I called MacClelland.
“Miss Stone,” he said. “Is it already time for another round of twenty questions?”
Well, that certainly sounded promising. At the very least, he hadn’t hung up yet.
“Would you give me twenty answers?”
“Well that depends on the questions,” he replied. Dropping into a more serious tone, he said, “Same deal as before. Nothing gets attached to my name and I won’t give you anything that needs to stay secret.”
“That’s more than reasonable,” I said. It wasn’t the same deal – MacClelland had shifted from refusing to leak anything secret to refusing to leak anything that should be secret. It was a subtle distinction, and I doubted that he was even consciously aware he had changed his position. It suggested that he might be experiencing some cognitive dissonance of his own – maybe of the kind that arises when ideals and principles contradict?
Or I could be overanalyzing an innocuous slip of the tongue and projecting my own dysfunctions onto a near-stranger.
The only difference between being paranoid and being prepared is whether you were right or not.
I hummed for a moment, considering my first question.
“What does the papertrail usually look like for something like this?” I asked. MacClelland might not be willing to directly give me the information I wanted, but maybe he could tell me where I could get it.
“It’s the government, every paperclip has its own receipt. When someone adds a name to the list, what kind of papertrail does that generate, typically?”
“Well, I suppose it would depend on where it came from,” he said. “Everybody documents their stuff differently. But on our end, a record gets generated every time we receive a new name and when a name gets entered into the list.”
“And those are all locked up behind FOIAs.” Based on what Hirsch had told Kurt, we wouldn’t be seeing a response to our FOIA requests until the end of the month, which might as well as be an eternity for a daily newspaper. “Can you at least tell me if these all came from the same source? I don’t need a name if you can’t give it, just a yes or no.”
The silence that filled the line was deafening.
“Yes,” he finally said. “All of the names you gave me yesterday were put on the list by the same agency.”
Now that I could work with.
“Would you mind holding for a minute?” I asked quickly. I barely waited for the first syllable of his response before muting the phone and jumping out of my seat.
Mercifully, Ash was at her desk. I wasn’t sure what I would have done if I’d had to endure another round of faerie hide-and-seek.
She was busy talking on her phone, and held up a finger as she saw me approaching.
“Hang on a second, I need to speak to a colleague,” she said, before lowering the phone and resting it against her chest. She turned to look at me with an annoyed expression. “Did little Timmy fall down a well?”
Dog jokes. Wonderful.
“I do regional, not local,” I replied. “Listen, I just got confirmation that this was all done by a single agency. Source won’t say which one, but I think you can connect the dots.”
“Then it’s probably federal. So what?”
I shook my head. “Not just federal. Think about it: what agency not only has the authority to add all these names to the no fly list, but also the ability to identify almost every werecreature in the country?”
Comprehension dawned on her face. “Gotta be DOJ then. Maybe the AG’s office, but probably FBI.”
“Almost certainly FBI,” I said. It would explain why MacClelland had been so adamant about not revealing the agency responsible. If I was judging his character correctly, he didn’t want to see the Bureau’s reputation tarnished more than it already had been.
She narrowed her eyes. “We can’t print that though. Not until we know for certain.”
I nodded quickly. “Of course not. But now we know where to look, and that’s more than we had before.”
She nodded back. “I’ll start talking to my sources in the Bureau then.” She lifted the phone back up to her ear and resumed her prior conservation.
I headed back to my desk and returned to my own call with MacClelland. “Sorry about that, needed to pass that on to a colleague.”
“Huh. Seems like a lot of fuss over a simple yes.” Was I just imagining the hint of nervousness in his tone? It was so hard to gauge someone’s emotional state over a phone, without any scents to go off of.
“The simplest answers are usually the most important,” I said. Should I press him about the FBI connection? I wondered. No. I didn’t want to risk scaring him off. Not yet.
It had been a mistake, rushing away to talk to Ash; it had spooked MacClelland, and he wasn’t likely to produce any more major revelations today. In an attempt to rebuild some rapport, I kept him on the line for a few more minutes, asking largely inconsequential questions and eliciting equally inconsequential details.
I thanked MacClleland for his time, then turned to my disappointingly small list of contacts within the FBI and started cold calling all of them.
At ten o’clock, I took a break from my phone calls to watch the daily White House press briefing, as presented by chief propagandist Don Zanetti.
Donald Zanetti Jr. had a mustache. It was the first thing people always thought of when you mentioned the Press Secretary. In an era where most public figures were clean shaven, Don Zanetti’s handlebar mustache was as memorable as it was blatantly villainous. Every press briefing, I kept expecting him to twirl his finger through the ends of his mustache and cackle deviously.
Every press briefing, I was disappointed.
Today’s media circus was a largely predictable and rather boring affair. There was a prepared statement about the cargo ship that had sunk that morning, saying that “the White House condemns the use of naval mines against civilian shipping” and vowing to “identify the perpetrators of this tragedy and bring them to justice.” After twelve years of bombing Indochina to hell, I wondered just how much more ‘justice’ we could exact.
