Washington, DC – Tuesday, Feb. 18, 7:00 a.m. EST
As soon as Anna Jones saw the number on her caller ID, she knew something was wrong. Richard Tanner, the DC bureau chief of the New York Daily Journal, never called his reporters before the morning meeting.
“Hey,” Anna answered, as the elevator doors rattled shut.
“Jones, where are you?” the old man barked.
“On my way up right now.”
“How serendipitous,” he said, clearing his throat.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Nou Channarong was found hanging in his office.”
“What? But I saw him last night.”
“Well, he’s dead now! Get in here.”
“Right,” she told him, but Tanner had already hung up. Anna frowned. The Executive Director for South East Asia at the World Bank, Channarong had been the keynote speaker at the annual gala of the Starlight Institute for Global Prosperity, off Dupont Circle, the previous night. A showman at Washington’s endless stream of dry talks, he had flung his arms around, twinkled his eyes, and flashed his perfect teeth in strategic spurts. He had pushed for increased disaster funds and development aid. The audience of policy wonks and journalists had stopped texting as he wove tales of adventure while making his case. How could he be dead?
The elevator doors opened. Anna glanced around—no one was there. She took off her coat and rested it on a chair. Facing the vestibule mirror, she swiped her ring fingers outward under her hazel eyes to blot her eyeliner. Her light skin still held its moisturizer. She refreshed her red lipstick, smoothed her blond hair and reviewed her outfit—shimmery light grey blouse, charcoal trousers, favorite drop earrings. She was glad she had bought the new clothes. And the heels? Sharp. At five-foot-six, she had to admit, sometimes she enjoyed the intimidation factor of the extra height.
Ready to face her new boss, she grabbed her coat, tapped out the combination to the bureau lock and strode down the hall to an open area called “the pen.” Anna stopped in front of Tanner’s office, a glass box in the center of the vast space.
The bureau chief was on his cell phone, nodding. He made eye contact with Anna and turned his hand in quick circles, signaling the caller was blathering. His tan crackled skin and cotton-white hair, thick and short like a bristle brush, announced his age—but they did not imply fading glory. Tanner pointed to Anna, then the chair.
Anna opened the door and sat down. “Right,” he yelled at the phone, pushing hard with his thumb on the end-call button. Without blinking, he looked straight at Anna.
“Morning, Tanner,” she said.
“Jones, here’s the deal: A cleaning lady discovered the body. No note. Now, who do you know over there?”
“One of the flacks is an old friend—used to work for DMV News.”
“Flacks!” he interrupted. “Those simpering mouthpieces aren’t going to tell you anything. They’re not even going to try to spin this one. And do you know why? Because they’re going to do their damnedest to bury it!”
“She’s not my sole contact. I have—"
“Wait until we see their official statement.”
“Depression? Family issues? Are we sure it was suicide?”
“Who the fuck knows!” barked Tanner, a former Marine. He leaned back and stared at the ceiling for a few seconds. “This could be small potatoes, or it could go nuclear, Jones! Put your other stories on hold—I’ll assign Fritz to cover Treasury and the Fed. Find Channarong’s colleagues, relatives, neighbors, anybody he was doing anything with—church, mosque, kids, whore, whatever,” he said, shooing her out with a mitt of a hand. “Get to the bottom of this, Jones! And do it before anybody else!”
“Got it,” she said, walking out, pulling the door shut behind her as he got back on the phone.
She passed rows of desks. The DC bureau was much larger than the one where she had recently worked in Moscow, but it was small compared to the paper’s headquarters in New York. Most desks were tidy, stripped of clutter, virtually interchangeable, like a hotel business center. A few workspaces brimmed with papers, spiral notepads and books. Reports and documents stood in stacks. Despite the reams of information available online, some journalists hoarded old-fashioned proof. For the older generation, it was force of habit. But there were practical considerations as well, even for her youngest colleagues: Given a crash or a hack, they would still have evidence, if emails or other electronic files disappeared into the ether. Unfortunately, everyone knew, they sometimes did.
When it came to the books, there were other excuses. For Anna, they held an irresistible allure. Concrete stores of knowledge that you could hold in your hand, books could be digested without extra apps or devices, and they represented tangible proof of a careful thought process. Treasures.
She made her way down an aisle toward the far end of the pen and arrived at her corner. Tanner hadn’t said anything when she moved some bookshelves around to create a nook. It wasn’t the droning of the TVs or her colleagues’ talking on the phone that bothered her. It was the chest-thumping and the posturing that drove her nuts. Not all of the guys did it, but still, she worked better in a little oasis. Plus, she missed the intimacy of a foreign bureau. This way, her beloved collection of reference books and foreign-language fiction blocked the view.
Anna pulled out the ergonomic swivel chair and sat down. Who to call first? She knew the police and the Bank would soon release statements, but they would lack heft. In any event, they could be procured online, pro forma, and she could check the wires. For the juiciest meat, she wanted to see for herself. One guy stuck out in her mind: Sasha. She took out her phone and dialed.
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.