do that. It sure strikes me strange that your friend would have come in contact with a murder weapon some 2,000 miles removed. It seems odd, doesn't it?"
"Yes sir, very odd."
"He must be nice fellow you're friend."
"He's just scared?"
"He's a coward, I don't like cowards."
"We can still make a deal, you know."
"Yes, sir, what kind a deal are you talking about?"
"I need to get a story from your friend as to how he got this knife. Either you got to talk to him or I got to talk to him, or he's got to call me. In the meantime, what do you think we ought to do with the weapon?"
"I'm tired of sitting on it. I can't keep this thing around me. I've been involved with the murder weapon, I'm concealing a murder weapon- they'll put me away.
"Well you're trying to turn it in, through me. That's not concealment. Isn't that what we're after here?
"So you'd like me to see it and go with you to the police with it?"
"I'm not going to see any police," said Julius. "I'm on parole, I don't need to be screwing with any cops.
"I don't care what you do with it, when you get it from me. I should have listened to my first mind and let him call himself. I told him I would help him out as much as possible. I told him I wouldn't let him down."
"How did you guys happen to call the Enquirer first?"
"We didn't. We called someone else first, but they were giving us the jerk-around."
The "jerk-around." Sounded familiar, I figured that's what was coming my way, but I had to play out the hand.
"I'd be glad to meet up with you at Clark and Division and take a look. Do you want to meet me over there?"
"Yes sir I wouldn't mind."
"How soon can you be there?"
"Are you going to take the knife?" asked Julius.
"What do you want me to do Julius, do you want me to take it?"
"You can take it off my hands, I can't do nothing with it. If you don't take it I might just drop it in the river."
"Let's play it by ear, I'll get there take a look, and we'll take it from there."
"Yes, sir. Make it 7:30."
"You take a cab," I told him. "Meet me at a place called Jeno's on the corner there. I'll pay the fare, but don't stand me up again, or we're done talking."
I left the train station through the Adams St. exit and grabbed a taxi North, along the way I thought about The Knife. This was my third "OJ murder weapon story," the other two had turned out to be bogus and I had no doubt that this one would too. In the world of The Enquirer, everybody is trying to sell something. Tipsters with stories on movie stars, and politicians. Brothers and sisters and cousins of celebrities who are looking for their share of the family fortune. Once again it was the common drill. But as my editor had so clearly pointed out, you couldn't pass on these kooks, because one in a hundred really had a story. If an editor made a decision without checking out a story, he could turn out to be delivering papers rather than writing in them. It was my job to ferret out the real folk and send the others on their way. The cabbie dropped me off on the corner of Clark and Division and I found myself a spot to stand in front of Jeno's Coffee Shop.
It was already as dark as midnight, and I shivered in the freezing cold. Moments later another cab pulled up and a tall athletic black man, about 24, emerged from the taxi dressed in a matching blue running suit, parka, and Nikes.
The man looked around for a moment, and then caught my eye. "Denny?" he asked.
"Yes, that's me."
"The cab fare is $3.50."
I handed him a $5 bill.
"The man reached back into the cab, handed the driver the five, and told him to keep the change.
Inside Jeno's it was warmer, and busy. The evening after work crowd were sampling the exotic blends of coffee, eating fudge brownies, etc. and watching the Bulls on a TV in the corner.
Julius and I took a booth in the smoking section, and I immediately lit up a Marlboro. I looked over at the TV and then back at Julius.
"You a Bulls fan?" I asked him.
"I like the Bulls, but I really dig the Knicks. I grew up in New York, I think I'll always be a Nicks fan. The Bulls are cool, you can't beat Jordan, but I like the Knicks best."
A waitress arrived with cups and a steamy pitcher of coffee. After she walked away, Julius got right down to business.
He pulled a plastic grocery bag from his parka jacket. Inside was another bag. Smaller, and blue, this was a shaving type bag, with a zipper. On the outside was a NFL logo. He unzipped the bag and with a napkin from the table, he extracted a long nasty looking knife.
"This is it," said Julius. "How much will you give me for it?"
"Well I'm not prepared to give you one red cent until I know what it is we have here."
"I told you and that other guy on the phone, it's the OJ murder weapon, this is the knife he used to kill his wife, and that other fellow."
"Just how do you know that? How do you even know that he was the one who did it?"
"Do I have to go through this whole thing again? My friend got it from him that night he stayed at the hotel. He gave it to him and told him he would give him $100 to throw it away. Somewhere nobody would find it."
