Washington, DC – Tuesday, Feb. 18, 10:00 p.m. EST
“Oh my God!” Anna gasped. She knew Evy must have used an app to schedule the texts, but she had never received messages from a dead person before. What a strange new brand of secret! Anna quickly scrolled back to the beginning.
The text messages said: “phone under cedar here; pw = your office address with caps,” “corruption at WB,” “collected docs, spreadsheet & video,” and “can’t fit pieces together.” The subsequent texts were hyperlinks to web pages. Anna clicked through and saw statistics and legal documents, which could be combed through later. Finding the phone was more urgent.
Anna jogged south and then west on Corcoran, a charming cobblestone street—passing more exquisite brownstones. As she ran back to the restaurant, she tried to figure out what Evy was getting at. What could be on the phone? Was it on the patio? Would it still be there?
Where Corcoran hit 18th, Anna looked right. The police were still blocking R. She went the other way, looping around by the Argentinian Embassy toward the Dupont Circle metro stop. She retraced her earlier steps up Connecticut Avenue toward the Egyptian.
Most of the emergency vehicles had departed, and traffic on Connecticut was flowing again. The news truck was gone, but the corner by the restaurant was still cordoned off. Where could the phone be? Where were the cedars? Anna found the potted plants, but the bushes in the pots were holly, not cedars. The hedge along the side was boxwood. Anna drew a blank.
Then she spotted a faded mural across the street on a wall near a dumpster at the back of a defunct copy store—and the scene featured a cedar. Anna crossed nonchalantly and walked up to the mural. Something was wedged into a crevice between the wall and the sidewalk beneath the image of the tree. She reached for it—something wrapped in soft paper, the shape and feel of a cell phone. She shoved it into her bag.
Anna hailed the taxi that had been hovering at the corner and directed the driver to the office. En route, she unwrapped the paper. Indeed, inside was a phone. The paper turned out to be a napkin with a note written on it: “AJ - Giving this to a bystander for delivery. Thank God for crumbling walls – EP.”
A calm washed over Anna—an autopilot she experienced in extreme stress. She folded the napkin and stuck it in her bag.
The phone she held in her hand. As per Evy’s text instructions, Anna typed her office address into the password field in every possible variation. Nothing worked. She worried she’d never figure it out. She wondered what she’d missed. Perhaps I’m thinking too much, she thought. Then, she typed the actual words “YOUR OFFICE ADDRESS” using all caps—nothing. Finally, she tried, “Your Office Address”—and she was in!
“Evy, you rock!” Anna said, regretting her outburst, as Evy could no longer receive the compliment. She clicked on Evy’s email app, but Evy wasn’t logged in. Still, the phone itself was bound to contain significant information. Anna was anxious to explore its files, but the taxi was pulling up to Anna’s office building. She put the phone away, paid and went inside.
The receptionist had gone home hours ago, but Tanner was still at his desk.
“Hey, Jones,” Tanner yelled from his glass box. “You look like crap. But your crime scene pictures are good.”
Anna walked over to the open office door. “I try. What are you doing here?”
“A bureau chief’s work is never done, Jones. You know that. What have you got?” Tanner said in a paternal tone.
“You really want to know—now?”
“It’s a hot story. And my wife’s not going to miss the wheezing of the C-PAP.” Tanner leaned forward, placing his right elbow on the desk and his temple on his right hand. He fixed his eyes on Anna.
She brought him up to speed and showed him the napkin and the phone.
Tanner wasted no time in saying: “Watch your back, Jones.”
Anna assessed Tanner’s face.
“Yes, I’m serious. I want you to be careful.” Tanner reclined, and his chair squeaked. “Local TV and social media have been blowing up over that homicide scene tonight. People are connecting the dots, even if the police aren’t.”
“You didn’t see? Evy—full name Evy Poole—worked as a program assistant at the World Bank—in the same division as Channarong.” Tanner cocked his head back and forth. “Two separate and grizzly deaths at one rarified financial institution in one day equals a lot of very public social media paranoia.”
“Shoot. Evy said she had information about Channarong, but she wouldn’t tell me anything else. Why didn’t she tell me who she was? Why didn’t she talk to me at the theater?”
“And what is her direct link to Channarong?”
“Love triangle? Spurned lover?”
“Maybe,” Tanner said, scrolling through the sources. “Channarong was charismatic, and he had money. But some are speculating a drive-by or stray bullet.”
Anna shook her head.
“I agree. Evy’s death wasn’t coincidental. If we say she was targeted, it could have been jealousy. A few other reasons also come to mind—punishment, silence. You saw her body. What do you make of it?”
“Witnesses on the scene said they heard one shot. Nobody was talking about stray bullets, gang activity or a melee.”
“Very ‘professional.’ No?”
“As absurd as it sounds, yes. It looks like a hit. But who would want to assassinate a twenty-something World Bank assistant?”
“She alluded to corruption.”
“Maybe something will come up in these links,” Anna said. “Or in the files on this phone.”
“That’s your next task. Copy everything—contact list, phone log, text threads, downloads, photos, everything. Then we’ll share it with the tech team.”
“That’s why I came in here. Maybe Jeff or somebody else in tech will see something I don’t. And, just so you know, we can’t access her email—I already checked; she’s not logged in on the phone, and I only have the phone password, not the email one.”
“Can you copy the contents in half an hour?”
“I’ll wait for you,” he said. “When tech is finished, I’ll call my friend over at MPD and hand it over.”
“I didn’t think we were obligated to give it to them,” she said, frowning.
“We’re not. They have to do their own work. But this girl’s family will want to know what happened. It doesn’t hurt us to tell the police we found the phone.”
“Aren’t they going to wonder why I had it?”
“So what? You found it and brought it to the office tonight. Jones, listen, you cover a financial beat. This is a little more than you bargained for. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. This stuff never sinks in until later.”
“I mean it, Jones. I don’t want you getting hurt. If anything changes, tell me.”
“And when you’re finished with that data dump, get some sleep, Jones. You’re going to need it. Tomorrow, you can have that intern, John Carlston, assist you,” he said. “Let me know when you find something.”
Copyright © by Wolf Bahren. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher with “permission requests” in the subject line at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.