13 February, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
With the engineers downstairs, Haniel was cheerful and informal, even a little funny. Now, however, as Kate sits in a clean and austere waiting room on the third floor, when Haniel comes back through the doors she is serious. Her voice is almost hushed when she says: “Mister Smith will see you now.” And ushers Kate toward two tall doors whose ornate style seems out of place in the 80s-modern office building.
Kate understands as soon as she walks through one of the big doors and Haniel closes it quietly behind her.
The man behind a desk in the big office looks like he should be the wise but somber king in a fairy tale. He seems very fit, is dressed in what appears to be an exceptionally fine suit, has the lightest dusting of gray in his dark hair, and might be anywhere between forty-five and sixty years old. It’s hard to tell.
As the man rises from his large desk—is it made of stone? —and walks around to offer his hand, Kate notices the only incongruous aspect of his appearance. His hair is quite long, only appearing to be short at first because he has it pulled back into a small pony tail at the back. Is he a Sixties guy? He certainly doesn’t seem like much of a hippie.
“Hello, Kate,” he says, and his voice makes him even more the Fairy Tale King. “I am Michael. Please take a seat.”
As Kate takes the seat indicated, off to the side of the desk, Michael sits down in one opposite it and also off to the side so they won’t have the imposing slab of stone between them. Kate understands: the CEO’s real last name is not Smith at all. He, like many high-level executives, has taken a fake name. The phenomenon of kidnappings for ransom has become more and more common in the last few years, as it has become increasingly apparent that the FBI no longer serves as a deterrent force against it outside of the imaginary realms of old movies and new semi-reality longform government-sponsored TV miniseries, in which they are perfectly effective. So Smith may be the name that this executive gives to the world, but he is not willing to lie to his friends. He thus merely says the true part: Michael.
Kate is just about to say something introductory when she is distracted by a thought. In this world, the thought comes into Kate’s mind, with the way it has become, we must sometimes deceive those who would harm us. Is it not so?
It does not for a moment occur to Kate that you do not, when you have just sat down for a crucial job interview, stare out the window and allow random thoughts to drift though your head. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to just let it happen.
Yes, of course, she thinks. I would do the same. To refuse would be to set my own purity above the safety of my friends. And anyway, I’m not all that pure! Is anyone?
It is not only purity, though, another thought occurs to her. People in authority might ask you questions, might tell you to come forward, might say that you are an evil person if you don’t volunteer information.
Yes, that might have convinced me ten years ago, Kate thinks. Or, I should say, it might have fooled me. But by now you’d have to be pretty stupid to still believe that The Authorities are always the Good Guys. If she were speaking this instead of thinking it, her face would be hardening. In fact, you would have had to be pretty willfully blind to believe that ever since 9/11 and 10/11
I guess I came to this attitude earlier than most, she continues thinking. Although now, obviously, it’s pretty much the norm.
Because of 10/11.
Yes, she thinks grimly. I know a lot of people lost someone. And of course a lot of people died. But not a lot of people survived, and still lost everything. I often wish—
That my parents had taken me with them to Boston. I know that’s a terrible thing to wish.
We all have moments of weakness, we all wish terrible things. That cannot be avoided. What matters is that we stay faithful to what we know is right.
The people here don’t have moments of weakness, Kate answers in her thoughts. You can see it just by looking at them.
Ah, but they do. More than you can know.
There is such a depth of sorrow in this last thought, sorrow that seems to stretch back over ages of time, that it wakes Kate from her reverie like a bucket of cold water.
Blinking, she looks at the CEO, unutterably horrified to realize that her thoughts have been drifting exactly at the one moment in her life when she should have been more attentive than ever! What’s worse, she feels as though he may have just now said something to her, and she didn’t even hear it!
“Oh my gosh!” Kate blurts, “I’m so sorry! What did you ask?”
“Please don’t worry,” the fairytale king CEO replies, holding up a calming hand. “I was just saying,” he smiles, “that I think we’ve found a new home for you.”
Rising, Michael offers her his hand again.
“Oh! Oh my gosh.” Kate shakes hands with him again, but has to turn her face away for the embarrassment of moisture springing to her eyes.