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A Lede Expose

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Maxine clutched her palm sized voice recorder tightly in one hand and the rail of the fire escape in the other. It was cold out, but not cold enough that her breath clouded the glass of the window she was huddled underneath, trying to catch the argument escalating from inside. She was two stories up and there was no way in hell she was going back down the fire ladder in her heels without a story. Her job at the New York Journal was in better standing now that the Zambrano disaster was finally losing its bite, but she'd feel a lot better with a few more headlines under her belt.

A male voice boomed through the thin glass. “Fine, go ahead, just keep me out of it! I don’t care how much money he stole, I want it done quiet.” She couldn’t see properly from her angle and she didn’t want to risk poking her head higher, but Max recognised the voice as belonging to Carlo Vechini. Now that the Dons were out of the picture Elias was the unofficial kingpin. But while he was in prison some of the little fish were trying on upper management for size. It wouldn’t last, but it would still sell the papers.

“Sure thing, boss,” said a second voice. And damn it, she thought, why couldn’t he have called him by name. She needed a story not a string of anonymous crimes.

Then there was a door slam and Max heard them trump through the staircase before they exited the building from literally underneath her. She held her breath but they didn’t so much as blink in her direction. The two men, one of whom was indeed Carlo Vechini, walked out from underneath the fire escape hauling a body. Max couldn’t tell if he was dead or just unconscious.

Her editor’s voice echoed through her head like a death knell. “You keep getting in over your head like this, Max, you’re gonna get in trouble. Real trouble.” Max clenched her teeth. Trouble was her specialty.

She waited until they rounded the corner into the alley before pocketing the recorder and hustling down the fire escape. Just as her foot touched pavement she heard two gunshots ring out through the night air. She sucked in a breath and threw herself against the wall, as if flattening herself against the apartment building would somehow render her invisible.

And then John Anderson, holding a pistol in his left hand, walked around the corner.

Max’s world froze for three long seconds. She hadn’t thought about John in months. Despite the fact that he’d been one of her more successful dates in the better part of a year, she’d been honest when they’d parted ways: she didn’t have time for him or his gentle ways.

He looked at her and his mouth worked open and closed like a fish. “Maxine,” he finally said, and damn him for sounding like the exact same gentle man.

Her own mouth was moving against her will. “No. No way.”

“Max... I... I was just passing by and I heard gunshots...” God, he made it sound like a question, his voice liliting up at the end. “Are you alright?” And Max looked at him, really looked. Catalogued the spray of browning blood on his suit jacket and the deft quickness with which he moved the pistol behind his back, as if she hadn’t seen it, as if he could just put the joker back in the box and keep playing pretend.

“Fine, John. How’s your job? What was it you did again?” Because two could play at this game and Max hated being played.

He was flustered for only a fraction of a second. He was good, Max gave him that. Really, really good. “I’m an actuary. It’s... interesting work. Lots of risk analysis.” He cocked his head and a smug smile seeped out.

“And does it always put you in the field at a quarter to midnight?” She shoved herself off the wall and sprinted around the corner. Both Vechini and his minion were huddled against a dumpster with their knees shot out and their faces kicked in, but alive.

She grimaced, looking at them and memorizing the details for her article, and said, “You know, I was hoping to get a story on Vechini tonight, John. I wasn’t looking for a story on the man in the suit.” Because there could be no other answer. There was silence behind her. She turned to face John and he was gone, an empty pocket of cold night air where he’d stood before.

She growled and kicked the dumpster. It looked like she had a story after all, but it sure wasn’t Vechini.

There was a rustle and a groan and a lump next to the dumpster she’d thought was a bag of garbage moved. The third man, who had been unconscious and dragged out of the building, looked at her and stumbled to his feet.

“He does that,” the man said, and stuck out his hand to shake hers. “I’m Leon, by the way. Leon Tao.” He looked around. “Hey, do you mind giving me a ride?”