It was close to lunch time on Monday when Jonathan finally called me back, the unmistakable opening riff of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” signaling his call. I picked up immediately, glad to have the temporary distraction. Kurt had put me on local culture news that day, and I was already sick of reading press releases about the state ostrich festival later in the week.
“Find anything?” I asked eagerly.
“And hello to you too,” he said. “I’m fine, by the way, thanks for asking.”
I sighed. “Jon, don’t be petulant. You aren’t as good at it as I am.”
“I won’t argue that.” I heard his chair squeak as he moved in his seat. “To answer your question though, I found all of jack and shit on your friends.”
I blinked. “What, nothing at all?”
“Nothing. No background checks, no known associates, no wiretaps, nothing. It’s like they don’t even exist.”
“And would you actually tell me if you did find out they were being surveilled?”
“I wouldn’t lie to you, Heather.” He paused. “I just wouldn’t mention it.”
So that was a no. Maybe.
“Well then, assuming that you aren’t omitting anything important, are we even sure they’re on the list? Maybe FAS got a false positive on them.” I wasn’t sure how likely two false positives of that nature at once would be, but it seemed like something that could plausibly happen – especially given FAS’ track record in the past.
He hummed in negation. “I thought of that, so I got a guy I know in counter-terrorism to check for me. Both names came back positive, so they’re definitely on there.”
“But you have no clue why.”
“Great.” I sighed. “Can I get the number of your counter-terrorism contact? I want to pursue this a bit more, I think there might be something going on here.”
“Sure, give me a second to pull it up.” I jotted the number down on the edge of a discarded paper as he recited it. “I don’t know how much good it’ll do you though,” he added. “If there is something going on like you think, I doubt he’ll leak anything to you.”
“That’s fine. If I can just get him to confirm whether certain people are on the list, that’ll be enough.”
Jon was silent for a moment, before asking, “What are you after, Heather?”
I paused. What was I after? What did I expect to find if I kept pursuing this? I had some vague impression that maybe I had stumbled onto some sort of conspiracy, but I had no idea what the scale or the scope of it could be. Or even where to start looking for answers. But I knew that a contact with access to the no fly list would probably end up being useful in the long run.
“I’m not sure,” I finally said. “But my gut tells me that this is bigger than just Byrd and Miller.”
So much of journalism just comes down to gut feeling. You see it especially in editors and senior reporters, people who have been chasing the news for decades. They’ll make leaps of logic, draw connections where nobody else does, and follow seemingly innocuous leads based on intuition alone. That’s what people mean when they talk about journalistic instincts.It’s all about recognizing the patterns of human history as they happen.
“If this –” He cut himself off, then said, “We’re on background, right?”
“Of course.” On background meant that I couldn’t use anything he told me in a story, at least not with him as a source.
“Alright, good, just wanted to make sure, since this seems like it’s turned into a story.” He paused, humming softly as he did so, which I knew meant he was collecting his thoughts. “If you’re right, and this goes further than those two – and I’m not saying it does, I don’t know enough to confirm or deny it – you realize the implications of that, right?”
Half-remembered articles about the McCarthy-era blacklisting of communists leapt unbidden to my mind.
“It’s a witchhunt,” I said quietly, almost whispering.
“Wolfhunt, more like it.” He laughed mirthlessly. “Or maybe not. Maybe there’s nothing else there, and there’s a legitimate reason for the two of them to be on the list that I couldn’t find.”
“That’s what I want to find out.”
“Fighting for truth, justice, and the American way?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, good luck with it,” he said, and I couldn’t tell whether he was being sarcastic or not. “Call me if you need anything. Just, not at 7 am on a Sunday next time, okay?”
I laughed. “Will do. Talk to you later.”
“Later.” He hung up.
I held the phone in my hand and stared at it for a moment, processing the entire conversation in my head.
What had I just stumbled into?
The first thing I needed to do was figure out the scale of the whole thing – whether it was limited to just Byrd and Miller, or whether it stretched larger, to a regional, or maybe even national scale.
So I made a post on Reddit.
Like all subcultures and minority demographics, lycanthropes have their own forums and subreddits; some are exclusive to just werewolves, others encompass therianthropes and shapeshifters in general, and a handful cover the entire spectrum of parahumans. They form an invaluable extended support group and information sharing network – sort of like a giant digital pack, in many ways.
I posted on r/paraproblems, giving a very brief summary of the situation – a couple members of my pack had been put on the no fly list, nobody I had talked to could tell me why – and asked if anybody else had experienced anything similar. Once I was finished, I cross-posted it to a couple other subreddits in an effort to widen my net.
And then it was back to covering the goddamn ostrich festival while I waited for responses.
I went to the Silver Bullet straight after work, getting there early enough to grab a table near the back of the room. I had found a paper roadmap of the United States in my glove compartment, and I spread this out across the surface of the table. A couple people looked at me curiously, but I ignored them.
I pulled out my laptop and checked the net I had set.
The number of comments was more than I could have expected. In the six or so hours since I had posted my question, I had received several dozen responses, most of them from people who had been no fly listed or knew someone who had been.
I took out a pen and began sifting through the individual posts, marking the locations of the respondents if I could find them. By the time I finished, almost every major city in the United States had been circled.
Dammit, I hated being right.
“What’s with the treasure map?”
I looked up to find Tony standing on the other side of the table, studying the map I had laid out. I’d been so absorbed in it that I hadn’t even noticed him come in.
“Remember how you asked me to look into that thing with Miller and Byrd?”
“Well, that’s what I’m doing.”
He looked back at the map, and I could see him mulling over the possibilities in his head.
He shook his head. “I got nothing. What is it?”
I tapped the end of the pen on the circle I’d drawn around Phoenix. “This is a map of the location of every werewolf I know of who’s been put on the no fly list.” I hesitated before adding, “Although I’m starting to think that all of us might be on there.”
He whistled. “Shit.”
“Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”
“What do we do?” It was a rare question from him. Tony had always held onto the position of alpha by projecting an air of constant confidence, even and especially when he was unsure what to do. It was all about not showing weakness. By asking me for advice, especially so directly, he was giving me a degree of power over him. And he was trusting me not to take advantage of that.
I shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. It was a human gesture – the wolf knew that he could smell the anxiety and nervousness that I felt, and I couldn’t hide that. But we were both trying to act human right now.
“I take this to my editor tomorrow and we run a story on it,” I said. It sounded so easy when I put it that way, even though I knew otherwise.
He frowned. “No, that’s what you do. I mean, what do we, lycanthropes in general, do about this? What can we do?”
I hadn’t even been thinking about that. I’d been so caught up in the rush of pursuing such a big story that I hadn’t stopped to consider anything beyond Wednesday’s headline.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess we could sue?”
“Hmm.” He continued staring at the map. “How would that even work?”
I shrugged again. “Hell if I know. That kind of thing isn’t really my bailiwick.”
“I guess I’ll have to look into that then.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair as he did so. “God, I could use a drink.”
“Well, we are in a bar.”
He laughed at that. “So we are. You want anything?”
“Long Island Ice Tea. Extra long.” Tonight, it was that kind of early.