Friday morning started with another meeting in Kurt’s office. The morning’s paper lay folded-up on his desk, untouched and unopened. We all knew what was in it.
“Normally I’d be disappointed about only having a follow-up to run on a Friday,” he said, pausing momentarily to take a sip of coffee. “But even a hot scoop probably would have been bumped to the second page by yesterday’s news dump.”
Ash shrugged. She’d done something to her glamour charm that had changed her hair color to strawberry blonde, and I was resisting the urge to stare at her in search of other changes. “That’s Fridays for you.”
Kurt nodded. “So it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find people suddenly a hell of a lot more talkative today.”
Fridays – especially Friday afternoons – were a popular time for issuing negative press releases, especially among government agencies. The logic, insomuch as it existed, was that fewer people read the paper or watched the news on Saturdays, and so releasing bad news the day before would avoid the brunt of public and media scrutiny. The Internet and the 24-hour news cycle had reduced the effectiveness of the tactic, but it hadn’t died quite yet.
I shook my head. “I’ve been thinking about this from the White House’s perspective, and it doesn’t make sense for them to break anything today.”
Kurt raised a skeptical eyebrow. “How do you figure?”
“Opinion polling.” I checked the numbers I had jotted down in my notepad that morning before continuing. “Friday is bad news derby day, we all know that. But based off the early polls coming in, the ban – if we’re okay with calling it a ban now – is pretty popular, especially among Republicans. The latest from Gallup this morning was forty-two percent in favor, thirty percent against. Among Republicans, the approval rating is seventy-one percent. Assuming we’re correct in thinking that Kidd’s behind it, he’d want to get out in front of that and own it, since it’s an easy way to gather favor with a party base that largely didn’t vote for him. Especially since we just absolved him of responsibility for the FBI’s surveillance program.”
He hummed. “What about Zanetti’s deflection early this week? If they come out and say ‘we did it’ after that, they hurt their credibility.”
“They don’t have to take responsibility for the initial no fly listings, only for keeping them in place. Given how little credibility the FBI has right now, it wouldn’t be hard to use them as a scapegoat for the former.”
I watched them mull that over for a bit.
Ash was the first one to speak. “Well, I guess we better make it hard for them,” she said. “If Kidd’s behind this, we’ll find out and we’ll hold him accountable. Zanetti can spin things however he likes, whenever he likes, but that doesn’t change our jobs.”
I nodded. “Oh, I agree completely. Just pointing out that we shouldn’t be expecting any handouts from the White House anytime soon.”
She shrugged. “Fine by me. It’s like you said, we’re journalists, not the propaganda arm of the US Government.”
Kurt nodded approvingly. “Now that’s a sentiment I can get behind.” Leaning back in his chair, he raised his coffee cup in a mock toast. “To the fourth estate.” He gave a single short laugh, then downed the rest of the coffee in a single shot. With his free hand, he gestured for us to go.
Ash stood up and turned to leave, but stopped in the doorway when she realized I wasn’t following.
I waved for her to keep going. “There’s something else I need to talk to Kurt about real quick, don’t worry about it.”
She nodded and headed back to her desk, leaving me to speak to Kurt alone.
“What’s up?” He asked, raising an eyebrow quizzically.
I looked down at the newspaper still folded up on his desk. “Wanted to get your opinion on a potential conflict of interest.”
“Regarding the story we’re working on right now?”
“Yeah.” I paused, going over my next words in my head. “The Phoenix pack – the pack that I’m part of – has made arrangements to talk to a civil rights lawyer about filing a class-action suit against the government over the no fly list ban. I wasn’t involved in setting up those arrangements, but I have been invited to a meeting with her tomorrow, where things will likely be discussed in more detail.”
Kurt looked at me thoughtfully. “And you’re worried that attending might compromise your ability to write objectively about any legal proceedings that might occur later.”
I nodded. “Basically, yeah.”
