PortalLeaks (Part 2)

Chapter 19

Dickhead, Autistic Punk-Ass


Gunther was thankful his fridge was stocked with beer, and that Chaucer had taken a liking to the stranger. Chaucer kept the Special Forces guy busy while he focused on packing a pipe. His mind was busy doing an inventory of all his software and hardware. He had prepared for this and had a bag stashed at his brother’s place but there was so much new data he had, sensitive data, which he needed and hadn’t backed-up.

“No, no,” he said with his mild Tourette’s. There was one small memory stick in the bowl beside his bed.

“What? Your dog is fine. What’s her name?”


“Ah, old English literature. British chap. Read some of his. Didn’t understand a word. The spelling was all fucked up.” Stunned, Gunther raised his bottle and drank a swig. Then, in the haze of smoke from his pipe, he spoke:

“What…first?” The cloud of smoke blew over the Special Forces dude like a wave of radioactivity in the fallout wave.

“That smells different mate. What is that?”


“Never heard of it.”

“Sure you have, perhaps by a different name. It’s the refuse from processing cocaine. Tastes a bit like diesel.” He shook his head.

“You’re a crazy man. Is that why you live here?” Gunther took a deep breath, put his pipe aside and lit the doobie.

“Yep, that’s about right. But what a place to live.” They looked outside. “Balcony?”

They both sat in the chairs, one smoking and the other playing with a large German shepherd.

“Call me Rockett.”

“Okay, and where is that gun of yours Rockett?”

“Pocket. And loaded.” They looked at each other. “Listen, don’t go there. Give me all your hardware and software and memory sticks. I’m here to clean you out. If you cooperate then we will help you relocate and find new lodgings but you must sign a gag order preventing you from ever disclosing this event. Do you understand what is currently in play?” He studied his scars once again. Streaks of fine cuts falling off his cheekbone.

“How did you get those scars, if you mind me asking?” Rockett stared at him for a second, sizing him up.

“Shrapnel blast. Tore my cheek off. Sewed some of it back on. Can hardly tell.”

“Hardly,” replied Gunther. Rockett laughed hard.

“Hah! You’re a little soft-hearted punk aren’tcha, but hell, that’s all right too man. You have your warrior keyboard. No disrespect. Fucking little punk.” Gunther felt fear for the first time because the callous, emotionless soldier was there in front of him plain to see with hands that could snap his neck in two seconds.

“Don’t like the word ‘punk.’ More like a hippie.” That from-the-gut laughter bellowed out from Rockett into the forest.

“Okay hippie, get to it. And I’ll get us some more beers.” Rockett watched him gather the laptops and tablets from various parts of his house, making a neat pile on his desk. Rockett drank beer and looked at his watch.

“Are you going to leave me anything?”

“Yes, your mobile phone. But copy your SIM card for me first.” As Gunther did this, he answered Rockett’s questions.

“Is this your primary laptop?”

“No. It’s my personal laptop I use for personal stuff – my most valuable of all my computers.” Rockett placed it neatly in his knapsack.

“This is your business laptop?”

“No, that is for the server only.”

“And this one? Is this your primary business computer?”

“No, that one is my old personal laptop. Can you leave that one? It’s old.” Rocket’s scars came to life when he smiled and placed the computer in the knapsack.

“This is your personal tablet?”

“No, it’s my primary business piece.”


“Yes, my primary business piece you were asking about.”

“This small thing.”

“Serious technology in there.”

“Looks pretty shitty to me.” In it went with the others.

“Please, your SIM card.” That went into his front pocket.

“Would you like my underwear too, man?” Irritation clear as day in his voice, the turmoil and stress was making him crack, something Rockett knew well and knew how to manage.

“Is that weed good man? Or is it that shit shake?” Like water draining through a riptide, Gunther’s irritability evaporated into a mild enthusiasm as he described the quality of his weed.

“Pretty good dude. I mean that’s the worry isn’t it, shake. Harsh on the throat, shake. Need to keep the sticky hairs moist. And that’s tough to do. I mean over the long term.” Rockett’s scars were chiselled – markings on a cave wall in the light.

“Spark it up.”

“The roach? Sure dude.” The Special Forces dude smoked the whole thing, turning his eyes into bright light blue beams of light with a pink background.

The dog stayed away from him after that and looked nervous.

“Anything else in here that I should get?”

“Come one dude. Are you really asking me that?”

“Okay, let’s walk through together. He went through every room like an expert, leaving nothing unturned, but in his rush he overturned the small bowl of miscellany on this bedside table onto the carpet and the memory stick disappeared behind some old socks on the floor.

“I suppose I should have a hiding place but you could say I never made it that far in my military planning and execution. Hippies are a bit lazy, or at least productive in more spiritual and artistic endeavors.”

“Bull. Shit. Punk.” The edge was back in the voice of the nice Special Forces man who decided to let him play it groovy.

“Seriously dude. That is it. Unless you want my porno mags.” This sort of hubris and tough-man posturing earned him some brownie points.

“No, dude.” The gun was there in his hand again, knapsack secure on his back.

“That was quick.”

“Punk-ass computer freak, get me a beer. Gunther returned with two more bottles of beer. “And sign this.” He laid out a contract with the last page showing. He handed him a pen.

“This is it man.”

“Whaddya mean ‘this is it?’”

“I mean this is the gag order. Let’s just say you never ever want to experience a slip up here. We will know you have told someone – your mother, your brother, your old girlfriend who you still love.”

“What about my dog Chaucer.” Anger flashed across Rockett’s face like lightning, which made Gunther sign the contract swiftly. When he looked up Rockett looked like just another old stoner.

“Okay punk-ass fuck, you’re good to go. Fucking lucky son-of-a-bitch if you ask me. You get to stay here but man oh man, everything you ever publish again online we’ll be watching. I am Big Brother. Greywater is everywhere. We have eyes everywhere.”

Just as he was about to speak Gunther bit his tongue and let it go. His hand reached for his pipe, finding solace in his vice. He lit the bowl, which Rockett watched.

“You have drug-testing and crap like that, don’t you?”

“Pencil-neck dickweed.”

“That must suck.”

“I’m in the Specials. We’re impervious.” He grabbed the pipe from Gunther and with the lighter lit the pipe, treating it much too liberally and sucking the rich, potent burnt base through the small pipe. The smoke expanded in his lungs and the cough caused Rockett to keel over. The moment of action was there for Gunther to seize, like the thousands of times he had online in the endless video games of his youth. Instead Rockett raised his arm and then blew the remnants of smoke at Chaucer.

“Now that is something different!”

“Leave the pipe,” said Gunther, firmly, as if Rockett was a child about to steal a cookie.

Rockett placed Gunther’s coveted pipe on the desk, which was empty.

“Consider yourself lucky hippie.”

“I suppose I should. You might be right about that.”

“I am. I’ve seen the alternative. This is preferable.”

“I’ll take preferable.”

“Thanks for the toke.”

“Good shit huh?”

“Not shake. Good shit.”

“Will you be coming back ever Rockett Man?” Rockett opened the front door and stood there for a moment.

“No, I don’t believe so. I should maybe say we will but I doubt it. You’re a small fish dickweed. Small spud. Dickhead autistic punk-ass.”

Rockett shut the door and pedalled down the driveway to the main road where he went downhill towards the main junction and disappeared. Inside Gunther went up to Chaucer and hugged her. Rockett had said ‘artistic,’ hadn’t he? There was no more irony or cracks to Chaucer for a while, only the shaking diaphragm of a scared, sobbing manboy hippie.

Chapter 20

Neo’s Trumpet


Dimitri loved his life. He knew it was unique but it wasn’t as easy as some thought it was. Sure it was true that when his father died he left him some money, and then when his mother finally passed away he and his two sibling inherited the house they sold it because it was impractical to keep. So there was money. He hated his life in Toronto but loved his friends. It was a tough call but for him to sacrifice his life for his friends to remain in Toronto was too great a sacrifice to make, so he said farewell to his Bedford Falls and then went to the most laidback place he could find in Southeast Asia. The guilt he experienced from ‘taking the money and run’ caused him to spend his money like a drunken sailor for a few years until he found himself drunk, broke and without his papers after being robbed in Bangkok, Thailand. He was able to rely on friends and patience until he could replenish his papers and bank card and his bank account. But during his lean weeks his newfound hunger re-introduced Dimitri to the primal forces in man. Something as raw as hunger was part of the human condition. Need was different from want. He found his days were richer and his senses livelier when he lived like an ascetic. The simplicity of paring down all the bags and socks and paraphernalia was a liberation. His stuff was a burden because it brought inherent pressure to maintain and use. He was fed up with agendas and tasks and the endless thrust of deadlines and impatient voices demanding reports in emails and phone calls and meetings and the chronic chorus of complaints from fat-faced herd-people who loved the security of a paycheque. With no money he spent no money. And those days of living lean opened his eyes to a new level of empirical living. And so Dimitri proceeded to give away most of his things, everything except his laptop, and moved to Cambodia. He literally had no paper in his little shack on the lake, just his laptop.

He had learned a lot of things living in Cambodia.

Dimitri had remained transfixed on his screen all day, searching his usual haunts online plus a new array of links from the endless Twitter feed. He saw that there were now a few others on Twitter questioning Paddy Leith’s safety. His sentiment was right!

“See? It shows the value of instinct,” he said. Dimitri’s girlfriend glanced at him and then at his empty glass.

“How so honey?’ She said it absent-mindedly, but she knew it was the right thing to say. Showing interest and all that.

“Following ones instinct is trés, trés importante, ma cheri.” He leaned in and kissed her, a suppressed smile revealed in the corner of her eyes. He loved her dimples.

“You have healthy man instincts, hun.”

“Yes, thank you. I know I do. Very proud.” The chin went up. “But what I mean sweetie is that my instinct told me something wasn’t right with PortalLeaks’ Twitter account. Something told me something was wrong.” Annalore smiled at her man, eyes watery and a little red. She didn’t look away because she loved watching him and studying his face, especially how his cheekbones curved so sharply near his ears.

“So what is happening then? Have you been wearing your sleuth hat today?” It was the sound of her voice that made him go off in a momentary reverie– a long moment when he did nothing but enjoy the sensation of living in the passage of time with the mise-en-scene of assorted background noise, winds through palm trees and the sweet sound of Annalore’s voice that he truly loved. All these ingredients came together in joy and freedom – just for a moment. He smiled at her and wanted to hold onto the feeling forever. And he hoped more than anything else that she also did too.

A fisherman puttered by on the Mekong River below the balcony of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Cambodia, the tiny hum of a small motor also somehow part of the mosaic. But there was more in that moment that perhaps he even knew because there was a part of him that was sure that the era of PortalLeaks was now over, permanently, as was its visionary leader’s safety. A sadness permeated his moment of joy, a sadness that it was over but also an equal joy that such a man like Paddy Leith had lived during his lifetime. He had changed the rules of the game by introducing a fifth column of journalism, and thus shown the hand of the shadow government, enlightening a whole generation of curious minds that will never forget. He set up a trumpet for the world to hear and let those who had the lungs to blow on that trumpet and tell the world. It revealed the Matrix and the string-pullers and the guile and the manipulation of truths for political gain. Just like Neo fought for truth, Paddy was the conduit for this truth to be heard through his trumpet to the entire globe.

Things would never be the same for Agent Smith.

“Wanker!” Startled, Dimitri laughed at the site of his Australian friend Troy. He was sure he didn’t own a comb. “Oh sorry Annalore, didn’t see you there. I thought you were just another one of Dimitri’s women, you know, he has a constant stream of them coming to sit with him here at his favorite table.”

“Must be the view,” she replied, and left for another table full of her girlfriends.

“Big D, seriously, what’s going on with PortalLeaks? Vans showing up at the embassy? You reckon he was pinched? Full black op action?” It was all a bit much for Dimitri to go from such a moment of reverie to the verbal roughhousing of Troy Martens.

“Tough to say.”

“Nothing was right after that lunch he had with that wench Naomi Henderson. The tweets are all screwed up. And the Deadman’s Switch. That’s the sign it’s all gone south. Why else post the codes to the back-up files?”

