Josh was never up before 7 a.m., but here he was, up early, shoved out the door by Cindy, and now riding across town as Cindy was babbling about some meeting with some guy about the national debt or something.
Josh couldn’t focus on that yet. He took a few bites of the bagel he had grabbed from Cindy’s apartment and was mulling over the situation as they rolled toward Pennsylvania Ave.
He and Cindy had sex twice last night. The first time was after maybe 30 minutes of looking at data about Japan and China’s foreign debt load over a few glasses of wine. He was amazed to think that doing that sort of work could turn them on. Or maybe it was the idea of not doing that work anymore that seemed more exciting.
Cindy initiated it all. She decided she was done looking at numbers, and two minutes later they were in bed. She seemed to especially love his beard, which he thought was coming in a little patchy. But how could that be? It was terrible, and if he had been home last night, he would have shaved it off in order to boost his chances with Cindy.
Or who knows, maybe the beard worked perfectly, distracted her from the hair he was losing on the top of his head.
They jumped onto her bed, which had a bunch of stuffed animals on it, like she was still in high school. Somehow that was even more exciting to Josh. It was like he was in some nice suburban ome and maybe her parents were even downstairs.
The whole thing was over in 90 seconds. The speed and excitement of the act was a joint protest against any further study of the slow, boring history of the national debt.
They talked for a bit, then fell asleep. Then he woke up at 3 a.m. and found her on top of him already. Then they slept again. Then he woke up and found her eating in her small kitchen just outside the bedroom, talking about this meeting they had to dash off to.
He looked down and found he was holding her hand in the car. Upon further inspection, he seemed more like she was holding his. He slowly pulled it away, just to see whether he had any say at all in this relationship. He did, for now.
“Who’s this guy we’re seeing?” he asked in a daze as he put his hand in his lap. Cindy used her freed hand to send bursts of information on her phone. No wait, that was his phone.
“Jeez, wake up silly!” she said. “This high-up Treasury Department official saw your story and wants to meet in 20 minutes. Don’t you remember this from last night?”
“I remember getting that email but then you took my phone,” he said. “How do you have my password?”
“You told me that, remember? You told me lots of things.” She kept on firing out information from his phone.
He remembered now, just after Round One last night. They were sitting in bed and some note came through from the Treasury guy. Bill something.
“What was his name?” he asked.
“Bill,” she said. “Just Bill. We could ask him his last name later. Oh look! He just wrote again. He said he has a package for us, all about stuff related to China. He wants to meet you outside, before work. This is so exciting!”
He took his phone back from Cindy and looked at the messages. Bill J., sent as a non-government message. No way for his superiors to trace him. Smart.
“Josh,” the first message said. “Saw your story. Close but no cigar. Meet me Wednesday and I can give you the full picture.”
The rest of the messages between Bill J. and Cindy were on where to meet. He read a few of those on his phone and got angry.
“Hey, I appreciate all the work you did here while I was… passed out, but you have to be more careful,” he snapped. “Guys don’t write messages like this.”
“Like all these exclamation points,” he said. “Guys don’t say, ‘It’ll be so great to meet you!’ Or like this one, ‘OK that’s super! Be there soon!’”
Cindy looked hurt. “What’s wrong with those?”
“It’s just not how guys write,” he said. “We’re not all that excited to meet new people, I guess. Plus, it’s not a good reporter style. It looks desperate. Who knows who this guy is or what he really knows. I get tips all the time, they’re not always worth anything. If you send out all this gushy stuff and he’s got nothing, it’s harder to break away from him later.”
“Well, he’s excited to meet you,” she said.
“I don’t know about this at all. Meetings, talking to people. It’s very inefficient,” Josh said in a slight lecturing tone. “Reporting today is different. There’s a ton you can pull just from sitting at your desk, making connections that others can’t see. You can do ten stories from the desk in the time it takes to run out and meet someone, get coffee, chit-chat. This could be hours and hours for nothing.”
“Josh, this is a high-up Treasury official who’s about to hand over some real secrets!” Cindy said, ignoring him. “What’s better than that? You just haven’t been out in a while.”
“Here we are,” Cindy interrupted.
The car stopped across the street from the Treasury building. She placed her finger on a little black square to pay the driver, then hustled Josh into a coffee shop. Five minutes and $33 later, they were both drinking fancy coffees and she was straightening his collar.
“So you read the emails, right?” she said. “He obviously wants to hand you stuff so just be cool and let him do it. Walk into Lafayette Park, stand near the General Kosciuszko statue, and he’ll walk up.”
