Tyler ordered carryout and, while we waited, Sara got out her camera gear and interviewed Ian and Jason, firing questions at them about the government’s approach to national security. She even charmed me into answering some questions about my brother, though I stood in front of the window so that I would be a mysterious silhouette. Then the food came and everyone chattered while we ate, except for me. I was too busy thinking about what to do.
They thought I was too young. Fine. I’d have to do it myself. I tuned out their voices and pretended to be completely focused on eating as I thought about how to finish the job that the FBI wouldn’t let Nikko do. I had developed a rough plan by the time Ian said he had to get ready for his talk.
“I’d like to film it,” Sara said to Ian. “You don’t mind?”
“I’d be honored.”
“Do either of you have experience with film editing?” Sara asked, glancing from Nikko to me.
“Just little animations,” he said, getting red in the face again.
“Awesome animations,” I said.
“I’ll need an assistant tonight. Could run late. Would you be up for it?”
He shrugged, aiming for nonchalance, but failing. “Sure, no problem.”
“How can we get these young people into the audience?” Sara asked.
“I have extra exhibitor passes,” Jason said.
“Nikko, I need you to take notes about what parts of Ian’s talk are most striking, the bits you think belong in the blitzdoc we’ll be making tonight. Zen, I assume you want to hear the talk, too?”
“I’d like to, but there will be Homeland Security types in the audience. I’d better not.”
She clapped her hands “Disguises! I love disguises.” She had her luggage with her, and pulled out some clothes that were totally unlike what I usually wear, being more grown-up and sophisticated and no doubt way more expensive than anything I’d ever worn. She spent fifteen minutes fooling around with my hair, combing and curling and muttering “Love your hair, girl,” which I didn’t really believe, but when she was finished I kind of loved it myself. She put makeup on me, too, which I have never been able to do myself without looking like a clown. It tickled, but it looked good when I opened my eyes. We topped it off with a chunky necklace, bangles on my wrists, and a pair of reading glasses. I couldn’t see through them without everything going blurry, but when I wore them down on my nose, I looked intellectual. Better yet, I didn’t look like myself.
Nikko joked about wearing an Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask, but he just put on a T-shirt advertising Jason’s company, used some of Tyler’s hair gel, donned a spare pare of hipster glasses, and changed the way he walked and held his shoulders. Somehow that made him look like a completely different person.
As Nikko demonstrated his geek look, I picked up the spy-camera shirt he’d thrown on a couch and folded it neatly. When nobody was looking, I slipped it into my backpack.
At least, I thought nobody was looking. As we went downstairs and mingled with the crowd entering the auditorium, I felt a poke in the back. It was Zeke, grinning evilly. “I saw what you did,” he whispered.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’ll give it back.”
“What are you up to?”
“None of your business.”
He cackled, and I slid through the crowd to get away from him, trying to remember to maintain my elegant, grown-up cool. But as I settled into a seat my phone burbled. I shut the sound off, but saw Zeke had sent me a message on Convo.
<Fa1staff> don’t worry, I won’t tell the grownups!
The lights dimmed and some guy came up to introduce Ian, reciting where he went to school and who he’d worked for and awards and other stuff that made him seem way more scary and important than the person I knew. But it was just Ian who bounced out to the podium, still dressed in his jeans and tweed jacket, his glasses a little crooked on his nose, his hair uncombed. He pointed to Sara Esfahani, setting up her gear at the side of the stage and the audience went nuts. The applause didn’t stop for several minutes. Then he launched into his talk, roaming the stage with his hands in his pockets as giant slides flashed behind him. He seemed completely at ease being filmed speaking in front of hundreds of people tweeting his words.
Ian connected history and politics and passion as if it was all part of one exciting story, starting with the bust at Wilson’s house, tying it in into a vast surveillance-industrial complex that had flourished for decades but was now operating on an almost unimaginably invasive scale. From the minute Wheeze had texted me to say my brother had gotten arrested, I was committed to getting him freed, but that was a personal mission. Listening to Ian, I felt what we were doing was important in a different way, in a way that had most of the people in the audience wanting to help, too. Except for the law enforcement types, who were probably wondering how much damage Ian and Sara would cause, but that made me feel good, too.
After the talk, I made my way through the crowd flowing out of the room, holding my phone to my ear to signal “I’m a busy, sophisticated woman, don’t talk to me” while observing the crowd from over my borrowed reading glasses. People were fired up and debating what Ian had said. Some were talking about donating to the defense fund for the Minneapolis Nine. Others were speculating about what Sara Esfahani was working on. One person, who sounded as if he knew what he was talking about, said “she’ll have a blitzdoc up by midnight.”
I got back to the hotel suite, scrubbed off the makeup, and changed back into my own clothes, just a kid again. Sara was ordering everyone around as she set up her editing equipment, demanding Ian’s presentation slides, sending Nikko off for coffee, snapping out questions and talking to herself as she scooped her curly hair out of her face. Nobody noticed when I grabbed my backpack and slipped out the door.
