From the night street outside, the singular aspect of the Coney Island is its coffinlike suggestion of narrow rectangles receding from the sidewalk. Grease-covered fluorescent lights cast a blue pall down the solitary bar and attendant circular stools. The floor displays foot-square checkered tiles, black and white.

The other Coney Isle, the one two blocks down no one ever goes to, closes earlier, at 12:30--thus, Paletello's in the early hours is the only refuge within walking distance of the newspaper building. Paper rollers and like operators are a common sight. There is no television at this Coney Island; Paletello provides a police scanner in a discreet position beside the register, more heard than seen, within easy reach of his stool perch. Everyone knows the enigmatic, crackly codes. Obscure locations are referred to Mac-the-human-map; he then has his moment.

Martin drops his cigarette butt into an unoccupied shoe propping open the door. Behind, two printroomers follow, not "with" the reporter. They settle in jammed to the register. Martin slides beside Mac, who is immediately conspiratorial.

"Ret knows some stuff he isn't telling you, us."

"He know about the fight in Forsythe Park last night? Hey Paletello, what did you hear on the scanner?"

"They called out the dog."

"I know that much. S.O.B. Tom won't say shit about it."

"Hey Martin, does Tom let the dog stay at his house?" Mac keeps up with most of the city police officers.

"As far as I know, in his bed."

A printroomer chortles. Mac, a little slow. "That must be why they let him keep the patrol car at home--it has to be a reason."

Martin ignites another cigarette and turns to the printroomers. "I'm asking--what is there to keep quiet about a gang fight for?" They look earnestly toward each other, approximate a shrug. All keep an ear on the crackling radio. Paletello delivers Martin's coffee. Two DWIs are called in from the same locale out by the Y-split on 80, a known checkpoint.

"I was trying to get something out of Ret about them bicycle guys for you. He knows something. He ain't saying, though." Mac's tone is helpful and worldly. Martin nods, staring ahead.

Mac pipes up: "We could drive out there tonight even--I know where there's some of them hang out."

Martin declines quasi-diplomatically. The printroomers pursue their bottled drafts.

Mac continues after a beat; "I'll ride around--let you know if I see anything."

Martin's face livens of a sudden. He beckons Paletello over and alerts the others. Watch out for the Parish Fair in two weeks at the Civic Center. Whether warning or prediction is not his to tell. Leftover information indicates that the Junior High gang under task squad observation requires of its initiates the targeted savage beating of a random white. The scene is to be near the livestock barns behind the auditorium.

"Damn--you might could get to see it, Martin."

"Nah," he tells Mac. "I've got a well-documented weak stomach. You can do it for me."

Paletello is minimally disturbed. "Martin. You're not chickenshit enough to keep this information from the cops-- "

The printroomers grunt: "That's where he got it from."

"Okay," Mac says, seriously making plans. "I'll check it out for you. I'll go back there, like at the stock yards, huh?"

Clicks become audible on the sidewalk outside. One of the printroomers abruptly whinges--a sound like a beaten, happy dog.

A skirted woman stands halted at the door, tentative and ludicrous in this place. It is necessary for her sunglasses to come off before Martin, crouching, can be spotted.

Everybody knows this one, an easily recognizable local TV reporter. Mac greets her effusively; the printroomers call out her name. With a thinlipped stretch of smile she dismisses all and walks past Mac to the stool beside Martin; there she remains standing. Paletello's lifted coffee pot forms a kind of salute; she waves at him, not impolite but brisk.

Martin's younger sister Kelly paying a visit to the underworld.

"Gayle's been looking for you." She cocks her head: "I told her I couldn't imagine where you'd be."

"I just got here. Besides there is an easily traceable phone number to this establishment. What I mean is, it's in the book." They look at Paletello; he lifts his shoulders and turns to the grille. The phone, a sixties vintage rotary dialer sits primly by the register; only the sharp-eyed will note that there's no cord connection.

"I thought you were supposed to be at a movie," Martin says. "Sit down." Kelly peers below as if it were possible to acquire immune deficiencies from the seat.

"I didn't want to go by myself. Lanny's over at Tech interviewing some seven foot tall South American spook they're sucking up to for basketball."

"Excuse me? Maybe you should refresh your word choice? We often have black friends come in here."

"I don't see any," she says, apprehensive, glancing around.

"At any rate, even withstanding our lack of moral sophistication, the coarsest of us last heard that denominative used in the what--1960s?"

Finally she sits. "Must have been mistaken--thought this was some sort of skinhead hangout."

"If bald means skinhead, well. . . but I guess from your perspective. That's all right--Mac here might have some brother-blood in him," Martin says.

Kelly leans upon the counter to peer around Martin. "That true, Mac?"

Mac reddens. "Not that I know of."

"It's okay," she says, "You don't look it if you do."

"Black Irish, maybe."

"Irish Setter, rather?"

"Is anybody talking to you?" The printroomers wither from Kelly's hurtled gaze. For effect, she reaches past her brother and squeezes Mac's shoulder in a condescendingly sensuous way.

Which flatters, shames, horrifies and arouses him simultaneously. The printroomers visibly retract.

"Gayle told you if you're going to do the Indian Village story or missing kids?"

"Worse, shit. She's letting me decide."

"Autonomy reciprocates longevity," Martin says.

The Indian story is one her station airs anew during roughly alternate years, updating the footage with a current reporter and the same inconclusive story. The indicated site is a village of mound ruins northeast of the city, one of the area's modest tourist draws. Some 2000 years B.C. the first example of extensive communal structure and civic building on the continent took place there, lasting 1200 years, and was abruptly abandoned. No definitive reason for the inhabitants' disappearance has been uncovered.

"Missing kids," interjects one of the printroomers. "Pulls in an audience of half the world."

"See?" Kelly says to Martin.

"Sure. Who's ever gotten sick of the weeping mother in their own living room? Personal identification, but someone else's pain. Which is actually a definition of pornography, look it up."

"I hate when they do that. I mean, I'll watch it, but I hate to be the one interviewing. I always have to cry too."

"Didn't they find one off Love Road last month?" Martin says.

"Yeah, but it was dead. Not missing anymore."

Martin snorts. "That's the whole point--use it. A ritual sacrifice. Kids spotted walking home from school, they're snatched into a waiting car. Off to the wildlife refuge to honor the devil's much vaunted ice-cold dick. Some serious bloodletting for a sideshow." He signals Paletello for a coffee refill.

"Martin--it was a runaway. They think it died of snakebite."

One of the printroomers begins to sing a song about living the wild life. Martin turns to Mac. "You ever heard about that? Accounts of women who say they've had intercourse with the devil?" Mac shakes his head, listening dutifully if reluctantly.

"They all agree. Beyond ice-cold. The perfect irony. Trouble is getting your phrasing past the station manager."

Kelly groans and stands up, heading out for her car. Mac cranes for a glimpse of the red Z.

"Hey--don't tell Gayle you found me."

She gives him a look containing a detailed history of exasperation, slips the shades back on. "Disappointed a few people. Well. Isn't that what friends are for?" Quote marks off the edge of her lips. The copyroomers invite Kelly to come see them sometime, just any time, and are answered by the high Japanese whine of the Z.

Martin finds Mac sipping his coffee, subdued.

"Hey man, don't tell her things like that, that aint the kind of subject you mention around your sister," Mac says.

"What--the devil's genitals? You want me to let drop a few of the things I've heard her say?"

Mac shakes his shoulders no. His voice lowers."Besides, those kids, dying--that stuff happens."

"I know," Martin says. "That's what news is."