Washington, DC – Sunday, Feb. 23, 10:00 a.m. EST
Anna woke up late and headed straight for her programmable coffee machine, which had finished brewing a pot right on time—several hours earlier. She poured a lukewarm cup. The wound on her leg ached, and her head wound felt tender. She longed to play a game of racquetball to let off steam, but her body was in no condition.
She checked her voicemail. There were only a few messages. Besides the usual scams, Tanner had left one saying the investigation was still pending. Another had come in from Raven. As soon as Anna heard the intro, though—“Anna, I’ve got to talk to you! I’m sorry! Don’t be mad.”—she hung up. Whatever Raven had to say could wait.
Facing the accumulation of emails, notifications and texts was harder, but she quickly assessed most of it was junk. One bright spot—her cousin had sent baby pictures on a family group text, to which she replied with heart emojis. One other text from an unknown number jumped out. “This is Elle Mann. I have info about Nou for you. Meet me today at 11 at the corner where you saw Mayhem,” it said.
Shoot, Anna thought. How could this person, Elle, know about that? Could this be one of Evy’s friends? Is that how she got my number? What time is now? Am I too late already?
Deciding to run for it, Anna downed the coffee. She shot a quick email to Tanner telling him she received his message and was eager to get back to work, threw on her clothes, and ordered a ride. By 10:45, Anna was standing at the corner. At 11, doubt seeped in. And at 11:15, she was about to leave when a woman wearing yoga pants, a mint green sweatshirt and a plain black cap bumped into her. “This way,” she said, passing Anna.
More annoyed than intrigued by the sneaking around, Anna trailed her. After several blocks, yoga woman entered the National Portrait Gallery. Anna followed her through two sets of doors past a security guard, the info desk and a couple of elderly docents to the Kogod Courtyard, a four-story concourse the size of a football field. Constructed of glass and steel arcs, the roof appeared to undulate like waves, lending the wide-open space an eerie calm.
The woman sat down at a café table tucked in a corner of concourse. The playful screeches of a couple of elementary-age kids echoed as they ran around and their drooping parents attempted to rein them in. Besides the family and the two women, no one else was there—the place had opened a mere ten minutes before.
“Hey,” Anna said as she sat across from yoga woman. “Nice to, meet you, uh…Elle?”
“Hi,” yoga woman said, exhaling audibly. “I know this routine seems ridiculous, but things are not normal. This was Evy’s idea.”
Anna’s neck tightened. “Evy?”
“She was my best friend,” she added, pulling her cap down on her face. “I’m Sara Reedman.”
“Ah,” Anna whispered. “So, you got my messages?”
“I already knew who you were.”
“Remember that night when you went to see ‘Mayhem’ with your friend Mel?”
“We were there.”
“What do you mean? ‘We’?”
“Evy and I. We followed you there—remember you walked over from the bureau?”
“She wanted to meet you in person, on her terms,” she said, wringing her hands.
“Why the stunt with the phone? Why didn’t she just ask me then and there?”
“I don’t know. She was totally stressed out. She was trying to be extra careful, I guess. She said people were following her—which seemed a little wacky to me at the time. There was no way to get your cell number. I guess the office routes people to the voicemail on the old landline, right?”
Anna frowned. “Were you at the Egyptian with her too?”
“No, after she got your number, she told me to head out—I had other plans originally. So I left. Of course, I had no idea what was going to happen.” Sara looked at the ground.
“I’m sorry,” Anna said, remembering now that Mel had said the klutzy woman who turned out to be Evy was with a woman.
“Yeah, me too,” Sara said, finally making eye contact.
“Why did you decide to contact me? Aren’t you supposed to keep it zipped?”
“I was thinking about everything you said in your messages—that I could talk to you on background, that you wanted to get to the truth, yada yada. The thing is, Evy told me to get in touch with you, if anything happened.”
“Me? Why me?”
“She did her research. She said you were the best. So I’m trusting her judgment.”
“Maybe her judgment wasn’t that good, after all,” Anna said. “I’m sorry. That was dumb,” she added a moment later.
“It doesn’t matter. Her judgment was flawed. It’s true,” Sara said, wincing. “But you are what I have left.”
“OK. Thanks, I guess.”
“Her boyfriend Giovanni wanted her to talk to a journalist in New York, Bob something, or David. I don’t remember his last name.”
“No. That’s the point.”
“What do you mean?”
“Evy had her own mind,” Sara said, hands trembling. “I told you, she thought you were the best. She wanted to talk to you—for a bunch of reasons, like, you are a woman, you cover international finance, you are here in DC. Plus, you have a great reputation.”
Anna nodded and pursed her lips. Is this woman playing me? “Thanks. And who do you think this Giovanni is?”
“Listen, we might not have a lot of time, so,” said Sara, surveying the giant indoor space. “So, yeah, Evy was dating—and working with—this guy Giovanni Salazar. He told her their mutual friend Charles de Jeanbourg recommended her.”
“For what?” Anna recalled the diary entry that the tech had found, in which Evy had rejected Giovanni. She couldn’t forget Evy’s statement, “Fuck the CIA.” Would Sara’s story line up?
