“It’s simple. If they can’t move, they can’t build.”
“We can’t block the road,” said Evie. “Not unless we want to get arrested.”
“I hope we do get arrested,” said Evie’s fuckwad boyfriend. “At least then maybe people would understand.”
Evie averted her eyes and shook her beautiful chestnut hair. “I can’t get arrested. I’m applying for law school next semester.”
“Fuck law school, Evie,” said the boyfriend. “You think Penn and Berkeley would rather you stand idly by while corporate greed sucks the life out of our city —”
“You know I want to go to Stanford.”
“All anyone is going to understand is that a bunch of protestors don’t want Deptford to happen,” said Sara. “The county has already given the green light. It’s happening.”
There was a collective sigh from everyone but Bernie. They were sitting in her friend Kevin’s living room, entrenched in a particularly thorny environmental club meeting. Bernie had her back up against his old tan couch that reeked of incense and was staring at a crinkly Pink Floyd poster that was hung beside a sombrero and an ugly Buddha painting.
“Maybe we can get an injunction,” Evie suggested. “Michael . . . did you talk to the conservation department about the black-tailed jackrabbit?”
Michael shook his head. “The black-tailed jackrabbit isn’t a protected species.”
“What about the water study?”
“That company is in Keller’s back pocket. They said that there will be enough water as long as Governor Richards signs the revised Colorado River Compact. Small farmers will lose, but since when does anybody care about that?”
“City Council wants this to happen,” said Bernie, taking the joint from Kevin and putting it to her lips. “There’s nothing we can do to stop Deptford.”
At those words, the room went quiet. Evie was staring at Bernie as though she had reached across the bowl of Doritos and slapped her. Evie’s fuckwad boyfriend, whose real name was either Asher or Eamonn, was shaking his head as if Bernie was some clueless corporate grub.
“What are you saying?” asked Evie testily, her big doe eyes flashing with rage. “That we should just give up and resign our community to becoming a desolate yuppie wasteland that doesn’t have water or good schools or —”
“Will you relax?” groaned Bernie, hitting the joint and passing it to her left. “Albuquerque already is a desolate yuppie wasteland.”
There was a brief round of pearl-clutching and scandalized looks from the peanut gallery.
“Oh, no thanks,” said Evie as Sara handed her the joint. “Bernie. I can’t believe you’re that cynical.”
“I’m not cynical. I’m just not blind.” Bernie rolled her eyes. “You think because UNM puts a fucking water-bottle recycling bin outside of every building and slaps a couple of solar panels on top of the student center that we’re a bunch of fucking saints? No. We all benefitted from the housing mafia that slapped up this firetrap.”
“Do you have to say ‘fuck’ so much?” Evie muttered.
There was a long pause that Evie used to shoot Bernie a long scathing look. Bernie knew she was being a bitch. She knew that the university environmental club was more of a social hour for the eco-conscious set, but she was so sick and tired of their holier-than-thou bitching and griping, and she seemed to have left her filter at home.
What had they actually accomplished? The club organized the biannual campus clothes swap, assembled in front of the student center to protest something every few months, petitioned the board of trustees for things that would never happen, and made a big stink at town hall meetings every time they got wind of a new development project.
But Evie didn’t let Bernie’s interjection derail her precious meeting. Within minutes, they were on to the next order of business: club T-shirts for the fall semester.
Ordering new ones was out. Cotton was public enemy number one on the list of killer crops that were turning the southwest into a dust bowl, but Bernie spaced out when they began floating the idea of upcycling old T-shirts to spread the word.
She took another puff from the joint as it made its rounds, flicking the lighter in her hand long after it had moved to Sara. She watched the flame burst to life and flicker beside her thumb until Evie cleared her throat and Bernie realized that she had asked her a direct question.
“What?” said Bernie. Everyone was looking at her, and Bernie knew she probably had that crazy far-off look in her eyes again.
“How is the garage sale coming?”
It took Bernie a moment to remember what the hell Evie was asking. She was the one in charge of the massive campus-wide garage sale that would take place the first two days back to campus. Departing seniors donated furniture and decor they didn’t want to take with them, and freshmen would shop the garage sale for things they needed for their dorms. They’d been doing it for the past three years with mixed success, but Bernie had convinced Evie that she could turn it around.
“Good,” said Bernie absently. “Really good.”
“When will you have flyers ready?”
A look of annoyance flashed through Evie’s eyes. “Yes. Flyers. To post around campus?”
