Luckily, I had everything I needed on a jump drive and someone had installed a board with a USB port in her ancient computer, but installation was crazy slow. At some point she came in. “Would you like a sandwich or something?”

“No, that’s okay.” I was under the desk trying to blow gunk out of the fan, crawling around with the giant dust bunnies that lived down there.

“It’s getting quite late. Won’t your parents wonder where you are?”

“I live with my aunt, and she doesn’t get off work until ten tonight. How’s it going with the lawyer?”

“I’m working on it.”

“Let’s have a race and see who gets done first.”


~ ~ ~

When I finally got it up and running, I went out to the kitchen, where she was jotting notes on a big yellow pad, holding a telephone receiver pressed to her ear. I waited as the pen flowed across the paper. She had filled the page with orderly lines. Her handwriting was old-fashioned, all the letters linked together in a flowing line of blue ink, threads of words crossing the page, though it was a little fragile looking, like old lace that’s stating to fall apart.

She was using lawyer language, asking questions that included lots of Latin, then writing, writing, writing. As I eavesdropped, I rinsed out my tea cup and got myself some water from the tap. “Ridiculous!” she said, and “what arrogance.” Then very loudly, “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” At that point I almost dropped my cup, but she didn’t even look embarrassed.

“Yes,” she said. “All right. That’s perfect.” She put a period down at the end of a sentence as if she was pinning it down firmly. “Thank you, Luisa.”

She got up from her chair, disentangled herself from the coiled telephone wire, and hung the receiver up on an old-school telephone fixed to the wall.

“What?” she asked me, and I realized I was staring.

“That’s your phone?”

She looked at it, then at me. “What else would it be, a hair dryer?”

“But it’s on the wall.”

She stared back at me.

“That’s really cool. Was that your idea?”

She took a deep breath. “No. In ancient times, telephones were frequently attached to walls. Have you got my computer running?”

“Does my brother have a lawyer?”

She glanced at the clock over the sink. “He had one nearly an hour ago. I win.”

“Wait. Is it a good lawyer?”

“A very good lawyer.”

“What’s her name? Luisa what?”

“Luisa Cruz, but she’s a 3L assisting with the case. Is the computer working?”

“What’s a 3L?”

“A law student in her third year.”

What? That’s bullshit! Wilson needs a real lawyer, not some student.”

“He needs an entire legal team,” she said firmly. “And he now has one, which includes Luisa Cruz, who has a gifted mind and is willing to work on Friday evening when most people her age would be having fun. Now, I’d like to see that video, if the computer is capable of playing it.”

“Course it is.” Somehow she’d made me feel embarrassed that I had been yelling. That never happens. Well, yelling happens, but feeling bad about it doesn’t. That calm, confident voice made me feel a weird mix of being ashamed and stroked at the same time.

She followed me into the study, where I had a browser open. “Okay, I went with Ubuntu for the operating system. I also installed LibreOffice, which is your word processor and spreadsheet and so forth. This orange cone thing?  That’s VLC, for videos, and  the browser is Tor, which keeps your traffic private by using distributed relays. We should probably also set you up with a SpiderOak account so that you can store your stuff in the cloud, but safely encrypted. I haven’t set up an email client yet, because you probably use Gmail, but you totally should consider using a more secure client with PGP encryption.”

She stared at me for a minute. I thought she was lost in admiration and gratitude until she said, “I didn’t understand one single word of that.”

“Okay, well I didn’t understand what you were saying on the phone, so we’re even. What’s up with my brother? Is he getting out?”

“Not any time soon.” She paused, watching me as if expecting me to hulk out and start breaking things. I wanted to, but I also wanted her to respect me, so I just nodded, even though I pictured Wilson in a jail cell and it made something sharp dig into my chest. “This won’t be easy,” she went on. “The judge is unlikely to grant bail, but we have a legal team coming together and the feds are now on notice that they won’t be able to intimidate their way into a quick plea. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to see that video.”

~ ~ ~

We watched it twice. Then she settled back in the desk chair, acting like the captain of the Starship Legal Team, ordering me to fetch her notepad and pen, demanding a glass of water and a small pillow from the couch to arrange behind her back, being fussy until it was perfect.

“This house where your brother was arrested. Who owns it?”

“I don’t know. I doubt anyone knows. It was one of a bunch of houses that got foreclosed two years ago. Some of the people involved in the Occupy movement started organizing to help homeowners who were getting jerked around by the banks, trying to force the lenders to renegotiate loans. Wilson was kind of on the fringes of that.”

“I know. He was arrested,” she flipped pages of her notepad. “At a protest at US Bank in the Winter of 2012.”


“And previously in Loring Park when the police took the Occupy encampment there down.”

“He got beaten up by the cops, too. You should have seen the lump he had on his head. Like a grapefruit.”

“The house?”

