Artwork by Jane Corrigan.

I pitched through the lobby door and then, as I caught my breath, stood looking back at the storm. It was bad out there. The city had been reduced to dim outlines and floating lights; snow moved down Nineteenth Street in waves. I beat it from my hat and coat, knocked my boots together. Under those high ceilings, each sound reverberated. Only the emergency lights were on, there was no one at the front desk, all the elevators in the bank sat open and waiting. And in a fit of hope, I thought there might not be, in all the building, even one other soul.

Though I hadn’t hit that button, the elevator stopped on nine: silence, nothing but cubicles in the faint light of an alarm panel. When the doors slid open again on fourteen I saw Manny Mintauro, our security guard, like a stone slab behind his podium. Half his face was in shadow. My heart fell at the sight of him.

“Sup, bro,” he said, deep and grave.  

The elevator doors closed behind me. “Hey, Manny.” Snow dropped from my jeans onto the carpet. “Thought it might just be me today.”


Manny’s head was pristinely shaved, and his gray scalp, textured with follicles and curled across the bottom with fat, gave the impression of a thing horribly exposed. It called to mind a dream I’ve had: Pulling fistfuls of hair from my head, I discover that what’s beneath is the yellow-white pith of an orange. In a rising panic, I claw at it.

“Well,” I said, “I guess it’ll be pretty dead, anyhow.”

“Definitely. Weather’s crazy.” He gave weather two hard syllables.

It was hard to know when you were done talking with Manny. I was still getting used to having him around, watching all our comings and goings. Since the mass shooting at Rantr the previous spring, it had become common for tenants of downtown buildings to staff in-house security. Manny had served in the Marines during the Gulf War. I often wondered if, there at the podium, he was armed, or how exactly he was authorized to use force in a security situation. That was management’s phrase: security situation. During the monthly lockdown drills they’d instituted, Manny paced the emptied corridors, testing the handles on the conference room doors, unblinking, while we crouched inside.

I said, “Power’s out at my place, so I’d rather be here. All things considered.”

“I’m obligated to be here,” Manny said. “Hey, just so you know. There’s another TruthFlex email. Came in just now. Delete that shit.” He covered his mouth with his hand. “Pardon my language.”

“Ah. Damn. Another one. Sorry—sorry to hear about that.”

“You don’t got to say sorry to me, bro. You know what I mean?”

I didn’t. And anyway, that was enough, the encounter was sufficient. I drew a breath, pulled up my shoulders. “Well—have a good one, Manny.” Hoping he’d yield, I moved toward his left flank.

Instead, his head reared back. “Real quick, before you go—I’ve been meaning to say to you.” His tiny eyes held fast to mine. “When, the other day, I told you about the most important moment in history, in my opinion? I realized, I didn’t ask what you thought was the most important moment in history. To you.”

The week prior, Manny had cornered me in the men’s room and talked at length about the Balfour Declaration. I hadn’t understood his point, but he’d leaned against the door and I’d felt trapped.

“Huh,” I said. “I’m not sure, Manny.”

“To me, the Balfour Treaty is the most important. Did you look it up?”

“Not yet. I’ve been pretty swamped.”

“It had a big impact on global history.”

“I do think I learned about it in school.”

“Nah,” he said, “you can’t learn nothing about it in school. You know what I mean?”

“It’s one of those things you know you’ve heard of.”

“You have to do your own research. Look into the Rothschilds. Follow the money.”

“Okay. I will.”

“Nice.” He appraised me carefully. “Let me know. I’m curious how you think, is all.” Then he dropped his left foot and angled away, opening a channel where I might pass. He extended his right hand, leaving the pinky and ring fingers curled tightly into his palm, and grinned down at me as I took it.

It was dark on the floor, all the monitors black and cold. One other person had come in, though: Shel Bunting. He sat craned over his computer in the corner by the window. I might have been glad to have him there—to help with Manny. But something had always seemed the matter with Shel. In meetings he hardly ever looked up; he just focused on the table. His face was pale in some spots, blotchy red in others—on his forehead, or under one eye, or across his throat. No one really knew him, but I sensed a hidden reserve of strangeness in Shel; I’d always felt he needed looking at, and as I crossed the floor I stared into my phone to preempt any possibility of eye contact.

