He's a man we know only as "the columnist." He writes for a newspaper in Seattle, isn't afraid to stir up trouble, and keeps his life - including his multiple lovers and his past - in safe compartments. But it's all about to be violently upended when he goes out on what seems like the most mundane of assignments, looking into a staid company that "never makes news."
The moment one of his sources takes a dive off a downtown skyscraper, the columnist is plunged into a harrowing maze of murder, intrigue, and secrets that powerful forces intend to keep hidden at all costs. All he has to go on is a corporate world where nothing is as it seems, increasingly menacing encounters with mysterious federal agents, and the unsettling meme "eleven/eleven."
Meanwhile, the paper itself is dying. So the columnist joins with an aggressive young reporter to see if one explosive story can save a newspaper. Soon they're running to make the deadline of their lives....
|Publisher:||Poisoned Pen Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Jon Talton is the author of 11 novels, including the David Mapstone Mysteries and the thriller Deadline Man. He is also a veteran journalist, including the former business editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Jon lives in Seattle where he is the economics columnist for the Seattle Times and runs the blog Rogue Columnist.
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By Jon Talton
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2010 Jon Talton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThursday, October 14th
In my line of work, it's called an anecdotal lede, a way of beginning a complicated story with a telling human angle. If journalism exactly mirrored life, mine would begin like this:
Troy Hardesty has achieved the paperless office. Not even a Post-it Note profanes his sleek desk. The desktop is ten feet long, made of black marble, framed in platinum, and shaped vaguely like the deck of a supercarrier. It is polished so highly that I can see my face in it. At the desk's precise center are two thin computer screens, facing in at angles, a keyboard, and mouse. The newest Blackberry model sits to the right of the keyboard. Every few seconds the Blackberry chirps: confidential dispatches from the front lines of capitalism. Troy's hedge fund has just invested $75 million into a Silicon Valley startup that will compete against the company that makes Blackberry. Three chairs face the desk, made of the same platinum and dark reddish wood as the superstructure of the desk. They are comfortable, but not too comfortable. After half an hour in one of those chairs your back may start to hurt. Four other chairs of the same design are set at precise stations around a circular conference table ten feet from the desk. It, too, is bare. Two walls are adorned with Picassos and two are all glass, facing the city. His office is expensive and minimalist and it smells like lemons.
A large plasma-screen television hangs on the wall nearest the desk. It has a dark wooden frame that exactly matches the frame of the nearby Picasso. The screen is split into four. CNBC, Fox Business, and some private feed of market numbers are on three of the splits. The fourth is local news, showing a photo of a girl-next-door with straight honey colored hair, parted in the middle, and a peaches-and-cream face with a thousand-watt smile. She's the girl every boy fell in love with in high school. Underneath the screen says, "Megan Nyberg: missing teen." I shake my head: a world of important news out there and people would rather be entertained by the latest pretty white teen in peril. My back is starting to hurt.
I am twenty-six hours from deadline.
Troy glides in, a tall man wearing a sleek black suit and purple shirt, buttoned up to its pinpoint collar, without a tie. It's properly edgy and expensive. For all that, he resembles an Episcopal priest. Father Troy of St. Bigbucks. Except he has that look common to men who make a lot money: expensive haircut, chiseled athletic features, taut skin, chicken lips. He's forty-five and looks it, but in a good way: seasoned, resourceful. He nods and says my name. He quickly pages through the messages on the Blackberry, then makes a show of checking the time on his wristwatch, a silver Breguet with a black band. I saw a story in Forbes that said it retails for $275,000.
He then walks with quick strides to the glass doors leading out to the terrace. I stand and follow him outside. He always does this, as if he's paranoid about someone overhearing what he tells me—as if it were that good—or he's supremely proud of his view of downtown, Elliott Bay, and the Olympic Mountains. It's the kind of October day where the long, late West Coast summer lingers in Seattle like a fickle tourist. The temperature is seventy-five, a slight breeze flickers down from the northwest out of a cloudless, nearly cobalt blue sky. A ferry is plowing white froth across the bay from Bainbridge Island. Behind it a massive container ship is beginning the long journey to Asia. The balcony planters are still wild with colors: red, pink, violet. From twenty stories down, I hear the whine of a siren.
