I called a cab, took enough money from Simon’s wallet to pay for it, then argued with the driver about putting my snowy bike in his trunk. I must have sounded extra fierce because he suddenly gave in with a big sigh.
The little house on Bedford Street was dark. I dug through the snow beside the steps to find the key under the stone turtle, which took a while. There were a lot of rocks under the snow doing stone-turtle imitations. My fingers were so sore and frozen by the time I found the key I could hardly pick it up.
Inside, I made my way through a clutter of old boots and other junk to the staircase, where I found a pillow, some towels, and a big cotton T-shirt that said NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD KNOW YOUR RIGHTS on it. There was a note on top, written in her spidery, old-fashioned handwriting. “Help yourself to food. Extra blankets in the cedar chest upstairs.”
It was a relief that she wasn’t awake. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to think or feel. All I wanted was to get clean and go to sleep. I took a long hot shower, scrubbing my skin until it felt as if I’d stripped a layer away. I dried off, put on the T-shirt, and crept up the stairs.
There wasn’t much stuff in the little room under the eaves, just a bed, a dusty side table with a reading lamp, and a cedar chest that smelled like my little room when I lifted the lid. The room I might never go home to, given I’d skipped out on the meeting with my adoptive parents. Everything seemed overwhelming all of a sudden, and I started to tear up, but mashed the heel of my palm against my eyes and focused on what needed to be done.
No time for feelings. I had to finish the job. Wilson was still in jail, and I had to get him out.
I plugged in my laptop in to recharge the battery and downloaded the second video from Jason’s shirt, checking a few spots to make sure it was focused and clear. I saw Danny bragging, and the look on his face when he realized Simon was serious about blowing things up. I advanced the film until I left the house, selected everything from that point on and deleted it. Boom, gone.
I opened the file of photos from Simon’s phone and, after a quick glance, closed it. He’d taken trophy shots. All the more reason to wreck his life if I could.
I sent a message to Sara Esfahani to tell her that I needed to meet her in the morning. She texted back immediately to say she would be in the hotel lobby at nine.
I briefly glanced at photo I’d taken of Simon with my phone, sprawled on the bed with the message on his chest, conked out and drooling. He didn’t look charming or strong or scary. He just looked stupid, with a message that would tell the world exactly what he was. I still felt shaky and a little sick, but strangely calm. As soon as I had taken care of my brother, I would tell Charlie that she didn’t have to worry about Simon anymore and I’d send her the photo. One way or another, it would get out and go viral and Simon Meyer would be finished.
I could do this.
My adoptive parents had each left multiple voicemails. I didn’t have the stomach to listen to them, or to read through all the texts from Monica. I just sent her a quick message to tell her I was safe, set an alarm on my phone, got under the covers and went to sleep so fast it seemed as if my brain had decided it had had enough.
~ ~ ~
“Good morning.” Frances Bernadette McSweeney said from behind the Star Tribune. “The tea’s gone cold. You’ll have to put on the kettle.”
“Is there any coffee?”
She lowered the paper to study me. “Possibly. Try the cupboard over the stove. And put on that bathrobe before you freeze to death.” She pointed at a robe folded over the back of a chair. It was fuzzy and warm and felt soft, as if it had been through a washing machine a million times. “You must have used up all the hot water last night with that shower.”
“Sorry if I woke you up.”
“You didn’t. Old people just don’t sleep much. You were out awfully late.”
I turned away to look for coffee and escape those eyes that were studying me too closely. “I was working on hypothetical stuff.” I found a dusty jar of instant coffee.
“Ah. Did it go well?”
I filled the kettle and put it on the stove. “Is it safe to tell you?”
“If I become your attorney.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“What else is new?”
“What does it take? Do I have to sign something?”
“Just click your heels together three times and say ‘there’s no place like the Minnesota Bar Association.’”
“Will that work in socks?”
“Just say ‘will you represent me as my attorney?’”
“Will you represent me as my attorney?”
“Yes. Now, get your coffee and tell me everything.”
Well, not everything.