I dropped my bag, put my coat on the chair, sat and swiveled so neither Manny nor Shel was in my line of sight, and took out my laptop, running my fingers along the deformed place where the battery had swollen. A note from Lisa, our manager, still sat near the top of my inbox: Stay warm, see you back at the office on Thursday. But just above it was the one Manny had mentioned, from TruthFlex00-09@gmail.com: Lisa Horowitz is a CULTURAL MARXIST—¡WHITE GENOCIDE!

For six weeks now we’d been receiving the emails and still no one knew who sent them. It was a mystery. We weren’t supposed to open anything from TruthFlex, but I couldn’t help it; I always clicked. If TruthFlex posed a threat to me I wanted to understand it. We all knew someone who knew someone at Rantr. Anyway, the emails were largely indecipherable—weird screeds in shifting fonts. Sometimes there were YouTube links: White Pride Is Healthy and Moral and 100 Fake Hate Crimes Staged by DemocRAT Leftists. Nearly all the emails targeted Lisa by name, and the first had arrived just after she’d signed us up for mandatory diversity workshops, so of course we wondered if TruthFlex might be one of us. But as far as we knew there weren’t even any Republicans in the office, much less far-right fringe types. It was a small analytics firm, everyone was well educated, and at thirty-eight I was one of the oldest in my department. Anyway, the police had said TruthFlex might well be no one in particular, someone who’d burbled up from the deep for reasons obscure, or else a bot, even—it happened all the time, evidently. The IT people blocked each new TruthFlex address; that didn’t matter. They couldn’t prevent us from receiving emails. And the police said there wasn’t much they could do until TruthFlex made an actual threat. Besides, management reminded us, we had Manny to keep us safe. Before the first lockdown drill we were told to brainstorm all the objects within reach that might stop a bullet. I kept coming back to the windows—if I could get out to the other side of them somehow …

Somewhere behind me, Shel sneezed. I looked at my phone. It wasn’t even ten o’clock.

I decided to text Bradt: Lmk if power comes back? But he rarely woke before one. Bradt was a Craigslist roommate, still in his twenties; he’d moved in after my divorce. I tried never to text him—each new message exhumed the preceding, laying bare the bleak business of our lives together. Today’s stood beside one from December 19: Hey man im sorry but thats too loud. Bradt made a living as a video-game streamer. Tens of thousands of kids, apparently, tuned in to his channel. I’d never watched, though sometimes I googled him; he generated a good deal of commentary in some minor culture war, the semantics of which were obscure to me. Though everything now felt obscure. If the years between Bradt and me seemed unbridgeable, what would the generation behind his be? It was hard to imagine they’d still be human—I pictured something like a waving blue bed of sea anemones. Bradt worked from a two-monitored desktop computer in his room, clad in gym shorts and headset, and spent weekends out of town. No idea where. Sometimes I’d wake at night and hear him in the hall, muttering to himself. I didn’t know what anchored him to the outside world, and in those moments, transfixed, I’d half dream Bradt opening the door, light spilling in, the boundary between us collapsed. So I couldn’t go home. Bradt was there, off-line and untethered.

Coffee would mean walking past Shel to the kitchenette, so instead I looked at Facebook: a video of Louis C.K. talking about gun laws, strangers fighting in the comments. But the seventh batch wouldn’t load, the wheel spun into perpetuity, and as I watched it I understood I couldn’t reasonably avoid Shel all morning. If I just made chitchat with him on the way to the kitchenette, I’d be done: both Manny and Shel accounted for.

I closed the laptop, stood, pushed in my chair.

As I moved across the floor I watched Shel, anxiously, and Manny watched me.

“Morning, Shel.” I leaned over the top of his cubicle, smiling.

“Hey there.” He was unshaven, in a lumpy black sweater. Below his desk was a gym bag, packed tight, heavy-looking. Shel didn’t seem like he exercised much.

“Just us, huh?”

His splotches glowed. “And Manny.”

“Manny,” I said, glancing across the floor at his podium—he looked up from his phone and met my eyes. “What a character.”

“Manny?” Shel asked. “How so?”

“Oh, I don’t know. You ever talk to him about history?”


He waited, I supposed, for me to go on. I felt I’d said too much. A sudden gust battered the window; snow stuck to it in patches, and we both turned to look.

