Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

Emissary

 


The guard sitting across from me in the back of the steel-plated van was wondering about me. He regarded me coolly from the little bench affixed to the wall on the van’s left side. His M16 lay flat on his lap, pointing at the back door. In the eyes of this Nebraska farm kid, I saw an uneasy mix of emotions, as if neither curiosity nor contempt could quite edge the other out. He couldn’t guess how I’d ended up in this country. It was pretty clear that he thought only a screw-up could have gotten a diplomatic post in these parts and it was his poor luck to have to escort me.

We had to find an American girl named Lacey who’d broken off contact with her family and was reportedly out there somewhere in the city. I guessed that the embassy, so utterly unrepresentative of this sprawl, was practically the only place this guard could stand to be. I wondered whether this was his first time out of the embassy grounds in the five months since he’d flown in from the States.

Rain beat hard on the van’s roof as it sped down a road running east from the embassy toward the densest parts of the burg. We weren’t going anywhere near the infamous slum, North Point, one of the most dismal places in all of West Africa. I was fairly confident the reek of shit wouldn’t disturb us. Then again, there were large parts of the city I’d never seen, areas of whose hygienic standards I knew nothing. Maybe the kid’s mood would worsen as the ride progressed and he’d find somewhere else to point that M16. At least the two men up front were not strangers. They were guys I’d seen around the garage on the embassy grounds a few times. Doug and Randy, their names were. I’d sat with them during the briefing as we listened to a middle-aged official complain volubly about the attention the missing girl’s case was getting.

The young guard across from me had questions. I shared what I knew. It had never been clear what the girl was doing in this country. People had all kind of ideas about her having come here to buy narcotics it was hard to find in the U.S. and Canada. There were theories about her trying to rip off dealers and getting abducted, about a prostitution ring taking a woman whose services would be worth so much more than those of any disease-ridden whore in North Point. Then there was this notion that she’d gotten together with a clique of drug dealers and users from Russia, Belgium, Spain, and South Africa, and they’d taken refuge in a hidden location in order to produce and sell their drugs. Not many people seemed interested in what I considered a more obvious possibility, that she was just a naïve American girl, with a privileged Westerner’s empathy for and awe of Africa, who’d wandered by herself in defiance of repeated warnings and was now tied up in some creep’s cellar.

We didn’t know what had happened in the last few days, but we had to act on a report we’d gotten. A local man had claimed to have seen the face of a young white woman in the window of a second-floor café on the edge of town. Of course we didn’t know this was Lacey, or whether Lacey was really missing, or whether anyone had broken any law. If we could find her, persuasion would be so much more effective and discreet than tanks and Humvees. So here we were on this drizzly afternoon.

For excellent reasons, there were no windows on either side of the van. The guard and I could look out through a couple of tiny windows on either side of the vertical groove dividing the two back doors, or we could gaze through the space between the guys up front and see out through the middle third of the windshield. The rear windows provided a glimpse of two squares of gray sky, the front windshield a view of a muddy road winding between two-story buildings in decay. A number of them had little balconies, whose rusting rails and cracking paint put the faux in their grandeur. Those windows that were intact and without boards over them had coatings of grime. On either side of the road, people were walking home, a few with empty baskets on their heads. This squalor wasn’t the best the city could present to our eyes. I awaited our passage into more modern areas where people aspired to be part of a transnational economy in which you could assume things about nearly anyone you dealt with, like adherence to certain standards of cleanliness and professionalism. But in truth, I didn’t know the city really well even after six weeks here. I couldn’t have said when to expect such a transition.

I looked into the blue eyes of the young guard across from me. It was not for me to know what assessments and judgments took place in his working-class mind, the province of an intelligence at once beneath my regard and beyond my comprehension. In all the time we’d been riding in the back of the van, his M16 had not budged a millimeter.

The van slowed as it neared a red light at an intersection. With a glance, I determined that there was just one vehicle, a pickup, out in the mud and drizzle in front of us. The young guard’s eyes stayed on mine.

“What’s your name, young man?”

“Evan.”

“How much training did they give you for your deployment here, Evan?”

Before he could speak again, it began. Dozens of hands pounded on the sides of the van. I was pretty startled. I’d had no idea people could rush out into the road so fast, or that the will to harass and terrify us was so fierce. The unseen people were pounding so hard and relentlessly I thought they believed they could break through the van’s walls and get to the tender things inside.

The guard edged forward on his bench.

“What do we do, sir?”

“You’re the soldier. Repel the attack.”

