Washington, DC – Tuesday, Feb. 18, 11:30 a.m. EST
When Anna and Sasha arrived on Channarong’s floor, Anna witnessed the hubbub that Sasha had been talking about. Several people tried to push into the elevator before she and Sasha had even stepped out. Uniformed officers from DC’s police—known as the Metropolitan Police Department or MPD—as well as investigators wearing FBI badges, and others, crowded the foyer.
“To the right,” Sasha said. “I’ll follow you.”
Stepping into the fray, she took stock. Two men wearing business attire and World Bank IDs were typing on their devices while leaning against a wall. Next to them, a woman was writing notes on a pad of paper—but Anna didn’t recognize her as another journalist. An FBI guy was speaking on the phone and three other people were discussing something amongst themselves. The competing conversations seemed to cancel each other out. Two more officers walked past single-file, while a few women headed toward them.
Anna began to walk down the hall. Security guards stood near her, halfway down, and at the far corners, six in total, like sentries. Channarong’s office was about two-thirds down—she could tell, because people were entering and exiting like bees at a hive.
“Shoot,” Anna said. "It is a madhouse."
“What did I tell you?” Sasha whispered into Anna’s ear. He pushed against her.
Anna glanced behind her at him. Why the push?
“Excuse you,” he muttered.
What? Anna was confused. She followed the sight line of his death stare and noted two women rushing off, one in flats, the other in spiked heels cradling a large pile of spiral-bound reports. One of them had evidently imbalanced Sasha, causing him to stumble into her.
“Idiot,” he said.
“Forget it,” Anna told him.
Sasha proceeded but was stopped by the first hallway guard, big like a linebacker. He held up his hand in a “stop” signal.
“Good afternoon,” said Sasha, holding up his ID card. “As you can see, I’m…”
Before he finished, the guard said, “No access at this time.”
“Alright, but I need to be over there,” Sasha protested. “On the other side of the hallway, down there. We won’t touch anything.”
“Sir, no access to this hallway at this time,” the guard said.
“There must be some exceptions. I’m Sasha Bolokov, assistant vice president for international finance and investment, and I’m going to be late.”
“No, sir. No access,” the guard repeated the third time. “I don’t care who you are.”
“It’s fine,” Anna added. “We’ll go around.”
“No,” Sasha said, resting his hand on Anna’s forearm and directing his attention at the guard.
“All those people are already over there. Are you going to make us go all the way around?”
“What’s wrong with you, man?” the guard said, raising his voice and striding toward Sasha. “Those people are assisting with the investigation. You are not. Go a different way. Or come back later.”
Sasha turned around.
Anna tutted at Sasha’s obstinacy. “He’s just doing his job.”
“Come on,” Sasha said. “Let’s go.”
Anna followed Sasha, checking her text messages and voicemail as she went. Back at Sasha’s office, they sank into his arm chairs.
“Was that long enough?” Sasha asked.
“For information gathering?”
“I don’t know. I saw the ‘circus,’ as you put it.”
“Did you see that woman—the one when I bumped into you?”
“The tall one in the spiked heels?”
“No. The one in the flats—it was Channarong’s assistant, Sara Reedman—the one I was telling you about.”
“Remind me what she looked like,” Anna said, fiddling with her phone.
“Tall. Thin. Pretty. Long, straight dark-brown hair in a low ponytail. Brown skin. Parents from India, if I'm not mistaken.”
“Here,” Anna said, showing her phone to Sasha. “Ever since I got here, I’ve been checking my messages—and taking pictures.”
“You are slightly clever, after all.”
“One can only hope. Now, see if she’s in the photos, and tell me if you notice anything.”
Sasha swiped through the photo gallery. “Here she is—from behind—white skirt, black sweater. It seems you shot some great photos, but none of them captured her from the front.”
“Oh, white pencil skirt, black cardigan, cute shoes. I remember that. It’s alright. I’ll find her on social media or the Bank’s website. I’m sure I can find her face.”
“Also,” said Sasha, pointing at a sallow man in his early 60s in a white button-down and khakis.
“Your regular computer guy?”
“Officially, yes. His name is J.D. Smith. People around here say he’s a spook.”
“CIA? What’s he doing here?”
“God only knows,” Sasha said.
“Fine, I’ll check him out,” Anna said, noting a World Bank directory on the coffee table. “Hey! Can I borrow that?” She pointed at the booklet.
“That old phone directory? Sure.”
“Great,” she said, snapping it up. “It’s time I got back to the office to make some calls.”
Sasha stood up. “I hate to see you go. But I suppose I should take care of a few things myself. I’ll escort you downstairs.”
When they had returned to the atrium by the main entrance, Sasha bid Anna farewell with a kiss on each cheek. “Let’s get drinks together soon,” he suggested. “I’ll tell you if I find out anything more, and you can update me on Sara and that dodgy one, Smith.”
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.