Read Air Time Online

Authors: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women

Air Time (10 page)

Chapter Eleven
 
 

“S

o what do you think, Kevin?” Now the parade is going the other direction. Franklin and I are accompanying Kevin back to his office. I think I can parlay Detective Yens’s visit into an open door for us to get permission to change our purse story into a real investigation of the distribution system, showing the teeming black market kept thriving by greedy suppliers and fashion-addicted women.

I just have to lure Kevin into thinking it was his idea. Talking in bullet points so he can understand, I’ve told him about our visit to the FBI and Keresey’s undercover work. I’ve told him about our potential access to the Delleton-Marachelle design studio in Atlanta. I’ve described the purse parties we could have access to. Of course, I left out the part about how I’d already been to one. Now I have to see if I can reel Kevin in.

“Do you think you could get into one of those parties? Maybe with a hidden camera?” Kevin asks. He opens the glass door to his office and gestures us in.

“Well, sure I do,” I say, nodding oh-so-thoughtfully. “Don’t you, Franklin?”

“Oh, yes, indeed,” he replies. “We even have that new camera. In fact, I was fooling around with it and I…”

He pauses. I can almost hear his brain recalculating.

“I signed it out of the engineering department, just the
other day,” he picks up his sentence. “To make sure we know how to operate it properly. So, I’d say we’re all systems go. If Charlie is comfortable.”

“Oh, sure,” I say again. “If it’s all right with Kevin.”

“You’d have to be in disguise,” Kevin says, swiveling in his black leather I’m-an-executive chair. His desk is stacked with resumé DVDs. In front of him is a legal pad with a list of something I wish I could read. “You’re so well known. How would you pull that off, Charlie?”

“Well, I think I could manage to look different enough. And, maybe, we could go out of the viewing area. Right, Franklin?”

Franklin nods. He’s shifting, trying to get comfortable on the wooden arm of Kevin’s ultramodern couch.

“And what are you efforting for this Atlanta shoot?” Kevin continues. “We’d have to pay for plane tickets, for an out-of-town photographer, hotel rooms. How will that be cost-effective? Can’t you just do it by phone?”

“Oh, no way,” I say. Hoping I’m right. “We’re getting unprecedented access to the manufacturing and design process. Hoping for interviews with big shot, execs, designers. They’ll explain how colossally detrimental the knockoffs are to legit businesses.”

“We can’t get to the bottom of it, of course,” Franklin says. “Even the FBI admits, it’s basically unstoppable. But the D-M people will show us evidence seized from the cargo ships that bring the stuff into the U.S. Huge containers crammed with fake bags. Customs nabs them, usually in L.A. But they know they barely make a dent. And we’re getting exclusive stuff.”

My turn at bat. “And also, of course, how the companies are taking law enforcement into their own hands. Forming their own in-house purse police. Tracking down the bad guys. Becoming kind of fashion vigilantes.”

“Fashion vigilantes,” Kevin repeats. “I like it.”

“Problem is,” I say. Going for the kill. “Susannah says she wants just the feature. I wonder if she might not be happy with the bigger story.”

“I’m the news director,” Kevin says. “She doesn’t need to know everything we do.”

I’m trying to keep a straight face. And I can’t possibly risk a peek at Franklin, who I’m sure is amused by Kevin’s insistence he’s in charge. But I’ve never been quite comfortable with hiding what we’re doing from management. If Kevin now gives us the go-ahead, he’ll never know we had already gone ahead without him.

“When a true journalist gets turned on to a big story, it’s our job to do it right,” Kevin says. From on high. “Not doing our job if we turn our backs on it. It may be tough, but you know the old saying. When the going gets tough—” He looks at me, as if to make sure I know how to finish the line.

And I know he expects me to say “the tough get going.”

But I don’t.

“The tough go shopping,” I say.

 

 

“Well done, Charlotte,” Franklin says. “At least now we’re not faking it.”

“Yup,” I say. “Telling the truth is always my first choice. It just doesn’t always work when you’re an investigative reporter.”

I throw my briefcase and purse into the backseat of Franklin’s immaculate silver Passat. Both car doors slam, and Franklin maneuvers us out through the overcrowded obstacle course of news trucks and microwave vans in Channel 3’s cramped basement parking lot.

