Page 78 of One Perfect Lie

Everybody needed to be briefed, and he answered all the questions they had, though they answered none of his. The most he could get out of them was that they were getting ready to give an official press conference at six o’clock today, at which he was expected to speak. Chris couldn’t ask the Rabbi and Alek about it because they weren’t alone until the end of the day, when he hustled them down the hall to the first private room he could find, which was a large supply closet.

“Why do I have to speak?” Chris asked Alek and the Rabbi, closing the door behind them. “That’s not how we roll. We don’t parade the details of our undercover operations in front of the public.”

Alek looked at him like he was nuts. “Operation Varsity Letter is a major victory for federal law enforcement. You’re the hero. You’re a celebrity. You’re truly the new Eliot Ness. You are The Untouchable!”

“Curt, listen to me.” The Rabbi placed a hand on Chris’s shoulder, his lined face weary. “I know you hate the limelight. But you got it done, and this was a major operation. We thwarted a domestic terror attack. We need to explain that to the media and the public.”

“We never did anything like this before, had an undercover agent speak.”

“Correct, and you know why?” the Rabbi asked, patiently. “Because this scenario is unprecedented. We didn’t stop the Oklahoma City bombing. But we stopped the Philadelphia bombing, and you’re blown anyway.”

“Rabbi, I know that, but what about the next undercover agent? How many questions are we going to answer? How much of the story are we going to tell? Rather, am I going to tell?”

Alek dismissed him with a wave. “Just the basics, Curt. Nothing granular. This is ATF’s time to shine. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for them.”

“You mean us. You’re still ATF for another hour or two, aren’t you?”

Alek’s smile faded. “I’m still your boss, Curt. You’re still reporting to me. You’ll go to that press conference and you’ll say what ATF needs you to say.”

“On one condition.” Chris had gotten an idea during those endless debriefings with the nameless suits. In fact, it was his own personal Plan B. “If I can’t work undercover anymore, I still won’t work a desk. After the dust settles, I want a different job.”

“What do you want?” Alek asked, his smile back, though he was still ugly.

“I want to start a field-training program for undercover agents, over and above what we had at Glencoe, based on my experience. It could start as a pilot program in Philadelphia and extend to the other divisions around the country.”

Alek hesitated. “A field-experience program? That job doesn’t exist.”

“I know, I want to create it. I want to teach everything I know to undercover agents coming up.”

Alek frowned. “Curt. This is the government. We don’t create jobs willy-nilly, and you won’t get any more money.”

“I don’t want more money. I’ll stay at my pay grade.” Chris was a GS-13, making a little over a hundred grand a year.

The Rabbi interjected, “I think that’s a great idea, Curt. You know so many tricks of the trade, and I think it would be great if you could impart that knowledge to our newer agents.”

“Thanks.” Chris returned his attention to Alek. “If I can look forward to a new job, I’ll be happy to speak at the press conference.”

“Oh, I get it. We’re negotiating.” Alek folded his arms. “You never give up, do you?”

“Lucky for you, no.”

Alek thought a minute, then his grin returned. “Curt, a field-experience program is an excellent idea. I was just thinking the same thing myself!”

Chapter Sixty

Police guarded the doors, and Mindy sat in the waiting room of the emergency department waiting for Evan to come back. He had taken ten stitches through his eyebrow and had bruises on his right cheek, though his orbital bone hadn’t been fractured or his eyesight impaired. He was being X-rayed because they suspected two cracked ribs, but otherwise, he would be physically okay.

Mindy had cried all the tears she could cry. She could never live with herself if more people had been killed. She felt exhausted, sitting next to her new lawyer, Maxwell Todd, Esq., of Logan & Dichter. Todd specialized in the legal problems of the children of their corporate client CEOs. Mindy would never have guessed there were enough spoiled brats to support a law practice, but maybe affluenza was contagious.

Evan was in police custody, and he was going from here to the Federal Detention Center until his arraignment. The charges against him had yet to be decided upon, but Mindy would be there for him, not to excuse him, but to help him deal with whatever sentence they gave him. A mother was a lighthouse in a storm, and she would stand with him always. And even though, if she’d said yes to him before, when she should’ve said no, they both still had time to turn it around. She could change, and so could he.

She glanced at Paul, sitting several rows away from her with his criminal lawyer. They were the only people in the waiting room, which had been cleared by the police. Her phone rested in her lap, but she didn’t look at it. She’d stopped checking Facebook when the posts about Evan started appearing in her feed, mostly horrible and vile. She was ditching Facebook and going back to real books.

Mindy’s gaze found the TV mounted in the corner, playing on mute. There was a car commercial, and the screen returned to the the courthouse and the rescue, above the banner BOMB PLOT FOILED. Then came a shot of Evan’s latest school photo, then photos from his Facebook and Instagram accounts, a continuous slideshow of media coverage.

Mindy watched the coverage, having an out-of-body experience. She couldn’t believe that Evan was on TV, that hers was the family they were talking about, that she was inside the news, even though they were real people. They weren’t a story. It was her, Evan, and Paul.

The screen switched to a photo of Coach Brennan above the title UNDERCOVER HERO CURT ABBOTT. Mindy watched as the video in which Coach Brennan—she still called him that in her mind—flew upside down like a trapeze artist, holding on to Evan as they soared over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Mindy felt tears come to her eyes. Coach Brennan had saved Evan’s life, as well as the lives of thousands of innocent people, and risked his own. Her first impulse had been to call him and she’d gotten his cell phone from the Booster directory, but her lawyer had advised her not to call him.