On Tuesday, Anna showed up to work looking exhausted. Sarah took a look at her as she passed the Creative pod in the hallway and decided to have a conference with Naomi before she did anything else.
Naomi, fortunately, wanted to have a conference with her.
"Not here, though," Naomi added, guiding her towards the elevators. When they were outside, on their way to the coffee shop, Naomi stuck her hands in her pockets and exhaled a long, slow breath that puffed in the sharp December air.
"I talked to the guy I know at Union Arms," she said. "He's been doing some digging while everyone's out of the office."
"And?" Sarah prompted.
"And he's meeting with the District Attorney this afternoon," Naomi said. Sarah turned to stare at her. "I guess he found some stuff. He won't say what."
"Do you know where?" Sarah asked. "Or what time?"
"He said he'd email me the details. Why, are you going?"
"Only as legal counsel. Anna should be there, she's...overheard some things."
"Ooh, like what?" Naomi asked. "Good gossip?"
"Not much. Enough that she should be there," Sarah said, holding the door for her and following her inside.
"Does this feel...I don't know, like dirty pool to you?" Naomi asked.
"He's robbing a charity, Naomi," Sarah said, turning to the barista. "Hot chocolate and a latte, extra foam."
"I mean, I get that, obviously we have to do something," Naomi said, as Sarah paid for their drinks. "I just worry how it's going to look that Union Arms tried to sue us and then suddenly we're the ones uncovering a scandal at their company."
"Well, it looks better than SparkVISION being accused of fraud and sued," Sarah replied. "Look, I don't want to tear down Union Arms either, but we're not the ones doing that."
"I feel uncomfortably like the Philanthropy Police, that's all," Naomi said.
Sarah grinned. "You are a very good person," she said, "and clearly have a lot of compassion to share around. And I don't for one minute think that's a character flaw."
Naomi narrowed her eyes. "Are you teasing me?"
"I would never," Sarah assured her. "Come on, have your hot chocolate and relax for a few minutes. Maybe when we get back you'll have an email about the meeting."
Anna was sitting in her chair, head tipped back, eyes closed, when Sarah approached. She cleared her throat; Anna ignored her.
"I come with news," Sarah announced. Zoe and John were both watching her. Anna opened her eyes to slits, then sat up.
"News about the thing?" she asked. John glanced at her.
"About the thing, yes. John, don't you have a fiancée to go woo?" Sarah asked.
"I'll take my cue from that," Zoe said, as John gave them both an annoyed look and departed for the lobby. "Maybe Roxy has...something to talk to me about."
Sarah gave her an approving smile as she left. Anna sighed and brushed her hair back from her face.
"Okay, what do you know?" she asked.
"Naomi heard back from her college pal," Sarah said. "He's worried. He's really worried."
"Jesus, who was I dating?" Anna demanded.
"I don't have details yet. Someone's talking to the District Attorney at some point probably today. I think you should be there."
"He's going to be arrested, isn't he?"
Sarah nodded. "Probably. On the bright side, if you talk to the DA you won't be arrested as an accessory."
"I do hate being just an accessory," Anna said, mostly to herself. "Gah, and I left my favorite lipstick at his place, I want that lipstick back."
Sarah sighed patiently. "I'll buy you a lipstick. Just be ready to go when I come get you, okay?"
"Yeah, fine," Anna sighed. Her computer beeped, and she leaned forward. "Huh."
"What?" Sarah asked.
"Email from Ian," Anna said.
"What does it say?" Sarah asked.
"Guess who's coming to lunch,
" Anna read aloud. "Are we going to lunch somewhere?"
"I didn't think so," Sarah said, as Anna tapped out a reply. "Why wouldn't he just call you?"
Anna's computer beeped again.
"Tanya Montray's here
," she read. Both women leaned over the edge of Anna's cubicle, looking down the hallway. Ian was subtly sitting on the far left side of his desk, the only part visible down the hall. Sarah gave him a questioning look. Ian shrugged and rolled his eyes to the right. Anna picked up her phone and called him.
"Why is she here?" she asked, when Ian answered. Sarah inched her way down the hall so she could hear both ends of the conversation.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I'm not sure I understand the question," Ian replied.
"Is she listening in or something?" Anna asked.
"That's correct," Ian said.
"Is she here to have lunch with you?
