Oak sent me a text asking to meet. He came to the house, where I introduced him to Dr. Mishkin. She was charmed, and charming. It took a good fifteen minutes to get Oak to myself. We decided to take a walk.

“I have an idea,” he said, his hands jammed into his jacket, the breeze whipping his curly hair. “By the way, should I call you Maggie or Emily?”

“Maggie, for now.”

“Yeah, it’s probably best. You know Graham Turlow, the journalist?”

“Should I?”

“He won a Pulitzer for his work on the Iran-Contra affair years ago. He did a series on police corruption in Chicago that exposed false confessions and led to a bunch of exonerations. He wrote a book about crooked military contractors operating in Iraq. He’s an old-school investigative reporter.”


“I know him. He gave a lecture when I was an undergrad and I got up the nerve to speak to him afterward. He became sort of a mentor to me during grad school, and he’s spoken to my classes about his experiences. He’s working on a memoir right now, but your story would be right up his alley.”

“Do you like this guy? Because you’d be landing him in the shit. I wouldn’t do that to a friend.”

“He has a lot of credibility and it’s the kind of risk he’d be willing to take for a good story. And it is a good story: a tech tycoon up to his neck in dirty tricks, a suspected murder, connections to intelligence services, plus the damage these surveillance systems are doing to democracy. Somebody needs to get this information out.”

“Eventive really screwed over the reporter who tried to write about it before.”

“So you said, but they’d have a harder time doing that to a legend like Graham. The only thing is, he’s not a techie. He’s not on social media and he thinks the digital projects I do with students are stupid. He basically hates computers and the internet, so we’d have to help him out with the details. That said, he’d get a kick out of trashing a tech company. I’d like to talk to him about it, anyway.”

“I don’t know.”

“You wouldn’t have to go public, but it would take the heat off you, wouldn’t it? If everyone knows what Eventive is up to, they would have no reason to shut you up. He’ll need hard evidence, though. Do you think there’s any way your friend, the one who got screwed over, still has those documents?”

“Probably not, but I have copies of all of it.”

“That’s fantastic! So, can I call Graham?”

We rounded a corner. Without thinking, I was leading us on the route I usually took to the college. The streets we were walking through looked exactly as always, sleepy and placid, a postcard of small town American life. The weather had turned warmer overnight, with a southerly breeze carrying the scent of damp soil, reminding me of how exciting it was as a kid in Maine when the long winter began to loosen its grip and green shoots began to push up through the soil. A magical renewal. A promise.

“Okay. Sure. Why not?”


Of course, it wasn’t spring, it was late October, and by the time Oak called me that evening to report on his conversation with the reporter, a bitter wind was blowing from the north, carrying tiny pellets of ice. They zipped through the darkened sky like fireflies catching light from the streetlamps as I watched them through my bedroom window.

“He’s interested,” Oak said. “He wants to talk to you. But he didn’t commit to anything.”

“I hope he committed to keeping it quiet.”

“No worries about that. He’s been willing to go to jail for refusing to reveal his sources. He won’t rat you out. Let me give you his number.” He read it off. “He’s kind of a character,” he added hesitantly. “Don’t let his style put you off.”

I checked the time. Not too late to call. I dialed the number. “Turlow,” a hoarse voice bellowed. Not exactly welcoming.

“Oak Larsson said I should call you.”

“You’re the girl, huh?”

“I’m the twenty-six year old.”

“Jesus, it’s the language police. Okay, you’re the woman who thinks she has a story for me. Whaddya got?”

“What did Oak tell you?”

“I want to hear it from you.”

“Okay, but I can’t be sure this line is secure. Can you install the Signal app?”

“No, because I’m on a landline. Also because I don’t do apps. Or social media, or any of that bullshit that wastes everyone’s time and makes everyone crazy. For what it’s worth, I’m no stranger to having my line tapped. The Chicago PD cooked up a bogus story and got a judge to sign off on it when I was getting ready to nail their asses for torturing confessions out of innocent guys. Also back in eighty-six when I was digging into Iran-Contra, and probably back in sixty-eight when I was at the Democratic national convention and the cops were busting heads. You ever hear of COINTELPRO? Supposedly ended after the Church Committee hearings, but that’s baloney, it never did. Don’t worry about any of that, though. Now I’m just an old fart working on his memoirs, so you can relax. Nobody’s tapping this phone. What’s this story that Oak’s so excited about?”

I took a breath and was about to speak when he added, “You don’t mind if I record this, do you?”

“What? Yes. I mean, it depends. Where are you going to store the audio?”

“What’s it matter?”

“If the people I’m going to tell you about got hold of it, they’d recognize my voice. You need to be sure it’s stored on a server with end-to-end encryption.”

“I don’t know what this end-to-end shit is, or what servers have to do with it. My desk drawer is where I keep my tapes. I don’t get this new thing where all the reporters use their phones to record stuff. I mean, I don’t trust these tech companies, do you? Of course not, which is why you’re talking to me. So can you tell me what the deal is and let me record it?”

