Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively. Dalai Lama XIV (Under 800 words.)
He was infamous: a well-loved author... a celebrated author, and he was about to die.
The job was assigned to Mitch in the usual way, but the bounty was fat. Real fat. Two-million-dollars fat. Someone out there wanted this target neutralized badly and was willing to pay the price.
The decrypted message in his in-box had a short life span: thirty seconds. Then it would encrypt itself again. After that, even a God with a quantum computer wouldn’t be able to read it.
So, he took a screenshot. He knew it was against his employers’ rules—rules enforced by death supposedly—but he didn’t care. He’d saved implicating evidence many times without any consequences.
How the hell would they ever find out anyway? he thought.
He read the saved message on the screen carefully. In the background, unnoticed, his laptop’s central processing unit sent a hexadecimal string to a server on the other side of the world.
He entered: ‘Writing.Com’ in his search field, as per the instructions, and clicked on the first result.
Wow, he thought, a whole community of writers. Thousands of them. Who’d have thought?
He needed an account, if he was to get close to this man—his username was ‘Blimprider’—and hunt him down. Mitch needed a new handle.
Tommy Gun, he thought. That would be funny.
But this was a serious job for serious money. So, he chose: ‘T.J.Gunn.’
He created a new account, logged in, and searched for ‘Blimprider.’ A renowned author, eh? He’s a busy boy. Even runs a writing contest.
He grabbed his car keys and headed for the door. He needed an old book of short stories. A book that hadn’t seen the internet and wasn’t famous.
Two hours later he was back at his laptop. He looked at the next writing prompt: ‘Winter Holiday.’ Flipping through the brown pages of Dudley Hope’s short stories, he found one called: ‘Ramage’s Holiday.’ It was last published in 1963.
He copied part of the first paragraph into an online plagiarism-search website: ‘The holiday supper had been a great success: Nelson had kept them all amused, teasing both Giana and Ramage, and in turn being teased by Pitti, who was obviously fascinated by the little man’s vivacity.’
It was after he’d won the fifth contest, consecutively, when the e-mails rolled in.
This one from a guy called Peter Foster: ‘Hello, T.J.Gunn. We are a medium sized literary magazine based in New York... ’
Mitch deleted it.
And the next one was from Blimprider. It read: ‘“Ramage’s Letter” was terrific. I loved the way you used the actual letter to fill your readers in on what’s been going on. You painted the picture so well when he finds the missive pinned to his door. I really love it when you isolate a character, giving him actions that no one sees... ’
Jackpot, Mitch thought, with a snigger.
And he replied: ‘Thank you, Blimprider. I haven’t written in thirty years, but now that Harry (my husband) has passed away, and my children have stuck me in this horrible nursing home, I have plenty of time. This computer screen hurts my old eyes after a while. So, when I’m not writing, I just stare out the window at the free people.’
The reply from Blimprider was almost instant. It read: ‘Oh, TJ... My God... I’m so sorry about Harry and your circumstances. Perhaps we can help each other. You could help me by beta-reading my new Anthology. Maybe your mind could escape that horrid place for a time. I’ve compiled a collection of short stories, set in the same town, with repeating characters showing up from time to time, evolving... ’
Mitch guffawed and wrote: ‘How exceedingly kind. I’d love to help. Could you mail me the manuscript?’
Blimprider wrote: ‘Sure. Be easier on those old eyes... '
Mitch punched his fist in the air. “Yessss!”
And that’s why I’m the smartest hit-man in the world, he thought. Clueless bugger!
Once he had Blimprider’s address, the man was dead meat.
He only had to wait a week for the manuscript. Sure enough, Blimprider’s address was on it. Mitch’s fingers tingled with excitement, as he tore the package open.
What the hell? he thought.
It was a thick manuscript. A manuscript of blank, white pages. His knees buckled. He fell onto his back. He stared at the white powder on his fingers, chest constricting.
His dying eyes read the cover-letter: ‘Rule seven. No screen-shots. Goodbye Mitch. Lmao. Blimprider.’