The Echo Killing

By: Christi Daugherty


For Loyall Solomon. Who gave me my first newspaper job.

And changed everything.





1

It was one of those nights.

Early on there was a flicker of hope—a couple of stabbings, a car wreck with potential. But the wounds weren’t serious and the accident was routine. After that it fell quiet.

A quiet night is the worst thing that can happen to a crime reporter.

With just an hour to go until her midnight deadline, Harper McClain sat alone in the empty newsroom with no story to write, doing the one thing she despised most in the world—a crossword puzzle.

On the far wall, tall windows reflected back a dark image of the huge open room with its white columns and rows of empty desks, but Harper didn’t notice it—she was glaring at the paper on her desk. Smudged and scratched-out letters glared back, like an accusation of failure.

“Why would anyone know an eight-letter word for ‘reckless bravery’?” she grumbled. “I’ve got a seven-letter word for ‘bravery’—it’s called ‘bravery.’ I don’t need a longer word…”

“Audacity.” The voice soared across the newsroom from the editor’s desk at the front.

Harper looked up.

City Editor Emma Baxter appeared to be focused on her computer screen, a silver Cross pen glittering in one hand like a small sword.

“Excuse me?”

“An eight-letter word for reckless bravery.” Baxter spoke without shifting her eyes from the monitor. “Audacity.”

Baxter was pushing fifty at varying rates of speed. She was small and wiry, and that only made her look better in a navy blazer. Her angular face had a permanent look of vague dissatisfaction, but somehow that suited her, too. Everything about her was precise—her perfectly even short nails, her stiff posture, and you could cut your hand on the razor-sharp edge of her straight, dark bob.

“How the hell do you know that?” There was no gratitude in Harper’s voice. “In fact, why the hell do you know that? There is something fundamentally wrong with anyone who could answer a question like, ‘What is an eight-letter word for bravery?’ without first wanting to off themselves with a…”

At her elbow, her police scanner crackled to life. “This is unit three-nine-seven. We’ve got a signal nine with possible signal sixes.”

Harper’s voice trailed off. She cocked her head to listen.

“I’m willing to forgive your insubordination on this one occasion,” Baxter said magnanimously. But Harper had already forgotten all about audacity.

On her desk, her phone buzzed. She picked it up.

“Miles,” she said. “You heard about the shooting?”

“Yep. Slow night just got busier. Meet you out front in five.” His Tennessee accent glided over each word, smooth as warm honey.

Harper gathered her things with quick efficiency. Her police scanner hooked to the waistband of her black pants. Sweeping a light black jacket off the back of her chair, she shrugged it on. A narrow reporter’s notebook and pen were shoved into one jacket pocket. Press pass and phone in the other.

Moving fast, she headed across the room.

Baxter cocked an enquiring eyebrow at her.

“Shooting on Broad Street.” Harper spoke as she walked. “Possible injuries. Miles and I are heading down now to find out more.”

Baxter reached for her phone to alert the copy desk.

“If I need to hold page one,” she said, “I have to know no later than eleven-thirty.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

She turned out of the newsroom into a wide, brightly lit corridor that opened directly onto a staircase leading down to the front door. Her editor’s final words floated after her.

“When you return, we can have a little talk about your attitude.”

It was Baxter’s favorite threat. Harper knew better than to worry.

The sleepy-looking security guard at the reception desk didn’t even look up from the small TV on his desk as she hit the green exit button with hard impatience and hurled herself out of the building into the steamy darkness.

June had arrived a couple of weeks ago, bringing blistering days with it. Nights were better, but only a little. Right now the air was velvet soft, but so thick you could stick a fork in it and expect it to stay standing up. This wasn’t the usual Savannah humidity—this was like breathing under water.