Washington, DC – Friday, Feb. 21, 5:00 p.m. EST
Anna flinched when she heard a knock on the door of her apartment. Her place was on the 9th floor—whoever it was had bypassed security. She got up and looked through the peephole. It was blocked.
Before she had time to consider the options, however, she heard a deep, “Surprise!”
“Viktor!” she cried out as she opened the door. She rushed at him, draped her hands around his neck, looked into his dark eyes and stretched up to kiss him. “What are you doing here?”
“I was worried about you!” he said, caressing her face and gazing down at her stitches. “But you look gorgeous!”
“Thanks!” She took a good look at him. His curly dark brown hair, cut in a low fade, looked especially sexy with the five-o’clock shadow he had acquired during the trip. She also appreciated his choice of navy ski jacket, indigo jeans and Italian black leather oxfords. “You don’t look so bad yourself! Come in!” She guided his wheeled suitcase inside for him. “How did you pull this off?”
“Magic.” He stared at her and smiled. “Well, truth be told, it was a logistical nightmare.”
“Kind of, but I made it, as you can see. I dropped everything as soon as you told me about the accident yesterday morning.”
“I missed you,” she said.
“I took a week off. Are you surprised?”
Viktor gestured around the room with his hand. “Great neighborhood, NoMa. Great building. I see there’s a pool on the roof and a gym on the ground floor—with windows. Nice.”
“I knew you’d say that.” She grinned.
Viktor approached Anna and pulled her close. He put his arms around her waist and they kissed.
Acutely aware of the heat of his body, she looked at him again and smiled.
He moved his hands slowly up to her shoulders, then cupped her head in his hands and brushed his fingers through her hair. She reached around his back.
“You smell like cinnamon,” he said. “And flowers.”
She laughed. “You smell like Dulles taxi air freshener. And mints.”
“I missed you so much,” he said, holding her.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” she said, grasping his hand and pulling him into her bedroom.
He stared at her, as she unbuttoned his shirt, swept her hands over his muscular chest and pushed him backward onto the bed. Straddling his body, she leaned down and kissed him. He flipped her over, brushing his hand along the inside of her thigh, and their lips met again. Then they tore off the rest of their clothes and quenched the desire they’d held at bay for weeks.
Afterward, she lay on her stomach, used her crossed arms as a pillow and stared at him. Viktor rolled toward her, placing his leg over her side, kissing the back of her neck. He drank her in, memorizing the scent of her skin.
“Now I will keep you here forever,” he whispered into her ear.
He balanced on his side and lightly ran his finger from the nape of her neck down to the tip of her spine. She shivered.
“Or, I could make you dinner,” he said.
“Terrific,” she said, admiring his six pack as he pulled on his boxers. “See what you can scrounge up.”
Anna put on her robe and followed him into the kitchen.
“So, tell me. What’s going on?” Viktor asked her, as he surveyed the food in her cabinets and refrigerator. “People in the office are saying you’re on leave.”
“Right, you made me forget about that for a while, but yeah, I’m on leave,” she said, finally cooled down about it. “It’s stupid, but I guess you heard. I had to ‘take one for the team.’
Higher ups in New York demanded it—all that BS.” She offered him pinot noir, a case of which she had just received from friends who owned a vineyard in California—former journalists on to a second act. She poured herself some too. “Who told you?”
“Everybody’s talking about it. You know how texts travel faster than wildfire.”
“I was hoping I could keep it on the down-low.”
“They’re being rash.”
“Look, I know you are innocent, but they have to investigate—rule out plagiarism, lies, conflicts of interest. People need to be held accountable. Those jerks drag us all down. Remember that guy at the magazine in New York? The one who made up his sources?”
“It makes me sick. You know that.”
“It will all come out in the wash.”
“I’m glad you’re confident about that,” Anna said. “My concern is they won’t try very hard. They don’t have the financial incentive to investigate on my behalf. If I go away, the problem goes away—for them.”
“Well, what are we going to do about it?”
“You don’t think I’m here to visit the Smithsonian, do you?”
“You don’t need to waste your time on little old me,” said Anna, smiling at him.
Viktor took out onions, green peppers, mushrooms and ginger root from the fridge. “I see you haven’t totally abandoned your kitchen.”
“If you work too hard, how are you going to have the energy to take care of me? That ginger is ancient.”
“I always have energy for you, Anna. Besides, cooking isn’t work.”
She sat on a stool at the kitchen peninsula, as he put rice in the steamer and began to chop the vegetables.
“So, what have you found out since we talked?” he asked.
“You mean about Channarong?”
“No. I mean about you—the fake news about you.”
“That’s just it. There’s more than one story now, and I’m convinced they’re connected.”
“I would agree. So you want to start with Channarong, then?”
“No word from his immediate family—wife Grace, daughter, son,” she said. “All of them have been impossible to reach. They hired a publicist to field the inquiries, which are pouring in from around the world, and right now, they don’t have anything to add to the official World Bank statement.”
“People say his wife was having an affair with Senator Caleb,” he said.
“You heard that too? All the way in Moscow?”
“I contacted a couple people en route. It’s an open secret in DC, I guess.”
Anna squinted at him. “You don’t have to do my work for me.”
“Come on. Maybe we can dig up someone in Caleb’s office who knows something about Channarong.”
“Well, my guess is everybody over there will keep mum.”
“The quieter they are, the better for the Senator, true,” Viktor said, returning to the fridge. He took some boneless chicken out, unwrapped it and cut it into chunks. “But maybe someone is pissed about it—and would want to spill.”
“Maybe you’re right. I could pursue the Senator’s staff more. I’ve been calling around and sending emails to all kinds of people, trying to hit up relevant groups—friends, neighbors, colleagues. Nobody has been forthcoming. I even stopped by the loading dock of the Bank on my way home.”
“The loading dock?”
“Somebody in maintenance or security might talk. Also, this wasn’t in the official news release, but Tanner said his police contact told him a ‘cleaning lady’ found the body.”.
“Did you get lucky?”
She shook her head. “People acted like I had the plague. But I did get one woman to take my business card. I had written my private cell number on the back. She promised to pass it on.”
“I can picture you lurking around the loading dock, trying to strike up conversation.”
“You know I love that stuff,” she said, clenching her left fist.
“Better than nothing, I suppose.”
“I also tried to track down the real estate agent who supposedly showed the suite to Channarong. This Jeanne somebody.”
“And let me guess.”
“She’s fake,” he said.
“Indeed. The real estate agency exists, and the suite exists, but I couldn’t find such a person.
Suffice to say I am confident no one else can either.”
“Figures. Were the other sources fictional too?”
“No, actually,” Anna told him.
“No?” Viktor said.
“In fact, I spoke to both of them this afternoon. They were angry and ready to blab.”
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.