With Friday’s traffic delay still fresh in my mind, I got up and drove downtown almost an hour early and camped out in the lobby of the Wexler Building so I could ambush Kurt as he came in. I used the time spent waiting to finish compiling my notes.
Kurt saw me before I saw him – I had my head down in my laptop, confident that I’d be able to smell him the moment he stepped in the building. It hadn’t quite occurred to me that what I considered Kurt’s scent was mostly the smell of his coffee.
“At this rate, I’m going to find you in my kitchen on Saturday.” I looked up, surprised by the sound of his voice, to see him standing in front of me with a bemused expression and no coffee. His tone, usually rapid and energetic, was subdued.
“Sorry boss, but this is important.” I closed my laptop and slid it into my bag before standing up and falling into step next to him as he headed towards the elevator.
“Evidently.” He waved lazily to the receptionist as we walked past. “So spill, what have you got?” He thumbed the button for the elevator.
I took a breath and said, “I think the government is targeting parahumans with the no fly list.”
The elevator doors slid open with a cheerful ding!
Kurt stared at me for several seconds without speaking. Finally, he blinked, shook his head, and said, “Shit, Heather, I haven’t even had my coffee yet.” He shoved a foot forward to keep the elevator doors from closing, then stepped inside.
“I did say it was important.”
He hit the button for the newsroom floor, then shook his head again. “Okay, first things first, what’s your source on this?”
I fidgeted slightly as I explained the posts I had made on Reddit.
“Hmmm.” He frowned. “You know I don’t like hotline tips.”
I nodded quickly. “I know, which is why I made sure to get as many names as I could. I’ve got a source in the FBI who should be able to confirm if they’re on the list or not.” I wasn’t entirely sure if Jonathan’s counterterrorism friend would agree to do that, but I was hopeful. After all, he’d done basically the same thing for Jon on my behalf.
“Good, do that first.” He yawned as the elevator doors slid open again, then started walking towards the break room. “Second thing, I want to know more. What’s the scope of this? Is it every werebeast in the country or is it just these ones? If it is just these folks, why them? If it’s everyone, how’d they find them all? Who’s the they doing this?” He paused for a moment, then offhandedly added, “Did Kidd order it?”
The mention of the President’s name silenced the objection that I had been about to make over Kurt’s use of the term werebeast. It was an obvious question – Kidd was on the record stating he wanted to rollback Kerry’s expansion of parahuman protections, after all – but it was one I hadn’t wanted to consider. If the President were involved, it would up the stakes considerably.
“I was already planning to look into that,” I said. “But it’ll take a while to get all the answers, and I want to break this as soon as possible. Who knows, it might even smoke out a few leakers.”
He nodded enthusiastically. “Agreed. Whatever you’ve got by the end of today, I want to run on the front page tomorrow.”
I paused in my step, taken aback. I hadn’t been expecting unconditional support for a front page spot. “Will DeWitt go for that?” I asked, referring to the Reporter’s executive editor.
“She will if you deliver.”
Gee, no pressure or anything.
I called the counterterrorism agent on the number Jon had given me. He answered almost immediately. “Special Agent George MacClelland, Terrorist Screening Center. May I ask who’s calling?”
“Hi, I’m Heather Stone from the Sonoran Reporter. My brother talked to you yesterday?”
“Right, that’s right,” he said slowly. His accent was vaguely Southern. Georgian, I figured. “You know, when Jon told me you were a reporter, he never mentioned you were working for the Reporter.”
I grimaced. While it had happened before I had joined up with the paper, the Reporter’s exposure of FBI corruption was still fresh in some people’s minds. Especially people within the FBI. I knew journalists who had lost sources over it.
“That won’t be a problem, will it?” Please don’t let it be a problem, I thought.
“Nah, it was a good thing you folks did. Morton was crooked and everyone knew it. Anybody who tells you otherwise is a liar or a fool.” He sighed, and I imagined he was shaking his head. “Anyways, what can I help you with, Miss Stone?”