“It is curious thing.”

“Curious? You reckon Big Man? Bloody hell it’s curious. What’s his name – Berry – and his boys went in and dropkicked him.”


“More or less, damn right they did. Major dropkick action. They probably poked him full of chemicals rendering him placid and malleable for their purposes, and then seriously gazelled the hell outta there for some safe house.” He took a long drink of his gin and tonic. “Or do you reckon he’s still in there, just a little hacked up?” The gin seemed to calm him.

“Could be just a little hacked up and still in the embassy. How would they ever get him out of there? It’s surrounded and patrolled and under surveillance and everything else. I mean it must be one of the most watched addresses in the world. How would they usher him out?”

“The question of ushering is the key piece here. Tunnels? Backdoor? Why else would the vans be there? They wouldn’t just show up, confiscate cellphones and tell people to go away if there wasn’t some purpose. Hey, I’m just joining the dots here.” Troy, his blond hair tussled and long, was sweating gin. It was an unfortunate thing for Dimitri to see drunk people in such a grand paradise, the line of mature palm trees swaying in the breeze below them along the river.

“They can justify cutting off his internet because of the election. All those emails were hurting the democrats. Fair argument. So?”

“But it doesn’t explain the vans and the Deadman’s Switch. Let’s take a step back for a sec, what do we have here? We have an Australian hacker who is publishing stolen classified information to every man, woman and child that has a computer and internet connection. Think about that. And because of his untraceable submission platform, no one can touch him. The most powerful people and governments in the world cannot touch him. Cannot stop him. Despite the fact they’re all getting wrecked by this guy. And what does he do? He just sits back and talks about transparency. Impartiality. Pure objectivity. No tampering of published documents in the slightest. He’s just a conduit.”

“He’s a journalist,” said Dimitri.

“Right. And look at the unprecedented impact this one guy is having on the election of the most powerful country in history.”


Disproportionate? That’s a bloody understatement!” Troy finally seemed to relax once he had verbalized his inner turbulence. Now much calmer, Dimitri chose to share his Neo comparison with Troy.

“In short Troy, Paddy Leith is Neo’s trumpet. He’s trumpeted non-fiction reality behind the Matrix to everyone who wants to take the red pill.” Troy was nodding enthusiastically.

“And he even offered a search option!” He savoured Troy’s newfound happiness in his roaring laughter, which fit right in to the busy vibe outside on the rooftop patio.

“To think the guy had five years of more or less uninterrupted work in the embassy right in the heart of London and under the noses of the GCHQ. It boggles the mind.”

“Major boggle action. Major.” They sat in a comfortable silence. Dimitri kept glancing at his screen but the Twitter feed had stopped. He tried to open some other windows and that was fine but very slow. Twitter, it seemed, was temporarily down. He went to several breaking news websites and they were reporting there were many major commercial sites down. He scrolled down the feed. He read: ‘Speculation is that it is a DDOS attack by PortalLeaks’ supporters.’

“Oh, that would make total sense.”

“What makes sense?” His words brought Troy back to him. He sighed and poured cold tea out of the bottom of his tea pot. The water-soaked Jasmine tea leaves floated and then sank into the bottom of his large mug. He smelled the scent of jasmine for a second before he spoke.

“Looks like there’s a DDOS attack going on right now against major commercial websites, like Twitter and CNN and MSNBC and a few others. Speculation is that the attack is being undertaken by PortalLeaks’ supporters.” He sipped his tea and let the potent bitterness of saturated Jasmine sit on his tongue.

“Really!” Troy sat up on his seat and pushed his hair aside. “Really!” Dimitri laughed.

“Yes, really.”

Fair dinkum mate! DDOS attack right now! Cool!

“Looks like they’ve taken down the Ecuadorean Embassy’s website too.”

“The war has begun mate. Seriously. What’s gonna happen?” The question was incongruous with their surroundings – the question soon floundering under the gravitas of the answer that remained unspoken.

Chapter 21

Into a Thousand Pieces


All drunks have a PhD in self-convincing themselves their alcoholic intake is rational. Guillermo had to face the fact he had a drinking problem. He knew he did but he insisted his management skills were up to the task, that he was ‘special’ and that because he had the will and awareness of his inclination to alcohol he had an advantage in controlling his intake over those alcoholics who weren’t aware they had an issue. Pretty basic really when he thought of it: management was the best solution because he could manage. But when he woke up in the morning on a strange couch in an apartment in East London with no one there, he really could not accept any longer that his management technique was still effective. He recalled something he read about how one’s liver soon, over time, took longer to process one unit of alcohol the older one became, so therefore his intake should be decreased yet he was still drinking at the same consumption level. Furthermore, due to his stringent management system he drank fewer times in a given month, which therefore had unwisely brought his tolerance down.

This had to explain the blackouts.

He sat up and looked around. His head roared with an angry chorus of accusations against himself. His brain felt like a dried-out Petri dish.

“Ummm. Hello?” No one answered. He checked his watch. 9:32 am. “Fuck!” He found his jacket on a chair neatly folded. He checked the bedroom and the bed was made. He checked the closet and was scared shitless when he saw there were no clothes, only a few hangers.

“Holy Mother of God!” He looked for his phone and was relieved to feel the hard plastic against his inner breast pocket, but when he turned it on to call Gloria it showed the SIM card needed to be installed. He gently put the cell phone back in his pocket, had one last look around the empty apartment and proceeded out to the grungy hallway. For a moment he wondered if he had in some way been personally violated but upon a quick review found no evidence. The fear he felt in his chest made it hard for him to breathe and to think. His mind was caught in a suffocating tornado. He didn’t want to try to remember what had happened last night. He didn’t even know if he had made it back to the office after the pub. His undergarments were sullied after two days but he couldn’t afford the time to drop off at his apartment for a shower so he sucked it up, combed his hair back that made it worse, and then tried to assume the cloak of confidence when he walked through the doors of the embassy. When he did arrive, something sombre was in the air.

“Sir, we have a problem,” said Gloria the moment she saw him. She could see her boss was under the weather this morning so she got straight to the point. “Our website has been attacked. There’s been an Internet-wide hacker attack. Our website is one of many taken down.” He was only able to hear certain words, like “attack” and “website down,” but he was relieved it wasn’t the only website attacked.

“Okay.” He proceeded to his desk and drank three bottles of pure orange juice. When he was done, the steaming mug of coffee set his palette right for the day. Even if he was slightly wounded, he would carry on in first gear until he was able to slip it into second.

Once online and moving forward, Guillermo touched base with his crew, ensuring each was manning their posts, particularly his tech guy Roberto.

Kill Kitty,” he muttered, finally feeling like he had some spunk in his step. He chose to ignore his jittery hands.

“It’s still down sir,” said Roberto the techie into the telephone.

“I can see that Roberto.”

“Twitter and the others are all still down. Nothing we can do right now but wait.”

“Do you know anything about what’s going on?” There was a silence and Roberto wasn’t sure where Guillermo wanted him to go with it, so he kept it neutral.

“Yes sir, some unusual stuff. We’ve seen operations like this before, in movies and stuff.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What I mean is that yes, I know what’s going on.” Guillermo, still in a stupor, caught his anxiety and decided to play. All men want to play.

“Can you describe it to me please Roberto?”

“How sir?”

“Any way you like. Whatever’s comfortable for you.”

“Okay, sir. Well, obviously the operation is not against us in particular.” Roberto had caught wind of what might have occurred, from whispers in the pantry. He still hadn’t seen Paddy Leith since the visit from the US Secretary of State. He had an inclination about what had happened, that somehow they had taken him to a hospital where he still was, but nothing had been said to him officially. Roberto loved his country and loved his job, and always thought a techie like him could play a more important role in embassy security if he knew more about what was going on.


“Sir, is Paddy okay?” Roberto’s sudden shift warmed Guillermo’s heart and even brought a tear to his eye. His nose stung; he let the tears stay where they were. No one could see him. Besides, they were tears born from fatigue.

“I believe so Roberto.” It felt right to be truthful. It felt like a soothing light around impending darkness.

“That’s good sir.”

“Yes, it is. And I believe this DDOS attack is from his supporters who are upset by the vans and the disconnection.”

“It’s sort of our fault, no?” The softness of his voice was what was noble in humanity.

“Not our fault, no. Orders Roberto. We just did our jobs. And we did good.”

“Okay,” he replied, surprised. “Okay sir. We were just doing our jobs. That’s true.”

“Yes, so let’s man our posts with a keen eye. And call me when you know something about the website and the attack.”

“I will.” He lingered on the phone.

“Thank you Roberto.”

“Ah. Okay. I will call you when something changes.”

In his soft moment he pondered the situation and took a quick inventory in his mind’s eye:








He telephoned his press release guy Gus.

“Fuck.” Almost instantly he was back in his foul mood. Why hadn’t he seen the press release yet?


“Yeah, I know you’re Gus. Where the fuck is my press release?” Bad form. Very bad form. Fuck.

“I have a draft here sir. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you wanted it now.” Guillermo froze.

Fuck! Sorry Gus. My fault. Damn. Yes, shit. But fuck it. I want the press release done today. Polish it up and send me what you have in the next 20. Copy?”

“Copy that boss.” Quito had some good people in the government. Good people. The longer he thought of how good natured Gus had been on the phone after his rudeness his heart grew immensely sad and full of gratitude for God for letting him reach this far, these heights, in his diplomatic career. Thankfulness turned into tears of happiness and exhaustion that hovered in his eyes, stinging them but not dissipating for a long while. Guillermo was content to look out the window and let himself heal for a moment. Instead of the overcast gray skies of London he saw before him the lush green hills that surrounded the government building in Quito near that castle and the old colonial homes where a modern all-glass library was planted right in the middle of the park. So green. So lush.

His healing stopped when he thought of President Rivera and the press release. Then any thought of healing went out the window when he saw a breaking report that Heathrow Airport was closed due to a chemical attack. When the banner on the bottom of his screen ran out it didn’t come back. He looked for more information but was interrupted when the draft of the press release came, it was a letdown. But he worked with the draft and ended up with something more concise. By the time he was happy with the copy, the DDOS attack was over and the website was back online. He sent the corrected press release to Gus for immediate uploading to the Ecuadorean intranet in the Quito office, which hadn’t been affected by the DDOS attack. Within minutes he was reading it on the Today’s Media page on their intranet homepage:

Communique from Ecuador

Ecuador granted political asylum to Paddy Leith in 2012 based on his legitimate fears of political persecution because of his journalistic activities as the editor of PortalLeaks.

In recent weeks, PortalLeaks has published a wealth of documents, impacting on the U.S. election campaign. These decisions was taken exclusively by that organization.

The Government of Ecuador respects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. It does not interfere in external electoral processes, nor does it favor any particular candidate.

Accordingly, Ecuador has exercised its sovereign right to temporarily restrict access to some of its private communications network within its Embassy in the United Kingdom. This temporary restriction does not prevent the PortalLeaks organization from carrying out its journalistic activities.

Ecuador, in accordance with its tradition of defending human rights and protecting the victims of political persecution, reaffirms the asylum granted to Paddy Leith and reiterates its intention to safeguard his life and physical integrity until he reaches a safe place.

Ecuador’s foreign policy responds to sovereign decisions alone and does not yield to pressure from other states.

What was interesting about it was the wording. ‘Until he reaches a safe place.’ Such a good man, Gus. Leaves us an out.

Just as he was finally starting to relax the phone rang.

“Guy. Good press release. Just what I wanted.”

“Thank you Mr. President.”

“And let me say, off the record, that if you did call me from a pub, it took some cajones. Me and a few of the boys here were talking about it and we thought it showed some brass. You know, it was cool with the boys.” He laughed.

“Right,” he replied vaguely.

“Listen, the Americans might have Paddy for a few days for the medical care. Until you hear from me that’s how it is unofficially. Officially Paddy is in his room as usual but without his computer connected.”

“Yes sir. I understand.”

“Very good. Now, stay out of the pubs.”