“You want to post . . .” Bernie took a deep breath and feigned a half-pitying, half-scandalized look. “You’re asking me to endorse the slaughtering of billions of trees that are killed each year for paper to advertise our garage sale?”
A series of bizarre expressions flashed across Evie’s face: shock, confusion, and embarrassment, followed by anger. Bernie felt a perverse swell of satisfaction as she took one more heavy drag of Kevin’s joint and passed it on.
“I gotta go,” said Bernie, getting to her feet and plucking her messenger bag off the couch. “I have a paper to write.”
Truthfully, Bernie did have a paper to write, but she had no intention of starting it that night. She just didn’t have it in her. Besides, macroeconomics sounded about as important as Evie’s stupid protest.
She hadn’t even told them about the Adobe Petro lawsuit. It was exactly the sort of thing the club loved talking about, and she was sure that being involved would gain her instant celebrity status. No one would be talking about Evie’s march for the Diné families affected by uranium contamination of the Red Water Pond Road community anymore. It would be all about Bernie.
Bernie wasn’t sure why she felt so far removed from her old friends. She and Evie had never exactly been BFFs, but Evie wasn’t a bad person. She cared about all the same things that Bernie cared about, but lately Bernie found her insufferable.
Maybe it was because they were all so high and mighty, yet they weren’t the ones whose lives had been ruined by Adobe Petro. They talked about the negative environmental impact, but they hadn’t lived through it.
Really, her mother’s death should have strengthened Bernie’s resolve to fight the good fight, but it had had the exact opposite effect. Suddenly protesting, calling her congresspeople, and shopping at the farmer’s market felt like futile acts of rebellion. She wasn’t making a difference. She was only making herself feel good.
There was no such thing as slow change.
The more Bernie thought about it, the more she realized that she had been drinking the Kool-Aid for years. All her talk of slow change and voting with her dollars? Complete bullshit. She had no interest in slow change anymore. She wanted to light the world on fire.
Bernie wasn’t sure how long she’d sat in El Taco Loco staring into the dregs of her burrito. She’d gotten a seat in front of the window where she could watch the drunks stumble from bar to bar, and she was enjoying it.
Campus wasn’t crowded. It was the middle of June, and most students had gone home or moved across town for their fancy internships. But there were a few diehards who stayed around campus every year. Bernie was one of them.
Her lease didn’t end until August, and she hadn’t had the heart to move home. That was her plan, but doing it without her mom there felt like the saddest homecoming ever. She wasn’t sure how long she’d be able to hold on to the house, but there was no point in paying rent to stay on campus when she owned an empty house twenty-five minutes away.
She owned the house. It was bizarre to think about, but she was her mother’s next of kin. Her mom and dad had divorced when Bernie was eleven, and her mom had never remarried. She’d left Bernie the house in her will without the insurance money to pay it off, which meant that she, like Bernie, must have thought she’d have more time.
She’d only taken a temporary leave of absence from her job as an art teacher, and she’d still managed to drag her emaciated body into the studio to paint for a few hours each day up until the last few weeks of her life.
Bernie had never really considered that her mother might die. She couldn’t even fathom it.
But here she was — completely alone. The few friends she hadn’t alienated she’d blown off repeatedly over the past few months. Her relatives were few and far between, and Bernie didn’t have any brothers or sisters.
She’d always known what she wanted to do, but suddenly finishing up her degree, getting a fancy job, and using her career to do wonderful things for the world seemed far out of reach.
By the time her high wore off, it was ten o’clock, and she was still sitting in the taco shop watching the world stumble by. She was tired, miserable, and uncomfortably full on pork and green chili. The news was on in the background — some schmucky guy in a cheap suit talking to a pretty woman wearing too much eye makeup.
They were discussing the Adobe Petro scandal, showing footage of the refinery and half a dozen EPA guys in protective white suits milling around the plant. Then they cut to footage that seemed to have been taken at some sort of press conference.
Reporters were swarming the steps of an official-looking building, pushing and shoving to get a good shot of Adobe CEO Brian Bodetski. He was cold and handsome in a rich white male sort of way, impeccably dressed in a designer suit and a royal-blue tie.
Blue: the color of trustworthiness.
As she watched, someone shoved a microphone under his face, and Bodetski looked around at the crowd of reporters and arranged his face in a kindly smile.
“I can’t fault the dedicated men and women who work for the EPA. They’re just doing their jobs . . . But I can assure you that Adobe Petro has done everything by the book. We have the most stringent safety measures in place to ensure that we aren’t negatively impacting the community . . . and I would be just as surprised as you are to learn that there have been any problems with our wastewater disposal methods.”