He hummed slightly as he slowly tapped his fingers. “Don’t be.”
I blinked. “What?”
“Don’t be worried about your objectivity.” He held up a hand before I could object. “Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to be objective – you should try, it’s part of responsible reporting – but it’s okay if you don’t quite make it one-hundred percent. You already have implicit biases in play when covering stories about werewolves. But I still ask you to cover those stories, because nobody else has the necessary knowledge and contacts to do those stories justice. And because you’re a good journalist who’s aware of her biases and writes to take them into account.”
In other circumstances, I would have been pleased about the compliment I had just received, but instead I frowned unhappily. “That’s different from writing about a lawsuit where I’m a member of the represented class.”
“You’re right, it is different. And yeah, there’s a potential for a conflict of interest, but only if you don’t disclose properly. So be upfront about your involvement, make sure everything is on record before it goes to print, and, if you’re really worried, just give Ash the facts and have her write the story.” He shrugged. “Ultimately, it’s your call, but I would recommend you go to the meeting. If you were invited, it was probably for a good reason.”
I let out a sigh and nodded resignedly. “You’re probably right.”
He flashed a lopsided grin. “You know I am.”
I stood up to leave, making an effort to dispel any lingering concerns. If Kurt thought it was fine, then I had nothing to worry about. “Thanks for the input.”
He waved dismissively. “Any time. After all, it’s what I’m here for.”
I headed back to my desk, still feeling anxious about the meeting, despite the best efforts of Kurt and myself.
I continued thinking about it throughout the morning, as I placed phone calls to the growing list of contacts I had on the story. MacClelland had largely dried up as a source of new information, but I’d been able to use him to establish additional contacts within the Bureau, and the network had grown from there. It was only a matter of time until I’d find someone who could reveal the final crucial puzzle piece: where the ban had come from.
However, the more I chased after that piece of the puzzle, the less important it seemed to be to the larger story. Ash and I had already stumbled onto a quasi-legal FBI surveillance program, which we had initially treated as ancillary to the main story about the no fly list. Now, as I continued following-up on it in the hopes that it would lead me to the source of the ban, I was starting to realize that it was larger than first realized.
The program, referred to internally as Pipe Wrench, had been conceived as a way to identify serial abusers within werewolf packs – which the FBI believed was being significantly under-reported. This much I had already learned the day before. What I was now discovering was that Pipe Wrench had been a trial run for a larger program for identifying unreported violent crimes, aimed at “high risk” communities and minority groups with a history of under-reporting. One agent I talked to described it as the 21st century version of the Ghetto Informant Program, with everything that entailed.
Fortunately, the increased scrutiny brought about in the wake of the Morton scandal had caused the Bureau to abandon any plans for a larger version of Pipe Wrench, although Pipe Wrench itself continued operating, albeit with its scope reduced to monitoring pack leaders.
In order to be effective, Pipe Wrench had required a nearly comprehensive list of therianthropes within the US. This list was largely constructed through a process of bootstrapping, using Pipe Wrench to monitor the communications and movements of already known werewolves and their associates. Later – after Kerry’s Executive Orders relaxing the Nixon-era restrictions on federal employment of parahumans – this list had been circulated within the Justice Department and the larger US intelligence community for use in recruiting efforts.
I was confident that if the two were compared, the Pipe Wrench list would be identical to the seventy-five hundred names that had been added to the no fly list.
Unfortunately, that was where I hit a dead end again. It was impossible to determine exactly how many people had access to the Pipe Wrench list, and almost any one of them could be responsible for adding the names from it to the no fly list.
It was close to lunchtime by then, and although I had enough information to put together a good story about Pipe Wrench, I was getting frustrated by my inability to find proof – or even disproof – of a connection to Kidd. Obviously, a different approach was needed, but what that was I couldn’t say. Not at that moment, at least.
