Peter Bradford was certain he’d done this for Claire. Not because she’d asked him. The initiative was all his.

She’d propelled him. And he’d almost gone the distance.

He lay on his back. Straining his head forward, he looked down the length of his body and clutched both hands over his stomach. Under flat moonlight he saw that his fingers were dark with blood, which was soaking through his shirt and coat, pasty and warm on his skin. Temperatures were mild but now felt sub-freezing. He shivered and noticed that his breathing and pulse were rapid and increasing. An unmistakable precursor, he’d once read.

His hearing was acute. In the distance he heard the sound of single automobile, reversing north. Its two occupants…the idiots…had concocted their rash and unsophisticated plan over a laptop computer….They’d unzipped the case and grown confused, then angry, arguing with wild gestures. Bradford didn’t understand a word of Tajik; he’d just stood by. Now he realized the two had been debating his fate. Without warning one broke off the discussion, strode toward him in the clearing, and fired two gunshots at short range to the stomach: thwack, thwack.

He turned his head to one side. The laptop still lay on the hardscrabble surface, several yards away. Nearby was its companion case. Both left behind like surplus baggage.

Sound from the motor faded, leaving the forest quiet.  He looked up. Stars shone. Signaling what came next? Instead of grappling toward last-minute answers he thought of Claire. Somehow she softened the unknowns.

His breathing quickened further and his heart began to pound. Lucidity gave way to dizziness. He felt himself slipping away, disconnected from his surroundings and enveloped by warm liquid. Swimming and sliding into a long tunnel.



Arthur Gallagher cleared his throat and scanned the faces of the congregation. There were occasions when compassion trumped other considerations. This was one.

He concluded his eulogy for Peter Bradford on a sublime note.

“In the journalistic profession pursuit of facts—of the truth—often requires sacrifice.  Peter clearly lived by this credo. In his work he was willing to do whatever was necessary. Even risk his life.  For all of us his passing is premature, and tragic.  And the violence with which he died carries a certain senseless quality.  But I would suggest that we find another interpretation.  Peter was engaged in a moral undertaking, serving all of us.  What higher calling is there than the quest for truth, especially on behalf of others?  At this difficult moment, I would hope that we can take some small solace from this feature of Peter’s time on earth, however shortened.”

Gallagher folded his notes and re-beheld the 300 or so mourners. With care he descended two steps from the altar and headed back toward his seat in the second row.  He was still a few years from retirement, but advancing age and an old football injury already imposed certain limitations, and these were only compounded by jet-lag after the flight from Boston.

In the aisle he received an appreciative nod from Harrison Whitcombe, the publisher of the Boston World Tribune. Whitcombe wore his usual stoicism—almost. He was also Bradford’s uncle. Gallagher, as Managing Editor, had supervised Bradford’s final assignment—the first in which a reporter had died during the 153-year history of the newspaper.

There was a short pause. The church fell quiet, except for a couple of muted coughs that reverberated off the high ceilings.  In the row ahead of Gallagher, Bradford’s widow, Claire, reached into her purse.  Her shoulders convulsed as she extracted a handkerchief. She dabbed her eyes with a quivering hand looked forward again. Her shoulders squared—a show of determination.

Gallagher’s acquaintance with her was meager—a few conversations at social gatherings in Boston a couple of years earlier, when Bradford was based there. Her French accent was strong, he remembered, but she’d left an impact for other reasons, even if she didn’t mean to. A combination of idealized mediums: middling height, light brown hair of shoulder length, green eyes—average lengths and colors, rendered in curves that were just short of voluptuous. Also…how would Gallagher describe it? She threw off live energy.

Oriented around her husband’s career. No children yet. As far as Gallagher knew she had just part-time work in Paris. With Bradford gone where would she look for new direction and purpose? Where would that energy go?

Gallagher wondered.

The fact was he didn’t believe his own lofty rhetoric. The assignment had seemed worthwhile at the outset. But Bradford had taken it too far; his death had been needless. Gallagher felt disquieting responsibility. Was there a way to give her true solace? He wished there were.

It was rather late in the game for new lessons. Reporters sometimes did have to take risks. But he could at least prevent another tragedy on his watch. That was something. He focused his gaze on Bradford’s casket, which was open. The priest, a tall, gangly man in his 30s, returned to the center of the altar.  The funeral mass resumed, in the French language.

Yes, Gallagher told himself. This would not happen again. Certain assignments had to be kept under tighter control.




An eight-oared crew swept by 20 yards off the riverbank, under insistent shouts from the coxswain. The rowers’ faces were concentrated, and written with pain. Other boats followed in close succession, displaying the same aching resolve.

“What drives those guys?” Steve Conley asked.

“You did a sport in college,” said Thom, referring to Conley’s four more-or-less respectable years on the swim team.


“You should have some idea.”

Disinclined to ponder the question, Conley laughed and drained the rest of his beer. Their group consisted of four couples, late 20s and early 30s, sprawled on blankets on the Cambridge side of the Charles River. The occasion was the annual Head of the Charles Regatta—for them and most others, rowing as pretext for an afternoon in the October sun. He placed a languid hand on the back of Jenna, who was sitting cross-legged next to him. She had not participated in an analogous outing the previous year. Indeed, at the time they had not even met. Thom observed the gesture.

“Remember last year’s Head of the Charles?” he asked.

At once Conley felt some of his lightness dissipate. It had been a stressful juncture. Just weeks before, he’d seen his career derailed. Hints of scandal. An abrupt transfer from London back to Boston. From fast-track international correspondent to backwater features writer. To counteract the recollections, he hooked his palm around Jenna’s waist and drew her closer.

“This year’s better,” he responded. “That’s for sure.”

“That occurred to me also.”

Jenna understood the implication, and reacted with a slight, prolonged smile. She was even-tempered and tolerant, features which Conley appreciated after preceding events. Her smooth complexion, auburn hair, and arresting figure only compounded her pluses.

There was a break in the procession of crew shells: a brief interlude between race events. Conley sat up. Lunch had already come and gone, while the Boston skyline and foliage of Back Bay still glistened across the river. He proposed another round of beers, to which everyone assented. He stood and began gathering empty cups and the discarded bags and wrappers from their picnic.

“I’ll give you a hand,” Thom volunteered.

They dumped the refuse in a nearby trash can, then strolled toward several tents that alumni organizations had set up about 75 yards away along Memorial Drive. Their path was winding; people lounged everywhere on blankets or on the grass. Scents of autumn leaves and alcohol permeated the air. Sunglasses and semi-drunkenness were motifs of the day.

About halfway, Thom asked, “How are things at work these days?”


“What about other newspapers?”

“More rejections. From The LA Times and The Washington Post, most recently.”

“Too bad…Tough times in the industry, I’ve gathered.”

“That’s an understatement. The Internet continues to take a huge toll, especially on classified advertising. No one’s hiring. If anything, they’re laying reporters off.”

“Maybe you should be grateful you still have a job.”

“I am. And I prefer Boston anyway.”

“I’m sure Jenna helps.”

“She does.”

They rounded the corner of the joint Brown/Dartmouth tent, now out of sight of their group, and joined a queue.  In an open area to their left they spotted a conspicuous blonde exemplar, early to mid-twenties, with low-cut jeans that emphasized the spread of her hips and a swath of luminous skin around her midriff. She was in conversation with two friends, but her large eyes settled at once on Conley. They held contact for a few seconds.

“Wow,” Conley exclaimed under his breath.

Thom shook his head, aware that Conley’s exemplary proportions and thick hair often provoked this kind of spontaneous interest. The girl’s two companions also shot glances in their direction. Some seconds later the girl herself looked again. There was no mistaking the signal.

“Don’t even think about it,” he said.

Conley looked down: a bout of self-regulation. It was fleeting, thanks to the beer.

“We have to walk by them anyway. Harmless. Doesn’t have to lead anywhere.”

Thom shook his head again.

Passing by the girls, beers in hand, they stopped. Ensuing banter was true to form: offhand quips from Conley, polite questions and suggestive giggles from the girls. Thom stood to one side and participated only to the extent necessary, reluctant to abet the undertaking. When the repartee was spent Thom shifted on his feet: a show of impatience. Conley was looking for an exit line when the girl pulled out her business card.

“Why don’t you call me?” she said. “…I mean, if you want to.” She held a smile.

Conley hesitated for a second and offered a sheepish grin.

“Sure…why not?” Transferring the beers inside one forearm, he took the card, gave it a once-over, and saw that she was a paralegal downtown. He thrust it into his back pocket, and thanked her. On the way back through the blankets and bodies toward the riverbank, he felt a little giddy. When they were out of earshot of the girls, Thom let loose.

“Why are you still doing that?”

“What could I do? I had to be polite.”

“I hope you won’t call her.”

“Well…no. Of course not.”

Conley realized his tone was unconvincing. Thom did too.

“Jenna’s a good find, Steve. I’d think you would have learned.”

The remark hit home. Dislocations from London still stung. Conley took a deep breath to clear his head. They were almost upon their group. Thom studied Conley’s profile and sighed.

“Let’s just forget it,” he suggested.

“Good idea.”

All the same Conley decided Thom was right. Time had really come for self-restraint.




Disorientation engulfed Claire between the fourth and third floors of her apartment building in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, during her descent to street level. This morning the precipitant was ordinary—the control buttons in the elevator. Those buttons…Peter’s fingers had manipulated them on a daily basis, just weeks earlier. All of a sudden the tight space became hot. She broke a sweat and started panting.

The elevator door opened and for a dizzy moment she braced her arms against the frame. Though the building was well-appointed it didn’t have a concierge; the small lobby was empty. She made her way to a bench against one wall and sat down. Her breathing echoed off the marble surfaces and amplified the void. Could this really have happened?

The past week seemed surreal.

She caught a reflection of herself in a mirror across the lobby, leaning back against the wall—skin flushed scarlet, knees thrust forward and apart. Gaze vacant and half-wild from lack of sleep: almost another person. In response she closed her eyes. The lobby was cooler. Her breathing slowed and she refocused on the mirror. That was her image: haggard but still alive and present. The reality of being fortified her. She had to marshal forward. She owed that much to herself and Peter. She set her jaw, shot to her feet and strode out through the front door. The fresh autumn air evaporated her dampness and cleared her head; she kept her chin up, marching through the morning pedestrian traffic toward a nearby parking garage.

Driving was part of the plan. Relatives or friends had shuttled her around for the past week. Getting behind the wheel would be an important step. Parisian traffic would be a test. She’d always thrived on the disarray and confusion of the city’s boulevards and narrow side streets. Not because she relished disorder—the opposite. Her satisfaction derived from mastery.

Two levels underground she spotted her car, a green Peugeot sedan, and dug the keys from her purse. The familiar vehicle boosted her pace. She managed a polite nod to an elderly man…before she stopped in her tracks and stared. There, just a few spaces from her own car, was Peter’s silver Audi. Somehow she’d forgotten…he’d left it there before flying to Moscow. She’d driven him to the airport…

So tangible! Only the screeching tires of a car at the other end of the garage jolted her out of her fixation. She’d have to deal with the Audi later…

Her keys trembled in her hand as she unlocked the door of her Peugeot. Before the tremor had appeared just on stressful occasions: university examinations, job interviews, her wedding. Now the condition seemed permanent.

Seconds after disgorging from the exit ramp onto the Boulevard St. Germain, she was westbound along the bank of the Seine in the late-morning flow. Traffic, as usual at this hour, was fast and unforgiving. She drove with both hands on the steering wheel, leaning forward. With a glance in her rear-view mirror she executed a quick lateral move, which provoked honks from two cars behind her and a quiver of satisfaction. Her capacities were intact…She was not a helpless victim…She could still bend chaotic variables to her will.

Skirting the Seine on the Quai d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower swept by on her left. Straight and tall: a galvanizing point of reference. Her foot pumped the clutch and she jammed the stick shift into higher gear. Additional confidence came with a rare and unexpected parking spot on rue Franklin. Notre Dame de Passy was just around the corner. Minutes later she was seated on a divan inside the rectory. The salon around her was ornamented in Napoleon III-era gilt frames and red-velvet curtains. A crucifix hung over the carved marble fireplace.

The room already felt a little stifling. Claire wondered what she’d gain from this.

Francois, the priest who’d officiated at Peter’s funeral, entered with a sympathetic expression, accompanied by a nun carrying a silver tray. Once the nun served coffee and withdrew, he settled into an adjacent armchair. Claire thanked him for his orchestration of the funeral. Short notice. Peter’s Protestantism and long-pending conversion had not been an obstacle.

“Veronique suggested I come to you for advice,” she said.

They were both aware of the premise. Veronique had set this up—Claire’s closest friend and Francois’ cousin. Francois now cradled his cup and saucer and crossed his long legs. He seemed unsure what to expect. Claire was hardly a regular at mass. She made an effort to keep her voice steady.

“With Peter gone, I feel…I don’t know where to go or what to do next.”

“That’s natural, Claire.”

“Everything points me back.”

She described her disorientation in the elevator, and the shock of Peter’s car.

“Perfectly normal,” Francois responded. “It’s just been a week.”

Claire spotted a Bible on the small table next to Francois’ armchair. Several bookmarks protruded. She opted for preemption.

“I do believe in God, Francois.”

He eyed her over another sip of coffee.

“…Jesus…the lessons from the cross…everything you mentioned at the funeral.”

No movement yet toward the Bible.

“It’s just that…I need something more immediate.”

His eyes narrowed with new concern.

“…What I need is a goal.”

Francois’ voice became gentle: an attempt to understand.


“Something to point me ahead. An objective…one that’s connected to Peter somehow.”

He paused and looked into his cup. “Everything doesn’t happen according to our earthly designs, Claire,” he said. “Sometimes we have to wait.”

“I can’t wait, Francois.”

“Here…” he said, slowing the tempo. He set down his saucer and reached for the Bible. “Let’s try to find some answers in the Scriptures.”

Claire shifted on the divan. She had nothing against the Scriptures. But she was already eager to go.




Bradford’s death still hung on Gallagher like lead ballast, and jet-lag only weighed him down further. He’d revved himself with extra caffeine this morning to keep going. Halfway across the newsroom, clutching paper cup in one hand and notepad in the other, he repeated his resolution.

No more calamities.

When he huffed into conference room Janet Larson, the editor-in-chief, was already seated. With characteristic efficiency she reached for the phone at her end of the long table.

“Hello Harry?  We’re ready down here.”

She replaced the handset and stared at notes through her reading glasses. This was a special meeting.  Called by Harry Whitcombe late the previous afternoon, from a first-class plane cabin over the Atlantic, during a delayed return flight from Paris.

The subject was Bradford.

Gallagher was taking his first sip of coffee when Whitcombe strode into the room. Face still bearing strain from the funeral. Otherwise pressed and erect, despite the travel. Purposeful set to his Brahmin jaw-line. Straight to his customary place at the end of the table. There was reason to worry. Much about Bradford’s death remained unresolved. More might come from the same pipeline. Gallagher got right to it.

“I’ve exchanged several more e-mails with the U.S. official based in Moscow—Franklin Stanson, the same one who organized the transport of Peter’s body to Paris.”

“Diplomat, right?” Larson interjected.

“Not exactly.”

Larson eyed him over her reading glasses.

“Anti-terrorism. His main focus is Tajikistan.”

Gallagher pressed on.

“Stanson believes the original claims of the Tajik government, and of Prime Minister Shakuri. Peter was killed by two of Shakuri’s bodyguards. Their own plan: a botched robbery. They thought Peter was carrying a lot of money.”

Whitcombe shook his head, still not buying it.

“I queried Stanson about the robbery angle,” Gallagher elaborated.


“Apparently Peter spoke Russian during his dinner with Shakuri. The bodyguards figured he was an arms dealer.”

“An arms dealer?” Whitcombe’s normally stoic features roiled. “Why in God’s name would they think that?”

“We’re talking about a corrupt part of the world here, Harry. Roles and rules are pretty fast and loose.”

This remark made Whitcombe mull for a few seconds.

“…Stanson says that Peter’s laptop computer and wallet went missing,” Gallagher continued. “It’s consistent with the robbery explanation.”

“Anything ever recovered?”

“No. Even after the bodyguards were arrested.”

Whitcombe joined his fingers into an inverted “V” and stared down through the space underneath.

“What happened over the weekend was more troubling,” Gallagher added.

Whitcombe brought his gaze up over his co-joined fingertips. Larson’s head snapped up from her notes.

“…The two bodyguards were themselves killed. Some sort of prison disturbance.  Stanson and the other American official never got a chance to interview the suspects.”

“While awaiting trial?” Larson asked, incredulous.


Whitcombe’s inverted “V” crumpled. After a moment the set returned to his jaw.

“That settles it,” he said.

Gallagher felt additional weight descending. The week was not unfolding as he’d hoped.

“I had some ideas on the flight back,” Whitcombe said. “I want to run over various angles in my own mind…during lunch. But I’ll want to move forward. Let’s meet again this afternoon.”