I barely suppressed my smile, nearly waggling my steepled fingers like a cartoon villain. A smoking hot lead had dropped straight into my lap. Well, sort of.
Last December, I attended a party and one of the guests mentioned off-hand that she worked on the executive floor at J.P. Star Energy.
“Must be interesting being around those Stars all day,” I’d asked her.
“Not really. Theresa and Reese Star-Hunter work like demons all the time. Trying to get the old man’s attention, I guess. No one else ever comes into the office—except Anthony. He only comes in for every other board meeting to flirt with the interns.”
I logged the data away and laughed. Libby, J.P. Star Energy insider. A connection like that might prove valuable some day.
Today was that day. Maybe.
After a series of phone calls to get Libby’s last name, I finally reached her a week ago via social media, and she called me back. We talked about nonsense until the hottest topic in town to pop up, and then I pounced.
“Didn’t you say you worked at J.P. Star Energy?”
“Yeah. Whole place is in a tizzy. They read the will here last Thursday,” Libby said.
I lowered my voice as if I wanted to protect the city’s hottest gossip. “How exciting can that be? He was rich, and now, his kids are even richer.”
Her voice wavered. “I don’t know. Things are kind of tense. You know that Theresa and her sister barely speak.”
“Really?” I feigned doubt.
I had heard that. The twin daughters of John Peter Star had different lifestyles. Theresa was hardcore corporate and wanted desperately to be CEO of the company only men were deemed fit to lead. Marie—despite being the elder of the two by a few minutes—was a philanthropist. One spent her time making buckets and buckets of money, the other giving the buckets away.
My boss, Danny, speculated that Marie had some rich lady guilt about being a billionaire simply because she emerged from a particular uterus. But then that was Danny’s job—speculating about the travails and motivations of Dallas society’s elite.
That was my job, too. My colleague—definitely not friend—Shayna and I helped Danny get the dirt. The three of us wrote the “Sparks Says” column, allegedly written by Abigail Sparks, since the early 1990s. The real Abigail died ten years ago, replaced by a slate of reporters. Danny, Shayna, and I were currently Abigail.
I spun in my chair, letting the framed journalism degree from Texas Christian University on the wall of my office whirl in and out of view. My gut twinged.
Fuck it. This job paid—unlike a lot of journalism these days. Reporting was reporting, and I was good at it.
Libby seemed energized by having information I didn’t. “Oh, they can’t stand each other,” she replied and drew each word out with glee.
Perfect. She was dying to share what she knew.
“Huh. I have a friend who works at The Dallas Post. She does research for that gossip column.” I lowered my voice again to draw her in and let the information dangle until Libby bit.
“‘Sparks Says’? I love that column.”
The pulsing thrill of the hot story almost made it hard to speak. “It’s not my thing, but I know she’d love to hear about the Stars. They pay. I gave her a tip once, and she gave me a thousand dollars.”
“I couldn’t. I’d lose my job,” Libby demurred, but her tone raged with interest.
“I can pass it along if you want. So she doesn’t even need to know it was you.”
The line went silent, but I knew with a tiny push, I’d have the tip that I needed.
“Let me text her and find out how much she’ll pay.”
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to see how much. I know a few things,” Libby said. “Crazy things.”
Crazier than the old man dying in a sex romp gone wrong? My heart raced away from my guilty feelings at the scent of a scoop.
We shot the shit about more nonsense, then I—surprise, surprise—got word back from my “friend.”
“Wow. She says they’re paying double for dirt on the Stars.”
That was the trick. Let Libby expect one thousand, up the ante, and she spilled. Easy peasy. She spilled.
I stared down at the name scratched on my memo pad.
Libby didn’t know who the guy was, but her boss added him to the security sheet for the private elevator at the last minute, and the Stars seemed peeved when the guy—a black guy—showed up.
“There are hardly ever black people in the executive offices. So, you know, it stands out. No offense.”
I stifled a laugh. Nice white people always felt the need to say, “no offense,” about every racial observation—racist or not.
“And he was there for the reading of the will?” An excited squeak threaded through my voice.
“The lawyer was here to talk about the estate, yes. The guy went in with the family. I mean, there’s the obvious reason, but…” Libby paused. “That can’t be true. He was a little young to, you know…be John Peter’s, right? I can’t even say it out loud. It’s too crazy. And gross.”
I swallowed hard to turn a cynical snort into a non-committal noise.
Any man caught dead with his pants down could have toddlers in every zip code. Age had nothing to do with it.
“Anyway, do I still get the two grand?” Libby asked.
“Yeah. We’ll meet up for happy hour tomorrow. My friend will meet us and give you the cash.”
I would get there early and tell Libby that my buddy hadn’t been able to stick around.
“Cool. And you won’t tell anyone? The money is nice, but you know, I don’t want to lose my job.”
“I’ve done it myself. I totally get it. I won’t say a word,” I promised. And I wouldn’t. I never wanted to turnover a source this connected on a story this hot.
“O-k-kay,” Libby stuttered, breathless.
“No worries,” I tittered with upbeat ease. “And if you have anything else, Cindy will totally pay more. Shit! Don’t tell anyone I said Cindy.”
I liked using the fake name Cindy because I knew Shayna sometimes used it as an alias with sources.
“Oh, God, no! I won’t say anything.” The woman heaved a relieved sigh into the phone. “See you tomorrow.”
We hung up, and I leaned back, feeling excited—if, yes, villainous.
All I had to do is figure out who this Carter Cross was and what he had to do with the Stars. I typed the name into my computer and got to work.
If this panned out, maybe I’d finally get assigned more than stories about professional football players and the occasional basketball player. Plus, Danny had a bounty on Star news. At least, two grand for another lead item. Five for a story worthy of being above the fold—not that most people read our print edition these days. If this was as big as I thought, I could get two or three items above the fold and maybe a promotion to lead reporter with a bump in pay.
Eat shit, Shayna.