Read Air Time Online

Authors: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women

Air Time (9 page)

Chapter Ten
 
 

“W

hat kind of animal?” I say to Franklin. We’re in our office, desk chairs pulled up to our video monitor, watching my shaky pictures from the purse party. Video from a hidden camera is about ten per cent usable. Most of it turns out to be upside down, sideways, all swoops and blurs, or has someone’s hand over it. Basically, a lot of it looks like someone’s shooting out of focus movies on a storm-tossed ship. Screening raw video can make you seasick.

That’s why I’m having a bit of a difficult morning. I’m still the tiniest bit hung over from the late-night champagne that my almost-fiancé and I shared to celebrate the beginning of part two of our relationship. I’m also the tiniest bit distracted by residual twinges and tingles from that same late night in places it’s inappropriate to discuss with my colleagues at work.

So I’m trying to hide my potentially embarrassing physical infirmities and focus on our story. And my mind keeps going back to the anonymous phone call. I finally told Franklin about it, including my worry about who might be on the other end. He agreed I don’t need to run to the police.

“What do you mean, what kind of animal? That’s what mob types call themselves, you know? They all
have nicknames,” Franklin answers, not taking his eyes off the screen. He’s making a shot-sheet of everything that’s usable, noting the time codes and a brief description so we can easily find it all later. “Billy the Animal, Steven the Rifleman. You’ve seen the court transcripts. Lattimer thinks the purse syndicate is terrorist-connected. Or mob. But that doesn’t mean Billy the Animal called you. Whoever it was probably wasn’t even referring to the purse story. I mean, how would anyone know about it? And the second call, the hang-up? Probably a wrong number, as you said. I suggest we just see. Are you comfortable with that?”

Franklin always seems to understand me, even when I pick up a conversation in the middle.

“Okay,” I reply, still watching the video. So far we’ve seen great shots of the mounds of purses, women shopping, and lots of cash changing hands. And my close-ups on the money box worked perfectly. Sally is there from all angles: tight, medium and wide.

“And it’s true, of course,” I continue. “‘Billy the Animal’ isn’t that scary, if he’s like, a hamster. Or, you know, Billy the Bunny.” I burst out laughing, suddenly carried away by my own wit, then wincing with the noise level. I turn forty-seven and suddenly my body can’t hack late hours and champagne? Advil. I need Advil.

Franklin hits the pause button, stopping the tape, and turns to look at me. Confused. “Charlotte. Do you need some Advil?” he asks.

“Did I say that out loud?” I reply. Now I’m the one who’s confused.

“Nope, but you’re, how shall I put this delicately? You’re a little greenish this morning. And may I say you might be well-advised to get one of those refrigerated cold-packs for your eyes.”

“Hey, Brenda. Hey, Flash. What’s up in snoop-land? Getting any bad guys?” Maysie Green leans against the doorway to our office, her still naturally brown ponytail tucked into her Red Sox cap. Her maternity wardrobe consists of black clingy stretch leggings with one of her husband Matthew’s shirts. Works fine for her weekday all-sports drive-time radio talk program. Sunday nights, she has to dress up a bit more for her TV show. Titled, much to her dismay,
Maysie Green, the Sports Machine
. “Catch any ballplayers in the act? I could use some of the video for this Sunday.”

“Hey, Mays,” I say. “How’s the new kid?”

“Hey, Machine,” Franklin says at the same time. “Welcome back from the road trip. This has got to be your last expedition before little number three arrives,” he adds, pointing to her stomach.

He hates it when she calls him Flash. I’m not that hot on Brenda, either, since Ms. Starr is even older than I am. And only exists in the comics. But my bff Maysie has called me Brenda from the day we met, years ago, and I know she means it affectionately. She’s ten years younger than I am, and she somehow manages to juggle career, husband and two-going-on-three children. She adores Josh, and insists we wait until after her new baby is born to get married. Right.

I really need to talk to her.

“Little Poppy or Theo is fine,” Mays says, patting her five-month bump. “Matthew still wants another
M
name to match Max and Molly. I suggested Maris or Mantle to get him to back off. And nope, the Sox are off to Yankee Stadium. Can’t miss that. So I’m headed out tomorrow for a triple header, then off to Tampa Bay. Anyway, I just came to see if anyone wants to grab Mexican food for a farewell lunch.”

I almost fall off my chair. Franklin saves me.

