He knows everything, and I mean everything, about you—your drunk Instagram pics, how you falsely claim to hate One Direction, that is, if iTunes’ “What Makes You Beautiful” download records are accurate—and Steve Jobs would demand no less, which you’d know, since you bought the authorized biography from Amazon–, how you burnt 80% of your paycheck by Monday morning, leading to that pathetic, pleading email to Dad about how you donated too much to Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity.
Pete leans back, the slurping sound from his ebony Coke Zero can a bit obnoxious, easily heard over the faint hum of the overhead flourescent lights. His curly red hair flutters as he shakes his head. Everyone thinks they want to know everything. But, Pete knows better. Sure, in the abstract, omniscience is great. In the Arctic cooler of reality, he didn’t really want to know every last particular about your sex toy purchases. Come on, the crocodile-shaped dildo, tell us that was a gag gift for a Bachelorette party, puh-lease. Pete, you see, is no perv, no ordinary hacker. He hasn’t slept in a basement since he crashed with his college girlfriend – right there, you know he’s different from the sterotype, he lost his virginity at only half the age of that Steve Carell flick. He doesn’t play violent First Person Shooter video games while blast emailing Nigerian email scams.
No, Pete Armagh is a Maryland grad, the good one in College Park. He drives a Prius, yes, unlike your run-of-the-mill cyberstalker, he gets out, runs, picnics, hikes, so he wants fresh air, trees greener than ripe avocados, thin highways frolicking around wooded, lakeside, hairpin mountain turns like BMW commercials. He owns a duplex in Langley, VA, fitting since the CIA is based in that same town and Mr. Armagh is a paragon of stability, rules, and sticktoitness– to use the term of one of those pop business writers he reads while his kids kick a soccer ball around the manicured Woodrow Wilson Park down the block. Pete is order in a disordered world, and save the scheduled Saturday nights when the in-laws watch the boys, he’s staid, not laid. He is propriety, sureness, and lawfulness; in fact, he is the law.
Well, sort of. His eyes blink at the Dell monitor, one of a thousand dim screens on the fifth floor, probably planted as an annuity by ophthalmologists. Pete’s haircut is dull, and his normal guy face is bland from an absence of interesting life: no domestic fights, never more than two beers, certainly no drugs, not even in college, just enough sleep so he lacks the looping dark circles that form on his late thirtysomething peers. No, Pete, sipping the bitter ends of Maxwell House commercial mid-grade in a recyclable paper cup– the Styrofoam ones end up in landfills—scratches his ear as he gets himself up to speed with you.
He groans in cube 5872-C, the one with the ugly coffee stain that runs, like a Rohrbach ink blot, from a big cloud under the edge of his polycarbonate desk, fading into progressively smaller little circles toward the break room, like islands running out northwest from the Hawaiian archipelago. Pete is the friend you don’t know, not exactly a secret admirer—he knows you well enough to know better—deep down, you’re okay, but, let’s be real, you wouldn’t have been flagged by the NSA Big Data deep dive search engines if you were, well, like Pete, or his Monitoring teammates Steve, Amin, Rusty, and Micah.
You’re interesting. Lots of writers, perhaps most, get tagged by the NSA secret program. It’s not that penmen are terrorists, far from it; most sit, dream, and when writer’s block breaks, they type away. But, those plot concoctions: kill the President, shoot a Senator, Tom Clancyish Jihadist attacks, aliens bomb the Pentagon—so many search word keys. That’s how Pete found you last month, munching on his standard snack of three Oreos at three o’clock.
Right away, he figured out you have potential. He sees it every morning when the clock hits nine, after he closes the USA Today browser to hunt for bad guys per a secret executive order. Your writing wasn’t half bad, and it keeps improving. If you’d spend less time browsing at omg!, who knows where it’ll take you? You might not be J.K. Rowling or Nora Roberts, but Pete loves the snippets and poems you email to your friends, asking for feedback, hoping for affirmation. They’re pretty good, a lot better than anything his classmates read aloud in Mrs. Caruthers’s 7th Grade Creative Writing class, truth be told.
That is, until this morning. It was your little piece with the bubonic plague-infested rodents released into the Washington Metro station, all stubby legs, long pinkish tails, and a whole lotta nasty bacteria. Nice writing: quick pacing, vivid descriptions, clever metaphors, catchy one-liners in your dialogue. Good stuff, really, Mrs. Caruthers would take out the red pencil and draw you her draftsman-straight lines “A+”. Too good, for your own good, that is. Pete likes your writing, but he has a job to do, and this is the National Security Agency, one governmental agency that never shuts down. He clicks “forward” and types “terrorist risk” into the subject line. Pete’s coworkers at the FBI will be at your place soon, warrant in hand. One of those governmental rent-a-judges signs the forms en masse each morning. Thousands of forms, they’d rain down in a VJ-Day or Man On The Moon-worthy ticker tape, if they weren’t being used for their intended purposes, namely to search computer hard drives of the innocent, people like you.