Vaughn Sherwood plucked the paper tip off the wrapper of his straw, leaned across the table and blew the remainder of the straw’s wrapper into the face of Anthony Whitaker. “Hello?” he said testily. “Any comment?”
Anthony slid a fingertip across his tablet, his lunch sitting untouched on the table in front of him. “Sorry?” he muttered, not even bothering to glance up from his work.
“This weekend? The game? Are you coming with me or what?”
“Oh, right, no,” he said, lifting his eyes just long enough to deliver the rejection before glancing back down. “I’m going to New York. Billy’s got a lead for me on a cartel-related kidnapping. I’m meeting with the missing man’s wife.”
Vaughn snatched the tablet away from his friend and held it just out of reach until Whitaker had resigned himself to the loss and slumped back in his chair, looking irritable. “Can’t you do it over the phone?” Vaughn asked.
“Real sensitive,” Whitaker said, rolling his eyes. He spread his fingers near his ear as though holding a phone receiver and said, “Sorry about your husband, Mrs. Johnson, but I’ve got another call coming in, can you hold?”
“You and this cartel stuff,” Vaughn complained. “I don’t suppose this one is actually for our paper?”
Whitaker shook his head. “It’s a freelance piece that I’m doing, but it could lead to something more.”
“Need a photographer?” he asked.
“Definitely not, you wouldn’t believe the fear that these cartels can instill in people. Their victims are terrified of being exposed, of having it somehow get out that they’ve spoken to the police or the media. It took me weeks to convince this woman even to speak to me. If she thought for an instant that I was going to flash her picture around…”
“Alright, alright,” Vaughn grumbled. “But you included a photo in that piece about the woman who went missing from the convenience store. Wasn’t that cartel related?”
Whitaker’s expression grew sheepish. “It was, but I don’t think they knew enough to be worried about it, and I know I didn’t, not then anyway. But I’ve done so many of these stories since then, I know too much now to ignore the risks.”
“Whatever happened to that woman?”
Whitaker shook his head, looking grim. “They never did find her. The boyfriend and the witness finally gave up and went home. Well,” he said, as though thinking better of it, “they went home at least. I don’t know if the boyfriend really gave up. They stopped talking to me after that first interview.”
“Because the feds got involved?”
“I think so,” Whitaker said. “I have to say though, I wasn’t too impressed with that agent’s so-called investigation. If anything, they seemed to…” he paused and stared blankly past Vaughn for a moment before pulling a small notebook from his breast pocket and scribbling furiously for several minutes. “Sorry,” he said, in answer to Vaughn’s quizzical look. “I’m just thinking it may be time for me to take another look at that story.”
“Do you really think there’s any chance at all that she’s still alive?”
Whitaker shrugged. “Who knows? You have to remember who her father is. I imagine there’s a lot of people-even in the cartels-who wouldn’t want to cross a man like that.”
“Good point,” Vaughn agreed. “So what’s your angle for the follow-up story?”
Anthony stared down at the notes he’d just written. “Good question,” he muttered, more to himself than to his companion.
Vaughn laughed. “Okay then, I look forward to reading it, just as soon as you know what ‘it’ is.”