In the immediate wake of his phone call with the President of Ecuador, Guillermo was convinced he was justified in celebrating with a wee dram of his special stuff designated for special occasions only. It was true he had pulled rank on his management system earlier but it was also true that that kind of chat with the Head Hombre was really a moment to cherish. And the best cherishing was done with brandy.

Wasn’t that a fact?

Guillermo was actually still debating within his own mind as he poured himself only one ounce of brandy. He looked at it detached and enticed. Then he smelled the fumes that made him salivate. A pre-cognitive reflex happened: he scooped up the mug and drank it swiftly, suspending debate until his urge was satisfied. Once in, the sting of booze left him preoccupied with preventing himself from barfing. Once over that hump, he stretched out his legs and closed his eyes.

Cool with the boys!” Those words killed him. In his mind’s eye he now saw item six no longer as:


Now it was:


Chapter 22

Military Calculus


The Hicks clan had long prided themselves on their hunting prowess, so now, after events unfolding around him, Rusty Hicks could now see that his hunting instinct was alive and sharp despite his skinny forearms. Maybe if he were to get a tattoo he might look tougher, but that was something he still needed to think through. For now, he was a mean fighting machine with his DDOS bombardment on pre-arranged targets on his military résumé. Rusty Hicks had resisted the urge to bombard one or two websites that were not on the list. This restraint alone brought him much joy, but for now he needed to tend ship and ensure his program kept running on a few remaining sites, particularly CNN.

He hated CNN.

As he experienced this surge of pride he compared himself to Robert McNamara who carpet-bombed Tokyo into a complete firestorm unprecedented in modern history. Educated with an MBA, McNamara used his business analysis skills to outline a plan with numbers that would mathematically eradicate the enemy. Simple. Numbers don’t lie. Well today they didn’t lie either. Programming an endless loop sending out automated emails to URLs throughout the Internet universe was McNamarian for Christ’s sake! Blitzkrieg by numbers!

He looked at his bedroll on the floor. He intended to roll it up but hadn’t yet. He was too busy having fun playing McNamara as a one-man team. But his eagerness to avoid housekeeping chores was leading him to consider filling in his time with maybe adding one more URL to the list.

Hicks fiddled with his earphones and his iPod and found the song he needed to maybe bring the idea closer to a vote within his inner government: logical side and instinctual side toe-to-toe. It was clearly illogical to break orders though. He couldn’t overcome that, however, the website in question was guilty of certain bad form and even illegality, depending on how one looked at it. Then he thought of the credit card transactions that had gone on and on for months without him knowing.

“It was one transaction,” he said to his screen. And the testosterone hadn’t even worked, though it might have worked. Certain things changed a bit for a while but then he ran out but website kept charging him $119 a month for almost a year. Something in the contract about a 12-month supply. No one reads the small print! He had been forced to report his credit card stolen and get a new one in order to finally prevent them from getting their $119 a month. When he considered the number $1000 and then added the word “over” he reached the dreaded tipping point. Surreptitiously he opened the code and added the testosterone URL upyourtestosterone.com to the list. Once saved there was a noticeable blip in the stream of bots bombarding the Internet but nothing for anyone to really care about.

“Full on military calculus. Hoo yeah!

Another energy drink was in order. Like Teddy Roosevelt who drank coffee by the gallons, good old Rusty Hicks drank the modern-day turbo-charged caffeine solution for the same turbo-charged heroics of his idol. He rubbed his upper lip for a moment and wondered if it might be time to grow his Teddy Roosevelt moustache. His grandfather had had one too. He was sticking his fingers into the pie so why shouldn’t he sport some more military style? The tattoo crossed his mind again too. He looked around to his dank office at the UK base near the mouth of the Thames and wondered if there might be a tattoo shop close by. All the drudgery of sitting cramped in the green-walled military office with his computer screen showing nothing but C++ code and numbers in Excel spreadsheets, the notion of a rebellious act intrigued him.

He checked the testosterone website and saw it showed a 404 Page Error.

McNamarian technique!” he said to his computer screen. It was a strange sensation seeing the hand of power manifest. He pressed a button and the world bent to his will. He was slapping around the testosterone crooks and the justice felt good. It was cowboy justice.

“Grossly irresponsible,” came out of his mouth. The logical side was rebelling.

But what about Bobby Mac?” He drank from his green Monster, the sugary liquid falling down his chin. I am Robert McNamara. I will take out Tokyo.

Chapter 23

Big Kitty Doesn’t Smile


He was thirsty more than anything, but the buggers wouldn’t give him more than a cup of water every four hours. Paddy had been so comfortable for so long in his makeshift living quarters at the embassy that any living outside that established realm of routine was tough on his system. Sitting on a concrete floor was a pain that would not end. Each hour it felt like a certain part of his body was seriously bruised. He had no muscles to protect the bones of his ass. And he was cold. The floor chilled him to his core, penetrating his spine that caused him to shiver in uncontrollable bouts. There was one guard who took delight in the moans and shivering of his prisoner. The guard was all neck – the crew cut and massive hands showed Paddy that the man had made the right career choice by joining the armed forces, whatever dark branch he might be a member of.

No matter how much Paddy Leith had prepared for this moment he never saw himself only wearing his jammies and t-shirt and Birkenstocks. In fact he was pretty cheery that he was wearing his Birkenstocks, but his jammies and shirt were really not for public consumption. He feared a Saddam Hussein moment, being pulled out of his hole-in-the-ground hiding spot covered in dirt and unshaven and defenceless. And the humiliation. Beautiful. He had everything to look forward to. But Paddy tried to detach himself from his situation and evaluate how emotional he was. He had always planned to remove emotion of any kind if this door was opened, and it most definitely had been.

“What’s your name?” The question surprised even Paddy.

“You don’t need to know prisoner, now shut the fuck up.” The guard, well over 200 pounds, sat up. “You lookin’ to rock and roll or what?” Paddy was a wimpy academic beside this specimen of a man but he was not afraid because he believed in a degree of honor and chivalry among men who are helpless and weak. But to give respect was to keep his anger at bay.

“No. No rock and rolling. I’m just a bit scared, that’s all.”

“Well you should be. You’ve been shit-kicking us for years. Shit-kicking. Emails. Iraq logs. Fuck you man. You deserve everything you’re gonna git. No shit.” The guard moved closer to the bars.

“Maybe I do.”

“Dumb fuck.” Like Forrest Gump, he hated it when others insulted his intelligence because it wasn’t true. He had never understood why bullies like this said things that were not true. Without clinging to truth, what was there?

“I’m a journalist.”

“You think you’re a God damn journalist buy ya aren’t. You think you’re a big shot well you ain’t. You’re just a country hick like me.” Something brightened in the room for Paddy.

“You’re probably right about that.”

“I am right. I know what I’m talking about. I’m on your detail. I know everything I need to know about you, even about your childhood in New Zealand where you lived in 20 different places in eight years of intermittent schooling, and that was why you liked computers.”

“The Atari computer was good.”

“Ha! I remember those. No, was it Atari? Weren’t they games?”


“I think I had a Commando computer. It was called a Commando.” Something told him he was wrong with the name of his first computer. “You know what you can call me? You can call me John Wayne. Not ‘John’ and not ‘Mr. Wayne.’ Call me ‘John Wayne.’ Got it pilgrim?” Clearly John Wayne was a John Wayne fan.

Paddy was afraid to respond so he kept looking at the floor. He feared he would correct John Wayne about the name of his childhood computer. It was a compulsion for Paddy Leith – to have all the grammar correct. The code correct.

“I had a Commando computer too,” he said weakly, shivering, wanting badly to say ‘Commodore.’. “The early Commando was the best of all those early models. Seriously John Wayne, the Commando 64.” Paddy fell over from shivering, landing with a gasp.

“Ah for fuck sakes.” John Wayne stood up and returned a minute later with a wool blanket, tossing it on his prisoner.

“You know you puzzle me. Smart guy. Hick. Good skills with a keyboard. I get that. But what the fuck? You do this? There isn’t even money in it. All you’re after are headlines. You’re a fame whore.” Paddy was now tucked firmly with the wool blanket.

“Thanks for the blankie.”

“I got the wool one.”

“I’m already warmer.” Instantly Paddy went from a DefCon5 to a DefCon3 once his core was warm. “You’re probably right about that too John Wayne. Attention whore.”

“And because of that you probably think you have tons of friends but you really don’t have any.” This seemed to wound the pale Kiwi, who seemed to sink deeper into his wool blanket.

“You’re almost right there too, except I know I have one friend in this world.” He thought of Gunther smoking his doobies in the Ibarra Mountains surrounded by lush foliage.

The silence lasted a few hours until John Wayne picked up the thread again.

“Are you a dick weed?”


“Listen, if we’re going to work together here we need to get crisp. Put on your game face and play some ball. Hear me? I know you’re only a civilian but I was expecting something a bit more varsity letterman I guess. You hear me?” Paddy got it with the varsity letterman comment. He sat up.

“No, I’m not a dick weed. I’m just stubborn in my ways.”

“A hick with some computer tech savvy. I get it. Now, I will assume you can keep a secret since you deal with secrets.”

“Yes, I’m good with secrets.”

“Gunther.” Hearing the name brought Paddy to his feet.

“Is this from my background check?”

“No. Your few remaining deputies have been arrested and given gag orders, meaning your organization is rudderless right now.”


“Same. Safe.” Finally he nodded when he thought it all through.

“Why are you telling me this John Wayne?”

“I have my reasons.” John Wayne looked happy with his gamble. “Gunther is your one friend, right?”


“He showed it when he was confronted. Good man. We take that seriously.” There was the sound of a vehicle pulling up. John Wayne pointed at him sharply, indicating to stay quiet and still. The front door was unlocked by another military guy, followed by another. They consulted with John Wayne.

“All right Big Kitty, time to move. Chop chop! Up you get. Bring your blankie!” The guards laughed. Paddy immediately realized how malnourished he was from years of crappy food and no exercise. These guys were massive. When Paddy stepped outside the room he noticed how John Wayne put on the cuffs loosely and then let him get in the backseat of the van at his own pace.

John Wayne watched the skinny hacker get into the vehicle. Looks like an old man.

“Big Kitty in the pouch. Now en route. Over.” Inside the van John Wayne saw a real smile on his prisoner’s face for the first time. He looked at the driver who was momentarily focused on getting to the main road.

“Big Kitty? I-.” He jabbed Paddy in the stomach with his elbow. When the driver did look back there was no more smile on his prisoner’s face.

Then in a whisper he said: “Big Kitty does not smile ever, hear me? You get hurt when you smile. Keep it together Big Kitty. There is a solution to every problem.” They rode on in silence to Heathrow Airport where they saw the empty parking lot and the empty terminal. The van drove around to the side where black-suited men appeared out of a doorway and ushered Paddy Leith from the black van into the doorway where he found several men in airport security uniforms.

“Big Kitty secure.”

“They’re waiting now.”

“Roger that.” They went to go but airport security stopped them.

“Leave the blanket here.” John Wayne, who appeared to be fluent in the subtleties of man-to-man communication within the military milieu, took offence to the point of protocol by grabbing the blanket from Paddy and pulling it from him. One end of the blanket went flying in the air and landed on the airport security guard who had asked for the blanket, knocking off his hat.

“Happy?” John Wayne stood motionless squarely looking at the man for a response. “This is a wool blankie and covered in snot and piss so you go ahead and keep that for me.” John Wayne then grabbed Paddy’s loose-fitting t-shirt by the collar and pulled it a little too sharply, which ripped it.

“Let’s go Big Kitty,” he said, pulling Paddy Leith along as they walked towards the boarding deck. The airport security guard swallowed his pride and approached Paddy with the blanket.

“I think you need it now.” John Wayne didn’t break stride or acknowledge the security officer as he kept his swift pace down the narrow passageway into the empty Boeing 747. Once inside John Wayne stopped and unlocked his handcuffs.

