Flight Dreams Headline
Setting the scene

Mark Manning, an investigative reporter for the Chicago Journal, is working on a story regarding an astronomical discovery, replacing a colleague, the paper’s science editor, Clifford Nolan, who failed to deliver on the assignment. In fact, Nolan hasn’t shown up at the office for several days, and Manning’s concern is mounting. He decides to check up on Nolan at his apartment.

Excerpt from the text of Eye Contact

    Five minutes later, Manning is on the street, walking through his near-north neighborhood toward Clifford Nolan’s apartment building. The long summer evening is a warm one, and the urgency of Manning’s stride has caused him to break into a sweat. He tells himself to slow down. Nothing is wrong.
    After all, Cliff Nolan has pulled these brief disappearances before. When he won the Partridge Prize a few years back, there was the traditional Friday-afternoon champagne toast in the newsroom. With uncharacteristic spontaneity, Nolan invited everyone to his apartment to continue the celebration that night. Manning was inclined not to go, but dismissed his reticence as base jealousy of Nolan’s award (known among reporters as “the coveted Brass Bird”), so he joined the festivities later that evening. Funky dance music was blasting from the apartment, and Manning laughed in astonishment as he climbed the stairs—at the office, Nolan never missed an opportunity to flaunt his ballet-and-opera tastes. Inside the apartment, the party was in full swing, and so was Nolan. His usual abstemiousness, which only rarely allowed a glass of port or an exceptionally fine armagnac, was out the window that night, and he raced through the crowded rooms half-naked in pursuit of female coworkers who laughed hysterically at his metamorphosis. The next week, he didn’t show up at the office for several days, and when he did arrive back, he offered no explanation for his absence. Whether he was drying out somewhere, or shacked up with someone, or simply embarrassed into hiding was never known.
    The incident reminds Manning that there has been newsroom gossip of other parties, not attended by Manning, that also led Nolan to miss work. In the course of Nolan’s solid career, however, these aberrations have been rare, and Manning is willing to dismiss his colleague’s current disappearance as merely another brief escape from a repressed personality.
    Manning has reached his destination, standing now at the canopied entrance to the other reporter’s building. He tries the door, knowing that it will be locked, and indeed it is. He presses the buzzer to Nolan’s apartment, and predictably there is no response after several tries. Stymied, he stands there in the shade of the awning, wondering what other options he has. Perhaps he could try to reach the building’s superintendent. Then he notices an older resident approaching the building, a woman with two bags of groceries, packed high. As she steps up to the door, she struggles with her purse, fishing for her key.
    “May I be of help?” asks Manning, reaching for one of the bags.
    “Thank you so much,” she gasps, handing him the groceries. “Every day, it seems that life just gets more complicated.” She laughs at her futile complaint.
    When she unlocks the outer door, Manning opens it for her, steps inside with her, then opens the inner door. Inside the lobby, when she has recomposed herself, he hands back her groceries. She thanks him again and hobbles off toward her own apartment. Manning is already up the first flight of stairs.
    Arriving on the top floor, he walks past several doors to the one he knows to be Nolan’s. He pauses, listening. There’s a television playing somewhere, but it comes from another apartment. Otherwise, silence. He knocks. There is no response. So he knocks louder, calling, “Cliff? It’s Mark Manning. Are you in there?”
    Down the hallway, the door to the next apartment cracks open, emitting the sound of the television he heard—someone is preaching about moral decay. Through the narrow opening, a face peers out, wondering who’s in the hall. Manning turns to get a glimpse of the woman, and the door snaps shut.
    Returning his attention to Nolan’s door, Manning knocks louder still. “Clifford?” And still there is no response. So he tries the knob, knowing that it will be locked. But in fact, it clicks open, and Manning swings the door wide before him.
    Stepping inside, he remembers entering the living room on the night of the party. Even then, crowded as it was, the place struck him as lavishly furnished, expensively decorated. This return visit confirms that impression—the apartment is serene and tasteful, all velvet and crystal and dark hardwood, with framed old art (real art) on every wall. Air conditioning wafts through the chilled but stuffy rooms, carrying the slightest whiff of something rotten. Then he notices that all the lights are on. The sun won’t set for another hour, and daylight streams in through west windows. So the lamps have been left on since at least last night.
    In the hush of the apartment, he senses that his ears are ringing—but no, it’s not that—it’s a different sort of noise. What he hears is a low electronic hum. It comes from the next room, which he knows to be Nolan’s study. Manning again calls, “Clifford?” but this time his voice is colored with apprehension. He crosses the room to the doorway of the study and looks inside.
    There in a chair sits Clifford Nolan, his body slumped forward onto the desk. Manning steps closer. “Good God,” he mumbles. “Cliff?” But he knows that his colleague will not answer. The underside of the reporter’s face has turned purple, swollen against the surface of the desk. Bullet wounds, several of them, pierce his back. Blackened blood has caked down his shirt, disappearing into his pants. He’s starting to stink. He’s been here awhile.

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