"Is this beautiful or what?" He leans on the balcony railing and I join him. I am not afraid of heights. I am not like Jill. Fear is not hopelessly coded inside me, destined to make me too afraid to leave my loft. It's a disloyal and selfish thought, but then I think about Rachel and figure this is my week for them.
It's a long way down and I make myself study the people-ants scurrying along Fourth Avenue to early lunch. The railing is not quite waist high, but I have long legs.
"Mountain's out." He cocks his head to the south, and sure enough, the giant cone of Mount Rainier has emerged from the foggy muck that often shrouds it.
"So what does the columnist want today?" He gives me an indulgent smile. But his movements are agitated. "You know, I'm still getting grief from that thing you did on me. Don't know why I talk to you."
That "thing I did on him" was a column more than a year ago, discussing the implosion of the hedge-fund industry, but explaining why some players were still making big money. I remember the headline: "Long live the hedge-fund kings." I used Troy as an example—and with his ego whispering in his ear he went along, giving me details right down to his vintage car collection, float plane and getaways to the San Juans. I write as many as 140 columns a year, plus a blog. So it's easy to forget most of them. Writing a newspaper column is like writing in chalk on a sidewalk, an old-timer once told me. But the sources always remember.
So I start with a softball to put him at ease. What's his reaction to increasing regulation of the hedge-fund industry? But he takes it and launches into a lecture about excessive regulation driving capital overseas. There's more than a trillion dollars in hedge funds like the one Troy runs and they long operated outside the rules that govern traditional securities. They're part of the shadow banking system that most people have never heard of, and they've been blamed for helping bring on the big recession, or small depression—depending on how you look at it. Some of the funds have profited from the repeated federal rescue attempts. Troy's is one. Others have collapsed. A big fund just went down that morning and now is being investigated in New York for pension-fund fraud. I may ask about this later, but for now I just listen as seagulls fly overhead. Troy is probably not a bad guy. But he's a source, not a friend, not an acquaintance. We're here to use each other and I always intend to get the better end of the bargain.
"So how long are you going to stay in the newspaper business?"
It takes my brain a few seconds to process his question because I had tuned out his homily about the sanctity of free markets. My mind is on Pam, in my bed last night. Pam makes a lot of noise when she comes and afterward I read poetry to her as we lie naked and drink shots of single-malt scotch. Robert Frost and Macallan. I let that image go reluctantly and give my stock answer, "Every day I'm employed, I'm pleasantly surprised."
It usually produces a laugh. Troy just leans out, studying the street. I hope nobody cut corners with the construction of the railings. "Journalism is over," he goes on. "Your kind of journalism. Nobody reads anymore. You're too elitist to write about what people want. Celebrities."
"The LA Times and the Chicago Tribune are in bankruptcy. San Francisco may close. The Rocky Mountain News, gone. The P-I, gone—don't think that'll keep you guys out of the crapper. Ad revenue keeps collapsing by double-digits. Look at all the layoffs ..."
For a guy who claims to not care about newspapers, he keeps up pretty well. I am so tired of the newspaper death watch, so tired of arguing, speculating, trying to make people understand all the reasons newspapers have committed suicide. It's the last thing I want to discuss with Troy. I say, "It's all because of greedy bastards like you." Now here I am trying to piss off a source I need for my Sunday column.
"You couldn't get me to invest in a newspaper today!" he sneers. "Mature industry. Declining profit margins. You're all in the buggy whip business after Henry Ford came to town. You ought to do something new, make some money."
"It's not in my nature. I'm a skeptical, ink-stained wretch."
He waits for the sound of a siren to fade, then, "Yeah, and if I was seeing Rachel Summers, I wouldn't worry, either. Daddy will set you up. Hot little daughter with a big trust fund."
I think: asshole. I also wonder, how does he know I am seeing Rachel Summers? I say nothing. Most guys like Troy like to operate in the shadows. If they talk to the press at all, it's to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. I'm fortunate this particular asshole likes to talk to me. His agendas are mostly benign: to see himself quoted, when he wants to be quoted, and to show the local columnist how smart he is. Me, I want scoops and rarely get them from him easily. Otherwise, I'll settle for an influential hedge-fund manager's insights, or an off the record tip that I can leverage elsewhere. We both have to trust each other. So far, Troy has never burned me. It's a delicate transaction.
