Authors: Karen Cleveland
His expression softened, and he placed a hand over mine, gave me an earnest look. Apologetic, like he knew he'd hurt my feelings. “It's justâwell, that's what the best analysts focus on, right? Russia?”
Where was this coming from? I was so confused. Sure, it was a competitive account, the kind a lot of people wanted. But there was something to be said for working a low-profile account, too. Making sure nothing fell through the cracks, nothing was overlooked. Being able to see the impact I was making.
“You're the kind of person who always wants to be the best. That's what I love about you.”
what he loved about me? The compliment felt like a slap.
“And it'd probably be harder to make that kind of move after we have kids,” he went on. “So maybe you should get to a place you want to be, and
we should think about kids.” He stirred his drink with his straw as he said it, still avoiding my eyes.
I drained the remnants of my drink, the sweetness gone, now nothing but bitterness. “Okay,” I said as a chill ran through me.
AS SOON AS THE TAILLIGHTS
of Matt's car disappear around the corner, I walk back into the house. I check on Ella, who's still in front of the TV, then head to the storage area behind the stairs. I need to see what's on that laptop.
It's a small space, crowded with stacks of blue plastic bins. I pull the chain to turn on the light and look down at the floor, the narrow section that's bare. Nothing seems out of the ordinary. I get down on my hands and knees, feel around, finally come across a floorboard that's raised slightly on one side. I run my hand over it, try to lift it, to no avail.
I glance around the room and spot a screwdriver on top of one of the plastic bins. I use it to pry up the floorboard, then peer inside. Something's catching the light. I reach in and pull out a small silver laptop.
I sit cross-legged and open the laptop, turn it on. It starts quickly, and I see a black screen with a single white bar, a blinking cursor. There's no text, but it's password-protectedâthat much is clear.
I try Matt's usual passwords, the ones he uses for everything, various compilations of our kids' names and birth dates. Then I try the password we use for our joint accounts. Nothing works. But why would it? A different set of words runs through my head.
Alexander Lenkov. Mikhail and Natalia. Volgograd.
I have no way of guessing what might have been on his mind when he came up with a password, if he's even the one who came up with it. This is futile.
Frustrated, I close the laptop and return the room to the way I found it. Then I head back to the family room to check on Ella. “You doing okay, sweetie?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she murmurs. Doesn't take her eyes off the TV.
I linger for a moment, then walk upstairs to the master bedroom, pause in the doorway. I go over to Matt's nightstand first. Pull open the drawer, dig around. Crumpled receipts, spare change, some pictures Ella drew for him. Nothing remotely suspicious. I look under the bed, pull out a plastic container. It's full of his summer clothes: swimsuits, shorts, T-shirts. I close it and slide it back underneath.
I open the top drawer of his dresser. Move around the stack of boxers, the pile of socks, looking for anything that doesn't belong. Then I do the same with the next drawer, and the one after that. Nothing.
I head into the closet. Run a hand over the clothes hanging on his rack. Polos, button-downs, pants. I'm not even sure what I'm trying to find. Something that proves he's not the person I think he is. Or the absence of it; would that be enough to prove that he is?
There's an old duffel bag on the shelf above. I reach for it and pull it down to the carpet. I unzip it, rifle through. A collection of tiesâhe hasn't used those in yearsâand some old baseball caps. I check each zippered pocket. Empty.
I put the bag back on the shelf and pull down a stack of shoe boxes, kneel down on the carpet with them. The first is full of old bills. The second, receipts. The third, his dress shoes, shiny and black. I sit back on my heels, the open box in my lap. What am I doing? How has my life come to this?
I'm about to replace the lid of the box when something catches my eye. Something black, tucked into one of the shoes. I know what it is even before my fingers curl around it.
It's a gun.
I pull it out by the grip and look at it. The black metal slide, the wide trigger. A Glock. I move the slide, see brass inside.
Matt has a loaded gun in our closet.
