Madison rang the bell and waited for Mr. Black. His car was in the driveway, so she was pretty sure he was home. The door opened and he smiled at her. “Back again, I see. Come in, come in.”

Madison entered the home and observed that Mr. Black was wearing shoes in the house, so she left hers on. She followed him into his study. “Judy isn’t here?” she asked.

“It does seem that she’s a fixture in this room, doesn’t it,” he said with a chuckle. “No, it’s just you and me this afternoon. Can I get you something? Water? Coffee? Tea?”

“Nothing like that, thank you,” Madison said, shrugging off her jacket and settling into her usual chair. Mr. Black sat across from her. She handed him her story, which she had bound into a plastic report cover. “I was wondering if you could confirm or deny the information in this story I’ve written.”

He raised his eyebrows and took the plastic binder from her. He retrieved his reading glasses from his breast pocket and started reading. Madison watched his face for a reaction. As he read, she saw a mix of expressions, from surprise to apparent amusement. There was a lot of smirking. She felt nervous and tried to focus on her breathing to stay calm. When he finished the last page, he flipped back to the beginning and started reading again. Madison waited.

“Will you excuse me a moment?” he asked. “I need to visit the loo.”

Madison smiled. “Of course.”

She sat back in her chair and looked around the room as she waited for him to return. She noticed he had a new notebook on his desk, exactly the same as the one in her hands. A few minutes passed.

“That’s quite a story,” he said as he came back into the room and returned to his chair. “You are a talented writer.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“So…” he said, apparently waiting for Madison to take the lead.

“So,” she replied. “Do you care to confirm or deny the facts as presented?”

“I never said the Red Cross was a customer of the company. They were simply an example of the sorts of NGOs we work with,” he said.

“I thought you might say that. I stand by my reporting on that one. I have my notes, and they reflect events the way I described them. Is that the only thing you are denying?”

“Well I have no idea about most of what you’ve written here,” he said. “Who is this government source you’ve found? They seem to have quite an imaginative story to tell.”

“I obviously cannot reveal my sources, Mr. Wagner. Do you think this is my first day as a reporter?” she teased.

“Oh, I think we are well beyond your first day, Miss Johnson.”

“So you cannot confirm that SDIO placed nuclear weapons in orbit?” she asked.

“I was at the EPA in the 1990s, Miss Johnson. How could I possibly know what the SDIO was up to?”

Madison smiled. “I understand that you don’t have first-hand knowledge. I was wondering if the story as I presented it comports with your current understanding of the events of that time.”

He smiled broadly. “Comports. You have the most wonderful vocabulary.”

“That isn’t anything like an answer to my question, Mr. Wagner.”

“No, I suppose it isn’t.” He smiled but said nothing further.

“So you aren’t denying it?” she asked.

“Miss Johnson, I’m a lawyer by trade. You aren’t going to trick me into saying something I have no intention of saying. I obviously can neither confirm nor deny something about which I know less than nothing.”

“I see,” she said. The two stared at each other in silence awhile. Madison hoped that if she waited long enough, he would feel compelled to say something else. She was right.

“Tell you what,” he said. “I still know quite a few people back in D.C. I’ll make a few calls. Talk to my superiors at CLP. See if I can’t find someone with the information you’re looking for. Would that be helpful?”

“That would be so helpful, actually,” Madison said. “How long do you think that would take? Obviously, we’re on a bit of a clock here.”

“Shouldn’t take long,” he said. “A day or two.”

Madison stood and put on her jacked. “Excellent. I trust that you know how to reach me?” she asked.

“We do,” he replied, as they walked back toward the door. “Thank you so much for stopping by,” he said. “It’s always a pleasure talking with you.”

Madison laughed. “You, sir, are full of shit. But thank you for your hospitality. And give my regards to Judy,” she said.

“I will,” he replied, closing the door behind her.

Madison pulled her phone from her pocket. It reported several missed calls from Lucas. She checked her voicemail, but there were no messages. Once she was settled in her car, she tried calling him back. There was no answer.

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