“What does Keresey want anyway? Why do you think she’s asking to meet us out of her office?”

“Why are you asking me?” Franklin holds up the gizmo to open the garage door, pointing, then clicking. He eases the Passat up the ramp and into the sunlight. “The message was on your phone.”

“Just brainstorming,” I reply. “We can ask her about the raids, at least.”

“Yeah, good idea. I couldn’t find any mention of any enforcement actions that had resulted in agents being killed. Nothing. There were some Justice Department news releases about seizures of counterfeit goods. Lattimer’s successful bust in Atlanta. But nothing in warehouses.”

As we pull out into traffic and head toward our destination, I buzz down my window, hoping to let in the autumn day. Instead, I hear car horns blaring, irate drivers yelling at kamikaze bike messengers, crosswalk-ignoring pedestrians swearing as they claim the whole of Cambridge Street as their personal domain.

“I suppose they only put out press releases when something goes right. If an agent were killed in the line of duty, but the mission failed, maybe they’d just keep it quiet.”

“Maybe. And of course ‘Operation Knockoff’…” he looks at me, raising his eyebrows to scorn the pretentious name “…is still a work in progress. So maybe all of it’s still hush-hush.”

“There she is,” I say, pointing to a familiar shape. “See? Keresey’s on the sidewalk. Over there. Right under the entrance to the Charles Street T Station. You don’t think she’s expecting us to get on the train, do you? You have tokens?”

Franklin taps his car horn and Keresey looks up. Recognizing us, she points us to the Longfellow Bridge, the one everyone calls the “salt and pepper” bridge because of the huge shaker-shaped pedestals that line the edges.

I wave at her, signaling we understand. Genius Franklin even finds a legal—legal for thirty minutes at least—parking place in front of Mass General Hospital. We hurry to catch up with Keresey, who’s leaning back against the rusting wrought iron sidewalk railing and staring out over the street to the river beyond. She’s dressed in blue jeans tucked into high-heeled black boots and a dark chocolate leather jacket. Flat messenger bag over one shoulder. Sunglasses, baseball cap, blond ponytail. No necklace of ID tags.

The wind kicks up, the Boston promise of the cold to come. I’m glad I wore a leather jacket of my own over my black turtleneck sweater dress, and happy for my flat boots as we trot along the sidewalk. A fleet of J-boats glide, sails stiff, across the choppy water, and a few sculls power their way back up the river toward MIT. Beside us, a parade of cars and bicycles cross the wide expanse.

“You undercover?” I ask, as we arrive. “Headed to a purse party? Or sneaking out of the office to the Red Sox game?”

I’m trying to be casual, but I can already feel she’s all business.

“Hey, guys,” she says. Her smile is tense. “Walk with me, okay?”

The three of us turn toward Cambridge, the sidewalk just wide enough. Keresey’s in the middle. Across the way, a Red Line train, passengers in each window, hurtles by, headed into the tunnels of the Boston-side subways.

“I know it’s not SOP. Meeting you like this,” Keresey begins. “But standard operating procedure means I have to notify the PIO, and the SAC, if I want to talk with you.”

I wait, pulling my jacket more closely around me as the wind picks up over the water. Franklin stuffs his hands into the pockets of his maroon suede jacket. He’s silent, too. We know it’s best to just let her talk.

“I don’t want to put you in an awkward position. Let’s put it this way. I didn’t want to put any of us in an awkward position. But, Charlie, I saw your eyes light up when the SAC was discussing our undercover operations. And don’t even begin to try to convince me you two don’t have a plan to do some U-C investigating. Attend some purse parties on your own. I’ve known you both long enough.”

I halfway open my mouth to reply, then think better of it.

Keresey holds up a hand, then turns to me with a rueful smile. “Hey. I don’t want to know. That’s the awkward part. If I know, I’ll have to order you to stop. I’d also be obligated to ask you if your expeditions are already underway. So I won’t ask. You don’t tell.”

She stops, mid-river, and points to an alcove where a concrete bench carved into the side of the bridge provides room enough for us to sit down. As we sit, she takes the strap of the messenger bag from her shoulder and, slowly, zips the pouch open.

Franklin flickers a questioning glance at me.
What?

I reply with the briefest shrug.
No idea.