"Olympic International," I say. "Hear any takeover rumblings?"
Troy steps back from the railing and rubs his chin. "You're kidding, right? They're a dog."
"But their stock's been doing well. Some of the raw materials prices are rising again."
"They're overvalued," he sniffs. "And don't tell me that demand is going to restart in China. Industrial production is still way down. Look out at the port. How many container ships do you see?" I see one. "Inflation is still a big issue there, it's just that nobody's talking about it. They're stuck with a trillion dollars in U.S. Treasuries—that doesn't make them strong; it makes them weak. Anyway, China has a huge population that's poor out in the countryside. You can forget about the clean energy racket. The Chinese leadership is going to have to do whatever it takes to feed everyone, and that means more dirty industrialization."
This is where Troy is very good: smart and contrarian. A gust of wind streams across the terrace, whipping my tie.
"But," I say, "does the market believe Olympic is overvalued? Private equity outfits are sitting on a lot of cash. What if somebody broke up Olympic and went with the most profitable units."
He looks at me closely. "Are you asking me this or do you know something?" A vein on his forehead is standing out. I think he wants to gossip.
"You know Pete Montgomery is an old friend," he says. "He and I were roommates at Harvard." Montgomery is the chief executive of Olympic, and I have only heard this information a half dozen times from Troy. I nod.
"So are you going to quote me about the SEC thing?"
"You know I don't make promises." I smile. "But I'm sure I can find a home for what you said. You'll sound brilliant as usual."
"Anyway, everybody's been talking about turning Olympic into a real estate investment trust. That's not the sweet spot of the company." He looks back over the side. "What do you know about eleven-eleven?"
I don't hear him at first, or I don't think I do. But he repeats it: eleven-eleven.
"Some New Age thing involving crystals and Burning Man? I don't have a clue."
He laughs, or I think he does. Then, "Come back in the office and I'll tell you what I know about Olympic. But this is all off the record. I mean it. You can't quote me, even on background."
"Wait. What about eleven-eleven?"
"What do I look like, the newspaper? You want to hear about Olympic or not? I've got another appointment in a few minutes."
* * *
Half an hour later I have a good start on my Sunday column. Five or six more phone calls and I'll be done. Oh, there's the writing under deadline pressure part, too. Troy walks me as far as the private side-door to his office, claps me on the shoulder and says, "Think about what I said. Don't take your future for granted." I thank him and head out. I won't be caught napping if one of the city's largest companies is facing a takeover attempt. Once I reach the street, I'll duck into Tully's and make notes. I didn't want to do it while Troy was talking. It makes some sources nervous.
The elevator is full when it arrives, but everyone is getting off on the top floor. A woman in a gray suit pushes out and crashes against my shoulder with a force that gets my attention. She's tall and pretty with short, blond hair, and doesn't acknowledge the football block she put on my shoulder or look back. Whatever happened to Seattle Nice? I ride down alone, thinking about what Troy had said about newspapers. It might be the end of my world. I know that. Papers have been closing. So many good people I know have been hurt. The survivors have been cutting staffs, dumbing down coverage and acting as lapdogs rather than watchdogs. I am lucky to be at the Free Press, which still values serious journalism. It is also a private, family-owned company, a little more immune from the terrible pressures and fads that are bleeding newspapers through a thousand cuts. I don't always make smart choices, but coming back to Seattle five years ago and returning to the Free Press was one.
The plaza and street are busy with the lunch crowd. Men in suits with places to go. Young women in skirts and heels with life in their eyes. Tourists studying maps of downtown and carrying Nordstrom bags. Badly dressed Seattle kids in hoodies who think they invented the unbathed, stubble look. Lots of young software engineer-types with windbreakers and computer bags over their shoulders. The usual panhandlers and assorted street rats. Traffic is moving easily along Fourth and every few seconds a green-and-yellow King Metro or blue-and-white Sound Transit bus roars by. Even so, the air smells like it must have smelled the first day the world cooled down and became paradise. I re-crimp the knot of my tie and pull the notebook out of my inside suit pocket. My shoulder still aches where the short-haired woman hit me and I start to rub it when I hear the faintest whistling sound.
