“Hey, kiddo! What’s going on?” Mr. Portnoy said, putting down the newspaper as Madison entered his basement office behind the printing press. “Everything on track for Northwestern?”

“Yeah, we’re still figuring out the finances, but I’ve told them I’m coming. That’s a done deal.” Madison slumped into the chair across the desk from her teacher.

“That’s awesome. I’m so proud of you,” he said. “Hey, I just want to say again how sorry I am about how all that went down with the recycling story. I feel like I should have done more, but I’m not sure what more I could have done.”

Madison waved her hand nonchalantly. “I’m over it. Anderson will get what’s coming to him eventually. Karma’s a bitch.”

“The girl in my Freshman English class?” Mr. Portnoy asked.

“What? No…” Madison laughed. “Shit, you had me going there.”

Mr. P.’s straight face broke into a smile. “There really is a Karma in my class this year. I cannot imagine what her parents were thinking.”

“So Mr. P., about that story I was chasing. With the old people at the IHOP…”

“I remember,” he said.

“I still don’t have anything on the ‘why’ part of the story. But the ‘what’ is definitely illegal. Maybe not everything, but at least some of it is for sure.”

“Did you find another source?” he asked. “You didn’t talk to the ringleader, did you?”

“No. Not yet, but I’m still considering it. But yeah, though, I did find another source. Strictly confidential. And what I’m learning makes me think this might be too hot to handle. They’re smuggling narcotics and stockpiling assault rifles.”

He nodded slowly. “Sounds like a doomsday cult. So maybe drop it?”

“Can’t. If those people hurt someone and I didn’t do anything about it, I couldn’t forgive myself,” she said.

“What about the police? Or maybe talk to the SRO about it? What’s his name? Charlie?” he suggested.

“It’s bigger than that.”

“FBI then?” he asked. “There’s a field office right downtown. In the big federal building.”

“If these people are conspiring with the DEA and CBP, why should I trust the FBI?”

Mr. Portnoy smiled. “I’ll be frank with you, Mads. This all seems very far-fetched. I know you have your sources, but I think maybe you misheard something. Big government conspiracies aren’t a real thing.”

“You mean like how Nixon didn’t have the FBI keeping secret tabs on radicals? Or how Reagan didn’t do an arms deal with a sworn enemy of our country to raise money for a secret war? Those kinds of conspiracies aren’t real?” she asked.

He laughed. “Okay, okay. Point taken. You think this goes all the way to the President?”

Madison smiled. “Seems very unlikely.”

“But you think the FBI might not be trustworthy.”

“I don’t know. I mean, I guess if the FBI is in the loop and they think it’s okay, then there’s probably nothing to worry about. They wouldn’t put people in danger, right?”

“The FBI? I wouldn’t think so. Except the 60s radicals.”

“Right. Except them. Actually, given the ages of the folks involved, some of them probably were 60s radicals.”

“That’s an angle,” he said. “If that’s the case, then the FBI would definitely not play along with them. They hated those guys. Abbie Hoffman. The Chicago Seven.”

“Strange period of history,” Madison said.

“Indeed. So do you think you will talk to the FBI?”

Madison pursed her lips. “It’s kind of scary to think about. But I guess you’re right. Maybe I can convince Bryce to come with me for moral support. And he’s heard some of the stuff firsthand, so he could back me up if they don’t believe me.”

“Would you like me to come with you?” he asked.

“No, no. That’s okay. I’ll talk to Bryce.” Madison stood up. “Thanks Mr. P. I knew talking to you would help me sort through this. Next stop, FBI.”

“Good luck,” he said, also standing. “Let me know what happens.”

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