I hear Ella downstairs, calling for me. Hands shaking, I place the pistol back in the shoe, close the lid, stack the boxes back on the shelf. Give them one last look, then turn off the light and head downstairs.
MATT COMES HOME THREE HOURS LATER.
Bustles in, removes his jacket, gives me a smile, apologetic and embarrassed. Then he comes over and wraps his arms around me. “I'm sorry,” he says into my hair. He's still cold from the air outside. Cold hands, cold cheeks. A shiver runs through me. “I shouldn't have said all that. It's not fair for me to be upset with you. This is my fault.”
I pull back and look at him. He looks like a stranger, feels like a stranger. All I can picture is that gun in our closet. “Did you do what you needed to do?”
He drops his hands, turns away, but not before I see the expression on his face. Tense. “Yeah.”
“Soâ¦Are we okay?”
In my mind, I see the gun again. It's been hours now, and I still don't know what to make of it. Is it proof that he's not who I think he is? That he's dangerous? Or is it a way to protect us, his family, from the people who really
He's very still, his back to me. I see his shoulders rise and fall, like he's taken a deep breath and exhaled. “I hope so.”
I GET TO MY DESK
the next morning and see the little red flashing light on my phone. Voicemail. I flip through the call history. Three calls from Omar, two yesterday and one this morning. I close my eyes. I knew this would come, didn't I? Or should have, at least. If I'd thought it through.
I pick up the phone, dial his number. I need to get this over with.
“Vivian,” he says when he answers.
“Omar. Sorry I missed your calls. I left early yesterday, just got in this morning.”
“No worries.” There's a pause.
“Look, about Yury's computer.” My nails are digging into my palm. “It's not looking very promising. I'm afraid there's nothing there.” I hate this, lying to him. I picture the two of us, all those years ago, commiserating over the Bureau's rejection of his op plan. And all the times since, at O'Neill's and our offices and even our homes, sharing our frustrations about our inability to find anything worthwhile. Our conviction that the sleepers are a genuine threat, and we're powerless to stop it. A friendship cemented over a mutual feeling of futility. And now I finally have something, and I have no choice but to lie to him about it.
He's silent on the other end of the phone.
I close my eyes, like somehow it'll make the lies easier. “Obviously we need to wait for translation and exploitation. But so far I haven't found anything of interest.” My voice sounds surprisingly confident.
Another pause. “Nothing?”
My nails dig in even harder. “There's always the chance there's something embedded in the files, steganography or something like that. But so far, nothing.”
“You always find something.”
Now it's my turn to pause. Disappointment I understand. But this is something more. This is unsettling. “Yeah.”
“With the other four. You found something with each of them. Enough to warrant expedited translation.”
“But with this one, you didn't.” It's a statement, not a question. And there's an unmistakable tone of skepticism in his voice. My heart's racing now.
“Well,” I say, and fight to keep the tremor out of my voice. “Haven't come across anything yet.”
“Hmm,” he says. “That's not what Peter said.”
I FEEL LIKE I'VE
been punched in the gut, the wind knocked out of me. It's got to be the pictures. He found the pictures. Whatever Matt did, it wasn't enough. And then suddenly I'm aware of someone behind me. I turn, and it's Peter. Standing, silent, watching me. Listening.
“I didn't know he'd found anything,” I say into the phone, my eyes on Peter the whole time, letting him hear what I'm saying. My mouth is very dry.
Peter nods. The expression on his face is impossible to decipher.
Omar's speaking, something about coming to headquarters, a meeting, but I don't hear the words. My mind is racing. Did Peter find Matt's picture? Impossible, because he'd have already gone to security. Did he see that I deleted the file? Again, security. He wouldn't be standing here talking to me.
I blink, try to focus on the conversation, Omar's voice in my ear.
“See you later?”
“Yeah,” I murmur. “See you later.” I hang up the phone and put my hands in my lap so Peter won't see them shaking. Then I turn to him, wait for him to say something, because I can't make my mouth work.