“I should’ve stayed on Long Island,” Shel said, sighing. “But I couldn’t sleep, I came in early. Before it got bad.”

“There you go. That’s the way.” I smiled, and he did, too. Was that enough? Yes: We’d agreed on exactly one banality. I’d be justified in ending it. I coughed, then said, “Well, Shel, I’ll let you get back to it.”   

“Sure.” He folded his hands on the desk, looked down at them. “See you.”

“Have a good one.” I rapped the top of the cubicle partition with my knuckles and stepped out, free.

But somehow as I walked I could feel him behind me, pulling, slowing my steps. It was like I knew I could walk forever and never reach the coffee machine.

And then Shel arced his voice over the length of floor I’d put between us: “Hey, actually—can I talk to you a second?”

I turned back. He sat facing me, hands on his knees, eyes hidden in the dull glare off his lenses. Slowly I retraced my steps until I was back in position before him, all progress lost.

“Sure, Shel. What’s up?”

He sighed, then laughed; I noticed a tremor in his leg. “I hope this isn’t weird, but, I don’t know—maybe it’s stupid, I’m sorry if it is—it’s just, since there’s no one around, and since you walked over and we were talking, I thought I might say to you—well—I know you and your wife split up.” He coughed into his fist. “I’m sorry to bring up something personal like that, but I wanted to because, because, that’s something we have in common. Now, I mean. You and me.” He smiled weakly.

“Oh, god, Shel,” I said, miming sympathy with a hand on my heart. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry to hear that.” And I saw I’d been defeated. He’d insinuated me into his life. Countless trips to the kitchenette, hundreds of elevator rides, so much would be spoiled by this.

“Thanks.” Then he let out a long breath; his whole body relaxed. “You’re the first person here I’ve told. I keep to myself, you know, but—you’ve always been a nice guy. And then there you were. And this day’s so weird.”

“Well, you know, you’re young,” I said. “You’re—how old are you?”


“See? Young enough to start over. I’m—you know, my divorce was—it gets easier.”

He reddened. “Yeah. Well. I bet your ex didn’t try to fuck you over as bad as what mine’s doing. Or I hope she didn’t.” Abruptly he said, “Can I talk to you in earnest? In confidence?”

“Shel,” I said, “of course.”

He crossed his arms and looked out the windows. “I’m in pretty bad trouble. She spent months conspiring with this piece of shit attorney.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“He got her to record me with her phone. In secret. During big fights.”


“She’d goad me, you know—push me, willfully, to get me to say things, certain things, that sound bad, but anyone might say them, under the circumstances.” He shot his eyes at me. “Did you and your ex have big fights?”

“Well—sometimes. Not—I don’t know. Big fights?” I looked over my shoulder.

Manny watched from the podium.

“Apparently she has me—according to this oily, disgusting lawyer, you know—they have me on the phone telling her … ” He sighed, his face flushed. “Telling her ‘I’ll fucking kill you.’ And other stuff like that. Bad stuff. Worse. I’m such an idiot.”

Shel’s desk was right up against the plate-glass window, but the snow was falling so hard now you couldn’t see much of anything, except where it blew past the streetlights. They were on because of the storm, and the city had put in new LED bulbs that shone a cold, harsh white, like over a stadium, or a prison yard.

“But she’d needle me and torture me.”

“Right—I mean, Jesus, Shel.”

“And now they’ll use it to keep me from my son. When the truth is anybody might say those things, if you were put in the position I was put in, in terms of the mental torture she employed. A deliberate campaign against my—my sanity, basically. And this lawyer has a team of operatives who follow me into stores. They monitor my internet use. It’s an illegal campaign.”


He appraised me carefully. “Between you and me, I wonder about Manny. They hired him right around when all this stuff got bad. I was nervous about being here with him alone. But I had no choice. See, I can’t go back to the house. I’m between spots right now, and actually—I stayed here last night. I slept under my desk.”

We both, in that moment, turned our eyes toward the patch of carpet at his feet: a power cable held together with electrical tape, one unbent paper clip.

I said, “Oh, Shel.”

“I’m sorry I lied before.”

“That’s okay.”

“About coming in from Long Island.”

“That’s okay, Shel.”

