The Lafayette Coney Island was not a comfortable place to be early. It wasn't a comfortable place, period. It was cramped and dingy and packed, and seat saving, such as I was attempting at the lunch rush, was not appreciated.
Thankfully, at precisely noon as promised, an older black gentleman in a baggy Detroit Lions jersey shuffled through the door, ratty leather bag slung over one drooped shoulder.
"Mr. Rich?" I called over the din.
He slid into the chair across from me. I'd fought hard for that chair.
Hopefully this meeting would be worth the effort. "How'd you know it was me?" he said.
"You said you'd be wearing a Lions jersey."
"Oh yes. I did, didn't I? My son gave me this."
"You ready to order? I only have twenty minutes."
Mr. Rich was looking back toward the door. "Well, I was hoping that ...Oh! Here we go."
The door swung open and a tall, well-built man sporting a slick suit and a head of short black dreads walked in. He looked vaguely familiar.
"Denny! We're just about to order." Mr. Rich set the leather bag on his lap and slid over in his seat to accommodate the newcomer.
The man sat on the eight inches of chair Mr. Rich had managed to unearth from his own backside, but most of him spilled out into the already narrow aisle.
"This is my son, Linden."
Something clicked and my eyes flew to one of the many photos on the wall of famous people who'd eaten here over the years. There he was, between Eminem and Drew Barrymore, towering over the smiling staff.
I sat a little straighter. "The Linden Rich who kicks for the Lions?"
"Yeah," he said. "And you are...?"
"This is Elizabeth Balsam," Mr. Rich supplied, "the lady who writes all those scandal stories in the Free Press about corruption and land grabbing and those ten thousand—eleven thousand?—untested rape kits they found awhile back and such. She covered the Kilpatrick trial."
I offered up a little smile, one I'd practiced in the mirror every morning since college, one I hoped made me look equal parts approachable and intelligent.
"Oh, yeah, okay," Linden said. "I see the resemblance. In the eyes."
"I told you," Mr. Rich said.
"I'm sorry," I broke in, "what resemblance?"
A waiter in a filthy white T-shirt balancing ten plates on one arm came up to the table just then and said, "Denny! Whaddayawant?"
We ordered our coney dogs—coney sauce and onions for me, everything they had in the kitchen for Linden, and just coney sauce for Mr. Rich, who explained, "I can't eat onions no more."
"And I need silverware," I added in an undertone.
When the waiter shouted the order to the old man at the grill, Linden was already talking. "You are not giving her that camera."
"You said the photos—the photos should stay for now," Mr. Rich said.
"Why shouldn't I give her the camera? It ain't yours, Denny."
"It ain't hers either."
"No, she's going to give it to Nora."
Linden took a deep breath and looked off to the side. Though probably anyone else would have been embarrassed to be so obviously talked about as if she wasn't even there, years of cutthroat journalism had largely squelched that entirely natural impulse in my brain.