Sara strung an extension cord into the unused corridor, which was in the darkest part of the room and just big enough for her and her equipment. She enlarged a hole in the raggedy curtain and checked to be sure she could shoot the room without being seen. Marita and I moved furniture around, with Sara calling out instructions through the curtain. “You’re off camera. Can you move that chair to the right a couple of feet? Zen, we’ll want plenty of light on the face of whoever the FBI sends. Angle that couch so . . . that’s good.” Sara tested the livestream; she was sending the film to Zeke and Nikko at the hotel using a portable hotspot so that there would be an offsite copy if her camera was confiscated.

Once everything was in place, I made a fresh batch of coffee, needing to sharpen my brain before the show. When I checked the time on my phone, I remembered that picture I’d taken of Simon. The wall I’d built to keep it in a dark corner of my brain crumbled for a moment, but even though it made me feel a little sick and shaky, I was glad because I realized there was a good chance I would get arrested. I quickly composed an email to Charlie from my Secret Avenger account, warning her the photo I had attached could be triggering, but Simon had been unmasked and his days of attacking women were over. I pressed send. No matter what she did with it, there would be a copy in the Secret Avenger’s encrypted email account in case my phone got confiscated by the cops and the photo accidentally-on-purpose deleted.

All that was left to do was chill until the FBI showed up.

Which turned out to be no wait at all because they came an hour early.

Sara barely had time to dart back behind the curtain when we heard steps on the front porch. Marita stood frozen for a moment, like it was dawning on her that this was actually happening. She scooped the baby up off the floor protectively. I went to the door and turned the latch.

There were two of them. One looked like a college student. He had a backpack slung over one shoulder and a scruffy beard and wore a keffiyeh around his neck, like Simon. The other one looked big and bald and threatening, like a bad guy who had access to explosives.

“Danny around?” the skinny one with the backpack asked. He remembered to smile, but he was staring at me, like “what are you doing here?”

“Still in bed,” Marita said shakily. “He told me he was expecting some people at noon.”

“Guess we got our wires crossed. Cute baby.”

“Would you get in here and close the door, already?” she said, snapping into character. “You’re letting the cold in. I don’t want the kid to get another earache.”

They filed in and shut the door behind them. The two men pulled their caps off, as if politeness was drilled into them even though they were disguised as dangerous dissidents. “And you are . . .” The skinny guy who looked like a student knew who I was, but he pretended he didn’t.

“I’m Zen. My brother is one of the Minneapolis Nine. I’m here for the meeting, too.”

No, you’re not, Big Guy’s face said as he glared at me.

“Neat house,” Skinny said to Marita. “It’s famous,” he told his comrade. “Lot of bands have been through here. Who’s staying here these days?”

“Just us and some musicians. They never get up before dinnertime.”

“Could you let Danny know we’re here?”

“Fine. Then I’m going back to bed with the baby. If you want anything, you’ll have to get it yourselves.” She said it perfectly, stomping up the stairs as if she was offended, not scared stiff.

“This is bullshit,” the big one muttered, giving me the side-eye.

“How’d you hear about this meeting, anyway?” Skinny asked me, all friendly, ignoring Big Guy.

“Simon Meyer told me about it. Your friend, Simon. Isn’t he coming? I thought this was all his idea.”

Skinny shook his head. Big Guy tried to catch his eye. He didn’t say it out loud, but I could read his impatient body language. It’s going wrong. Let’s call this off before it’s too late. I had to find a way to make them stay.

“You know how on the news they keep talking about the tenth one?” I said. “The fugitive they’re chasing? You’re after the wrong person. He wasn’t even involved. I’m the tenth one. My brother tried to keep me out of it, but they got themselves arrested and now I’m the only one left.”

Big Guy wasn’t impressed. “This isn’t what we had planned.” Skinny brushed it aside with a gesture and studied me. I could sense the gears turning as he reworked their strategy.

“What the hell?” Danny came trotting down the stairs in sweats and a ratty T-shirt, combing fingers through his bed-head. “You’re early.”

“Nope,” Skinny said brightly. “Eleven on the dot.”

“It was set for noon.”

“Sorry about that. Must have got mixed up.”

“And what’s she doing here?”

“Avenging my brother.” I wondered if I was laying it on too thick, but Skinny was intrigued.

“You seem pretty serious,” he said.

“I am totally serious. It’s messed up, the way the FBI keeps coaxing people to say crazy things so they can arrest them as terrorists. Not to mention the dragnet surveillance the NSA is doing, which is obviously unconstitutional.”

“She’s into computers,” Danny told them.

“Cool. Are you into radical action?” Skinny said, as if it could be a joke, depending on how I responded. “Are you willing to act outside the law?”

“What’s so special about laws? Sitting at a lunchroom counter while black was against the law not too long ago. Hey, do you guys want coffee? I just made some.”

Weirdly, that non-sequitur helped. The FBI agents relaxed just enough to let me wave them onto the well-lit couch as if I were a polite hostess. Danny sat across from them, looking wary and not totally awake. I cleared some empty bottles off the coffee table and brought out the coffee pot, then went back to wash out some mugs and get milk and sugar.

“You know who I am.” I heard Danny say as I returned. “Who are you?”

“I’m Jack,” the skinny one said. “That’s Marsh. We hear you know explosives. Is that right?”