“Ugh, say that again?” Josh begged.
“It’s something like, Kos-Shoosh-Ko,” she said. “Don’t worry about it, no one can pronounce it.”
“Is there a code word or something? Like a James Bond code? ‘The weather seems nice, but I heard it might rain.’”
“James who? No silly, he saw your picture, knows what you look like. He said he’d ask you a question about the statue so you’d know it’s him. Good luck!” she seemed to say with an exclamation point.
Josh walked outside into a perfect fall day. He turned right, and the huge Treasury Department building was on his left. People were scurrying into the building already, at 7:45 a.m.
Josh walked into the White House complex and turned right again. He skipped the paved sidewalks and ducked under the huge trees that grew in the park, and stepped over giant roots that had cracked and raised the concrete sidewalk after so many years.
What the hell was he doing out here? Source development? There was a reason he loved piecing together clues from the office, and it was simple: Most people who wanted to meet reporters were crazy. They had big theories about why the world was so screwed up, and they were always wrong. It was almost always a waste of time.
And you had to pretend you were interested, and not yawn in the guy’s face.
He remembered the last time he went out into the world to do reporting work. This embassy official from some European country wanted to meet and had an important document to give him. They went to a Japanese restaurant. The guy was nuts about sushi, and ordered 20 pieces of it for himself.
They had their shoes off and everything, and in the middle of the meal, the guy paused dramatically and handed over the letter. Then another hour of blah blah blah, and finally Josh got back to the office to look at the letter. It was the same letter his embassy had published online two days earlier. Three hours down the tubes.
That’s when he realized how bored these officials were, and how desperate they were to use their expense accounts. Anything to get outside.
Josh looked at his watch. Almost 7:45 a.m. Well, soon this would be over, and Cindy would be happy at least. Not a huge price to pay for all the fun he had last night.
Josh already forgot the name of the general, but he knew he was a Polish guy. There was only one statue in the direction he was walking now, so he walked up to and read the plaque. This had to be it, General Kos-Shoosh-Ko. A sign under the statue said he was a Polish military hero who fought for the rebels in America’s Revolutionary War.
You could barely even see the statue anymore. Branches of ancient elm trees hung low and made it hard to see Kosciuszko’s head. He started to walk around to the north side of the statue to get a glimpse of his head, and bumped into a man standing right next to him.
“Amazing what some people will do to fight for the causes they believe, isn’t it?” said a voice behind him. Josh’s heart sank. That sounded just like a line from one of the old Bond movies his father used to make him watch. Spy codes, clever talk. This had to be another bored guy looking to get out of the office. He resisted the urge to turn around and smack the guy, and stared straight ahead as he replied.
“Amazing how they all end up with bird shit all over them,” Josh said.
“Kosciuszko was a freedom fighter,” the man said, ignoring Josh’s effort to derail the conversation. “He fought in Poland, then fought in America. Some people are born to fight, or born to do other things, and will travel where ever he must to use his talents.”
OK enough of this, Josh thought. He turned around and stared into the eyes of a typical, middle-aged nobody in a government suit. No glasses, no facial hair, just a nobody, and with a brown folder in the crook of his arm.
“You seem to know a lot about this guy. Are you Polish?” Josh asked.
“What? No… I… Dutch, I think,” the man stuttered. “Pan-European.”
Josh enjoyed watching him struggle to maintain his cool. It was also fun to mess with his little game. This government hack probably only got out of his seat once a day, to walk down and get some miserable lunch somewhere, so this was a big day for him. Meeting a reporter.
Still, Josh had to admit it was somewhat intriguing. He glanced down at the folder he assumed he would be receiving soon. What could be in there? Better not scare him off. Go a little easy on him. But still, just a little easy. This hack worked for Dawson II. He’d have to screw with him a little.
“Thanks for meeting me, Bill,” Josh said. “Want to take a walk?”
They cut diagonally through the park, past a few tourist groups and coffee guzzlers who didn’t feel like working just yet. They walked slowly because neither of them really knew where they wanted to go. The White House loomed on their left, and Josh figured there was a chance Bill might suddenly chicken out here, get nervous about handing over the goods with so many people around. He tried to keep up the small talk.
“Glad you liked the story,” Josh said.
“It was a good start,” Bill said. “But you’re just scratching the surface. There’s a lot more information you need to have.”
They both new that information was in the crook of his arm, but Bill made no move to give it to Josh.
“You sure you’re OK handing it over? I mean, it seems like the government doesn’t want this out there. Won’t you get in trouble?”