"So then he took it to a lagoon and threw it in, over by the park."
I looked down at the knife lying in the napkin on the table.
"It doesn't look like it's been wet."
"It was wrapped in a plastic bag, like this grocery bag. Wrapped real tight, and my friend dropped it in the shallow end of the lagoon, there's not as much water there. But then he got scared, that's when he told me. I should have listened with my first mind, but I said I'd help him."
"Help him what?"
Julius was getting frustrated, that knife wasn't the only thing wrapped tight. He tolerated my questions, but he was beginning to lose his temper. He took a swig of coffee.
He slowly began again. "When he told me about all this, I told him that I read some stuff where these guys got $25,000 for some picture they sold to the grocery store rags, uh, I mean papers.
"Well I said that if some picture could get $25,000, how much did he think the OJ murder weapon would bring? He said he couldn't even guess, maybe $30,000! I told him maybe thirty shit, maybe $100,000, maybe more."
"Julius, I hope your not going to be disappointed but I don't usually carry that kind 'a spending cash."
"Don't jive me jack, let's quit this bullshit. Are you paying, or do I call Hard Copy?"
I tried to calm the man who was becoming more and more agitated, I suspected that his other mind might be nearby.
"Julius trust me, if I can get you $100,000 for this knife, I'll do it. But you've got to help. It's you and me against The ENQUIRER. I want the story, I make money, you make money, and everybody's happy.
"But these editors aren't idiots (I wondered). You're not going to sell them some knife you pulled out of your closet fishing tackle box, that you say belongs to a famous murder.
"That's a little harder to sell than a picture. Because you see in a picture the story is told, all we have here is a knife, with no return address.
"Why don't you tell me about your friend, what it is he does at the hotel, you said he worked there right?"
"Yes, he works there now for, maybe four years. He just works around there, you know outside mostly, doing stuff."
"Outside, in the winter?"
"No not so much in the winter, then he's inside, that's where he got the god-dammed knife. Now jack you're wasting my time. Either you want this fuckn' thing or you don't."
With each word Julius increased volume, he started to go off the deep end reading me his version of the riot act. So, it came as little surprise that one of Chicago's finest, distracted from the Bulls game, was standing at the booth, staring down at the table with a question in his eyes, and it had to be about the dagger on the napkin.
The cop, and two more that joined him were standing at the booth. Our table was now getting more attention from the crowd at Jeno's than the Bulls game. One of the cops was writing in a note pad, and was asking Julius for the third time. "You're saying that this is the OJ murder weapon? The California OJ murder weapon?"
"Yes," said Julius.
The cop looked at the knife on the table with mostly doubt in his eyes. Seemed as though he had been dealt that second best poker hand as well. Then he looked at me.
"And you're saying it's not?"
"Right, at least as I far as I know."
"As far as you know," the cop repeated.
"Right," I said.
"Uh, huh . .. . And how does it happen that you two gentlemen should end up right here at Jeno's - in the middle of the Bulls game - with this weapon?"
"He said he would give me $100,000 for it," said Julius. "I told him he could have it for free, that I didn't want it anymore. I told him I wanted to throw it in the river, but he wouldn't listen."
"$100,000," said the cop. "That's a lot of money. Where would a fellow like this get $100,000?" He looked right into my face.
"I didn't say a thing about $100,000, I told this guy that I would take a look at the knife to see if it was authentic."
"Uh, huh. And you know something about this murder, the California OJ murder, something that would prove the knife was authentic?"
"Ah, not exactly, you see I'm a reporter for The National Enquirer, this guy called our offices, down in Florida, and said he had a weapon that was used in the murder."
"Oh I get it now, you're a reporter for The National Enquirer, that clears the whole matter up. I didn't think they had reporters, I thought someone just sat in a room and made that crap up.
"Well see, you can learn something new everyday officer."
The three policemen, Julius, and I left Jeno's while the patrons whispered "murder weapon" and "National Enquirer" among themselves.
Then we all got to stand around outside in the freezing cold while the officer called on his squad radio, checked with his superiors, and found that the disputed dagger did not fit the description LA police were looking for. Julius meanwhile stood by looking dejected, under the watchful eyes of one of the cops.
"I swear Denny," I thought that was the knife. I thought it was real. I was listening to my other mind, I thought it was real.
"You're a lying fool Julius," I shouted back over the squad car. "Both of you."