From the peephole, Tony spied a woman he’d never seen before. She was thirtyish with wavy blond hair and smooth, fair skin. She dressed professionally – white shirt, navy slacks – but not well enough to be a lawyer from the prosecutor’s office. She didn’t have the look of a cop. Curious, Tony unlocked the door and cracked it open, leaving the chain latch in place.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Maybe,” she answered. “Are you Tony Lang?”
“Sure,” Tony said. What the hell, it was too early in the morning to bother with a farce.
“I heard you had quite a night last night, Tony.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
Tony arched an eyebrow. “Who the hell are you?”
“K.J. Smith,” the woman answered. “I’m a reporter with the News-Journal. I was hoping we could talk.”
“You’re K.J. Smith?!” Tony asked. When Jackson had mentioned the “relentless crime reporter,” Tony had pictured a middle aged man with a yellow notepad and a press badge.
“The one and only,” K.J. replied. She seemed amused by his reaction. If he had to guess, he’d say it’s one she’d encountered before.
“Give me 15 minutes and I’ll meet you in the lobby,” he told her before shutting the door.
Tony wasn’t sure why he had agreed to talk with her. He held no particular affinity for journalists, despite having been one for a year. Furthermore, knocking on his door at 9:30 in the morning after the night he had was not a good way to ensure his cooperation. At the same time, he wanted to know what was going on around here. Jackson made it pretty clear he wouldn’t tell Tony any more than he had to. If exchanging information with K.J. was what it took to get him clued in, so be it. Also, if he was being entirely honest with himself, he found her pretty damn attractive.
A shower, a shave and a change of clothes later and Tony found himself in the lobby. K.J. was sitting on a maroon leather chair in an elegantly appointed waiting room, spiral bound notepad out, watching, with envy, Tony imagined, as a gentleman on the other side of the room read the Wall Street Journal. Tony pulled up a nearly identical chair next to her. A vase of indeterminate flowers (Tony could never keep his lilies straight from his irises) stood between them on a small end table. Soft classical music was being piped in from places unknown.
“I was told I need to watch out for you,” Tony said.
“Who told you that?” K.J. asked. “Avis?”
“Avis Jackson,” K.J. said. “I was told he was the lead investigator on this case.”
Avis, Tony thought and started to laugh. I got scared half to death last night by a guy named Avis.
“What’s so funny?” K.J. asked.
“Nothing,” Tony said. “Listen, I’m sorry if I’ve been rude up until this point.”
K.J. waved her arm dismissively. “Oh please. I’m used to worse. Law enforcement types love me at first. Then they realize I’m not this ditsy blonde who will do whatever they say. I get all kinds of looks.”
“I’ll bet. Hey, what does K.J. stand for, anyway?”
“So about last night,” she said, tapping her pen against the notepad.
“Listen,” Tony said. “I’ll make you a deal.”
Her eyes rolled.
“I just want to know what I’m getting myself into here,” he explained. “Your pal Avis won’t tell me anything, except that I shouldn’t leave town and I may or may not be in danger. So I’ll give you everything that happened last night, but I need you to fill in the holes and keep me up to date on this thing.”
K.J. considered his offer, then closed the notepad.
“My editor won’t like me giving you this much information before we run with it, but if I’m right, he’ll love me for the story it will help me get. You want to be in the loop? I’ll do you one better. There’s a tape recorder in my car. I’ll drive and you talk about last night.”
“Drive to where?” Tony asked.
“Campus,” K.J. told him. “I got a tip that Amy Holden was doing some research for this history professor and he’s willing to talk.”
Tony felt a spark. It was the same feeling he got when he hit a dry spell with his writing and a pivotal scene suddenly unfolded before him. He wondered if K.J. felt it too and meant to ask her, but she was already halfway out the door.
He caught up to her at her car, a blue Mazda, practical but sporty. As promised, there was a tape recorded on the passenger’s seat, along with a stack of papers and a jacket K.J. told him he could chuck in the back. And, as promised, Tony talked while she drove. He started with the awards ceremony and brought her all the way up to his interview/interrogation with Avis. He did not mention the flash of white, not because he was reluctant, but because in his hurry to tell her everything, that particular detail eluded him. He was so far into storytelling mode that they were nearly on campus before he realized that the same gray sedan had been following them at a distance ever since they left the Marriott.