When the reporter asked him for his reaction to the latest lawsuit being brought against the company, Bodetski gave another condescending smile. “Everybody’s always trying to make a buck, aren’t they?”
Bernie turned away in disgust, her hands trembling with fury. The evidence that Adobe Petro had been polluting the aquifer was incontrovertible. They were in the very early stages of damage control, and they weren’t even doing a very good job.
Still, they would find a way to win. It was the American way.
Then there was Brian Bodetski — the worthless corporate asshat. He’d known about it all along, but the cameras loved him so much that he could deny, deny, deny — no matter how incriminating the evidence was. It felt as though he were mocking Bernie personally, giving interview after interview just to torment her.
She was still simmering with rage by the time the newscasters moved on to the weather, but she felt more clearheaded than she had in months.
She had a plan. It came to her so quickly and so perfectly formed that she knew her tired brain had been working on it for weeks, if not months. It was crazy and immoral — criminal, even — but it was beautiful nonetheless.
As soon as it occurred to her, Bernie knew that she didn’t have a choice. Even if they won the lawsuit, it would always feel as though Adobe Petro had gotten away with murder. She didn’t think she’d be able to live with herself if she did nothing. She’d never stop thinking about Brian Bodetski and all the ways she could have ruined his life.
Her usual tactics weren’t going to cut it. Whatever action she took had to be drastic.
Bernie got up to throw away her trash and let herself out of the taco shop. As she turned off Central Avenue onto the dark side street where she had parked, she quickened her pace and clutched her keys between her fingers. There had been a rash of violent assaults on campus over the past few months, and everyone was on edge.
Bernie got in her car and drove to Aspen Estates, the seedy apartment complex where her friend Ian lived. It was a ten-minute drive from campus, but the units were cheap, and they had a pool.
Ian had been the news editor at The Daily Lobo, but he’d been ousted last semester for reasons unbeknownst to Bernie. She suspected it had to do with Ian selling drugs out of his apartment. She’d bought cheap medical-grade weed from him a handful of times, but she knew he moved some coke and whatever else he could get.
As soon as she climbed the stairs to his front door, she could hear a TV blaring through the thin walls. She knocked, but nobody answered. Ian’s car was in the parking lot, but he’d probably shut himself in his room. She could tell from the sound of gunfire that his roommates were immersed in one of their horrible video games, so she knocked again.
She pounded on the door more forcefully and heard a muffled yell from inside the room. She tried the knob. The door was unlocked, so she pushed it open and stuck her head inside.
As she’d suspected, Jeremy and José were slumped on the lumpy black futon, engaged in a video-game battle to the death. The room smelled strongly of burnt pizza bagels and the hot-dog roller grill at a gas station, and a pile of empty beer cans lay on the table in front of them.
“Is Ian here?” she asked.
José looked up and gave a slight nod, but Jeremy didn’t even acknowledge her presence. One of the roommates was a biochemistry major. The other was in computer science. Bernie could never remember which was which. Both were quiet, antisocial, and firmly in the forty-year-old-virgin camp.
Taking their indifference as permission, Bernie navigated around the mess of shoes and backpacks by the door and walked down the hallway to Ian’s room.
She knocked twice. “Ian . . . it’s Bernie.”
Rolling her eyes at Ian’s lack of manners, Bernie let herself in.
Ian was sitting in the same place she’d left him last time — hunched in front of his computer in the dark with a pair of enormous headphones resting on his greasy mop of curls.
He didn’t even look up, so Bernie took a silent inventory of his room: unmade bed with dirty brown sheets, Star Wars poster, and a thick layer of dust and stickiness covering every surface.
Bernie might have gone her entire undergraduate career without meeting Ian if it weren’t for the brief stint she’d spent dating James. James was Ian’s former roommate and the sanctimonious political writer for The Lobo. He was smart, condescending, and inexplicably hooked on nicotine gum. It didn’t last.
“I don’t have any more of those chews you like,” said Ian without looking up. “But I’m making a run tomorrow, so if you wanted to come by —”
“I didn’t come here for that,” said Bernie, slightly abashed by how many of those THC chews she’d bought from Ian immediately after her mother’s death. She’d been desperate for anything that could help take the edge off and wouldn’t leave her completely useless the next day.
“Oh.” Ian glanced at her over his monitor, and Bernie felt her face heat up.
