Miami – Wednesday, Feb. 19, 10:00 p.m. EST
Minutes after Torenmaas’ gates had closed behind Lin’s fine German vehicle, Raven pulled up in a QuickRent car. Anna rode shotgun. They showed their IDs to the security guards, as Lin had, and were similarly sent through.
"Modest little shed,” Anna said, as the villa came into view. “Are you going to inform me how you pulled this off?”
Raven just smiled as she parked.
“What did you say to get him to agree to the interview?” Anna pushed. “Do you have something on him?”
“Anna, Anna,” Raven added, shaking her head. She got out and slammed the door.
Anna followed her up the pebble path to the front door.
Once again, Hendrik had been watching from the window and appeared at the door before the arrivals had a chance to ring the bell. “Greetings, Miss Raven! It is a pleasure to see you,” he said, holding out his arms to welcome her.
“Thank you, Hendrik. It’s good to know you are still here.”
Anna took note. Hendrik knew Raven well?
“Who else would employ me, Miss Raven?” said Hendrik, showing them down a hall.
Raven laughed. “He needs you, Hendrik. We both know that.”
Hendrik stopped for a moment next to a small office. “Now I must ask you to leave your phones and bags here. They will be safe in my care.”
Raven placed her phone on a tray and bag into a cabinet.
“I guess we don’t have a choice?” Anna said.
“I’m afraid not, Ms. Jones,” Hendrik said. “But you are exempt from the pat-down, because you’re with Raven.”
“Awesome,” said Anna sarcastically, following suit with the phone and her bag.
Hendrik showed them to the pool area.
As soon as Torenmaas heard footsteps, he rushed over and kissed Raven on her left cheek, then the right. “You look beautiful, my dear!”
“Thank you!” Raven beamed.
They sat down, and Raven got straight to the point. “Thank you for agreeing to meet us. I know you prefer not to conduct interviews.”
“We have always gotten along, haven’t we, Raven?” Torenmaas said. “You have my best interests at heart.”
Raven smiled. “We’re grateful you have changed your mind. It will be best for both of you, if you have a chance to set the record straight.”
Turning to face Anna directly, Torenmaas said, “This is ‘off the record’—‘deep background,’ as you put it in your world.”
“That’s fine,” Anna said.
“To be crystal clear,” he bellowed. “You do not quote me, and I do not wake up and find you called me a ‘source’ or an ‘official.’ Consider my information a brainstorm from God.”
“Got it. If I attempt to quote God, my career will be over anyway,” Anna said, trying to make light but garnering no reaction. “But I understand. Right. If you clue me in on something, I will not publicize it until I find corroboration from other sources.”
“And you may not record the interview. You left your devices in the other room, yes?”
“Yes,” said Anna, watching Raven nod. She was acting oddly compliant, Anna thought.
“One more thing,” Torenmaas said. “You want to ask me why I had dinner with Nou on South Beach, and….”
Anna interrupted, “Raven discussed that with you already?”
Poker-faced, Raven did not look at Anna, but kept her eyes on Torenmaas.
“She was right to do so,” Torenmaas replied. “I doubt I would have agreed to meet with you otherwise.”
“And why is that?” Anna asked.
“Depending on how it’s used, the video might compromise my reputation, Ms. Jones. You know that, or it wouldn’t interest you. Nou is dead, and people are wondering what’s behind it.”
“So why did you have dinner with him?”
“I want to clarify one more stipulation before we continue.”
“You need to tell me how you came upon that video.”
“Interesting demand. I could agree to that—in this case,” Anna added, dragging out her reply. “But let me preface this by saying that under normal circumstances, I would never reveal a source—in fact, I never have.”
“Get off your high horse, Ms. Jones,” Torenmaas interrupted. “I’m not here to discuss your journalistic ideals.”
“This is different, because the source is dead.”
“Nou?” Torenmaas asked.
“And in that light, nothing worse can happen to her,” Anna continued.
“Her? Who are you talking about?”
“Didn’t you hear of the murder of that young woman at the restaurant in DC yesterday?”
“Evy Poole, an assistant at the World Bank, was shot to death on the patio of a popular restaurant near Dupont Circle yesterday evening. She worked in Channarong’s division,” Anna said, observing Torenmaas’ reactions. “And she sent me some information right before she died.”
“So?” said Torenmaas.
“It included the video of you and Channarong dining together.”
“You got this video from a World Bank secretary who is now dead?”
“Her title was program assistant, but yes.”
“That is astonishing,” Torenmaas replied.
Anna assessed Torenmaas. He appeared genuinely shocked. Maybe he actually hadn’t known about her. “Perhaps you can shed some light on the situation,” Anna said.