His face contorted. “Anyway, I figured Manny wouldn’t be in. Now I’m wondering if they sent him because they saw I didn’t swipe out last night. Did he say anything to you? What were you two talking about earlier?”

“Nothing—I don’t know.”

“He wasn’t talking about me?”

“Shel, no, of course not.”

History, you said? Whose history? Like browsing?”

“The Balfour Declaration,” I said. “Manny likes the Balfour Declaration.”

He eyed me. “They think I’m TruthFlex. Did he say that?”

“No, Shel. Jesus—no.”

“Because I sent Lisa an email telling her I’m not going to those fucking diversity workshops anymore, I refuse. This PC shit is out of fucking control. So now they’ve got the cops interviewing me about TruthFlex. Did Manny tell you that?”

“Shel, no. I’d tell you. I wouldn’t keep it from you.”

And then it was like a spell had broken. A puzzled look crossed his face; he removed his glasses, let them hang from his hand as he pushed his palm into his eye. “God. I shouldn’t have done this.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“You’ve heard more from me than you ever wanted to. It was too much.”

“No. That isn’t true.”

“Well. I bet it is.”

“No, it isn’t. In fact,” I said, deliberately, “I’m happy to talk. Anytime.”

He put the glasses on the desk, sat back, looked out the window. “You know something? I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

I took a step closer, laid my hand on his shoulder; I squeezed, and his sweater bunched into the folds of my palm. “Thank you,” he said. His computer went to sleep, the screen shut off. “It means a lot,” he said. “You taking a minute to talk. I’m not kidding. I haven’t had many people to talk to.” He put his hand on top of mine. “You’re a good guy.”

In the handicapped stall I sat on the toilet with the lid down and looked at my phone. The system had suddenly blown off course, defying the models; the snow was heading out to sea at an almost unbelievable pace and we would be spared the brunt of it. An incredibly unlikely scenario, but there it was. Meteorologists defended themselves hysterically on Twitter. People on Facebook seemed enraged that the storm wouldn’t hit harder; they jeered at the mayor. Three feet had been the prediction, but the recalibrated models now said five inches, almost all of which had fallen already. The storm was just going to vanish.

I’d have to report Shel. There was no question about that. He was unstable, possibly delusional, an abuser, evidently, and he lacked the basic judgment not to reveal those things to a colleague. Anyway, he might well be TruthFlex. Who else, if not him? Shel needed help, that was clear, and I hoped he’d get it. But what if there were guns in that gym bag? I’d tell Lisa. Though I guessed I could go to Manny. Was this the sort of thing he was there for? Did Shel constitute a security situation? I imagined the blank look Manny would wear as I fumbled through my account of the conversation, stopping to append important details I’d omitted. No, I’d wait for Lisa. It would have to be face-to-face; I didn’t want anything in writing. In the meantime I’d grab my things and slip out. I’d need to make it past Manny, which wouldn’t be easy. But I’d take a day alone with Bradt over this. For a moment, though, I did nothing at all—it was nice there, cocooned in the stall, fourteen floors up.

Everything was brighter as I walked back to my desk. The snow had stopped, all but some flurries, and the sun was coming out. Down through the windows, I saw plows pushing snow off the street.

I began to pack, quick as I could. Then I glanced up. Manny was moving toward me.

His voice rang across the floor like a shot: “Sup, bro.”

“Hey, Manny,” I said, nodding at the windows. “No more snow.”

He squinted. “Something weird about that, right? A few hours ago they were so sure this was the big one.”

“So, I think I’m going to head home.”

“All good,” he said, leaning over my cubicle. There was a smell on him, some tonic, sharp and chemical. “I wish I could go home.”    

“Maybe if Shel leaves?” I ventured, wondering if he’d understand. “Is it—do you have to stay—because of Shel?”

He frowned. “What’s up, bro?”

“I’m just a little worried about Shel.”

“Nah,” he said, looking down at me. “Shel’s cool.”

“He’s had sort of a tough stretch, sounds like.” I searched Manny’s face for signs of comprehension. “I was talking to him before,” I said, hoping that would clarify things. “What I’m saying is I think he might need some support. I care about him. You know?”

“You and Shel? You two are the only ones who’re nice to me. Everyone else here is rude as fuck.”

“I only wanted to mention it.”

“Excuse my language.”

