George Gray printed the two emails then walked past the other cubicles on the 11th floor of 555 Montgomery Street in San Francisco to the corner office occupied by Morris Levinberg, George’s boss at the New York Sentinel. Morris was heads down, reading glasses hanging precariously from the end of his nose, a red marker in his hand.
“No, No, No!” Morris grumbled, clearly not pleased with what he was reading.
Morris was in his mid-fifties, with a sweaty balding pate and wiry gray hairs poking out over his ears. While frumpy wasn’t a term that was generally applied to men, it was the first word that came to mind when George looked at Morris and his middle-aged paunch, five o’clock shadow in the middle of the day, and disheveled clothes. It was amazing what physical appearances could hide and how easy it was for people to judge others by their bodies. But one look at Morris’ face with its oversized beak and eagle-like eyes, and you could sense the keen intelligence that had won him a Pulitzer and made him a bestselling author.
George let Morris finish the page he was reading, then knocked on the open door.
Morris looked up. “George! To what do I owe the honor of a visit from one of our most talented young reporters?”
“God, I sure wish I was talented. I work my butt off and most of my work still never sees the light of day.
“But I’m not here to complain. I have a dilemma and need your advice. When I got in this morning, I had two somewhat strange emails in my Inbox. I tried to track down the authors, but the email addresses and the paths the emails took seem to lead nowhere.”
“Learning some tricks from Janey?” Morris asked.
“Yeah. My high-tech guru wife showed me how to follow email paths through multiple servers. I’ve been getting pretty good at tracking down ‘anonymous’ emails. But these two definitely led
“Are they from the same sender?”
“I can’t tell. The sender names are just a scramble of letters. Here. Take a look at the first one.”
Morris took the email and began reading.
From: sqpr93uy4nk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: June 29, 20XX 05:31 AM PDT
To: George Gray <GeorgeGray@nysentinel.com>
Subject: Exposing Unethical Zillionaires
I read your article on Michael James, someone I greatly admired, and appreciated your even-handed, honest reporting of the situation he found himself in. It’s tragic that we lose people like Michael while unscrupulous high tech moguls screw people and make millions or billions doing it.
I’ve managed to collect some very interesting information on several of these scumbags, information which would ruin them personally if it were exposed to the public and to law
I’m not some crackpot. I only want to see justice done.
Of course I expect you to verify any information I give you, but assuming you do determine that I’m providing factual information, I would like you to publish articles which will expose the crimes these people have committed. Of course if you can’t verify it, I expect you to tell me to take a flying leap.
I’m untraceable by email and replying to this one won’t work, so if you’re interested in the next step, tweet “sqprwo93uy4nk, I’m interested”.
“What do you think? Should I pursue it? Is this something the paper would approve?”
Morris thought carefully. “George, I don’t see any reason not to. See what he or she has to say. As the email says, if it’s bullshit, all we lose is the time you take to verify the claims. If not, we might have a great story.”
George thought back to his last ‘great story’. He and Janey were driving up the coast on their way to a brief honeymoon in the City when they saw a gray Audi go soaring off the cliff. The
driver was killed. Starting work at the Sentinel the following Monday, George was asked to do a story on a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur. By some weird coincidence, they were the same person. He and Janey had watched Michael James commit suicide. His months of chasing the story had left him frustrated. Initially thinking Michael James was a scumbag like sqprw – whatever - described, he found out he was wrong. He searched for why someone like Michael James would kill himself. It seemed to be about a divorce, but at the end of the day, he didn’t really understand why this gifted, apparently ethical man, had died.
“Since your fan brought up Michael James, I have to ask, any progress on that novel you’re writing based on the Michael James story?” Morris asked.
“No Morris. I keep coming back to the facts which didn’t lead to answers. The story haunts me and though I can write about it, I can’t get past the unknowns.”
“George, take it from a fiction writer. If you base a novel on facts, you need to give the facts some time and distance. They need to become a bit hazy. Then, as ludicrous as it may sound, you just need to make shit up. Remember, it’s fiction!
“But back to the reason you came in, what about the second email?”
George handed the next email to Morris.
From: x63qxr8k4mu5 < x63qxr8k4mu5@ x63qxr8k4mu5.com>
Date: June 29, 20XX 06:41 AM PDT
To: George Gray <GeorgeGray@nysentinel.com>
Subject: A woman will die
The former wife of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur will die this week. I will tell you why after she’s
Don’t bother trying to trace this email. It’s untraceable. I will contact you.
Morris looked up at George. “This probably is from a crackpot. But we need to hand it over to legal. They can decide if they want to give it to the police. If you get more like this, forward them to legal immediately and cc me.”
“But do you think they’re from the same person?”
Morris laid the two emails side by side and examined them closely. After about a minute, he circled the From name, the email address, and the signature, then the word ‘untraceable’ in both.
“Well, we have the word ‘untraceable’ and I see that each of the senders’ names has 13 characters. The tones are different but I’ve seen some very disturbed people change their tones
dramatically in seconds. And, we have two emails on the same day, just a bit over an hour apart, both sent to you. It may be just coincidence, and as we discussed before, unlike many of my police buddies, I do believe in coincidence, but just to be safe, forward the first one to legal too.”
George thanked Morris and left his office, more than a little worried about what he was about to get himself into.