“Yeah,” he says. “How’re you holding up?”
Tears sting my eyes. Until this moment, I thought I was holding up pretty well. I struggle to regain my voice while I hear him saying something muffled to someone at the warehouse.
“What does E want from me?”
“To do your job. That’s it. When your job is done, she’ll extract you. You know she takes care of her own.”
“Yes. Even if she didn’t want to, you know Cindi would force it.”
“Yeah,” I say. I am certain there are questions I should ask, but I can’t remember any.
“How much time do you have to revise the bill?”
“Tonight,” I say. He swears, tells the others.
“How’s the language coming?”
“I’m not sure. I started outside to clear my head and Victoriana shoved me in this closet.”
“She’s worried about you. She can be difficult to read, but this is her version of concern.”
I’m not sure that’s a comfort.
“You can’t make privacy stick, Noname,” Stipple says softly.
“No, we aren’t trying,” I say. Time to get back to the game. “We’re toying with carving a niche for nonviolent crimes and setting a sensitivity date after which criminal’s names are redacted from public records relating to the crime.”
“Not criminals. The people are defendants convicted of crimes. The difference is everything. Not even E can spin criminal favors like that. ‘Defendants’ blunts the sharp edge, makes the people more defensible. E can probably work with that.”
“That’s good,” I say, cheering a bit. “But you’re saying that E didn’t have you guys write a plan for this?”
Stipple laughs wistfully. “No. It was a nice thought. Just not a correct one. We were as surprised as anybody when E showed up on TV.”
“As surprised as I was?” I ask, chuckling.
“Well, maybe not,” he says. “If we come up with something, I’ll get word to Victoriana.”
“Thanks,” I say. We hang up. I should get back to the team but I can’t seem to move. All the months of relative comfort and anonymity spoiled me. I got clumsy with my secrets, my face.
I dial Stipple again. He sounds less sure than our last conversation until I announce myself.
“Tell E—,” I begin.
“I don’t see E. She sometimes sends messages but she’s not been available for a while.”
“I don’t care,” I say coldly. “Find her and tell her that my parents absolutely cannot find out where I am on the news. Please,” I add as an afterthought.
“Will do. Stay safe.” And then he’s gone.
All of my being longs to curl into a ball and cease existing, stop thinking, finish problem solving. I guess not all, because I don’t do that. I straighten my jacket and propel myself from the closet as if I’d never been inside. One cordial nod to Victoriana and she visibly relaxes, if only for a split second. What she intuits is not a question for me presently. My task remains back in a stale conference room.