He takes a moment before responding. “You got on the phone before I could catch you. I went into Athena this morning, had a look around. Figured you could use a hand, someone to lighten the load.”
Oh God. I should have figured he might do that.
“I found a file. It had been deleted.”
My kids. I see each of their faces in my mind. Their smiles, looks of joy and innocence.
Luke's old enough to understand. How many times have we told him not to lie? Now he's going to know his father's whole life, his parents' marriage, all of it was a lie.
And Ella. Ella worships Matt. He's her hero. What will this do to her?
“â¦meeting at ten with the Bureauâ¦”
Chase and Caleb. Too young to understand, too young to have memories of our family before this.
“â¦Omar will be thereâ¦”
Omar. Omar knows Matt. I introduced the two, when Omar and I started spending so much time together. He's been to our house, we've been to his. Maybe Peter didn't recognize him. But Omar would. And in any case, if I'm in the room when they show his pictureâ¦
I need to pretend. Feign surprise.
I blink. Peter's looking at me with raised eyebrows.
“I'm sorry,” I say. “What?”
“You'll be there? At the meeting?”
“Yeah. Yes, of course.”
He hesitates a moment longer, a concerned look on his face, then leaves, back to his office. I stare at my screen, try to remember how I felt when I first saw Matt's picture, because I'm going to have to replicate it. Disbelief. Confusion. Fear.
Then my rationalization: He's being targeted.
I could ask to see the file now. Pretend to see it for the first time, in front of Peter. But better to let a bigger audience see my reaction, see me process these emotions.
If I can do it convincingly.
Not if. When. I need to do it convincingly. Because if I give them even the slightest indication I already knew, it won't take them long to figure out that it wasn't Yury who deleted the file.
That it was me.
PETER COMES BACK AT
five minutes before ten. We walk down the hall together, to the suite that houses the CIC executive offices. “You okay, Vivian?” he asks as we walk, peering at me over his glasses.
“Fine,” I say. In my mind, I'm already in the conference room, seeing Matt's picture.
“If you need more time off, more time with Calebâ¦”
I shake my head. Words won't come right now. I should have done what Matt said. I should have turned him in. He's going to be discovered anyway, and now I'm in trouble, too. Why didn't I listen?
We walk in, and the secretary ushers us into the conference room. I've been here a few times before, and each time it's as intimidating as the last. Darker than it needs to be, heavy gleaming wood table, expensive leather chairs. Four clocks on the wallâD.C., Moscow, Beijing, Tehran.
Omar's there at the table, along with two other Bureau guys in suits. His bosses, I think. He nods at me, but not with his usual grin. Just a nod, doesn't take his eyes off me.
I sit down on the other side of the table and wait. Peter goes to the computer, logs on, and I see the large screen on the wall come to life. I watch him navigate to Athena, launch the program, and then I stare at the clock, the one that shows the local time. I watch the second hand tick around, focus on that, because I know if I think of Matt, of the kids, I'll fall apart. Everything will fall apart, and I'll never get through this. And I have to get through this.
Tina strides in moments later, followed by Nick, the chief of CIC Russia, and two assistants, each in a black suit. She gives curt nods around the room and takes her seat at the head of the table. There's an unpleasant look on her face. Unpleasant and intimidating. “So we're inside laptop number five,” she says. “More luck than the first four, I hope?” Her eyes scan the room and land on Peter.
He clears his throat. “Yes, ma'am.” He gestures up at the screen, the Athena home page. He double-clicks on the icon with Yury's name, and moments later I see the mirror image of Yury's laptop, the blue bubbles, so familiar at this point. My eyes go to the last row of icons, the place where the folder should be and isn't.
Peter's talking, but I'm not hearing the words. I'm focusing on how I'll feign surprise, trying to keep my face impassive, because I know Omar's watching me. I watch as the screen morphs into strings of characters: the data recovery program at work. Moments later the folder reappears.