I was so relieved by his response that I almost stumbled over my rehearsed opening. “Well, I’m working on a story right now about the no fly list, and I was hoping you might be able to confirm a few things for me.”
“Just confirming stuff you already know, right? No leaking?” He said the last word like it was dirty.
The distinction between verifying and leaking was subtle, but it was important to people like MacClelland. If his reaction to Morton’s corruption was anything to judge by, he was the kind of person who went into law enforcement because he really believed in the law. He wouldn’t leak sensitive info except in the most dire of circumstances.
He probably obeyed speed limits too.
“That’s correct. You’d just be verifying that my initial sources are good.” At least to start with. If he was amiable enough, I’d try to get him to answer a few questions too.
“Alright, I can do that. And this’ll all be on record, I assume?”
“That would be preferable, but we can go on background if you’d like.”
“How’s about we start on background for now. We can always move it up onto the record later.”
That was expected. In my experience, federal agents preferred to go on background for all but the most innocuous things. It was safer for them that way.
“Works for me.” I pulled open the list of names I’d gotten off of Reddit. “Alright, I’ve got a list here of people who claim to be on the no fly list. I’m going to read through them, and I’d like you to tell me if they’re actually on the list or not. Can you do that?”
“Of course.” I heard him typing something. “Go when you’re ready.”
It took almost half an hour to get through all forty or so names. Only three of them came back negative, and they were all ones that I had gotten secondhand.
That was the easy part done.
“You’ve been a massive help so far Agent MacClelland, thank you.” I paused, debating whether to try and press him for more answers. “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to ask a few additional questions.”
“I take it we’re moving past the confirming other sources stage here?” His tone was wry, but he didn’t sound upset.
“That would be correct. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but I promise I won’t intentionally ask you to leak anything sensitive.”
He hummed. “Alright. Shoot.”
“Great, thanks.” I paused, considering my first question. “Can you tell me when these names were added to the no fly list? I don’t need an exact date if you don’t feel comfortable disclosing that, just a rough time frame.”
He hummed again. “Funny you should ask that, actually. From what I can tell, all of these people were added to the list within the last month.”
“All of them?”
“Yep. Earliest one dates back to February sixth.”
That’s two weeks after Kidd’s inauguration, I thought. Not that that meant anything. It could just be a coincidence.
Yeah, and maybe fae had wings.
“Is there any way to tell how many name were added to the list during that period?”
“Yeah, hold on.” I heard more typing. “Oh, wow.” He whistled, producing an irritating feedback on the line.
I closed my eyes and took a stab in the dark. “Let me guess, around eight thousand?”
“Closer to seventy-five hundred.” He paused. “How’d you know?”
“Because that’s the best guess estimate for how many therianthropes there are in the United States.”
MacClelland swore. “Somebody’s playing games with us again.”
Keeping my voice level, I asked, “Agent MacClelland, how many people have the authority to make an addition like this to the no fly list?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said, a bitter note in his tone. “We pull in names of suspicious persons from a dozen different federal agencies and every other police department in the country. This could have come from anywhere.”
I refrained from commenting on how easily abusable such a system seemed to be.
“Could you trace the source? Surely there’s a log of additions somewhere, right?”
“There is, but I can’t give you access to that without an okay from the higher-ups. You’d probably have better luck with a FOIA request.”
I cursed silently. “Fair enough. And I suppose the same goes for getting a copy of those seventy-five hundred names?”
He laughed. “Lady, if you can get those with FOIA, more power to you.”
“That bad, huh?”
“The ACLU tried it a few years ago. Spoiler, it did not work.”
I sighed. “Well, if you have a change of heart about leaking, you know where to send anything.”
“Washington Post, right?” He chuckled. “Kidding. I promise, if I decide to turn media mole, you’ll be the first to know.”
“That’s all I ask.” I double-checked my notes to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. “I appreciate your assistance in this matter, Agent MacClelland. You’ve been a huge help.”