“Big Kitty doesn’t smile,” he said and then left him for the back of the plane where he could hear other soldiers. Paddy Leith covered himself with his wool blanket and looked out the window at the empty tarmac. A thousand things were rushing through his mind but the one thing he couldn’t shake from his mind was how they were able to empty the tarmac.

Chapter 24

The Emerging Collective


Cambodia was a rocking place for backpackers, especially compared to over-trodden places like Thailand and Bali. Travelers came from all over the world to flake out and step away from the rat race and live cheaply off the money they earned during their summer jobs. Some of them were more or less professional, full-time backpackers who could eke out a living from the odd travel article they sent to various websites. There was a steady market for refreshing travel writing. Dimitri loved Paul Theroux and that American writer who wrote about going all over North America – Bryson.

Dimitri was bothered by what was unfolding in his riverside paradise. He went to great lengths to maintain a soft cushion around him to protect himself – the yoke – from spilling when hit by life’s meteorites. And they did strike from time to time – meteorites. Dimitri had excelled in the art of paring down but the meteorite variable was a persistent thorn in his side. But then again, Dimitri worried about typhoons hitting and wrecking his shack on the water. He knew it had something to do with subconscious guilt about inheriting all his money and not earning it himself. He had that look a lot back home and was one of the major reasons why he pulled a hyperspace and landed in Cambodia to live full time.

Troy had attracted a few new travelers to the table and they were all talking about PortalLeaks and the recent tweets.

“Whoever it is they don’t read non-mainstream news.” Malcolm was from South Africa who was in Phnom Penh for a few days on his way to Burma. Bearded, tall and robust. It looked like he was born in shorts.

“Probably an age thing.” Rosemary was from Whitehorse in the Yukon. She was here for the winter. She said it was cheaper than Florida – and safer. “Some people remain computer illiterate their entire lives. Look at my father. He just doesn’t get the idea that Twitter isn’t like email where you can write private messages.”

“And the switches are mismatching. Maybe PortalLeakers aren’t really behind the DDOS attacks?” Malcolm ordered another glass of red wine.

“Why wouldn’t they be?” Dimitri hadn’t thought they weren’t.

“Well because it’s a diversion. Whoever has taken out Paddy has staged this silly old-fashioned attack to divert the public’s attention away from inquiring about the black vans at the embassy.”

Glancing at his laptop, which was now protected beside him from a careless elbow now that the FCCC was really in full swing, he found all the websites back online.

“Well, the attack is over. Sites are back online.”

“Yep. I bet nothing comes of it. Nothing was hacked or removed or any crime at all was committed because the only reason for this – and the timing of it – points to a special ops diversion.” Malcolm sounded confident in his opinion.

“Shit, someone played their Valiant Warrior video game!”

“Good fun it was!” They all laughed. “But seriously, the peeps Paddy are up against have all the guns and high tech tools. How are they not going to remove him?” Some nodding. “These same peeps have been trying to smear the guy as a pedophile in all these false reports from corrupted news agencies.”

“True. And PortalLeaks found emails supporting this smear campaign against Paddy and his crew.”

“The so-called ‘Fake News.’” Said Rosemary. “We have a lot of that in Canada.”

“And don’t forget there was some trespasser who was found trying to break into the Ecuadorean embassy in August. It took the Ecuadorean police two hours to get there to apprehend the guy.”

“Right, likely some special-op recce.” Dimitri enjoyed watching Malcolm find his flow as sucked back more red wine.

“And then the whole ‘He’s working with Russia’ smear.”

“For us that’s laughable because it’s absurd and it goes against the PortalLeaks’ doctrine of impartiality.” Rosemary was fast developing a crush on this young man from the southern tip of Africa.

“Exactly.” Malcolm looked into her eyes saw a momentary sparkle – a sparkling he had seen before in other women he had met during his year-long trip around the world.

“And then shit hits the fan when that big-boobed bumby brought him lunch. That was when things began to unravel.”

“Unravel, yes,” said Annalore, happy and leaning against her man with most of her weight, saturated, safe and mellow.

“Does anyone know what date that was?” Malcolm was now clearly leading the conversation. He looked at each of them at the table. No one volunteered an exact date.

Big booby woman came on the scene on October 13th. A Thursday.” Troy had his mobile phone on the table surfing the FCCC WiFi. “Miss Booby said after their lunch: ‘Paddy said I tortured him with bringing vegan food.’ Interesting use of words.”

“But Miss Tits Magee I don’t think would have the faculty to word such a double entendre.” Some looked at Malcolm a bit sceptically but when he glanced in the eyes of young Rosemary van Houtten he knew his wit was winning her over, her cheeks flushed and her eyes full of mischief.

“Well precisely. Don’t you see? They gave her a script. It’s code to peeps like us who have the eye to decipher the clues they’re giving us. It’s like a second language within the language.” Dimitri squeezed Annalore’s hand under the table.

“Right. So we have an intruder in August. Propaganda campaign in September with character assassination and rumors of collusion with bad-guy Russia. Then Fillie McBooblavey poisons him with a vegan sandwich and then, using her awesome and proven acting skills, delivers the script. From this we get Internet disconnection on October 15th, a Saturday.”

“Nietzsche’s birthday,” said Dimitri. “Coincidence?” Their laughter at his suggestion didn’t bother him because he believed there was a plan in place and whoever authored the plan knew exactly the day they were selecting for symbolic significance because the day had such profound long-term effects.

“Okay, so we have Nietzsche’s birthday therefore possible prophecy of Nietzschean-style governance and perhaps dictatorship,” said Troy, not missing a beat. “We also get the notion that the mickey has been slipped. It’s started. Stay back. We have him now. All trespassers henceforth will be regarded as fair game prey for us. Non-conformity is no longer cool. It’s dangerous.”

“You mean it’s illegal. They’re going to get anyone who makes dubious searches.” Troy was a bit cross-eyed and dramatic and looked mildly combative at Malcolm.

“C’mon, he’s been here for a long while big guy. Big Brother is here.”

Dimitri put his hand on Troy’s shoulder and said “My round.” The tension in his shoulders lessened.

“So then the pre-commitment keys were tweeted. Three of them, right after his Internet connection was cut.”

“The Deadman’s Switch. What exactly is that?” Rosemary loved to ask questions. More than that she loved to see know-it-all men squirm.

“Access codes to back-end files,” replied Troy.

Dimitri read from his laptop: “A ‘pre-commitment’ is a strategy in which a party to a conflict uses a commitment device to strengthen its position by cutting off some of its options to make its threats more credible… A pre-commitment improves the credibility of a threat, either by imposing significant penalties on the threatening party for not following through, or, by making it impossible to not respond.’” Dimitri knew where to get his info. He didn’t need to explain. They knew he was a master.

“Wait, that’s weird,” said Rosemary. “So when he released them he was threatening his soon-to-be captors with what? Releasing his gunny sack of files that exposed high-level corruption of very powerful people.”

“But they didn’t work.” Troy was happy with his fresh gin and tonic on the table in front of him.

“So they had hacked in before Sandwichgate?” The expat PortalLeaks collective went silent as they mulled over the ripple effect of such a deduction. Only the Asian cover of a popular western pop song could be heard in the constant swoosh of the large ceiling fans that lined the arched thatched roof. Dimitri had wondered about this before: how they had penetrated the organization.

“They must have found a way in through that PortalLeaks Task Force. It was always a bit fishy for me.”

“Maybe they used that as a way in so they could get a password or two and then use them to work their way in.” Annalore was loving her man more and more in the moonlight there at the edge of the balcony above the river.

“Nah. I’d say these guys created the Task Force themselves after they had hacked the inner firewall through a flaw. Think about it. The US government can hire the best. So the best can hack into Paddy’s super firewall. Simple. Codes evolve. These guys are better than Paddy. They get in. They prevent the worst-case scenario.”

“Posting pre-commitment keys.”

“Yes. They hacked in first, then started phase two by introducing Big Tits because they knew they could protect themselves from the deadly dumping of toxic data that would weaken the US government’s credibility and expose certain powerful individuals of their crimes.”

“Why didn’t they cut off his Internet first, before the pre-commitment keys were tweeted?”

“That’s the thing though, someone else had to post that Tweet.”

“Or maybe it was programmed to post the pre-written tweet upon disconnection.” They looked at Rosemary and forgave her for her lack of computer acumen.

“That’s possible Rose,” said Annalore, who started a side chat with her new female friend. Dimitri knew it was about Malcolm. Seeing the development, Malcolm – like a male peacock – sat up and took the floor.

“Ultimately, it’s a detail. What transpires is this: the US drops by. At some point in this melee on October 15th Paddy was whisked away from the embassy.”

“And those black vans. They had to be there for some purpose.” Troy loved conspiracy theories and felt he was being privy to one that was being created before him.

“Then we had the DDOS attacks.”

“October 16th.”

“Who did it? Did this shadow government – offshoot of the US government – engineer it to divert attention away from any furor over Paddy’s disconnection, and then blame it on PortalLeaks’ supporters? Or are their hackers out there right now that know the truth – are closer to the truth than us right now because of what they can see from login files – and chose to show their anger by launching an attack on the Ecuadorean embassy and CNN and all those mainstream, corrupt media organizations like NBC and CBS.”

“Brainwashing propaganda,” said Troy.

“So that’s where we are. Good to air the facts.” Malcolm sighed. “But I fear that one day all these details will be lost as the cleansing of past threads and the deleting of files and the removal of articles will continue to happen if PortalLeaks has been compromised, which it has been. One day we will be telling our grandkids about this man and I hope we will be able to stick to the facts because all traces of this event will be covered up within the year. Already there are tweets by hackers saying old Paddy Leith threads had been deleted. If so then what will prevent the slow deterioration and ultimate removal of Paddy Leith and PortalLeaks to a footnote in history?” A breeze from the water washed over the solemn group, the sound of buzzing insects bouncing off the lights filling the void.

Feeling responsible for the downturn of vibe, Malcolm asked Dimitri: “What’s the latest on the Twitter feed?”

Dimitri tapped his screen a few times and then slid his right finger up the screen a few times, and then read: “It says:

Mr. Leith is still alive and PortalLeaks is

still publishing. We ask supporters to stop

taking down the US Internet. You proved

your point.

That doesn’t sound right, does it?”

“’The US Internet’? That doesn’t even make sense. The tweet sounds stupid again. It’s like they can’t get the stupidness out of their tweets!” Troy loved his own insights.

“Stupidity,” Rosemary corrected him.

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“And here’s another one that was just tweeted:

The current administration should not

have attempted to misuse its instruments

of state to stifle criticism of its ruling party


That doesn’t sound right either.” Dimitri was disgruntled. “Haven’t you noticed these random insights or from-a-wise-man opinion tweets odd?” Dimitri’s long-standing success with being happy was now threatened by a sense that he personally would lose big by this development. It had finally come: pure freedom of expression on the Internet was now a thing of the past. It was now an ideal that once was but now is false. A theft had occurred and he was mad – a theft of Internet freedom. They were entering a new era of Internet censorship.

Chapter 25

El Mercado Negro


Gunther focused on the hummingbird that jumped around the sugary blossoms that always seemed to be blooming around his house in the mountains. It was a full buffet of sweets for hummingbirds where he lived. He could see why they navigated here from wherever they came from. It was a hummingbird utopia in Ibarra.

“Pretty good stint here, I’d say.” Chaucer was subdued like her master, mirroring his mood. So much of the time Gunther was happy-go-lucky throughout the day but this morning he felt the gravity in its majestic force. Clearly Gunther’s run-in with Rockett had left some emotional scars but he kept telling himself it could have much worse. That’s what people did who were ‘on the spectrum.’

“Count our lucky biscuits, eh puppy?” At the word ‘biscuit’ Chaucer ran to him and offered her paw. He was always sensitive to accept the paw. He tried his best to always take her paw gently.

“Follow-through was a key factor in successful canine training.” Chaucer snatched the pepperoni from his hand and trotted to her corner, relishing the treat but once she was done she came up to him with her ears up and sat politely.