The explosion is close, a single sharp boom, concussing and echoing between the skyscrapers. I fall to the plaza concrete and cover my head, a consequence of long-ago training. The concrete is cold and that only makes my heart hammer harder. When I look up, most people are just standing there paralyzed, locked in the second of the detonation, dumb, stunned looks on their faces. I think, of course, terrorism. I stay down, recalling reading how there's often a follow-up car bomb to kill the rescuers. Another part of me thinks: this is a great story.
The street is silent for a few seconds, and I can't smell any evidence of an explosion. None of the windows are shattered. There's no blood. As I rise to my feet, people start talking and yelling, moving toward the street. A car alarm erupts. One scream, seismic in its intensity, then a second. Different screamers. I follow the noise and see the wrecked hood of a new black Toyota Camry. The front tires are flat. It's sitting behind a bus on the curb lane, where the building angles away from the plaza and sits hard against the sidewalk. The Toyota's driver is one of the people screaming. Then I see what's left of the body cradled in the collapsed hood of the car. My legs walk toward it, my body drunk on adrenaline. I am amazed by the lack of blood on the corpse. It lies face up. That makes it easy to see that what's left of the man on the Toyota is encased in a sleek black suit and a purple shirt, buttoned at the collar.
Chapter TwoAfter the anecdotal lede comes what's called the nut graf, the nutshell paragraph that will summarize the complicated story and put it in a larger, more compelling context for readers. It takes special skill to write an effective nut graf. Editors like nut grafs and I'm good at them. But for my story I'll pass on it for now.
I wait to be interviewed by the police. The sidewalk around the Toyota has been cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape. They wrap it around the trunks of the trees lining the street. It looks festive. The leaves are starting to turn. The body itself is hidden behind a blue tarp. People leave the plaza to return to work, their lunches ruined. Some are crying. Traffic is awful because of all the police and fire vehicles, and horns echo off the buildings. Seagull cries echo, too, as if they're really vultures. I sit on a cold concrete cube of plaza ornament and try to make notes about my interview with Troy. Not to be a heartless bastard, but there's still a column to write. One of the cops recognizes me.
"Hey, you're the columnist," the plainclothesman says. "I like your stuff," he adds. "I never used to look at the business pages before."
Excerpted from Deadline Man by Jon Talton Copyright © 2010 by Jon Talton. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Read on my Kindle.A combination of economic downturn and the growth of the digital media has led to the decline in popularity of newspapers. During 2008 in the UK 53 regional newspapers closed. In the US some long standing family newspapers closed in 2008-2009, and a number filed for bankruptcy. "Real" journalists were also having their living undermined by bloggers, and free online news sources. Some newspapers try to survive by trimming staff down to essentials.This is the background against which DEADLINE MAN is set. The economic crisis brings with it not only the loss of savings for Mr and Mrs Average, but suicide amongst those financial whizzes whose hedge fund manipulations were responsible for the huge losses. But was that what Troy Hardesty did? After all, Seattle is known as the suicide capital of the world.As the economic columnist on Seattle's family owned newspaper the Free Press, known to us only as "the columnist", walks away from the building in which he has just interviewed Hardesty, the financier's body plummets twenty floors down into the bonnet of the new black Toyota Camry sitting behind a bus in the curb lane.Hardesty's hedge fund has just invested $75 million into a Silicon Valley startup. In the interview he had seemed confident in his own ability to survive, a long way from potential suicide. He tells "the columnist" that newspaper journalism is over. When asked what he knows about Olympic International he counters with a question about what "the columnist" knows about eleven-eleven. Half an hour later "the columnist" has a good start for his Sunday column, and minutes after that Troy Hardesty is dead.From the moment Troy Hardesty dies "the columnist" is a marked man. No-one who knows him is safe, and very nasty people attempt to ensure that the column he is writing never makes it to the presses, and indeed that the newspaper itself dies.It is obvious that Jon Talton knows what he is talking about in the world of journalists, and the background of the recent financial crisis adds a level of authenticity. Blended into the story is a strand about a missing teenage girl, and there are very real dangers to "the columnist's" many girl friends. I came away feeling I knew a lot more jargon from the publishing industry, although there were times when I found it just a bit overwhelming. This is a tightly written thriller worth thinking about reading.