"No ma'am," Ian said, a hint of amusement in his voice. "Our Executive Director, Mr. Sparks, handles issues of that nature."
"Oh my God, they're dating," Anna said. "He's dating the woman stalking our entire company?"
"I think so," Ian said, sounding genuinely unsure. "If that'll be all..."
"Can we come out and stare?" Anna asked.
"I'm sure we'd be happy to facilitate that. Okay. Bye now," Ian said, and hung up. Anna practically bolted out of her chair, and Sarah had to put a hand on her arm to stop her from bursting into the lobby with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball.
When they walked into the lobby, more serenely than Anna clearly wanted to, Tanya Montray was standing at the window looking out onto Michigan Avenue.
"You have a lovely view," she said, just before they entered.
"Yeah, we like it," Ian answered. He was watching her warily. Sarah leaned on his desk; Anna pretended to be going through the mail bin behind it. "It's great for the parades."
"I can imagine," she said. Ian was opening his mouth to reply when Sparks's door opened and Cee emerged. He put his head out, grinned, winked at Sarah, and crossed the lobby to where Montray was still staring out the window. The man had clearly lost his mind.
"Lunch?" he asked, and both Ian and Sarah watched with a mixture of fascination and horror as their boss curled an arm around the waist of someone that had, by general consensus, been a sworn enemy of SparkVISION up until a few minutes ago.
Sarah glanced at Ian. Ian mouthed Wow
"So," Bo said, as they settled into their table at the restaurant. Tanya rubbed her palms together, trying to warm up after the chilly stroll from the SparkVISION offices, and he pressed his hands around hers, grinning. "How's life on the newsline this week?"
"Quiet," she answered, sitting back, stretching her arms out so that he could keep his hands around hers. He slid closer and blew on her fingertips, grinning.
"Not so good for me, I guess," he mused, letting her hands go. "I could really use some kind of minor disaster to distract everyone from the lawsuit. Nothing terrible, just something interesting that the news hounds can spend a few days shaking their heads about."
"I'm afraid this time you are
the minor disaster," she told him.
"Well, at least we haven't had any fatalities," he said, shrugging and leaning back.
"You're taking it pretty calmly, overall."
Bo smiled at her and moved to speak, but the waiter showed up and they were interrupted by the process of deciding, ordering, confirming. When the waiter left again, he tapped his thumb against his lips, thoughtfully.
"The damage is done, really," he said. "The bad publicity's out there. And it's too early now to worry about losing the company if they win the lawsuit. Too bad that's not newsworthy; SparkVISION CEO Calm And Confident, Film At Eleven.
Doesn't make for a compelling story, does it?"
"I suppose not," Tanya said, catching an edge in his voice she wasn't sure she liked. "People always say they want real, objective news reported, not sensationalism, but if it's not interesting nobody will watch it anyway."
"Disadvantage of the job?" Bo asked.
"Just one of those things you learn to ignore," she answered. "I guess every job has them."
Bo seemed to be thinking about it; he tipped his head, studying her, then tipped it the other way, a little like a puzzled dog. "I can't think of any. I probably have some. But I guess in the charitable sector there are probably less things for people to dislike."
She gave him a smile. "Are you claiming moral superiority?"
"Well, looked at objectively, it's sort of a fact," he said. Tanya felt her smile fade. "In order to sell, you have to entertain, as you said. I understand that, because I do a lot of it myself. But at the end of the day, the newspaper's money goes back to the paper. The money I raise helps people live better lives."
"The news helps people live better lives, too," she said. "More educated, well-rounded, informed lives."
"Hm," he said, and sipped his coffee.
"What?" she asked.
"Tanya, it's completely unfair for me to have this argument with you, because I have the advantage of working in a field that is morally well-nigh untouchable," he said. "Aside from misappropriation scandals and the occasional lawsuit, I really am going to win most fights."
"I don't think that's true."
"Oh? Want to watch me win this one?" he asked, grinning.
"You think you can?"
"I think you'd give me a run for my money in an even fight, but the odds are stacked," he said. "Go on. Say what you just said."
"The news helps people live better, more informed lives," she repeated.
"Only after we've taught them how to read," Bo replied, his tone casual, even gentle. Tanya's jaw dropped. "See? That's completely unfair, but damn, it wins the fight, huh?"