“They grossly outnumber us, sir. If we go out there, they’ll kill us.”

“Well, we have to try.”

“They’ll kill us, sir!”

“You’re under my command and I gave you an order.”

For the first time, I noticed drops tricking down his pale, anxious face. He wasn’t nearly as strong and bold as I’d assumed.

“Okay.”

He began to get up, brandishing his weapon.

The banging intensified. Just as it did, the light finally changed. As soon as we began moving, the pounding ceased. The van traveled about five miles per hour until the pickup in front of us finally made a right and the route was clear. We rode through block after block of drab blue and white buildings. The kid was staring at me. I felt disoriented. I wondered what I really knew of the geography or the inner life of this city.

“I’m sorry, sir. I really didn’t mean to be disobedient.”

I nodded. He sounded like he was talking to an uncle on a farm in the cornfields.

“You knew when you took this job, or you should have known, that there might be situations where you don’t offer your opinion, where you have to act immediately on someone’s command.”

“Yes, sir.”

I wore a totally contrived look of control and wisdom. In truth I had little experience of or interest in the operational side of my role.

We sat there for a while, not talking, just listening to the rumbling of the engine and the thuds of the tires. The rain picked up a bit over five blocks, and then we were motionless again before a red signal. A few tense seconds passed before the signal changed. The complexion of the light had shifted just enough that the borders of some of the puddles on the road were hard to discern. There were glittering points where the water reflected the lights at the intersections. The lamps were not on yet.

After three more blocks, we reached another intersection. I could not recall how many blocks we’d come since the incident, and it was a shock now when I heard the thuds of a pair of hands behind my head, joined quickly by another pair, and another, and several more on both sides of the van. The pounding was vigorous, angry, driven by a knowledge of vastly greater strength and numbers. I realized how little idea I’d had of what malevolent intelligence had been at work in the city, perhaps in anticipation of the mission we were on, or perhaps within a general context of loathing for the Western presence here. But of course I’d never wanted to believe the latter. The relations between this country and mine went back so many years. There were photos, faded but still vivid, of U.S. presidents riding in motorcades through this very city.

The banging picked up. The kid looked at me in terror.

There was no vehicle ahead of us.

“Forget it. Just run the red light!”

Randy complied. The pounding faded away within seconds. As we left the intersection, I gave serious thought to the dangers out there in the drizzle. Perhaps people had been communicating by cell phone from the moment we left the embassy. Another possibility, distinct and ominous, was a consensus throughout the city about the nature of the American presence here and how to react to us. The pounding on the van might have been a bit of foreplay, with a rocket attack to follow. Without exchanging any words with the guard, I could tell how much this possibility disturbed him.

“Look, they’re probably just playing a prank.”

The guard shook his head. I persisted.

“We didn’t even see them. It was probably a bunch of kids.”

“Two bunches of kids? Engaging in coordinated attacks at two intersections?”

I gave an unconvincing little laugh.

“Coordinated? No, you don’t understand. It’s this thing that they do, like Somalis who used to hold up their shoes when our Black Hawks passed over. It’s a fad. You’re dignifying it if you say ‘coordinated.’”

“You seem awfully determined to convince me.”

I was getting annoyed.

“You’re here to provide security. You should be giving me assurances.”

I immediately regretted saying aloud what didn’t even deserve to be a private thought. The kid didn’t reply.

The van moved along through the dimming streets. I realized by what margin I’d misjudged the city’s size, as so many other things about the place. It was the capital of a country, it had every right to sprawl. Someday it would catch up with L.A. and would have a vast network of highways crisscrossing it and inspiring new forms of misery. For now, we were moving at a cautious pace through the squalor. We were afraid of hitting kids. Many were the lectures on this danger we’d heard from officers and attachés. Randy resented me for having given him that order. Doug may have resented Randy’s insubordination. The kid loathed me. Here we were in this little van, and the tensions went multiple ways.

But the ugly incidents were way back there on a muddy road. Indeed they came to feel so far behind us that I began to have almost a contented feeling as I looked out the front window at the buildings moving past. This was after all a city, and life devolved into something placid and soothing here just as in other towns. Maybe what we had experienced before was merely a couple of pranks. Maybe the people here were really quite tolerant. Perhaps some of them were friendly, not a large number but enough to make this city a space in which random attractions could flourish. I imagined setting out from the faux-suburbia of the embassy into the drizzle. I saw myself heading out toward points in the mud and rain where I could chance upon someone with no particular concern for all the diplomatic ado, someone who might wish to discuss who we were and where our identities might go in the rain.