“Yeah, okay.” I explained the situation as succinctly as I could, but it took a while. He interrupted me constantly to ask questions. Some of them were about the technology, which he clearly didn’t understand, others were about people. Adam Barton, Aurora, Brian Friedman. There were long pauses between questions as he took notes by hand, on paper. I could hear pages of his notepad being flipped regularly. “Why are you talking to me?” he asked out of the blue.

“Oak said I should.”

“No, I mean what do you get out of it if this story runs?”

“Me, personally? A shitload of trouble.”

“Sounds like you got that regardless. You’re not doing this to get even with your boyfriend? The one who allegedly knocked you around?”

“No. I don’t care what happens to him. I don’t want anything to do with him, ever. I just think what the company is doing is wrong, and I believe they had Aurora killed over it.”

“This was in Boston, right?” I heard pages flipping. “Not Brookline or Cambridge or whatever?”

“Um, Cambridge I think. She had a place near MIT. I think that’s where … where it happened. But the cops say it was an accidental overdose.”

“Overdose of what?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe her psych meds. She had bipolar disorder, but it was being treated successfully.”

“Uh huh.”

“You can ask her mother if you don’t believe me. They were close.”

“You got her name and contact info handy? And while you’re at it, who can I talk to at this company? I can’t just take your word for it. I’ll need confirmation.”

“There’s nobody,” I said, until I remembered the two engineers who attended Aurora’s funeral and soon after left under a cloud. I gave him their names. “They don’t work there anymore. I don’t know how to reach them.”

“Don’t worry. I can find people. Larsson said you have documents?”

“Hundreds of them.”

“Good deal. I’ll need copies.”

“They’re on an encrypted drive in Switzerland. I can set up read permissions for you and get you a login.”

“Nope. I want printed copies, on paper. Remember paper? Nice stuff, you can read the words on it even if your computer crashes. Harder to hack, too.”

“We’re talking hundreds of pages. And if someone got hold of them, they could trace them to me.”

“What makes you think they didn’t already? Getting hold of documents is easy to do online, from what I read in the news.”

“Not where I put them. And paper can be tracked to its source. Laser printers encode invisible forensic information on every page you print, traceable to a particular printer.”

“That’s nuts. Is that for real?”

“It’s how they nailed Reality Winner, the woman who tipped off the press about the NSA’s proof of Russian election interference.”

“What a load of horseshit that prosecution was. That poor kid thrown in the slammer for what, telling us the NSA knows something we all knew already?”

“And she got nailed because she gave a printout to a news organization. On paper.”

“Yeah, well, it was one of those new online outfits. They should have known better. I’ve been around the block, I wouldn’t hand anything to a government goon. Or to a corporate oligarch, which is kind of the same thing these days. Anyway, I’m going to need paper. Reading through hundreds of pages on a computer screen, trying to find through lines and connections? Not happening.”

“Okay, but the information’s really technical. I’m not sure you would understand them without some help.”

“Jesus. Of all the gin joints in the world, she has to walk into mine. I’m going to need a translator, huh?” He sighed windily. “You know what? We’re going to have to get together, face to face, talk this over. Minnesota’s not that far from Chicago. I got a guest room. You could come down with those documents, spend a few days giving me the lay of the land—”

“I can’t. I have to work.”

“Well, I’ll come up there, then. What’s the name of that town? Micka Mucka?”


“Home of nobody-ever-heard-of-it Magnusson College, where Larsson is wasting his talents and you’re getting away with impersonating an actual professor of English, which nobody notices. That’s hilarious. Can’t make this stuff up. Okay, so here’s the plan. First, I’m going to reach out to those two guys you told me about, get some confirmation of your story before I commit to anything. If it pans out, I gotta wrap up some stuff here, find someone to take care of my cat. Let my editor know the manuscript is on hold. It’s already a year overdue, so who the hell cares? Anyway, as soon as I give this story of yours a green light, get that stuff printed out for me, okay? And I’ll come up there so we can sit down and go through it.”

“So … you want to write this story?”

“If it checks out. This outfit sounds like a serious threat to democracy, assuming what you told me is true and I can confirm the basics. It also assumes we live in a democracy, but that’s another matter. Give me your phone number and I’ll get back to you.”

I put my phone down, feeling as if I’d just crossed a border into new territory. This was really happening. After over a year on the run, I was preparing to turn and face the enemy.

I looked at the papers spread across my bed, unfinished grading for class the next day. I gathered it all up and thought about stuffing it into my backpack. What did it matter? Who even was I, now, Emily Callander or Maggie Farnham, PhD?

What would happen to Maggie’s course, to Maggie’s memory when I left and everyone found out the woman they thought they knew was a fake? I could hear her voice in the car beside me, excitedly telling me about her new job, about her dreams. About everything she’d gone through to get this far.

I sorted out the papers and got back to work. I’d try to be my best Maggie until the disguise had to come off.


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