“We know who the dead woman is,” Clarence told Jake. “I want to make a deal.”

Jake tensed. “In my experience, editors suffer when they make deals with D.A.s. What kind of deal do you have in mind?”

“It’s simpIe. I tell you what we’ve found out. You print it.”

“That’s the kind of deal I can live with,” Jake said with a smile of relief.

“And one other thing.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

“Let me have copies of all Bob’s photos of the scene in the cave.”

“I don’t know. Bob, how do you feel about that?”

“You know I can subpoena the photos,” Clarence threatened.

“And we can fight you all the way to the Supreme Court. Even if we don’t win, it’ll tie your hands for years.”

“Is that your position—and you don’t want the information I’m prepared to give you?”

The editor asked for a few minutes to confer privately with his photographer. They walked outside. Clarence could see them standing head to head outside the glass door. Bob was angry, his face growing red, his gestures larger and larger. At one point he even rapped a fist against his boss’s chest. Jake was appeasing him, or trying to, smiling, putting a hand on his shoulder, nodding his head, all the signs of diplomacy in the face of stubborn objections.

Finally they returned to the office. “It took a lot of persuading,” the editor told Clarence, “but Bob has agreed to your conditions. You see, he and I have an unusual arrangement. I don’t pay him for his photos and in return he gets to keep the copyright and do what he wants with them, even publish them somewhere else if he can. So I can’t just order him to give you the photos. He has to agree.”

“And does he?”

“Bob? Jake turned to the photographer. “Do you?”

With visible reluctance, Bob nodded.

The next day, the Weekly Standard’s story about the death in the cave stretched across all five columns of the front page. “Reporter found murdered in cave,” the 72-point extra-bold type blared. It was the biggest headline Jake had ever run in the paper. Beneath the headline was a huge picture of a body covered in a sheet.

“That sure should sell some papers,” he grinned as he whipped off the tape binding a stack of 50. “Even if all our advertisers cancel, at least we’ll have a lot of readers for awhile.” The story read:

The body of freelance investigative reporter Rebecca Hope, who disappeared a year ago while on assignment for the Weekly Standard, was found last week in the Cavetown Cavern.

The discovery was made by a Texas tourist, Eloise Henderson, who was part o the first group of tourists to be bused to the newly opened cave. A professional spelunker, she headed off on her own to explore an alcove that had been hidden by a pile of rocks. Behind the rocks she found Hope’s body.

District Attorney Clarence Ferlinghetti said he is investigating the woman’s death as a murder. Asked if she could have died accidentally from a rockslide or a fall, Ferlinghetti replied, “She did have a head wound that could have been due to a rock or a fall, but she had also been strangled. Rocks don’t strangle people.”

Ferlinghetti met with the editor of the Weekly Standard to discuss the case. He was particularly interested in the investigation Hope had been working on at the time of her death. It focused on a large, privately held company called Services International, whose president and CEO, Donald Langstrom, had recently moved to a new home he built on a large estate on the edge of Cavetown.

Hope, a 22-year-old graduate of the communications and journalism program at the University of New Mexico, had been an intern for the Weekly Standard while still a student. After her graduation, she wanted to be a freelance journalist and had sought assignments from the Weekly Standard.

The Services International story was her first assignment. At the time of her death, she had been working on it for six months and had conducted two dozen interviews in several states. The principal subject of the investigation was Donald Langstrom.

No evidence had been found that would shed light on her disappearance despite an extensive search and investigation by the county sheriff and the district attorney. On the morning of her disappearance she had been scheduled to meet with Langstrom but he told the Weekly Standard that she never showed up for the appointment at his house in Cavetown.

The district attorney declined to say for the record how Hope had died or why her death was being investigated as a homicide. “I am sure I will have more to say later,” he told the Weekly Standard.

Alicia Stevenson, a close friend of Hope’s who had been her college roommate, said, “Hope was tough, brilliant and persistent. She did great work for the college paper and even once investigated the president of the university. She was also the most beautiful girl in our class. She could’ve married any boy in the college, but she wanted to devote herself to a journalistic career That came first for her. She was really committed to her profession.”

She is survived by her father, Richard Hope, her mother, Janet Hope, and a sister, Marlene Hope, all of whom live in Cavetown.

Langstrom’s morning tranquility was interrupted by the expected visit from Mayor Joe Gonzales and Jake Blesson, editor and publisher of the Weekly Standard, an unusual tandem team explained by the equally unusual prominence of the interviewee and the delicacy of the subject. Langstrom was, without any competition, the most famous as well as the wealthiest resident of the county. He was the principal advertiser in the newspaper and the largest taxpayer in the county. Moreover, he had enough influence to cause both of them unending legal, economic and political problems should he choose to do so. He was thus a man with whom the road of wisdom was sign posted, “Caution. Danger Ahead. Use Extreme Courtesy.”

“What if he killed her?” the mayor muttered as they were waiting for Langstrom to answer the doorbell.

“You’re an idiot, the editor told his old foe. “The question isn’t whether he did it.” The editor, a more subtle man than the mayor, continued. “It’s whether we can come up with enough evidence to prove it without getting sued for everything we own. If we can’t, it doesn’t matter a hill of beans whether or not he did it.” He paused. You know, he’s smarter than you are. If he wasn’t, you’d be sitting in a $20 million mansion and he’d be living in your three-room apartment.”

Gonzales bristled. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“It’s well deserved.”

“We’ll see about that.”

 

Next week, Part 7

The final installment