by Mi West
My pulse skyrockets. Unnoticed yet nervous, I’m waiting at an isolated table in the darkest corner of a noisy café. Wearing a business suit to hide in the crowd on mainstreet on my way, I’m bathed in a sweat, and near suffocation in the absence of oxygen here.
I’ve borrowed a digital camera from my little son. My mobile phone with a camera and a GPS is at home, switched on; an electronic footprint to give the impression of me being there too, just in case… I came in undetected, to meet my #1 source of blockbusters and scoops, Penpusher, who’s a goldmine of top-secret leaks.
I’ve no idea about his identity or profession, but I swear he comes across sensitive stuff weeks before Wiki Leaks! He says the crowd of his secret contacts includes a guy nicked Metahacker, who hacks Wiki Leaks files long before they leak to the web.
Of course we communicate neither on the net nor on the phone. We meet IRL, six times a year, on the second workday of every even month, following a scheme of increasing street numbers and decreasing house numbers to pick the next meeting place; in plain speak, a mess. I happened to have a terrible flu last February, and sneezing loudly didn’t go well with the surroundings, but we’ve no postponing procedure…
Unsurprisingly, I even went to wrong cafés a couple of times; made a graffiti tag in black then, on a bathroom wall, each time saying “was here” plus a month number to let Penpusher know. Got fined by guards a couple of times (have you ever wondered why scoops are expensive…)
Whenever we’re not at the same café, my secret source just checks a few places around for tags, to figure out which one of us is wrong. Café owners in town mistake him for a perv specializing in leaks in café bathrooms, plus suffering from inveterate bladder inflammation. I don’t mind his false front. As he once put it, “it’s indiscernible in the crowd anyway, because, who would ever object to taking a leak?”
When it comes to acute inflamed issues and subsequent leaks, he knows more about those in the power corridors than those in the urinary tract.
My pulse goes up further. I’m obsessed, all tensed up. Which embarrassing leak is next? Another chocking Penpusher story with a thrilling climax to satisfy subscribers full of expectations, or just another tag in black, another fine, another expense to negotiate with my boss?
A big one among all these leaks is our bank account leaking expenses. Most editorial offices suffer from such leaks, but mine would match the standard account numbers in our paperwork just like a bog-roll would match the laying of the table at a Nobel Prize dinner. Needless to say, no editor on Earth can afford the 666-percent pay hike necessary to make me pay those bizarre amounts myself.
Penpusher’s the hero of my boss. Why is paparazzoing in secret letters or bedrooms a blockbuster? There must be better sources than heads of state, when it comes to sex counseling; there’s no logical connection whatsoever from sexual positions to social position. According to some kind of bedroom-snooping statistics that Penpusher and Metahacker stole from somebody who had hacked the Echelon system the other day, 99 percent of media consumers are not Tantrists. That’s why inventive how-to is shouted down, time after time, by a flood of predictable, intrusive, more-of-the-same reports on slimy stuff from creamy neighborhoods.
Minutes creep by, in a torturing atmosphere. Scoopchasing is far from as exciting as you think. I feel something hard and staffshaped in my pocket. It’s the damn black felt pen―just in case…
Penpusher finally darts in from the traffic, disguised in widescreen-sized sunglasses not exactly unnoticeable in the crowd; again… His monsters would fit as car windows.
“Sorry for being late,” he snorts, “Varying my route makes a damn roundabout, plus the last traffic light is a snailing bitch.”
Figuring out his scoop is hardly about a misshapen genetically modified animal, I strategically ask a leading question, “Is this to say that real programmers prefer wikis to traffic-light work?”
His gestures indicate a Richter-nine magnitude story. He sits down, and leans toward me over the table, whispering secretively,
“Once again, Wiki Leaks will confirm a few hundred pages of astonishing stuff. According to a source TBWL (to be Wikileaked, in the jargon of those in the know), there’s overwhelming evidence against the world’s most influential man.”
Having ordered another whisky for him, I whisper back, “Are you hinting at the founder of Wiki Leaks?”
“Would you mind being specific…”
“His double standards of morality are to be revealed, unmasked, stripped naked to his petty middle-class skin, by nearly-reliable sources. But, the battleground is hazy this time, because his ways of misleading the media would make even Bin Laden look like a clumsy hobbyist.”
“Any such connections?”
“Probably none, apart from the sly inventiveness. Not only does he claim residence in several countries at the same time. A whole bunch of regions claim themselves to be his home!”
“Any detention order against him, in any of those?”
“Orders or countries?”
“Any examples of alleged home countries?”
“Too many. Greenland, Alaska, the Alp Countries, and not least Lapland, to name just a handful; the latter alone spans four different countries. This makes it impossible to even estimate his zip code, surrounded with myths. Attempts to physically track his skis in drifting snow were a dead failure.”
