"Okay," Billie Newman told the editorial conference, "I think that's settled. Main lead is the bank robbery and hostage story, second and third leads the water bonds scandal and the police corruption story, with the editorial on educational funding. Everyone happy with that? Good. Anything else?"
"What about the FCC ruling?" asked Nick Gibson, the financial editor.
"Legal are still adamant. We report it and any subsequent developments as they occur in the financial section only. We don't editorialize, we don't comment beyond the bare bones of the story. Whatever we say about this could be construed as an attempt to tamper with the process."
"It's a big story."
"I know. But it's a big story about us, and that means that the rules change."
"Okay. Not for publication, has there been any news?"
"Nothing since yesterday. The FCC has ruled that David Nabbit has to shed some of his communications interests, he's apparently decided that the Tribune is the part that'll have to go, to cause the least disruption to his other businesses. The FCC agree. He's got six months to find a buyer."
"Have you spoken to him?"
"I got an e-mail this morning. He says that he's already received several offers, he's hoping to accept one that will guarantee the future of the Tribune as an independent paper."
"Rather than going for the highest bid?"
"He specifically says not. Come on, Nick, Nabbit's been good for the Tribune. He's done a lot to get our technology up to date, he even had his company write a lot of the software we're using, he hasn't interfered in the editorial process, and he's pumped millions into staff training and welfare."
"So he'll be expecting to reap the benefits."
"I really don't think so. He could give the Tribune away and it'd hardly dent his finances. He really wants LA to have a good independent paper, I guess. We'll have to wait and see what happens, but I don't think you need to get nervous quite yet."
Billie fielded a few more questions, wishing she was as certain about the Tribune's future as she claimed, then went back to her office. It wasn't that she distrusted David Nabbit, she was fairly sure that his heart was in the right place, she just wasn't sure that a software and internet tycoon really knew what was best for the future of the paper.
There were a dozen messages waiting on her desk after the meeting. One asked her to phone a Doctor Hoskins, at the Barker Clinic, with a local number, "re: Janice Newman". She flicked through the other messages to make sure that everything else could wait, then punched in the number.
"Miss Newman, thanks for calling me back so promptly. As I told your secretary, this concerns your late sister, Janice Newman."
Billie tensed. Even after twenty-two years the mystery of her sister's death and the disappearance of her newborn child gnawed at her. "Go on."
"Miss Newman, we're a genetic testing and counselling facility. We've been approached by representatives of a client who was adopted as a child and is seeking her natural family. They think that it's possible that she's your niece. Could I just check a few facts?"
"As I understand it your sister dropped out from UCLA in 1979, saying that she wanted to see the world, and left without revealing a destination. Approximately a year later she was killed in a traffic accident in Santa Barbara, and the pathologist's examination showed that she had given birth approximately three to four days earlier. Is that all correct?"
"That's right. Nobody knew that she was pregnant, and we've never been able to trace the baby, its father, or her movements in the last few months before she was killed."
"The client was found abandoned in another city, but your sister could have travelled to Santa Barbara in the time available before she was killed. There are details such as blood group that would support the idea that she is your niece. She's also a redhead, which I understand is common in your family."
"It's possible, I suppose, but it wouldn't be the first time someone has claimed to be her. The story's reasonably well-known, and we've had crazies and fortune-hunters sniffing around. Not that there's any fortune to be had."
"As I understand it the client is a wealthy woman, Miss Newman, money would not be an issue. Her adoptive parents are no longer with her and there is no living family, she simply wishes to make contact with any natural relatives."
"What would you want me to do?"
"We would need samples for DNA testing. If you could call in at our offices I can take them. The procedure is more or less painless, takes about ten minutes. We will even pay your expenses should you wish."
"Okay, let's say I bite. What happens then?"
"If the client is your niece, a proportion of her significant genetic markers will resemble yours. That can vary considerably depending on your sister's genetic makeup, which unfortunately can't be verified - unless you have a sample of her genetic material, such as a lock of hair? A tooth, something of that nature? Something of the sort from either of your parents would also be very helpful."