She opened her mouth to reply, but it was her turn to wait while the food was set out and the server left again. She picked at her salad. "You don't need to handle me, Bo, you know I don't want that," she said.
"Oh, it's not just you. I do that to everyone. The moral high ground is tricky." Bo blew on a spoonful of stew to cool it. "And a sort of lie, because we just facilitate the literary lessons and soup kitchens and wells for clean water, it's not like we build the wells ourselves."
"Pretty much everyone underestimates you, don't they?" she asked. "And you like it that way."
"It gives me an edge a small business owner needs." He shrugged. "Then again, you didn't."
"Oh, is that my charm?" she said, smiling. He smiled back, the toe of his shoe nudging against her ankle under the table.
"You have many charms, not least of which is your mind," he said. "Returning to the point, I simply don't work in a field where many people are bound to dislike me. That's why this whole...mess with Union Arms is such an aberration. It's genuinely distressing."
"I know," she answered, sympathetically. "You could lose SparkVISION over it."
"I hope it won't come to that. I have to assume it won't." He watched her, keen-eyed. "Like I am assuming it wasn't you who tipped off the rest of the newspaper community that Non Prophet works for SparkVISION."
She met his gaze evenly. "So you're admitting he does?"
"I'm just repeating what the newspapers said," he answered. "I don't know if he does or not, because I don't know who he is. Neither does anyone else. Believe me, if I don't know if he's under my roof, Tanya, then you don't either."
"Are you asking me to contradict you?" she asked.
"About Non Prophet, or about who told everyone he works for us?"
"What would happen if I said I did tell?" she asked, giving him a defiant look.
He sighed. "Then I would...I'd be angry. I'd get past it, but my work is important and we're already going to be struggling. And I would be very careful what I said around you."
"Would it end us?"
"I don't know. Part of that would be up to you," he said, and she could see the real earnestness in his face -- not the act he put on for patrons and clients.
"I think this is the most civilized fight I've ever had," she said.
"Maybe now's not the time for it," he sighed.
"You brought it up."
"Sometimes I do stupid things." He seemed like he was agreeing, or apologizing, she wasn't sure which.
"Yeah, you do," she agreed. He laughed a little.
"I'm not Non Prophet, Tanya."
"That's good to hear," she answered, noncommittally. "But you're not the only person who works for SparkVISION. And you're right," she added, "maybe this isn't the time to talk about it. How is work, anyway? Must be quiet, now that the Christmas rush is over."
Watching him struggle not to have the last word, a muscle tensing in his jaw before he smiled and spoke, was almost enough to assuage the guilt she felt over having passed word along about Non Prophet and SparkVISION.
"It's definitely slow," he said, putting on a cheerful face. "But there's always something to do. Mailings, new client meetings, all that good stuff."
They moved on to other topics, but Tanya kept a close eye on him; the faux-cheerful face didn't drop the entire time, and he was still wearing it when she offered to walk him back to the office.
She knew there was something wrong as soon as they got off the elevator. Through the glass door she could see people standing in the lobby, talking, not casual but urgent, about something important. Bo's legal rep was helping one of the writing staff into her coat, and another staff member -- finance, maybe? -- already had hers on. The receptionist with the broken arm was leaning forward towards the legal rep, face serious and earnest, and a few other staff members were standing around looking confused.
"Boss!" the legal rep called. "We just got a call, I need to talk to you!"
The receptionist was already hurrying forward to hold the door for them, hat dangling from his fingers. Bo took the hat as they passed through the door and jammed it on his head, grinning.
"Sarah, what's going on?" Bo asked, and now everyone was looking at Tanya.
"We need to make a quick trip," Sarah said, obviously backpedaling in the face of an interloper. "I'm taking Anna and Naomi."
"So why does Ian have his hat on?" Bo asked, pointing at the receptionist. Tanya watched Ian give Sarah a desperate, pleading look.
"He's coming along to entertain us if we get bored," Sarah said smoothly, and Tanya could see that Bo wasn't buying that but also, oddly, wasn't objecting. She wasn't sure why that particular assortment of staff would need to go anywhere together -- legal and financial, sure, but a writer and a receptionist? -- and she wanted to find out. She took Bo's hand and squeezed it.
"I should go," she said, kissing him on the cheek.
