“So you’re like a full on conspiracy nut!” Phil exclaimed.
Stevie had to force back a smile. The two were sitting together at the back of a small cafe. They were in a town called Simpson West, which was more of a north east bearing from the more populated Simpson. Phil had joked that the founder must have been the town drunk from ‘ye olde Simpson’, “got his marching orders after one too many piss ups and, headed west but, unable to walk straight, had swung around nearly 180 degrees before finally setting up shop in the deserted plains of Simpson West.”
“Maybe he just had his map upside down,” Stevie had retorted.
Stevie imagined Mark Tanenworth would have appreciated the silliness. His old friend probably thought Stevie was dead by now. He wondered if Mark had built up the courage to leave Citadel; felt a pang of guilt at not telling him to do so from day one. In the end the undercover job had barely garnered any worth except convicting Stevie to a life on the run. He would have had much better results just helping his friend and sharing a couple more silly jokes.
But now he had Phil, for better or worse - better as Phil shared the disdain for Citadel; worse as youth tended to bring the worst out in people. The shaggy kid was apparently averse to cleanliness or hygiene in any form. Sure Stevie had picked up a stench after weeks of sleeping under bridges, but Phil refused to shower even after ample opportunity. His clothes were old and tattered from literally never being washed, and for a self proclaimed environmentalist and practicing ethicist he had a terrible habit of leaving anything he touched in a mess. But he did have a keen interest in Stevie’s Citadel knowledge, and, considering he was the first, Stevie had to force back a smile.
The Wi-Fi at the cafe was a little slow but it got the job done. Stevie had shown Phil a small section of his work – all the records and information he had compiled on the activities at Citadel. He had explained his goal and philosophy and even confessed to being a fan of BullCit before it broke the big time.
“I don’t know if I would have kept reading it had I known the author was such a deadbeat.”
“I’m sorry, but it seems like you were clearly drawn to my inner beauty, my writing prowess.”
“Just a like-minded voice; rare back then. I would have preferred you spoke a few more facts when you preached the truth.”
“Gotta fight fire with fire. If they want to fuck you in the ass don’t act like you like it. The example leaders never make a splash.”
“The fire is the easiest to put out; easiest to corrupt.”
“Fuck off Captain Sage, they were gonna kill me.”
Stevie laughed. They were now looking through the blogosphere of conspiracy theorists who had jumped on the BullCit bandwagon. They had talked about it earlier in the day and agreed this should be their plan. Phil had argued that they should use some of their money to buy a cheap laptop. Stevie hadn’t agreed at first.
“We don’t have any income, any money coming in. We need to survive on this cash for as long as we can. Treat it like rations.”
“You gotta see the bigger picture, dude. They want us dead. Not because we are anti-Citadel, but because they are planning something right now and we are an immediate threat.” Stevie remained pensive, Phil continued, “That’s why they pushed my site to the big time, got me to sign a gag order with a gun to my head and destroy any credit I had with the history or the shooting. Why shut it down when you can have my anti-Citadel movement sponsored by Citadel. Half the conspiracy nuts on the net call me a hack and a puppet.”
“But your fame drew the movement into the spotlight. The sentiment towards Citadel has worsened despite your selling out. Just sounds like bad business to me. They saw the effects so they tricked you into a breach of contract and now you’re voiceless again. Anyone could claim to be you. I’m sure someone will have opened up a new site under the guise of Hippy Flip by now.”
“Fuck that, that’s moot point. Read between the lines, dude. There’s a back story here, a sub plot about to come to the fore. I can sense it.”
Stevie raised his eyebrows, “A sub plot coming to the fore?”
Phil rolled his eyes, “I’ve been reading a screenwriting book lately. Thought about expanding my craft.”
“To be honest you come across more of a orator than a writer.”
“Yeah well I’m orating now and I’m saying we need to buy this laptop and start devising our own plan.”
They were scrolling through another site, this one called “The Bigger Picture” and underneath the header in smaller text it read “Is Worth 1000 Bigger Words”
“That shit doesn’t even make sense.” They browsed some of the recent posts. It was just pictures most likely taken by the author him or herself. The most recent included a photo of two newspapers laid next to each other. The headline on the first read “Tony Holdsworth In Coma” then the subtitle “Drug Binge Suicide?” The second newspaper which was in slightly better condition read “Tony Holdsworth Wakes Up” then “Bigger and Better Than Ever”
“Did you know he had recovered?” Stevie asked. Phil shook his head.
The next shot was a recent photo of the Newport Haven train disaster site. In the foreground was a cross with a name scratched into it; the background was the wreckage and the scattered crosses that had been erected on the hill overlooking it. It was an eerie scene taken in twilight.
Further down they saw some photos of apparently unrelated items. The lack of a caption made the interpretation much wider but the general theme was still decipherable. There was a photo of a man with a slimy grin looking over an audience at a show. “Smithwaite,” Phil had said with some contempt, “he’s a cunt, but I guess he kept me alive for a while.”
There were photos of Lucy Blues and Manny Holdsworth on stage giving each other a rather suggestive look and even a photo of Phil standing in a group smoking a joint.
“Who the fuck is this guy?” Phil said. “Must be someone on set, right?”
Stevie shrugged. He was trying to think but he always landed in the same spot. The same spot he landed back in the car after the Newport Disaster. The majority of the photos were of Walter Wallace - on stage or backstage or in non TV events. Everything seemed to be about Walter Wallace. “It’s Walter, everything and everyone is talking about Walter. If they are planning something than he is involved.”
Phil nodded. “You know the funny thing – and maybe that is just how this guy wanted to edit it – but in none of these photos of Walter is he smiling. So much for happiest man alive.”