I biked home and this time didn’t get stopped by any cops and made it to our apartment well before the curfew. Monica, deep into grading papers, sat back and watched me hang up my bike and get out of my cold-weather gear. She looked funny and I wondered if I still had some makeup smudged on my face. “I was on TV yesterday,” she finally said.
“My students told me.” She turned her computer screen toward me and clicked on a bookmarked link, saying “I wish I hadn’t worn that stupid hat.” It was a typical local television news story, recapping events in a way that oversimplified and distorted them, running clips of the arrest and some official blathering about terrorist threats. A two-second shot of Sunday’s protest, then twenty seconds of Monica being fierce and brilliant. It ended with the reporter saying “reporting from South Minneapolis,” as if he was in a war zone.
“That was awesome!” I thumped her on the back.
“Not so awesome.”
“The hat didn’t look that bad.” But I could see something else was brewing. “Did it get you in hot water at work?”
“Not so far as I know. It’s your parents. They’re worried that you’re going to get in trouble like Wilson. They want you to move back home.”
“This is my home. You told them no, right?”
“I haven’t told them anything yet. But I need to. They left three voicemails today.”
“But . . . I can’t go back there.” It landed on me, suddenly, a huge black load of horribleness. It wasn’t just the treatment I’d get from my adoptive parents and so-called siblings, which was bad enough. I would be cut off from everything I needed to do. I would never be able to use the equipment in my backpack. The one chance I had to save Wilson would be gone. “I can’t,” I said again. “Tell them no.”
“I didn’t return their calls because you were out late again and I had no idea where you were or what you doing, which would have proven their point. And honestly, what have I been thinking? Out alone at this hour of the night—”
“I made it home before the curfew.”
“You’re a girl. You’re only fifteen.”
“I was with friends. We were working on our project.”
“Look, I know—“
“And what does being a girl have to do with it? I’m supposed to lock myself in at night? Why should I have to—”
I broke off when our downstairs neighbor started thumping a broom handle on the ceiling. I wanted to thump right back, with both feet so hard I would break through the floor and land on the thumper’s stupid head, but I had just enough control to stop myself. Too much was at stake.
“The thing is,” Monica said, “they can revoke my parental authority any time they want.”
“They can’t make me stay out there. I’ll run away.”
“I’m trying to help.” She took a deep breath. “I want this as bad as you, okay? But thanks to that news piece they think I’m some kind of radical leftist. Don’t laugh, they do, and they worry about it because it’s what got Wilson in trouble.”
“What got Wilson in trouble was a paid stooge who lied to him.”
“I know, but think how they feel. They’re worried you’ll get in trouble, too. If they knew you were out late on a regular basis—“
“They let Liv and Karin stay out even later. They go to parties and get drunk and hook up with guys. That’s okay, but working late on a something important isn’t?”
“People aren’t always rational when they’re scared. I’m going to call them tomorrow and try to smooth things over. I couldn’t tonight, because they’d want to know where you were and I’d have to say I didn’t know, just like I didn’t know where you really were when you spent Sunday night away from home.”
“I called you,” I muttered. “I told you where I’d be.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sibley County? Right. Look, you know I trust you, but you need to stay in at night for a while to reassure your parents.”
“But I have stuff to do.”
“Can’t you do it in the daytime?”
She closed her eyes and pinched the top of her nose with two fingers as if she had a headache up there. “How about a compromise. If you’re going to be out, you have to let me know where you are and let me pick you up when you’re done. I know you value your independence, but we have to do something different or . . .”
Or I’d get sent to a luxurious suburban prison and totally lose any chance I had to help my brother or take down a scumbag rapist. I didn’t have any choice. “Okay, I guess.”
“Good. That might give me some bargaining power. I’m going to make some herb tea before I tackle the rest of this grading. Do you want some?”
I didn’t, really, but I nodded. She was sticking her neck out for me. The least I could do is share a cup of her favorite boiled organic weeds with her.
“You’ve been so busy with your . . .” She made air quotes. “Group project. Are things going all right?”
I shrugged. Having the FBI turn down Nikko’s offer of help was a serious setback. I had no idea if my plan would work, especially since it wouldn’t take long for Jason to wonder what happened to his expensive prototype spy equipment and demand that I give it back. They thought I was too young to do this on my own. But in the last few days I’d talked a legendary lawyer into taking my brother’s case. I’d rescued a fugitive friend from a frozen shack beside the Mississippi River and found a safe place for him to hide out. I’d inspired an MIT professor to make a speech about my brother at an important security conference, and I’d gotten a famous filmmaker interested in making a film about it. I still had stuff to do – like, catch the FBI’s entrapment methods on film and take care of my Secret Avenger client – but I might pull it off. All I needed was some luck and my freedom.
The kettle whistled, she filled the cups, and put one in front of me. I reached for the honey. “Things could be worse,” I said.