“Do the police know about the video?”
“They have her phone, so they must have the link to the video, but even if they saw it, they probably don’t know if it matters. And I doubt they identified you yet.”
“Indeed. How did you figure that out?”
“In some areas, humans work faster than AI,” she said, noting Torenmaas’ intense stare. He wanted more detail. “OK. I have a friend in the Netherlands who works in philanthropy—with elite private donors, art world. After that, it wasn’t very hard. You are well known over there. So, now that I told you I received the video from Evy, you need to finish your end of the bargain. Why did you meet with him?”
“It was simple. We were discussing our philanthropic projects,” Torenmaas said. “Nou wanted me to put more money into Thailand.”
“Come on. Do expect me to accept that as an answer?”
“Why not? I can’t dream up a more interesting story, because the truth is too plain.”
“My foundation has been financing an art museum linked with a series of community centers, which would simultaneously promote traditional crafts and boost economic development.”
“Then why be cagey about it?”
“I’m not. I have a policy of not discussing my activities with journalists. Much of the news is…distorted. I don’t want to have anything to do with it, or with you,” Torenmaas said. “When—now, if—the satellite centers open, you’ll hear about it officially.”
“What do you mean ‘if’?”
“Can’t you see? If Nou Channarong is dead, the financial backing may be in danger. He was a big champion of the cause.”
“I thought Channarong worked on rural health, agriculture and fisheries, things like that. What’s he doing with an art museum?”
“Traditional crafts and the local art scene are an engine of growth. He wanted to support that. It was a slightly different direction, but not unrelated.”
“Why did you have that video taken?”
“Me?” Torenmaas said, standing up. “It was not by me. How could such a video possibly do me any good? When you figure out where it came from, I expect you to fill me in. Let’s count that as a part of our little information exchange here,” he said, waving his hand back and forth between them.
Raven also stood. “Thank you, Uncle Theo. We appreciate your time.”
Anna was dumbstruck. Uncle?
“My dear niece, you must stop by more often,” said Torenmaas, ushering Raven out.
Anna jumped up. “Uncle?”
Stopping in her tracks, Raven smiled without showing her teeth and tilted her head at Torenmaas, who darted a look at Anna.
“Didn’t you know Raven is my niece?” he asked Anna.
“No, no,” Anna stuttered.
“That’s why I wasn’t worried about this meeting,” said Raven, eyes wide. “I’ve known him for most of my life.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before?” Anna snapped.
“You wanted to find your own connection. I thought I’d see if it panned out.”
Torenmaas stood with an amused expression on his face.
“Great,” Anna said. “Thanks. And thanks for relieving me of my self-flagellation.”
“Any time,” Raven said with a laugh. “He’s my step-uncle, technically. Right, Uncle Theo?” she added, facing her uncle.
“My father died of cancer when I was six,” Raven offered. “Later, my mom married a man named Harrison, and his sister Poppy was married to Uncle Theo here.”
“I see,” Anna said. “What do you mean, ‘was’?”
“She died too. Also cancer,” Torenmaas replied.
“Oh,” Anna said. A sour taste took over her mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“Anyway, Uncle Theo was always good to me and my cousins,” Raven said.
Torenmaas put his arm around Raven. “We should get together more often.” Facing Anna, he added, “Raven is a wonderful person.”
“Right,” Anna said. “Thank you. And, wait, can you give me a lead on who else to talk to about the art center? Maybe I can get it on the record.”
“You don’t believe me, Ms. Jones?” Torenmaas said, walking toward the front door.
“It’s my job to verify, Mr. Torenmaas. If I can substantiate the truth, everybody wins.”
“Call Alex Ice,” Torenmaas said. “He’s a well-known artist in Chiang Mai—easy to find. It’s his brainchild. You’ll find what you’re looking for.”
“OK, then. Thanks.”
Hendrik, who had been hovering in the background, returned their electronic devices and wished Raven well.
“One more thing,” Anna said.
Ignoring Anna, Torenmaas hugged Raven and kissed her on each cheek once again. “Make sure this young lady knows she owes you,” he told her. “And now, I must attend to some other business. It’s late morning in Asia.” Torenmaas stepped away.
“Mr. Torenmaas!” Anna called.
With a wrinkled brow, he turned and gave Anna a don’t-push-your-luck look.
“Evy saved a spreadsheet of World Bank projects in South East Asia on her phone,” Anna said. “Some of the phone numbers on it were repeated, and they are for your office here in Miami. Why?”
“My number?” Torenmaas said, raising his eyebrows “That is curious, but I have no idea. Be sure to let me know. Good night.”
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