From my blog...The Deadline Man by Jon Talton is an exciting thrill ride from the very beginning. Masterfully written with clever and unsuspecting plot twists as well cleverly placed clues the reader may be able to detect while reading the story, Deadline Man by Jon Talton is a thrill ride from page one. The story is narrated by "the columnist", for his real name is never given throughout the novel. Early in the columnist's career he was referred to as "the deadline man", due to his ability to work under pressure. The Columnist writes for The Seattle Free Press, one of his main contacts has just plummeted from his 22nd story balcony leaving the columnist with several unknowns. Things go from bad to worse when the columnist learns the Free Press is looking for a buyer or will close in a few months. Seattle, reputed for being a safe city, is proving to be just the opposite for the columnist. From his deceased ex-informant, a prostitute, and yet another dead body, the term eleven-eleven keeps popping up as well s the body count. The further the columnist digs for answers the more dangerous it gets for him and those around him. The columnist is clearly a clever writer with excellent journalistic instincts, however his ego and inability to be faithful prove at times to be quite detrimental. The Deadline Man is a brilliantly crafted thriller revolving around the mysterious eleven-eleven, national security, Olympic International and potentially corrupt private military contractors. The Deadline Man will keep the reader engaged, thinking, and turning the pages.
The Columnist. Readers never know the narrator and central character of this novel as anything more than The Columnist. He is a finance columnist and old-school newspaper man who takes readers on a thrill ride of adventure, murder and espionage in Deadline Man. The book opens with an informal interview between the columnist and one of his sources: Troy Hardesty, a wealthy financier who doesn't seem to have much to offer by way of new market news. When asked about a small "off the radar" company based there in Seattle, Hardesty casually asks the columnist if he's ever heard of "eleven-eleven." When he says he hasn't, the source lets it drop and the interview ends as blandly as it began. Then, as the columnist walks away from the building, Hardesty plummets to his death from above. Soon bodies are piling up and mysterious "agents' are harassing the columnist. and it all seems to center around "eleven-eleven." Deadline Man is one of the best suspense novels I've read in a while. Full of twists, turns, murder and mayhem, Deadline Man kept me anxiously turning pages right up to the end. Talton does a magnificent job of planting hints and teasers that keep readers guessing at what might happen. but he neither tips his hand completely nor leaves his readers in the dark. It's a delicate balance and it's perfect. The characters are all unique and well-crafted, though there are a few that I would have like to have known more about. Rachel Summers, in particular. The setting (Seattle and the Pacific northwest) was expertly drawn. At times, the narrative got a bit heavy-handed (read, preachy) over the decline of traditional newspapers in these modern times. Fortunately, even that meshed reasonably well with the narrator's character. so in the end, it was still a good fit. The voice of the columnist was perfectly captured in the direct, no-nonsense writing style of the narrative. And the ending left just enough unanswered questions to keep the reader thinking about this book without leaving the reader unsatisfied. Talton is one of the best talents I've encountered this year. The Bottom Line: Fans of well-written suspense should not miss Deadline Man.
The Seattle Free Press newspaper Columnist meets with an occasional source hedge fund manager Troy Hardesty. After completing the discussion that mentioned something called "Eleven-Eleven, the Columnist leaves. Outside the downtown office building, an explosion occurs as Troy falls 20 stories from the balcony of his office. At the Free Press, the Columnist learns the paper is near bankruptcy and will either be sold or closed within two months. He is unconcerned though newspaper is his blood. Instead he thinks of his love life until a streetwalker screams at him: "Eleven-eleven." Another death occurs with the victim having Eleven-eleven etched on his ankle. Soon afterward men claiming to be Feds demand the Columnist tell them what Troy told him. The Columnist and cub reporter Amber Burke investigate Eleven-eleven as a deadline approaches. The Deadline Man is an exhilarating thriller that grips the audience from the moment Hardesty dives twenty stories and never slows down throughout until the climax. The subplot of a dying newspaper augments the tale with a sense of reality. Well-written, this tense tale will hook fans who, like the reporters, will need to know what is Eleven-eleven. Harriet Klausner