I called Monica once we were on the outskirts of Minneapolis to let her know I would be home soon. “You’d better use the back door,” she said. “I got mobbed by reporters this morning.”

“What did you say to them?”

“I must have had too much coffee. I got a little carried away. I told them the story wasn’t at our house, it was in the jail cells at the federal courthouse. It was in the laws that gave the state free rein to revoke our rights in the name of defending them. It was so weird to have reporters ask me what privacy had to do with free speech. I felt like I was giving a community ed talk to reporters who didn’t know one goddamn thing about their own history.”

“That sounds kind of awesome.”

“It was dumb. If they use any of it, it’ll just be one line that fits their narrative. I just hope I didn’t do any harm. I tried to avoid saying anything that would be damaging to Wilson if taken out of context, but now I’m nervous.”

“How did they find out about you? About us?”

“– Facebook.” She added a word before “Facebook” that I had never heard her say to me before. (She’s very careful about not being a bad role model, and apparently has no idea how kids actually talk to each other.) “Sorry. It’s just – gahh, somebody posted something, and they were all over it. What a crappy way for journalists to do research. It’s like they’re hanging out in a middle school hallway hoping to pick up some gossip. And Facebook is like a petri dish for growing egos. Somebody gets likes for having some remote connection to someone who was on the evening news. That was the last straw for me. I deleted my account.”

“No you didn’t.”

“What do you mean? Can you still see it?” She sounded horrified, not so much that she still had an account but that I would read her most private thoughts, shared with just her closest friends and the Surveillance-Industrial Borg. (I would never actually look at Monica’s Facebook. That would be creepy.)

“You probably deactivated it,” I said. “To actually delete it, you have to go through a bunch of steps and then you have to not touch it for two weeks. I’ll show you how.”

“Thanks. And thanks for not saying ‘I told you so’ even though you did. Did you have fun in Sibley County?”

“Yeah. It was great. I feel much better now.”

“I’m glad. Look, I have to go teach, but—”

“That’s fine. I need to get some homework done.”

She hesitated for a moment, probably wondering what “homework” was code for, because we both knew I wasn’t about to waste time on algebra at a time like this. “Well, don’t work too hard.” That was her code for “don’t do anything that will get you arrested or seriously hurt.”

“You too. See you later.”

I asked Nikko to drop me off a couple of blocks from home. I waved as I rode off, and they waved, too, and I realized it didn’t bother me anymore that they were being so adorbs together.

I made it home without spotting anyone lying in wait and made myself some coffee before getting to work, using the time it took the kettle to boil to inspect my bedroom to make sure nobody had been snooping in there. Then I took the whole pot of coffee and some peanut butter sandwiches into my room to catch up, using the laptop hidden under the floorboards to connect with the Group.

Everything was on track. Group members had compiled a huge dossier of information on the case and other ones like it. Zeke had a website ready to go live. Tyler had not only talked to Sara Esfahani, she had booked a flight and was planning to meet with several members of the Group at an undisclosed location that very night. I was invited to join them if I wanted to meet her.

I didn’t want to meet her. I just wanted her to make a cool film really fast so that all of her fans would descend upon the authorities like a plague of locusts and they would have to release my brother due to a public outcry. I knew it wouldn’t happen like that, but Nikko would be super-excited when I told him the famous filmmaker he admired so much was coming.

Things were falling into place.

~ ~ ~

I met Jason at a coffee shop near his hotel to pick up the prototype spy camera-in-a-shirt, then met with Nikko in a café that was totally empty on a slow Monday night, as I’d expected. He took the shirt that Jason had loaned us into the bathroom and tried filming with the tiny camera hidden in the top button. The memory card was a flexible strip sewn into the cloth behind the buttons and would last for hours. Jason had rattled off technical specs that I didn’t understand, but it was cutting-edge and undetectable.

We downloaded the video and Nikko tried again, sitting across from me as I pretended to be an FBI agent. Luckily the two people working at the counter were occupied, one rocking to music on earbuds while scraping crud off the grill, the other one playing a game on her phone. Nikko was hard to please. He made me put the shirt on and film him to see how he looked, practicing his lines. “If this is going to be useful to Sara, it has to be right.” I noticed that he was already on a first-name basis with her.

When he finally was satisfied that he could keep the FBI agents in the frame while sitting in a way that looked natural, he pulled out his iPhone and tapped it. “Check this.”

Simon Meyer’s arrogant voice came on, reminding me why I wanted to make his life miserable. He was boasting about how when he was just a kid he had broken car windows during the Republican National Convention, staying ahead of the cops while all the dummies got kettled by police. Then he bragged about throwing red paint on a bank executive’s car on the same day that Occupy protesters got arrested trying to set up tents outside a downtown bank. “I mean, do they think this is some Boy Scout jamboree?”

“It was symbolic, I suppose.” Nikko’s voice sounded loud, closer to the phone in his pocket that was recording their conversation.

“You think the banksters care? At least I accomplished something. I hit him with the paint just as he was making a turn, splat, right across the windshield. Nearly drove his precious Caddy into a lamp post. He started to get out, and then – man, it was sweet. He was all red-faced, all enraged, like ‘who had the audacity to mess up my precious car, don’t they know how important I am?’ And then it came over him.”

“Wow,” Nikko said, admiringly.

“Yeah, he was all like . . .” Apparently Simon was acting out the scene.

“He got scared, huh?”

“Terrified. Got back in his car, hit the locks, and phoned the pigs. I took off, but the look on his face, damn. I want them all looking like that.”

“So you’re thinking we should consider, like, violent action?”