The vision recurred, with details filled in. I imagined walking on one of the sidewalks flanking a muddy road until I met a woman whose indecision about standing idle on the corner betrayed a curious ambivalence about me and my purpose in this country. The woman I envisioned had wild locks, forced into a kind of order, on either side of a sleek feminine face. Her lips curved into a coy expression acknowledging the hate people in this city might have for me, establishing her distance from that emotion.

I imagined talking with her in the drizzle, I thought of how the roads might smell as I follow the woman across the muddy street and up a flight of steps to a little porch running parallel to the walls of a humble flat. I enter the austere space with her. My idea of myself as an elite Westerner falls away almost as rapidly as her clothes. I lie there in her room, on a bed made in a Swedish factory using materials from this very country. I have little concern for the bandits or the roving militias outside. Of course they might come in at any moment, but I am certain that in what time we have, we can achieve something. We exult in having found refuge from the gray and the damp. As our bodies join and her flesh brushes my most sensitive parts, and the inexorable reactions begin, we come to know the planet’s exact distance from the star that nurtures life and pushes organic processes forward over the eons, and in our minds the awesomeness and splendor of the sun eclipse the hate and spite expressed by so many pounding hands.

I was no James Bond, no hero. Unless you count that thing in the fifth grade, I’d never been in a fight in my life. But I felt a bit of the dizziness that had come to me when I’d done something crazy years ago, at a totally different stage of my career. Soon, something might just move me to leap out of the van and into the mud, to face what was outside.

The guard and I rode nervously in the back, avoiding talk. Randy and Doug were a pair of silent unmoving heads. For all the lack of attention to the road on the part of the municipal authorities, the ride wasn’t so bad. The road was the conduit of heavy traffic and this kept it relatively even. The sky was dimmer now, the drizzle persistent. Randy flicked on the wipers.

We came to yet another intersection. My eyes met the guard’s literally a second before it began again. There were fewer hands this time, and the pounding was of shorter duration. But I couldn’t sit passively. I got up, unbolted the back doors, pushed them open, and jumped out into the mud. The guard’s astonishment did not trump his awareness of just how harshly I’d judged his earlier inaction and what danger his job was in now. He followed me out of the van. Most of the hands had struck right behind the guard’s head, so I moved quickly over to the vehicle’s left side.

The harassers had fled. I stood there on the street between the somber peeling blue façades of desolate buildings. I looked around, breathed in the damp air. I advanced to the middle of the street, aware of how little traffic there was in either direction. If the guard moved at all, I was unaware. Drops landed on my cheeks and in my hair. I did not how know to approach the culprits if I spotted them, but I couldn’t sit passively in the van anymore in the face of such provocation. Obviously I didn’t believe what I’d told the guard.

I looked up and down the street. No one was around. Above me were the dingy windows of rooms that may or may not have had inhabitants. My hair and flesh got wetter. The drizzle seemed to want to affirm something about my relationship to the city. Behind me was an impatient presence with little idea of my purpose here, of the rationale for expanding the theater of dangerous possibility.

Once again, I gazed off into the remote spaces from which we’d come, then turned and looked up the road, in the direction of the mysterious café. I felt I could linger here. My hair was not yet so damp that stray winds failed to ruffle it. All around us, in the areas behind the desolate buildings, the leisurely passage of water through pipes and onto worn concrete made a noise that was almost pleasant.

I felt acutely aware of everything. From his position somewhere behind me, the guard could easily have fired his rifle at the sensitive spot where my neck met the base of my skull. Though aware of the possibility, I did not speculate about his thought processes. For all the languor of this spot, there were places in the drizzle where people regarded us with hate, or with glee. We got back in the van. The guard’s eyes told me that he didn’t care if he lost his job, he couldn’t go on endangering himself for reasons he couldn’t fathom. Our ride through the gray afternoon resumed. Even now Randy had not flicked on the headlights. The middle third of the windshield was like the eye of an increasingly bewildered Cyclops. I thought it couldn’t take much longer for us to get to that remote corner where a citizen had reported having seen a white face in a window. The guard was sullen, but he kept quiet for a while.

Then he looked at me, his blue-collar intellect newly emboldened.

“Who is this girl we’re after? What’s she done or got the potential to do that’s worth putting the four of us at risk?”

I sighed. The last thing I needed or expected was to rehash all the arguments from Saving Private Ryan with this boy.

“I guess you really don’t care about your job.”

“Sorry.. Forgive my outburst.”