“Okay, this is the scoop.” Gunther had to reboot his own hard drive and figure out his next step, so he spoke to Chaucer as he did: “Full usurpage on a large scale. Council of Nine infiltrated and neutralized. Stop. Twitter account compromised. Stop. Could’ve been a mortal experience. Made groovy. Rockett Man cool. Coulda been a wangpussy. Stop. Sans comp sci. Major biggie. Stop. Secured one memory stick with full hard drive back-up. Nice one. Stop.” He patted Chaucer for a few minutes in deep thought, and then resumed: “DDOS attack sustained for hours. Currently stopped. No collateral damage. Who did it? Stop. PortalLeaks usurped by shadow government. Heavy hitters. They have struck. Defensive posture. Under the radar. Self-compromised. Gag order in effect. Permanent incognito persona. No biggie. Fuck. Still alive. Silver lining. What will I do with the stick? Stop.” Chaucer started to whine. “What?” He looked around and returned to exactly where he was before. “Geography compromised. Eagle’s Nest discovered. Safety question. Is Rockett groovy? Good he smoked the pipe. Man-to-man stuff, right puppy doggy?” She continued to whine. “What is it?” He put on his shoes and went outside where Chaucer sprinted off towards the road. But he didn’t worry. She knew the rules: she never went on to the road.

Inside he faced a day without a computer and his work, and this was not an option. A man with Gunther’s temperament imploded without work in front of him.

“To choose the wise option is to bring fruitfulness,” he said to himself, not caring that he had developed a full-blown talking-to-himself habit.

Artistic,” he said, but he was thinking of the word: ‘autistic.’

He heard Chaucer bark as she came up the driveway and realized it was Monday and Portia was here, the food delivery lady.

“Welcome Portia. How is your car these days?” He said the same thing every time he saw her and oddly laughed just as hard each time. But Portia was a very kind-hearted woman, buxom as she was. Very matronly.

Buenas Mr. Gunther. Commas tas?” She chatted as she unpacked the groceries when it dawned on him that due to the change of circumstance certain policy guidelines should be tweaked in order to remain at maximum productivity. Certainly a jaunt into Quito for a computer would be acceptable.

“Even a possible prolonged hit,” he said involuntarily. Startled, Portia spoke thus:

“Everything is possible ma amigo.” She smiled and turned to leave.


Si señor.”

“Will you take care of my dog for a few days?” Clear, concise English.

“A few days Mr. Gunther? Sure, no problema. Come. I take her now, yes? She is a good one, non?

“Yes. My dog is a good one.” He put his hand on her shoulder gently and then removed it quickly. “Thank you Portia.” He didn’t like physical contact.

Si. Si.”

“Are you going to Ibarra?”

Si. Si.”

“I join you, si?”

Si señor. Si. Come.” And with that Gunther left his fortress in the Andes, packed his kit and left Chaucer with Portia and was boarding a bus for Quito within the hour. As soon as he was moving he knew it was the right thing to do because everything seemed to fall into place.

Serendipity did stir.

On the way to Quito Gunther had the time to formulate an immediate plan yet as much as he enjoyed formulating new plans of attack he was more thrilled with the fact that he could get away with packing his pipe, lighting his pipe and then blowing the smoke out the window with no one noticing. With two key windows open, he was able to pull it off. He was already seeing some evidence of extremist behavior in himself since the Rockett Man incident. “Keep it groovy,” he said out his window, holding his half-smoke sticky pipe in his hand. He knew from his time in hostels in the capital that there was a small-time criminal element that stole things like knapsacks from backpackers, and the goods they hauled were sold at the black market in the old town, called ‘el Mercado negro.’

Gunther enjoyed the scenes through his window, the mountain green giving way to more grass on the open slopes in the valley of volcanoes. Quito, situated in this valley, was nestled safely around the Spanish Old Town where the Spanish chose to build their New World Empire. The cathedral spires poked up from the landscape of concrete homes that surrounded the epicenter. Gunther was only vaguely aware of where the Mercado Negro was but he did remember that it was beside the most majestic of all the churches in the old town so when he landed at the bus station he walked briskly to the market hoping to find what he was looking for.

The cathedral was easy to find because he could see it at every street corner. Once there he saw an archway between two buildings and found the market hidden behind it. “Man,” he muttered to himself under his breath, careful not to move his lips for fear of being looked at as mad. Maybe a hundred vendors sold second-hand goods in little stalls that made up an outdoor market full of alleys and lots of goods. Never could a person in Quito go without clothes, with shirts and pants just a few dollars. After a few minutes of exploring he found the far corner where there were all sorts of VCRs and DVDs and VCDs and stereos and finally computers. He loitered until he found the guy who had a suspicious look in his eyes.

“Could be the drugs,” he said involuntarily, alarmed for a moment using the word ‘drugs.’ “Careful puppy doggy,” he said to himself, forgetting Chaucer was not with him. The man was watching him, so he stepped forward. “Computers?” The man’s eyes were very bloodshot, clearly a man who liked his pipe. That was fine; he respected a man who had a pipe habit.


“Laptop?” He pointed at some old laptops back in his table. “Too old.”


Si, ah, Viejo. Mucho.” Swift nodding and some new energy. The vendor with the red eyes pulled out two more laptops that were new.

“No Viejo, si?”

Si. Gracias.” He picked up the one he knew he didn’t want and admired its crappy hard drive and RAM capacities but his smile brought the vendor forward.”


Si. Si. How much? Dollars?”

“Only $200.” It was what Gunther hoped – a first highball offer on the crappy one.

“$200? Mein Gott!I could be anyone right now, he thought. “This should be fifty dollars.” He spoke very clearly but was worried he might piss him off. “And this one?” He picked up the one he wanted, a brand new Acer with the touch screen – some poor tourist missing their laptop with all their sign-in names and registration in the computer.

“Mmm, no.” He discarded the nice one and returned to the crappy one. The vendor, taking mild offence, picked it up and thrust it back into Gunther’s hands.

“Good one.”


Si. Si.”

“How much dollars?” He shook his head as he asked it and placed it back on the table.

“Two hundred only.” Gunther laughed. He was surprised it was real laughter because he knew he had him.

“Too much.” He started to walk away.

“No. One hundred dollars, this one.” He was pointing at the one he wanted.

“Sixty dollars.” For moment he thought he might have made a mistake.

“One hundred.” Gunther faced the man and pulled out his wallet.

“Eight dollars. Eighty.” The need to feed his addiction was written all over the poor guy’s face.

“Okay. Okay.” He peeled four twenties and tucked his wallet away. He stood beside the laptop and said:

“Cords. Electric.” He made a gesture of plugging in a cord into an outlet.

“Okay, okay.” The vendor rustled through some cords and gave Gunther one. He checked it with the connection and saw it was wrong.

“No.” He raised his finger. “I look-.“ He pointed. “Si?” The bloodshot-eyed vendor nodded and Gunther was able to find the all-important Acer power cord. “Si,” he said at the man. “And Gracias ma amigo.” Big smile showed missing teeth. Gunther put his new gear in his bag and left quietly, keeping his head down. When he exited the archway and was down the street he did look back and was relieved to only see a cat.

Gunther could hardly contain his excitement. For a moment he thought he would skip all the important stuff and get his ass to the Dutch Pub, but logic trumped passion.

“I’m back in the game!” he said loudly, no one noticing. He passed the old colonial buildings that had been converted into shops along Amazonas Avenue to the park where he sat down. He looked at the amazing glass library placed in the heart of the park among some trees. Instead of resting he was drawn to the library where he peaked inside and saw empty tables with half-open books. The hairs on the back of his neck rose.

“No,” he said. “Too sloppy.” He hadn’t clearly thought-out a plan yet with numbered steps identifiable and proven to be airtight and undiscoverable to the illuminati. He sat right beside the library and loved the vibe. He tried to relax but he was craving his pipe. In fact he couldn’t think straight and come up with any inspiring plan so he chose to get a room in a nearby hostel so he could gather his thoughts.

He walked by the Swedish-run hostel with the yellow-and-blue insignia of a Viking-horned helmet, and then passed the very treed-lot of the German-run hostel, both feeling too restricted and tense for his liking. He chose to stay at his usual spot with the Frenchman owner who started drinking red wine at lunch every day, not for himself but for the sake of making the guest comfortable with sociable and informative and friendly conversation around the reception desk. Smoking wasn’t allowed but Jean-Luc smoked constantly, always referring to his crime with ‘this one time I break the rule.’ At his core he was likable and funny and trustworthy for these flaws. The Frenchman had some Paris-Dakar French backbone but he chose to cloak it with sophistication and understatement.

Jean-Luc was busy with a new group of travelers who were asking him all sorts of questions about the nearby volcanoes and hiking trails. Upstairs in his new room, Gunther opened his window a crack, sat on his bed and lit his pipe. Instantly his ills and anxieties gave way to dynamic thoughts of what he could do with his new device. Like a kid Christmas morning, he opened his new laptop to find out who his new identity was.

“Fuck, I hope it’s a guy.” After a flurry of touches on the screen he spoke like a machine gun, voice constricted and wonky: “Windows 10, Aspire E5-472H. Fucking right on. PC Name: Nat Wierzbicki. Von Frickin Bismarck. One-point-nine Gigahertz Intel. Suck it! Four-Gig RAM. Very groovy. Gnat Who-the-fuck Bicki man. Wild.” He smoked another pipe and exhaled carefully out the window, noticing a few people out in the courtyard under the lights drinking beer. His mind was still racing so he bought a few beers from the front desk and soon relaxed. He didn’t dare try to login to the PortalLeaks Twitter account. Surely the password had been changed and now was under total control by the bad guys.

“But maybe Good Old Nat McBean Wierzbicki has a Twitter account.” Sure enough the page opened with a prepopulated login and password window. Nat’s tweets were the usual crap but now Nat Wierzbicki was going to develop an interest in PortalLeaks.

“A new convert as it were, right puppy-.” He turned to look for Chaucer and felt the pang of loss. For a long moment he thought of her and how perturbed she must be without him.

“Portia’s a good man,” he said, not bothering to correct himself. The play of words lightened his heart for the first time since the Rockett Man incident. He decided to go surfing for a few hours, his eyes scanning like a laser beam and his mathematical mind like a sponge. Hour after hour he read the growing speculation around the leader of PortalLeaks and the mystery of the black vans. Then he caught the thread of thought he needed to follow to deduce his wisest move: Where could Paddy be?

“He’s handcuffed and in a castle,” he said as a starting point. “Injured. Hurt. Severe turbulence. Serial Number-Two issues. Bile duct issues. Sullied. Where? Alive?” It dawned on him that he might never see his friend Paddy Leith again. He stopped everything and blinked, stomach sinking. PortalLeaks was now in the hands of professional computer people who knew how to operate it but who didn’t have the nuance or understanding of the philosophy behind it. Fine. But the personal safety and health of Paddy Leith was the prime issue. Was he hurt?” His heart leapt into his throat and a deep empathy for the hardship his friend might be enduring.

“A terrible potential fate,” he said, noting the dramatic combination of words. But it was a drama that was unfolding before him like a film, yet agents did hijack what had been a smooth-operating organization for five years with him inside the embassy.

“My wisest move is to do nothing.” He wondered about the others like Higgy in Iceland, but what was there to do? He was under the same gag order and he knew that these guys were world-class at what they were doing. Besides, Higgy was an over-sized Viking only in his own mind. The thought of the little bastard spurred him to action.

“All right. First…” He checked the Twitter feed again and found another stupid tweet from PortalLeaks.

We have updated the Stochastic Commando Algorithm.

Spelling mistakes. So obvious. He knew what to do. He looked at his pipe but decided to get it done first and then reward himself with a new bowl. He logged in as Nat Wierzbicki and retweeted it with the following message:

BS el grande. Pool still swirling. Turbulent waters ahead. Tiddly.

He felt the joy of hitting the Post button and then leaning over eagerly for his pipe. He watched his retweet appear in the #WhereIsPaddy hashtag and knew it would be seen by the right people. He wondered for a moment if he should have signed his handle Tiddly. Surely those hacks in Langley were striking fear and terror into those honest souls only searching for truth.

