On a circuitous route to the bank, Penn made a stop at a convenience store where he placed a call from an endangered standalone payphone. Attempting to echo a discombobulated old-timer from the depths of Georgia, he forewarned the bank that he was on his way with the intention of exchanging five thousand seven hundred and sixty dollars in larger bills into five-dollar bills and wanted to make sure they had an adequate number of bills on hand to facilitate the exchange. The amount was calculated, having lost seventy-two hundreds dollars when his loan was pulled, less twenty percent for his error. Additionally, he was hopeful the differing amounts would further distance him from his last visit to the bank.
The representative on the other end of the phone confirmed that the branch indeed had the change available and that the chief teller could set aside the necessary stacks of five-dollar bills. Customer service, thought Penn.
He returned the antiquated phone to its chrome cradle as his cell phone sprung to life in his pocket. Penn scooped the phone, looked at the number, and answered as Penn. “Hello, Holly. How are you?”
“I’m good. I just went for a ride and I’m on my way to campus for office hours, but I wanted to give you a heads up.”
“What’s going on?”
“The police were at my house.”
“They were asking about you.”
The blood raced to his war-painted face. Of everything Holly could have said, he was not expecting that. Penn struggled to take a breath.
Between the Knight Power & Light escapade, car dealership hijinks, and the clinic he knew the police would be entering the equation at some point, but he had not anticipated their arrival this soon, and certainly not by way of Holly.
“Sorry,” he mustered, “I was just about to sneeze.”
“That’s the worst. So, yeah, this officer, or detective I guess, came by the house with some photographs.”
“Photographs of what?”
The simplistic reply further numbed him. “Oh, that’s odd.”
“Two black and white shots of you looking oh-so cool in your stuffy suit,” she said with levity.
“That doesn’t sound good, aside from me looking cool,” he said with a forced laugh as he scrambled to get his arms around Holly’s words and the photographs. “I wonder what could they possibly want with me and why would they talk to you?”
“Because they didn’t know your name,” she explained. “Just the pictures.”
The inability of the police to source something as remedial as a name was a promising harbinger, and Penn felt incrementally relieved. Additionally, if the police were only presenting pictures of him without a disguise, then it was possible that they didn’t have him entirely pinned. “Wait a second, how’d they get your name?”
“It’s confusing, but somehow they backed into a list of protesters based on the membership of the organizing clubs, or something like that.”
“I’m sorry about all this,” said Penn. “Did you get any idea what they wanted?”
“It sounded like all they wanted was your name.”
“And you gave it to them, I trust?”
“Well, yeah. I hope that’s cool.”
“The detective said you were at the power company when that smoke bombing occurred and that it was possible you saw something.”
“I wonder what I would I have seen?”
“I don’t know. But then again, I didn’t know you were at their building when all that went down – I’m pretty sure you never said anything about that.”
“Did I not mention that to you?”
“Sorry about that. I was downtown talking to their HR department about a possible job. I left right when the fire alarm went off, but I didn’t really see anything. I actually didn’t realize anything had happened until I saw it on the news.”
“Wait, a job? Weren’t you just with me protesting that company, and now you’re applying for a job from them?”
“It’s a position within a subsidiary that’s spearheading their alternative energy initiatives,” Penn said before relaying some of what he had learned from the phone call with Knight prior to his attack. “I was asking about a project manager position within their Green Department.”
“Well, I guess that’s better than carving up the Earth for oil and coal,” conceded Holly, “but still – – why didn’t you tell me you were there during the bombing?”
“My mistake,” said Penn before blending his apology with more talk of the nonexistent opportunity. “I think you’d like the division. They’re focused not only on hydro and solar, but also on conservation. I’d be helping the environment from the inside out, just like you said.”
“Penn, did you have anything to do with the smoke bombing?”
The question felt as though it struck out of the blue, even though it should have been expected. Like Holly in her conversation with Avery, Penn was presented with a simple unavoidable decision. He could either cross the point of no return, head down a path of dishonesty, and lie. Or, tell the truth and watch the conversation and blooming relationship vanish.
Penn deliberated for an instant before making his choice. “Are you serious or are you joking? Of course I had nothing to do with it.”
“I know, I know, it sounded funny when I said it.”
Penn could hear the relief in her voice. “As cool as it sounds, an environmental terrorist, I am not,” he said before injecting stupefied astonishment into his voice. “Hold on, you don’t think the police think I had anything to do with the bombing?”
“No, relax,” said Holly. “I asked them if you were a suspect, and they said no.”
“Thanks for wondering.”
“Hey, a girl’s got to have standards,” she said with a smile that Penn could feel at the other end of the line.
With that, the professor invited Penn over for dinner later in the week. The African American imposter enthusiastically accepted and the two wished each other well, hung-up simultaneously, and went on their decidedly different ways.