The central office of the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) is in London just west of Piccadilly Circus. The switchboard phone rang, and a junior content editor picked up.
“BBC,” she said, stubbing out her Dunhill cigarette.
The voice on the line was raspy, with a Mid‑East accent. “I have a breaking story your network might be interested in.”
The editor took out a pen and a standard Lead Sheet. “Regarding?”
“The papal election.”
She frowned wearily. The BBC had run a preliminary story yesterday to mediocre response. The public, it seemed, had little interest in Vatican City. “What’s the angle?”
“Do you have a TV reporter in Rome covering the election?”
“I believe so.”
“I need to speak to him directly.”
“I’m sorry, but I cannot give you that number without some idea—”
“There is a threat to the conclave. That is all I can tell you.”
The editor took notes. “Your name?”
“My name is immaterial.”
The editor was not surprised. “And you have proof of this claim?”
“I would be happy to take the information, but it is not our policy to give out our reporters’ numbers unless—”
“I understand. I will call another network. Thank you for your time. Good‑b—”
“Just a moment,” she said. “Can you hold?”
The editor put the caller on hold and stretched her neck. The art of screening out potential crank calls was by no means a perfect science, but this caller had just passed the BBC’s two tacit tests for authenticity of a phone source. He had refused to give his name, and he was eager to get off the phone. Hacks and glory hounds usually whined and pleaded.
Fortunately for her, reporters lived in eternal fear of missing the big story, so they seldom chastised her for passing along the occasional delusional psychotic. Wasting five minutes of a reporter’s time was forgivable. Missing a headline was not.
Yawning, she looked at her computer and typed in the keywords “Vatican City.” When she saw the name of the field reporter covering the papal election, she chuckled to herself. He was a new guy the BBC had just brought up from some trashy London tabloid to handle some of the BBC’s more mundane coverage. Editorial had obviously started him at the bottom rung.
He was probably bored out of his mind, waiting all night to record his live ten‑second video spot. He would most likely be grateful for a break in the monotony.
The BBC content editor copied down the reporter’s satellite extension in Vatican City. Then, lighting another cigarette, she gave the anonymous caller the reporter’s number.