"Okay, I'll call you," he answered, returning the gesture somewhat absently. As she got into the elevator, she heard him say, "Wait, what's going on here?
" and Sarah reply, "We're taking care of Union Arms. Tell you when we get back.
She punched the button for the parking garage and, when she arrived, hurried to her car.
Date: Tuesday, 12/29/09
Subject: Theft in the Biz
I have so much to tell you that it hurts to be making this post. There will be time to revel in the holiday spirit later, but for now I have more serious things to bring, the most serious of which is that I'm writing this on my phone.
When I posted about internet ethics recently, I never thought the theory would be practice for me. I agreed with the decision to out the dishonest, which is good. I look like less of a hypocrite now.
It's easy to be tempted. Look at the money people are giving us and say, I could use a slice of that. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking 'I deserve my cut.'
Most of us are in this because we love it, and we sigh and move on. This money is the basic bond of humanity: when government fails to protect us, we protect each other. Knowing that, we walk away. Except...some of us don't.
In the past year, the head of a major Chicago charity has been embezzling funds. If I understand correctly, this charity is a bankrupt organization today. This is what happens when you think that you can get a taste of what's not yours.
It shames us. We function on trust and when that is destroyed, it hurts us. I'm watching this happen today as I watch an employee of Union Arms swear out a statement against his Executive Director.
When you see the news about this, don't condemn Union Arms. As far as I can tell, one man owns this betrayal. His employees are his victims too. He stole money meant to give food and shelter to abuse survivors.
To the Robert Fence Foundation, I am so grateful that it seems wicked to ask, but I have to ask you for this. You offered 160k dollars beyond what the readers of this blog are willing to give. Please hold that in trust for now. Union Arms is going to need it. Comments Closed
The office of the District Attorney for Cook County was a cold and cheerless place, and the seats were hard. Tanya had spent time there before as a cub reporter; she pitied anyone who had to be there to transact real business.
The SparkVISION staff sitting on the chairs looked miserable. The receptionist was slumped forward, texting on his phone, and the two women next to him were huddled in their coats, talking quietly. When the receptionist finally shut down his phone and looked up, he saw her and an ugly expression of dislike – perhaps deserved – crossed his face. Certainly she'd never seen that expression from him when she'd come to the SparkVISION offices. Outside the office, she supposed the game changed.
"You followed us, I guess," he said wearily. The women looked up as well.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" the legal rep – Sarah something – asked.
"Yes, I followed you," Tanya said, sitting down across from them. "I thought it might be a story."
"You want a story?" the other one -- Naomi? -- demanded. "I'll give you -- "
She stopped when Sarah laid a hand on her arm and shook her head.
"Let's get some coffee," Sarah said. "Ian?"
"I'll wait for Anna," Ian said, and several things coalesced at once. "It's Montray, isn't it?"
"Tanya," Tanya told him with a smile. He didn't match it. "What does half the staff of SparkVISION want with the District Attorney?"
"No comment," Ian grunted. Tanya's phone beeped, and she checked it. Ian rubbed his eyes tiredly. Google Alert: New Post From: nonprophetblog.nfp.
"Fancy that," she said, sitting back and reading it. "Non Prophet just posted about some charity that's about to get in hot legal water."
"Did he?" Ian asked. Tanya leaned forward.
"I know one of your writers is in there, telling the DA what she knows about Union Arms," she said. "I know she was dating Byron, so that must be what this is about; gets him off your back about the lawsuit, doesn't it? And," she added, feeling brilliant, "Given the vehemence of Non Prophet's little post, I'm pretty sure I know she's him."
"You don't know anything," Ian said.
"That's fine. But I will find out. If she's going to swear a statement against a company that's at odds with your company, she should have the courage to use her own name when she stirs up controversy for her side," Tanya continued.
"It's not controversy. It's information," Ian told her.
"Right now it's not much more than libel. Internet anonymity is one thing, but blogging isn't journalism. Non Prophet is a politician without a race to win. After this, the story's going to be huge."
"There's more at stake than a story."
"Yeah -- there's the truth," Tanya said. "That's kind of a thing with journalists."
"Non Prophet fascinates you," Ian said, leaning forward.
"Yes, he does. Now more than ever. Although I could be convinced to hold off publication, if the Weekly City
were promised an exclusive interview with the woman who brought down Union Arms."
