Dial Tone



Scene Title Dial Tone
Synopsis Gabriella hears a conversation in a place she shouldn't.
Date October 26, 2020

New York Times offices

The afternoon is waning and all Gabriella Milos really wants is to go open, crack open the bottle of wine she splurged on, and delve into some guilty-pleasure binge watching — never mind the list of “must-watch” and “must-read” media she has to get through in order to sound like she’s up on all the best and brightest have to offer.

If she has to watch another documentary on climate change, she might prefer a trip straight into the sun herself, she thinks, as she looks at the latest email marked urgent from her editor.

Can you get me an exact number on the damages mentioned in the arson article? Reads a little vague.

Gabby’s hazel eyes roll and she shakes her head slightly with annoyance. She’s a features writer, and the article in question was done on a day the staff was short handed. It was a favor. Anything she did to help out should be appreciated, not undermined with a request for nitpicky details.

This, she reminds herself, is why she wanted out of the beat news business in the first place.

Sure thing.

She was planning on heading out as soon as 5 p.m. hit for the first time in two weeks — her calendar for the day is blissfully unpacked. But getting a detail like this might take what’s left of the hour hand’s journey around the clock — 45 minutes to go — if not even longer.

Heaving a long-suffering sigh, Gabby flips through her Rolodex to find the number she needs, and lifts the receiver, pressing the number 9 to get out of the office system. The dial tone shifts in slightly, to let her know she’s exited the interoffice connection.

When she goes to punch in the number for the battalion chief, her hand is stayed by something behind the dial tone.

A voice.

“«Where are you?»” The man’s voice sounds muffled but urgent.

Gabriella blinks. Are they talking to her? But then, a second voice answers. A female’s.

“«Down the street. They haven’t seen me. Where to? Location 2?»”

“«We cannot assume it isn’t compromised either.»”

“«Fine. Just tell me where.»”

The silence shifts, from the awkward silence of the woman awaiting the man’s response, into something less full of anxiety and needfulness — the regular dial tone, hollow and empty as it is, but not so fraught with expectation.

A second later, the quick beep-beep-beep of the busy signal overtakes even that.

“Milos. You okay?”

Matt Rios, the political reporter whose cubicle sits cattycorner to Gabby, interrupts her after a too-long moment of listening to the busy signal.

Говно! Извините! грезящий,” she says setting the phone down with a clunk in its cradle.

“Russian? You are full of mysteries, Milos.”

Gabriella hadn’t realized she was speaking in Russian. It's only then that she realizes that the voices in the phone were, too.

She laughs, and it sounds as hollow in her ears as the dial tone. "You bet I am, Rios."

The two have known each other for three years. They eat lunch together probably three times a week. They tell each other almost everything — who of their sources is sleeping with who, which of their fellow reporters they think is sexy, what lies they've told to their significant others. She can count on one hand the lies she's told him over the years — all of them white lies, inconsequential things. They don't hide things from one another.

But she'll keep one more secret from him today:

…She doesn't speak Russian.

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