Excerpts from an e-book in progress:
Sarah was waiting by the phone again. Outside her window on the ninth floor of NPR’s office, clouds rolled over the tall Chicago buildings, ominous and grey – multiple shades of grey. At the very least, ten to fifteen shades of grey. Sarah sighed and wondered what color the clouds were in Maryland.
She felt eyes on the back of her head, and turned to find Ira in her doorway. Funny how during the past eight seasons of This American Life, Ira never stopped by her office, but would send his assistant to fetch her, like a corgi fetching a slobbery tennis ball. Sarah didn’t know if it was the unexpected success of Serial or that strange prolonged moment they had shared the in the break room last week that now led to Ira stopping by two to three times a day. He had a sad look to him, much like the clouds outside.
“Sarah, I need to tell you something,” he said, leaning on the doorframe. “I can’t sleep until I tell you …”
The phone on Sarah’s desk beeped shrilly. Finally.
“Hello?” she tried not to sound overeager, though her inner goddess screamed louder than a Woodlawn High School cheerleader. She shooed Ira away and he stared at her a second too long before leaving.
A robotic voice replied, “This is a Global-Tel link prepaid call from –“
Sarah braced herself, gripping the foam armrests of her swivel chair in anticipation of his voice.
“– Adnan Syed.” Her heart pounded in her button-up plaid blouse. Yes, she and Adnan had already clocked up to thirty hours on the phone together—Sarah spoke to him more than she spoke to most of her immediate family, including her two children—but hearing him say his own name with such confidence, such masculinity, such potentially dangerous strength never ceased to excite her.
The robot lady was back. “An inmate at a Maryland Correctional facility,” she said. But this time was different. This time, Sarah swore she could hear the robot lady swoon.
During the twenty-three hours a day that Adnan wasn’t talking to Sarah, he was thinking about Sarah. Usually, he sat at one of the eight payphone banks in the prison’s rec room, replaying their conversation, imagining his big hands running through her dark curly hair as she squinted at his cell phone records with that sweet furrow in her brow.
Adnan’s life had changed so much since 1999. Now, his days were filled with Sarah or visions of Sarah or letters to Sarah or also cooking classes so that someday, he could make fancy omelets for Sarah. But there was a time—he couldn’t help remembering—when his life revolved around an older woman, a woman who opened his eyes to the beautiful pain of love. No, not love. More like, love-making.
He watched the scene in his head, like it was happening right in front of him: Cristina paced around the visitor’s room, tall in stilettos, a cigarette hanging out the corner of her mouth. The hairs on the back of Adnan’s neck stood erect, even after all these years, at the sound of her voice.
“I don’t see why you’re making such a big deal out of this, Adnan.” His ears burned, like she was beating his eardrum harder than the drum line of Woodlawn High School’s marching band.
He was seventeen and inexperienced, especially with lawyers. “Cristina, I mean, Ms. Gutierrez,” she stopped her pacing and their eyes met. “I’m no expert, but Asia’s testimony could provide an alibi for me.”
Cristina’s slowly walked to the table where Adnan sat with his files spread out before him. He felt a twinge of panic. Maybe he should just let her do her job.
Without warning, Cristina shoved all of the papers off the table and climbed on top of it. “Maybe you’re right,” she said in considerably lower tone, about the volume of a high-powered vacuum cleaner—practically whispering for her. “Sounds like you have a lot to teach me.”
Adnan could recall exactly what he said. “I have a great deal of affection for you, Cristina. Combine a doctor, a nurse, a school teacher, and my parents—That’s how much I trust you.” Cristina toyed with the snap-buttons on his orange jumpsuit.
And that’s when he let his defense fall.
Sarah met with Mr. S. at a pants-optional Red Lobster on the outskirts of Baltimore. He promised he had information that would be of interest to her.
Once they were seated at a booth sharing a basket of cheesy biscuits, Sarah realized there was something familiar about Mr. S. He had the big, brown eyes of a dairy cow, innocent and strangely erotic. They reminded her of someone, maybe someone she saw in one of her recurring sex dreams about the Woodlawn wrestling team, but she couldn’t place it.
“Ms. Koenig,” Mr. S said through a mouthful of sensuously soft, salty, cheddary biscuit, “I’m related to this case more than you know.”
He raised his eyebrows. Why did she recognize those eyebrows?
“Literally, related,” he continued. “I’m Adnan Syed’s father.”
Sarah smacked her palm to her forehead. Duh! Syed, Mr. S. That’s why she was experiencing such a deep, throbbing lady boner: Mr. S had the same animalistic chokehold on her sexuality that Adnan had. Like father, like son! She’d have to call her producer, Dana, but leave out the part about where they were eating. Dana would be upset that they weren’t taking advantage of the shrimp sale at Crab Crib, but Sarah didn’t consider herself a Crab Crib kind of gal.
She thought that place was kind of fishy.
Jay opened the door, holding a beer and looking worn out. Sarah swallowed back her nerves—maybe she should have called before just showing up to his house like this.
“Sarah, what are you doing here?” His lip ring glinted in the Maryland sun. It reminded Sarah of last night, how cold it felt against her cheek. Keep it together, Koenig, she thought. You have to put Jay in maximum-security friend zone and make sure he stays there.
Jay held the door open for her, but Sarah held her ground. “Last night was a mistake,” she whispered.
“You keep changing your story, Sarah,” Jay said, crushing his beer can and throwing it into the bushes. “One minute you believe me, and the next, you’re here, trying to tell me what we have isn’t real.” Sarah remembered how his bleached hair had shone in the dark, like a halo. But what happened in that dark was anything but angelic.
“Well,” Sarah tried to rationalize, “I’m with someone. You’re with someone! Think about how this would make Stephanie feel! You and I cannot continue to hang out like this—driving around, smoking weed at Patapsco Valley State Park, and doing the dirty in the parking lot of Best Buy—until you admit it makes you feel a little bit guilty.”
Jay continued, “The only thing I’m guilty of,” he pulled Sarah closer, “is trying to steal your heart.”
Detective Mcgillivray had no idea that an anonymous call would bring him out of retirement. (He also had no idea how an anonymous caller got his personal cell phone number. That damn Reddit.)
“I know who killed Hae Min Lee,” said a gravely voice. “It was Ira Glass. Check out Ira Glass.”
It had been five years since Adnan was let out of prison. He and Sarah lived together in the suburbs of Chicago, and he worked coaching a high school football team. This past year, they won they state championships. It was a dream come true.
Every Monday, Sarah met him at their favorite Chinese restaurant at 2:36—their private joke. Today, he was late.
“Where have you been?” Sarah asked, not angry, but impatient. She threw her arms around barrel-chested Adnan, always surprised that he was so much taller than the senior portraits she studied for all those hours. “I tried calling you, like, ten times!”
“Sorry, baby,” he whispered in her ear, planting a big bearded kiss on her neck. “I lent my cell phone to a buddy. Don’t worry, though, he’ll bring it back with my car.”
Sarah searched his face. Still, even after all they’d been through, Adnan was mysterious to her. It was so hot.
“You let someone borrow your cell phone?” she asked.
Adnan could tell what she was thinking. “Don’t worry,” he cooed. “I’m here with you.”
They held each other. In the distance, snow clouds gathered, threatening to storm.
He held her face in his big hand. “You’re my perfect alibi.”