Ian narrowed his eyes. "You know who Arthur Wellesley was?"
"He was the first Duke of Wellington," Tanya replied. "Blackmailed by John Stockdale. I'm surprised you do."
"Lib Arts major," Ian answered. "Stockdale threatened to name Wellesley when publishing the memoirs of a courtesan who said Wellesley was her lover."
"Are you calling me a whore?" Tanya asked.
"Nope," Ian said. "I'm calling you John Stockdale."
"Stockdale won an important court battle for the rights of the free press."
"I don't know about that, but I know what Arthur Wellesley told him," Ian said. "Publish and be damned.
Before she could reply, the door to the DA's inner office opened. Two police detectives emerged, along with the DA, a small man in a neat business suit that screamed accountant
, and Anna, the woman who was dating -- had been dating -- Trent Byron. Tanya started to stand as they were shaking hands, intent on cornering Anna and getting her story, but Ian moved quickly between them, and she wasn't about to shove a man in a cast while two cops were watching. Anna looked pale and frightened.
"I think you should go file a story, or whatever it is you do," Ian said. Behind her, Tanya could feel the presence of the other two looming.
"Maybe I will," she remarked, and was turning to leave when Ian caught her arm.
"Not that story," he warned her.
"Why not?" she asked, sensing something better in the wings. "Got another one?"
"No," Ian smiled -- not a nice smile. "But if you do you'll regret it."
"Was that a threat?"
"I just know more than you, that's all," Ian said. Anna brushed past them and Ian let Tanya go, following her. Tanya turned back to the DA.
"Any of you care to comment?" she asked, offering them her phone. One of the detectives took it, studied the text of the blog post, and shook his head.
"Not yet," he told her.
Bo Sparks was not a man accustomed to being kept in the dark. Ever since Sarah had dragged Naomi, Ian, and Anna out of his office and into a taxi he'd been pacing, fidgeting, fretting. He loved his employees and knew they loved him, but he didn't want anyone falling on a sword for him. He had a bad feeling that perhaps they were forming some atrocious peace delegation prepared to march on Union Arms and grovel for forgiveness. True, Sarah didn't seem the type, but she was a force to be reckoned with and Anna was dating the man, wasn't she?
Both Ian and Naomi could be devious when they wanted.
When they returned, Anna looked scared to death, and Ian looked like death warmed over. Sarah and Naomi seemed calmer than the other two, but were still jittery. Sarah planted Anna firmly in one of the lobby chairs, sat down next to her, and rubbed her arm.
"I'm getting coffee," Ian said. "Boss, can you ring the gong?"
"Why?" Bo asked.
"We need everybody together."
"You didn't go to Byron, did you?" Bo asked, worried.
"What are we, idiots?" Sarah demanded. "Ring the damn gong, boss."
Bo went back into his office, got the hammer, and gingerly took the gong down. He thunked it half-heartedly, then gave up and let Sarah take the hammer away from him. She bashed it so hard he was sure they heard the reverberations in Galena.
By the time Ian returned and pressed a cup of coffee into Anna's hands, the entire staff had assembled. The interns looked especially interested. Bo was under the impression that Sarah had broken their spirits, but apparently these were stubborn ones.
"We just got back from the DA's office," Ian said, trying to shove his hands in his pockets and inadvertently snagging his cast on his shirt. He pulled the cast back, sighed, and did the best he could at crossing his arms. "Anna made a statement that Trent Byron told her he was stealing from Union Arms. Naomi has a friend at Union Arms who managed to dig up just enough for a warrant for the company's computers. They should be serving it now."
"You did what?
" Bo asked, staring at Anna.
"It wasn't right," Anna said. "And anyway it's going to save SparkVISION. If he's a big fucking liar then nobody's going to believe him about us, either."
Bo considered this.
"I could kiss you," he said, finally. Anna gave him a small smile. "You did that for us?"
"She did the legal and ethical thing," Sarah said firmly.
"Yeah, but for us," Bo tried.
"Maybe a little," Anna admitted. "God, I need a cigarette."
"That was your big announcement?" Cee asked.
"That was one of them," Ian said, at the same time Anna said, "Yes."
Bo glanced at Ian. He was staring at Sarah, who gave him a small nod.