“Following the rules isn’t working. Have you met the guy who’s running that Solidarity Committee? He’s such a tool. I offered to help strategize, but he was like ‘no thanks, I got this.’ Like it’s his little entrepreneurial project. He’s just scared he’d get arrested and it would affect his career opportunities. Me, I’m willing to take risks.”

They debated a while longer, with Nikko drawing Simon out, then retreating, inviting Simon to come on stronger. The recording showed that Simon was gullible, macho, sore that he’d been shouldered aside by a more popular activist with a well-developed social media presence. He was eager to establish a reputation as a daring radical.

“Think that’ll do it?” Nikko asked.

“Perfect FBI-bait. You’re good at this.”

“It’s psychology,” he said, tapping his forehead. “He’s feeling left out. He wants to prove he’s braver than they are. Give him an opening, he’ll step right up.”

A hairball of an idea came to me. “You don’t think . . . I mean, he’s so ready to say such stupid things to somebody he barely knows.”

“Yeah, amazing, huh? What an idiot.”

“Is there any chance he’s like Zip, somebody the FBI hired to provoke people?”

Nikko looked as if I’d just handed him a giant hairball. He thought for a minute, replaying things in his head. “No,” he finally said. “He’s not a good actor.”

“What do you mean? All he does is act.”

“He’s pretending. There’s a difference. He wants to be a certain kind of person, so he pretends he’s a radical, a guy brave enough to stand up to the Man. He’s good at fooling himself, but acting means being able to read people. I don’t think he pays enough attention to other people, except as a kind of mirror he can gaze in to see how awesome he is. If he was going to work for the FBI, he’d have the loudmouth part down, but he’d have trouble drawing other people in.”

“I see what you mean.” I thought back to the creepy way Zip manipulated people so that they would want to be admitted into his inner circle. It was partly by showing off, like Simon, but there was more to it than that. When he looked at me, he was paying attention, adjusting his identity to make it appeal to me. He was much better at manipulation because he wasn’t as fixated on himself as Simon was. “I think I’m just nervous. Jumping at shadows.”

“Kind of hard not to become a little paranoid.”

“How are you feeling about this? Are you ready for tomorrow?”

“Yup. Got my angles worked out, my props, got my costume change.” He patted the sack holding the shirt and looked at me.

I looked at him. We both nodded. It suddenly felt real.

~ ~ ~

The sky was clear and the cold was coming down hard as I biked home, like it was falling straight out of outer space. A few blocks from our house, a cop car swooshed past me, making my heart pound, but it  turned at the corner and I started to breathe again. I bumped my way over the ridge of plowed snow at the intersection, careful to slow down so I wouldn’t fly over the handlebars like I did last time. Then I realized a blue light was flickering across the packed snow on the street, the splashes getting bigger and brighter. The cops had decided to circle back to check me out.

I stopped. I wanted to check the time on my phone, but I knew better than to be holding something. Whatever you’re holding always seems to look like a gun. The cruiser drew up beside me. The officer riding shotgun powered his window down. “You’re out late.”

“Yes sir. I have a group project due for school tomorrow. I was meeting with a friend to finish it up.”

“Your parents know you’re out?”

“I live with my aunt. I called her before I left for home. She’s expecting me.”

“You’re a girl.” He seemed to want a response, so I nodded. A girl, you nailed it. “Dangerous, being out this late.”

“Yes sir. That’s why I called my aunt, so she’d know I was on my way.”

“You go to South?”

“Horizons Technical Academy,” I said, remembering as his face got harder to add, “sir.”

“How old are you?”

“Fifteen.” There wasn’t any point in lying. If I said I was eighteen, they’d check and I’d be busted. For anyone under eighteen, the curfew law applied, at least if you were a kid with brown skin in neighborhoods where the color-coded arrest rate was high.

“Let’s see ID.”

I retrieved the state photo ID tucked in the back of my phone case. I had gotten it as soon as I  turned fifteen because the curfew for fourteen is an hour earlier and I wanted to be able to prove I deserved that extra hour. I hoped he wouldn’t ask me to hand him my phone, because I’d say no and then I’d have hours of hassle. I held my breath and tried to look innocent. I was afraid he would punch my name into his laptop and, while I didn’t have any kind of record, it might say I was related to an alleged terrorist and that could lead to complications.

The radio inside the cruiser chattered as he scrutinized the card. My heart was hammering, even though it wasn’t the first time I’d been stopped by cops. Monica had given me the Talk soon after I went to live with her. If you’re white, the Talk means having an embarrassed parent try to explain things about sex that you already know (and maybe already tried). But if you’re black, it’s being told how important it is to act respectful and submissive when the cops stop you because they’re allowed to kill you if you don’t.

The cop and his partner murmured to each other as their radio chattered away. I held my breath, waiting for him to start pecking out my name into the computer.

“You got five minutes to get home.” The cop handed my ID back. “If we see you out here one minute later, we’re taking you in to juvenile supervision and your aunt is going to get a serious fine. You want that?”

“No, sir.”

“Then get your ass off the street.”

“Yes, sir.”

The window powered up and they peeled off to go hassle somebody else. I biked the last two blocks home as fast as I could, shaking with fear and fury and a little more fear. I’m used to it, but this was the first time I had been stopped by cops since my brother had been arrested and I had started harnessing the skills of the Group and my friends to rescue him.

By the time I carried my bike to the top of the steps the adrenaline rush had turned from fear and anger to a giddy sense of relief. I hadn’t been arrested. I hadn’t been detained for questioning. They had no idea that a girl who wasn’t allowed to be out late had a plan to expose the inner workings of the FBI to the entire world.

“You’re in a good mood,” my aunt said. “Things are going well?”

“Things are going great.”

But, as it turned out, they weren’t.


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if then else Copyright © 2016 by Barbara Fister is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.