“No problem.” Peering around Manny I saw that Shel, in the distance, was reclined in his chair, arms crossed, watching us. “It’s just that,” I said, growing desperate, “we were talking about TruthFlex.”

“TruthFlex.” Manny shook his head. “That’s all noise, bro.”

“What do you mean? There’s no threat? Do you know who TruthFlex is?”

“Isn’t it you?” He laughed, jabbed me with a fat finger.

Me?” I recoiled, hands up.

“Relax, bro. I’m fucking with you.”

“It isn’t me. I’m not TruthFlex.”

“Right, I know. ’Cause I’m TruthFlex.”

“You are?”

He shifted his weight, adopted an open posture. “You want me to tell you? My money’s on Lisa.”


“Lisa’s not any typical bitch.” He covered his mouth. “Pardon me. But you know what I’m saying? She knows how shit gets done. Listen, you can’t talk honest like this to everyone—you have to know who to trust. But we’re cool.” He shook my hand again, fingers in the same crooked arrangement. “You have to educate yourself,” he said, still holding tight. “To me, the most important event in modern history, in terms of where we are right now? Is the Balfour Treaty.”

“Right.” I tried to pull my hand back; he wouldn’t let me.

“Look, bro. The Ashkenazi Jews are extremely intelligent and capable.”

I bit my cheek. “Of course.”

“And they went through one of the worst atrocities in history. You see pictures of those concentration camps on the internet. All those people all fucked up.” With his free hand, he covered his mouth. “Excuse me.”

“No problem.” He let my hand go; I slung the bag over my shoulder.

“And yet it became an opportunity. In terms of, the Ashkenazi Jews then spread around the globe. They were refugees. The nations of the world took them in. And now? They run this shit. You see what I’m saying.” On any other day Manny would have been called away long ago, back to his podium to hand out a visitor badge, or I’d have been carried off in the usual traffic around the floor. “In a certain way of thinking,” he went on, “it’s like, you take a loss to make a gain. Sometimes that’s how business is done. You follow what I’m saying?” He unbuttoned his jacket and leaned on the top of the cubicle partition, very close, directly between the exit and me.

“I think so,” I said, understanding now that this had always been Manny, the real Manny, just like that, back there, was the real Shel, hiding below the surface of routine, awaiting, with all the patience of a fanatic, some dark eventuality in which to reveal himself. They were members of a strange league, known to one another by instinct, traded glances, preparing for something in secret, perhaps not even the same thing, but the same in tenor and spirit. And they had identified me as one among them.

“Lisa’s sending that shit herself, bro. Making out like she’s getting fucked with. See what I’m saying? She’s taking one from her team’s playbook. Next thing you know she’ll get a promotion. You watch.” He shrugged. “It’s all good. Like I say: Me? I keep my head low. But I know something’s going on. Shit’s funny right now.” He nodded toward the windows. “It’s almost go time out there. Think about it. The only reason I got this job is because they’re shooting up schools and shit. Something’s coming, bro. I don’t know what it is. I just watch. I wait. You understand? I know how to take care of myself. When it happens, I’m good. You see me? But all these people,” he nodded toward the empty cubicles, “they think shit’s going to be like this forever.”

An idea broke over me: I could call a car. I wasn’t powerless. I opened the app, found I’d gotten logged out, got the password wrong twice. “I don’t mean to be rude, Manny,” I said, looking down, “I just need to … ”

“And I’m thinking: What do they really want me here for? Who wants me here? You know what I’m saying? I got my eye on them, too. The management, and whoever’s in charge of them, and whoever’s in charge of them. I try to spot them when they slip up—or when they want you to think they slipped up. Like this storm. How’s a storm like this just going to disappear?”

“Yeah.” A car was on its way, blinking down Park Avenue. In horror I watched Shel, across the floor and in shadow, stand, push in his chair and begin to move toward us.

“Look. At the end of the day, the reptilians pull the strings. Hillary Clinton fucked up and shape-shifted into her reptile form when she was on Kimmel, bro. I’ll send you a link. I’ll send you links to all this shit. It’s all on YouTube. Let me get your home email.”


My phone buzzed. TruthFlex00-o2@gmail.com: RACIST Lisa Horowitz Hates White People.

“TruthFlex,” I whispered.

He laughed. “See? Lisa’s sending that shit, eating fuckin’ breakfast in bed.”

