Sunday 15 January 2012
It all happened within the space of a few hours, from the initial call to Sheriff Barber regarding the discovery of the body, to informing Dylan Partridge that it was possible that his sister had been discovered, to John Hardy recounting everything that Amber Carlson had to him regarding Stephanie Partridge’s kidnapping. Night had turned into day, and Sheriff Barber was tired and irritated, and it now seemed to him that he had two cases on his hands – the murder of a young woman, and the sudden disappearance of Amber Carlson. A sleepy town, which only came to life during snow season, was the centre of attention to a slew of news reporters, and ghoulish tourists who had come to speculate on the identity of the corpse, because Charlie Cooper had let slip that there was a new story where the Partridge girl was concerned.
Sheriff Barber had done his best to keep a lid on the influx of reporters and journalists, but they outnumbered the Sheriff’s Department staff by at least fifty-to-one. It was futile to fight against them. Instead, Barber decided the best course of action was to hold a press conference, allow the media to have their fifteen minutes with him, and hope to God they would back off and allow his staff to do their jobs.
The Sheriff stood for almost an hour answering as many of the media’s questions as he could. He hadn’t expected it to take so long, and was desperate to get back to questioning John Hardy for a third time. Instinctively, Barber felt that the key to the whole event was in what Hardy had to say. However, the press had other ideas, and question after question flew hard and fast at Barber until he lost all patience and erupted into a tirade of near-abuse about the press wasting his time, and impeding the investigation of a murder and abduction.
On returning to the sanctuary of his office, Barber found himself being followed by a young reporter from the press conference. He turned swiftly, stopping her in her tracks, and bellowed at the young woman.
‘What in God’s name do you want now? Can’t you leave me alone to do my job?’
She flinched as he yelled, but held her ground in the face of his anger.
‘Sheriff, I was contacted by a Charlie Cooper –’ she had no time to finish her statement before Barber interrupted.
‘I don’t care who contacted you. And for the record, Charlie Cooper is persona non grata in Egmont Pass, and I wouldn’t mention her again if you want to stay here.’
The reporter, unfazed, continued, ‘She told me what John Hardy told her and Dylan Partridge about what an Amber Carlson speculated.’
Barber took her by the arm and ushered her through the office.
‘Sheriff, please, I have something that you should look at. I did some research to see if Charlie Cooper’s story added up. It seems to me that Egmont Pass has been harbouring a Nazi war criminal for a good many years.’
Her words stopped Barber in his tracks. He had no idea how to proceed.
‘Here’s everything I found,’ she said as she handed him a thin, manila folder. He released her arm and grabbed at the folder, opening it as fast as he could. The first article, a print out from an internet news site, made him catch his breath.
‘You’ve got to be shitting me,’ he whispered as he looked around for something to sit on before his legs gave way from shock.
‘Keep going, Sheriff. It gets worse,’ the reporter said, now confident that Sheriff Barber was going to hear her out.
‘What did you say your name was?’ he asked without drawing his gaze away from the information in the file.
‘I didn’t,’ she paused, ‘but my name is Karla Downes, and I work as a minor reporter for The New York Times. Sheriff, I know it sounds arrogant and all, but this story could be the one that gets me promoted from the minor league copy stuff that I write, to a position where I actually get respect. I’m telling you this because I’m not leaving Egmont Pass until I get my exclusive.’
Barber looked up from the articles he’d been scanning. Karla Downes was serious.
‘So, you’re telling me that I’m not getting rid of you, and that you’ll go to any length you can to get this story?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ Karla replied, holding eye contact with him to indicate that she wasn’t backing down. Barber considered his options. He could have her bundled off out of town in the same manner that he’d had Charlie Cooper removed. Potentially, that would cause an incident and bring unwarranted attention to his Department, which undoubtedly, would hold up the investigation more than it already had been. On the other hand, he could swallow his pride, allow her the exclusive in return for the information she had just presented to him. It was a breach of everything he believed in, in terms of effective policing, but she’d be out of his hair, the investigation would continue as smoothly as any investigation might, and he, his officers, and the reporter could all come out of it smelling of roses.
‘I have some conditions that you need to guarantee me that you’ll stick to,’ Barber said. ‘Come in to my office and we’ll get down to business.’
Karla Downes skipped, light of foot, into Sheriff Barber’s office, unable to contain her glee. She was going to get an exclusive on a story that would make her career.
. . . To be continued . . .