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Confronted by Reality (novel excerpt)
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What she should have said to the two men, leaning at her across the small table in the cramped room, was “fuck you, and fuck George Bush.”

Fear had driven them, drives her.

She pulls the sliding seat belt from her neck again. The highway lights flash past her, like police interrogation bullets shooting at her, targeted at her by a silent, secret force, over and over. “Guilty, guilty, guilty.” The men hadn’t fit the stereotype she’d expected, one was someone’s Dad, likely the eager volunteer who brought oranges to the game on Saturday mornings, the other as young as a college student, earnest Young Republican no doubt. No crusty veteran with coffee breath, no skinny black ties over standard-issue white button downs.

She’d studied them, waiting for her high-power, high-priced sleek attorney to ask about their wives, their kids, and then finally set their parameters, polite, firm, assured: no Federal Grand Jury testimony, no disclosure to the fugitive. Immunity from prosecution.

Her nerves overrode everything, a thrumming in the back of her throat, the familiar helium filling the top of her skull, her ears buzzing a thousand bees.

Their skill set, she realized, was understanding how a middle-aged suburban mom would be utterly undone by being questioned by the FBI in the downtown Boston federal courthouse about her nineteen year old missing daughter.

They slid coffee and bottled water to her, casual. Asked how the traffic had been. No yellow lined pads, no clicking pens to write down her words. At first, leaning back in the chairs, heads tipped to conversation, just a chat, Charlotte, we’ll have a few questions.

The last time she’d seen her daughter? “The day after the protest, after the arraignment. No,” she said, “I didn’t attend, I didn’t know.” She glanced to her lawyer, who smiled, nodded, good Charlotte, say what we practiced.

The last time she’d spoken to her? “Same day, nine weeks, two days, ago.” The Dad agent, the leader, his mouth had tightened, a sympathetic frown. “Noon,” Charlotte laughed, her hand flying to her mouth, to shut in the last conversation, the screaming match in her office, Thomas’s uncontrolled rage born of their parental fear, their daughter running, running, Charlotte chasing through her reception area to startled clients and staff, shouting, “No, don’t, please,” banging on the car window in the parking lot, standing alone as the noxious fumes from that boy’s exiting car overwhelmed her.

She shook her head, lowered her hands to her lap.

From somewhere secret, a manila folder appeared on the table. The Young Republican tapped his finger. Have you been to her apartment? Where does she live?

Charlotte looked to the Dad and he smiled.

“Yes, in Somerville, once, we were there once, her Dad and I, we took her out mostly, for lunch and dinner, she’s been there since August, the start of her gap year from college, she—”

The young agent opened the file. Unfolded a piece of graph paper. A series of boxes, labeled boxes drawn within a large rectangle, perfect corners, precisely drawn. Oh, doors, windows, a floor plan, Charlotte thought, my daughter’s place, they have a drawing of my daughter’s apartment. She straightened. Her lawyer leaned in, her clear manicured fingers on the varnished table top.

The men leaned forward. Show us where her room is. Show us where the roommates live. Show us show show us.

Charlotte thought, take your time, take your time, the lawyer mantra, shoving aside her horror. “Here,” she said, “Honey’s room, then Alec and his girlfriend, I think? Then, this kid Kris with a K, I don’t know his last name.” They have entered her child’s bedroom, past the DO NOT ENTER signs, the mother sin.

Alec Dunhurst? they are lifting Honey’s high school class picture from the file, the agent’s finger on the arrogant Alec, the anarchist kid who started this whole nightmare. “Yes, that’s him.” Honey loved him, Charlotte knew, his tuneless guitar songs to overthrow the government seduced her, stole her from them, her capitalist parents.

Then, Dad agent has lifted the floor plan, an urgency hardening him, show us where the computers are. Charlotte, startled, has no idea. She remembers, “the bed, couch, the—”

Weapons? Guns? “Oh, god, no, Honey is a peaceful vegan, honestly—”

Then what about this? An 8×10 glossy photo, a man glaring at them, his chest crisscrossed with leather, and a gun, a machine gun of some sort. “What?” she whispered.

An AK-47, ma’am, a weapon of war. This person? Who is that, Charlotte?

She stares at the stranger, the armed man. “I don’t—”

Kris O’Connell. Your daughter’s roommate. Kris with a K, you said.

“I never met—” She bites her lip, her entire body trembling. “She doesn’t believe in violence. We didn’t allow violent play.”

Honey’s face, that last day, twisted in a pure fury, unrecognizable. Violent.


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