I starting chipping away at the stale instant coffee with a spoon while the kettle heated, and told her about Simon and Danny and the meeting with FBI agents set for this morning. I didn’t tell her about what happened after I left the punk house. That was safely walled off in a corner of my brain so it couldn’t ambush me with feelings I didn’t have time to sort out. She kept interrupting me to ask for details, wanting to be sure I hadn’t said anything incriminating, wanting to know Simon’s exact words and whether Danny ever stated a desire to blow up a specific target.
“He talked about possible targets, but when Simon pushed him . . .” Suddenly, the things I had carefully boxed up and put in a hidden part of my brain got loose and started to cause a ruckus in my stomach. I took a breath, closed my eyes and walled it all off again, brick by brick. When I opened them, the lawyer was watching me, a little dent of concern between her eyebrows. I chipped harder at the coffee. “Danny was bragging, that’s all.”
“The two key issues in cases like this are inducement and predisposition. For example, if we could demonstrate that Zip induced your brother to take steps to commit a crime, that he was the one who came up with the idea and compelled your brother to participate—”
“That’s totally what happened.” I shook stale coffee chips into a mug and poured boiling water in.
“Wonderful. But that’s not sufficient. If the state can show predisposition, that Wilson wanted to commit a crime before the informant gave him the means to do so, or that he was ready and eager to participate in a terrorist act, then we’re screwed.”
“Even if it was just talk?”
“Yes. Preemptive policing is all the rage these days. But there’s some good news, thanks to your hypotheticals. Look at the front pages.”
She tried to spread them out, but there was too much clutter on the table, so she held them up to show me instead. The headline at the top of the Star Tribune was “Local Case Gets the Hollywood Treatment.” The Pioneer Press had an article running down the right side of the front page headlined “Filmmaker Focuses Her Lens on Minneapolis.”
“Wow. This attention will help?”
“It may make the public sympathetic. I’ve seen enough of your brother to believe he is a sweet-natured and idealistic young man who didn’t mean anyone harm. It doesn’t hurt that he’s white and raised in a Christian household.”
“It wasn’t all that Christian.” I stirred my coffee, trying to chase down the hard bits and mash them with my spoon.
“I just mean Muslims are by far the most common targets of these stings, and they don’t get much benefit of the doubt. In this case, though, the press coverage is likely to be helpful and the court of public opinion hands down its rulings instantly using Tweets, whatever they are. No, don’t try to educate me. There isn’t time.”
“Oh, right. I need to meet with Sara.” I finally had a cup of coffee steaming front of me, but no time to drink it. “I’d better get going.”
“My cell phone number—”
She hobbled over to a kitchen drawer and rummaged through it, then handed me a Sharpie. “Write it on your arm. If you’re arrested, they’ll take your phone.”
~ ~ ~
Given that the cops might be keeping an eye on Sara Esfahani and that my adoptive parents might have put me on a list of runaways, I called for a cab and had the driver drop me off a block from the hotel. I didn’t see anyone obviously watching the entrance, but I had taken the precaution of borrowing a fringed shawl from the lawyer, which I had wrapped over my head and around my face so I looked like an old lady. Inside Sara was chatting cozily with a couple of custodians. It took her a minute to see through my disguise, but then she raised her eyebrows at me and we each headed separately for the elevators.
Zeke was curled up on the couch of the tenth floor suite, snoring loudly, and Nikko was sprawled sideways on a king-sized bed, hugging a pillow as if it were a teddy bear. “Up all night editing,” Sara whispered as we slipped into the adjoining room. The others had left for the airport after the conference ended, but Tyler had agreed to pay for the suite for as long as she needed it, so long as his company got a film credit.
I switched on my laptop, checked to make sure the part of the video I didn’t want anyone to see, ever, was completely edited out, and copied it to a USB drive. As she downloaded it to her Mac, I filled her in on what had happened and the meeting that was scheduled for noon today. “I have to get back there and film what happens.”
“Are you sure?” she said. “They’ll send experienced federal agents. They won’t be as easy to fool.”
“I’ll go early and explain to Marita and Danny that they’re being set up. Then we can plan how to handle whoever the FBI sends. If I get the meeting on tape—”
“You’ll be in the room with them?”