She knew how that had sounded, and she didn’t want to give Ian the wrong idea. She suspected that he sort of had the hots for her, but that was so not going to happen.
“I could really use your help with something,” she said.
Ian pounded on his keys a few more times before pulling off his headphones and sliding away from his computer. “Shoot.”
“I need to know how I can find somebody . . . Find out their address, I mean.”
“Neither,” said Bernie, shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other. She didn’t know exactly how to get what she needed from Ian without coming right out and telling him what she was up to. She didn’t want to incriminate him by association, and she didn’t want any potential loose ends that could lead the police back to her. “It’s somebody sort of high-profile.”
“I’m listening,” said Ian, flipping on his desk lamp and fixing her with his bored brown eyes.
Bernie saw that he was wearing basketball shorts with a wrinkly over-shrunk T-shirt that he’d gotten from some Cancun seafood shack. It looked as though he’d slept in that outfit — maybe more than once. Did Ian ever leave his apartment?
“I can’t tell you who it is,” she said.
“Are you pregnant?”
“What?” spluttered Bernie, floored, not for the first time, by where Ian’s mind had gone.
“Sorry,” he said, though he didn’t sound sorry. “I just figured . . .”
“You just figured what?”
“High-profile dude . . . You don’t want to say who . . .” He made a rocking-the-boat gesture with his hands that Bernie found absolutely infuriating.
“I didn’t say it was a dude,” said Bernie. “And I’m definitely not carrying the spawn of some D-list celebrity.”
“So it’s a celebrity,” said Ian dryly. “Intrigue.”
“Not exactly. Look . . . can you help me or not?”
“It depends. Does your mystery dude have a website?”
“Again, I didn’t say it was a dude.”
“Yeah. But I didn’t sleep with him.”
“No judgment,” said Ian, his voice rising an octave on the last syllable.
Irritation simmered low in Bernie’s stomach. Half the time, she found herself wondering why she still talked to Ian. It was impossible to tell whether he liked her or just tolerated her since the breakup with James.
It wasn’t as though it had been ugly. She and James just hadn’t liked each other that much. They’d only dated for two months. It wasn’t the sort of thing that had their friends choosing sides. And she’d talked to Ian more after the breakup anyway.
“Does your mysterious, totally androgynous person have a website?” he asked.
“Why does that matter?”
“’Cause it might make it a helluva lot easier to find him . . . or her.”
“Show me,” said Bernie.
This was why she kept Ian around. He was smart as hell and had an arsenal of creepy journalist sleuthing techniques at his disposal. He could probably make a living as a private investigator if he wanted to.
“Check it. You know the book To Build a Window by Si Graham?”
Bernie shook her head. “I haven’t read it.”
“But you know who Si Graham is, right? Pop psychology, science of memory . . . brain hacking and all that jazz?”
“Yeah . . .” Si Graham had put out one bestseller after another. Everybody knew who he was.
“I know where he lives,” said Ian.
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do. He had a personal website, and the retard didn’t even bother to spring for private domain registration. All I have to do is look up who owns SiGraham.com, and bingo!” He let his fingers fly over the keyboard for a few seconds and then turned the monitor to face Bernie. “This is the virtual tour of his apartment building. Surprising that he lives in such a shithole, yeah?”
Bernie stared at the screen in disbelief. She was looking at the outside of a New York brownstone that had definitely seen better days.
“Wow. You’re even creepier than I thought.”
“So does he?” Ian pressed.
“Does he what?”
“Does your mystery guy have a personal website?”
“Not that I saw — just a page on the company website.”
“Corporate,” said Ian with a note of approval in his voice. “Well, as stalker-y as this sounds, your best bet is getting a twenty on the guy’s wife . . . or his mistress. Whatever floats your boat — or his, I guess. It’s how I almost got an interview with Ray Maas. Course, I tracked him down at his wife’s funeral . . . That was unfortunate. He had security escort me off the premises.”
“And how am I supposed to get close to his wife?” asked Bernie, baffled by Ian’s train of thought.
“Is she a trophy wife?”
Bernie scowled. “That’s insulting.”
“How should I know?”
“Fundraisers. Charity dinners. All of these are in the news, and there are usually pictures,” said Ian. “Trophy wives are easier to track because they spend a lot of time getting hot stone massages, going to yoga, banging tennis pros . . .”
“You’re an asshole,” said Bernie, riding a fresh wave of disgust.
Ian shrugged and rolled back over to his monitor. “Sticks and stones, baby. Assholes get results.”