The pipe was exceptional and he was careless with exhaling, instead blowing it towards the door.

Fuck.” But just as Gunther was starting to feel his limbs becoming more limber he saw the new headline about the death of Paddy Leith’s mentor Hayden McFetridge, chief of the Center for Investigative Reporting. 

No. Way.” He thought he was an untouchable. He read the article stunned and in a state of sudden fear. If they can get McFetty they can get me. He wondered if he was being followed but dismissed it. How could they? They don’t know where I am. And they certainly don’t know Big Nat Wierzbicki. He didn’t allow himself in the moment to face the fact that now there was a trail connecting Nat Wierzbicki, Gunther DiLeo and PortalLeaks, in particular the “#WhereIsPaddy thread, where even they are watching. Instead he was confronted with the reality of how dangerous the memory stick was because it gave him the possibility of temptation. And it gave him access to the archives, and most importantly: to the Cindy Plimpton private stash of emails.

With the passwords and files on his back-up stick he could cause some headlines himself. In fact he would adhere to Paddy’s predetermined schedule of email dumps – a few times a day – right up to the US election. He knew Paddy hated Plimpton so he would honour his hatred and insight and publish a link to the trove of emails as he would want. He could do it from anywhere via his Twitter feed.

“But then I’d be dead. Like McFetty.” He felt lonely without Chaucer and knowing that another of the old guard had been removed. By reflex he looked for his German shepherd but she wasn’t there beside him, which added to his stone-cold loneliness. For the first time he was scared. But as long as he was alive, he would simply post links to the emails. Everyone in the world was watching the US election and expected Plimpton to get into power but perhaps she won’t if he could get his job done…

Chapter 26



Rusty Hicks was hitting his stride by all accounts. He was being included in email threads with other biggies in the ‘cc’ field, let alone the ‘bcc’ field. He had managed to get some sleep but only a few hours. What he was loving so far in his day was his new moustache that was barely visible. He kept running his finger over his upper lip for reassurance that he was actually growing it. When he touched it he felt empowered. He was ascending in the ranks and saw himself with his trim moustache sitting with the killer whales in Washington’s brass sea. He would find his way in there and his new ‘stache was part of it. And so was his new tattoo. He tossed and turned all night thinking of what to get and hadn’t settled on an image yet, but he knew that if he let himself think about it too long he would never get one, and therefore miss an opportunity to become who he was destined to be.

“Hayden McFetridge,” he enunciated clearly when he read the article about his death. We got Paddy Leith’s mentor. He knew it was the fourth or fifth of the traitors to meet an untimely passing. Damn good. He loved the words ‘special forces.’ And now I am Special Forces. This was a special project and he was the force behind it. Make no mistake: today’s warriors are armed with an energy drink and a keyboard.

And maybe the UNIX red book.

He had spent the morning erasing files and any trails left from his DDOS attack on the Internet. He had formulated the schedule and dropped the bombs and was now flying back to base. He was three McNamaras rolled into one lean unit. Unit of one, swift typist and sporting a very trim ‘stache.

And some soon-to-be ink.

“There it is,” he said, alone in his office. Rusty Hicks placed his computers on sleep, grabbed his jacket and left the base on his crappy rental car and drove to the tattoo shop he had recently scouted. Usually regal and proud in his uniform, somehow it was incongruous with the flavor of this shop despite its proximity to the base. Inside he heard the high buzzing of a tattoo machine.

“Have a seat,” said a voice from the back of the shop. A seat? No thanks. That’s all I do all day. He was attracted to the wall of flash where the colors jumped out at him. American traditional and British military tattoos from the last 60 years lined the wall, everything from pin ups to sailing ships and anchors. Already an expert at scanning, his eyes scanned the wall methodically and patiently in a few seconds, skimming for something pre-cognitive – a combination of colors and shapes that was attractive to his eye. Then his eyes came back to two images. The first was a dragon and the second was an eagle. Upon closer inspection he loved the green in the dragon and the lines of the scales but the eagle was more majestic and had a very cool wing design that would fit perfectly on his right forearm.

“Mate, you doing good?” The bald-headed tattooer had a friendly face despite being covered in ink.

“I think I found the one.”

Bernie the tattooer studied Hicks for a moment. Usually Hicks hated when people put him in his place like that because of his skinniness but he wasn’t a lightweight anymore. I’m an American doing Special Forces work overseas on a one-man team trained in McNamarian logistics and execution but with a much lower overhead. I only need a few computers and memory sticks. And because I’m a special warrior I am morphing all the time into a leaner soldier.

He decided in that moment to change his handle from ‘Hickory Stick’ to ‘Gryphon.’

“I like this eagle here,” he said, “but I’m wondering if you could give him lion legs.”

“Lion legs? Oh you mean like a gryphon?” Rusty Hicks nodded. “That would be sick.”

“Let’s do it.” A new light went on within him somewhere, emboldening Rusty Hicks from the mundane to the unique.

The sketch was cool and the size was too big because of his pencil-sized forearms but the tattooer Bernie shrank it to fit. Rusty Hicks still thought the outline looked massive on his little arm, but he didn’t want to be unmanly so he gave it the go ahead.

Only much latter during the tattoo did Rusty Hicks bother asking Bernie by how much he had shrank the tattoo to fit his skinny forearm.

“How much did you shrink the gryphon?” The question terrified him.

“I shrank it 17 percent,” he replied and went back to tattooing. And then a few moments later. “You’re 17 percent short of being a full man.” It was honest laughter and he hadn’t mean it to be mean but Hicks had always had thin skin. He tried to take it on the chin because he was becoming a new man. He was becoming who he really was inside. His personality was being manifest, but the 17% stayed with him. Fuck it! I’ll make up that 17% by growing a killer ‘stache.

The needle was sharp but it seemed like a distant pain. His mind was thinking about all the information he had absorbed in the last few weeks, the op and McNamara’s notes and coding the DDOS attack. He was like the lone gunman on the grassy knoll who was the one who really shot John F Kennedy and was never caught. That’s who he was now, Gryphon. Fuck it. Ragnar Gryphon.

“Stick it up your ass!” he yelled, yanking his arm astray and showing an inked line gone astray.

“Oh no. No,” said Bernie, concerned. They were both silent and surveyed the damage. “Well I hope you’re happy with that little outburst. See that?” He pointed to the inside line on the gryphon’s knee that shot out at an awkward angle. How could he not see it?

“I see it.”

“What was that? Whose ass were you thinking of?” He shook his head and returned to the tattoo, shaking his head for what seemed like a few minutes. Rusty Hicks couldn’t bring himself to look at the damage that happened to be right at the most visible part of the tattoo. No, he thought, he had already stepped through the door. He rubbed his upper lip for a moment and mulled his fate. Only those who live with their eyes wide open see opportunities laid bare before them.

When Rusty Hicks finally saw his new tattoo he was shocked at how dark it was, like a black fuzzy stain that covered his entire forearm. The feathers made it feel like it was covered with thick, black, barbed arm hair.

No!” he yelled. “No! Way! Man!” He leaned forward more, which made the hairy factor worse. “It’s pretty dark, eh?” His words were weak, deflated.

“You remember saying it didn’t matter whether we went blue ink or black ink on the outline? You said you preferred black ink, right?”

“Of course. It’ll lighten up obviously.” Rusty Hicks sat waiting for confirmation, until Bernie said:

“Parts of it.”

Parts?” But then he let it all go. It was permanent. No biggie. His cheeks were flushed and he felt hot so he left rather quickly after paying, driving his crappy rental in the rain, thrilled and traumatized by his first step forward as Gryphon Bad Ass. Back in the office he returned to work, doing his best not to peel the bandage off his forearm. He categorized the tattoo event in a back directory and proceeded to business.

Nobody noticed he had left.

He typed the first tweet of the day for PortalLeaks:

Did you know: PortalLeaks has a ten year perfect record of publishing?

Rusty-Hicks-who-was-now-Gryphon-Bad-Ass-Special-Forces-Eagle placed a link to one of the many unpublished reports he had found in the files confiscated from Paddy Leith’s desk.

He rubbed his moustache and pulled up his sleeve to expose the long bandage on this right arm and felt like maybe PortalLeakers needed more information from all the waiting-to-be-published data in Paddy Leith’s files. He tweeted a few more with images this time and links. The first on his mental list was a doctored cover of The Economics Gazette showing Putin looking like the devil he is. Rusty Hicks figured they wanted some dirt so he dipped into his own trove of conspiracy knowledge and pointed out the following in his tweet:

The new sober cover of The Economics Gazette

Which is controlled by the Rothschilds family

Plimpton’s adoring pal.

His new tattoo throbbed under the bandage wrapping, the skin feeling scraped and blood-red after the needle had scratched in the same spot for hours. So he used his right hand to hit the tweet button. Knowing millions were reading his words gave Rusty Hicks/Gryphon Bad Ass the moment he had been waiting for: he finally had power.

The thrill of wielding his newfound power took over in a frenzy. He wrote another tweet, not realizing how out-of-place it was in the long thread of PortalLeaks tweets:

Leak early, leak often.

If PortalLeaks had obtained Plimpton’s emails earlier,

You could have voted for Saunderson against Sumpt.

Do it now folks! Touch it!

Only when he read the tweet in the main Twitter feed did he question his language. He meant touch your button on your keyboard of course. People know that of course.

Then the telephone rang.

“Stop it. Now. No more tweets,” said Secretary of State Ron Berry. “We have a man on it full time now.”

“What do you mean? No tweets at all?” His heart raced with panic. How brief was his reign!

“No more tweets lieutenant. None. That ‘Touch it’ tweet was your last one. In fact it might go down as a classic. Good day Lieutenant.” Hicks stood up and walked out the door to the smoking area outside the hangar. His stomach was clenched at the words that had just entered his ears. It was just a tweet. What about his personal op against the testosterone-selling-website? Nothing was said about that? Not one problem with that one!

Outside the base he sucked in the nicotine and looked for birds in the overcast sky. The lack of sunlight was adding to his now gloomy disposition.

A classic here at Langley? He smoked hard. They liked it then? He peeled the bandage a little bit near the lion’s knee with the rebellious line. He itched it and then smoked some more, thinking of the biggies having a laugh at his expense, saying the Hickory Stick was a wimpy dick. He kept scratching the edge of the bandage and felt rage overtake him. He lit another cigarette and noticed the bandage had come half off. He removed his tunic and then the bandage. He then put his tunic back on but without his right arm down the sleeve. There, in the muted light he examined his gryphon. It was absolutely beautiful. All the lines were parallel and the line weight was consistent, which only made the “J” shaped line at the lion’s knee stick out more. Close up the tattoo was just the right darkness he thought. From his view it was detailed and symmetrical. It looked like art. The beak of the eagle’s head had a killer hook to it, and the ruffled feathers around its neck looked like armor of feathers. He wondered if – from afar – it looked like he had a hairy arm. He didn’t have long to wait to find out. Another serviceman at the base stepped out for a smoke and didn’t bother saying anything before going up to study his new ink.

“Got it yesterday?”


“Don’t get it infected.” Rusty nodded. He was now a man of fewer words. “Eagle but what the fucks with the tiger legs?”

“It’s a gryphon. Half-eagle, half-lion.” He studied it closer, his shallow gums showing gum disease and a row of teeth left uncleaned for some time.

“Bit dark, isn’t it?”

“Should lighten up.”

“It should light up eh? It’s good mate. Big. Fills your arm.” He stood back and lit his cigarette. “Yes sir. No messing around with that one, eh? Didn’t want any leftover ink eh? Scratched it pretty deep in there, eh? Is that a blowout there?” He leaned closer and studied the left knee of the Gryphon. “What’s that then?”


“That fucking thing there. His dick?” His laughter was more from his nicotine buzz than from the cleverness of the joke.

“His dick?” Fuck.

“His tail? What the fuck is it? See? Right there.” When he pointed with his hand holding the cigarette, a finger brushed the said line, leaving Rusty in momentary pain, which he didn’t show.