“I’ll tell the FBI guys I want to be in on it. You know, for my brother’s sake.”
“What if they arrest you and the recording you make of today’s meet is destroyed?”
“That would totally suck.” I felt exhausted, suddenly, and embarrassed. I wanted to go home to my little sleeping nook, pull the covers over my head, and sleep forever. “I guess it’s a dumb idea.”
“It’s a genius idea, but look at this footage.” She played some of it. “Not bad for a lens the size of a shirt button, but for today’s meeting? We need a better camera. Give me a few minutes to pack my stuff and we’ll go.”
~ ~ ~
She roused Zeke to help her troubleshoot a wifi hotspot she wanted to use, and then Nikko wandered in sleepily, wondering how he could help. She explained how to monitor the livestream she would be sending as a backup for her recording. We finally got underway, packing two big carryalls into a taxi driven by Sara’s good friend Bahdoon. She had a talent for making BFFs everywhere she went. “You know what his name means?” she asked me. “‘The one who was born away from home.’ Isn’t that evocative? It would make a great title for a film about the Somali community here. Such fascinating stories.”
“I could be a star,” the cabbie said, grinning, not taking it seriously. He pulled up outside the ramshackle punk house and made a tutting noise with his tongue. “Bad neighborhood.”
“It’s a film set,” Sara said cheerfully. He seemed unconvinced and insisted in carrying in the heavier of Sara’s bags.
Marita opened the door, looking exhausted, the baby on her hip. Sara introduced herself and Bahdoon. He looked around the room, strewn with empty beer bottles and reeking of smoke, and clicked his tongue again. While Sara and Marita talked, he pressed his card into my hand. “You have trouble? I come get you right away.”
“What a beautiful child!” Sara was cooing and tickling, coaxing a big smile out of the baby and a crooked, reluctant one out of Marita. “What’s his name?”
We migrated into the kitchen where Sara settled herself with the baby in her lap and Marita started to brew some coffee, looking a little dazed. Nobody else was up, she said; they never got up until late afternoon, but sleeping in wasn’t an option when you had a baby. After some small talk, Sara explained what we wanted to do.
“So, wait. I don’t understand,” Marita said. “The FBI is coming here?”
“Simon Meyer is an informant.” I said, making it as clear and simple as possible. ”Last night, he talked Danny into having a meeting with some guys who are supposedly bringing explosives.”
Marita stared down at her baby, horrified.
“They won’t be real,” Sara reassured her. “They always use some inert substance so that they can say the public was never at risk. The aim is to get Danny to incriminate himself. Another terror plot foiled.”
“I have to tell him. We have to get out of here.”
“Wait.” Sara touched her shoulder. “If Danny knows what’s going on, he can play them. We can get the whole thing on film, and everyone will see how these stings work. He wants to speak truth to power, right? He can show the world how these bogus arrests actually happen. ”
“You don’t know him.” Marita sat down heavily, propped her elbows on the table, and put her head in her hands, her hair spilling through her fingers. “He thinks it stinks that billionaires call all the shots when people like us struggle. He hates cops. But he’s not really into politics. He just likes to talk big.”
“Sounds like my brother,” I said.
Marita’s face twisted up as she jabbed a shaking finger at me. “See? Danny will end up like that, in prison. How can you ask us—”
“You’re right,” Sara said. “It’s too much to ask.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said.
“It’s not our call,” Sara said. “They have to decide for themselves.”
I gaped at Sara, then turned to Marita. “My brother used to take care of me when I was Liam’s age. He was just a kid himself, but he made sure I knew somebody loved me after our mom died. Now he’s in jail for staying stupid things to the wrong person.”
“But she has a child to care for,” Sara said to me earnestly. “She needs to keep her family safe. Surely you can—”
“What about my brother?”
Sara shrugged helplessly. The kettle started to shriek. “Here, I’ll get that,” she said, handing Liam to his mother who hugged him close, stroking his hair.
“Your brother sounds nice,” Marita said.