He makes a dramatic pause, then whispers,
“At least snowmobiles ending in a black hole in the ice, at polar night, near some Hole in the Ground; and we’re not talking about a cool plunge after a sauna bath! In secret TBWLVSD’s (to-be-Wikileaked-very-soon documents, in the jargon of us in the know), pragmatic Scandinavian diplomats propose a special EU passport for him but Alaska has vetoed it. Plus, even in case of Washington finally cooling off Alaska, the name in the passport remains unclear, as does the job title.”
Penpusher is carried away by the flow and glow of story and firewater. My heart rate and adrenalin are in a race, and that’s not because of whisky spots reacting incredibly fast with the plastic in his windshield-sized UV filters.
What a thrill in the ear of my editor in chief: “Astonishing Double Life of Washington’s Mr. Mysterious. Buy NOW to read overwhelming evidence inside!” It struck me the blurb is as long as the resulting circulation figure, although in glaring red. Hopefully, our balance sheet next quarter gets all the way back to black after this.
I ask, whispering, “What is he accused of?”
“Repeated offenses. Speed limit violations from December alone add 100 lines to his unprecedented list of sins.”
“How strong is the evidence?”
“That’s the drawback to it. Strictly, he should be a registered vehicle owner in some damn country somewhere; but, even if there were at least an alleged permanent residence, the vehicle brand, weight, propellant, color, etc. remain wrapped in mists of mystery.”
“Talking of that, I’m sure his briefcase content will make all editors green of envy,” I say, having ordered another couple of whiskies for him. After this sly move, I pass him a soft tissue too, to wipe those alcohol spots from those damn shop-window sized glasses; half an hour’s work, under the influence of drink. Comes in handy to extend our talk. I pay the bill now, having noticed a shade of unreliability in his narration and in the waiter’s face…
My secret source replies even more softly, “You know what? The darkest mystery is what kind of rare stuff he is carrying around, this way and that, and why.”
“Any examples of accusations?”
“He got caught in Beverly Hills with two paintball guns. His haversack contained a dozen whoopee cushions.”
“Was that for planting a false trace of some kind?”
“Not sure. Another time, he was arrested on Long Island, with a brand new, luxurious, ladies’ shoulder bag containing a piece of dog shit made of plastic, and a pack of fire-proof cigarettes.”
“To a journalist, this sounds like a sly plan to mislead investigators.”
“In N.Y.C., he got frisked by guards outside the United Nations building. His backpack contained hard copies of leaked sensitive documents.”
“Sounds definitely suspect…”
“He claimed those were joke presents to world leaders, but they had appeared on Wiki Leaks the day before.”
“The UN, the leaders, or the documents?”
“All three, he told the interrogators.”
“Who the hell’s funding this guy?”
“Who knows? Many a mickle makes a muckle. There’s evidence against TV-stations, newspapers, fashion houses, toy companies, bookstores, but it’s all in tiny portions,” he whispers in a voice so tiny I hardly hear.
“Do you dare to touch upon his first name, or family name, or nickname, or at least, middle initial?”
“Nobody knows for sure. Further northeast, things quickly slide into a multilingual snowstorm, because of different aliases in different countries. In Denmark and parts of Germany, he calls himself one name, but he pretends to be a child a few miles from there, despite of his beard (artificial one, according to an intelligence report,) whereas in France, he calls himself a father. The latter is turned against him through a paternity suit in Sweden, regarding thousands of small Goblins found all around Scandinavia from December to January.”
“Given the licentious life style, can you provide many paparazzo photos from his bedroom as usual?”
“None yet, but this proves a total lack of judgment; as well as of protection… Literal, embarrassing leaks, TBWL.”
Here it comes. I envisage a blockbusting-nasty climax to the scoop.
He continues, “Therefore, Alaska’s ex-governor has every hope of persuading Alaska to let go of him,” Penpusher burps, letting go of another cloud of carburated ethanol, enough to fuel convoys of snowmobiles across Alaska, “up North by the way, his alias is Santa Claus, and less formally, I often say Santa,.” he says, farting a post-Christmasmeal Richter five.
I yearn for a place to hide; preferably, behind a pair of monster glasses. I bottomup a glass of icy water at the bar, before sprinting out.
I barely escape his cloud of flammable vapors, chased by the reverberating subterranean echo of his final, devastating-pyroclastic, Richter-nine belch…
Mi West’s recent short prose was among honorable mentions in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition in 2012, and published on the BWG Writers’ Roundtable and theNewerYork/EEEL in 2013. Firmly rooted in Europe’s airspace rather than soil, he now lives in Scandinavia among humans, birds, woods, wild animals, and addictive ski trails that match his current slide into slipstream and humor. His blog can be found here.