“American Cargo Ship Sunk Near Singapore” was the top headline of Wednesday’s front page. The five column banner easily overshadowed any and all of the stories below-the-fold, including the one tucked away in the lower right corner, under the headline, “Parahumans Targeted by No Fly List”.
I tried not to feel bitter about being crowded out by a story off the wire. I’d set out with the goal of just breaking the story, and had ended up with a front page headline. A single column, below-the-fold headline, but still a front page headline. That had to count for something.
Apparently it did, because when I entered the newsroom that morning I found myself immediately accosted by a harried looking copy aide.
“Heather Stone, right?” He said. He didn’t wait for me to answer before he continued, “Mister Shapiro wants to see you in his office.”
Stephen Shapiro was the Sonoran Reporter’s managing editor, which essentially made him the most powerful person in the newsroom. Julia Wexler might be the one bankrolling the paper’s publication, and Edith DeWitt might have the final say on what gets printed and where it goes, but it was Shapiro who ran the daily reporting operations. He was the one who gave the section editors their marching orders, he was the one who signed off on expenses, and he was the one who handled assignments for major stories.
I thanked the aide and quickly rerouted towards Shapiro’s office.
The tableau that presented itself upon entering the room was almost exactly what I had expected. Kurt was already there, sitting across from Shapiro and glaring daggers at the man sitting next to him, national editor Oscar Powell. Powell, for his part, was ignoring Kurt’s death stare as he discussed something with the woman next to him, whom I recognized as national reporter Karen Ash. She’d made a name for herself the year before when she’d helped break the Morton story.
Shapiro watched them all from behind his desk, a bored expression on his face, entirely unconcerned with the fact that one of his section editors appeared ready to throttle another. Rumor had it that he’d once slept through an outright brawl during a budget meeting. Looking at him right now, I could believe it.
“Ah, Miss Stone, so good of you to join us,” he said, barely glancing up as I entered the room. He pointed lazily at the empty seat next to Ash. “Please, sit.”
I did, and my wolf didn’t even protest the command.
Shapiro leaned forward, placing his elbows on the edge of the desk. He steepled his fingers and quietly surveyed the four of us. Finally, his gaze settled on Kurt. “I know I give you a great deal of leeway in how you run your section, but honestly Kurt, would it kill you to tell me before you run a national story?”
Kurt continued glaring at Powell. “Maybe Oscar should get his own werewolf if he cares about this story so much. My reporter found the scoop, that makes it our story. Simple.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I didn’t appreciate Kurt objectifying my lycanthropy, but protesting it right in front of Shapiro would probably not help our case for staying on the story.
Shapiro kept his razor gaze locked on Kurt. “No one is arguing that. I’m just saying, if you had collaborated with national on this, we might have been able to run something a bit more substantial this morning. Something to think about in the future.”
Kurt looked over at Shapiro and nodded silently.
Shapiro set one of his hands on the desk and started tapping gently with his index finger. “With that in mind, I’ve asked Oscar to assign one of his reporters to work on this story with Miss Stone.” He shifted his gaze to look directly at me. “Miss Ash is, as I’m sure you’re aware, an experienced investigative journalist with numerous contacts in federal law enforcement. I believe you’ll find her assistance quite valuable.”
The faerie woman quirked a smile at me and waved impishly. The only way it could have been any more stereotypically fae would be if her eyes had actually literally twinkled.
Shapiro shifted his gaze to skewer Ash, making her wilt. “Kurt will remain the supervising editor for the time being, but I expect the two of you to keep Oscar and myself informed of any significant developments. This has the potential to be as large as the Morton scandal, and I won’t have sectional rivalries getting in the way of good journalism.” He looked at each of the four of us in turn. “Understood?”
We all nodded.
“Good.” Shapiro smiled, the gesture coming off as forced and mechanical from him. “Get to work then.” As we started to stand up, he pointed a single foreboding finger at Powell. “Oscar, stay. We need to talk about Indochina.” The national editor looked nonplussed about being singled out while the rest of us left.
Once outside the managing editor’s office, I turned to look at Kurt. He was still angry, but he appeared slightly mollified now.
“I take it you and Powell had some choice words before I showed up?”
“Bastard wanted to steal our scoop. Again.” He huffed, crossing his arms. “Who the hell does he think he is, trying to muscle in on our story?”