“He is. Just not very smart. When I was little, I thought he could take care of everything. But he can’t even take care of himself. That’s why . . .” I choked up. Anger would have felt better. It usually came to my rescue when something made me feel this bad. But I didn’t feel angry. Just disappointed and sad. And confused, because I didn’t think Sara would give up so easily. So close, and it was all falling apart.
“The problem with Danny is he’s scared.” Marita stroked the baby’s curls and smiled down at him when he squirmed and grabbed a handful of her hair. “Oh, he brags about how he can blow things up, but he doesn’t really know anything about explosives. His uncle took him to watch a demolition once, but he never learned how to do any of that himself. He tells stories because he wants other guys to look up to him. Stupid macho stuff.”
“Men,” Sara said disgustedly.
“Exactly. He’s scared people won’t respect him. That scar on his hand? He told the truth about that. We met at a protest and things got crazy and this thing leaking smoke landed at my feet and I didn’t even know what it was. He pushed me back and grabbed that canister and threw it so hard. It went up and up and over the police lines. And everybody cheered and I hugged him and it wasn’t till later I found out how bad he was burned.”
“That’s brave,” Sara said, hunting through the cupboards.
“Not brave. Dumb. He should have said something. If we got ice on it right away . . . you looking for the coffee?” Marita started to rise, but Sara waved her back into her seat. “ It’s in the fridge. And there’s a thing somewhere. A pot. One of those French things. Sorry, Liam’s teething. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
Sara set the French press on the table and found three mugs and a carton of milk.
“He likes hanging out with activists,” Marita said mournfully. “He says stupid things just to get respect. Then he gets all paranoid about getting caught and we have to find another place to live. I just want to settle down and get jobs. Get a place of our own. I’m so tired of this.”
“Of course you are,” Sara murmured, tickling the baby and making him chuckle and wave his legs. “It’s not easy to live this way when you have a child. But I’ll bet he’ll always remember that moment, grabbing that canister to get it away from you.”
“You should have seen it. He looked so . . . so right, you know? He didn’t hesitate, not for one moment.”
“The real Danny.”
“Exactly. That’s him, right there.” Marita stared at some invisible screen where the memory played on a loop.
“You don’t think he’d want to help us with this film?”
She gave a little shrug. “We watched that one you made on my phone. The one about the Nine? I thought it was going to be boring, like those PBS shows, but it wasn’t.”
“It’s pretty rough, but that’s the nature of blitzdocs. Danny could be in one.”
“No, he couldn’t. I told you he’s paranoid. If he heard those guys coming to the house were FBI agents, that Simon was an informant, we’d be out the door so fast you wouldn’t have time to turn your camera on.”
“Does he have to know?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Is there a place where Sara could set up her camera so she could film the front room without being seen?”
Marita thought. “Maybe. Yeah.”
“So the FBI guys come and Danny and I both talk to them and they start laying out a plan and Sara gets it all on film, but I make sure to cut things off before Danny says anything that could get him in trouble.”
“And at that moment I come out . . . ” Sara held up an imaginary camera. “Smile!”
“So we get what we need but Danny doesn’t get jammed up. He gets to be the hero of a movie. I’ve been talking to a lawyer about this. If he gets close to saying something incriminating, I’ll cut it off.”
She frowned uncertainly as she pushed a mug out of the baby’s reach. “So . . . this film. You’d put it online?” she asked Sara.
“Usually I do a little editing and post a film in a rough-cut state within twenty-four hours,” Sara said, pouring coffee for the three of us. “I like the immediacy and the chance to share my process. The hard part comes later, when I make the full-length documentary for theatrical release.”
“You mean like in movie theatres? On Netflix? Would Danny be in it?”
“He’d have to be in it. This moment is the climax of the story.”
“He’d get a kick out of being in one of your films.”
“You said there might be a place where I could set up?”
“There’s, like, a doorway with a curtain over it. It just a corridor that leads to the side door, which nobody uses. The curtain’s supposed to keep the cold out, but it’s pretty raggedy, and it’s dark in that corner. I’ll bet you could make a hole and point your camera through it and nobody would notice.”
“Can we look?”
Sara gave me thumbs-up as we followed Marita out of the kitchen.
It almost went as planned.