Monday, July 30, 9:15 a.m. (EDT)
Just outside Washington, D.C.
Already the summer heat is defeating the wheezing air-conditioning unit in a third-floor bedroom window of an apartment in Bethesda, Maryland. A fifteen-year-old girl in a T-shirt and shorts kicks off her sheet, rises and slips into the chair in front of her computer. While it boots up, she listens to make sure her mother is paying no attention. Tucking her long black hair behind one ear, she opens a document that a friend sent her sometime during the night. It begins: When Ti- Anna's father disappeared ...
She reads on.
Seven miles to the north, a juvenile court judge enters the office behind her courtroom, slings her briefcase onto her desk, sets down her coffee and powers up her desktop. Scrolling through the weekend's accumulation of email, she comes across a document in an attachment, with only a brief accompanying note. She sighs when she notes its length. She has other paperwork she should be doing. On Mondays she does not begin hearing cases until after noon. But curiosity gets the better of her. Sipping her coffee through the plastic top, she clicks open the attachment.
Halfway around the world, in a windowless, over- air-conditioned office deep in the intelligence agency headquarters of the People's Republic of China, it is already Monday night. A middle- aged man with gray-flecked hair and his necktie tucked into his shirt (a habit whenever he drinks tea) has set a printout of the same document on the metal desk before him. In fact, he has aligned two copies: one in English and, slightly off to the side, one that has been translated into Mandarin by the agency's computers. Because the computer routinely assigns the fi rst few words of any document as its title, atop every page of the English edition is printed: WhenTi-Anna'sfatherdisappeared.doc.
With a heavy sigh, he too begins to read.
When Ti-Anna's father disappeared, it wasn't one of those sudden things. I didn't see him get blown off a cliff or conked on the head and bundled into a windowless van. But he disappeared just the same, and Ti-Anna and I decided we had to do something about it.
It may seem, by the time I finish telling what happened, that that wasn't the brightest decision. I ended up traveling halfway around the world without telling my parents. I nearly killed someone, and nearly got myself and my best friend killed too. And while we may not exactly have failed, we certainly didn't accomplish what we set out to accomplish.
But every step of the way, it felt like I was doing the right thing, until we were in so deep that I wasn't thinking anymore whether it was the right thing or not. I was just trying to survive, along with Ti-Anna.
Now my parents and the judge think I should be remorseful. I have to write how sorry I am, and if I'm not, I guess the judge could send me away.
So I know I should just write Yes, I am remorseful. How hard could that be?
But as I think about it all, I'm feeling a lot of different things. Of course I'm not delighted to have a cast on my leg. I'm remorseful about that. I wish I didn't owe my parents so much money. And there's definitely a lot I did along the way that I'm not proud of.
But can I honestly say I wouldn't do it again? I don't know. I really don't.
So I'm going to write what happened, exactly as it happened, to the best of my honest recollection, from the very beginning, whether or not it looks good to the judge or anyone else.
When I'm done, maybe I'll go back and stick in a lot of sorrys and take out a bunch of truth.
And maybe I won't. I believe in the truth, maybe too much sometimes. In a way, that was how this whole thing started.
From Nine Days by Fred Hiatt. Copyright 2013 by Fred Hiatt. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.