Keresey is pulling out a brown legal-sized envelope. She unwraps a red string from around the two paper discs on the flap, then reaches in and extracts an eight-by-ten photograph. And another. They flutter, caught briefly in a puff of wind. She juggles the envelope and the photos to keep it all from blowing away.

I crane my neck to see who’s in the pictures, but she’s holding them face-to-face. I can tell Franklin is checking them out from his side, too, but he signals
with a slight shake of his head.
Nothing.
Nothing to do but wait.

Keresey puts the envelope back into the bag, and puts it down on the sidewalk, taking a moment to balance it so it’s standing upright. Apparently she doesn’t want to spill what’s still inside. Apparently she’s trying to drive me crazy with suspense.

Finally she holds up the two pictures. Shows them to Franklin, then turns to show them to me.

Keresey, with her back to Franklin, doesn’t see him put a hand to his mouth. I understand his startled gesture. We saw these same photos earlier this morning. The international spy. And the raspberry-glossed fashionista.

I see Franklin’s eyes widen as he watches me examine the photos. He bites his lower lip. We have no way of communicating. No way to collaborate. No way to plan our response. Do we reveal the state police are asking us the same questions?

“Charlie?” Keresey prompts. “I’m betting you’ve attended a purse party or two. You don’t have to tell me any more. All I want to know is whether either of you have seen this woman at any of the parties? And if you have, did you get video of her? So, Charlie, you first.”

Which means I’m the one who has to make the strategy decision. Right now. Three long-legged girls jog by us, wearing crimson Harvard T-shirts and tight black shorts. We have to pull our legs in to let them by.

In that second, I decide. I’ll tell her the truth.

But not the whole truth.

“No, I never saw this woman at a party,” I say, shaking my head as I point to the pictures. Which is true. I didn’t see her at the party. Or on our tape. Or anywhere in real life. Keresey didn’t ask if I’d seen her
photograph
.

“Franklin?”

“Nope.” His dark skin goes a little gray, which only I would notice. Franklin, son of a Mississippi minister, still has a tough time lying.

“Who is she?” I ask. I do want to know, but I also want to let Franklin recover. I hope Keresey doesn’t push us here, because we’re headed toward some murky journalism waters. As Kevin explained to Detective Yens, sharing our raw information with law enforcement is totally taboo. We do research, we examine documents, we get the scoop. And we keep it to ourselves until we decide how much of it goes on the air. What’s kept off the air stays off-limits.

Plus, if the FBI doesn’t know what the state cops are doing, maybe there’s a good reason. I’m not going to be the doofus who compromises some complicated investigation.

Keresey tamps the photos on her knees, lining them up, then slips them back into her bag.

“It was a long shot. Look,” she says. “I’m not saying you guys are going undercover. But if you do—keep an eye out for her, okay? Just let me know, back channel, if and when you see her. And where. Can you do that for me? I promise, I’ll make it worth your while.”

A little journalism bargaining is fine with me, but I’m still curious.

“Keresey, who is she?” I ask, ignoring her proposition. “And forgive me, but does Lattimer know you’re here?”

Keresey stands, and turns back toward the Boston side of the bridge. She gestures with a hand,
let’s walk.
“I’ve only talked with her via e-mail. She’s a former agent, Lattimer says. Years ago. Ten. Maybe more. Lives in D.C. now. Knows Lattimer.”

“And what does she do these days?” Like I don’t already know.

“Out on her own, Lattimer says. Private investigations. Lots of retired agents go that route. No money in working for Uncle Sam, as we all know. Guess she figured she paid her patriotic dues. Anyway, apparently she’s working with some big purse companies. Tracking down counterfeits. Her name is Katherine Harkins. Katie Harkins. Lattimer calls her the Prada P.I., though he says she works for several companies. Fendi. Delleton-Marachelle. Ever hear of her?”

I calculate, hesitating before I answer. I’m exceptionally fond of Keresey. But it’s tough to have friends when you’re a reporter. I need to balance our relationship with our responsibilities. The almost-truth will work here. “I think I’ve seen her mentioned in newspaper articles, yes,” I say.

“Anyway, she’s been feeding us info on some in-house investigations, leads they’ve picked up,” Keresey says. “Many companies now are trying to track counterfeiters on their own. They’re looking for manufacturers. Suppliers. Distribution chains. Even little fish. But they have no police powers. They rely on law enforcement to take them down.”

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