"I'm sorry, I don't think I have anything like that. It's possible that the Santa Barbara police kept something, of course."
"We'll make inquiries, but since your sister's death was accidental it's unlikely. Anyway, in layman's terms the more markers that are the same, the better the odds that she is related to you. In fact the process is more complex than that, since some markers are rarer than others and would be very significant if they were found in both samples, some are very common in the population as a whole. We have a large database of samples for different ethnic groups, hair and skin colouration, and so forth, and would look for things that aren't common to all fair-skinned redheads and so forth. We'll know the results in two to three days, and notify our client's representatives. If the result is negative or further tests are required we'll also inform you, if it's positive the client will presumably contact you herself or via her representatives."
"And if she doesn't?"
"Then I'm afraid she doesn't. Since she's the person looking for her family I think it's highly likely that she will."
"But if she doesn't, you won't help me make contact with her?"
"We can't. Medical ethics, I'm sure you'll understand."
"Okay. Would this afternoon be possible, I can probably get out for an hour or so?"
"Any time between one and six."
"I'll be there."
* * * * *
The offices were aggressively modern, and gave her a feeling of uneasiness that she couldn't quite pin down. Maybe it was just a reaction to having to deal with doctors plus her tenseness over the situation.
"I'll need a sample of saliva," said the doctor, a nerdish-looking guy in a white lab coat, "I'd also like a swab of skin cells from inside your cheek, some hair, and a little blood."
"Okay, I guess. Um... did you test her?"
"The client? I'm afraid I can't answer that."
"Because I'm not permitted to discuss our clients. Medical ethics, I'm sure you'll understand."
Hoskins efficiently took the samples, labelling them with a case number and the date and time, sealed them, and made notes in a file. Billie tried not to show her interest, but like many investigatory reporters she had a talent for reading upside-down. The page on top was a check-list for taking the samples, but she could see the right-hand side of the first inch or so of another sheet. The handwriting was difficult to read, but she was fairly sure that the first line ended "...el Investigations". There was also an old-fashioned Rolodex address file on the desk, open to a name she recognised: Wolfram and Hart, a law firm that represented at least half the people and companies that sued the Tribune.
* * * * *
"Could be Sentinel Investigations," said crime reporter Tommy Fowler, a burly ex-cop, leafing through his address book, "but they mostly handle industrial espionage cases. Let's see, who else is there... Digi-Tel mostly handle computer fraud, they're not likely either. Angel Investigations... possible, I guess. That's about it. Any way it could have been 'al' or 'ol', not 'el'? There are eleven or twelve possibilities there."
"I don't think so. The other lead is Wolfram and Hart, there was a Rolodex open at their address, but if it is them I'll get nowhere. Or possibly there's a link between the investigators and Wolfram and Hart."
"In that case it definitely won't be Angel."
"Because Angel hates Wolfram and Hart, and they hate him."
"Angel is a person?"
"It's his only name as far as I know, like Sting or Madonna. He's a guy, seen him around a few times, talked to him but never got much in the way of answers. Let's see..." he looked through a file, "He was a real heavy hitter a couple of years ago. There's a story that he was the guy who really caught Little Tony Papazian, let the police take the credit. Around the same time he gave the police the evidence they needed to track down a serial killer, the one they called the Pope; he got away from them in the end, but he ran because Angel led them to him. He was Rebecca Lowell's bodyguard when she was being stalked. He caught the guy, it turned out to be some sort of publicity stunt and her people fired him. He persuaded another killer to turn herself in; Faith something, don't recall the last name. All four within a few months, and a bunch of other stuff that didn't make the news much. Then about eighteen months ago someone firebombed his office, after that things went quieter. Last year someone tried to frame him for multiple murder, but it didn't stick. Since then I've heard from three different sources that there's some sort of long-running feud between him and Wolfram and Hart, and that they were responsible for framing him, but I never got any reasons or solid proof I could put in a story."
"Okay, thanks, sounds like I need to talk to mister Angel."