“That’s what I’m explaining to you. They both know—knew—Charles de Jeanbourg. Like, Evy went to grad school with Charles, and Giovanni and Charles both work for the CIA, and I want to find out more about them, especially Charles. You can help me with that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you ever heard of J.D. Smith—he works at the Bank—or Steven Brown?”
“Forget it. Sorry. You’re saying they worked for the CIA?”
“And, wait, which graduate school did Charles and Evy attend?
“It was an international affairs degree thing in New York.”
“So, Giovanni approached Evy in Bangkok,” Sara continued. “It was, like, more than a year ago. While she was there, she had to attend an American Embassy function. Giovanni said Charles told him about her, that she would be perfect. She let him take her to dinner. That led to more dinners and you know, more. They saw each other here, in Bangkok and other places—I don’t know all where. He paid for her flights and stuff, and he convinced her to listen to his proposal, some kind of part-time contract. At first, she told him she’d think about it—that’s what she told me—and he told her to keep it to herself—but she blabbed it to me. I told her to forget those freaks, who think they can go around commandeering anybody they want. Like, I urged her to drop it. She never wanted to do that kind of work. But she was into Giovanni, and she said the gig would help her pay off her school loans.”
“You’re saying she took the job?”
“Yeah, she thought it would be fine, at least at first.”
“Yeah, but something got weird, and right before she died, she was freaked out and said someone tried to push her onto the metro tracks.”
Anna made a face.
“I know. I questioned it too. But she tried to contact Giovanni and talk to him about it, and he wasn’t reachable. She was upset, and she asked me to help her find out more about his background.”
“Not yet, but I tried. I sent an email to Charles. He didn’t answer.”
“I suppose the metro story is plausible, considering what happened to me and Viktor yesterday,” she said.
“What do you mean? Who’s Viktor?”
“Viktor,” Anna said, suddenly reluctant to worry Sara even more. “He’s my boyfriend. We were attacked yesterday—but we’ll be fine.”
“You were attacked?” Sara hissed. “Oh my God.” She wrung her hands.
“It’s OK. He’s at the hospital—only for tests. And I have stitches in my leg. That’s it. We’ll be OK.”
“Oh my God,” Sara repeated. “Evy was right. We have to hide.”
“What do you think this charade is for? Evy told me to keep a low profile. I’m lucky I took the cat-sitting gig.”
“I’m not staying at my place. I took a cat-sitting job up in Spring Valley.” Sara crossed her arms and hugged herself.
“Hey, I’m sorry you’re wrapped up in this,” Anna said, giving Sara a sincere look of regret. “Let’s get back to Evy. Did she tell you what this Giovanni wanted her to do?”
Sara was shivering but continued. “They wanted to reveal some scandal in our division, clean up the Bank, or something.”
“You told her not to?”
“Why? Were you protecting the ED?”
“What do you mean by that?” Sara snapped.
“Nothing,” Anna said. “I’m sorry. I heard some gossip, that’s all.”
“What? What did you hear?”
“There’s a version of this story in which you were dating Channarong,” Anna told her matter-of-factly.
“Are you kidding me?” Sara said, shaking her head. “The gossip mill at the Bank is so ridiculous. Who dreams this stuff up?”
“So you weren’t with him?”
“Of course not!”
“OK, I apologize. I had to ask,” Anna said. “Did anyone else know what Evy was doing?”
“I have no idea who knew what. The Bank has all kinds of experts and their assistants on regions and sectors—there are country managers, external relations people, finance types, editors, employees directly in the President’s office—like 10,000 people worldwide.”
“But Evy was going to expose somebody in your department?”
“I think so.”
“Well, that does narrow it down a little. I’ve reviewed the directory, but the hierarchy isn’t exactly crystal clear in there. Can you help me out?”
“OK, sure,” she said, looking at the ceiling. “Nou was one of 25 Executive Directors, you know EDs. His division, South East Asia, handled 11 countries, including Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and the Lao PDR. He had an ‘alternate,’ that is, a second-in-command, and a bunch of advisers and assistants who specialize in work on those countries.”
Anna nodded. “And you had how many advisers?”
“Seven. Well, four ‘senior advisers,’ and three ‘advisers.’ Venny Kumar, Ko Maung Mai, Bo Pham and Judy Beekley were senior advisers. There were also James Cowherd, Ellen Tallmin and Rosalie Rocke. On the program assistant front, we have, I mean had, four: Evy and me, Ingrid Jonsson and Brad Bell.”
“Did you ever notice anything strange about anybody in your office?”
“No,” she said. “Honestly, no. I didn’t.”
“What about Nou?”
“What about him? Nou was an amazing person. He was kind and brilliant, and he never touched me. He didn’t look at me in that way, or make gross jokes. I want to finish my PhD in econ, and he was helping me revamp my dissertation. That’s it. He was like a good dad. That’s part of what I wanted to tell you. I’m here for Evy, but I’m here for him too.”
“Why would he hang himself?”
“No idea. I can’t understand it at all,” Sara said, standing up. “But as far as I’m concerned, that dude Giovanni is responsible,” she added, looking all around again, as if a monster might charge out. “You need to find Giovanni—and Charles," she said, and then she fled.
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.