‘‘Your eyes? Your hair? I don’t know.’’ He mopped his face with the restaurant’s napkin and glanced around for a waiter. He ordered a Cape Cod, a vodka and cranberry, and also waved off the offer of food.

Melissa used her Chinese to request they be left alone, stopping the onslaught of dim sum.

‘‘I watch you every night. The news.’’ He lowered his voice conspiratorially. ‘‘I thought you were the one to make the offer to, you know?’’ Again, he glanced at Melissa.

‘‘She works with me,’’ Stevie clarified. ‘‘Let’s talk about this offer,’’ she said.

‘‘I’m a state auditor.’’

‘‘I thought it was King County,’’ she corrected.

‘‘State. I oversee inventories of a half dozen state agencies, everything from road cones to, I don’t know, fax machines.’’

‘‘How fascinating,’’ she said.

‘‘We’re with you,’’ Melissa said, salvaging Stevie’s breach.

‘‘This is a big story,’’ he said.

‘‘Then perhaps we should hear it,’’ Melissa encouraged.

He touched Stevie’s hand and she instinctively jerked hers away. ‘‘Maybe I called the wrong person,’’ he said.

‘‘Maybe you did,’’ Stevie agreed. ‘‘You touch me again and you’re having pepper spray for lunch.’’

He apologized. ‘‘I’ve never done anything like this: whistle-blowing to the press. It’s not something I’m comfortable with.’’

‘‘You count police cones,’’ Stevie said, recovering slightly from her malaise. ‘‘Are you comfortable with that?’’

‘‘What else do you count, Mr. . . .’’ Melissa asked, attempting to drag his name out of him.

He mopped his face again. His teeth were stained from smoking. ‘‘Do you know how movie houses keep track of the popcorn they sell?’’

‘‘Popcorn?’’ Stevie blurted out. ‘‘You’re passing me a hot tip about movie-house popcorn?’’

‘‘It’s not by how much they pop, because it only takes a few kernels to make a cup of popped popcorn, and it’s too random to estimate how many kernels go into each cup . . . and also because they end up throwing out the stuff they haven’t sold at the end of the night, or between shows.’’

‘‘Listen . . . Really . . .’’

‘‘They count the bags, the cups,’’ Melissa said.

‘‘Exactly! The owner, the manager, tracks the number of bags used. They inventory the bags—small, medium, large—and that’s how much cash the employees behind the counters are responsible for putting in the till. It’s that simple. Not enough cash, the employees make up the difference, so the employees watch those bags closely. Same with soda cups. Exact same method. The number of cups used in an evening determines cash flow.’’

‘‘Bags and cups,’’ Stevie repeated, somewhat curiously.

‘‘At the LSOs—the Licensing Service Offices—it’s the laminates. The number of plastic laminates that go through each department.

These days the laminates have some printing embedded in the plastic to help cops sniff out counterfeits: Washington State Department of Transportation, it reads. That laminate validates the driver’s license. It’s very important to—’’

‘‘Counterfeiters,’’ she supplied.

He glanced between the two women.

‘‘We’re listening,’’ Melissa said, beginning to jot down notes. She flashed a look to Stevie. Melissa’s eyes were hot black pinpricks of excitement. Stevie felt a rush of heat pulse through her.

He said, ‘‘One of my responsibilities is to inventory the LSO laminates. Discards are tracked as well, so the numbers have to work out.’’

‘‘Counterfeit driver’s licenses?’’ Stevie said. ‘‘These connect to the container how?’’

‘‘Ask yourself why the state would have me counting laminates. Why bother? They cost the state two-point- six cents per laminate. Even at a few hundred, we’re talking three or four dollars’ worth.’’

‘‘Three or four hundred,’’ Melissa repeated, writing it down.

‘‘You lost me,’’ Stevie said. ‘‘The state’s waste of your manpower?’’ she asked, a little more interested. ‘‘Is that the story you’re pitching?’’

‘‘It’s the IDs,’’ Melissa said.

‘‘What’s the street value of a fake ID?’’ Stevie asked.

‘‘Now you’re catching on!’’ the man said. ‘‘What value would you put on a counterfeit driver’s license, Miss McNeal?’’

‘‘It’s Ms.,’’ she corrected. ‘‘I don’t know . . . Depends if it’s kids trying to buy cigarettes or illegals trying to buy their freedom.’’

‘‘It certainly does,’’ the man agreed.

She reconsidered. ‘‘Two hundred?’’

‘‘Five hundred?’’ Melissa asked, when the sweating man only returned a grin to Stevie.

‘‘How about thirty-five hundred per license.’’

Stevie spit some ice back into her tea. ‘‘What?’’

‘‘Legal residence is the first step toward a work permit. A work permit is the first step toward a green card. The green card leads to—’’


He grinned. ‘‘It’s a big story. See?’’ He said, ‘‘I have a name.’’

‘‘How much?’’ Stevie asked.

‘‘Five thousand,’’ he replied without hesitation.

Stevie coughed out a laugh. ‘‘This isn’t Nightbeat. We’re not Hard Copy.’’ She returned, ‘‘Five hundred.’’

‘‘Maybe I should call Nightbeat.’’

‘‘It’s a long distance call,’’ Stevie said.

She won a laugh from him. ‘‘It’s the hair, isn’t it? You wear it different on the show.’’

‘‘It’s not a show,’’ Stevie replied. She felt cold all of a sudden. She didn’t like the business of fans. ‘‘It’s a broadcast. It’s news.’’

The man took a moment to consider the offer. ‘‘A thousand,’’ he countered.

‘‘Five hundred up front. Five hundred more if the piece runs.’’

‘‘You think I’m giving you my name? Some way to find me?’’

Melissa said, ‘‘You’ve told us you are a state auditor. You think we can’t find you?’’

‘‘The condition of my cooperation is that you leave that alone . . . leave me alone. Leave me out of it.’’ He added, ‘‘I happen to like my job.’’

Stevie repeated, ‘‘Five hundred if our producer goes along with it. Melissa here will bring you the money. You’ll provide her the name of the LSO employee with the bad laminate count. If we run the piece, you get a second five hundred. You want to call us and set up the meetings, that’s fine. Give me two hours to run it by my producer.’’

‘‘I’d rather deal with you,’’ he objected. ‘‘No offense,’’ he said to Melissa.

‘‘It’s Melissa’s story, not mine. I’m an anchorwoman, not a reporter. You let us do our jobs. You do yours.’’

‘‘You were the reporter did that container,’’ he reminded.

Melissa said, ‘‘We like our jobs, too. Let us do them.’’

He left the restaurant a few minutes later, trailing some bad cologne.

They ordered food once he was gone.

Melissa said, ‘‘You’re asking for five two-minute segments: a review of the container tragedy; this LSO expose? if it proves out; and a piece on the detention center and what awaits illegals who’ve been detained.’’


‘‘I have no problem with any of that, but if it leads to a bigger story—if I can connect these counterfeit driver’s licenses to legal illegals, if I can deliver the people behind it, I need to know you’ll stay with me, that no

Вы читаете First Victim
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату