Madison parked her car on Lakeside and turned off the engine. She looked at the house. There was a car in the driveway this time. But not the one Mr. Black drove. She took a deep breath through her mouth, held it a moment, then let it out through her nose. She got out of her car, walked to his door, and rang the bell.
She heard movement inside. A door close. Footsteps. The front door opened, and Mr. Black was standing in front of her. “Good evening, Miss Johnson. We’ve been expecting you. Come join us in the study.”
Madison was confused. How did they know her last name? How could they be expecting her when she herself had decided to go there only a few hours earlier? She stepped into the house and followed her host to the study.
It was exactly how she imagined a lawyer’s study would look. Bookshelves full of serious, hardcover books. Huge desk with a tall-back leather chair. Everywhere she looked it was dark, woody, and masculine. She jumped a little when she realized Judy was perched on a chair in the corner. “Oh, hi Judy,” she said, trying to remain nonchalant.
Judy smiled kindly at her. “Good evening, Madison.”
“Please,” Mr. Black said, “have a seat.” He motioned to a chair.
“Thank you,” Madison said as she sat stiffly in the chair. He sat in a third chair in the room, not the one behind the desk. “I don’t understand how you were expecting me,” she said.
Mr. Black went to the desk and turned his computer monitor toward Madison. She saw her car on a live video feed. “We saw you arrive, dear.”
“Oh!” Madison laughed, more from nerves than from amusement. “I get it. I thought somehow you knew I was coming over tonight, which would have been really impressive, since I, myself, didn’t know I was coming over until a couple hours ago.”
Mr. Black turned his computer screen back to its former position, retrieved his notebook from his desk, and relaxed back into the chair. He opened the notebook and started writing something. Madison felt like she was at a therapy session. “I have a notebook just like that,” she said. “Moleskine, right?”
He looked up at her and thought a moment. “Oh, yes, I suppose it is.”
“I use mine as my reporter’s notebook,” she said.
“Are you working on any interesting stories, Madison?” Judy asked.
Madison smiled. “No ma’am,” she said. “I thought I stumbled onto a big one recently, but some very scary people threatened me and told me to drop it.”
“And yet here you are,” Judy replied. “Curious.”
“Can I get you anything, Madison?” Mr. Black asked. “Water? Tea?”
“I’m okay, thank you,” Madison said.
“Very well,” he said, jotting something in his notebook. “So how can we help you this evening?”
“Consolidated Logistics Partners,” Madison said. “That’s what CLP stands for, right?”
“It is,” Mr. Black said.
“Can you tell me what CLP does, Mr. Wagner?”
Madison stifled a grin as she saw the surprise on his face when she said his name. “It’s pronounced Vog-na,” he said. “Like the composer.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Madison replied.
He smiled at her, then proceeded. “CLP provides integrated logistics services to governments and NGOs,” he explained in a monotone, as though he were reading from the company’s annual report.
“NGO?” Madison asked.
“Still not following. I’m sorry,” she said.
“The Red Cross, dear,” Judy said from the corner.
Mr. Black glanced at Judy and then back to Madison. “For example,” he said.
“I see, and what are integrated logistics services?” she asked.
“Warehouses full of stuff and the trucks to move it around,” Judy explained.
Madison nodded. “So that warehouse outside town. That’s full of stuff for the Red Cross? Like, in case there’s a disaster?”
“Precisely,” Mr. Black replied.
There was a long silence. They seemed to be waiting for her to say something. She tried to wait them out, but eventually the pressure of the silence broke her. “Why the guns?” she blurted out.
Mr. Black looked at Judy and then back at Madison. “You mean the other night?” he asked. “Judy happened to be dropping by and she saw your car. CLP is a… very private company. We prefer to work behind the scenes and let our customers keep the spotlight on the good things they do. Judy is in charge of operational security. I think perhaps she can be a bit overzealous when it comes to protecting that privacy.”
Madison looked to Judy for a reaction, because she thought perhaps she had just been scolded in the nicest possible way. Judy looked back at her and smiled softly.
Madison fixed her gaze on Mr. Black. “No, I meant all the guns at the warehouse.”
“Ah,” he said, jotting something in his notebook. “Yes, well that’s because of the medicine. We are storing opioids, narcotics. Even the decongestants have some street value. We can’t be having that stuff just lying around, now can we?”
“My pharmacy seems to think a locked door is sufficient,” Madison said.
Judy laughed. “She has a point, Richard.”
Mr. Black smiled at Judy and turned his gaze back to Madison. “Quantity matters, my dear. You may have noticed that the scale of our operation is slightly larger than your typical apothecary.”
“I see,” she said.
There was another protracted silence. Mr. Black broke it this time. “We would rather that you not report on our operation,” he said. “As I said, our customers prefer that they get all the attention. We support them but see no need to have the public even know we exist.”
“And you don’t want to advertise that there’s a warehouse full of drugs with high street value,” Madison said.
“Right. That might bring some unwanted attention. We’d rather that our men never have to use those guns.”
“Okeydoke,” Madison said brightly. She stood. Judy remained in her chair, but Mr. Black put his notebook back on his desk and then escorted her to the door.
“Feel free to call or stop by if you have any further questions,” he said. “I trust we have an understanding now?”
“Absolutely,” she said, reaching out to shake his hand. “I understand perfectly.”
Madison returned to her car, started the engine, and headed home. Red Cross my ass, she thought.