“An upstart East Coast technocrat with delusions of grandeur?” I offered, parroting back an old phrasing Kurt had once used to describe the national editor.
Kurt snapped his fingers and grinned. “Exactly!”
I shook my head in bemusement. For reasons that I could not divine, Kurt and Powell had been rivals since long before I had joined the Reporter. I would probably never know exactly what had started it. It was just one of those things, like the mysterious stain on the ceiling of the break room.
Kurt wandered back to his office to do whatever it is editors do when they aren’t dealing with reporters, leaving me to look for Ash. In the short span of time after leaving Shapiro’s office where I hadn’t been looking directly at her, the faerie had managed to completely vanish from sight and – disconcertingly – smell.
What the hell?
After several minutes of searching the newsroom – and realizing just how much I depended on scent to find things – I eventually discovered her sitting on the empty desk next to mine. She was playing with a stress ball that she had stolen off my desk, spinning it suspended in the air about an inch above hersplayed and upturnedhand. As air friction started to slow its rotation she gave it a lazy flick with her finger, setting it spinning again.
“Neat trick,” I said, snatching the ball out of the air. “That’s mine, by the way.”
If I had surprised her, she didn’t show it. Instead, she turned her hand over and started inspecting her nails. “I’m sure you need it more than I do,” she said. She looked up and smiled brightly at me. Daring me to react.
I gritted my teeth, forcing myself not to growl. That was the wolf talking, misinterpreting non-verbal cues. Ash was just trying to be friendly. That was all.
“Well, I lead a pretty stressful life,” I said, doing my best to sound cheerful.
“Uh huh.” Ash had already stopped looking at me, her attention having refocused on a box of paperclips on my desk. I slapped her hand away as she started to reach for them.
“Don’t touch that,” I said, a hint of a growl in my tone. There was only so much I could do to keep the wolf restrained.
She looked back up at me, an annoyed expression on her face. “No need to be territorial about it.”
That was it. I was gonna kill her.
“Alright, look here you arrogant little pixie,” I said, leaning forwards to stare directly into her eyes. “You come in here and muscle in on my story – yes, my story, I don’t give a damn what Shapiro says about sectional rivalries – and then you start rooting through my desk, touching all my stuff, and you tell me that there’s no need to be territorial? You’re the one taking all the damn territory.”
It was incredibly gratifying to see her flinch.
“Alright, Christ, I won’t touch your stuff.” She huffed. “I didn’t even want on this story anyways.”
I closed my eyes and sighed. Overreacting again. Go Team Wolf!
“Sorry, I’m just…” I trailed off, not sure what to say to excuse my behavior. Sorry, I’m just a paranoid werewolf with a loose grasp on my instincts. Won’t happen again! Yeah, right.
“A massively uptight bitch?” Ash offered.
I fell back into my chair and sighed again. “Pretty much.”
She cocked her head and squinted at me, as if she could see through me and into my soul – souls, technically. Hell, maybe she could. “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you have got serious issues, Stone.”
I laughed bitterly. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”
We sat there in silence for a while, until Ash finally said, “So, what’s the plan on this?”
I looked at her skeptically. “You’re asking me?”
She shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant, but I could tell she was still uneasy. “It’s your story.”
Ash was taking the same tactic used by submissive wolves seeking to avoid conflict – back off and give the aggressor what they want, and maybe they’ll leave you alone. As disgusted as I was with my behavior, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit satisfied.
Lupine instincts, 1; basic human decency, 0.
“Well, our top priority should probably be figuring out where the additions came from and who ordered them. Hirsch is working on getting the access logs through FOIA, but who knows how long that’ll take.”
Ash nodded. “So we start calling anybody connected to the list. FBI, FAS, AG’s office, the works.”
“You’ll probably have better luck with that than me. Most of my contacts are regional.”
“Only if they know something.” She tapped a finger on the desk. “What about your original source, in the TSC? Think you could press them for more info?”
“Worth a shot.” I doubted that MacClelland would be any more willing to leak than he had been the day before, but it couldn’t hurt to try.
“Sounds like a plan then.” She stood up and stretched. “I’ll let you know if I find something.”
I nodded. “Same.”
I watched her walk back to her desk, wondering just how much I had managed to sabotage our partnership before it had even begun.