"How long have you known?" Ian asked her.
"I know everything," Sarah said, almost apologetically.
"Known what?" Erin asked, holding up her phone. "That Trent Byron's a bastard? Because Non Prophet just...posted about...oh," she added, and lowered the phone, shoving it quickly in her pocket.
"This has to do with Non Prophet, doesn't it?" Jess asked.
"Yeah," Sarah said.
"I don't want to know,
" Bo said, and tried to go back to his office. "I don't want to know!"
"Boss, you have to know," Ian called. Bo hesitated in the doorway. "Tanya Montray followed us to the DA's office. She wants to publish a story about how Anna is Non Prophet."
"I didn't want to know!" Bo said, and then it hit him. "Wait, what?"
"What?" Anna asked.
"You're Non Prophet?" Vicky gasped, turning to Anna. "You're my hero!
"I'm not Non Prophet!" Anna said loudly.
"Tanya stalked you?
" Bo said. "I told her not to do that!"
"That seems to have worked well," Ian said sourly.
"But she..." Bo rubbed a hand through his hair. She couldn't have been playing him the whole time – he was a better judge of character than that. She couldn't have. Tanya wouldn't.
Personal and professional were different things, for Tanya.
"Screw cigarettes, I need a drink
," he moaned, sliding down the wall to sit on the floor.
"Seriously, she can't publish that, I'm not Non Prophet," Anna insisted.
"Do you know who he is, though?" Roxy asked Anna. "Come on, if you know you have to tell us."
"She doesn't know," Ian answered, and Bo Sparks had a terrible moment of foreboding that he made a mental note to talk about in his memoirs someday.
know?" Roxy asked.
"Who is it?" Erin added. She looked like she didn't want to know the answer either.
"It's me," Ian said. "I'm Non Prophet."
Bo felt that after finding out his girlfriend was gunning for SparkVISION and his lead speechwriter was a whistleblower, he was to be commended for not following his first instinct and blurting But you're the receptionist!
John did it for him.
"But you're a receptionist!" John said.
"Yeah," Ian sighed. "I hear everything you talk about. I talk to every client. I run the back room at every event."
"Oh. Point," John said thoughtfully.
"And I'm going to have to talk to Montray tonight and tell her, or she's going to say it's Anna and the whole thing's just going to explode. Not that it won't anyway. I'm really sorry, boss," Ian added, looking down at his feet. "Really, really sorry."
"You're Non Prophet," Roxy repeated. "You. I spent all that time trying to get your IP address and you were fifty freakin' feet away."
"Sorry," Ian mumbled. Bo felt he should say something, but he decided he'd just sit for a moment until words started to make sense again.
"So when you said SparkVISION threw great parties..." Cee began.
"Well, we do," Ian protested.
"And Two For Non -- that's how you knew he didn't know about the matching gift this morning," Erin said. "I was totally going to rip off that campaign for the summer ask-letters, by the way."
"I wanted to tell you," Ian said, turning back to Bo but still not quite meeting his eyes. Bo watched his face -- god, he was young. Most of the staff was so young.
. "But you said you'd have to fire him if you knew who he was, and -- the blog makes some money, but not a lot. Without this job I wouldn't have anything to talk about anyway."
Bo tried to put his thoughts in order, which was surprisingly difficult. "So...SparkVISION is going to be linked to the fall of a major charity, because one of our writers was dating a thieving asshole and blew the whistle on him. My girlfriend is spying on us, and this morning my receptionist raised three hundred thousand dollars with a blog post, and he's about to be outed. By my girlfriend."
"This isn't a really great day for us," Zoe said.
"Yeah, mine is definitely sucking," Ian agreed.
"I should call Melinda," Naomi announced, taking out her phone and retreating down the hallway.
Bo turned to Anna, because he couldn't deal with the rest of it. "How are you?"
She smiled. "I could do with a beer."
"Yeah. Okay. This is a mess, and I don't want to think about it," he said, making a decision. "Office is closed. Anna and I are going to Beermaki. Anyone else who wants to come is welcome."
"I'll talk to our legal guys and figure out our next step," Sarah said. Bo could see her already mentally preparing a brief on the subject.
"I'm...going to pack up and go home," Ian said softly, as the rest of the staff dawdled back to their cubicles to pack up their bags and gather their coats. Bo watched him pull his messenger bag over his head and dig in his desk for his hat.