“Oh, yeah. So what happened is that he and some of his friends started occupying this house that had been foreclosed, only nobody ever came to kick them out. My guess is it got tied up in some bundled mortgage schemes and the paperwork got lost. So they’ve been squatting there and nobody cared.”

“I was afraid of that. Even if we can get the terrorism charge to go away, they could be charged with property crimes. Is there a chance that police will have found illegal drugs on the premises?”

“No doubt. None of those guys are into drugs in a big way, but I’m sure somebody would have had some weed around.”

“What about guns?”

“No way. They wouldn’t . . . I mean . . .” I stumbled to a stop and then started over. “Well, honestly, I can’t be sure. It’s been a while since I talked to Wilson, and things were getting weird even back then.”

“Weird in what way?”

“Before Zip showed up, this was a house full of totally laid-back kids who were kind of a family, right? Because none of them had families where they felt like they belonged. They made their own rules and they got along fine and they didn’t bother anybody.”

“But then an informant entered the picture.”

“Right. Wilson met Zip at a protest and said “hey, why don’t you crash at our place?” So he moved in and everything changed.”

“How, exactly?”

“Wilson started getting more political. I mean, he always talked about the evils of capitalism and white supremacy and how consumerism is wrecking the planet, but when he went to demonstrations, it was mostly for the lulz.”

“Is that a real word?”

“He did it for kicks. He lived the way he wanted to, and every now and he would join a protest to say ‘this sucks’ because it was fun to be around people who felt the same way. Like way back in the sixties when you were his age. “

“Hmm,” she said. People don’t like being reminded about how old they are.

“But he was never really that mad about anything. Him and his friends thought society was messed up, so they decided they wouldn’t be part of it. They didn’t worry about going to school and getting jobs, they didn’t pay bills because they didn’t have credit cards or car loans. They moved into a house that nobody wanted and went dumpster diving for food that was going to waste and figured out how to get along with each other without following other people’s rules.”

“What did they do for heat?” she asked.

I began to feel as if I was narrating some National Geographic special about a primitive tribe I had just discovered in Darkest Minneapolis. “They had a kerosene heater at first, but it smelled awful, so they rescued a wood stove from a house that was being torn down.”


“They asked first. And Wheeze made sure it worked right, so it wouldn’t burn the place down.”

“That’s something.” But I noticed that she jotted “kerosene” on her notepad.

“They make their own beer, so I’m sure there are plenty of glass bottles around, too. You know, bomb-making equipment like you can find in any kitchen.”

She tapped her pen against the pad, shaking her head slightly. “What do you know about Zip’s background?”

I told her about the protests Zip had claimed to be at, the jails he said he’d seen, the way he rode the rails. “He knew what they wanted to hear, what they would think was cool. He probably made it all up.”

“All right. Now, tell me everything you can about your brother.”

I told her. She asked questions. I answered them and she wrote things down. In the end, I realized I was telling her as much about me as about Wilson. She was sneaky like that.

“So, I kind of have to get going,” I said when I realized we weren’t even talking about Wilson anymore. I stood up and reached for the coat I’d slung onto the couch while I was under the desk getting to know the dust bunnies. I found the stupid hat jammed into my pocket and pulled it on. I wasn’t so embarrassed by it now that I’d met the famous lawyer, whose white hair was falling out of its pins, whose sweater had something that looked like egg yolk spilled down the front.

She looked at her watch. “Goodness, it’s late. I’ll call a cab.”

“No, I have my bike.”

“Nonsense. It’s dark outside. It’s freezing.”

“It’s fine, but Monica’s going to worry if I’m not home when she gets off. So, what happens tomorrow?”

“Your brother will have a chance to meet with us.”

“When do we get to see him?”

“Sorry. Not you. His legal representatives.”

“He can’t have family members visit?”

“Unlikely, at this point. We’re making arrangements to represent all of the young people who were arrested, except for the informant, who has his own lawyer. Since he won’t be talking to us we’ll need to do some research on him.”

“I’ll start working on that.”

“You seem confused by what I mean when I say ‘we.’ We’ll have our investigators work on it, though we won’t have anything like the resources of the Justice Department. It’ll take time.”

“We don’t have time. I want Wilson out of there. Jail’s no place for him. He’s been there overnight a few times, but he’s still like, a total n00b.”

“A . . . what?”

“He’s clueless. It’s not a safe place for him. You guys focus on the law stuff. I’ll find out who Zip really is.”

“And how exactly do you propose to do that?”

“Uh, I probably shouldn’t go into detail.”

She looked past me at her computer’s sleek new Ubuntu desktop, and her expression changed from superior and skeptical to “Oh,” like she just realized that I had skills, that I probably hacked into banks or NSA databases all the time, which I wouldn’t even try. Like I said before, I’m sure I’d be better at jail than Wilson, but I don’t want to find out. Ever.

She finally said, “That’s probably wise. Don’t do anything illegal.” She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “At any rate, don’t get caught.”


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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.