Tanner picked different locations for future meetings, luckily nothing as dreary or grim as that abandoned parking garage on Cherry Street. Once it was even a subway platform where Tanner used the noise from passing trains to mask his words, whispering new chapters of his story to Matt. On other occasions, the two of them strolled on nearly deserted sidewalks, always on the alert for anyone following. At their final meeting, they walked along the lakefront as the wind snarled at them like some enraged creature.
Matt felt his distress grow as Tanner filled him in on the last of the details he had learned about CleanSweep. During the night of that last meeting, Tanner said, “Now you have the rudiments of CleanSweep. You can see how dangerous it is…” Tanner’s voice faded into the dark.
They sat on a bench on the boardwalk, by the beach, halfway between two lampposts, in the half-light. Matt strained to read the latest batch of papers but gave up. The pale light made it impossible for him to make out the tiny print. “I can read these later,” he’d said as he folded the papers together and stuffed them in a leather case. Turning to look at Tanner, he saw only his most prominent features—those that were visible in the shadows.
Tanner was crying, and he didn’t seem ashamed. “I don’t know if I’m relieved, depressed, or both,” he finally said. “I wasn’t sure whether it was the right thing to do when I made the decision to talk…to tell you.”
Matt waited for him to finish, but Tanner fell quiet, staring out at the lake. Matt wondered what he saw in that darkness.
“We both know how important this is,” Matt said, knowing the words, though intended to be comforting, sounded rather lame. “How did it happen? CleanSweep, I mean? How did it get to this point without…I’m searching for the right word. I guess scrutiny comes close—”
“I can’t talk about it anymore now,” Tanner said, the words bitter. He was seething with emotion. “I think I have just signed my own death warrant by disclosing this to you. I thought about contacting the government, telling the president, a real reporter.”
The “real reporter” reference hurt Matt more than he cared to admit.
“CleanSweep’s reach is so pervasive, as soon as I made contacts like that…Well, I don’t need to explain, do I? It’s in your hands now.”
Recalling that night later, Matt wrote to Cyberia, “I knew the story was dangerous. An alarm needed to be sounded, the way sirens sound the warning of an approaching tornado. Storms draw near, and you see flashes of lightning and feel the first whispers of the wind. You see it coming while there is still time to seek shelter.”
While he sat with Tanner, however, he felt at a loss for words. He wondered if they were already too late to sound the alarm about CleanSweep.
Thinking about all their conversations and the information in the documents, Matt finally was able to see the form, the context of the story. He was starting to see how the individual parts were woven into a whole.
It’s going to take nerve, courage I may not have, he’d thought. No, I do have what it takes. I learned to go toe-to-toe with those bullies in school. I won’t back down now.
Matt didn’t realize he was already in the eye of the hurricane. That night, after they finished their conversation on that bench, they stood, and Tanner stunned him by stepping forward and embracing him. Matt felt self-conscious, ill at ease with the physical contact and the intimacy with a man he realized he really didn’t know. He’d tried not to show his awkwardness. Looking back, he realized the embrace for the gift it was.
Tanner knew I would need reassurance and courage in the time ahead.
“I believe in you, Tanner. I can’t let fear stop me from telling the truth about Claussen and CleanSweep.”
As they embraced, Tanner whispered, “This won’t end well for me. I won’t be around to celebrate another anniversary with my wife.” He’d choked off the words, unable to continue.
Tanner clutched him tighter, preventing Matt from finishing the thought.
“Cali and McHale are young; they will soon forget what their father looks like. If you thought I was doing this for myself, you were wrong,” he said, his words boiling with rage. “You believe that this is all for me? I’m doing this for my wife and two precious children. I want them to live in a world where CleanSweep is eliminated and its cancer is cured before it can grow and spread.”
Matt realized then that he would never again know anyone as brave as Tanner.
Tanner stepped back. “There’s no further need for secrecy. Total secrecy was necessary until I could give you the whole story. I also wasn’t sure I could trust you at first.”
That bit stung Matt.
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