Deciding that I needed a break to let my frustration subside, and remembering my lingering concerns about tomorrow’s meeting, I flipped my notebook open to the page where I’d copied down the business card Tony had shown me and called the number listed.
A man answered the phone. “You’ve reached the law offices of Samantha Welles. Can I help you?”
I hadn’t had much of a plan in mind for this, so at that point my journalistic instincts kicked in and I said, “Hi, I’m Heather Stone with the Sonoran Reporter. I was hoping I could ask Miss Welles a few questions.”
The response was immediate and curt. “I’m sorry, Miss Welles doesn’t do interviews.”
The line went dead.
Well, that could have gone worse, was the first thought that popped into my mind.
The second thought was a four-letter-word with twenty vowels.
Before I had time for a third thought, the phone rang in my hand.
“Hello?” I said, not sure what to expect.
“Miss Stone? So sorry about Quentin, he didn’t know who you were, and I’ve told him not to entertain journalists.” The woman on the other end of the call spoke in a carefully modulated tone, enunciating each word clearly and without accent. It reminded me of an NPR broadcaster, but more forceful. No one would fall asleep while listening to her.
“Samantha Welles?” I guessed, using the question to buy more time to think.
“Please, Sam will do fine,” she said.
By this point I was doing something I should have done earlier and googling her name. If she didn’t like journalists, the reason was probably available online.
“Sam, then.” The first page of search results was surprisingly sparse, consisting of her firm’s website and her listings in various legal directories. A quick check of the news tab was similarly lacking. “I guess Tony told you I might call?”
Having nothing else to go on, I pulled open her website and started skimming, stopping when I came across a photo. I had been assuming – based on what I knew of lawyers – that she would be a middle-aged woman, but her photograph made her look about the same age as me. Even assuming that it was an older photographer, she couldn’t possibly be more than thirty.
While I was doing this, Welles was saying, “Yes, something of that sort. Actually, he predicted when you were likely to call. Quite accurately, too.”
“He knows me pretty well,” I said. “I just wanted to touch base real quick before the meeting tomorrow. You know, learn a bit about who we’re going to be dealing with.”
“Meaning that you want to independently vet my credentials.”
That gave me pause. It hadn’t even consciously registered with me before that moment, but that was exactly what I was doing.
“Something like that, I suppose.” I was still skimming through her website, and had noticed something was off about her bio. “Uh, it says here that you got your JD from Minnesota in 1983. Is that correct?”
“That’s correct. Everything on that site is accurate, as far as I’m aware.”
That would put her in her late fifties – more in-line with my earlier expectations. Maybe she was a faerie? I looked at the photograph again, trying and failing to spot any of the obvious morphological differences that distinguished faeries from normal humans. Not that that meant anything. As I’d seen the day before, there were still glamour charms out there. Even normal makeup could do a lot to a person’s appearance.
“Of course, just wanted to verify.” Scanning through the rest of her bio, I continued, “I guess I’ll just skip to the end and ask if you’ve done this sort of thing before.”
“Are you familiar with Kemp v. Mesa?”
“I think I recognize the name, but beyond that, no.”
“Not surprising, it was before your time,” she said. “Without going into unnecessary detail, it involved the use of exposed steel in the construction of certain architectural elements – railings, door handles, that sort of thing – within public buildings in the city of Mesa, which was done intentionally as part of an effort to inconvenience and discriminate against faeries. I argued the case at trial, and assisted with the appeal.” She paused, then offhandedly added, “We won, by the way.”
“So this isn’t your first rodeo,” I said.
“Miss Stone, that was my first rodeo, as you so put it. This should be a cakewalk, by comparison.” The way she said it, so certain and authoritative, I couldn’t help but find myself agreeing. “Any other questions?”
“Just one,” I replied. I figured that was as many more as I could get away with. “Why does your secretary hang-up on journalists?”
“You ask too many questions.” Before I could ask whether she meant me personally or journalists generally, she said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Miss Stone.”
Then the line went dead again.