"Good luck. The guy just doesn't talk to reporters, but here's the number. And if it is your sister's kid, and there's any sort of story in it for the crime desk, I want to be on it."
"You will be. But as I said, this is a personal matter, and it may not even be my niece, it might not be a story at all."
* * * * *
Billie went back to her office and punched the number into her phone. A woman's voice said "Hello, Angel Investigations, we help the helpless."
"Hi. My name is Billie Newman, I'd like to make an appointment to see Mister Angel."
"What's it in connection with?"
"I'd really prefer not to discuss it on the phone."
"Okay. We're based in the old Hyperion Hotel, if you'd like to call in he can probably see you."
"When would be convenient?"
"Any time this evening."
"It's seven already."
"Not a problem, he's a night owl."
"I don't normally leave work until after midnight, is there any chance he'll still be around then?"
"I'll check.." There was the clatter of the phone being put down, the noise of heels on a tiled floor, then she faintly heard "Angel, can you see someone late tonight, say one or so? A woman called Billie Newman?"
A man's voice with a faint Irish accent said "Newman? Are you sure?"
"That's odd.. Okay, make sure of the usual, other than that I can be here."
Billie guessed that he'd recognised her name, not surprising if he was responsible for the call from Hoskins. She decided to pretend she hadn't heard anything.
The footsteps came back, and the voice said "Is it a divorce, a lost dog, or industrial espionage?"
"None of them."
"Okay, can I ask who referred you to us?"
"Well, it wasn't exactly a referral, but I heard of your name in connection with Wolfram and Hart."
"Okay... I guess Angel will definitely want to see you then. I'll make sure he keeps tonight clear."
* * * * *
As Billie drove towards the Hyperion she didn't pay much attention to the large white van following her along the almost-deserted roads until it accelerated to overtake her, then suddenly swerved in front of her. Another van was coming up behind. Billie wondered if she was being paranoid, but thought she saw the opening moves of a kidnap attempt. Three years earlier she'd taken a survival training course at Nabbit's expense, following the kidnapping and murder of one of his executives in Argentina, and she thought she could still remember what to do.
Instead of hitting the brakes she floored the accelerator and swerved to avoid the van ahead, cutting it so close that she felt the side of the car thump into the van. For a moment she thought she'd got away with it, then there was a loud bang and her rear tyre blew out. She swerved across the road, doing her best to keep the car under control, then the van rammed her from behind and sent the car skidding towards a row of shops. It ploughed into a mail box and stopped, the air-bag inflating in time to protect Billie from serious injuries. She sat there, dazed, vaguely aware that she could hear someone talking, and tried to focus on what they were saying...
"Get her out and get the other one into the driving seat! Come on, move it."
She looked around blearily and saw a grey-overalled man open the door and start to pull on her arm. She shrieked with pain, vaguely realising that her arm must be broken, and almost passed out. Somehow the pain cleared her thoughts a little.
"Let her go," said a deep voice, and someone shouted "Get him!", then she heard shots, a metallic clang, screams, and silence. There was a hissing noise and the air-bag deflated. She looked up to see the silhouette of a bearded man leaning over her, his face thrown into shadow by the street light behind her.
"Your arm is broken," said a deep voice, "but I don't think there are any other serious injuries. Do you have a telephone?"
"Leave it," said another deep male voice, "we don't have time for this."
"Cellphone's in my bag," Billie murmured.
"Leave her, we have work to do. How do you expect to get your revenge if you stop for every damsel in distress you encounter?"
"A few minutes really don't matter," said the first man. "What is the number for the police, please?"
"911, of course." How the hell could anyone not know that, unless... he sounded vaguely foreign, maybe he really didn't know. He reached into the bag, punched in the number, and waited. "You have to press 'dial'"
"I see, thank you..... Police? A lady has been injured in a car crash at...." Billie felt herself drift into grey unconsciousness, coming out of it again to hear him say "No, nobody else has been injured, but several have been killed. My name? If it matters, my name is Holtz..." then finally drifted off completely.