Danny gave him a glare, trying to look tough. He mostly looked suspicious and hungover. “So?”

“So we have resources, but we need someone with your skills.”

“Show them your hand,” I said. “It got burned when he threw a tear gas canister back at the cops.”

“When was that?” Jack asked.

“A while ago.” Danny still had his tough face on, but he was fidgeting with his lighter, flicking at it with a thumb.

“Was this Baltimore? We were there.”

“Hashtag black lives matter,” the big guy said, looking at me, making it clear they didn’t matter to him. I wanted to punch him in the nose, but something about the way he looked down at his coffee cup with a smug little smile made me realize he was trying to rile me up, so I didn’t.

“What do you think, Zen?” Jack asked. “What kind of action makes sense these days?”

“Action that works.”

Jack nodded as if I’d said something profound and powerful. “Absolutely. You can send out Tweets or you can attack the source. Capitalism. You notice how everything changes when you set a Pizza Hut on fire? Are you an anarchist like your brother and his friends?”

“I’m not big on labels,” I said, but I could hear Wilson explaining it to me, how the way they cooperated in their house showed that another world was possible, even though they didn’t know what to do when the roof leaked. “Their problem was they were too idealistic. Too trusting. They weren’t violent. They just got suckered by an informant.”

“Typical ploy.” Jack shook his head. “Makes you mad, huh?

“Well, duh. Of course it makes me mad.”

“Mad enough to do something about it?”


He turned to Danny. “What about you?” Danny didn’t say anything.

“We heard you were serious about taking radical action.” Marsh goaded him. “Is that true? Or was that just talk?”

Danny shifted in his chair, his eyes darting around, like he felt trapped.

“I heard you were bringing some dynamite,” I said to Jack. “Is that it?” I nudged the backpack he had set on the floor with my toe.

“Whoa, careful!” Jack said. “You want to take out the entire block?”

“He’s joking,” Marsh said. “Sure, we could take out the whole block, but we need the know-how to do it right. Which is why we came to you, Danny. We’ve been told you’re the expert.”

“You’ve seen those videos of giant buildings falling down all once?” I said. “His uncle taught him how to do that. Right, Danny?”

He tipped his head sideways. Yeah, no. Maybe.

“That’s great, because we scored the material.” Jack moved coffee cups out of the way, wiped up spilled coffee with his sleeve, lifted the backpack, and set it reverently on the table between us. “Check it. This is just a sample.”

Danny looked at the backpack but didn’t move. Jack shot Marsh a look. I could read his mind, like a balloon had popped up over his head. You’re right. This isn’t working.

Crap, crap, crap. I had to do something.

“Putting it under cop cars came up last night,” I said. “Theoretically. Also, the idea of bombing the precinct house on Lake Street.” Come on, Danny. Help me out.

“What about a bridge?” Marsh asked Danny. “Or Union Station? Doable?”

Nothing. Marsh looked at Jack, who sighed and shifted his feet as if about to give in and leave.

I leaned over, unzipped the backpack, and reached in. “Is this dynamite?” I pulled out something that looked like a white sausage. I tried to read the lettering on the side, but Danny grabbed it from me.

“Are you crazy?”

“There’s a bunch more of those things in here, and things with wires and—”

“Leave it alone. Jesus.” Danny set the sausage down carefully. “How much of this do you have?” He asked Marsh, man to man.

“How much do you need?”

“Depends on the target. Gotta do the calculations.”

“See?” Jack said to Marsh. “Simon was right. He knows his stuff.”

“What do you have in mind? The I-35 bridge?” Marsh asked Danny, as if the whole thing had been Danny’s idea.

“You don’t want to go for a bridge. Too strategic, too many cameras.” Danny stretched his shoulders, as if he was finally waking up. “But those tank cars coming in from North Dakota?” He rubbed his nose and leaned forward, imparting a secret. “Stuff’s highly combustible. Those old tankers aren’t designed for it. They’re basically rolling bombs, and they travel right through Minneapolis. Do it right, you wouldn’t need more than what you got right here to reduce a whole neighborhood to smoking ruin.”

“That would be huge. So, walk us through it,” Jack said. “What’s step one?”

“Before we get into details,” I interrupted, “I just want to say Danny isn’t just good at this. He’s so good, you have no idea.” I raised my voice. “He’s amazing, and you couldn’t pay him enough for his talents because he’s a way better actor than you guys are, and we know exactly what’s going on here, don’t we?”

“It’s a wrap,” Sara Esfahani called out from her hiding place. “Congratulations, Danny, you did brilliantly.”

Jack muttered into his collar as Marsh jumped out of his chair, swearing. Sara swept the curtain aside and strode out, pointing her camera at Jack and Marsh, firing questions. Danny sat with his mouth open, totally confused as a bunch of SWAT cops burst in through the kitchen, with more tromping onto the porch. I unlocked the front door for them. They hesitated for a moment, probably disappointed they didn’t get to use their battering ram, before one of them tackled me and the rest raced up the stairs to clear the house of dangerous terrorists.

Good thing I had that phone number written on my arm. I was going to need it.

The last thing I saw was a glimpse of Marita standing on the porch, holding a howling, kicking baby, paying no attention to the cop who was asking her questions. Just staring at me with a big “what do I do now?” look on her face as the cruiser I was in sped away.


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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.