“Possibly,” Bill said. “You’re a reporter, Josh, you know how it is. All the rules, all the committees and discussions that have to happen in the government before we just hand stuff over to the public. All the signoffs. It can take years. And nobody likes the press. We could talk forever and never reach an agreement to just give a reporter the real dirt.”
“So, no fear of getting in trouble?” Josh asked. “You just love the press too much?”
“It’s not quite that,” he said. “We’re not all evil scumbags just because we work for the government. We’re just people, and some of us want to get the story out. And we don’t have all year to sort it out in committee. You know there are leaks, right? Now you’re just getting one.”
It almost seemed like a trap but he couldn’t figure out how that could be. This guy sure liked to talk.
“Why not give it to someone on the left?” Josh said. “You know who we are at The Rumpus, right? We aren’t big fans of your guy.”
Bill stopped walking and turned to face Josh. He was smiling like he had a great, big secret to tell.
“Great question,” Bill said. “You want to know the truth? The left-leaning reporters wouldn’t write this story. They’re too busy defending Dawson. Dawson II, as you call him.”
“Oh sure,” Bill said. “We’ve tried before. If it makes Dawson look bad, the lefty screens don’t touch it. Sometimes they even yell at the guy who tries to leak them the information. They figure anyone who leaks is a traitor, and they don’t know why Dawson doesn’t fire the leaker. They ignore the information and start looking for some bigger conspiracy, like we’re trying to take down our own guy.”
“Aren’t you, though?” Josh asked.
“Nah. Sometimes bad information has to come out. It breaks the tension. Let the press reveal something bad, and Dawson gets all the leverage. He has to act. He has to fix the problem. Everyone knows, and Dawson has no choice but to take action given all the intense public pressure. It’s healthy.”
Bill started walking again, toward the southern edge of the park and Pennsylvania Avenue. Across the street was the White House. Josh strolled alongside him.
“So sometimes it makes sense to leak stuff against your own guy, so you can fix it, is that it?” Josh said.
“That’s about right,” Bill said. “And we need someone on the right, since you’ll pursue it. Expose the problem in a way the left won’t.”
Bill stared hard at Josh, as if he was judging whether Josh could handle the news he was about to drop.
“I can confirm pretty much what you’ve written, and more,” Bill said. “It’s not just about interest payments. More and more countries want to stop lending us money altogether. And when they reach that point, we bomb them. Dawson II, as you like to call him, has no choice. If China stops borrowing, we’re screwed, and we can’t let that happen. Any decision not to lend is being seen as an act of war.”
“But it’s complicated, and you’ll need help confirming this,” Bill said. “I’m getting you in touch with a financial expert who’s been working the story from a different angle. I’m not going to downplay this, Josh. The story is huge and it goes all the way to that building across the street there, and it implicates dozens of important people in the government.”
They turned to look at a few war protesters. One was wearing a shirt that had something to do with Vietnam.
“Jesus, the Vietnam war,” Bill laughed. “No one who fought in that war could possibly be alive, could they?”
“Maybe there’s a couple of 100-year old guys,” Josh said.
He looked at Bill, and Bill turned back to look at Josh. They stood face to face, Bill shifted his weight impatiently, and stole a glance over his left shoulder to at the Treasury building, as if he had to get back now. But he just stood there.
Josh didn’t know what to do next, couldn’t think of a cute little piece of conversation he could dig up that would make Bill hand over the file.
Then suddenly, intuitively, he understood. Josh took a small step toward Bill, and grabbed the file from under his arm.
“Thanks, Bill,” Josh said as he walked away. “Nice meeting you.”
“Nice meeting you too, Josh,” Bill said as he watched Josh walk away. He stood there for a few minutes until Josh turned the corner, then Bill spun on his heels and walked west, away from the Treasury Department.
Five minutes later, Cindy was flipping out in the coffee shop.
“And that’s it? You just took it? What the hell?”
“I think I get it,” Josh said. “He doesn’t want to have to lie about leaking the information.”
“But he did leak it to you!” Cindy said.
“Yeah, but he can truthfully say he didn’t give it to me,” Josh said. “If they ask him, ‘Did you give Josh anything,’ he can say, ‘no,’ because he didn’t give it to me. I took it. There’s a difference. A small difference, but just enough of one to make him feel more comfortable if he they hook him up to a lie detector. He can say truthfully, ‘No, I didn’t give him anything.’”
“Woah,” Cindy said. “Pretty slick. So what’s inside?”
They opened it.