“Our Charlotte is in a somewhat delicate condition, I fear, this morning.” He smiles. “How about if I go fetch some tea from the caf? And leave you two a moment to catch up?”

“Thanks, Franko,” I say. “I owe you.”

“Yes, you do,” he says. “Pop that video. We’ll watch the rest when I get back.”

 

 

I’m on the phone when Franklin arrives. I only got about halfway through giving Maysie the scoop on my Josh dilemma when the phone rang. And now eyes are growing wider with each word I hear from the other end.

“What?” Franklin asks. He puts a paper cup of steaming tea on my desk, the tag on a string draped over the side. Constant Comment. Always a comedian.

I put down the phone and stand up. Moving Maysie and Franklin aside, I look down the hall toward the double-door entrance to our special-projects unit.

“That was the intern in Kevin’s office,” I say. The doors open. And I see the intern was right. “Look who’s here. McGruff the Crime Dog.”

Detective Christopher Yens, now in a sleek charcoal suit, tie loosened and carrying a black briefcase, advances confidently toward our office. Behind him, like a frantic little parade, a pencil-skirted Susannah pointing—at me—and struggling to keep up. And news director Kevin O’Bannon, navy double-breasted suit jacket flapping, talking intently into his cell phone.

Yens looks like he’s on a mission. Kevin and Susannah are not happy to be conscripted into service.

“What the holy hell,” I whisper to Franklin. Nothing like the cops arriving with your news director to snap your brain back from leftover lust.

“See ya when I get home, and can’t wait to hear the rest about phase two,” Maysie says, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek. She cocks her head at the hallway. “As for now, I know when I’m not wanted.” She flutters a wave at Kevin as she heads away to safety.

The three non-amigos arrive at our door almost simultaneously.

“We—” Yens begins.

“He—” says Susannah.

“I—” says Kevin. He flips his phone closed, and stares at Yens. Defiant.

Yens shrugs, putting himself in charge by relinquishing the floor. He sets his briefcase on Franklin’s desk, then crosses his arms, waiting with a look of infinite patience.

Kevin adjusts his jacket, smoothes his tie. Waits, just a bit longer than necessary, to begin.

“As I explained to Detective Yens, it’s not part of our role as journalists to assist police in their investigations. And we certainly do not—ever—turn over any of our work product or notes to law enforcement.” He turns to the detective, pointing an imperious finger. “You may have a copy of what goes on the air. Otherwise, get a subpoena. And we’ll fight you every step of the way.”

You go, Kevin
, I offer in silent approval.

“And it was clearly out of line for you to visit Charlie and Franklin in their homes. I have detailed e-mails from each of them about that. And they’ll stay in my files. And our lawyer’s. However, in this particular case,” Kevin continues, “we felt it not improper for all of us to talk, within certain boundaries, of course, about the matter of Katherine—” he stops.

“Harkins,” Susannah puts in. She looks at me and Franklin. “Isn’t she the Prada—?”

“P.I. Yes.” Kevin finishes her sentence. “I decided we should talk here, up in your office, so as not to publicize our meeting to the newsroom. Now. Detective Yens. Charlie and Franklin will answer your questions. If they can. Briefly.”

“Fine,” Yens says. He snaps open his briefcase, and pulls out a manila folder.

I think I can see photographs inside. Which reminds me. I wonder if our videotape of the purse party is still rolling on our monitor screen. Franklin told me to eject the cassette when he went for tea. I hope I did. For oh so many reasons, including my future employment, that undercover video better not be visible. And I can’t draw attention to it by turning around to check.

Moving carefully sideways, one step, then two, I plant myself in front of the television screen.

Franklin, apparently understanding instantly, sidles over next to me. Adding to the video barricade.

“But if you go too far with your questions, in any way, I have our lawyer on speed dial.” Kevin flips open his cell phone with an I-dare-you flourish.

As the Kevin and the cop glare at each other, I reach over and wheel my office chair toward me, and sit down, keeping myself in front of the screen. Franklin does the same with his chair. Talk about hidden video.

“Do you recognize this person?” Yens shows me a black-and-white, eight-by-ten photo, turns it to Franklin, then back to me. It’s a corporate-looking portrait, a thirtysomething woman. Severe. Serious. Dark hair, parted down the middle, pulled back somehow. Black jacket. Pearls. An executive. Or, it crosses my mind, an international spy. But this is clearly Katie Harkins. Who else would he be showing us?