“Look, it’s okay, I know how frustrating this might be. But I honestly don’t think you’re in any real danger here. It’s probably kids. They’re just having a little fun with us.”

“Kids who coordinate with each other throughout the city?”

“There’s no coordination, Evan. It’s just this thing on the street, like everybody getting a certain type of sneaker. Can’t you see that? You’re not in peril.”

“I was pretty sure I was in danger back there, sir. And it was for nothing. I felt like I was going to die for nothing at all.”

“Well, fine. Don’t ever put yourself at risk for me again, okay? Now shut up!”

I expected Doug or Randy or both of them to turn back toward us, but they were watching the road. The kid across from me just wasn’t much help. I was losing perspective and thinking more and more that I didn’t care whether I came out of this thing. If another incident happened, I felt that I must take it upon myself to try to resolve matters, even though I didn’t really know what I’d do. I was physically average, and a diplomat rather than a soldier, but it wouldn’t be the first time I made a potentially fatal leap.

“Doug, how far do you think we are from the café?”

“Oh, just minutes now.”

At least the guard might stay quiet. We moved ever closer to the intersection where the café was, a place each of us imagined with varying degrees of detail and accuracy. I tried to picture how Doug and Randy imagined it. No doubt they had all the strategic points in mind, they knew where they should be if they came under attack and had to return fire. As for the boy across from me, I could only speculate. Perhaps he thought the café was rife with enemies. Oh, the tales he might tell some day in a bar in a village in Nebraska, about being in a van with this freak who kept trying to endanger everyone’s life and jeopardize the nation’s interests for nothing. As for me, my sense of the café even now was quite vague. I imagined a rather generic street corner with a drab gray building of three stories and a face in one of the windows of the middle floor, growing ever less distinct as the rain built.

All around us in the city were water, mud, and squalor. I could tell how desperately the kid wanted this mission to be over. What a poor choice of an escort they’d provided. I did not have long to brood, because now it began yet again. This time, all the pounding was on the guard’s side of the van.

I looked directly at the guard.

“Stay here, Evan.”

Within seconds, I was outside in the mud again. The area lacked the density of buildings I had observed the last time we stopped. The rain was still pretty tepid. It did not prevent me from seeing across the road and into the ruins of a courtyard beside a boarded three-story building. Somewhere, blocks away, fires sent smoke toward the sky in defiance of the drizzle.

The rubble of the demolished edifices in the courtyard reached almost to the road. There were dark stones and fragments of white and ochre walls. Looking over the rubble, I could see the outlines of buildings on the parallel block, north of our position. Only after staring in that direction for a minute or so, without any focal point, did I notice the form just a bit to the left of the ruined courtyard’s epicenter. He was not a child soldier. His beard and hair were turning gray, and he’d probably been wearing his tattered black trousers and ragged scarlet vest for years. He grinned as he pointed his AR-15 rifle at my face. Even at a distance of thirty feet, I had no doubt where he was aiming. The mystery was what he thought at the sight of a white stranger getting wet in the middle of the road. Maybe he was grinning because he thought it was bizarre that I failed to do what people pretty much invariably did when he pointed that weapon. I did not run, or lie flat, or even look around for cover.

I was aware of the coursing of water. There weren’t as many buildings here as at the other intersection, but water’s passage did not depend on any crude infrastructure. Water ran all around, it coursed from the tops of buildings onto the concrete of dismal alleys and the mud of unkempt yards, it ran from the highest points in the road to the gulleys at random points on the eroded urban grid, it spilled outward as puddles in the hills all around gained volume and swelled inexorably. The effect of so many flights of water at so many points was to cause something akin to hallucination. I envisioned waterfalls. They were mighty, roaring expressions of the inevitable course of all organic things, everything and everyone partaking of a brief tenuous existence, and either my eyesight suddenly improved immeasurably or the long black barrel of the weapon across the road became astonishingly vivid, as if I only now saw what it really was. I stood there in this place of acute sadness and austere beauty, hearing water flow, daring the man across the road with my eyes, and waiting, waiting.

I wondered what it was going to feel like. His eyes were so hostile, the gun’s barrel so long and sleek.

I looked into his eyes as water all around corrupted the stability of things.

He studied me.

I dared him.

The moment did not come. He lowered the gun and ran off toward the next block.

I spent most of the remainder of the ride looking out through the front windshield where at last the wipers were in motion. It was really raining hard now. But Doug’s estimate had been fairly accurate. The muddy road and the desolate buildings slid past for another eight minutes before the intersection we’d seen photos of during the briefing came into view.