"I'm not mad with you, Ian. You want to come to Beermaki with us, you can," he said.
"I think that would probably not be wise," Ian replied slowly.
"You're right. That said," Bo added, as Ian edged towards the door, "You, be in my office first thing tomorrow."
Ian nodded. "Thanks, boss."
"Don't thank me, kid. See you tomorrow."
Ian slunk out the door and fixed his eyes on the down-arrow button until an elevator arrived and he could make his escape. Bo went to get his coat as people began trickling back into the lobby, because what else could he do? Get out of the office for a while, get some food, try to figure out his next move.
On his way out, he placed the gong hammer gently back in its stand on his desk.
When Ian arrived home, stamping the snow off his boots, Zeke was in the living room, glued to the television.
"Are you fucking seeing this?" Zeke asked, pointing at the TV. "Some dude got arrested for robbing a charity blind.
Hey, you're home early. What happened?"
Ian walked into the kitchen and took a beer from the fridge. He returned and dropped onto the couch without even taking off his hat.
"You look like hell," Zeke said.
"I am...weary," Ian replied. "I helped cause that," he added, tipping the beer at the television, where cameras were showing a herd of cops trooping in and out of the Union Arms headquarters, carrying boxes. "I outed myself as a professional blogger to my boss." He passed the beer to Zeke, who opened it for him and passed it back. "Also, I'm probably fired. How about you?"
Zeke gave him a sidelong look. "I learned how to play the 1812 Overture on the Chromatic. Want to hear?"
Ian looked at him, took a long drink, and laughed.
"Yeah," he said. "Lay it on me, Zeke."
Zeke was halfway through the opening when he stopped. "Wait, what do you mean, outed yourself?"
"Not like that," Ian told him.
"Cause if you're gay, that's cool, but you could've told me -- "
"Zeke, what did I say after 'outed myself'?"
"'Professional blogger'," Zeke said. "The hell do you mean by that?"
"You know, like the newsblogs you read. I'm a blogger. I blog. I have blogged. I may blog again," Ian said, rubbing his eyes with his good hand.
"For real? What blog?"
Ian leaned back and covered his eyes with his hand. "NonProphetBlog.nfp."
"Oh. Gotcha. Hey, CNN linked you," Zeke said, and went back to his harmonica. Ian stared at him, then reached for the laptop on the side-table. Zeke stopped again.
"Great American Novel?" he asked, with a tentative smile.
"Something like that," Ian told him. "I'm fine, Zeke."
"I'm sure," Ian said, logging into Non Prophet's email account, which was already filling with letters since he'd locked comments on the post. He opened a new email window and began entering names. "Sometimes you just have a shit day, and you have to make the best of it."
"You wanna order a pizza?"
Ian cocked an eyebrow at him. "Zeke, do you mean I want a pizza but I'm broke
Zeke nodded sheepishly. Ian considered it.
"Yeah, okay," he said. "You order, I have work to do."
The SparkVISION staff were greeted on entering Beermaki, as they usually were, by shouts of welcome from the bar staff. One of the sushi chefs waved at them and then pointed his very large, very sharp knife at the television in the corner, which was tuned to Chicago local news. The SparkVISION staff stopped in a clump and stared up at the screen.
"...accused of stealing hundreds of thousands or possibly even millions of dollars from Chicago-based, nationally-known charity Union Arms. We're told a warrant was served on the Union Arms headquarters this evening, and Executive Director Trent Byron was led away in handcuffs. For more on this story...
"Hey," Anna called, because apparently nobody else was going to do it, "Come on, what, isn't there a playoff game or something? Sarah, if you love me, get me something fried," she ordered, sliding into a chair as SparkVISION ranged itself around the table and Sparks went over to the television to flip through the channels, settling on a college bowl game.
"I do love you," Sarah said, kissing the top of her head. "We need beer," she told the bartender. "A lot of beer. And sushi. Omakase. For everyone. And lots of tempura."
"Bad day, huh?" he asked.
"Like you would not fucking believe," she told him.
"Are you sure Ian's okay?" Vicky asked Cee, who was fiddling with her chopsticks.
"Well, he's not the type to go and off himself over a job," Cee said.
"This is weird," John muttered.