“I just wish I could do more, Miss Stone. I don’t like the idea of somebody using the Bureau as a political tool like this.” He sounded genuinely upset.
“Don’t worry, you’ve given me more than enough to blow this thing wide open.”
I went to Kurt and told him everything MacClelland had just told me.
“Hmm.” He tapped his fingers on the edge of his desk. “It’s still not a lot to go on, is it?”
“No, it’s not,” I conceded. “But it’s a hell of a lot more than we had this morning.”
“True.” He continued tapping. “You sure there aren’t any other leads you can run down today?”
I shrugged. “I could start making calls to random FBI agents and see if I can’t get lucky, but right now I think our best bet is to poke the beehive a bit by publishing.”
“Mhm.” He stopped tapping. “Alright, here’s what we’ll do. You’re gonna get started on a first draft now. Take as many words as you need, there’s no limit on this one. I’ll talk to Hirsch and get him to start on some FOIA requests, and then I’ll come down and join you.”
“What about DeWitt?”
“I’ll talk to her after we’ve got a draft.”
I chewed my lip pensively. “What if she doesn’t go for it?”
Kurt scoffed. “She will, don’t worry.”
“But nothing,” he said, making a dismissive motion with his hands. “When you’re an editor you can worry about the budget all you like, but right now that’s my problem. You just worry about the story.”
I looked down so he wouldn’t see the momentary flash of anger in my eyes – wolf’s anger at being ignored. Kurt was acting entirely within the norm for an editor addressing one of his reporters, but his casual dismissal of my concerns was unbecoming of the alpha role that my wolf had cast him in. If Reyes had done that, it would have been grounds for a challenge. The alpha is supposed to protect the pack, and that meant listening to them.
Gritting my teeth, I pushed the wolf back into her mental cage, quietly reminding her that we had to play by human rules in the human world, and that I couldn’t get Kurt’s job by challenging him. I didn’t even want Kurt’s job. Sitting behind a desk all day, telling other people what to write? No thanks.
Internal psychological battle finished, I looked back up at Kurt and nodded. “Got it, boss.”
He looked at me curiously. “You okay? Kind of spaced on me for a minute there.”
I nodded again, forcing a smile. “Just wrestling a very persistent inner demon, that’s all.”
“Well tell it you’re going to have to reschedule the heavyweight matchup, because this story isn’t going to write itself.” He made a shooing gesture with his hands. “Go on, I’ll be over after I talk to Hirsch.”
Ducking my head again, I scurried out of Kurt’s office and back to my desk.
The lede came easily as I started to write.
At airports across the country, many Americans are now finding themselves unable to board their flights as the result of an unannounced air travel ban targeted specifically at therianthropes. Starting on February 6th, an as-yet unidentified government agency or agencies began adding therianthropes to the national No Fly List en masse and without notice. At least 41 people are confirmed to have been affected, although according to a source within the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, which manages the list, the total number may be as high as 7500. (Notably, the most recent estimate by the Census Bureau places the total number of therianthropes within the United States at just over 8000.)
I was already onto the third paragraph by the time Kurt came over, apparently finished talking to the Reporter’s retained counsel.
He hummed quietly as he read over my shoulder, then clicked his tongue. “You need to hedge more. You can’t just call it an air travel ban. Not yet, at least.”
I stopped typing for a moment to respond. “How about apparent ban? Because it’s definitely a ban.”
“Hmm.” He mulled that over for a bit. “Pull it up as a live doc, I’ll work on the lede while you write.”
Taking a seat at the desk across from me, he pulled out his laptop and started rewriting my opening.
It was a rare experience, working on a story while Kurt edited it in real-time, and it wasn’t one that I wanted to repeat. It took over an hour of writing, rewriting, disagreeing, debating, and compromising before we finished the first draft, which ran long enough to fill three columns.
I thought it was one of the better things I had written.
When Kurt showed it to Edith DeWitt, she said, “This is too long. Cut it in half and we can run it on the second page, with a half-column lead-in below-the-fold.”
Well, it was a start.