Maria invited him to meet her again, saying she needed to ask his advice about approaching a local political figure with a ticklish, almost accusatory, question. Based on what he later wrote in his journal, he claimed he saw through her charade, though he would play along. They met in a roadside coffee shop. She ordered a cup of chamomile tea and he asked for an espresso. After receiving their drinks at the tiny round table, he began.
“So, what’s this about questioning Tangle McIntire? What do you need to ask him and why is it so hard to ask? You’re a reporter. It’s your job.”
Jobe had a reputation about getting straight to the point, stripping away the niceties. But his words seemed to Maria unnecessarily forceful and lacking in compassion.
“It’s not that it’s so hard, Jobe, it’s that I just want to ask the questions in the right way. I don’t want him to think I’ve already made up my mind about him.”
“But you have, haven’t you? So have I. So has almost anyone within a hundred miles. It’s one thing to be an unbiased journalist, it’s another to be an idiot. Why does his opinion matter so much to you?”
Maria leaned forward and dipped her face toward the table, avoiding his eyes.
“His opinion, not so much. Yours, though, a lot.”
Jobe cocked his head and stared at the crown of her head; she continued, face down, staring at the table.
“Okay. I think it’s time we opened up about this thing. Why did you really ask me to meet you? Is there a thing going on between us? I think there is and I think that’s why I’m here.”
Maria’s head jerked upright.
“A thing? Between us? What makes you think that?”
Jobe’s face flushed. Maria wasn’t sure whether it was anger or embarrassment that brought the color to his face.
“Well, for starters, I know you well enough that you don’t need my advice about asking Tangle McIntire questions. And you’re behaving like someone with a schoolgirl crush.”
Maria stared at Jobe Streeter for fifteen seconds before responding.
“Jobe, I wanted to talk to you first because you’re my friend. My questions to Tangle McIntire are about his relationship with you.”
“His relationship with me? What are you suggesting? You think I’m gay?”
“No, Jobe, I don’t think you’re gay. But I have evidence that suggests you’re involved in a business relationship with McIntire. And that might color your behavior as moderator of the debates.”
Jobe’s mouth opened as in disbelief, then closed into a leering smile.
“Okay, you got me. We’ve formed a company to monopolize Tampa’s gingerbread market. How could you possibly know?”
“Because, Jobe, I have high-resolution video of a meeting between you and McIntire, in which you discuss awarding the Elmont Street bridge contract to JS Construction. And, though ownership of JS Construction was well hidden, I found out who owns it, Jobe.”
Jobe’s leering smile dissolved. Maria watched that smile disappear, knowing it might be the last one to cross his lips for a long, long time.
Another little vignette to add to my growing bag of goodies.