Story so far: Edna Lee is with other reporters in the desert interviewing hermit Manuka Das, who has written a horror story called ‘Scared to Death’. In the middle of a TV interview, presenter Dan Blather reads some of the book and collapses.
FOR JOURNALISTS ON THE JOB, the happiest words in the world are “tragic death”, especially when a celebrity is involved.
Trying but failing to look suitably grave, the reporters and photographers present gleefully raced to the fallen TV presenter and snapped pictures from every angle.
TV producer Ronny Rott pushed Stella Tin, a reporter who was Blather’s deputy, into the spotlight with a whispered command: “We’re still LIVE, take over.”
The young woman was frozen in terror. “What do I say? I can’t talk without an autocue,” she said.
“Just start talking. You have a brain,” the producer lied.
Flustered, she stepped in front of the camera and began to prattle.
“Er, this is Stella Tin, reporting live on a sensational development. Celebrity journalist Dan Blather has just collapsed. There are fears that he may be dead, or worse, he may be, er.”
“Alive,” one of the other reporters cheekily shouted.
A woman trained in first aid looked up. “I’m sorry. We don’t have the right equipment with us. Nothing more can be done. We’ve lost him.”
Stella’s eyes filled with self-generated tears and she continued with an artfully cracked voice. “As you just heard, Dan Blather, one of the greatest TV journalists of our age, or any age, lies dead at my feet, and questions have to be asked. Why did this happen? Who can step into his shoes? Who’ll get his office?”
The producer whispered: “Stop smiling.”
Stella tried to control her mobile features but failed.
Once the cameras were off, calls began for police and forensic experts to be summoned. The locals looked blank. They were in a town on the edge of the Taklamakan desert in China, after all.
Edna cleared her throat. “Look, I’m not a detective, but I AM a crime reporter,” she said. “I’ve worked with the police a lot. I’ll be happy to co-ordinate things.”
A phone rang, an old, anachronistic jangle.
Literary agent Tina Meyer picked it up. Her face lit up.
From Meyer’s side of the conversation, Edna could tell that a major publisher was offering a large sum of money for the text of Scared to Death.
“I can’t give you instant agreement,” Tina told the caller. “I’m expecting a lot of interest in this book.”
Edna, her attention caught by the agent, was surprised to find out that author Manuka Das had quietly approached her from the other side.
“If you are trying to work out who killed Mr Blather, I can tell you,” she said.
Edna inched away from the woman, whose hooded eyes and thin fingers gave her a witch-like appearance.
“So it wasn’t your book?” the reporter asked.
The author shook her head. “No. It was the desert devil.”
Tomorrow: Identifying the killer.