"The part where I'm a big-business whistleblower, the part where Ian's an internet celebrity, or the part where SparkVISION is going to be a headline tomorrow?" Anna asked.
"Just...I don't know," John said, as Sarah brought two pitchers of beer to the table. "It's not like Ian's going to have it easy getting another job."
"Do you think we should like...all threaten to quit or something?" Jess asked. "It's not easy for anyone to get a job right now."
"As much as I love Ian, if we all quit then SparkVISION goes under, and if he stays it goes under," Zoe said. "I have a kid to feed. Ian's a great guy but Bolo comes first."
"Melinda might be able to get him a job," Naomi said. "She's looking around now."
"He'll land on his feet," Sarah assured them. "Probably get a book deal or something. He's a flexible kid."
"He had to know what he was doing," Sparks said, returning to the table. Anna saw half the staff shoot him guilty looks. "He knew the consequences if he was found out. He could have closed down the blog, but he chose to take risks, and when he failed he took it like a grownup. Good for him."
"You're still going to fire him," Sarah said.
"I'm thinking about it," Sparks told her. "Which means I don't want to talk about it. I -- " He stopped as his phone rang, checked it, and sighed. "Dell Raymond. I better take this. Be right back," he told them, and answered the phone, stepping away from the table. "Dell, hi..."
The rest of them seemed content to brood over their beers while they waited for the sushi, until Sarah's head snapped up.
"Wait..." she said. "Did he say Dell Raymond?"
"Who's Dell Raymond?" Vicky asked.
"Oh, little one, so much to learn," Naomi said. "He runs LLFAC."
"Librarians, Literates, and Friends Against Censorship. Sparks has been trying to get him for three years. He's dying to re-brand him," Cee said.
"That was weird," Sparks said, returning to his seat.
"What was weird?" Erin asked.
"Raymond just -- hang on," Sparks interrupted himself, as his phone rang again. "What the -- dammit. Damage control, it's one of our clients. Save me some tempura," he said, rising to walk away again and take the call.
A waiter arrived with an enormous plate of sushi and tempura, an entire tray of wasabi and ginger, and a giant bowl of edamame. By the time the tempura was cold, Sparks still hadn't returned, though he had answered his phone three more times. Erin's phone had rung twice; she'd answered as well, and was sitting with him at an empty table near the entrance, making a hilarious tableau as they spoke facing each other but into their phones.
"They look like the worst power date ever," John said. "I thought Sparks said he wasn't going to think about this tonight."
"He doesn't look as upset as he should," Zoe added.
"How upset should he look?" Anna asked, alarmed.
"Well, more upset than that. Look, he just laughed," Zoe pointed.
"This is ridiculous," Sarah announced. She picked up a clean plate and heaped it with food. Anna gathered up two cups of beer and followed her over to where Sparks and Erin were sitting; Sparks gave her a grateful look as he tried to talk, hold the beer, and eat nigiri at the same time. Erin nibbled on a dumpling.
"No, that's great," Sparks said into the phone. "Sorry, mouth full. Yeah -- it's fine, it's sushi, it chews easy. Monday works. Hahaha. Okay."
He ended the call, only to be met with the beep of the voicemail notification. "Three messages. Are you kidding me?"
"Can we help?" Sarah asked. Sparks shook his head. "What's going on?"
"Ian emailed everyone," Erin said, covering the mic on her phone.
"Everyone?" Anna asked. She decided she was planning on getting very drunk.
"Most of the big names in Chicago philanthropy -- no, Mr. Belmont, happy to hold -- and a few in New York," Erin said. "He told them who he was and what he does. Dealing with the fallout."
"Gotcha," Sarah said. "Yell when you need a fresh beer."
"You're awesome," Sparks said. A sudden frantic look crossed his face as a voice came over the line; Sarah offered him a Beermaki promotional pencil and a sushi menu. He started scribbling away on the back of it, names and phone numbers, while Erin talked to Mr. Belmont (of the Chicago Belmonts, founders of the Belmont Philanthropic Group) and picked through the tempura.
"What's going on?" Jess asked, when Anna and Sarah returned to the table.
"I don't know," Anna said, studying the pair.
"I think we're probably going to have to cover their portion of the bill," Sarah said. "They're gonna be there a while."Chapter Sixteen