After that, he opened the floor for questions, most of which were, of course, about the sinking.
Sometimes I wished I could fastfoward through real life. The Reporter didn’t have a dedicated correspondent in D.C., which meant I had to wait for someone in the press gaggle to ask the question I cared about – and I had no way of knowing that anyone would.
It was only near the end of the press briefing that someone finally asked the question I had been waiting to hear.
“What is the administration’s response to an article in the Sonoran Reporter this morning, accusing the government of targeting werecreatures with the no fly list?”
Zanetti paused, apparently surprised by the question. But he recovered quickly, before anyone in attendance could really notice. “No comment at this time.”
“At this time? Does that mean there will be comment later?”
Zanetti frowned, clearly unhappy with this line of questioning. “The White House is, of course, shocked by these allegations. We are currently looking into the matter, and will comment further on the substance of these claims once the internal investigation has concluded.”
Technically, I didn’t have any evidence that he was lying. At most, Ash and I had some circumstantial-at-best proof tying things to someone within the FBI, but so far there was nothing connecting it to Kidd. But still, I didn’t trust Don Zanetti any farther than I could throw him. It was too much of a coincidence, something like this happening a mere weeks after the election of an openly lycanphobic president.
I had to hand it to him though, it was a pretty good lie, particularly since he hadn’t say anything that was untrue. Without ever specifically denying the story, he had managed to sidestep the question and portray the White House as uninvolved, or at least unaware. And later, if and when incontrovertible evidence of Presidential involvement came to light, they could still honestly say they were shocked by the allegations. Not by the substance of them, but by the fact they were being made at all. It would hurt their credibility, but not as much as a direct denial would if it were refuted.
I suspected I wasn’t the only one who had noticed the subtleties of Zanetti’s wording, but none of the reporters in the press corp pressed him on it.
“And will you be removing the affected from the list?”
“That hadn’t been decided yet. I’ll be sure to let you know when that changes.”
So that was a no. Even if Kidd hadn’t been involved, I doubted that he would be very opposed to keeping us all on the no fly list. It fit his politics nicely.
“How’d you like to have that beat?” Ash asked, startling me as she appeared behind my chair – without so much as a sound or scent to betray her approach.
How the hell does she keep doing that? I wondered.
“What, Zanetti’s job, or listening to his bullshit?” I asked, repressing my instinctual urge to murder her.
“Either?” She suggested. “But mostly I meant the press corps.”
“Mmm, not really.” I swiveled to face her. “I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go into journalism with the goal of being the US government’s propaganda arm.”
“Wow, cynical much?” She was leaning against the edge of a nearby desk, fiddling with a paperclip. She didn’t even look up as she spoke.
“I like to think of myself as cautiously pessimistic.”
“You’d think a pack animal would have a bit more faith in other people.” Still not looking at me, she started unbending the paperclip.
I glowered at her, but she didn’t notice, absorbed as she was with twisting the paperclip into a shape. “Have you found out anything new?” I asked, hoping to push the conversation back towards the story.
She perked up slightly at that. “Yeah, actually. Got a guy who told me that the Bureau has been keeping tabs on certain high-profile lycanthropes for a while now. Wasn’t sure if it was connected to the list thing or not, but he gave me their names.” She held up the paperclip, now shaped like a star, and smiled. Then she dug into her pocket for a notebook and started reading from it. “Tell me if any of these ring a bell, will ya? Tobias Payne, Barbara Martel, Cecilia Carter, Julian Foster, Antonio Reyes, Katherine –” She stopped when she saw the look of growing horror on my face. “Friends of yours?”
I shook my head. She didn’t need to know about my relationship with Tony. “Those are all alphas.” Noticing her look of confusion, I clarified, “Pack leaders. Think club president, except it’s a club for werewolves.”
“So, werewolf community leaders, basically.”
“Exactly.” I shook my head again. “That must be how they did it, too. They identified the pack leaders and then just looked at all their associates to find the rest of the werewolves.”
“Can’t print that yet either,” she said. “Plus, it leaves the question: How did they get all the other weres? I assume they don’t all form packs.”
“No, but shapeshifters tend to congregate together regardless of species. It wouldn’t be too hard to catch the panthers and bears and seals by watching the wolves.”
“So how do we approach this then?” She asked. “We can’t say it’s connected to the list – not until we know for certain – but it’s obviously a pretty big deal.”
I shrugged. “Kick the can down the road and let the editors figure it out. Not our job to make editorial decisions – that’s why they’re called editorial decisions and not reportorial decisions.”
She shrugged back. “Fair enough. I’ll go let Kurt and Oscar know about this.”
I watched her walk away for the second time that day, and for the second time I wondered what the status of our working relationship was. She didn’t like me, that much was clear, but she seemed like she was willing to put that aside for the sake of the story.
I’d have to try to do the same. No matter how much my wolf disliked it.