As Nardo approached the door, the knock came again, louder, followed by a shouted female voice. “Hey mister reporter? I need to talk to you.”
He opened the door and was startled to find a girl standing out there, a kid of maybe junior high age.
“You’re that kid who was with James Strait at the coffee shop.”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Do you know where he is?”
Dollar signs were ringing up in Nardo’s head. Plus, now that he took a closer look at the girl, he could see she was hot. His type. Probably not a day over thirteen.
“Can I come in?”
“Yeah, of course, sure.”
She entered and glanced around at the spare room, nose crinkling a little at the smoke in the air.
“I want you to interview me about him.”
“I’d love to give Strait a chance to tell his side of the story…”
The girl stood with her weight on one leg, her head cocked to one side, looking Nardo over. She had a small smile on her face.
“You know smoking is bad for you, right?”
“Only if you inhale.”
She laughed. “You way inhale.”
He took a step toward her. “I like a little danger in my life.”
She unfolded the newspaper in her hands and displayed the front page photo of James in front of the burning church.
“Is that why you put his picture on the front page?”
“No one even knew he was there before you reported this.”
“Yep. In the old days, they called that a scoop. This paper’s never sold so many copies.”
“But James is innocent. Someone framed him.”
“Like I said, I’d love to hear his side of the…”
“See this woman here?” She tapped on the fragment of a blonde woman on the right-side margin.
“What about her?”
“She’s the one who framed him.”
“Her? Who is she?”
“We don’t know. But if we could get a clearer picture of her, we might be able to find out. Did you take this picture?”
Nardo spied an opening. “Someone.”
“I can tell you. But what are you willing to give me in return?”
“What? You want money?”
Nardo took another step forward. “That’s not what I was talking about.”
Something microscopic passed over the girl’s face. A flash of realization, a reconfiguring of her stance on what was happening. Nardo was greatly relieved to see her smile brightly.
“Oh,” she said. She glanced at the bathroom door, the only other doorway in the place. “Are we alone here?”
“Yep. Just me and pretty little you.”
She giggled, and covered her mouth shyly, a gesture that made Nardo go wobbly in the knees.
She called out in a loud voice, “It’s okay,” and James Strait entered the room.
Nardo looked wide-eyed at him, then back at the girl, then at Strait again. “What’s…?” Whatever Nardo was going to say was stopped when Strait gripped him by the throat.
(Excerpt from When Moths Burn, chapter 36)