Are you freaking kidding me??!!
I glance up from the text I just received and I shove my phone in the pocket of my bag angrily. Snatching my bag I climb out of my car, slamming the door behind me and storm into my office at the Chicago Reporter.
The object of my rage is in the middle of the press room. He sees me coming and starts crossing to his office at the edge of the room. “Greg!” I call out. He keeps moving.
“That was my interview! I worked my ass off for that interview. I followed him on the campaign trail for months! And you gave it to Kevin? Seriously?” I chase my editor into his office and slam the door behind me.
“Piper, my hands are tied.”
“That’s crap, Greg and you know it.”
“He asked for Kevin.”
My temper crumples, his words knocking me physically back a step. “Wh-what?”
“The Senator asked for Kevin. There was nothing I could do.”
I fall into the chair across from him. “I don’t understand.”
He sighs rubbing his forehead. “You did a great job covering the campaign, Piper. Seriously. Sometimes these guys are just fickle or old-school. Who knows? But the paper wants the interview, so we gave him what he wanted. I’m sorry you got screwed over in the process.”
I swallow before continuing, my voice calmer. “Honestly, I’m really confused. I thought I developed some really good connections among his team.”
Greg shakes his head but doesn’t say anything else. What is there to say?
“You got anything else for me?” Eventually he breaks the silence between us.
“I have something I’m working on, but need more time.”
“This have something to do with the anonymous letter you want me to publish?”
I nod. “I’m still fact checking that but it seems legit. I think we should run it.”
“Shady. And dangerous printing something we don’t know the author of. Or their motivations.”
I open my mouth, ready to argue the point but Greg holds up his hand stopping me. “Be ready to make your case in 48 hours. If you convince me the risk is worth it and verify the facts presented I’ll take it upstairs and discuss it with our lawyers.”
I grin. “I’ll be ready.”
“Okay. Now get out of here. Leave the door open.”
I scurry back to my desk and pull out my laptop. The rejection from the Senator’s team still stings but I’ve got work to do. The past two months I’ve been slowly building trust with an anonymous confidential informant. An informant that claims to have information about a massive human trafficking ring with links to Chicago but the story is much larger. International. He or she is incredibly skittish but so far the information they’ve provided me seems to be accurate. A week ago I was sent a supposedly first hand account of a woman who had escaped. Her story is terrifying and heartbreaking and enraging. I’ve been trying to convince Greg to publish it without her identity but he’s hesitant to do so, for good reasons. I have no idea who I’m communicating with and while they claim their primary objective is to expose the people enabling these crimes and get justice, it’s hard to trust someone I’ve never met.
But I really believe this is a story that needs to be told.
I open my twitter account. My source is inconsistent with their communication and early on we established this as a way for me to signal I needed to talk. I tweet something benign and meaningless, including the hashtag #stillawake.
That’s the signal we’ve agreed upon.
Now I wait.
I enter the bar just as last call is announced. I’m jumpy, my adrenaline pulsing. My informant contacted me with a time and location. We’ve never met in person despite my numerous requests. This feels monumental and as a result my skin is humming. I order a beer, just to help me blend in, not because I intend to drink it then move to the booths in the back room as directed.
I sit with my back to the wall so I can watch the door and scan the room in front of me. I’ve actually been to this bar before, but not for years. One of my old apartments is two blocks from here. It’s a weeknight and late so there isn’t much of a crowd. A few couples sprinkled in booths throughout the space. Three twenty-something guys playing pool. Another table with a group of half a dozen guys and a couple women in baseball caps and Blackhawk’s jerseys.
I put my cell phone on the table, double checking I haven’t received any alert canceling our meeting. Nothing.
One of the hockey fans stands up and heads down the hallway to my left, I know from my previous visits that is where the restrooms are located. A couple of the other hockey fans leave. One of the couples has progressed from close talking to making out. The juke box plays on. Loudly.
I wait. Impatiently. I am so impatient. This could be huge. The next few minutes could be career-defining.
The hockey fan comes back from the bathroom but instead of rejoining his remaining friends, he veers abruptly and slides into the booth across from me.
“I’m waiting for someone,” I tell him, annoyed by the prospect of fending off a drunken pick up attempt.
I’m startled he knows my name and study him closer. The bar is dark and his cap is pulled low, casting his face in even more shadow but it takes me only a second to recognize him.
“Still awake at this hour?”
No freaking way.
I cannot reconcile the context in which I know this man with the situation that brings me to this bar. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
“You’re… ARY?” That’s the only identifier my source has ever used, signing off just as ‘ARY’.
“No. I’ve been enlisted as an intermediary.”
I have no idea what to say. Words are my life – I don’t think this has ever happened to me before.
He digs in to his jacket pocket and pulls out a flash drive. He pushes it across the table until it hits my fingertips. I wrap my fingers around it. “Special delivery.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand anything that is happening right now.”
His mouth quirks. “I know it doesn’t make sense now. Someday, we’ll be able to explain more. We’re hoping you can help with that.”
“By publishing this article.”
“Among other things.”
“What does that mean?”
“They’ll be more stories, Piper. Stories some people won’t want told.”
“You’re trying to warn me this could be dangerous.”
“Not could be. Is.”
“You’re trying to scare me.”
He shakes his head, “I’m not. I like you, Piper. We’ve been waiting a long time for the right person. I think you could be it. I’ll do my best to protect you. But I want you to be fully aware of what could happen. I can’t tell you everything. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Our mutual friend is terrified, she’s been fighting this war for a long time by herself. She’s doesn’t trust easily and she’s not ready yet. But I know you needed something, something so you knew you could trust the information she’s given you. So, here I am.”
I mull over his proposition.
“You like me?”
He nods once.
“You trust me?’
I lean forward and narrow my eyes. “Then why did you have me pulled from the Senator’s interview?”
Piper also appears briefly in Xander.