I look at Franklin, who’s shaking his head. No.

“Me, neither,” I say. “She doesn’t look familiar. Is it Katie?”

“How about this person?” Yens holds up another photo.

It looks like the same woman, but in this photo her hair is wildly untamed. Maybe with extensions. She’s got raspberry glossy lips, a black T-shirt, a leather jacket. The same pearls. New York fashionista.

“Nope,” Franklin says. He looks at me. “You?”

“Nope,” I agree. “Is it Katie?”

“We know Katie Harkins was supposed to meet with you several days ago,” Yens says, cutting me off. He shows us both photos again. Kevin and Susannah step into the room to get a look. “You’re positive you haven’t seen her? Looking like this? Or like this?”

“What are you getting at, Yens?” Kevin interrupts. “They told you they haven’t seen her. I’m sure they told you she cancelled their appointment.”

“She didn’t cancel,” Yens says.

“Of course she did,” Kevin retorts. He looks at Franklin. “Isn’t that what you told me?”

“Well, not really,” Franklin says. “I said,
someone
called to cancel. I never spoke to her directly. All of our communications were by e-mail. I saved—”

“Stop,” Kevin commands.

Franklin nods. He gets it. “Anyway, bottom line. She didn’t call to cancel. Someone in her office did.”

“That’s what they said, at least,” Yens mutters as he replaces the photos in the file folder. “Man? Woman? Who was on the phone?”

“Man.” Franklin says. He tilts his head. “Almost certainly. Or a pretty deep-voiced woman.”

“Have you found her?” I ask.

“Have you tried to reschedule?” Yens ignores me. “What happened?”

“Yes, several times,” Franklin says. He flickers a questioning glance at Kevin, then continues. “I’ve left Charlie’s cell-phone number and mine. But no return calls. I always get a voice mail, the same voice mail, saying she was out of the office for a few days and would be back Wednesday. But that was two days ago.”

“Exactly. And in answer to your question, Ms. McNally, no. We haven’t found her. We’re told her home in D.C. is empty. Her car is not in the garage. Mail at the post office, unclaimed. According to our sources. Due to the nature of her job, of course, we know that’s not necessarily alarming. But it is unusual. And that’s why I’m following up. To see if you’ve heard from her. Or anyone in her office.”

I totally get it now. No question about it. I should have thought of it when Yens paid me a visit, but I was so frazzled my brain didn’t grasp it then.

“She works for you, doesn’t she? She’s an ex-FBI agent. Now a private investigator. Undercover, I bet.”

I hear Franklin’s intake of breath. Susannah looks at Kevin, quizzical, making a little what’s-this-about expression. The news director holds up a hand, eyes narrowed, quieting her.

I point to the briefcase and the photos inside. “She works for you, as well as for the purse companies. Doesn’t she? That’s her agency photo, and then how she looks on the street. On the job. And let me ask you. Does she also work with Keresey?”

Will Yens say “Keresey who?” And I’m playing back my memories to see if I recognize the woman in the photos from the purse party. Now that I’ve seen the pictures, I can’t wait to look at the video again. What if she was there? Would she have recognized me? It’s so much simpler when people are who they say they are, and not someone—else.

“Keresey who?” It’s Kevin. He’s so concerned about what Franklin and I might say. He’s the one who should keep his mouth shut.

“Yes, Keresey who?” Yens says. He crosses his arms in front of him, expression almost sardonic. Waiting.

I wonder if he really doesn’t know her. Or if he’s just trying to find out how much we know about the FBI’s counterfeit operation. How many Kereseys can there be?

“Keresey Stone of the FBI,” I say, then stop. I’m the reporter. Stay on the offense. “Do the state police have an undercover operation? Looking into counterfeit purses? Is Katie Harkins undercover for you? Did she go missing on assignment?”

Yens looks amused.

“Good try, Charlie,” he says, emphasizing that he’s using my first name again. “We’re done here. You’ll call me if you hear anything.”

“They will not,” Kevin says. “They’ll call me. Then we’ll decide where to go from there. Susannah, will you show the detective the way to the front door?”

When Kevin turns around to watch the two depart, I whirl to the TV monitor behind me. The tape is still rolling, but the video is over and the screen is, thankfully, black. Who knows how long it’s been that way. I punch the red stop button. Click the power switch to off. Franklin gives me a congratulatory nod. And by that time, I have a plan.

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