The email hit the sidebar of his screen. Its first words blinked at him, goading him:
Are you lying or just muck-raking? The People’s Bank…
Dammit, the Tribune’s firewalls were supposed to protect him from whingers. Ted Saddler hit the delete key without reading further. He returned to his draft column about the infiltration of Japanese banks by gangsters, the Yakuza. He was struggling to give it urgency; in Japanese corporate life it was old news. As he nibbled at his thumbnail a second email flashed on screen. Same opening, same mention of the shady Indian bank that was spreading its tentacles worldwide. He gazed at the email, then killed it and waited. Sure enough, it popped back up. Spam or persistence?
His cell phone buzzed and shuffled on his desk, like a flat beetle on its back. Even as he flicked the screen, it buzzed again, and again. Three texts, all from a withheld number but each starting with ‘Are you lying…’
This wasn’t communication, it was bombardment. Ted closed his cell without opening any of them. He studied the email again. He could simply leave it till morning. Have the IT security boys check for a virus. He was getting good at putting things off. Like letters from Mary’s lawyer. On the other hand his boss had become unusually interested in these rip-off merchants. Was this some new test? Ted sucked in air and clicked. The full challenge was spelled out:
Are you lying or just muck-raking? The People’s Bank deserves better. I can’t believe the Tribune (of all papers!) is putting its reputation on the line like this. Not to mention your own! Do you want to hear what’s really going on or are you only listening to one side?
Ted pursed his lips. Diogenes - the ancient Greek who went out in the midday sun with a lamp looking for an honest man. Who does this guy think he is? What does that make me?! In his 20 years in newspapers Ted had seen every variation on the crank letter, email and voice mail. More conspiracy theories than cold beers. He point blank refused to blog or tweet about his column because of the loonies it encouraged. He hadn’t checked Facebook in months; just personal drivel and photos of smug couples claiming to have a good time. Fakes and flakes.
He wasn’t about to let the flicker of interest this one raised turn into a flame. But it rankled strongly that he might have been suckered, or worse, that he was biased; he was still a pro, right? This was the third article he’d written about People’s Bank and each time his gut indignation had grown.
He clicked on the front page of the business section again and re-read his latest copy, entitled: ‘Candy from a baby; money from the poor?’ A snappy and accurate description of a bank that specialised in milking the destitute. After eight years of ripping off its customers, Ramesh Banerjee, the Chief Executive of the self styled ‘bank to the poor’ was finally being put on trial for corruption. The Indian government claimed he’d personally offered hush money to investigating authorities. Wasn’t that how they did business over there?
Maybe the bit about ‘an exclusive interview’ was stretching a point. It was little more than email gossip from someone he knew on the Asia desk who’d bumped into a junior minister over cocktails. He’d found the minister desperate to inflate his self-importance by being expansive about events well outside his portfolio. Ted curbed his rising doubts and flicked to the next paragraph.