Washington, DC – Saturday, Feb. 22, 8:00 p.m. EST
When Mel arrived at Karl’s, she scoured the crowd for Anna, who had called muttering. Mel didn’t understand, but it was clear Anna was at Karl’s, so Mel backed out of her dinner with Saloma and went over. Karl’s was crowded. Under different circumstances, the atmosphere would have been perfect—clear night, not too cold, good music, energetic crowd. But Anna was in a crisis, and she was nowhere to be seen.
Mel strode toward the back and found Anna wearing a coat, slumped over a picnic table near a space heater. Her left arm was tucked in toward her body, right arm spread out in front of her, face planted on the table. Mel gently touched her forearm, and Anna jumped like she’d been hit with a cattle prod.
“Hey! I’m sorry,” Mel said. “It’s me.” Anna’s make-up was smudged, her clothes disheveled.
“Mel,” Anna said, blinking.
“You look awful,” Mel told her.
“Get me a drink. Something with vodka.”
“How about some water,” she said, pouring her a glass from a pitcher that stood in front of her. “Didn’t they give you pain killers?”
“What difference does it make? Everything is all screwed up,” she slurred.
“I couldn’t tell what you were talking about on the phone.”
“Viktor’s in the hospital.” She hailed a waiter. “Two vodka martinis with olives.”
“In Moscow?” Mel said.
“Mel. Were you listening at all?”
“I’m sorry, Anna. You weren’t making much sense.”
Anna pulled herself together and told Mel about Viktor’s arrival, their meeting in College Park and the walk to the journalism school.
When the waiter returned, Mel paid for the drinks and pushed them to the side. She poured more water. “But, wait. I don’t get it. Were you shot—or not?” Mel asked.
“Yes, but the bullet just grazed my thigh,” said Anna, sobering up. “People were swarming around, so I guess the shooter got spooked, or I moved unexpectedly, or I don’t know.
Someone bumped into me, I think.”
“Viktor fell and got knocked out. It totally freaked me out. I had no idea what was wrong with him.”
“Then he wasn’t shot?”
“No. He hit his head—maybe on a metal post or a cement barrier or who knows. He has a huge goose egg and stitches, and he might have a concussion, so they kept him for observation. The medical team urged me to go home. At first, I said no, but Viktor was awake at that point, and he kept saying he didn’t want me to be so uncomfortable. So I left, and went home, and I showered and changed and tried to rest, but I couldn’t. Then I called you, but you didn’t answer, and I didn’t want to be alone. And here I am.”
Mel wanted to talk strategy—how to find the shooter and the link to Anna, how to untangle the mess with the Mirror and revoke the firing. Instead, she said, “Should we be worried? How bad could the concussion be?”
“They’ll know more in a few days.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Isn’t it?” Anna asked, gulping her martini. “He wouldn’t even be in DC if it wasn’t for me.”
“Come on, Anna. I knew guilt was rolling around in your head. It’s typical Anna. But he’s a big boy. Have you heard any more from the authorities about Channarong, Evy, or the accident in Miami?”
“What about the police in College Park? Did you talk to them?”
“Of course. I called them from the hospital.”
“The public affairs person said the working theory is a gang stunt,” she said.
“What the hell! A ‘gang stunt’ by a couple in an SUV with a baby seat?"
“They said it wasn’t targeted.”
“Not targeted? Do they know about your investigation of Channarong? Or what happened in Miami?”
“They don’t really care. Miami is far away, and Channarong’s death has officially been ruled a suicide. It can’t be related.”
“I’m serious. Get a pistol. The firearms safety course is online. The background check would be a piece of cake for you. And, in your line of work, you’ll have a great argument for concealed carry.”
“I’m not getting a gun, Mel,” she said. “If I have to defend myself, well, that’s what the Krav Maga is for.”
“You still do that? I thought you quit after college.”
“No, you quit!” Anna said. “When you entered the Army, you forgot all about it, but I still needed it. And you know, it turns out it goes way beyond that basic self-defense stuff. It’s full-on hand-to-hand combat. Not that I would initiate, of course, but it’s interesting to know. There’s a great studio near my place.”
“OK,” Mel said, nodding. “You won’t use a pistol, but you’d kill a guy with your bare hands. Cool.”
Anna let out a chuckle. It felt like old times for a minute. “But there’s something else,” Anna added, ruefully.
“Viktor and I had a fight.”
“Oh no, Anna,” Mel said. “Before or after the shooting?”
“He used to date my colleague Raven, and he kept it a secret.”
“But that’s not even the point. The thing is, after this shooting, after the hospital, I felt bad about everything, and I had this stupid idea to call Raven and tell her what happened to Viktor. It’s dumb, I guess, but I thought she should know.”
“I called her at her parents’ house. When I was in Miami, she had given me the number, said I could reach her there, just in case. Anyway, her mother answered. She was cordial, so I extended my sympathies for their loss. But get this,” Anna said, pausing. “Her mother said, ‘What loss?’”
“What do you mean?”
“Raven lied about her reason for being in Miami. There was no family funeral.”
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