“It’s the Gryphon’s dick, as you said.” Stepping through the door now as Gryphon Dick because he had to accept the fact that he now had a gryphon penis on his forearm, and that even if someone didn’t say “dick” they were still seeing the penis nonetheless. It was – to say the least – very unfortunate.

But after the manly banter had finished Rusty Hicks felt something new. The way the guy smoked and how he stood was different than any time before. Instead of standing away from him as usual, his fellow smoker’s demeanor was accepting so that for the first time someone was choosing to hang out with him as an equal. Rusty saw some scars on the guy’s cheek. That was something he didn’t have: scars. He would work on that.

Rusty-Hicks-now-Gryphon-Dick lit another smoke to prolong this new sense of inclusiveness, when his smoking buddy rolled up his sleeves, revealing some ink. They smoked for a while and didn’t speak until right before they finished their third cigarette.

“With Heathrow down he was able to get out,” said the guy with scars. “I hear they’re going east.” The words sounded disconnected and out of place but he immediately knew it was about the PortalLeaks package. Speaking in confidence with a fellow soldier was new turf for young Rusty Hicks.

“East, yes.” He searched his mind but could not find the right words. Instead he looked at the dark patch on this arm. “Things are moving ahead.”

“Didn’t know the yanks had real estate in the east.” He laughed. “Only the Brits have the east.”

“I don’t think you’re wrong there mate.”

“No, damn right I’m not.” He was talking to a patriot and a believer in Britain’s own Manifest Destiny: the offspring of Ephraim and Manasseh were destined to inherit the world, Joseph’s two sons – all the way back to Jacob and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

“Hong Kong.”

“Fuck Hong Kong. Borneo mate!” That’s when he realized he was talking to a chap from the SAS.

“Call me Gryphon.”

“Rockett.” Wrinkles raw on his pale skin, the skin around his forehead and eyes were like sandpaper.

“You’re one of the computer guys from Virginia, aren’t you? I know.” Rusty Hicks became anxious.


“You Yanks work with private contractors like us?” Now Rusty Hicks had suspected some sort of private enterprise managing this operation into completion but he hadn’t been briefed. But he wasn’t part of it as far as he knew. But looking at his Gryphon tattoo with its distinctive penis hanging to the left, he had to go all the way. Rusty Hicks did step through that door and out to the other side.

“Of course mate. Cleaner. Less complicated for some ops.” He stared straight ahead and spoke as if he were discussing his brakes on his rental car. Rockett removed his wristwatch.

“Less complicated fuck. Damn right about that.” Rusty Hicks wondered for a moment if he was being recruited. Sure, there’s a good infrastructure of skilled personnel in a good choice of geographies. The Empire should still stand for something.

“In the tradition of Richard the Lionheart,” he said to Rockett. “He has to be my favorite of your kings.” Rockett squinted a little in his direction. Rusty nodded. “Action king you know. Wasn’t a fat fuck sitting behind a large table barking orders.” Vigorous nodding from Rockett and another cigarette.

“Hate to say that many of our kings were wankers.”

“Unfortunate.” A sharp look, perhaps some bitterness. Outside comments of internal matters were off limits. Mental note. “But we’ve had lots of wankers as president, including our current wanker.” Rusty scored his first post-ink joke. He enjoyed the full glory of Rockett chuckling and showing his missing molars in the back of his mouth. The smell of stale cigarettes and unbrushed teeth wafted over him.

“Yeah mate, he’s a wanker.” More laughter.

They watched a lone man walk across the tarmac towards the hangar, the man seemingly coming out of nowhere. Crew cut and clearly private uniform, the words ‘private contractors’ bounced around both their minds. The man nodded as he passed, his scars on his neck like lines of chiselled white in a pattern going behind his neck. His hat had a small insignia of black against gray in a white circle. In the split second he passed by, Rusty Hicks saw it was a dagger and a word below he couldn’t make out.

Just as Rusty Hicks saw the distinctive ink he realized it was the same tattoo as Rockett. He glanced at it just as he replaced his wristwatch, covering it once again, but not before he saw the word ‘Greywater’ written on the inside of his wrist. With a nod Rocket departed.

In his office he read his new orders: be on a plane to New York to meet Colonel Braithwaite for a special meeting. He knew it; good things were going to come for him now that he was stepping forward and becoming his true self.

Chapter 27



Dusty Pearce loved getting into the field. The physical immersion solely based on purpose was a beautiful thing for Dusty. Efficiency of movement was obviously his focus, minimizing distraction and expenditure in order to achieve his task. After spotting Tiddly’s retweet, Dusty wrote a report to his colonel and suggested Tiddly hadn’t been fully convinced the gag order was real. This was followed by a phone call by Colonel Braithwaite telling him to go to Ecuador, track him down and make sure he understands that the gag order is in fact real. ‘Use your judgment. Tickets and information package in the locker at the station,’ had been his initial briefing. Dusty Pearce had stopped first at his safety deposit box at his bank and selected items from his professional kit, and proceeded to the station to Quito.

For his op that Braithwaite called Operation Sidekick Bodycheck, Dusty was fully prepared for the bodycheck. On the flight somewhere over Central America he summarized what he knew about the hippie Gunther DiLeo from his file. He was a unique sock, unusual education, autistic, strange family situation and destined really, to become a loner living somewhere in the Andes smoking dope and writing code. Shit, I did that. Dusty Pearce shook his head as he stared out the plane window. Fricking hippie hacker survives off the petty cash supplied by donations to PortalLeaks more or less as an employee. Covers overhead. Smart. Responsibilities for PortalLeaks: to organize incoming leaks and to maintain all new information in a searchable database. Couldn’t be too interesting, though fuck: the info his was privy to! Wonder what that guy knows. Could be a dangerous hippie. Might need to graze the kneecap or perhaps a little off the elbow to hamper future keyboarding ops.  Knows too much, the scrawny stoner.

He studied the photo of Gunther closely with his damaged eyes. It bothered him that he was part of the generation that were unfortunate enough to inherit CRT monitors for all those years before the LED screens were created and affordable. Dusty Pearce knew all that electromagnetic radiation that emitted from CRT monitors were very harmful to the eyes and that was why there was a whole generation of people in their forties and fifties wearing eyeglasses. For Dusty it had been a bad combination of CRT screens and too much exposure to sun without eye protection. He could think of a few ops that had exposed his eyes to extreme sun, damaging something, especially an op executed during winter with the sun reflecting off the snow.

Ever since that time he experienced sunspots from time to time.

The plane descended into the city of Quito, where the homes were lined along the groove of the valley, the Cotopaxi volcano sticking up through the clouds just below the wing, the top of the mountain whiter and purer than the clouds. Dusty’s passion for the hunt bubbled and simmered, impatient to be let loose on finding his HACKSUB. He knew maintaining an invisible presence was top priority so he went to Mariscal downtown and found an internet café where he was able to overcome the café’s firewall and by using special software was able to find the ping from backend data in Twitter to find the location of IP address of where the tweet originated from. And from the IP address Dusty Pearce was able to find The Auberge Inn hostel where he found a room on the other side of the inner courtyard. He spoke to a drunk Frenchman who looked as if he’d been pickled for the last few years. Tough road that.

It had been easy to read the signature of the Tiddly tweet from Nat Wierzbicki. Must’ve been stoned. And pinning the WiFi signature to the only Auberge Inn listed in Quito was like planting a bug in the HACKSUB’S nest.

He was the bug.

Dusty Pearce was sitting on a chair by his door on the balcony overlooking the inner courtyard pondering the exact nature of the bodycheck-to-come when he saw his HACKSUB. He was surprised at how the groovy hippie look appeared to suit his HACKSUB. Patterned Ecuadorean pants and the loose-fitting shirt and those fricken sandals. The guy’s like the Big Lebowski. Dusty chuckled. Christ, there must be a colony of these outlaw hackers in all sorts of nooks and crannies like this.

My little HACKSUB.

He was well out of view when Gunther walked through the courtyard to the front desk and out the front door. Quickly the hunt was on, Dusty a few steps behind, kit secure under his arm and tattoos fully covered. The collarless sweatshirt and his unshaven face made him look like a worn traveler. He had seen them scattered in the corners.

Dusty carried an open bottle of beer with him and walked 50 yards behind the hippie, only a few times being exposed by Gunther glancing back to look for traffic as he crossed the streets heading south from the hostel. In pursuit Dusty was invisible, even assuming the dejected slump of the shoulders and the down-and-out pout-and-frown that attracted muggers. It was dark because the streets were poorly lit. His only experience in South America was an op in Venezuela during the nineties, but Quito felt different than Caracas. He breathed heavily between sips of his foaming beer.

Fuck me,” he said, putting a hand to his chest.

His HACKSUB turned quickly down a side street and ended up on a corner patio on the main street Amazonas where it looked like the guy knew some of the lads. Dusty casually walked by and was freaked out how small it was. Fuck! And he turned into the pub, finding a seat two seats away from his HACKSUB. Fuck! He thought the bar would be bigger.

“Hey!” said his HACKSUB right off the bat.

“How’re ya doing?”

“Mighty good time for a beverage.” The hippie ordered and then said: “Gunther,” thrusting his hand out. Dusty was breathing heavily and lost a beat in his thinking for a moment.

“Dusty,” he said. “Dusty in here?” He put his hand on his chest.

“No dude, it’s the thin air. Fuck, take it easy man. Relaxing is the thing you need to do.” Gunther put his hand on his shoulder for a brief moment, and Dusty felt a kinship with his HACKSUB, a dangerous development. “Whatever your name is.”

“Oh, sorry. It’s Nat.” Their eyes froze on one another for a millisecond. “Nat McBean.” God damn it! What the hell was I thinking?

Dusty pointed at the TV to deflect from his error. “You a Real Madrid fan?” Dusty didn’t really watch TV, and not sports for a few decades.

“Madrid? No dude.” Gunther took a thoughtful swig from his beer and started laughing.

“What?” Dusty couldn’t help his nervous laughter. “You don’t like football?” Dusty rolled up his sleeve to reveal his tattoos.

“No man. It was something else. An old flame. You said something that brought me back to a sweet memory.” He drank again and peeked a look at the tattoos that lined his arm. Just in the glance and with his scanning abilities he found it fascinating but was troubled slightly by the word ‘Greywater’ with a small dagger near his wrist.

“It was a dulce memory, as it were,” said his HACKSUB. When he straightened his posture for the first time Dusty saw that he was taller than him. But just as soon as it was a fact, Gunther slouched back into his chronic hippie posture, as if he were slightly hurt, like carrying on despite past injuries. Dusty Pearce recognized that gait. He did carry on bravely though.

“Old flame,” Dusty confirmed. He couldn’t help retrieving some of his own old flames from his memory bank. When Real Madrid scored was when he snapped out of it. And Gunther was outside sitting with some Dutchmen. When Gunther glanced back and saw him there he was sure he noticed the unmistakable look of suspicion.

Fuck! His bodycheck was not going to plan.

Chapter 28

The Feather Men


Coincidence had always intrigued Gunther. He had tried to incorporate it into his life as much as he could – looking for a coincidence and reacting to it had to be done with finesse. They were an endless mystery and for him tended to appear in streaks. When he read ‘Greywater’ it dawned on him that he had heard that word from his buddy Rockett Man. What are the chances? He looked over at the man named Nat, another coincidence, or was it? Could it be a sign or a code, with some sort of subtext?

“Fuck.” It was the Feather Men telling him they knew his new cover! Fuck!

“What is it Gunther? Miss your dog?” His Dutch friends liked to take the piss so he rolled with the punches and laughed along, trying not to worry about the coincidence. But there was one way he was sure he could test to see if it was just a coincidence or a communication subtext. Gunther hung with his friends and shared a few laughs, the beers cold and the company excellent, but his pub days had long been over when he used to burn the candle at both ends, so he left when most of the other Dutch guys left, not even looking towards that guy Nat who looked like he was blind in one eye.