The building was like any number of others in the city. It was a drab three-story structure of unimaginative design. By a kind of reflex I looked at the middle row of windows. There was at least one source of light somewhere on the second floor, but I didn’t see anyone.

I got out.

In accordance with plans made during the briefing, Doug, Randy, and the guard stayed inside the van, ready to respond to emergency signals I could produce by tapping a button on a little box on my belt. I couldn’t detect another presence on the street. Of course, the rain had really picked up and it was impossible to see far. I opened the front door and walked into the lobby.

The scene that greeted me confirmed my suspicions. Here were a little front desk, with a skinny clerk on a chair in an area carved out of the wall, and three love seats with ripped violet leather skin. On a wooden table across from the entrance lay a pile of newspapers from the week before. This place was a hotel with a café on the second floor.

I opened up my wallet and flashed my official ID. The clerk nodded.

A little flight led up to a hall with a row of rooms and one open door, where the source of the light was, at the front of the building. This door led to the café. In the middle of the space was a white metal folding table, resembling nothing so much as a big ironing board, with a pair of gray metal chairs on either side. No one was behind the counter that ran the full width of the room opposite the entrance. I took in the coffee machine, a jar with cookies that looked pretty stale, and an empty tip jar. On the wall above the counter there was a locked cabinet with bottles of wine inside.

I sat in one of the metal chairs and looked out at the rain. At length I heard one of the doors down the hall open. The soldiers in the van knew what to do if she came outside. But the person who emerged from a room wasn’t going outside, nor was it the girl. A thin man in an untucked white button-down shirt and a pair of dark trousers came into the café, cracked open one of the windows, and lit a cigarette. He stood there smoking for a few minutes, with his back to me, before pitching the cigarette out the window and leaving. He didn’t bother to close the window, but once again I found the sound of water ineffably pleasant and faintly intriguing. So much water was falling all over the world, indifferent to whether one place needed it more or less than another. I really couldn’t see far through the rain at all. What was twenty feet away was as inscrutable as what was miles out on the plains. I liked it that way.

I was beginning to think it could be nice to sit here and drink wine, whenever the place officially opened. Maybe that was in the next hour. I began to forget about the van parked outside as I enjoyed the noise of the rain. Another door opened down the hall. Steps drew near and then a young white woman, about twenty-three, entered the room. She had black hair tied at the back of her neck and a face that was smooth and lovely but lacked the professional finish that you’d find on a magazine cover. Her bright mauve shirt went fine with her jeans. On her feet were pair of inexpensive sandals she might well have bought in-country. Upon seeing me, she knew she could not ignore my presence or pretend it was other than what it was.

“Do you mind if I sit facing the window?” she said.

“Not at all.”

She didn’t need to explain. I’d already detected a sensibility akin to my own. I gave up my place and sat down across from her. She looked at me expectantly.

“Nice to see you, Lacey. What time does this place open? I’m ready for some wine,” I said.

“So you’re not into khat or hashish?”

I chuckled.

“I’m far from the stuffed shirt you think I am, Lacey.”

“Oh, wow. I’ve totally changed my view of you.”

“You may be too sarcastic to be worth saving. Look, if you come with me now, it will immeasurably help relations between two countries.”

“What? Get up and walk out of here with you now?”

“Yes.”

“Well, sir. That’s, like, a really odd request. I haven’t done anything illegal, you know.”

“I didn’t suggest you had.”

“So why should I come with you?”

“To assuage people. Let’s just establish a few things to the diplomatic corps and the media. Then you can go and do whatever you like.”

“People really think I’ve gone missing?!?”

“They think someone’s abducted you, or that you’ve abused your passport to come here and buy or sell drugs.”

“I reject the modern world.”

“That’s a, what do you call it, a non sequitur.”

She paused. She thought.

“No, it isn’t. You know exactly what I mean. People want you on the grid every second of your life. You send a tweet or ‘check in’ every time you visit a web page or breathe or brush your teeth or look out the window. There’s no risk or gamble or any of what we once took to be the stuff of a real person’s life. I’d rather cut my wrists!”

She smiled sweetly.

“Well, you know, coming out by yourself into a zone scoured by drunken bandits and eleven-year-old soldiers is suicide.”

“Yes, I know, a question of time.”

“Won’t you come back with me?”

“Did you hear what I just fucking told you?”

“I can’t believe you couldn’t find some risk or adventure in your life without coming here.”

She gave a weary look.