Shel was fifteen paces out now, walking with his hands in his pockets. The three of us were converging into a singularity. And that was impossible—the building couldn’t sustain it. Together Manny and Shel might have enough power to make it real, whatever it was they wanted.

But then the notification flashed on my phone. I thrust it out for him to see: “Manny—I’m sorry. My car is downstairs.”

He took a step back, inhaled sharply through his nose.

I kept the phone raised, a talisman to ward him off.

Flatly, he said, “All good, bro.”

“I called a car. It’s here now.” I waved the phone in Shel’s direction; he halted in the dark.

Manny stared down. “I took up too much of your time.”

“Not at all,” I replied, keeping one eye on Shel, returning the phone to my pocket, hefting my bag. “I’m sorry to have to run.”

He winked. “To be continued,” he said, reaching out with those two bent fingers again—the shape of a gun, it now occurred to me.

I shook Manny’s hand. And when I got to the elevators I took the stairs.

On the street, the sun glared off the new snow. I had to squint and shield my eyes, but the city was recognizable again. If the storm had been what Manny suggested—a hoax or an experiment, a drill, a trial run—it was over now, the data collected, people everywhere resuming peacetime postures. A black sedan sat at the curb with its flashers on. The driver craned to look at me through the window; I turned my screen toward him to prove my identity.

As we pulled into the flow of traffic, I closed my eyes and tried not to think of Manny and Shel, above me on the fourteenth floor, together now in the dark. Maybe by tomorrow it would all be forgotten. But it wouldn’t. I saw myself, in another universe so near to this one as to be overlaid, there with them still, the three of us standing wordless beside the podium, a triangle, arrested in that final configuration. I’d have to report Shel. And Manny. Both. I wished it were automated—done already, somehow, by some watcher, or arbiter, absolving me from the fringes. And maybe then the watcher would report me. I just wanted it over with. If I knew how to find the watcher I would confess everything, whatever it wanted to know. I’d confess that I, too, hated the diversity workshops; I hated Randi Orly, the pleading and humorless facilitator, who sat cross-legged atop the table and spoke to us in a sort of internet slang. I’d confess that sometimes I turned down the brightness on my phone to take surreptitious photos of women on the train. And that I’d masturbated to images of my ex-wife’s sister on Facebook. That I’d lied to Shel—we had had big fights, my ex and I. That we’d fought so loudly outside a bar that a man had sprinted across the street to ask if she needed help. That, once, I’d knocked her to the floor—an accident, I was horrified—pushing with my shoulder against the bathroom door as she tried to hold it shut. I’d confess that I’d lost most of my friends in the divorce. That fantasizing about shooting myself helped me to sleep. I pressed my head against the cold glass. Sooner or later, everybody was going to find me out.

Bilal, the driver, spoke about Mecca and Medina, the holy cities. A sacred light shines from them, he said. It’s visible from space; astronauts have studied it, but they won’t reveal what they know for fear of mass hysteria. Still, the important facts are online, piecemeal, for anyone who knows where to look. He laughed often, high and owlish, and asked if I believed in God. I told him yes. I would have told him anything, and the river sparkled in the sun below the Manhattan Bridge.

“Hello?” I called, entering the apartment. The power was still out; my voice echoed in the cold. “Bradt?” No answer. But in the sink I saw a cereal bowl, brimming with water and milk.

Absently, I tried to lower my bag onto an end table that was no longer there. There were still shadows on the hardwood where the old furniture had been. Then, from the back of the house, I heard something. A low roar. Cautiously, I walked toward it.

There in the deep, away from the windows, it got so dark I had to keep one hand on the wall. As I neared the hall’s crook, where it turned right toward Bradt’s room, the sound grew louder. My fingers, searching, found the doorway to my room—what was my room now, the smaller, windowless one, where we’d once thought a baby might sleep. Weakly, I called Bradt’s name again.

Then I turned the corner.

Bradt’s door was shut, but from underneath and along the sides spilled blue light and terrible sounds: gunfire, explosions. Bradt cackled and jeered over it, his tone vulgar, words indistinct. And it was just like a dream I’ve had—what I mean is, it was a dream I’ve had. The dream and that moment were the same: watching the light, listening, flipping the switch on the wall up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, to no effect.