The beer and the drugs had created a comfortable buzz. Despite the fact Amazonas was a very dangerous street to walk at night – kind of Quito’s Sunset Boulevard – muggers and addicts half-hiding in doorways, spit and barf on the sidewalks, wrappers blowing around the road like tumbleweeds, Gunther could divorce himself from his immediate danger and find his stride in formulating his new plan.

“Fuck, okay man. Fricking full hamburger man,” he started saying to himself out loud. “Martin is my guy. Coin, coastal fun. Poor fuck. All right, but fuck man, it’s-.” He glanced behind him and didn’t see Nat so he turned down a dark street off Amazonas, addicts clustered and hungry, choosing not to walk towards Gunther mainly due to his height and the way he was dressed, and the fact he talked to himself. They thought he might be crazy. They knew he wasn’t a tourist. But Gunther was only semi-aware of them, but was very aware of the smells, which jolted him out of his thinking momentum.

“Oh!” he bellowed, causing a few to look at him thinking he might be drunk. “Ew!” The raunchiness of barf and rotten milk and something else assaulted his senses. “Fucking gross man!” Then Gunther looked dangerously at the druggies who then realized he was only half-mad, but still too formidable to take down. He didn’t fight against his Tourette’s; he faced it in the eye. And so Gunther strode through the late-night underbelly of Quito, speaking to himself and making noises reacting to barf and spit until he arrived at his friend Martin’s apartment. It took 10 minutes for him to get to the door but Martin was a guy who was unable to lie, and was happy to see him. And he was all smiles at the suggestion of taking his old clunker down to Montanita on the coast for a few days.

“When?” he asked.

“Fuck dude, do you think you can get back to sleep?” Martin was packed and they were driving west to the Pacific Ocean in ten minutes.

Chapter 29

There is Nowhere We Cannot Go


Dusty Pearce had pretended to watch the Real Madrid match but for some reason something felt false in his gut watching the TV at a Dutch Pub in Quito. I’m a Frog Man, not some dicksplash who can’t operate a compass.

Suddenly he looked around and noticed that his HACKSUB had left with the old guys. Fuck! He left the bar quickly but then slowed to the speed of a cat when he exited the patio. Since his hacker-subject was well over six feet tall he saw the top of his head moving north on the main road Amazonas, but just as soon as he saw the top of his head he lost sight of it. Stand-up straight you hippie! Fuck! He walked swiftly and with grace, which made him undetectable to the others on the sidewalk. It didn’t take him long to see the criminal element had come out of the corners and were now engaged in their myriad of petty thefts.


His quick pace had brought him right behind Gunther because Gunther walked at the pace of a hippie. Dusty could hear him talking to himself. Asperger’s? Tourette’s?

Weird guy who let the drugs push him around.

When his HACKSUB turned left there was a strong chance he would look behind him so Dusty stopped to ask a drug dealer in a doorway about his merchandise. The doorway was just before the street corner. 

“What you want?” Skinny black guy, coat stained and sandals falling apart.

“What you got?”

“Base. Very good. Good price.”

“How much?”


“Yes, American.”

“For you only twenty dollars.” Dusty was losing his HACKSUB so he hurriedly paid the guy and took his baggy of yellow powder. He looked around and saw two cops walking towards him going south on Amazonas. The dealer had disappeared. Dusty turned down the dark street and could see someone walking far down the street who was tall and had long hair. He walked for a minute and then looked behind him and didn’t see the cops.

When Dusty saw the dopers on the edges of the street hovering to pounce on moneyed buyers he slowed down a step. The thrill of action had taken a sour turn. Or had it? He knew how to handle obstacles like this. This is the shit! Dusty carried on, rolling up his sleeves and watched a shady Ecuadorean sizing him up as a tasty gringo target to mug. Dusty watched as the man reached into his pocket and moved into position away from the street lamp, but when he saw the inked forearms – and the size of the forearms – he stopped.

“No,” said the man. “No.” He stepped back into the shadows and went back to what he was doing.

Dusty kept walking deeper into the darkness and felt alive. His adrenaline filled his blood with super-power DNA so that he wanted someone to approach him again. He went into the middle of the street unafraid with his chest out and his ink on full display.

I am the alpha male.

He felt an immense pride a man only feels once or twice in his lifetime. The criminal element was still all around him, the more desperate criminals hiding in the shadows around the other criminals. He saw a few watching him but they let him pass, Dusty never breaking stride. And then it happened. Two guys in the middle of the street. One guy was black and he stood in front of Dusty, not moving, while his Ecuadorean partner-in-crime walked around behind him.

“Where you from?” said the black guy, but Dusty didn’t bother answering. He let the punch fly aiming for his nose with the full intention of breaking it, but missed and struck him directly in the neck, knocking the mugger backwards but not down. Dusty kept going, not stopping or missing a step. The punch was strong because of the adrenaline. And he was ready to punch again, fully expecting both of them to chase him to take him down.

“No, leave him,” said the Ecuadorean. His words were measured and rational, spoken by a man who saw a dangerous animal before him: adrenalized gringo over six feet. He could see he was feeling it. Not a tourist.

Dusty only let himself look back after ten or so seconds to confirm they had let him through. As if in a drug haze, he felt vitality in his muscle fiber and strength of mind uniting in harmonic coordination.

There is nowhere we cannot go.

He walked until the haze started to wane and he had lost his HACKSUB. Dark and now surprisingly cold for being on the equator, he stopped and assessed. But there was nothing to assess. He had lost him. Dusty hovered in the area, unafraid of the hoodlums that loomed around him. Thinking a taxi might be wise after some minutes, he was bummed when the first car came down the dark street wasn’t a taxi. Instead an old Volkswagen puttered by. That was when Dusty saw the long hair and stooped posture of his hippie HACKSUB. Then a head popped out of the passenger window:

“Dangerous down here Gnat,” he said. “The beach is better than the mountains!”

The Volkswagen puttered down the street into the darkness of the night.

Chapter 30

The Grey


Guillermo had settled in to emergency mode by only putting out the fires that kept burning around him. None of his daily tasks had been done for days but he knew he was using more finesse now that he had cut his alcohol consumption in half, no longer taking advantage of his rule that unlimited imbibing was allowed during a crisis. He had since tweaked his own laws so that only half of his maximum was allowed during prolonged crises, which he was currently involved with. His management system was organic.

And it was a renewed effort to heal

After-work recovery was something Guillermo had mastered over the years. He hydrated and napped on his couch, reading and enjoying silence. He filled himself with spring water and ate his protein with blue cheese and almonds and cashews, and then feel asleep into a dream so real it scared him awake. He dreamed he was on a spaceship with a crew of grey aliens, eyes like almonds, black and intelligent. Their hands had three fingers and a very small thumb but the way they moved their hands was so graceful it brought him to tears. He didn’t know why, perhaps because the aliens were so able and so gentle. It broke his heart how gentle they were with him, moving him from room to room on their ship that was illuminated with lights from the walls. It felt like there was electricity in the air that seemed to come from the light. Even the needle that was put into his vein was done so gently that he fell asleep and dreamed within a dream. The aliens spoke using pictures, moving them on a screen in an order that any child could understand – a pictorial language that was universal because each picture said so much so clearly. What fascinated him was how even an emotion could be conveyed with a look of an animal’s face or posture, so that each image had its own electrical charge. Each provoked a new emotion or sensation, creating an overpowering feeling of being embraced and understood. The wall of ordered pictures explained perfectly how he was feeling about the usurping of his charge in the embassy and the injustice he felt and the questions he had. Then, awaking from his dream on the spaceship he was taken to a large room where there were nine grey aliens that sat in a semi-circle. One spoke on behalf of all of them. He held up his hand and projected a screen with images arranged in sequence to answer his questions. When he came to the last series of images he could not believe it. His eyes widened and that’s when he woke up.

He looked at the clock above the fireplace and it said 8:14. Strange, he thought to himself. Last I saw it was 8:10. Hell of a dream to have in a few minutes.

When Guillermo swung his feet around to the floor he was amazed how sore his body was. Then it dawned on him that the last image he had in his mind was looking at the needle mark in his arm. He put his hand on the spot where the needle should have gone in and he felt a slight pain. Rolling up his sleeve there was an unmistakable red dot on his vein. He told himself that it could be the beginning of a mole. He went with that for a minute or two until he couldn’t help it. He pressed his thumb firmly on the spot. He felt the pain. But then he did the same thing all down his arm and his other arm and it was all the same pain. It was if he had just run a marathon.

And the taste in the back of his throat was like cough syrup.

In this confused state his telephone rang. It was the Secretary of State Ron Berry.

“Hello Mr. Secretary of State,” he answered, surprised at the strength in his lungs. “How are you doing?”

“Very well Guillermo. And please call me Ron today. I’m out of the office at my place in the Hamptons.”

“That sounds wonderful Ron.”

“Yes, well it is. Sorry to bother you so late I did want to touch base with you regarding the situation.” Ron Berry hit the speakerphone. “Colonel Braithwaite and a young Lieutenant Hicks are present here listening in.”

“Absolutely not a problem.” Guillermo was standing up by the window, eyes wide open. “How is our man Paddy?”

“Our man Paddy is recovering from his medical issue. Resting in… Where is it Bob?”

“The military clinic close by,” he answered, vague and crisp.

“I saw him yesterday and he will be needing a bit more time. His life there was very hard on his kidneys you know.”

“No, I didn’t know about his kidneys. He said he had shoulder pain, and a dental issue.”

“Yes, we saw the dental issue.”

“You looked at his teeth?”

“I believe there was an odor that pointed to an infected molar. I don’t think he flossed much.” Guillermo felt an immense pang of guilt. On numerous occasions Paddy had asked him to get him a very specific type of thin dental floss but each time he had directed him to Gloria. Only later did he learned that Gloria never was able to find the thin floss he had wanted.

“Flossing, I see.”

“So we will care for him. For now. Please keep things as they are right now Guillermo. But you need to trust your employees with a gag order on top of their existing gag order, if you know what I mean. You need to make sure your people there at the embassy still maintain your visitor is there. The few people who see him. They need to know. Use finesse my dear boy. What you have to do is not easy. So you have our help. And when I mean ‘our’ I mean many countries around the world are helping us in this effort. So there is every resource you can think of.” The immensity of what he had been dealing with had never been draped with words like that until now.

“Yes sir. Excuse me but it is a tough job but I trust my people and can manage them appropriately. And as far as finesse goes, this will be my crowning moment in my diplomatic career.” Guillermo was wondering if he was speaking too plainly.

“Yes, well, perhaps. Call me personally if there are any issues.”

“I will sir.” There was a silence. “Ron?”

“Yes Guillermo.”

“Is it fair to say that the endgame might revolve around the election in Quito in a few months?” Delicate. Very delicate. There was shuffling in the Hamptons.

“Tough to say but the election in Quito will definitely come into play, no doubt. I understand your concern Guy, so yes, please use the election as a time frame. Anything else?” Ron Berry hated volunteering vital information like this but he believed there was a new bond he shared with this doctor of international relations Guillermo Avellino from Ecuador, a natural who was rising in the ranks in a country growing in stature on the global stage.

Guillermo for a moment wanted to ask how many different countries could undertake a military operation like this and share logistics and protected technologies, such as: Was the US government cooperating with the Chinese and the Italians and the French? If so then how could this be? But Guillermo had still not entirely stepped away from the strange Grey Alien dream, so he decided not to ask the question.

“No Ron. I appreciate the phone call.”

Now off the phone and standing tall and energized after his power nap, Guillermo found his footing. He was now part of the diplomatic corps that was asked to take on ‘special projects,’ like his heroes before him Kim Philby and Joachim von Ribbentrop. He had always liked consulate outlaws. He wondered if there could be a multi-national special ops force in existence but again shot it down for its sheer impracticality. Or was it impractical? He spent the rest of his evening mulling over how a mass coordination could be managed by multi-national players: Private contractors were hated by the military, why would they ever hire someone like Greywater? No, couldn’t be that. Had to be the Grey Aliens. Or the Greys hired Greywater and were keeping Earth’s countries up to date?

He craved a drink but did not cave-in to his cravings. Instead he sat and wrestled with these questions in silence for the rest of the night.