“Oh, I’ve sat through poetry readings, more than I think you could endure.”

“Have you?”

Lacey spoke in an arch-literary voice.

“All my deaths partake of the most exquisite colors. / I am not so selfish as to put my head in an oven when more public means are at hand.”

I grimaced at her little parody.

“Maybe you should find a better poet to listen to.”

“I’m afraid that’s about as original as it gets.”

“Impossible.”

“People back home don’t live. They preen and posture and exist in their cute suburbs. And they bluff about suicide. They aren’t nearly brave enough.”

“Look, Lacey, I’ve made the case to you nicely, but this matter has drawn international concern. Not everyone favors the approach I do.”

“Now you’re threatening me?”

“I am not threatening you. But should I lie? There are military men in a van parked outside.”

She grinned.

“You think I didn’t know that?”

“How could you have known? You’ve been in your room.”

“I’d have been pretty fucking stupid not to have anticipated such a mission. You’re incredibly dumb if you didn’t think that I would.”

I waited.

“I’ve been in touch with members of the militia. We know there’s a van parked outside. And in a room in the building across the street, there’s a man with an RPG pointed at the van.”

So that was what the fellow who’d come in here to smoke had been looking at. Not “the rain.”

I felt as if the passages in my body where air moved were a tenth of their usual width.

“Okay.”

“You’d be totally comfortable with me going to the window and giving a signal right now?”

I thought of the van and the people inside it. And I wondered whether there was anyone I really cared about there. It occurred to me: if the RPG hit the van, I’d be part of something more exciting than anything in my life before.

“Lacey. I can’t fathom why it’s so hard for you to grasp that there are people with legitimate concerns about you. They’re acting in your interest by sending us here. You think those men in the van enjoy being here?”

“They’re acting in what they assume to be my interest. Look, I’m not going back just because someone with a safe privileged existence, who refuses ever to take risks, has ruled I must.”

I saw no reason to hide the truth.

“Lacey. I suppose you think my dream and goal has always been to work in this country.”

“No, I imagine that’s rather unlikely.”

“You do. But you haven’t thought about it before now.”

“No.”

“Well, Lacey. This wasn’t a place I’d really ever thought of."

I grinned.

“I had a career as an envoy in Germany. My fluency in the language and my knowledge of the culture came from having attended some really elite schools at my parents’ expense.”

She nodded. I continued.

“It may not surprise you to hear that my life in Bonn was rather sedate. What you may be slower to grasp, Lacey, is that I, too, found it exceedingly dull. I can barely describe the effect it had on me over time. The ease of life, the array of opportunities, the availability of resources for coping with any problem, made me wonder what lay outside my bright multicolored world. It was a society with an infinite capacity to accommodate failure and pathology.”

Lacey nodded again. She was quite beautiful in her way.

“People had made sacrifices on my behalf, but not as great as they were going to make. I recall the afternoon well, Lacey. Bright light was coming through the windows of a twelfth-floor conference room where I sat at the head of the table telling a group of potentates and corporate lawyers what I thought of the P3 infrastructure project they wanted to undertake.”

Lacey was listening.

“You know what I did, Lacey? You want to know what I did?”

I had her attention.

“I’ll tell you, Lacey. I got up onto the table. I ran twenty feet across it, and I leapt straight through the window. The air outside was so clear, so bright!”

I was remembering.

“I fell through the glass roof of the greenhouse café, making a few people spit up their ethically sourced coffee, and landed in the artificial stream, breaking a leg and five ribs. I was in a coma for a month.”

She winced.

“Now, Lacey, you might think that, naturally, my career was over, but my father’s best friend is someone you may have heard of. He’s the current U.S. Secretary of State. I went through a long recovery and rehabilitation, and they thought carefully about how and where I could have a diplomatic career.”

Lacey listened to all of this with interest, raising a brow at times.

“Please listen. Lacey. I’m not one of those hidebound adults who want to deny you any risk or gamble. If you come back with me, I promise that within a week, we’ll go out into the city together, without GPS, without an escort. We’ll be in as much danger as anyone.”

“For real?”

“For real.”

“Or we could just blow everybody up."

Lacey considered this. She nodded. Then she got up, went to the window, and made a signal to the man in the building across the street.

Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer. His fiction has appeared in Rosebud, The Long Story, The Tishman Review, The Montreal Review, The Weird Fiction Review, Raven Chronicles, Stand, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Lakeview Journal, and other publications. He has published a collection of short fiction, Scenes from the Catastrophe (2016).