Madison found Mr. Portnoy in his classroom after school. She waited for him to finish with the student he was helping, and then she took over the room, closing the door behind her. She slumped into a seat and waited for him to finish whatever it was he was doing.
“Hey, Madison. What’s up?” he asked.
“I talked to the guy,” she said.
“The man in charge. The one they call Mr. Black,” she explained.
“Oh! I thought you were going to wait on that.”
“I was. But that was when I thought I would be publishing this in the paper, and we wanted to surprise him and get his statement at the last minute.”
“And now?” he asked.
“And now I don’t know what I’m going to do with this story, but it’s not going in the Bee. Maybe I won’t ever publish it at all, and this is just an academic exercise for me. I don’t know. I don’t feel like this story is ever going to see the light of day, but I also think it’s important that I write it.”
Her teacher nodded. “Interesting.”
“Ever have a story like that?” she asked.
“Can’t say I have. But if this story is what you insist it is, I’ve also never had a story this big. I exposed corruption a couple times. Did some pieces along the lines of your recycling one that got killed. But never anything of this scale.”
Madison perked up. “So now you believe me about the scale?”
Mr. Portnoy smiled. “Nope.”
“Oh,” Madison slumped into her chair.
“I’m just saying, that if it were of that scale, then it’d be something outside my experience. That’s all,” he explained. “So you talked to Mr. Black?”
“Oh, yeah. He claims they are storing stuff for the Red Cross, in case there’s a disaster.”
“Well that makes sense,” he said.
“Not at all,” she said. “I mean, it makes sense that the Red Cross might want to have some stuff stored for disaster relief. I get that. But why would that include drugs that they had to smuggle into the country? And why would they need a cache of machine guns? And why would they need gold bullion?”
“Gold bullion?” he asked.
“Yeah, apparently in addition to cans of beans, they are also stockpiling money.”
“Why would the Red Cross need gold?” he asked.
“My point exactly! They wouldn’t. His story makes no sense. It’s bullshit.”
Mr. P. nodded but said nothing.
“I’m stuck again,” Madison said. “I’m not sure how to move forward.”
He smiled broadly. “Follow the money.”
Madison scrunched her eyebrows. “A—What does that mean? And B—why are you smiling like that?”
He laughed. “That’s one of those things newspaper editors wait our whole career to say. It’s from a movie. All the President’s Men.”
“Watergate?” she asked.
“Right. In the movie, the informant tells the reporter to follow the money. I guess it never happened in real life. Not those exact words. They weren’t in the book the movie was based on. But the gist of it did happen.”
“How does one follow money?” Madison asked. “Was this covered on a day I missed?”
“Cute,” he said. “And I don’t know exactly. But if you think about it, they are buying all this stuff they are storing, right? And paying rent on the building. And paying the guys working security. Lots of expenses.”
“Huge expenses,” Madison agreed.
“Where is that money coming from?”
“CLP,” she replied.
“Consolidated Logistics Partners. It’s a company, I guess. I have a source inside who says it’s on the shipping labels.”
Mr. P. looked surprised. “You have a source inside?”
Madison smiled, “Yeah.”
“Wow. Okay. But he can’t tell you anything?”
“Just the shipping label thing,” she said. “He’s really low in the organization. They keep him in the dark.”
Her teacher nodded. “Well, I guess the next step is to look into that company then. CLP? Or you could look into the building.”
“Yeah, somebody has to own it, right? Is it the same company?”
“Oh, I gotcha. I think I can find that online.”
“You can definitely go to the courthouse. Property ownership is public record. Just fill out a form and they look it up for you.”
“Okay. Thanks Mr. P.!”
“My pleasure. I’m eager to hear what you find out.”
Madison got up from the desk and gathered her bag. “I’ll keep you posted!”